Updated 12th April 2021
I’ll get the health news out of the way first! I heard someone say that for every day you’re in intensive care, it takes one week to recover. I came out of intensive care at the end of May after 48 days. If my maths is right, that means I should be as recovered as I’ll ever be by the end of April.
At the time of me writing this, I certainly feel fitter and stronger than I have been. I test myself by walking as fast as I can round the block where I live, doing laps, for about 45 minutes to an hour. It feels OK. Marching about like that gives me a chance to think as well.
My two main problems are my left eye and my left ear. They’ve done a series of ops on my left eye which have kept the pressure down, and the sight – rather strangely is OK in a tiny area in the middle. The rest is fogged. The ear doesn’t really work, but I get a sense of 3D sound by wearing a hearing aid and turning it up.
There that’s the end of my health bulletin!
I’ve been doing plenty of ‘virtual’ meetings and broadcasts. One that was fascinating for me was a BBC Radio 3 programme about a language called ‘Rotwelsch’ – an old European language of the underworld that used a mix of German, Romani, Yiddish and other influences. A writer called Thomas Puchner has written a book about it called The Language of Thieves and it’s taken him into his own family background (sometimes unpleasant, some less so) in the early and middle years of the 20th century in Germany.
Also on the programme that night was someone who has studied the Nazi transit camp on the edge of Paris (Drancy), and another person who has looked into the role of the railways in the Holocaust. As my father’s uncles and aunt were deported to Auschwitz on trains after being imprisoned in Drancy that was of particular interest to me. (I’ve written about this in my books The Missing and On the Move – both published by Walker Books and also in the last chapter of my memoir So They Call You Pisher! (Verso Books).
I interviewed the great writer Hilary Mantel for BBC Radio 4 about how she chooses and uses language for her books. That seems to have been interesting for quite a few people, judging by the response.
I’ve been working with the Imperial War Museum on a couple of projects. I can tell you more about this next time. They will be audio installations that people will be able to listen to when visiting some of the different Imperial War Museums round the country.
I’ve started going back to teaching students at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Many Different Kinds of Love
There have been a whole set of interviews with me about Covid and the book I’ve written Many Different Kinds of Love, a story of life, death and the NHS (published by Ebury, illustrated by Chris Riddell) which came out on March 18.
There have been interviews in the Big Issue, the Guardian, the New Statesman, the Amnesty magazine – amongst others – and I’ve done broadcast interviews about Covid or the book on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Front Row’, Scala Radio, Giles Coren’s show on Times Radio, Adrian Chiles’s Show, Jeremy Vine’s Radio 2 show, GMB, BBC News, BBC Radio London (Vanessa Feltz’s show), BBC Radio 4 ‘The Reunion’, BBC Radio Scotland and there have been several podcasts and virtual appearances for Jewish Book Week, Ed Miliband’s ‘Reasons to be cheerful’, Owen Jones’s podcast, Radio 2’s podcast about how to cope, the ‘Griefcast’ podcast, the ‘New Humanist’ podcast. ITV also put out a film called ‘2020: the story of us’ (directed by Kevin Macdonald) where I was one of the 3 patients in intensive care shown in the film. (I can tell you, it was pretty grisly seeing myself in an induced coma!)
Many Different Kinds of Love made it into the best sellers lists for two weeks running (at number 4 and number 5) – the first time a book of mine has been a best seller! There have been reviews in the Observer, the Daily Telegraph and on various blogs around on the internet. You can find out more about the book here…
I presented a BBC Radio 4 programme about Dr Seuss’s book, The Lorax for the series ‘Costing the Earth’. It was good fun to interview Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell for that. She was at her enthusiastic best!
Some time ago I wrote a book about Emile Zola’s stay in England (The Disappearance of Emile Zola (Faber), and I’m pleased to say that a group of us are working on that to create a stage show. More on that when things start to come together.
Thanks to Five Leaves Bookshop and the persistence of Ross Bradshaw, there is now a bilingual English-Yiddish version of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. We did a bi-lingual reading of it in February.
I’ve helped in getting out a book of William Morris’s narrative poem part of which is set during the time of the Paris Commune: it’s called Pilgrims of Hope and published by Redwords and distributed by Bookmarks Bookshop. It’s been designed and edited by Roger Huddle and I’ve written the intro.
Meanwhile, over at the YouTube channel ‘Kids’ Poems and Stories with Michael Rosen’ (director, Joe Rosen), we’ve reached 100 million views! We’re pretty proud of this. It seems amazing that a channel devoted to poems, stories, a few jokes, interviews with other writers and some children’s book reviews has had that many hits. We put up a new vid every two weeks so please subscribe to the channel. That way you get to hear when new stuff goes up.
As part of our celebrations, Jonny Walker, a classroom teacher who teaches poetry has produced a booklet to help teachers use the YouTube Channel to help children write and perform poems and it is titled Michael Rosen’s Poetry Videos: How To Get Children Writing and Performing Poems Too. He is full of experience, has loads of ideas and some great thoughts about teaching poetry. I promise you, that if you read the booklet and use the channel you will be find it easy, fun and rewarding to teach and write poetry. More details about the book here.
Finally, I hope you have all coped with the pandemic. Obviously, it’s been a big shock for my family as it has for tens of thousands of other people. I believe very strongly that we need a public enquiry to find out why things went so badly wrong in the first few weeks of the pandemic when it started spreading in the UK. I know it’s a terrible thing to think about but we could face something like this again and we need to learn the lessons from what happened this time.
Finally finally (!) I must thank all the people who saved my life and have helped me get better: my wife Emma and family, Dr Katie Amiel, all the NHS doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, voice therapists and all the health workers at the Whittington Hospital and the St Pancras Rehabilitation Hospital. Without them all, I wouldn’t be alive today.
I’ve been doing my best to get fitter and stronger. My record for going for a walk is 75 minutes and that included what I think of as a mountain: walking uphill from Alexandra Park Station to Alexandra Palace! OK, I know it’s not the Matterhorn. Fantastic view over London just as the lights were coming on in houses, streets and offices.
I remember being taken there for the first time when I was 7 by a family friend, Francis Aprahamian, who looked out and said, that when we grew up we would have to have hope. And far away beneath us an express train was heading north. I think he said it was the Tyne Tees Express. I loved the sound of that: Tyne Tees Express…
I’ve been doing all sorts of ‘virtual’ things: programmes on BBC Radio 4, like ‘The Reunion’, where the BBC reunited me and my wife, Emma with the doctors and nurses who saved my life. It was very emotional for me to hear them talking of me about the time I was unconscious while my body was trying to get better. I also read one of my new Covid poems at the end of the programme.
Another programme that I really enjoyed doing was ‘Pick of the Year’. They asked my son Joe to present it with me and we talked to each other (virtually!) about some great, uplifting or sad moments that happened through the year. You can listen here…
I very much enjoyed being the last item of the last BBC Newsnight of the year 2020. They asked me to write a poem that had a bit of hope in it and they came to our back garden and filmed me doing it. I’m quite excited by the idea that when we write poems, it’s possible through technology for 100s, 1000s or even millions of people to see and hear them within a few hours of them being written.
I’ve also started recording the programme I present, ‘Word of Mouth’, a programme about words and language use. I love doing this and I’ve been presenting it for over 20 years. It’s great to be back! The latest programmes go out in January and February and then they’re all on BBC Sounds.
Before I got ill, I made quite a few videos for our YouTube Channel. Joe is loading these up on to the channel either once a week or once a fortnight. By the way, we’re very proud that the channel has been viewed over 95 million times. That means we’ll hit 100 million views in a couple of months time! The latest video is the final instalment in a series I made in conjunction with Authorfy, Michael Rosen’s Poetry Masterclass. You can watch the whole series on our channel, Kids’ Poems and Stories With Michael Rosen.
One way we might celebrate this is with a book being written by teacher and poet Jonny Walker. It’s for teachers to help them teach poetry to children. He’s beavering away to get it done. Look out for that.
Talking of writing, I’ve done quite a lot myself over the last few weeks: finishing off Many Different Kinds of Love to be published by Ebury Press with pictures by Chris Riddell. It’s about my 9 months of getting ill, being in intensive care and struggling to get better. This comes out on March 18. I feel quite ‘tingly’ about this…wondering what people will make of this. You can find out more here…
I’ve also been writing some new children’s books. Not sure at the moment when they’ll be out, but I’ll keep you posted.
If you go to the button we call ‘blog’ you’ll see that there are some writing ideas there. They’re for anyone – children, teachers, parents, carers or any person dropping in – to get started on writing something. Please free free to use them, adapt them, change them in any way you want. The latest is Poetry Idea.
In the Press
There have been various interviews with me in newspapers and magazines. I’ve put them all together here:
One other thing: in June and July my hair started falling out and I thought I was going bald. Then in November and December it’s started to grow again! Well, it keeps life interesting doesn’t it?
Lastly, here is a photo that Cambridge United Community Trust just posted on Twitter, capturing the day when I visited Abbey Stadium to work with local children.
As far as my personal health is concerned, I’m continuing to make progress. I can walk for about 40 minutes non-stop without having to take a rest. It’s a slow walk – more of stroll, really – but it is me moving along steadily. I’m afraid the sight in my left eye is only a bit better so far but the doctors are doing their best to improve it. The hearing in my left ear is pretty well gone, but I have a hearing aid and this helps a good bit. Meanwhile, I’m waiting for scans to see if my lungs and heart have got better. I hope so. The ends of my toes are numb which is a strange feeling! Then, as other Covid sufferers have said, I’ve also lost quite a bit of hair off the top of my head. I shouldn’t have to say this, but please don’t believe anyone who says that Covid is a hoax or that for everyone it’s only a mild form of flu and so it’s nothing to worry about. I believe we should take every precaution we can to help avoid getting Covid.
Here is a video I have just made detailing some of the lingering effects of my Covid experience.
I’m also writing and doing occasional interviews. There’s a recent one in The Daily Telegraph and there’ll be one in The Guardian soon. I’ve written some things about Covid – wait for news on that soon! I’ve been writing some poems for the very youngest children – that’s with Walker Books. No title at the moment! And I’m doing an anthology with Walker Books too. I’ve got some interviews coming up for films on Sir Quentin Blake and another one on Julia Donaldson which will be on TV in a few months time.
I’m also writing my ‘Dear Gavin Williamson’ column in The Guardian. One’s already come out since I came out of hospital. One a month from now on. And I do the origins of a word that’s in the ‘air’ for the magazine New Humanist. I missed a few editions while I was ill but I’ll be back on that soon.
And there’s the poem I write for the National Education Union Newspaper, Educate. I write a poem per issue and I’ve been doing that for several years now going back to when the magazine was The Teacher. I would like to make a collection of all the poems I’ve written for these magazines.
You’re Thinking About Doughnuts
We’ve successfully crowdfunded my book You’re Thinking About Doughnuts with Cole Henley turning it into a graphic novel. We’re doing it with ‘Unbound’ who are very keen that people go on supporting the project.
This month two books came out:
Macbeth United (illustrated by Tony Ross). This is a football story based on the story that Shakespeare tells in the play ‘Macbeth’. And you can’t get nastier than that! Find out more…
Honey for You, Honey for Me (illustrated by Chris Riddell) is a book of nursery rhymes and playground rhymes. It’s a companion volume to my A Great Big Cuddle. I think of it as the folk roots for the kind of writing that I do for the youngest children. Find out more…
Look out for a new book coming soon on October 1st, On the Move: Poems About Migration, illustrated by Quentin Blake. Find out more…
YouTube – Kids’ Poems and Stories with Michael Rosen
Don’t forget that each and every week, we put up a new video on our YouTube Channel. These were filmed before I got ill but we will be making some new ones soon. Please subscribe to the Channel – it’s free – and that way you can keep up with what goes on the Channel. We’ve had nearly 85 million views at the moment of me writing this News!
My latest video is Cucumber from my True or False? series:
By the way, a teacher friend of mine is writing a book for teachers that will be a guide on how best to use our YouTube Channel to help children write and perform poems. More on that next time!
In case you hadn’t heard, I can tell you that in March I caught the Coronavirus. I was in bed at home for a while but then went into hospital. I spent 12 weeks there including 7 in Intensive Care. I was in a very serious condition.
When I recovered enough I wento a Rehabilitation Hospital where they taught me how to stand up again! And then they taught me how to walk so that I could go home and get around the house.
I had great care and between the doctors and nurses saved my life more than once. I’ve had wonderful loving care from my wife so it’s been wonderful to come home after 12 weeks in hospitals.
I also have to say that I’m still recovering: walking is very slow, I’ve lost sight and sound from my left eye and left ear and there are some other problems too. This means that some of the things I’ve been doing for years I can’t do at the moment: school visits, conferences, broadcasting, and teaching at Goldsmiths university. I can’t say for the moment how long this is going to last but I am doing all I can to get fit and well and I have great help and support.
Here are some news reports of what happened:
The Guardian: Michael Rosen home from intensive care after coronavirus
Good Morning Britain:
I am doing a little bit of writing right now and there are some new books coming out during the next few months.
September 3rd 2020:
Macbeth United, illustrated by Tony Ross. Find out more…
October 1st 2020:
On the Move: Poems About Migration, illustrated by Quentin Blake. Find out more…
November 26th 2020:
Why Do We Need Art?, with Annemarie Young. Find out more…
There will be a new video coming out every week for a while on the Kids’ Poems and Stories with Michael Rosen YouTube Channel. You can watch them here on my website and on my Official YouTube Channel – Kids’ Poems and Stories with Michael Rosen.
The latest is Rats…
I have also launched a Michael Rosen TV Channel for Safe Streaming on Kidoodle with some classic videos like Chocolate Cake, No Breathing, Babysitter and more.
Search @kidoodletv on any social platform and you’ll find them or visit Kidoodle.
You can now buy Tee-Shirts, Stickers, Tote Bags and other great Michael Rosen stuff on my Merch Page:
The Old Vic
On December 14, I did a show at the Old Vic in London. This is the second year I’ve done this and it’s an absolute treat to do it. I was taken to the Old Vic from about the age of 10 and I thought it was so grand and special full of such clever people performing Shakespeare and other great plays. And then 60 years later, I come out on to the stage and do my thing! Maybe that doesn’t sound amazing to you but as I stand there, inside I feel like I’ve caught some of that grandness just by being there! And because I went with my parents and brother, I feel full up with feeling. It was also special this year because my son Joe came along with my step-daughter Laura and her family.
I was on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb on December 20. This is hosted by the wonderful Ian McMillan, poet, performer, wit, jester, language observer and shaper. I love the way he tells things, talks about things. Every day he writes a tweet which is really a little prose poem about his morning stroll. Anyone wanting to write poems should read these and see how in just a few words, you can create a pictures and feelings. They remind us that you can build an atmosphere and observe things around us in a very small space. Over time, one by one, Ian is constructing a world out of these fragments.
I was on the programme because it was about nonsense (I’ve done two books of nonsense, which I wrote as a kind of tribute to Edward Lear.) Amongst the guests was Julia Donaldson who, along with Axel Scheffler the illustrator, has done more than anyone to make the rhyming picture book a fantastic art form. The programme is recorded in the BBC studios in Salford, Manchester.
The recording went well, I thought, we got on a train back to London and about a half hour from Manchester the train stopped. The guard announced that they had been informed a tree had fallen on the line. Then the lights went out and we all sat in the dark. Axel’s phone didn’t work and he needed to get in touch with someone to tell them that he wouldn’t be able to fly to France in the morning because he wouldn’t have time to get home and to the airport! He used my phone to make the arrangements. Next time I see him, I’ll check to see if he ever got to France over Christmas.
Also on the programme was writer, comedian and podcaster, Jake Yapp who was down to write and perform his next podcast – from home. Instead, he set up his computer and he did it from the train. You can listen to it here and hear me break out into doing We’re Going on a Bear Hunt just to give people something to join in with. But they didn’t. Well I tried, here it is.
I also did another little Christmas show at one of our local cafes, La Dinette. It’s a very baby-friendly eatery, and it’s nearly always full of young mothers and fathers with babies and toddlers. They make their own cakes and muffins there and at Christmas, fantastic mince pies. A few doors down is the Muswell Hill Children’s Bookshop so they supply a pile of books, I do poems, everyone eats mince pies, babies roll round the floor…
My book The Missing came out in a kind of double-barrelled sort of a way with some copies released in December and the proper publication date at the beginning of January. It seems to have interested a lot of people so I’ve been on radio and done interviews for several newspapers and podcasts – such as BBC Radio 4’s ‘Saturday Live’, BBC Radio 5 Live’s ‘Jeremy Vine Show’, Just Imagine’s podcast with Nikki Gamble, and newspaper interviews, articles and reviews in The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Times, Financial Times, Books for Keeps, Yorkshire Post, The I, The Week, First News, Authorfy and others.
On January 16 I was asked to give a talk for a conference held in the Orbit. That’s the red tower on the Olympic site, next to the London Stadium where West Ham play now. If you get a chance to go, you must do it. The view at night is like you’re in an aeroplane, looking out over the east side of London. The stadium lights were on and it looked like a space craft had landed next to us, while all around people were sitting in their towers waiting for unseen creatures to emerge.
Holocaust Memorial Day
January 25 was when we had the ceremony for Holocaust Memorial Day in Cambridge. This was to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by the Russian army in 1945. I’ve been working with Helen Weinstein and HistoryWorks in Cambridge alongside Eva Clarke a survivor from one of the concentration camps. In fact she was born in Mauthausen and survived with her mother. She tells her story, I tell the stories in The Missing, read poems and the school students write poems themselves, sing songs that I’ve written the words for, or do other creative work around the terrible events of that time.
By the time we get to the memorial day itself, we’ve spoken to and worked with something like 5,000 students and teachers. On the day itself – which was held in the Corn Exchange, there was a mix of speeches, dance, drama, song, poetry, and testimony from survivors both of the concentration camps and of more recent genocides and discrimination. It was a powerful and moving event, full of brilliant work by the young people.
Another project I’m working on which involves songs is with the composer Russell Hepplewhite. I’m writing the words for his music as part of what are known as ‘Friday Afternoons’ at Snape. This is a resource for teachers and pupils to have new songs to sing in schools on all sorts of themes. Our theme is Everything! I’ve written words on atoms, cells, movement, discovery, life and a whole lot more! We’ll be presenting a performance on May 4th at the City of London Boys School, then it’ll be available after that. I’ll keep you posted.
Very sorry, it’s been some time since I’ve posted up some News. Here is a quick catch-up.
I’ve done another one of my booklets for teachers. This one is Reading for Pleasure and has tips, resources, thoughts on how we read, (the reading process if you like), how doing things like the SPaG test puts us off reading! And more. You can buy the booklet here on my website along with my other self-published books for teachers, my book about writing (The Author) along with all my other books published by mainstream publishers.
There’s a new book in the ‘Big Questions’ series that I’ve done with Annemarie Young. This one is What is Politics?
It’s meant for Key stage 2 and 3 students.
There’s my book Book of Play that has come out in conjunction with an exhibition at the Wellcome Collection. Please do go to the exhibition and I hope you enjoy my book too!
Available on 12th December: The Missing, the True Story of My Family in World War II.
I’ve done some more filming for our YouTube Channel ‘Kids’ Poems and Stories with Michael Rosen’.
We’ve had over 65 million views and we have more than 330 thousand subscribers. New videos go up every week.
The latest ones include an interview with Francesca Simon about how she writes, a story about how I used to get scared going to the outside loo when I went to see my grandparents (!) and another ‘Right Class 6’ monologue by the teacher who doesn’t seem to be getting anything right.
I did a bit of filming for Arte Television, for French TV. It was about Roald Dahl and where he lived in Great Missenden. A French film crew and I walked round Great Missenden talking about the village and the museum in relation to Dahl’s work. We looked at the petrol pumps that gave Dahl the idea for what Danny’s father does in Danny Champion of the World (a book I like a lot), the houses that he describes the BFG striding over, and we looked at his writing hut which has been put in the museum. I was able to use what I researched for my book about Roald Dahl, The Fantastic Mr Dahl – a book for Key stage 2 students taking readers into the life and work of Dahl.
Simon Mayo who used to DJ on the BBC left to be a DJ on Scala Radio. When my Book of Play came out, he asked me in to talk a bit about it. It’s always interesting going to see different kinds of radio stations. At Scala, it’s all very compact, with the studio right next to where people are on their computers, the producer sits in the studio and it feels more like an office that just happens to be broadcasting! All very matey.
Apart from this, I’ve been zipping about: Liverpool, Cumbria, Belfast, Shoreham, Bournemouth, Cheltenham, Appledore… If you look at my Events on this site, you’ll see where I’m going next!
A Dog’s Tale!
This month, I have a new book out, A Dog’s Tale! An old dog chats to a young dog about what’s coming up in life: big new adventures. But not to worry, the old dog says, and even if something bad or sad happens, what matters is how you deal with it. It’s in rhyme with fantastic pictures from Tony Ross. Find out more…
The Corner Table Podcast
In June I went to the wonderful Evin restaurant in Hackney, near to where we use to live to eat their gorgeous falafel and gözleme to record a podcast for ‘The Corner Table’. It’s a neat idea from Jack Aldane to record authors in their fave cafe about life, times, writing, rhubarb or anything.
Here’s how it came out: check if you can hear me munching. It was genuine, authentic munching.
Digital Storytelling Festival
June 7, I took part in a multilingual Digital Storytelling conference at the college where I teach, Goldsmiths, University of London. I wasn’t able to stay for the whole thing but it was great to hear We’re Going on a Bear Hunt being spoken in German – and with new places like up mountain, in the story.
Here’s a sample of Bear Hunt in German:
“Wir gehen auf Bärenjagd
Wir fangen ein ganz Grossen
Und wenn ihr uns fragt,
Wir haben keine Angst
in den Hosen.”
This month I’ve been working really hard finishing off some books. I can’t say exactly what they are at the moment. Publicity people at publishers like to keep things hush-hush so I’m not giving away titles just yet. I’m not trying to be mysterious, it’s just the way the publishing industry works!
What I can tell you, is that for one of the books, I volunteered to be put under a kind of house arrest: I went into the publishers, put myself in a room in their office and didn’t come out until I had done a few thousand words. And it worked! I did it. Just the final bits of editing to do. One night when I came out of the little room after working almost non-stop for about 8 hours, the people left in the main office clapped!
Well, it’s one way to get writing done.
Bridge School, Islington
I helped open the Bridge School’s new building. Here’s how Jane Ramsey announced it on twitter along with her photo of the event:
The wonderful Michael Rosen officially ‘ribbon’ (tinsel!) cutting at today’s ceremony celebrating formal opening of their integrated learning space (ie things to do outside of school day) at the inspiring Bridge School in Islington working with CYP with autism
BC ELTon Awards
David Crystal was given an award at the English Language Teaching awards evening.
Here’s Benjamin Zephaniah hosting the evening at the ELTon Awards and me presenting Professor David Crystal with a Lifetime Achievement Award:
Professor Alison Baker of the University of East London hosted a symposium on Robert (Bob) Leeson who was a writer for children, poet, critic and reviews editor for the Morning Star. He was a also a friend, activist and great supporter of librarians, teachers and other writers. He wrote the book that went with the ‘Grange Hill’ TV programmes and ‘The Third Class Genie’ and various adaptations of eg ‘Robin Hood’ and the ‘Thousand and One Nights’.
We discussed his work and shared ideas about how BAME authors and characters in books could be better represented.
Flights of Fancy
Still with Walker Books: they published a book called Flights of Fancy, which is by all ten Children’s Laureates. We each have a few pages to give readers some ideas of something creative to do. The book is out and this month we recorded our pages so that there can be an audiobook to go with it. My pages contain some ideas for how to write some poems. One of my ideas is to play with the word ‘Bobble’. Oh yes.
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
The SBT is in Stratford and they invited me to do two family shows there with some words about Shakespeare. It was great to do my poems and then throw in a kind of Shakespeare quiz based on old-fashioned words that Shakespeare used – people had to guess the meaning from a choice I gave them.
For example are ‘gaskins’ – a) onions, b) baggy trousers c) itchy feet ? And then I ask them if some sayings are by Shakespeare or not: What about ‘Knock, knock. Who’s there?’ Is that by Shakespeare or not? What do you think?
Then amazingly, while I was sitting in to one side, waiting between shows, I recognised someone walking through: it was one of the greatest and most famous Shakespeare scholars of our time: Stanley Wells! I was able to ask him a question about the clown, Feste, who is in ‘Twelfth Night’. Did he think that the man who first played the part – Robert Armin – provided the songs that Feste sings? He thought so!
And while we’re on Armin, do you know he wrote a kind of guide for clowning. Amazing. 400 years ago, the clown in Shakespeare’s theatre company was writing about how to be funny.
Here’s the one of Robert Armin’s books:
I finished up a project I did with the Barbican Education team. This involved me collecting together and writing some poems about my family history and giving them to the team. Then they made a kind of doll’s house, with ‘rooms’ for each memory, and put into it objects to represent something from that particular memory. Many of my family stories were about migration – my father, his parents, and my mother’s mother and her grandparents all migrated from Poland to Britain and America and back again! Plenty to talk about there!
Then we had a teacher training session for the teachers taking part. We looked at how you can collect memories and turn them into poems and objects to create this ‘house’. On, April 20, we came together and each school had made a short film and the children and teachers explained what they had done.
I’m hoping that we can make a little book out of all their poems.
More info can be found at: stmarys.ac.uk/news/2019/02/barbican-boxes
Festival of Ideas
On May 5, I was one of the speakers at the Royal Academy’s Festival of Ideas. I talked about how the arts are getting squashed and squeezed out of the school curriculum. I began though by talking about how the ‘interpretation’ of one piece of art with another used to be high status. I used two prints from the Royal Academy’s own collection as an illustration of this: Henry Fuseli’s pictures of Thor battling with the serpent in Midgard, and Fuseli’s picture of Prospero, from The Tempest.
Interview with Liz Pichon
On May 6, I talked to Liz Pichon, the creator of the wonderful Tom Gates series. This was for our ‘Talking to Writers about Writing’ videos on our YouTube Channel. We’re building up a library of writers talking to children and teachers about writing here. So far, we have Malorie Blackman, David Almond and Frank Cottrell Boyce. Can I ask teachers to take a look at these?
Suggestion: read a book by one of these authors, look at the video and put into practice something of what they say. I promise you, this will work out well.
South Tyneside Festival
Had a great time in South Shields, being interviewed by the journalist Kevin Maguire at the Word – the central library – for the South Tyneside Festival. Apart from that, Kevin introduced me to an app on my phone which counts the steps I do in a day. Apparently, according to him, I’m supposed to do 10,000 steps a day. I never knew that my phone was secretly recording what I do. What else does it know about me?
We shot some more vids for our YouTube channel – more poems and stories. We try to put up new material once a week. If you want to keep up with this, best thing to do is subscribe. Just click on the little bell!
Crowdfunding You’re Thinking About Tomatoes
One spin-off from the our channel is that we’re crowdfunding the book that I’ve just read on the channel You’re Thinking About Tomatoes.
I’m working with artist, Cole Henley, to turn the book into a graphic novel. A beautiful full-colour hardback book of 128 pages, it’s perfect for introducing readers to the magic of comics! We would really like your support and there’s all sorts of rewards for people who spend a bit more. Pledge levels include signed copies, original artwork, and appearing as a character in the book.
Reading For Pleasure
We had a fantastic one-day conference at Goldsmiths on new ways to inspire Reading for Pleasure. I interviewed some of our students who had done research on this and we had speakers and workshops through the day. This is one of a series of conferences at Goldsmiths for teachers. Please look out for these. I promise you they will help you in making teaching reading or writing more interesting for the children and you! Please check my Events section on my website here, to see other Goldsmiths events coming up – like a series of poetry workshops I’ll be leading and a talk about writing and writing poetry.
I did a long interview for Carousel magazine about my writing and life. Look out for that in the magazine soon.
The National Poetry Archive
The National Poetry Archive kicked off their children’s section with a launch at the Illustration Museum, near Kings Cross Station. Please look out for this. There are hundreds of poems, read by poets on this archive. It’s a great way to show children – or anyone – how poetry sounds and an inspiration for anyone to make recordings themselves.
We had an author event at Goldsmiths as part of our MA in Children’s Literature. I interviewed Malorie Blackman. It was an inspiring event, full of Malorie’s observations growing up as a child of Caribbean parents, thinking about herself in the world, facing discriminatory attitudes, overcoming these and becoming the great and successful writer she is. She is writing for ‘Doctor Who’ (bringing her love and admiration for Ruby Bridges into the story) and her series of Noughts and Crosses books have been made into plays and . . . soon to be a TV series. Fantastic!
The Hay Festival
At the end of May, I went to the Hay Festival and did 5 events: a panel for former children’s laureates – with Chris Riddell taking the mick with his wonderful on-the-spot cartoons of me! I did a family event and signed books for two and a half hours. What? Really? Yes!
I also did a schools event for teenagers – 1700 school students – and they gave me the nicest, most enthusiastic welcome that I’ve ever had. When I did poems about my family’s experience of losing a child and another poem about my family’s experience during the Holocaust, you could have heard a pin drop. I was moved by that. Then when I told them about writing in an exaggerated style (‘Stone Age’ and ‘No Breathing in Class’) they whooped! And then when I did the meme thing of ‘choop, click, noice’ (as the meme people put it!), they applauded. I was actually really moved by the welcome they gave me. And some of them had come from as far away as Birmingham.
The organiser of the Hay Festival, Peter Florence, interviewed me for a one-hour session based partly on my memoir So They Call You Pisher! (Verso Books). Peter has created a Glastonbury for books. It is an incredible achievement with speakers from all over the world, talking, discussing, demonstrating. It’s like a one-week university. It was a lovely group of people who seemed to like my stories and accounts of my family. Thanks for everything, Peter!
Then, sadly, we heard that the wonderful Judith Kerr had died and so we did an impromptu event, with Julia Eccleshare, Philippa Perry and myself to talk about Judith’s life and work and context. it was the least we could do.
At Hay, BBC Culture interviewed me:
In the 1990s there was a project called the Language in the National Curriculum Project or ‘LINC’. It brought together teachers, researchers and academics to discuss latest ideas on ‘literacy’ and ‘oracy’ – how we write, how we talk and how best to teach these things. The project encouraged teachers to bring ‘portfolios’ of children’s work into centres like the old ‘Teachers’ Centres’ or CPDs as of now. Academics provided ideas which passed down via experienced language experts based in the Centres. The teachers who came to the centres reported back to the staff in their schools.
Materials started to be produced based on these examples of the children’s work and what teachers were finding worked well. Alongside these were some of the theories coming from the researchers and academics. What was happening was a mix of theory and practice whilst the teachers themselves were developing professionally.
I thought at the time that it was a great model for how education should and could be run. If there were problems or snags, they could have been worked on, but the structure seemed great. But it was abolished.
However, there is one survivor from this time: the concept of ‘oracy’. That is, we can look at how we talk, whether that’s in speeches, in conversations, in arguing or telling stories, or how we find out things using ‘talk’ and any other ways in which we talk.
There are some key figures who’ve studied oracy and learning through oracy (known as ‘dialogic learning’), most notably Neil Mercer, Robin Alexander, Fiona Maine, Lynn Dawes, Julia Snell and Teresa Cremin and her ‘book blether about books’. In the past, Gordon Wells, my father Harold Rosen, Nancy Martin, James Britton, Jerome Bruner and others explored this area too. We teach dialogic approaches to children reading books in our course ‘Children’s Literature in Action’ at Goldsmiths, University of London. I have presented the theory as we use it in my booklet, Poems and Stories for Primary and Lower Secondary Schools.
Oracy is alive and well with the Voice 21 school in East London and on March 28 I was invited to visit and present our work in the field. I follow their work on twitter and it was great to see how this has become a national project.
Haringey Library Awards
On April 2, I was over the moon to be able to go to our local ‘people’s palace’, Alexandra Palace (everyone calls it ‘Ally Pally’) and present the Haringey Library Awards. Haringey Libraries choose books for the years 5-8 to choose from. They vote on their favourite. There were about 800 children in the recently restored theatre cheering their favourite writers. I did a little poetry show and gave out the prizes.
Here’s the shortlist:
The final shortlist for the Biblio-buzz Alexandra Palace Children’s Book Awards (formerly Haringey Children’s Book award) has been published. Haringey schoolchildren aged 9 to 12 were invited to vote for their favourite book from the six titles.
The shortlisted novels were:
- Will You Catch Me? by Jane Elson
- Tin by Padraig Kenny
- Child I by Steve Tasane
- Kat Wolfe Investigates by Lauren St John
- The Lost Magician by Piers Torday
- Kick by Mitch Johnson
Here’s how Haringey announced the winners:
Congratulations to Jane Elson and Steve Tasane who are this year’s winners of the Biblio-Buzz Alexandra Palace Children’s Book Award (formerly Haringey Children’s Book Award).
Voted for by schoolchildren across Haringey, Jane’s novel Will You Catch Me? received the Schools Award, while Steve’s book Child I received the Library Award, voted for by children visiting Haringey’s libraries.
Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust’s Creative Learning team and Haringey Library Services collaborated to deliver the award aimed at nine to 12-year olds, inspiring them to read and vote for their favourite book.
The winners were announced at a ceremony at the restored Alexandra Palace Theatre, hosted by Michael Rosen – one of Britain’s best-loved writers and performance poets.
Here’s the website link:
Oxford Literary Festival
On April 4, I did a talk at the Oxford Literary Festival about my book, Workers’ Tales. These are stories taken from old socialist magazines and newspapers from 1880-1914. It’s always odd for me to go back to Oxford where I was at university. On this occasion I was talking in what used to be the Indian Library, an old building next to my old college, Wadham College. When I came out I could see the window of the room I used to sleep in in my first year at university. It’s amazing how just being in a place, looking at things you first saw many years ago – in this case over 50 years ago – gives you such powerful sensations. I could feel being myself. I also remembered that right on that spot there was a big demonstration which I took part in and one person who came up to me on that day is called Robert Reich. He went on to become Bill Clinton’s Labor Minister and he often writes about politics today. He always says that he met and became friends with Clinton at Oxford and Clinton says how he took part in demonstrations. I often wonder when Reich came up to me on that day and said, ‘I agree with what your demonstrating for but I don’t agree with your methods’ was Clinton there too?
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
On April 5, I went to London Zoo and acted out We’re Going on a Bear Hunt for the book’s 30th birthday. There aren’t any bears there…well…there was one, actually. There was someone inside it, waving. I had another time-memory thing there too. I first visited London Zoo about 70 years ago! There are photos of me there with the rest of my family and some family friends. That must have been in 1949. The big rock in the middle always reminds me of that time. I think it used to have mountain goats on it.
The British Library
On April 9, I went with my daughter to the British Library to look at old alphabet books for children. I’m going to be doing a talk there on May 3 about alphabet books so we wanted to look at the old ones, and take pictures of them in order to show these to the audience on the screen as a powerpoint. I love going behind the scenes at the British Library – or at any museum, or going backstage in a theatre. It’s like being let in on a secret.
On April 26, two of my sons and I went to watch the Arsenal under-23s playing Leicester under-23s. The stadium was mostly empty apart from one corner so it was strangely quiet. Arsenal scored 3 goals in the first ten minutes and then spent the rest of the match stroking the ball about. The people in front of us were about my age and did a lot of talking about ‘Dick Emery’. The Arsenal boss is called Unai Emery and is Spanish. Dick Emery was an English comedian who dressed up in all sorts of different outfits and did different voices. I can’t think of two people less like each other than Unai Emery and Dick Emery. It just goes to show that nicknames are not always about how people look like or sounds like someone else. Sometimes they are about how unlike they are. Maybe. Anyway, given that Arsenal weren’t that keen on scoring anymore and Leicester couldn’t, it started to be more interesting listening to these people in front of me.
Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
On January 15, I joined in a celebration for the 80th anniversary of the publication of ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’ by T.S.Eliot at the British Library. This was the book that Andrew Lloyd Webber turned into ‘Cats’ the musical. I was on with the poet Christopher Reid and the actor Simon Callow. We each read our favourite poem and Christopher and I read one or two of our own poems. It was all great fun, and it’s really interesting to see a real actor at close quarters reading or acting. You can learn so much from the way they ‘play’ their voices like a musical instrument – as Simon did. Anyway, it was great fun.
Barbican Centre ‘Boxes’
I’m working with the Barbican Centre and some schools on creating ‘boxes’ which will help the children tell stories or write poems about their lives. These boxes are divided into ‘rooms’ which each have something in them to represent something from our lives or the lives of our parents or grandparents. I’ve got a poem that goes with each room. I didn’t make my box but the children in the project will make theirs and I’ll get to see them later in the year.
I’ve been working with History Works in Cambridge on a variety of projects – local history and Holocaust Remembrance. You can see some of this on their website. I’ll just add that the project has given me the chance to meet Eva Clarke who was born in Auschwitz. She has a terrifying story to tell of her and her mother’s survival in the last months of the Second World War. This part of the project came to a close with a ceremony of poems, songs and testimony in the University Church.
Shakespeare in Whitley Bay
I had a trip to Whitley Bay in Northumberland to do some work with several of the organisations that do work on Shakespeare in primary schools. Two schools took part in a debate on ‘Romeo and Juliet’, discussing whether Romeo and Juliet were good ‘role models’ and whether their parents behaved well or not. I did a short talk on Shakespeare’s language. I did a kind of quiz on the meanings of some of the ‘forgotten’ words in Shakespeare’s plays and I used a piece from ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ to show how he turned a piece of prose into a speech in the play.
This year is the 20th year of the Children’s Laureates so there are all sorts of events to celebrate this. There was a party to kick it all off and 9 out of the 10 laureates were there. It’s a great project, run by Booktrust, to put it about out there that children’s books and writers for children play a big part in cultural life in this country. It’s not always an easy message to get over.
On February 14, Scholastic announced the winners of the Laugh Out Loud Awards – the Lollies. These are the awards for the year’s funniest books for children. There are three categories and four books on a short list for each. A group of judges choose the four and children from schools all over the country vote on them. I started this up when I was Laureate at a time when the Roald Dahl estate backed it and it was called the Roald Dahl Prize. It disappeared for a year or two until Scholastic picked it up and they’ve backed it ever since. I think an award for funny books is a great way to draw attention to the fact that there are really good, well-written books for children that a good for a laugh, good to read together in schools or at home and there are others that are great to read on your own. I just wish that the press, radio or TV would take notice of the award to give it more profile. They are supposedly interested in putting over the idea that it’s a good thing to read. What better way to promote that than to make a bit of a fuss about funny books – which really encourage children to read! I think this is kind of obvious. They don’t! The daft thing is that every few months I get invited on to radio or TV or a newspaper asks me about why it is I think that children are reading less these days! I feel like saying, ‘Well, if you helped us promote books, perhaps that would help!’
My best friend at school was called Dave and I used to love going over to his house for ‘Friday nights’. This is a way of celebrating the eve of the sabbath or ‘shabbes benacht’ (Yiddish for it) in Jewish homes. What I liked about it was the way Dave’s father, Morris, used to tell jokes and make up jokes. He and Dave’s mother ran a shoe shop in Wembley Market but he had been a jazz musician. Anyway, sad to say, Morris died aged 103 but the funeral was an amazing event with some of Morris’s songs playing on the speakers at the service and Dave and his brother Howard reading some of Morris’s poems. He was a very clever, funny, kind man. I’ve written about going over for ‘Friday Nights’ in my memoir So They Call You Pisher!.
World Book Day
On World Book Day, I did two performances in the Genesis Cinema on the Mile End Road in Tower Hamlets and then did an ‘In Conversation’ event with the playwright and actor Danny Braverman. It was mostly based on that memoir so I got a chance to tell a lot of family stories – which the audience seemed to like.
Stand up to Racism and Fascism
I took part in the Stand up to Racism and Fascism march on March 16th and spoke at the rally at the end. I read one of my poems and met up with people involved in things like the campaign to get justice for the Windrush generation.
In late November I did an event in St James’s Church, Muswell Hill, for a great children’s bookshop – Muswell Hill Children’s Bookshop. The vicar told me how a bomb had landed on the church during the Second World War and we stood right where it had landed. For a moment it seemed ages and ages ago and then thinking about it again, it was only a couple of years before I was born!
My son and I had a great time at the Emirates on December 2 – perhaps the best time ever! Arsenal beat Spurs 4-2. It was especially amazing because Arsenal were down 1-2 at half-time and to be absolutely, absolutely, absolutely honest, I think Spurs are playing better than us this season. Hah!
On December 7, I did a little Christmas show in one of our cafes in Muswell Hill, La Dinette. I like doing local shows it somehow connects what I do with people I see in the street. Maybe, it reminds me of how people mostly live in ‘neighbourhoods’ and villages. If you stay anywhere long enough, that’s what happens. Maybe I’m the village children’s poet!
On December 12 I visited St Paul’s Church of England School, in Whitehcapel and that had a special link for me. My father lived just a few hundred yards from that school when he was growing up between 1922 and 1939. I like visiting the places where my parents came from and visited.
That evening something special happened. My oldest son and his wife had a baby. No photos, we’re all respecting her privacy – if that’s OK!
That’s why it was especially amazing to perform at the Old Vic theatre on December 15. My parents used to tell me how they went there in the 1930s and saw Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud acting there. I first went there in the 1950s and I can remember seeing Judi Dench playing Juliet in Romeo and Juliet in 1960. To stand on the same stage as such people really is quite amazing. I was – hah! – stagestruck!
On December 18 I did another Livestream for our YouTube channel with a special guest, the wonderful Frank Cottrell Boyce. He is a great guy, writes fantastic books and he’s a big Liverpool supporter so we had lots of banter. He’s got the upper hand at the moment, hasn’t he? Then I interviewed him for a new one of my Writers’ Interviews, third in the series after Malorie Blackman and David Almond.
Royal Albert Hall
To finish up my public Christmas events, I did two performances in the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall – another great venue, very red and velvety! There were thousands of children there and at first I wondered how they were all going to get in the room, and then I realised that they were showing films like The Snowman in the main auditorium which holds about 6000 people! Oh, they hadn’t come to see me after all.
What I’ve Been Up To
I’ve been out and about (as usual!) talking in schools and to groups of teachers. I’ve been doing this in Chelmsford, Chester, Cambridge, Ashford and Dartford. I met some reading volunteers who are part of an organisation called Beanstalk and I’ve been teaching our MA in Children’s Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London.
The trip to Chester was a performance in a theatre – the Storyhouse, which is a lovely, modern theatre. I have to say, I really do like doing performances in theatres when hundreds of children come in from all around. It always feels exciting and full of fun – a real event. Of course this kind of thing takes a huge amount or time, money and organisation. The people who do this for me are the Children’s Bookshow, a fantastic organisation that puts on a whole series of book events all round the country.
Sheffield Children’s Book Award
On November 16, I was delighted to attend the Sheffield Children’s Book Award on November 16. I was invited because one of my Uncle Gobb books won the overall prize a few years ago and all the winners of the prize stretching back over 30 years were invited. It was held in the Lyceum Theatre, a beautiful old theatre and hundreds of children were there who had read this year’s books that were up for the award. That’s what I really like about this award – the final winners are chosen by thousands of children. I wish every city, town and locality in the country could do this, as it’s a fantastic way for children to read and talk about books.
Not Boyzone reunited but me at the #SheffieldChildrensBookAwards with three greats from the #ChildrensBooks world: @JstrongJeremy, #KesGray & @MichaelRosenYes. I’ve had the good fortune to have illustrated for them all. @SheffLibraries
— Nick Sharratt (@NickSharratt1) November 16, 2018
Uncle Gobb Review
And talking of Uncle Gobb, I got a very nice review from the English Association for my latest Uncle Gobb book:
Uncle Gobb and the Plot Plot (illus. Neil Neal Layton) published by Bloomsbury
“The cover of this book reproduces and excerpt from a Guardian review describing Uncle Gobb and the Plot Plot as ‘story telling anarchy’ and I really couldn’t put it better myself! This hilarious, often irreverent tale of Malcolm, his friends and the dreadful Uncle Gobb is the third in the Uncle Gobb series and presents an ultimately predictable good defeats bad ending, but what a journey we go on to get there. Rosen’s carefully crafted language jumps off the page as readers join him on this fantastical tale which again intertwines everyday classroom debates and dilemmas with appearances of a body-building genie and a ‘dread shed’ doubling as a rival school where IMPORTANT FACTS (not my capitalisation!) are taught. Within the highly humorous plot Rosen also skilfully gets in a plug for the Sure Start initiative ‘now closed’ and a poke in the ribs of the National Curriculum’s preoccupation with conjunctions… And all this is punctuated by a pair of bemused weasels. As I read, and guffawed at, this book my mental image was of Michael Rosen’s highly flexible face reading the text – with its mixed fonts and textual variance – out loud. Rosen has again presented a language-rich, laugh-out-loud tour de force which continues to ‘save his place’ amongst the forerunners of contemporary children’s writers. Recommended forY2 upwards both as an independent read and as a treat for teachers who enjoy a good read-aloud Rosen at the end of the day!”
– Laura Manison Shore, Senior Lecturer in Early Years & Primary Education, UWE, Bristol
The Memorial of the Shoah
I’ve been to Nottingham for Five Leaves Bookshop and Whitechapel, London for the Idea Store talking about my autobiography So They Call You Pisher! (published by Verso Books). In these talks I tell some of the stories that come from the book. Halfway through, I sometimes worry that if I tell too many and if I tell them too well, people won’t want to read the book! The last part of the book tells the story of how I discovered what had happened to my father’s uncle and aunt in France. He had always said that ‘they were in France at the beginning of the war but they weren’t there by the end’. He never knew but one way or another, partly through luck, partly through digging away in books or online I’ve pieced it together.
One result of this is that I’ve discovered that my father’s Uncle Jeschie and his Aunt Rachel were deported from Nice, in southern France, to Auschwitz where they were killed. I found that their names are engraved on a wall that commemorates all the Jews who were deported from France and who died as a result. It’s at the Memorial of the Shoah in Paris. On November 20, my wife and I went over to Paris for a ceremony which commemorated the departure of the train which carried them to Auschwitz (Convoy 62). At the ceremony there were more than a hundred relatives of the other people who were transported on that train and we could, if we wanted to, read out the names of our relatives. It was very cold and people huddled up in their winter clothes, many were quite old themselves and as they spoke, we each said what our relationship was to the person or people who had died. I said, in French, ‘l’oncle de mon père’ and ‘la tante de mon père’ (the uncle and aunt of my father). What was really moving was hearing people say things like ‘maman’ (mum) or ‘papa’ (dad) and they asked us to read out the ages of the children on the train. Some were less than a year old. While we read the names, there were some children playing in a playground nearby and you could hear their voices as they ran about laughing and shouting.
An English journalist was there and he asked me a few a questions and wrote it up for the Daily Mail online. Here it is:
BBC RADIO 4
I’ve just finished a season of ‘Word of Mouth’ on BBC Radio 4, which means that I’ve been presenting the programme for 20 years!
One of the highlights of this last series was an interview I did about what happens to people’s language when they have dementia. Then, the last programme of the series revisited a book by Raymond Williams that came out in the 1970s, called Keywords.
Following that, I did a series of 15-minute programmes called ‘Key Words for Our Times’ where a commentator chose a word to talk about and I interviewed them about it. You’ll find all these programmes on BBC iPlayer and podcast.
The Guardian published an extract from a book I’ve edited called Workers’ Tales. It’s a story written by one of the people who helped found the Labour Party, Keir Hardie.
And the ‘New Statesman’ published an extract from a book that I co-edited with Kimberley Reynolds and Jane Rosen, called Reading and Rebellion.
On October 5, Emma-Louise Williams and I went to a conference on the work and life of the late Jamaican-British poet, and short-story writer, James Berry. We knew him well, I had worked with him several times since the 1980s and Emma made a radio programme about him for BBC Radio 4. It was great to hear his voice come over the speakers and hear people talking about him so thoughtfully and affectionately.
So They Call You Pisher!
I was delighted to have the chance to talk about my memoir, So They Call You Pisher!, at the wonderful Wiener Library, a unique archive and library documenting the Third Reich. Here is my talk:
The book is recently out in paperback, published by Verso Books.
To browse an index of older news stories, visit the News Archive.