Monday, 19 June 2017

Responding to a Call to Action • Chitra Soundar

We’re living in strange times – where dystopia is no longer confined to the pages of a novel. Around us we find fear and insecurity, differences and intolerances turn into political ideology and public policy.

 How does a children’s book writer get involved? My readers are wee people who do not understand constitution or right to vote. Many are perhaps not even potty trained. What could I possibly do to bring about change?

Read an interesting discussion in the New York Times - that discusses this very topic.

Good picture books have multiple layers and meanings. While it deals with a child’s emotion in a child’s world from the point of view of a child, it also has an adult reader, often. Many picture books are read aloud by sleepy-eyed parents, novice aunts and uncles doing bedtime as a novelty or grandparents who are amazed at how much books have changed over the years.

Any topic being discussed – whether hidden inside a story or a narrative that explains a concept – space, dinosaurs, trucks need to appeal to the child first and foremost. Then it needs to engage the adult reader too. If it manages both, then of course reading it over and over again becomes less of a chore.

So as a writer in this complex political world, I have two voters for every read – a contemporary voter who hopefully would vote in the next election (by the looks of it, we might have it regularly like an annual summer event) and a child voter who is the future of this nation. This captive audience is looking for a story. A story that they can enjoy, laugh with, think about and perhaps learn from. A story that doesn’t beat the moral over the reader’s head but through its nuanced plot elements, leads us to the inevitable but surprising ending.

As I watched the election results trickle by, as the nation rejoiced of a hung parliament, I realised I have an obligation to stand up and tell stories that
a)     promote equality, diversity, empathy and compassion
b)    children of all colour, abilities and gender in a positive light
c)     give us hope instead of despair; joy in the face of adversity.

Many of us remember the books we read as kids. Many of us have learnt some crucial things about life from books. So what better way to equip the voters of tomorrow? What better way to prepare the minds of young readers than give them stories that they can apply in real life that will bring about a better society for everyone?

Children’s writers have an important role in these interesting times. Whether we are talking about underpants or wishing the rabbit good night, we need to make our characters stand up for something. They need to find their way in these murky times through stories we tell and stories we equip them to tell.

This is the time to bring out stories that empower our children with skills and sensitivity to live in an integrated society, where we do not fear “the other” and “the unknown.” And the good news is many writers are already doing this. There are books out there that show us “others” are not different. Like Siddhartha Mukherjee says in his book The Gene – An Intimate History, we are more similar than different as human beings.

On 13th June, Empathy Lab UK initiated a new celebration called EmpathyDay and on that day, we all tweeted our recommended reads. I’ve started collecting them all here. If you know of a book that inspires empathy, promotes togetherness and brings us together, then do post in the comments below or tweet it out with hashtag #ReadForEmpathy.

Let’s help raise better citizens for tomorrow.

Chitra Soundar is a closet clown, consummate liar, writer and storyteller. Find out more at or follow her on Twitter at @csoundar. 

Monday, 12 June 2017

My Prickly Friends • Lynne Garner

A book about the friendship between a
mouse and a hedgehog.  
If you're a long-term follower of The Picture Book Den then you'll know I love hedgehogs. So much so that I've been rescuing them (on a very small scale from a 6' x 8' shed in my back garden) for the last 25 years (Herts Hogline). They're so much a part of my life that they even creep into my writing. In fact my first picture book 'A Book For Bramble' was inspired by them. I've also written a great many non-fiction magazine features about hedgehogs and this year they star in my latest collect of 8 retold traditional tales (Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm) and my latest picture book written as co-author with hypnotist Chris Caress called 'Harvey's Big Sleep.' 
A picture booked aimed at helping
children to sleep

As I write this post and if you're reading this within a couple of weeks of my pressing the publish button, I'm hand rearing six hoglets. So rather than tell you something about picture books I've decided to do something a little different. I'm going to turn you all into hedgehog geeks, so you'll know exactly what to do to help our dwindling hedgehog population. Quick fact: hedgehog numbers in the 1950s-60s were an estimated 30 million. Today that has plummeted to 1 million (a faster loss than the loss of the world's tigers). So here are a few ways you can help our hogs:

There are 6, promise. One is hidden under it's siblings.
The white marks are tipex, so I can tell who is who.

  • If you have a pond with steep sides then fit a ramp.
  • Keep netting at least 15cm (6") off the ground.
  • Leave out food and water. This can be special hedgehog food, tinned cat/dog food (non-fishy flavours) but NEVER bread and milk. To avoid cats eating the food buy or make a feeding station.
  • Always check under hedges and in long grass before cutting.
  • Pick up elastic bands or hair bands, cut up and put into a bin. These and prickles don't mix well.
  • To avoid hedgehogs making a nest in your shed/garage, stable or tack room keep the door closed at all times.
  • Do not use slug pellets; find safer alternatives.
  • Always check a bonfire before you light it.
  • Provide shelter by buying or making a hog home
  • Hedgehogs out during the day are highly likely to need medical help a.s.a.p. so contact British Hedgehog Preservation Society for advice.
  • Never treat for fleas; pet flea solutions are lethal to hedgehogs.
  • During autumn and winter small hedgehogs (under 600 grams) are too small to hibernate, so need to be rescued.

As this is the height of the breeding season the BHPS provide the following advice on nesting females and hoglets:

The first feed of the day - hence still in PJs
If you accidentally disturb a nest, try to restore it quickly and without too much fuss.  Check with a piece of screwed up piece of paper to see whether mum is returning, they all react differently, some move the babies over several days, a few have been known to kill them whilst others just abandon them.  If the nest is in a place where it cannot be left, catch the mother before the babies as she will be the most mobile.  Place her in high-sided box with some of the bedding from the nest and then slip her babies in with her.  Contact the BHPS to find a local contact who can advise and if necessary take in the family.  Do not release them somewhere yourself as the mum is very likely to abandon them, given the amount of disturbance she has endured.

Last but not least if you're concerned about your local visiting hedgehog, need advice or find an orphaned, sick or injured hedgehog, contact the BHPS (01584 890801)  they can give general advice and perhaps details of a local hedgehog rehabilitator that you can contact.

If you've reached this far, thanks for reading and please do share this far and wide. Hedgehogs need as many friends as they can get.  



Now for a blatant plug:

My latest collection of short stories featuring Hedgehog is available on Amazon in eBook format and as a paperback.

Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm