Tag Archives: Reading

Unicorns, Centaurs and Pegasus: why are we still fascinated by magical horses?

For much of recent human history, horses were a vital part of our daily lives: essential on farms, for transport and communication, and in battle.

But for most of us, nowadays, horses are almost irrelevant economically and horse-riding is a hobby for a small number of people. Most of us will go days, weeks, even months – especially if we live in a city – without seeing a horse. Yet horses are still a vital and passionately beloved element of our stories and culture.

Many 21st century children will never ride a pony, most will never groom or muck out a horse, but they still love stories about them, and particularly stories about magical and mythical horses.

I know this because when I ask classes of kids about their favourite magical creatures, unicorns almost always top the list, usually followed by winged horses and centaurs (and kelpies, if I’m in a Scottish school) mixed in with dragons and werewolves.

Why is that? Why do horses still appear so regularly in our stories and our imaginations and why do horses lend themselves so well to being given magical attributes?

Is it because of their beauty? Their size, strength and speed? Is it because of their mix of gentleness (a horse’s lips taking an apple off your palm) and potential danger (you don’t want a horse standing on your foot, and you really don’t want a startled horse to kick you)?

Is it that they can plausibly play such a wide variety of roles in stories – wise guide, essential transport, symbol of wealth and power, friend and companion or threat galloping towards you – because they have played so many roles in our history.

Is it because the horse’s importance in many cultures, for much of our history, means they have starring roles in a vast variety of folktales, myths and legends from all over the world? (I tell horse stories from Persia, Ukraine, Gambia, Russia, Australia, Tibet, Greece … and sometimes even Scotland.)

Is it all the vivid ways that storytellers in the past have added little bits of memorable magic to horses: the horn of a unicorn, the wings of Pegasus, the shapeshifting mystery of a kelpie? Are we all dazzled by the amazing and lasting pictures those magical additions leave in our imaginations?

Is it because of the unique relationship between rider and horse, and their dependence on each other? (In many of the ‘horse and hero’ legends I tell, the way the rider treats the horse reveals their character and whether they really are a hero or a bully.)

Is it because a horse, magical or not, can plausibly be a genuine and multi-faceted character in a story, not just a plot point or a magical MacGuffin? (My favourite magical horses as a child were Bree and Hwin in The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis – talking horses who aren’t just modes of transport, weapons or possessions, but characters with goals, moments of heroism, and distinct voices. Those Narnian horses are the protagonists in the story just as much as the two human children.)

Is it that horses are a powerful symbol of freedom, of escape, of traveling the world? We might use buses or bikes now, but the horse’s four fast powerful legs still carry that promise of adventure and freedom.

Despite all the research I’ve done into horse lore and mythology, and all the time I’ve spent discussing magical horses with children, I still don’t have a definitive answer to why we love magical horses. Perhaps they mean something different to each of us…

But I am sure that I’ll be discussing fiery, winged, shapeshifting, horned, talking and ghostly horses with kids again next term. Because whenever I say ‘magical animal’, the horse, in all its mythical and folklore forms, is the animal that leaps straight into their imaginations.

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I’m also sure that no matter how many wonderful magical horses there are in traditional tales, a class full of 10 year olds can always come up with a few new ideas to invent their own 21st century story-horses (laser eyes? snake’s tail? cat’s paws? time-travelling?) and to imagine their own unique adventures.

And I’m sure that even though real horses are no longer part of many of our daily lives, magical horses will star in our stories for generations.

 

Lari Don is a Scottish children’s author and storyteller. Her book, Horse of Fire, gathers her favourite ‘magical horse’ folktales myths and legends from all over the world, and is out in paperback now.

Castles in the Air

Using the past as a springboard for young writer by Paul Mason

The idea for the book came while walking the grounds of Walmer Castle in Kent.  What would it be like, my daughter asked, to sneak in and live there?  I spent the afternoon taking in the thick walls, and deep, grassy moat; the Duke of Wellington’s bedroom with its camping cot, the row of cannons pointing out to sea, the pair of Wellington boots—scribbling down notes, possibilities, real detail.

A Gibbon quote comes to mind: “There is more pleasure to building castles in the air than on the ground.”  I often like to use one to inspire the other. The past can provide young writers with a powerful springboard.

I took a class to visit a scale replica of a steerage deck on an 1840’s immigrant ship. They perched on bunks in the dimly lit deck as it rocked back and forth, listening to the waves crash, the boards creak. They pictured the hard yards of the early settlers, and put down some evocative description.

Here in New Zealand, a trip to a marae can be a source of inspiration. The wharenui or meeting house often symbolises an ancestor–with a beam for the spine, rafters for ribs and the heart represented by a strong post.  Carvings inside usually tell stories of those that have gone before, great leaders and navigators. (Check the local tikanga or rules before visiting.)

Of course, the past can creep into the classroom too.  I once brought in an old travelling chest.  The students could look and touch the worn leather, but weren’t allowed to open the lid.  What hid inside? Who did the trunk belong to? Where were they travelling? What would they themselves pack in the trunk if they were going on a long journey?

An inquiry into family history began with a mini-museum of personal heirlooms. An old hat that belonged to granddad. A medal. A treasured photograph. The young writers made them breathe in poems and stories. Given the chance, castles in the air can begin here on the ground.

Paul Mason is a former primary school teacher. He writes fiction for Bloomsbury Education including the Skate Monkey series which has two new titles, The Cursed Village and Fear Mountain, publishing in January 2017.

Andrew Brodie’s Top Ten Summer Holiday Tips!

Andrew Brodie is a popular and trusted name amongst teachers and parents. He has been producing best-selling educational books since 1992, is still very much involved in education and has a wealth of experience as a head teacher and in coaching children to pass the national tests.

Parents frequently ask me how they can help their child during the long summer holidays.  Here are my ten top tips.

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  • Enjoy the great outdoors. Talk about what you see: trees, flowers, birds – if you’re not sure what they are look them up together in books or using the internet.  Give points for different species: 10 points for a blackbird, 20 points for a swan, a thousand points for a golden eagle!  Who can gain most points in a day?
  • Plan your days out together. This gives another opportunity for researching information.  Where would you like to go? What would you like to do?  The National Trust for example has plenty of wide, open spaces to explore, houses packed with history and, quite often, exciting play areas.
  • Work out costs. What price is entrance to a park for adults and for children?  What is the total cost for your family?  How much will be left over out of your bbrodie2udget of £20, £50 or £100?
  • Go to places that cost nothing! Beaches, woods, hills are nearly all free!
  • Plan your journeys using public transport. Where can you catch a train or bus?  Where will the train or bus take you? How far will you have to walk?  What will be the total cost of the journey?
  • Plan your journeys by car. Look at maps, road atlases or the internet.  Which route will you take?  Which towns will you pass through or go near?  Which counties will you travel through?  How long should the journey take?
  • Encourage your child to read for a short while every day. This should NEVER be a chore!  Enjoy reading stories together or finding out new facts from non-fiction materials.
  • Suggest that your brodie3child writes something every day. Again, try to avoid this being a chore by only expecting a very small amount: for example, suggest one sentence to summarise the day or one sentence to describe the best bit!  Without pressure, your child may decide to write more.
  • Prepare meals together, taking the opportunity to measure out ingredients using grams for weights and millilitres for liquids.
  • Keep up the multiplication tables practice but keep the activity short. Your child may enjoy the challenge of reciting a particular table in less than brodie5one minute, or thirty seconds, or even faster.

 

Of course, you will have lots of other ideas for activities that
suit your own family life.  Above all, make sure that you all enjoy the summer.

Check out the Andrew Brodie book series here

More information on Andrew Brodie’s Apps can be found here 

For even more summer holiday ideas see our Pinterest Board

 

New Q & A with Historical Tales’ author Terry Deary

Happy Friday! Today, Words for Life published an interview with Bloomsbury Education’s own Terry Deary, ahead of the release of his new fantastic Shakespeare Tales. To find out more about Terry’s favourite books, top-tips for parents, and why he’d rather be the villain of the story head over to http://www.wordsforlife.org.uk/terry-deary now.

Terry Deary’s Shakespeare Tales are hilarious new additions to his highly successful Historical Tales series and are perfect for supporting learning about the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s Death in 2016, as well as being a great accompaniment to any lesson on drama or Elizabethan England. Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream are available from Bloomsbury now. The next instalments, Romeo and Juliet and Twelth Night, will publish 16th June. You can find out more about Terry Deary’s Shakespeare Tales, here on our website.

What is it like to have dyslexia? An interview.

This week it is Dyslexia Awareness Week and the theme this year is ‘Making Sense of Dyslexia’. I’m a commissioning editor in the education team here at Bloomsbury and part of my job is creating books for children who struggle with reading. I spend quite a lot of time talking and thinking about what children and teenagers with dyslexia or other reading difficulties might like, what might grab their attention, what makes reading hard for them and what could encourage them to keep trying even though they find it hard.

But I (and I suspect most people who work in publishing) wasn’t one of those children who struggle with reading so I thought that in Dyslexia Awareness Week it might be good to hear from one of those people (instead of me)!

My nephew, Sam, is a typical 10-year-old boy. He has been better than me at all sports since he was about 4, he’ll be taller than I am in a frighteningly short time, and he is one of the kindest people I know. He is also quite severely dyslexic so I asked him some questions about what that’s like for him.

What can you remember when you first found out you were dyslexic?
I struggled at school and so I had a test to see if I was dyslexic. I felt stressed and didn’t know what to think of myself.

What did it make you think or feel?
I was scared that people would notice that I was different, but I got used to it. People don’t worry about it, so neither do I.

Do you think there are some good things about being dyslexic?
It’s hard for me to tell what I get from dyslexia and what is just me. My dyslexia is part of who I am.

Are there things that you find particularly hard at school?
If I’m set a long piece of writing I struggle with my spellings and I struggle when I am under pressure.

What do you think you might like to do when you are a grown up?
When I grow up I would like to be an engineer because I like maths and science or I would also like to play sports professionally.

What are your favourite books and stories?
The Harry Potter series, Diana Wynne Jones’s series about Chrestomanci, and the Percy Jackson books. (Sam’s mum and dad would have read these to him – they are too long and hard for him to manage without support)

My sister (Sam’s mum) told me that it is impossible to tell which of Sam’s many excellent qualities are because of his dyslexia and I think that’s right. As Sam says, “My dyslexia is part of who I am.”

This Dyslexia Awareness Week it is important that we keep in mind the needs of people who have dyslexia. I hope that we can work together to make amazing stories accessible (in whatever form that may need to be) for children and teenagers with dyslexia, as well as making sure teachers have the right training and resources in place to support them. Ultimately, I hope that all young people with dyslexia can grow up to become engineers or sportsmen or whatever else they want to be!

Visit our website to see some of our High/Low fiction for struggling or reluctant readers.