Monday, 18 September 2017

The Night Pirates

 We've recently been invited to review a range of children's performances at one of our local theatres - The Rose in Kingston. It's a lovely child-friendly theatre with a children's area, cafe and programme packed full of family performances. Founded by Sir Peter Hall, and modelled on the original Elizabethan Rose Theatre on London’s Bankside, Rose Theatre Kingston is the largest producing theatre in South West London.We feel very lucky to live so near.

Last weekend the girls and I headed over to see The Night Pirates, based on the children's picture book by Peter Harris and Deborah Allwright.

Surprisingly for a family of bookworms, this isn't a story we had encountered, but for a pair of little ladies living every day in their imaginations on board the Swallow, battling the Amazons for Wildcat Island, this was a perfect choice. Delightfully it was not only a jolly good piratey story, complete with an excellent message for little women and for the boys around them, but it was also a energetic and engaging musical adventure. The girls declared it a triumph. Still chatting about it two days later, three year old Culturetot and I wrote up her own review in her Today Book:


The girls were particularly pleased that Tom, the little boy hero of the piece, was invited to join a gang of little girl pirates on their adventure across the high seas. Delightfully inclusive, the crew didn't question his gender but only his sense of adventure and justice. Determined to set the world to rights, recapture stolen treasure from a rabble of silly grown-up pirates, and return it to Tom's home town, the crew set off to an island across the seas on a ship shaped like a house. Using energy and wits (of course) they save the day.





 
As Charlotte Cooper, a cast member and one of the little girl pirates herself noted in an interview, "The fact that it is noteworthy that these pirates are girls, proves we have a long way to go before gender equality is truly realised. I think it is superb that the pirates in this story are female. They are the sort of rolemodels I would have loved as a child- strong, fun, adventurous AND female! The significance should only be in that they are a reminder that gender should not be a barrier to anything." Absolutely.


Particularly satisfying was the encouragement at the end of the tale for the every child in the audience to become author and storyteller of their own adventures. The story never need end as we exit the theatre, or remain static while we close the book, but it can continue in our own imaginations. Each child was invited to write the sequel at home - where might Tom's next adventure with his new friends take him?

Touring Dates of The Night Pirates can be found here.

Family Show listings at the Rose in Kingston are here. We'll be covering more in the coming weeks.

For some inspiring reading for your little girl pirates (as well as the boys in the crew) see our post here on an essential library for mighty girls. And frankly there's also no better place to start than Arthur Ransome's classic Swallows and Amazons and its TV and Film adaptations.
 

Disclaimer: We are delighted to be local reviewers for the Rose Theatre, and do so in exchange for the chance to view the performances. All reviews and views are entirely our own. Performance photographs were provided by the Rose Theatre. Child's review was by Culturetot.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

The Essential Mighty Girl's Picture Book Library

Suffragettes, England, 1908
Suffragettes, Manchester, 1908 from WikiCommons
Yesterday in a local shop Culturebaby (now five) pointed to a  greetings card featuring two defiant-looking young women from the early 1920s wearing purple, white and green. She immediately declared their status as 'Suffragettes'. Whilst the sisterhood of political emancipation had witnessed huge strides by this point, and this pair were not officially clad as suffragettes, my mighty little woman catalysed a discussion between impressed strangers, each delighted that a five year old knew this essential history. And a hundred years later, the battle is not yet won. Each election we don our literal or metaphorical colours, not those of transient party politics, but the eternal symbolism of these brave warriors of equality. With this in mind, I've spent a few years amassing a library of essential reads for my little women. The list could be longer, and no doubt I'll update it regularly, but this pile of inspiration gives plenty for every young girl, and indeed the men in their lives, to ponder and draw on for every eventuality. From the bookish to the brave, the scientific to the sporty, from political pioneers to the conscientiously kind, this selection showcases a host of role models and the brilliance of writing and illustration out there for the very young. There's even the odd princess.


 1. Lottie Solves a Mystery- Lucie Braveheart (Penguin)

The inspiration for this post came from the publication of a new picture book series for girls from Puffin, featuring Lottie of the well known toy brand. I was delighted to find that this first story is replete with positive female role models and has a healthy focus on nature, adventure and friendship. It's a breath of fresh air (literally) and echoes the idea behind the dolls - inclusive, ethnically diverse, age appropriate, and based on the scientific proportions of a nine year old child. The vision from Arklu was that these dolls might empower children to be themselves, to be imaginative, adventurous and have fun doing what they enjoy. To date they have won over 35 international toy awards. In this story Lottie finds a suitcase belonging to her Great Aunt, an explorer. Amongst the fascinating items she uncovers a notebook with photographs and fieldnotes. Following a chat about this fabulous ancestor with her mother, Lottie and her friends are inspired to become wild beast explorers themselves and, tracking a set of footprints, set out to find the Beast of Branksea.

2. Little People Big Dreams (Frances Lincoln)

This exquisite set of books are some of the most inspiring and beautifully designed titles we own. Bound for posterity and the brain-child of one of our favourite publishers Frances Lincoln, I've swiftly become an evangelist for this series which is growing all the time. The vision for these books, created by a selection of different authors and illustrators each with their own distinctive and scrumptious style, is that young children can easily, through these simple and engaging biographies, discover the lives of outstanding people. From designers and artists to scientists, activists and authors, every featured mighty woman went on (often despite the odds) to achieve incredible things. Each had a dream and a passion and they followed it. The first book, a staple favourite in our household, follows Coco Chanel, from her early life in an orphanage – where she is a genius with needle and thread – to her time as a cabaret singer, hat maker and, eventually, international fashion designer. Each miniature biography comes with extra facts about each inspiring woman at the back. The girls love the photographs and timelines. They also include motos that the women themselves believed. For Coco Chanel it was "To be irreplacable one must always be different", for Amelia Earhart it was "If you want to do something, do it. You never know how far you will get". For Maya Angelou, with her difficult journey of overcoming extreme violence and racial prejudice, but culminating in her delivery of her poem at the inaugaration of President Clinton, it was a reminder to "lift up our hearts" - "there is nothing I can't be". For Frida Kahlo, surviving a terrible accident in her youth and channeling her fight for survival into her now world famous art, it was "Live Life". Finally in our set, the brilliant young woman Marie Curie who vowed to herself she would be a scientist not a princess and moved countries and learned a new language in order to be able to gain a degree, discovered elements that have been used to save so many people. She trained other women and advised every new student that "in life there is nothing to be afraid of, only many things to learn, and many ways to help those in need."Amen Marie.


 3. Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo (Penguin)

Next up, and rightly so, is the most highly funded original book in the history of crowdfunding. Raising over a million dollars on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, this stunningly illustrated title features short biographies of 100 extraordinary women from around the world from rappers and gymnasts, to explorers and monarchs, Hadid to the Brontes - success stories spanning time and in every field imaginable. It is easy to dip into for an appropriate tale. Before swimming a couple of weeks ago the girls and I enjoyed the inspiring journey of Yusra Mardini, the young Syrian refugee who pushed a boat of people for three hours to safety and later swam in the Rio Olympics. We've already bought this as a present for some of the young women we love and it is going to our Goddaughter too. The diversity that the book encapsulates so well, also weaves through its beautiful design. The women are not always those we might expect, which is refereshing, and each story is accompanied by a full page portrait produced by one of 60 female artists. And it is just that. A work of art. As the authors themselves note - it's the book they wish they had when they were growing up, and it has been so successful the second in the series has been announced.


4. Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World by Kate Pankhurst (Bloomsbury)

A second collated biography recommendation for slightly older readers is cute, compact and cartoon-like. The paperback is cheap and portable, making it a great present for classmates. Taking thirteen pioneering women who changed the way we think, challenged social norms and fought for their passions, Kate Pankhurst (descendant of the indomitable Emmeline) looks at how and why these women became so great. Full of facts and personality, quotations and speech bubbles, this mildly irreverent and quirky book also showcases that kindness as well as courage and self belief can never be underrated.

5. Emily Davison by Izzi Howell (Wayland)

File:Britain Before the First World War Q81834.jpg
The Funeral of Emily Davison

A couple of weeks ago in the library we discovered a series of factual books about great characters from Wayland books' Fact Cat Series. Culturebaby found them intriguing and accessible with their simple text, photographs and source materials, fact boxes and, frankly, exciting content. She devoured the biography of Emily Davison - her fight for the vote and her tragic end.




6. Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, Illustrated by Julie Morstad (Chronicle Books)

Next in our set of brilliant biographies is the poetic and exquisitely illustrated story of the famous ballerina Anna Pavlova. Chronicle books feel and look beautiful and this title has echoes of the Little People Big Dreams series above. The Culturebabies love their ballet classes and regularly turn our days into a musical. Anna's story of a poor girl with an unwaivering dream to dance captures that first moment of falling in love with your life's vocation. Jumping in a sleigh one evening and taking Anna to the Mariinsky theatre her mother prophesied "you are going to enter fairyland" and as Tchaikovsky begins and Sleeping Beauty opens her eyes "...so does Anna. Her feet wake up!  Her skin prickles. There is a song suddenly inside her. Now Anna cannot sleep. Or sit still ever...." Anna works and waits, waits and works until she is accepted into the ballet school, and then... her Swan takes flight.

She was born for this. However, Anna never forgets her roots and feels acutely for those who have never heard the music. So she travels, she meets people, performs in odd places, and devotes her life to the dance. She shared her gifts with the poor as well as the rich. She inspired people wherever she went as she believed that ballet had changed her life and felt it could do the same for others.



7. Georgia's Bones by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Bethanne Andersen (Eerdmans)

I bought this beautiful picture book about the artist Georgia O'Keeffe to accompany the Tate Modern's exhibition late last year. We often associate Georgia with her series of flower paintings, but this picture book explores the inspiration behind her love of nature and her interest in collecting objects - sticks, stones, flowers and bones. Culturebaby, who had recently been on a mudlarking trip to Tower Beach that had utterly inspired her, (displaying her shoe-box of antiquities to anyone who visited), and seeing a kindred spirit in the young artist, declared "she's me!". Georgia grew up on a farm in Wisconsin and, answering those who teased her for her interest in shapes and sizes, said that "someday I'm going to be an artist"; and that is what she became. This sumptuously illustrated story charts her childhood where "shapes often drifted in and out of Georgia's mind" all the way to New York, whose forms she also captured. Then on to New Mexico with its rolling colours and desert full of bones, which she collected, cleaned and incorporated into her art. This book, as its author notes, was inspired by Georgia's "commitment to life as an artist at a time when few women were taken seriously as artists". She was a pioneer.

8. The Fossil Girl: Mary Anning's Dinosaur Discovery by Catherine Brighton (Frances Lincoln)
A perfect companion to the last item is a favourite with the girls, the story of the Regency period scientific pioneer Mary Anning told in cartoon form. We recently went on a trip to Lyme Regis where Mary lived as a child and where she found her first Ichthyosaur in 1810, a discovery which changed science forever. Mary lived at a time when scientists were working on a new idea that evolution was the answer to the plethora of discoveries of ancient lifeforms, a theory which was shocking to some as it wasn't featured in the Bible. Mary also lived at a time when it was mainly men who worked in fields such as these, and rich men at that. Coming from a poor family, Mary and her brother collected fossils to sell in their shop, and following a storm and flood that wrecked their home, with a new urgency and vigour, she sought items that would impress. She couldn't have imagined the scale and importance of her consequent find of the first whole Icthyosaur - now in the Natural History Museum, or the others that followed. Captivated, Mary devoted the rest of her life to the study and collection of this pioneering area of science and as my little ladies scrambled over rocks discovering ancient ammonite after ancient ammonite, they too (and I with them) experienced that utter thrill of the discovery of the ancient and precious.




9. Speed Bonnie Boat Illustrated by Alfredo Belli (Picture Kelpies)

The girls love to finish every bedtime story session off with some song, and they particularly love illustrated traditional ballads. I discovered this brilliant picture book earlier this year, which combines the Skye Boat Song with a story inspired by the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie from the Battle of Culloden, supported by the brave young Flora MacDonald and her loyal family. Flora's spirit and courage became legendary  and there are memorials both to the Prince but also to Flora throughout Scotland. "Rocked in the deep, Flora will keep watch by your weary head." They also paricularly like that we have MacDonald ancestry.

10. I am a Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers, Illustrated by Sam Winston (Walker Books)

Before I move on to a set of fiction books with positive messages for young women, I'd like to dwell on the stunning recent addition to the treasured shelf from much-loved author Oliver Jeffers. Peppered with real quotations and featuring many of the authors' favourites this unique meditation on the rewards of reading and sharing stories, takes us on a lyrical journey into the wonderland that is the written word. "I am a Child of Books. I come from a world of stories, And upon my imagination, I float."  A little girl sails her raft "across a sea of words" to arrive at the house of a small boy. There she invites him to come away with her on an adventure. Guided by his new friend, the boy unlocks his imagination and a lifetime of magic lies ahead of him…Some people have forgotten the joy of reading, perhaps some have never discovered it, but this is a joy to be shared "for this is our world we've made from stories, our house is a home of invention, where anyone at all can come. For imagination is free." It's an inspiring read for all children. Being bookish is cool.


THE FICTION LIST

Next I plan on whizzing more quickly through a set of stories that have positive messages for all children, both more generally and also specifically in relation to being a young woman. I've selected them for their empowering messages, inspiring heroines, often counter-cultural messages, and not least because they are excellent reads. So here's the fiction list:

1. Oh the Places You'll Go! by Dr Seuss (Harper Collins)

Chosen for: its message that you can be whoever you want to be. You don't have to wait for life to pass you by - sieze it! At times you will be alone, stuck in the mire, confused or tired, but "Congratulations! Today is your day. You're off to Great Places! You're off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose." We can forgive Dr Seuss the 'guy' and insert girl. This was a gift for Culturebaby at Christmas from her Montessori nursery and it was recited at the naming of a friend's child. It was an excellent message to tackle anything life has in store - get on your way.

2. Zog, and Zog and the Flying Doctors by Julia Donaldson and Illustrated by Axel Scheffler (Scholastic)

Chosen for: its brilliant heroine, Pearl, a princess who is determined to be a doctor. In the first title she supports a young dragon through his challenging and demoralising training to be fierce, nursing his friends and refusing to be rescued by a prince and return to "prancing round the palace in a silly dress." Surprisingly she finds her soul-mate behind the rescuer's visor and both head off with Zog their friend, as flying doctors. When they return in the sequel, successful doctors, expert in their fields, the challenge to overcome is her own Uncle, the King, and his misplaced idea that princesses can't be doctors. Determination and skill triumph and he is convinced. An important message, that no-one, whoever they are, should dampen our dreams.

3. Sir Lilypad, a tall tale of a small frog by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie (Simon and Schuster)

Chosen: with it's prequel The Worst Princess for its swashbuckling female; another royal rebel who refuses to be saved, but equally understands the importance for her attempted rescuer of belonging, friendship and dignity. This book is funny and has great illustrations but it also has the important message that standing up for the weak and having no tolerance for bullying is hugely important for those in positions of leadership.

4. Jill and the Dragon, and Jill and the Lion by Lesley Barnes (Tate)

Chosen for: its eponymous heroine, her attitude to those who feel lost and out of place and her quest to bring out the best in them and help them to find their dignity and true place in life. Tate books are consistently unique and stunning, and this pair from award-winning illustrator Lesley Barnes are no exception. Uniquely shaped and exquisitely designed, these titles leap off the shelf. Tate describes Jill as "a feisty, independent-minded new character", who reminds us that everyone has a talent, however well hidden, and that it is a special person that can help others to uncover it.

5. The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (Harper Collins, abridged version illustrated by Christian  Birmingham)

Chosen for: Lucy: the pure of heart, the valliant, always faithful and whose belief in Aslan returns her to Narnia again and again. Her heart enables her to see the king, when others are no longer able, and her consistent honesty reveals to us the nature of true faith. Culturebaby has long been a resident of the land beyond the wardrobe, and at three, this beautifully illustrated Harper Collins version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, was a perfect way in to the classic for her (which we are now reading in its original form). "Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen..."

6.  Ada Twist Scientist, and Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts (Abrams)

Chosen for: its mould-breaking young scientific women who encourage us to stand and cheer at each perfect failure, get up and try again. The mighty girls masterpiece Rosie Revere Engineer features a girl who loves making things; gadgets and gizmos and machines for doing wonderful things. She hides them under her bed where no one can see. She was once unabashed but, after she created a wonderful gift for a favourite relative who laughed at her offering, she lost her confidence to share her inventions. Then one day she heard the dream of her great great aunt (herself once an engineer) to finally fly and set herself the task to create a flying machine and propel the old lady into flight. With the wisdom and support of this wonderful old lady Rosie discovers that true failure can come only if you quit. Then comes Ada Twist, a scientific genius who needs to know 'Why'? I particularly love this title because her parents believe in her, allow her to experiment and learn and, although they become frustrated, they too recognise they are on a journey. They learned to truly support her passions - figuring it out as they went along. "...because that's what you do when your kid has a passion and a heart that is true. They re-made their world - now they're all in the act of helping young Ada sort fiction from fact." It's as much a book for the parents of exceptional and inquisitive young women, and the rhyming text and fabulous illustrations are a hit with everyone.

7. Sleeping Beauty: A mid-century fairy tale by David Roberts and Lynn Roberts-Maloney (Pavilion)
Chosen for: its quirky brilliance and beautiful period illustrations, re-inventing a classic tale in mid-century style and with a refreshing feminist twist. Beginning in 1930's at a Christening, and stretching to the 1950s for the 16th birthday, Sleeping Beauty (Annabel), carefully protected from needles by her adoring aunts, pricks her finger on the stylus of a record player - a gift from the evil Morwenna. Annabel had dreamt of seeing the future and her wish unexpectedly comes true as her rescuer, 1000 years into the future, is no prince, but a girl named Zoe who has a passion from the past and scours the library for evidence of why a giant thorn-tree is found amidst a futuristic high-rise landscape. The aunts equally take on a delightful role as protectors who ultimately sacrifice themselves for their beloved ward. It's a great re-telling anyway, but the period details confirm this picture book offering as a 20th Century historical tour de force. There are three others in our collection - an Art Deco Cinderella, a 1970s Rapunzel, and a male Red Riding Hood, 'Little Red' from the 18th Century. They are all brilliant.

8. Daisy Saves the Day by Shirley Hughes (Walker Books)

Chosen for: its glorious historical illustrations from the ingenius and talented Shirley Hughes and an encouraging tale that with loyalty and dedication anyone can change their own circumstances. Daisy comes from a poor family and, forced to leave school and the books she loves, she must work as a scullery maid in a large house with stern employers. It's work she doesn't enjoy, and isn't brilliant at either, but she works hard and is allowed books to read in her spare time. Books take away her loneliness and give her a challenge and hope. Despite a number of disasters Daisy, through her quick thinking, is able to save the household from a fire, and in saving the day she is rewarded with her greatest dream - a place at a school.


9. The Fairytale Hairdresser and Aladdin by Abie Longstaff and Lauren Beard (Picture Corgi)
Chosen for: their lighthearted and enjoyable tales about a creative and strong young woman. The author Abie Longstaff, has aimed with this series to demonstrate that fashion and fun can be combined with courage, quick thinking and self-determination. Her series of ten books subverts traditional fairytales and creates a Fairy Land where princes work, women don’t necessarily choose marriage ahead of their careers and the justice system is more focused on rehabilitation than punishment.

10. Olivia (and sequels) by Ian Falconer (Simon and Schuster)
Chosen for: their glorious turns of phrase, delightfully educational content and sage message behind the mirth. Olivia is a piglet. She's also a toddler. Fiercely independent and in danger of wearing out the naughty step, Olivia's exploits in the pursuit of individuality cannot fail to make even the most despairing parent chuckle. When Olivia decorates her bedroom wall with splodges of black and red paint, this is no graffiti, but an experiment emulating Pollock. In Olivia and the Fairy Princess, we are presented with Olivia's incandescnce at the sole aspiration of her peers to be pink tutu-clad princesses in need of rescue. She presents alternatives, explores stark modern dance, and considers a future as a reporter exposing corporate malfeasance. These books are utterly brilliant. Buy them immediately.

11. Merryn's Journey (Song of the Deep) by ; illustrated by &

Chosen for: the heartwarming father and daughter relationship, gorgeous illustrations, and brave female role model. Originally a video game, creator Hastings has turned the adventure into a book about a young girl who lives alone with her fisherman father. Each day he heads out to sea to catch fish while Merryn tends her garden, and every night he comes home and sings to her about a mysterious world that lies below the waves. Then one day he doesn't return, and Merryn, recalling his dangerous realm of serpents, merrows, monsters, and a sunken city made of gold, sets out to rescue the one she loves. Clever Merryn constructs a vessel and heads off on a strange and beautiful adventure where her kindness and care for others, however terrifying, ultimately reflect back to her in her moment of need.

You may also like:
Books to Change Children's Thinking
Green Reads for Children


I'm delighted to say that Penguin and Arklu have offered my readers an exclusive and exciting competition to win one of
• 1x copy of Stargazer Dress-up Sticker Book, Lottie Solves a Mystery, and a Lottie Autumn Leaves Doll
• 1x copy of Stargazer Dress-up Sticker Book, Lottie Solves a Mystery, and a Finn Kite Flyer Doll 
Plus a couple more copies of the books for the runners-up.
To be in with a chance to win please tell us what you'd add to our Mighty Girl Booklist in the comments below and then enter using the Rafflecopter.


 
Disclaimer: Whilst we already own a good proportion of these books, several have been sent to us over the last couple of years for the purposes of review. However, the selection in this post represents what I believe to be the very best of everything we have received and own on the topic. Many thanks to Picture Corgi, Walker Books, Pavilion, Abrams, Tate, Simon and Schuster, Penguin and Frances Lincoln for copies of some of these titles. Huge thank to Lottie, Penguin and Arklu for their brilliant competition prizes.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

My First Ballet: Cinderella

For the second year, the girls and I returned to the Peacock Theatre in London to see the young and talented dancers from the English National Ballet School perform for the tiniest aspiring ballerinas. Now in its sixth year, the My First Ballet series features a classical ballet, specially shortened, adapted, and cleverly narrated to suit children as young as three. 

Marina Minguez as the Fairy Godmother (c) Photography by ASH


 Maria Isabel Trabalon Sanjuan and Jeong Eun Park as the Stepsisters (c) Photography by ASH

Although arguably the music of Cinderella, a Prokofiev classic, is a little less memorable than Sleeping Beauty (last year's lovely production), the rags to riches tale is firmly fixed in the fairytale canon and lent itself very well to this adaptation. The narrator, now older, takes us on a journey back in time to a story from her youth and we meet the young Cinderella through the older Queen's eyes. This year's story had a real element of humour and the stepsisters, full of character, stole the show. 

Remi Nakano as Cinderella and Yuki Nakaaki as The Prince  © Laurent Liotardo

One of the best elements of the My First Ballet productions are the interweaving of narration and dance. Carefully and intentionally, the dancers illustrate that many of the ballet moves that we might usually miss with the whirl of limbs and chiffon have specific meanings. These are deliberately emphasised throughout and outlined in the well designed programme. Miniature audience members are invited to spot certain gestures and specific moves throughout the ballet. At crucial junctures time is slowed so we don't miss a crucial exchange. I'm always learning something new alongside my little women and enjoy these productions just as much as they do.

Remi Nakano as Cinderella and Yuki Nakaaki as The Prince  © Laurent Liotardo

Marina Minguez as the Fairy Godmother 

& Mar Bonet Sans as Cinderella (c) Photography by ASH


This unique collaboration between English National Ballet and English National Ballet School is always particularly exciting for Culturebaby as we are lucky enough to be able to attend ENB's Junior ballet school. These brilliant dancers therefore demonstrate in a connected and tangible way what is possible for the very youngest of students. The classes, run by highly trained professionals and featuring a real pianist, come highly recommended. No auditions are necessary but the quality of teaching is excellent. We are heading over to Chelsea tomorrow to take part in the annual performance for the Juniors, which last year was hugely impressive. It's a class worth travelling to. 


Remi Nakano as Cinderella © Laurent Liotardo

ENB has worked with Widgit to produce resources that can be easily used by the young but also by those with learning difficulties or disabilities. The My First Ballet: Cinderella Symbol Resources are designed for use before, during and after performances. You can download these here at the links below. Some of these flashcards in particular are brilliantly useful and I'll be producing a set for the girls soon:


Remi Nakano as Cinderella  © Laurent Liotardo

Another great accompaniment to the performance is James Mayhew's beautifully illustrated picture book Ella Bella and Cinderella. It is part of the ingenious series where the little ballerina Ella is transported, with the aid of a magical musical box, into a series of ballets; supporting the characters and saving the plot.

Although the ENB school dancers have finished their run for the year, performances continue over the summer at two locations. For further details and booking information see the website at www.ballet.org.uk/myfirstballet

Anita Wolleb as the Fairy Godmother  © Laurent Liotardo

The Peacock, London
18 – 23 July 2017
Box Office: 020 7863 8000
Tickets: £10 - £25

 Manchester Opera House
26 –30 July 2017
Box Office:
0844 871 3018
Tickets: £11.50 - £29.40



Disclaimer: We received press tickets for the purposes of review from English National Ballet. All views are, as always, our own. Photographs are courtesy of ENB and the specified photographers - with thanks.

Monday, 29 May 2017

It doesn't happen every day, that a Tiger comes around to play...


It doesn't happen every day that a Tiger comes around to play...

Sometimes it is the longeivity of a memory, months and months on, that points to the success of a childhood experience. As we ambled past the poster outside Richmond Theatre for the 2017 tour, the girls started to sing the theme and to talk about their memories of visiting Cadogan Hall last summer to watch the performance - requesting to book again this year.

We have seen so much wonderful theatre over the last few years, but there is little better than seeing much loved characters come alive on stage. Judith Kerr's 50 year old classic seems to hold an enduring fascination for children, with a formula and illustrative style so successful, that I can imagine few children would fail to recount the tale.

Its genesis is equally interesting. Judith used to enjoy trips to the library with her young daughter Tacy, but reported her ongoing disppointment that there was very little for children between "here is a horse" and long and dull stories with unfamiliar words (happily due to the legacy of these intrepid early picture book pioneers this problem no longer exists). Kerr noted that it seemed extraordinary that there were so few books with proper stories in simple words that a two year old could understand.

Keeping themselves occupied with trips to the zoo whilst her husband was away filming, and meanwhile hoping for visitors and "that something would happen", between mother and daughter the story of a Tiger who came calling at the house was born. It was Tacy's favourite and soon it was retold by heart. Later her son also loved the story, but it wasn't until both children were at school and work was able to resume in earnest that Judith finally started to turn it into a picture book.

On the advice of a friend from Central St Martins (art school) she experimented with inks to give a layering and richness, and she observed and sketched tigers live at the Zoo. She based the book on her own kitchen and on Tom (her husband), Tacy and herself. Following some re-working with the editor (and Tacy being re-christened Sophie) - though it seems Judith won the battle on the Tiger (improbably) drinking all the water in the tap (her son's favourite) - it was published to encouraging reviews in 1968. Little could she have known its consequent impact.





I was perhaps surprised that such a simple tale could be turned into a 55 minute musical but Olivier Award Winner David Wood OBE, a leading writer and director of plays and musicals for children, has done so successfully. With genuinely memorable tunes and humour, the stage show also retains much of the magic of the classic book with its '60s decoration, clothes and routine - and crucially the original story.

In the gorgeous book "Creatures", Kerr's autobiography, she describes the approach from producer Nick Brooke, who wanted to turn the three minute book into a one hour play... "At first I just thought it was ridiculous, but then I thought, why not, and made an appointment to go and see him. He was clearly very professional, and totally serious...." After a further tea and discussion with David Wood, she agreed to give it a go. At a visit to an early rehearsal Kerr notes that she was "brought up short by the set, which looked exactly like the drawing in the book. There were two young actresses playing Sophie and her mother, and a very good young actor called Alan Atkins playing the tiger, the father and three other characters, and the whole thing just felt effortlessly right." It opened to immediate success at the Bloomsbury in 2011 and was later nominated for an Olivier Award.


As Kerr herself observes
"It is oddly moving to see a theatre full of three year olds spellbound by this singing and dancing version of a bedtime story I once told my little daughter so many years ago." 
In the words of The Times "It's the Cat's Miaow", as is Kerr, who with her family fleed the rising Nazi party in Germany due to her writer father's liberal, anti-Hitler work. Whilst Tiger is no work of political criticism (though some have argued it is), it has demonstrably endowed many a young mind with a love for the arts and literature. As writer Ann Patchett notes: “Reading fiction not only develops our imagination and creativity, it gives us the skills to be alone. It gives us the ability to feel empathy for people we've never met, living lives we couldn't possibly experience for ourselves, because the book puts us inside the character's skin.” With training such as this for all of our children, 80 years on from Kerr's experience, the forces of bigotry and intolerence would have a far tougher fight ahead.

This year's tour details can be found here:

Dislaimer: We received tickets to the performance in exchange for an honest review. We are very grateful to Cadogan Hall for the opportunity. You can view their fantastic programme of family events here.


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