Tag Archives: stories

Playing Shops: How Abie Longstaff wrote Cavegirl

There are six children in my family. I was the oldest and the bossiest, so I coordinated endless games to amuse my younger sisters. We stole Mum and Dads’ clothes for dress-ups; we pulled all the cushions off the sofa to make a gymnastics team; we even used the old wooden hostess trolley to sail away to sea.

sisters
Abbie and her sisters

One of our favourite styles of game was shops! There’s something about buying and selling that really appeals to children. I think it’s because it’s a basic form of transaction; one that’s easy to understand. Someone has an object to sell, the other offers to buy it. So as children, my sisters and I made pretend shops that sold sweets, or books or toys to one another. I saw this game continue in my own children – they loved making yard sales: setting up a little stall on the street to sell old toys or DVDs for pennies, helping at the school fair with second uniform or biscuit sales.

With my first books, The Fairytale Hairdresser series, I created a world of shops, where the Big Bad Wolf is an optician (‘all the better to see you with’), Little Bo Peep has a wool shop; and the Tooth Fairy is a dentist. My main character, Kittie Lacey, has a salon. The books celebrate entrepreneurship and creativity. This theme is evidently close to my heart because my chapter books, The Magic Potions Shop, also feature a shop! It’s funny how the things you loved as a child are brought out in the stories you write. On school visits I often tell children that the games they play, and the books they read will influence the kind of writer they’ll become, and I guess I’m proof of that.

With this new book, Cavegirl, I’ve taken the idea of buying and selling back to Neolithic times – the late Stone Age. The Neolithic period (very roughly 8000 to 3000 BC) was an era of change. Societies had begun to develop; communities living in fixed shelters, farming crops and keeping livestock.  Clothing was made of animal skins, and stone was fashioned into tools or weapons. Settling in one place allowed time for creativity, in the form of pottery, cave paintings and jewellery. On a trip to the UAE to see schools, I was lucky enough to visit the Mleiha Archaeological Centre, which displays ancient artefacts from the Stone and Bronze ages, including arrowheads, axes, tools and fireplaces excavated in the surrounding area. Some of the region used to be underwater, and I was even taken to see ancient seashells embedded in the Desert Mountains.

ancient sea
Ancient shells in the desert rock

The trip really inspired me to set a story in this period.

In those days, a barter system was in operation; goods such as weapons, pottery and copper were traded. Trade is the most basic form of commerce – one that children practise every time they swap a sticker or a trading card.

In Cavegirl, I wanted to play with the game of buy and sell in its purest form, but I wanted to add in entrepreneurship and creativity. I wanted my character to adapt the object she swaps, enhancing its value each time. In this way she moves up the ladder of trade, aiming to purchase the perfect birthday present for Mum. Only – it doesn’t all go to plan.Cavegirl

Abie Longstaff is the eldest of six children and grew up in Australia, Hong Kong and France. She knows all about squabbling, chaos and bossing younger sisters around so she logically began her career as a barrister. She started writing when her children were born and lives in Hove with her family. Abie writes for children from picture books to older fiction and is best known for the Fairytale Hairdresser series. Her latest book Cavegirl is out now!

Why the Golden Horsemen Came Riding

Growing up, I knew almost nothing about Baghdad and the Middle East except that an author there had written the 1001 Nights, or the Arabian Nights as my Year 4 teacher used to call it. It’s a wonderful anthology of fairytales that has filled the heads of many a child with the notion of flying carpets, thieves hidden in wooden barrels, genies and magic lamps. I received the Bancroft Classics edition for my eighth birthday, which I re-read endlessly. No author was credited with the work on the front cover but I hardly noticed. I devoured the Sinbad films on telly too, especially the Ray Harryhousen versions which had incredible special effects. But of the real Baghdad, I remained mostly ignorant.

In my teenage years, the Middle East started to feature on the news, but nearly always shown in a bad light. Uprisings and terror attacks flickered across the television screens. News reports showed tanks lumbering across deserts, flat-roofed houses being blown up, grim-faced youths hijacking planes. Not surprisingly I never connected those images with the magical lands of ‘Open Sesame’ and delicious lakoum.

Fast forward a few decades and I am doing an author visit at a school in Bradford where I lived for over ten years. Most of the children were of Pakistani and Indian origin. It was a warm day and we were eating our lunch out in the playground. We got to talking about our most cherished wishes. One boy said in a broad Yorkshire accent, ‘my biggest wish is to go truffle hunting with my father in the Afghan mountains.’

It turned out the boy’s father was Afghani. Trapped in the fraught and long-winded process of sorting out his immigration paperwork, he still lived in Afghanistan. The son visited once a year but never during the truffle hunting season.  It was a Eureka moment for me. It brought images of a magical Middle East flooding back into my head. Not the clichéd magic of genies and flying carpets, but the enchantment of real life still tied to the land and the seasons.

I started reading up on life in Middle Eastern countries, now and in the past and I fell for its charm all over again. Baghdad especially drew my interest. Based around the ‘beyt al Hikma’, meaning ‘house of knowledge’, a world-famous library built in the 9th century, it established itself as a world leader in the arts, science and innovation.

As I started sharing my discoveries in my talks to schools, I learnt that most children, even those of Muslim heritage, were unaware of Baghdad’s glorious heyday, of its massive contribution to the worlds of science, mathematics, medicine, poetry and translation. Without its scholars and their mentors, including the powerful caliphs who built the libraries and schools, much of the writings of the ancient world would now be lost forever.

9781472955999.jpgToday the Golden Age of Islam is part of the National Curriculum in KS2. It’s the perfect opportunity to explore the real history of a culture we in the West so often overlook. My book The Golden Horsemen of Baghdad was written to accompany the subject. Like my other works for Bloomsbury Education, it’s a rollicking adventure but it is also packed with information and insight into the culture and the period. I hope you all enjoy it.

 

The Golden Horsemen of Baghdad is bestselling historical fiction author Saviour Pirotta’s latest novel. Out now!

Peter Worley | Why use stories for doing philosophy with children?

First of all stories engage. When a teller tells a story well the audience visualize the story so that it seems to happen before them. If you want children to think, first of all they must be engaged.

Secondly, stories enable children to grasp complex ideas very naturally, where in the abstract, they would be lost. Tell the story of ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ from The Odyssey and children can follow the complexities of ethical dilemmas that would be nigh on impossible for them in the abstract.9781441118141 Once Upon an If

Thirdly, stories can be used to activate the children as moral agents. You can stop the story at the crisis point, the difficult decision or the conflict, and instead of simply reading on, you could ask the class questions: ‘What do you think [the character] should do?’, ‘What do you think [the character] will do?’, ‘What would you do?’ and ‘What do you think you should do?’, or ‘What would you do if you were she?’ and so on. All of these questions are importantly different.

But best of all, stories can be used as rehearsal for life. Here’s an approach to using stories that I call ‘the Hokey Kokey’ approach (‘Hokey Pokey’ outside the UK). In other words, ‘it goes in, out and in again’. By ‘in’ I mean ‘concrete’ or ‘in the story’, and by ‘out’ I mean ‘abstract’ or ‘out of the story’. It is taken from Once Upon an If (pages 65-68) and is inspired by ‘Socratic method’, the techniques used by Socrates – and documented by Plato – in the marketplace of Athens two and a half thousand years ago.

The Hokey Kokey approach:

  1. Take a key concept suitable for philosophical enquiry, such as bravery (a favourite of Socrates) or heroism.
  2. Take a story where the concept features centrally, such as the Odyssey (for both bravery and heroism).
  3. Find an appropriate section or passage that tests the concepts in question. Or you might want to consider the story as a whole.
  4. Ask a simple but conceptually appropriate question using the following structure ‘Is X F?, for example, ‘Is Odysseus a hero?’ (This question is concrete or ‘in the story’.)
  5. Run an enquiry around this question.
  6. Then ask what is sometimes known as a ‘Socratic question’ to do with the central concept under consideration following this structure ‘What is F?’ In this case: ‘What is heroism?’ or ‘What is a hero?’ for younger children. (This question is abstract or ‘out of the story’.)
  7. Run an enquiry around this question.
  8. Now for the key bit! Make sure that, once you have explored the abstract Socratic Question, you return to the concrete question to ‘test’ what has been said in the abstract (at steps 6 and 7). This uses a strategy I call ‘iffing’ and it follows this structure: ‘If F is p, q, r… then is X F?’ In this case: ‘If a hero is someone who is never frightened then is Odysseus a hero?’ (This question returns to the concrete in order to test what has been said in the abstract.)
  9. Explore and examine the implications that follow from step 8. The class will need to examine whether there are any instances in the passage or story where Odysseus was frightened and then consider whether this means he’s a hero or not. Sometimes the class will revise whether the character is in fact F (in this case, whether Odysseus is in fact ‘a hero’), on other occasions, they will revise what F is: for example, someone might say during this part, ‘Odysseus is a hero but sometimes even heroes are frightened, so I don’t think a hero is never frightened. Perhaps it’s acting bravely while he’s frightened that makes him a hero.’

For younger children, try using this method – also around the concept of heroism – with Max Velthuijs’ Frog Is a Hero (published by Andersen Press).

The If Odyssey

National Storytelling Week:

For using the Odyssey to do philosophy, see the award-winning book, The If Odyssey, especially ‘Appendix 1: The Hero’ for a list of specific passages in the Odyssey to test Odysseus’ heroism where you could use the Hokey Kokey method.

Though not all, many of the sessions in my books lend themselves to the Hokey Kokey method. As it is National Storytelling Week, the following stories in the ERA-nominated Once Upon an If all have task questions that will work with the Hokey Kokey method:

  • The Patience of Trees (key concept: freedom)
  • The Promise Slippers (key concept: promise-keeping)
  • The Six Wise Men (key concept: thing)
  • The Fair Well (key concept: fairness)
  • The Water People (key concept: death)
  • Honest Said (key concept: knowledge)
  • The Fire Stick (key concepts: magic and science)
  • The Island (key concept: knowledge)
  • The Valley of The Diamonds (key concept: wealth)