Go the Gruffalo – congratulations to new Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson

I was jumping for joy yesterday when I found out that the queen of picture books, Julia Donaldson, has been named the Children’s Laureate in the United Kingdom for 2011-2013.

Presented every two years to a writer or illustrator of children’s books to celebrate outstanding achievement, the award carries a bursary of £15,000.

You’ll probably know Julia as the creator of The Gruffalo, one of the most recognisable characters in the world of children’s books, but she has also written many other books including A squash and a squeeze, Room on the broom, The snail and the whale, and her latest picture book, Cave baby.

Each Children’s Laureate has a particular passion that they focus on during their time, and Julia plans to bring her passion for spoken word, rhyme, song and drama to the fore.  ‘With my background in plays and song-writing, I am particularly keen to develop projects which link books with drama and music, and to explore the ways performance can help children enjoy reading and grow in confidence,’ she said on the Children’s Laureate blog.

Julia Donaldson is a brilliant author who will be a wonderful Children’s Laureate.  I’ll look forward to seeing what she can achieve.

Feel like being cloaked in elegance tomorrow?

book coverAn exquisite selection of traditional and contemporary woven garments were elegantly paraded by a small team of quick change artists last Saturday at the launch of  Christchurch City Libraries Matariki celebrations at South Library. The parade was narrated by the well-known weaver Ranui Ngarimu.

We learned the historical significance of the old cloaks, the prestigious events they have been used at and the craftmanship involved in their creation. The older cloaks were a  testament to much painstaking and faithful restoration while the contemporary items displayed the enormous creative flair of  Ranui and other local weavers including the hugely talented Paula Rigby. Read an interview with Paula here.

For those of you who missed this wonderful opportunity there will be a repeat of the event at New Brighton Library tomorrow at 1pm. The sheer logistics of transporting these delicate costumes to the library has involved a committed group whose efforts deserve great credit. I think the library will provide a stunning  backdrop to this window on Māori craftsmanship. Don’t miss it.

Christmas dinner at Shepheard’s Hotel – a rich history

Menu card
Christmas 1914 menu card from Shepheard's Hotel, Cairo, signed by NZ Expeditionary Force Headquarters staff

I wonder if the New Zealand servicemen who bit into their Christmas plum pudding at Cairo’s Shepheard’s Hotel in 1914 understood what a rich history they were adding to. They were not the first expeditionary force to stay there – it was the headquarters of many armies, including those in the Crimean war, the Indian Mutiny and the Boer War.

It first became a hotel in 1841 when Shepheard needed to expand the British hotel and decided to take over the old palace next door which had functioned as the headquarters of Napoleon. He catered to passengers to India and the Far East and by the middle of the century it was a place where “people of the rank and fashion from all countries” could be found. The list of celebrities, royalty and heads of state who stayed there in the following century is a very long one.

Celebrities of the Egyptology sort also used it as a base. Lord Carnarvon for example, in the years he funded Howard Carter’s excavations and their eventual discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922. Perhaps that is what inspired Elizabeth Peters, Egyptologist and author of some  tongue-in-cheek historical mysteries to have her heroes reside there when they visited Cairo on their archeological expeditions.  It was also a wartime watering hole for explorers, diplomats and spies during the 1940s and is used as the base for the  surveying expedition in Egypt and Libya which is at the core of the film The English Patient (although the hotel of that time was burnt down and they actually used a Venetian hotel to represent it).