National Trust

The Curse of the School Rabbit- and The Tiger Who Came to Tea

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Newark Park is an estate in Gloucestershire managed by the National Trust. The house started life as a Tudor hunting lodge, but was extended and altered by subsequent owners to create the wonderful building which is there today. This summer, it has been the venue for an exhibition (originated by Seven Stories, in partnership with Harper Collins) celebrating last year being the 50th anniversary of ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ by Judith Kerr.

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The Buff Bedroom has been set up with an interactive kitchen for children to explore and use to reenact the story. A benevolent giant tiger sits in one corner, waiting to be cuddled and climbed on- by adults as much as children! Plenty of copies of this lovely story are available for sharing. There is also a trail around the house with cuddly tigers clutching letters in most rooms.

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On the top floor, the Newark exhibition room is dedicated to art work from the book and a film of Judith Kerr talking about ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ and her work. There were high quality facsimiles of Judith Kerr’s original illustrations from the Seven Stories collection on the walls and in a cabinet in the centre of the room. A short film was also playing which included footage of Judith Kerr in her studio. The exhibition is well worth a visit for those who love ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’. Once it leaves Newark Park, the exhibition will visit these locations:

Saturday 7 September – Sunday 3 November 2019 Bateman’s, East Sussex:
Saturday 9 November – Sunday 5 January 2020: Knole, Kent 

2020
Saturday 11 January – Sunday 1 March: Osterley Park, Middlesex
Saturday 7 March – Sunday 29 April: Dyffryn Gardens, Vale of Glamorgan

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‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ was the first book written by Judith Kerr. ‘The Curse of the School Rabbit’ was written by her just before her death in May this year.

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When Miss Bennet’s mother is taken ill, Snowflake, the school rabbit, comes to stay at Tommy’s house. From this point on, everything seems to go wrong and Tommy is sure it is Snowflake’s fault. However, much as Snowflake has caused many problems, the rabbit is also the cause of some unexpected good luck for Tommy and his family.

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Full of warmth and family feeling, ‘The Curse of the School Rabbit’ is a gently humorous story told from the viewpoint of a little boy whose main concern is whether his parents will be able to afford to get him a bike for Christmas. His father - an actor- is ‘resting’ so money is tight and Tommy’s little sister, Angie, who adores Snowflake, seems to Tommy to get away with everything. Judith Kerr has captured Tommy’s voice perfectly as his home is invaded by this annoying rabbit and its ‘curse’- every day incidents are perfectly captured. The illustrations are delightful- black and white pencil sketches offering an old fashioned charm and humour- in fact, I was surprised to find mum had a mobile as the story could easily have been set at an earlier time. ‘The Curse of the School Rabbit’ is a lovely book, perfect for sharing as well as independent reading with a satisfying, happy conclusion.

The Curse of the School Rabbit Judith Kerr

Harper Collins ISBN: 978-0008351847

Greenway Literary Festival 2019

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This weekend, I went to Dartmouth to visit the beautiful Greenway, former home of the wonderful Agatha Christie. A fascinating place to visit, this weekend was extra special because Greenway was hosting its first literary festival.

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Having visited the house and the boathouse- scene of one of the murders in ‘Dead Man’s Folly’- I made my way to the festival tent to see Beverley Naidoo, an amazing storyteller, who was going to be talking about her books ‘Cinderella of the Nile’ and ‘Journey to Jo’burg’.

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Starting with ‘Cinderella of the NIle’, Beverley explained that the version of the story she has retold is the earliest known telling of the Cinderella story.  Red-haired, rosy-cheeked Rhodopis is captured in the mountains of Greece and is sold in Samos, where wise storyteller Aesop befriends her. However, he master is angered by her sorrow and decides to send her away. Sold again in Egypt, she is given a pair of rose-red slippers by the merchant, Charaxos, who buys her. When Horus steals one of her slippers, Rhodopis ends up living happily ever after with Pharaoh Amasis.

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It’s a wonderful re-telling, illustrated by Iranian artist, Marjan Vafaeian, whose pictures Beverley obviously loves. Some of the children in the audience had been working from this book in school; other had been working from the second book Beverley spoke about, ‘Journey to Jo’burg’.

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Beverley read the opening of the story and explained how different South Africa had been when she wrote the story thirty four years ago. Telling stories from her own childhood, growing up there, Beverley really challenged the audience to think about how different the lives of the privileged white children were to those of the black children. Explaining that she had written the book because she was angry about the way things were and wanted to challenge things that were taken for granted, Beverley spoke movingly of her ‘second mother’, Mma Sebate and how, although the book had been dedicated to her, Beverley been unable to use her real name for fear that Mma Sebate would get into trouble for being associated with it.

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The book was banned in South Africa at the time and when Beverley sent copies of it to her niece and nephew who were living there, they were confiscated and her sister-in-law received an unpleasant letter from the government telling her this! Such an important, powerful book, ‘Journey to Jo’burg’ is as much a ‘must read’ today as it was 34 years ago.

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This was a fascinating session in a beautiful location. I hope that Greenway is planning on hosting another literary festival next year!

You can read about Beverley’s session at the Hay Festival last year here.

The 'gorgeous and humble' Mr Philip Ardagh!

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On Sunday, I went to the Imagine Festival Festival at the South Bank Centre where my first event was to see Philip Ardagh discussing the latest of his secret diaries books, ‘The Secret Diary of Kitty Cask’. This is an excellent series of historical stories which mix humour and facts set in different periods of English history. The first three are very popular with my class- I have just had to buy replacement copies for the library- so I was very keen to hear from the man himself.

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Philip started by explaining how he wrote these books for the National Trust and discussed the role of the NT in protecting the countryside, the coastline and special buildings across the country.

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With lots of laughs and fun facts, the gorgeous and humble Mr Ardagh introduced Kitty Cask, her father and other characters from his new book. Despite the heat, he himself bravely donned the costume of a customs officer and dressed up various children from the audience to explore the life of a smuggler. This proved to be a very entertaining and hazardous experience even through the children were not allowed a real flintlock pistol or chains.

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The event finished with a quiz about expressions commonly used in the eighteenth century. The whole session was pacy, extremely funny and very interesting. And Mr Ardagh was gorgeous and humble… well, that’s what he told me to say!

The Secret Diary of Kitty Cask Philip Ardagh, illustrated by Jamie Littler

Nosy Crow and the National Trust ISBN: 978-1788000574

You can read our review of John Drawbridge here, Jane Pinny here and Thomas Snoop here.