Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post – Why I wrote about the child of an alcoholic in Will You Catch Me?): Will You Catch Me? – Jane Elson

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‘Jane’s writing exudes empathy where history and heart combine to make this story one that you should hold so close to your heart.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Will You Catch Me?
Author: Jane Elson (@JJELSON35)
Publisher: Hachette (@HachetteKids)
Page count: 336
Date of publication: 9th August 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1444927788

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 and Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Heart 💓
2. Drink 🍷
3. History 👑


Most kids want adventures.
I just want normal.

Nell Hobs lives with a tortoise, two guinea pigs, two goldfish, two gerbils, a hamster and an assortment of beasts and bugs living in jam jars on her windowsill. She is proud to be the only naturalist on the Beckham Estate.

Caring for her family of animals is a good distraction from caring for her mum. But Nell knows her chaotic life can’t continue as it is. Nell needs a dad. So she hatches a plan with her best friend Michael: a way to make her dad step forward and catch her. But will she succeed?


Review: 

I have so much to say about this unforgettable, powerful and poignantly-written book. For many who read this book it will provide an insight in to a hidden problem. A hidden problem that children face today in our classrooms, our schools and our lives. But for some, this will be their lives. The life they’ve had to live, they’ve had to endure and for those, I hope this book is a kind of tribute to the suffering they have had to face as it acts as a stark reminder to everyone to be kind, compassionate and thoughtful to each other because sometimes we do not know the battles that other people are fighting.

As we are introduced to Nell Hobs who lives on the Beckham Estate, we discover that she is ever the natural naturalist who can’t help but adopt more animals to her mini-zoo that gets bigger each and every week with a new and additional animal appearing. But not only does she live with her mini-menagerie of animals but she lives with her mother. A mother who at first appears to be wanting to do all she can to please Nell that is until the ‘demon drink’ takes over. She’s an alcoholic. In a life surrounded by her mother’s empty promises, a home life that is way more erratic than anybody could imagine and the ever-present worry of her mother relapsing mean that Nell’s mental health is a constant source of agony and – rarely ever, ecstasy. For, whenever it is a feeling of happiness it’s nearly always short-lived and dripping with false hope.

This is why Nell starts out on her quest of soul-searching. She needs a dad. She needs some kind of stability. Someone to sort this mess out and someone to be her state of normal. But will she find the person that can catch her when she needs it most?

As she tries hard to balance school – of which with her chaotic life, she can’t help but always arrive late to – with bringing herself up, Nell takes some sort of solace in the community around her. Without her extended family, her neighbours and two teachers who are the shining light of Nell’s life, Nell would not be Nell. These people are her life; her crumbs of comfort, her lifeblood and when living with her mother becomes all too much: her escape route.

Then someone else comes in to her life. Unexpectedly at first, yet the more she appears, the more welcome she is. For that person is Nell Gwyn. Introduced at first by her history teacher, Nell’s namesake soon becomes the honorary ancestor and ally that she has been craving. Guiding her through her life, her imaginary historical friend is her inspiration. Can Nell help Nell on her journey to finding her father…? Readers will be in awe of the real-life accounts and pursuits of Nell Gwyn and will be itching to research her life after reading this.

Will You Catch Me? captured my heart in the same way that Nell Gwyn captured Nell Hobs. With heaps of heart and a story of history that also needs to be told, it gets better and more emotionally investing with every chapter. This is frank, real storytelling with perceptive and innocently acute observations that have the power to make you think differently. I don’t think you’ll realise quite how much this book has such an effect on you, it’s a life lesson. Such a carefully-considered concept for a children’s book that could only be delivered with the writing wisdom of Jane. Her writing exudes empathy and she establishes herself as an author that all readers should be aware of. For this is another of Jane’s beautiful books that you should hold close to your heart because like me, your heart will ache with feeling after reading it.

‘Jane’s writing exudes empathy where history and heart combine to make this story one that you should hold so close to your heart.’


Great Big Hill of Hope:
Why I wrote about the child of an alcoholic in Will You Catch Me?

In this, the first blog of my tour to mark Children of Alcoholics week, I felt it important to say why I wrote my children’s book, Will You Catch Me?

When I first said that I was going to write a middle grade novel about eleven-year-old Nell Hobs whose mother is an alcoholic people were taken aback. But then the headlines started to hit the media. Every Week there were news stories about the statistic that 2.6 million children in this country are affected by a parent’s drinking.

IMG_4388.JPGJournalist, Camilla Tominey’s Sunday Express headline ‘My Mummy Is Drunk Please Read To Me’ broke my heart, brought back buried memories and made me determined to give a voice to these children. My editor at Hodder Children’s Books, Naomi Greenwood, agent Jodie Hodges and her assistant Emily Talbot gave me their blessing and supported me throughout.

Will You Catch Me? is my oldest story, a little itch in my imagination that just wouldn’t go away. I had a recurring image of a young girl, running home from school and seeing her mother, an alcohol addict, carried out from their flat on a stretcher, people standing around watching and as she ran and ran and tried to reach her mum, everything going into slow motion.  In my mind the 4 Non Blondes song, ‘What’s Up’ was playing. The lyrics ‘Trying to get up that great big hill of hope / for a destination / I realized quickly when I knew I should / that the world was made up of this brotherhood of man’ were so relevant to this scene that looped in my mind.

The words – ‘Brotherhood of Man’ – the community which would be so vital to this little girl. Without which she would have nothing.

Fast forward many years, I switched on the television and Calum Best was talking movingly on the Lorraine show about his father George Best and the charity Nacoa – The National Association For Children Of Alcoholics – of which he is patron.  As the statistics rolled out that one in five children have a parent who drinks too much and that a 100 teenagers a day are made homeless due to having a parent who is alcohol dependent, my childhood came flooding back. My dad was a heavy drinker with a terrible temper. I grew up a very anxious, nervous little girl. One strand of the story was set.

I have always had a fascination with, and felt a connection to Nell Gwyn, the 17th century celebrity actress. In my late teens I worked as an usherette in Drury Lane where 320 years before Nell Gwyn had done the same job – they sold oranges then rather than half melted ice creams, so they were known as the Orange Girls. I discovered that Nell Gwyn’s mother was an alcoholic and that she did not know her father. Nell Gwyn was the perfect guardian angel for my modern day Nell, the protagonist of  Will You Catch Me? – whose mum is also an alcoholic.

Writing Will You Catch Me? was the most extraordinarily immersive experience of my life. In fact, I had an operation half way through writing it, and when I came too from the anaesthetic I woke up in the world of my book and was nattering on about Nell Gwyn. It took the nurses ages to get me fully awake.

As I worked day and night on Will You Catch Me? I visualised myself finishing Nell’s story and contacting Nacoa to tell them about my book. It was my light at the end of the tunnel.

I did not realize what a bright light in my life Nacoa would be. They are a group of truly amazing, passionate and strong people. Hilary Henriques MBE who is the CEO of Nacoa welcomed me with open arms and made me part of the Nacoa family. She is a tower of strength and an inspiration.  When I visited Nacoa’s headquarters in Bristol I was particularly moved by the telephone booths from which they run their children of alcoholics help line. Real children, in similar situations to Nell, or to younger me, can ring Nacoa at any time, in confidence, to get advice or just talk. After that visit I knew that Will You Catch Me? would be the most important story I have ever told.

The National Association For Children Of Alcoholics helpline number is 0800-358-3456. Children of Alcoholics week (10-16 February) aims to raise awareness of the lives of the 2.6 million children in the UK who are growing up affected by parental alcohol problems. For further information, including ways you can help and a downloadable #URNotAlone poster, please visit their website www.coaweek.org.uk or www.nacoa.org.uk

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Jane Elson, author of Will You Catch Me?

 


Big thanks to Jane, Fritha and all at Hachette for inviting me to take part in the Will You Catch Me? blog tour.

Extra thanks to Jane for writing her incredibly insightful guest post!

Mr E


 

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Be sure to check out the rest of the Will You Catch Me? blog tour with more exclusive guest posts, reviews and giveaways discussing this much-needed issue.

CLiPPA Poetry Award 2018 (Shortlisted): The Rainmaker Danced – John Agard (Illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura)

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Today, I’m absolutely delighted to have been personally asked to celebrate this collection of poetry shortlisted for the CLiPPA, The Rainmaker Danced by John Agard in the run up to the winner’s announcement…


What is the CLiPPA?

Established in 2003, the CLiPPA (Centre for Literacy in Primary Poetry Award) encourages and celebrates outstanding poetry published for children. This year sees the largest ever number of poetry book submissions following a bumper year for eligible poetry. This year has seen an increase in submissions of almost 70%, from 19 books from 9 publishers in 2017 to 32 books from 19 publishers in 2018.

Louise Johns-Shepherd, Chief Executive, CLPE said “CLiPPA is leading an essential movement to build on the current huge popularity of poetry and the growing poetry market to ensure that poetry for children is acknowledged as an essential part of this landscape. The shortlist recognises not just great children’s poets but great poets full stop. We want as many people as possible to know about these wonderful works and CLiPPA, the Shadowing Scheme and the resources we produce all come together to make sure that they receive the high profile they deserve.”


The Rainmaker Danced – John Agard


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(Photo credit: Michael Thorn)

Title: The Rainmaker Danced
Author: John Agard
Illustrator: Satoshi Kitamura
Publisher: Hodder Children’s (@hodderchildrens/@HachetteKids)
Page count: 96
Date of publication: 21st September 2017
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1444932607


‘One of the most eloquent contemporary poets’
Helen Dunmore, Observer

‘A specialist in word trickery – Agard is one of our most consistent, culture-crossing spokesmen’
Graeme Wright, Poetry Review

‘With one eye on the past and the other on the present… readers – especially schoolteachers and their pupils – tend to love his work…’
Rory Waterman, Times Literary Supplement

John Agard’s poems display an intense integrity, never talking down to children, encouraging them to question, while being playful in tone, witty or satirical. They focus on social observations, play with ideas from mythology and traditional tales, consider new developments in technology and reflect on nature and humanity and their interaction. The bold black and white illustrations complement and counterpoint the ideas in the poems.

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When Questions Are Bliss

One of my most favourite poems from The Rainmaker Danced is When Questions Are Bliss.
Here’s a video produced by CLPE (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education) of John performing When Questions are Bliss.

You can view more videos of John Agard performing his poetry at the absolutely amazing Poetryline website produced by CLPE here.

You can also find a whole teaching sequence (scheme of work, lesson ideas and resources) for The Rainmaker Danced, including for When Questions Are Bliss by clicking here.

The Rainmaker Danced is available to order online or from any good bookshop.


CLiPPA Poetry Award 2018: The Shortlist

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The winner will be announced at the CLiPPA 2018 Poetry Show on 22 June at the National Theatre, London.

The full shortlist is (with links to teaching resources):

  • John Agard: The Rainmaker Danced(Hodder) Illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura – witty and satirical poems that focus on social observations, play with myths and traditional tales and reflect on the nature of humanity (Suggested for Year 4 and Year 5).
  • Ruth Awolola, Victoria Adukwei Bulley, Abigail Cook, Jay Hulme, Amina Jama: Rising Stars (Otter-Barry Books) Illustrated by Riya Chowdhury, Elanor Chuah and Joe Manners – a showcase for five fresh and exciting emerging writer-performers (Suggested for Year 7 and Year 8).
  • Joseph Coelho: Overheard in a Tower Block(Otter-Barry Books) Illustrated by Kate Milner – a powerful collection, offering glimpses into the challenges of a boy’s life, ingeniously threaded through with fantasy, story, myth and magic (Suggested for Year 6 and Year 7).
  • Sarah Crossan: Moonrise(Bloomsbury) – a moving verse novel for young adults, seen from the viewpoint of a young man whose brother is on death row (Suggested for Upper Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4).
  • Sue Hardy-Dawson: Where Zebras Go(Otter-Barry Books) – a first solo collection uniting a variety of voices with a wide range of poetic forms (Suggested for Year 2, Year 3 and Year 4).
  • Karl Nova: Rhythm and Poetry (Caboodle Books) Illustrated by Joseph Witchall – the first published collection from a Hip Hop poet, demonstrating the currency and significance of rap as a form, especially for young people (Suggested for Year 4 and Year 5).

The 2018 shortlist celebrates and highlights the diversity of voices in the UK poetry scene. From debut collections Sue Hardy-Dawson’s Where Do Zebras Go and Karl Nova’s Rhythm and Poetry, to the legendary John Agard’s The Rainmaker Danced. From books already receiving recognition – Sarah Crossan’s Moonrise and Joseph Coelho’s Overheard in a Tower Block – to the Rising Stars collection celebrating under-represented voices publishing their poems for the first time. The shortlist is evenly split between 3 previous winners and 3 debut collections, with 3 out of the 6 shortlisted books coming from independent publisher Otter-Barry Books.

The winner of the 2018 Award will be announced on 22nd June in the Olivier Theatre at the National Theatre in London. This will be the 4th year that CLPE has partnered with the National Theatre to deliver the Poetry Show which will include performances from children participating in the Shadowing Scheme and the shortlisted poets. The winner of the Award will receive £1000. Former Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell, will live draw the Award Ceremony.

The judging panel is chaired by much loved poet and CLiPPA 2003 winner, Grace Nichols along with Kate Wakeling, poet and CLiPPA 2017 winner for Moon Juice, Imogen Lycett Green, Director of the Betjeman Prize for Young Poets, Charlotte Hacking, CLPE Learning Programme Leader and Anthony Anaxagorou, poet, poetry educator and founder of Out-Spoken Press.

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Big thanks to Liz for inviting me to celebrate this wonderful poetry collection and the CLiPPA award. It would be great to be involved in many more!

Mr E
📚

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