Thursday, 29 November 2012

Telling Stories, Singing Songs, and Ways to Live Forever

In October 2012 (just a few weeks ago, at time of writing), my wife, two daughters and I attended a weekend course on Storytelling for 8-12 Year Olds at the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham. It was a packed programme involving story creation, storytelling, dramatic improvisation and much more.

One of the events we enjoyed took place in the grounds of Woodbrooke. We all gathered round a camp fire after dark and sang songs. One song I’d never come across before involved the popular character of Harry Potter. It went to the tune of Frère Jacques:

Harry Potter, Harry Potter
Where’s he gone? Where’s he gone?
Run of with Hermione, run of with Hermione
Poor old Ron! Poor old Ron!

With all due apologies to J K Rowling, it was great to come away from a Quaker establishment with that particular gem!

One of the leaders of this weekend storytelling course was the children’s author Sally Nicholls. After we returned home we bought a copy of her book Ways To Live Forever for our eldest daughter. A few days ago, I picked it up and read it myself.

Although Ways To Live Forever is primarily intended for children and teenagers, its direct and unashamedly open language make it a very worthwhile read for adults too.

Sally Nicholls addresses a very difficult subject in this book – a child’s terminal illness – but she overcomes adult fears and reticence by using the frank, matter-of-fact voice of the afflicted child.  The main character of the book is Sam, an 11-year-old with leukaemia, and the story is told entirely from his perspective.  Through an engaging first person narrative this book explores important questions: What are the priorities for a child who knows he doesn’t have long to live? How does he perceive the actions and conversations of the adults around him? In exploring questions like these the book draws the reader into that child’s world.

Obviously, this is not a happy, feel-good book, but that’s not to say that it’s entirely bleak and grim. There is gentle humour scattered throughout the story, and this helps lead the reader towards the (inevitable) conclusion. Essentially, in my view, this book conveys the message that tragedy of this kind cannot be swept away and ignored, but by ‘normalising’ it through the eyes of a child, it is shown as something that can be faced (just about). Nothing here is trivialised, it is simply expressed as normal for those experiencing it.

Ways To Live Forever is a fantastic book, and one whose honesty will be especially appreciated by young readers.

So, the learning experience of the storytelling course and an entertaining song about Harry Potter weren’t the only things I took away from our family weekend at Woodbrooke!

Ways To Live Forever by Sally Nichols is published by Scholastic
ISBN 978-1-407130-50-7

Delivered Unto Lions by David Austin is published by CheckPoint Press
ISBN 978-1-906628-21-5