Book Review – There’s a Snake in my School!

I recently wrote this summary and review of David Walliams and Tony Ross’s new picture book, There’s a Snake in my School! for Reading Zone.

There's a Snake in my School book cover

Page from 'There's a Snake in my School' by Walliams and Ross








It was bring-your-pet-to-school-day, and Miranda had a pet with a difference – a giant snake! At first, her classmates were terrified of Penelope the python, but they soon came to realise she could be great fun. Penelope loved children and could transform into a climbing frame, a slide and even a fireman’s pole.

Miss Bloat, the headmistress, wasn’t so keen. At the shock of seeing a snake, she confiscated all the pets and even stuffed Penelope into a bin. When Miranda knocked on Miss Bloat’s door to ask for her back, she got quite a surprise. Miranda and Penelope saved the day, but things were never quite the same for Miss Bloat.

This book is a celebration of being different. Miranda is fun and brave, and she really doesn’t care what people think. Walliams’ mischievous humour shines through and the story is brought to life by Tony Ross’s lively and characterful illustration style. The drawings of the snake are especially beautiful, and really capture the imagination. A creative use of typography adds to the visual charm of the book.

The mildly dark sense of humour lends this picture book to a slightly older age group. It would be great to read aloud, and is the perfect length and style for a reception class story time. It would also be fun to share at bedtime with plenty to spot and discuss in the illustrations.


Explore Arts Award

After training to become an Arts Award Adviser last summer, I was lucky enough to be involved in the Explore Arts Award both as a freelancer and as part of my day job. Bromley and Bexley ran the award for their Chatterbooks reading group members and anyone else who was interested in attending between the ages of 8-12 at four libraries.

The Arts Award is like an arts based version of the Duke of Edinburgh which also has gold, silver and bronze levels to choose from. Explore comes below the ‘Bronze’ level of difficulty and involvement, and gains a well respected qualification from Trinity College. The award takes the participants on a journey of inspiration, exploration of artists & arts organisations, creation of an original piece, and presentation to visiting parents.

Poster about the Arts Award Explore journey  Book cover - Goth Girl & the ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell  Poster featuring the Kate Greenaway medal shortlist 2015

I ran illustration workshops at three libraries, based around the Kate Greenaway Medal shortlist – part of our Arts Award theme. We looked at the books, learnt to draw ‘Ishmael Mouse’ from Chris Ridell’s ‘Goth Girl’, and then filled in the relevant parts of the Arts Award log books. Here is a gallery of wonderful versions of Ishmael held up by their creators at Bexleyheath library. The children all followed the same step-by-step process which I demonstrated on a flip chart, but produced a fabulous variety of characters.

Boy holding up his Ishmael Mouse drawing  Girl holding up her Ishmael Mouse drawing  Girl holding up her Ishmael Mouse drawing

Boy holding up his Ishmael Mouse drawing  Girl holding up her Ishmael Mouse drawing  Girl holding up her Ishmael Mouse drawing

Girl holding up her Ishmael Mouse drawing  Girl with her Ishmael Mouse drawing  Girl with her Ishmael Mouse drawing

Girl with her Ishmael Mouse drawing  Boy with his Ishmael Mouse drawing  Girl with her Ishmael Mouse drawing

I tweeted some of the photos after the workshop and was delighted to get these replies from Chris Riddell himself, which were passed onto the group.

Chris Riddell's tweet about the Arts Award group's version of his characters  Chris Riddell's tweet about the Arts Award group's version of his characters

Here are some of the comments the children wrote in their log books (these are very cute books in which you record your whole Arts Award journey). It’s a pleasure to look through and see the beautiful artwork, information and comments the children have added.

  Page from an Arts Award log book and drawing of Ishmael mouse  Page from an Arts Award log book

And this is me with the lovely group at Beckenham Library, who were very quiet, but got really involved, and also produced amazing artwork.

Emily with the Arts Award participants at Beckenham Library holding up their mouse drawings  An Arts Award participant with her Ishmael mouse drawing

I’m lucky enough to work at the same library as Lyn Stone, a published children’s illustrator. She ran the workshop at our library which kicked off with the children becoming journalists and asking Lyn some great questions about her career. They made their own picture books using pre-made books of bound coloured paper into which they could collage, draw, write or put together sentences Lyn had produced to create their own story. This approach worked really well, catering for the different needs and interests of the group, particularly as we have two children who are learning English.

Boy creating a comic strip  Girl creating a picture book with drawing and collage

Boy creating a picture book with drawing and collage  Girl creating a picture book with collage

Once all the sessions and the log books had been completed, the Arts Award Advisers at each library went through the books to make sure the criteria had been met and the children had passed. A sample selection were then requested by Trinity to be assessed, and I’m happy to say everyone passed. This was a pilot scheme for us and one of the main things we learnt was that a lot more time was needed for the children to complete all the work and for us to plan the sessions. It was hard work, but very rewarding, and I can’t wait to do it again.

Boy holds up a comic book he created for the Arts Award  Girl holding up her picture book creation for the Arts Award  Boy holding up his picture book creation for the Arts Award

Southwark Libraries graphic art competition and prize giving

This Autumn I was asked to judge Southwark Libraries’ Graphic Art Competition for the second year. This is a wonderful job and consists of working through the many entries for three age categories to choose a winner, runner up and an entry that deserves a special mention. The competition really inspires young people and gives them something engaging to do over the summer holidays. The entries were diverse and wonderful:

10-13  10-13 copy

14-17  14-17 copy

At the awards ceremony in Southwark’s Culture Space, which resides in the fabulous Canada Water Library, I led a Record Breakers comics and GN workshop which tied in with the Summer Reading Challenge. There is such a lovely family atmosphere at these awards, that I always try to get everyone involved in drawing, including grandparents and younger siblings. It was great fun walking round to see the characters that were created.

A young artist drawing during my workshop.  Children creating characters during my 'Record Breakers' comics and graphic novels workshop at Southwark Culture Space

I was able to meet all the entrants and their families – it was a pleasure to talk about the artwork and to encourage young people to continue in a creative direction. The awards were given out by Deputy Leader of the Council, Councillor Wingfield.

14-17 category winner and his Mum looking at the winning entry display  The winners proudly holding their certificates with Deputy Leader of the Council, Councillor Wingfield, and Emily Fellah