Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Jane Graham: Back to School

Jane Graham, journalist with The Big Issue in Scotland, is in the blog-seat this week talking about our "Back to School" campaign and Julia Donaldson's first novel for teens, Running On The Cracks.

My visit to Douglas Acadamy in Milgavie with children’s author Julia Donaldson was my fifth outing as part of the Scottish Book Trust’s ‘Back to School’ campaign in conjunction with the Big Issue. As an arts journalist, avid bookworm and mother of two, covering the campaign is a joy for me – there are few things which warm my heart like watching shy school children being coaxed into divulging their ideas, ambitions and even the odd secret by a writer who has written a story which made them laugh, cry or rush to give their mum a hug.

Julia’s visit was particularly interesting because I quickly realised as I chatted to the 13 year olds in the library that she was as much a part of their childhood as Roald Dahl was of mine. Every student in the room had grown up with The Gruffalo and most knew other works of Julia’s. To that extent to them meeting her was like meeting a fairytale figure, an eternal mythical presence in their lives. That may be how Julia managed to cajole them into acting out scenes from her first novel for teenagers, Running On the Cracks, which most of them did with gusto, humour and even, in one case, an almost Brando-like intensity. Watching a 13 year old drop his or her cool, even for a few moments, is a delicious thing indeed.

Julia was keen to stress her personal relationship with Douglas Academy and told the class about her sons, who had attended the school, and how they had each influenced the book. Jerry had been a goth (which apparently left Julia unimpressed) and had introduced her to that subculture. Tragically, Julia’ s son Hamish had been diagnosed with pyschological disorder before he died, and he was clearly in her thoughts when she wrote the book, which includes insights into a number of debilitating mental illnesses. Children always appreciate honesty and openness and the Douglas Academy students responded warmly to Julia’s stories.

Thank you, Jane.

If you would like to meet Julia and hear her imaginative talk she will be appearing at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery on Saturday and Sunday in conjunction with the RSPB.


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