Mr Hops Goes to Tea

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Mr Hops was walking in the forest when he heard a telephone ringing. There in a clearing he saw a big green phone box. He went into the box and answered the phone.

‘Hello? Is there anyone there?’ he said.

‘Hello Mr Hops,’ said a mysterious voice. ‘This is, um, um, your cousin, um, um, Bugsy. Would you like to come to my house for tea?’

‘Hmm,’ thought Mr Hops. ‘I don’t have a cousin called Bugsy. In fact, I don’t have a cousin at all.’ But he was curious, so he said: ‘Yes, I’ll come to tea, Bugsy.’

‘Meet me at Mountain View at the house with the red door at five O’clock,’ said the voice. ‘Bye-bye.’

‘Bye-bye, Bugsy,’ said Mr Hops, but he didn’t put the phone down right away and he heard the voice snickering on the other end of the line.

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Mr Hops went home and baked a cake. It was very yellow because it was a… CHICKEN CAKE! And Mr Hops put a secret ingredient in, a unicorn sleeping potion.

thumb_IMG_2672 2_1024When the cake was baked he set off for Mountain View and at five O’clock he knocked on the red door.

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Rat-a-tat-tat.

A very strange-looking rabbit opened the door. It had extra floppy ears and sloppy stitches all down its back.

‘Hello, Cousin Hops,’ said a gruff voice.

‘Hello, Cousin Bugsy,’ said Mr Hops. ‘I’ve brought you a cake.’

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Please observe the remains of former tea guests buried under the floor…

‘Oh. How kind. Carrot, I suppose?’

‘Chicken, actually,’ said Mr Hops.

The strange rabbit jumped up and down with delight. ‘Chicken! My favourite,’ he squealed. He jumped around so much that some of his stitches burst and out popped a big red bushy tail.

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‘Oh oh,’ said Mr Hops.

‘Oh oh,’ said Mr Fox.

‘Cake?’ said Mr Hops nervously. ‘Please do eat.’

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‘I will,’ said Mr Fox. ‘But I don’t know what to eat first, the cake or YOU!’

Suddenly something blocked the open door and a huge black shadow fell over the two enemies. They turned around slowly.

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It was Mr Wolf!

‘Do something,’ cried Mr Fox.

‘Mr Wolf,’ stammered Mr Hops. ‘Would you like some chicken cake?’

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‘Ah,’ said Mr Wolf. ‘I knew I could smell something very delicious.’ And he snatched the cake from Mr Hops’ trembling paws. ‘This will do as a starter, before I gobble up you and your foxy friend.’ The cake was gone in a gulp.

Mr Wolf turned to the rabbit and the fox and opened his great stinky jaws to bite off their heads.

BUMP, THUMP!

He fell forwards in a deep deep sleep and landed in what was left of the chicken cake.

‘What happened?’ said Mr Fox.

‘Unicorn sleeping potion,’ said Mr Hops. ‘We’d better get out of here before he wakes up.

‘Yes, let’s,’ said Mr Fox. ‘I’m awfully sorry, Mr Hops, for trying to trick you.’

‘I’m sorry too, Mr Fox,’ said Mr Hops, ‘for trying to trick you back.’

‘We’ll make a great team, Mr Hops,’ said Mr Fox, and the two friends jumped over the snoring wolf and ran all the way home to Bunny Burrow.

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This story was created on August 12th at the Wild Words Festival in Carrick-on-Shannon. It is the work of Piper, Kayanna, Peter, Connor, Zoe, Emily, Roxi, Ronán, Cadhla, Mia, Eimear, Tristan, Ruby, Poppy, Róisín and Rossa, under the guidance of Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick. © is held by Wild Words Festival on behalf of the creators.

Kids Say the Darndest Things…

Reading a picturebook to an audience of adults can be nerve-wracking. Adults are often intimidated by the form, worried that they aren’t going to ‘get’ it, scared they’ll laugh in the wrong place, so they tense up. Reading a SILENT book with adults is even more daunting. Reading picture books with kids is a doddle, but what happens when the book has no words?

The first time I attempted reading Owl Bat Bat Owl was with 70 kids in Limerick Library and I have to admit to wondering how exactly it was going to work. I needn’t have worried. I’ve read it many times now, in many places, and kids always nail it!

Kids: ‘It’s daytime, the bats should be asleep.’

Me: ‘Why do you think they’re out, flying around?’

‘Something bad has happened.’

Me: ‘Like what?’

‘They’ve lost their home.’ ‘Their tree has fallen down.’  A girl in Dun Laoghaire said, ‘Someone dropped a bomb on their cave.’

Only a couple of reviewers have made the link between the story and the refugee crisis; kids don’t use that term but those suggestions tell me they’re making the connection.

Me: ‘What’s happening now?’

‘I think they’re practising segregation.’ 9 year old, Limerick library. Pole-axed me and the other adults in the room – that he used the term and obviously completely understood it.

Hoots of laughter.

Me: ‘What do you think the mammies are saying?

‘Get back up here, right this minute!’ Delivered with cross faces, hands on hips and Angry-Irish-Mammy voice.

‘Oh, oh! I think something bad is going to happen and then they’ll make friends.’ 3 year old, Moncton, Canada. Wow – what anticipation, and from a tot! Then she farted loudly, exploded into giggles and rolled around on the floor, to general hilarity.

‘They’ve got the wrong babies!’

Me: ‘What do you think will happen next?’

‘They’ll all be friends.’

‘Let me tell, let me tell! And the two mammies had a nice cup of tea and a chat, while their babies played in the light of the moon.’ 8 year old Nigerian girl, Limerick.

And there be spiders:

Adults hardly ever notice them, but kids spot them very quickly and realise there’s another story to explore.

Owl Bat Bat Owl Walker Books/Candlewick

A Tower by Any Other Name

An Irish Round Tower is not any old tower. It’s not a Martello tower – those are the squat round towers dotted along our coast and the coasts of England and Wales, built during the Napoleonic wars to fire up warning signals if Bonny came calling. Nor is it a Norman tower house – those are the plain square towers you see all over Ireland. We have one of those in my home town of Clondalkin. It’s called Tully’s Castle and it has its own legend of thwarted love, cruel fathers and violent death, but it’s only a side note to Clondalkin’s main claim to fame – our beautiful 10th century* Round Tower.

Irish Round Towers (note the capitals) are uniquely, well, Irish. There are around 65 in number, though the total depends on who’s counting. Some scholars only count the freestanding Round Towers, not the ones ‘engaged’ or attached to church buildings; most count all remaining stumps and bases, some count foundations. No one counts revivalist round towers, 19th century pastiches such as the one at Daniel O’Connell’s grave in Glasnevin.

Round Towers were built over a 250 year period in the 10th-12th centuries. Wherever you see one, whether in the middle of a bustling town, like the one in Clondalkin, or standing alone in the middle of a field, that tower was once at the centre of an Irish monastic settlement.* Clondalkin’s monastery was founded by Crónán Mochua in the late 6th/early 7th century and the tower was probably constructed in the early 10th century. Clondalkin’s tower is one of the earliest towers – it is plain and made of local stone.** It is the narrowest, and one of the most complete. It still has its original cap – the only complete tower whose cap has not been reconstructed or reset, according to Brian Lalor. Most caps, including that of the Glendalough tower, are 19th century replacements. It is smoothly cylindrical inside – most of the towers interiors are constructed like stacked upturned buckets. It is the only one with a bulge at its base, probably added as a buttress.

So, what were Round Towers for? In 1830 the Royal Irish Academy held a competition for scholarly essays on the subject and it raised some whacky theories. There was a strong belief that the towers were places of fire worship for the Phoenicians (!) and the 2nd prize went to an essay which suggested the towers were ‘pagodas for phallic worship, erected by Zoroastrian refugees from Persia’!! The main prize was awarded to George Petrie for his essay arguing that since Round Towers were found near the remains of churches and known monastic settlements they were therefore part of mediaeval Christian culture. This didn’t stop someone in 1834 suggesting that the towers didn’t actually exist at all, an argument refuted by another gent who said he could verify the existence of the Clondalkin tower, at least. He’d ‘tested (it) against all five of his senses, including taste; he’d licked it.’ He found it slightly soapy. Perhaps, he suggested, this was a result of it being greased, to assist competitors who ‘scaled it in order to win a hat or bandana suspended from the top window by a druid’. (NB: info in this para is pretty much cogged from Ireland’s Round Towers, Tadhg O’Keefe, Tempus, 2004)

It seems strange now that there was ever any doubt that the Round Towers were part of monastic settlements and it’s difficult for us to appreciate how truncated the past appeared to people back in the early 19th century. Today it is accepted that the towers were a central feature of monastic enclosures. We know from the annals that they were used for housing precious objects but it seems most likely that their main/original purpose lies in the Irish name for Round Towers – Cloig-theach, which means bell house. Perhaps a bell was rung from the top floor to sound prayer times to the community working below in the huts, gardens and fields. Lalor and other scholars suggest our towers are part of a broader culture of bell towers (campanili) erected at religious centres in Ravanna, Rome, the Rhineland and elsewhere in Europe, towers which may in turn have been inspired by Islamic minarets.

This all sounds more logical than what I was taught in school – that the towers were for defence. We were told that monks under attack locked themselves inside, hauled boiling oil up to the top windows and flung it down on the heads of the marauders below. It didn’t make sense. How could you carry a large quantity of boiling oil up rickety ladders without burning yourself? If you did make it to the top and managed to pour it out the narrow, deeply set window, wouldn’t most of it end up on the wall on the way down? And would the attackers really have just stood there while oil and rocks were rained on their heads? The defence theory has been dismissed but we know the towers were occasionally used for refuge. Not a good plan. Having drawn up the ladder and locked themselves inside, those seeking refuge were at the mercy of the attackers. A fire set at the door turned the tower into a chimney.***

Until the 1990s you could climb the Clondalkin Round Tower. Every kid in the village knew that the O’Connors at Mill View were the keepers of the key. You knocked at their door and they handed it out, along with a torch. You climbed the steps (not original) to the door,  unlocked it and then climbed the long tapered ladders four floors, hauling yourself through each hatch onto wooden platforms. Scrambling on your hands and knees it’s rather alarming to realise that the platforms are just a single layer of side-by side, not especially thick, planks. There are chinks; you can see the drop below. At the top of the tower are four windows facing the cardinal points. I climbed it with my gang of Ranger guides circa 1992 on a gloriously sunny day. Clondalkin is 60 metres above sea level and the view 27.5 metres above that is amazing. Up there looking out it’s hard not to presume that this is one of the functions of the towers – to provide a 360 degree view of the surrounding land. Monasteries were the power centres of their day and housed treasures well worth looting. The view from the top would have provided an early warning system.**** In turn, the towers could also be seen from a distance in the medieval landscape, so pilgrims travelling from one monastery to another had a distinctive imposing landmark to guide them towards their destination.

You can visit the new centre in Clondalkin, Brú Chrónáin, read up on Round Towers and develop theories of your own while enjoying the tower in its wonderful new garden setting. You can join a guided tour with a local guide to tell you the history of the site, and then stop and eat something scrummy at the new Happy Pear restaurant. Fáilte is fiche!

* There are 3 in Scotland and 1 on the Isle of Man, later towers, derivations of Irish Round Towers.

** Early towers were plain, later towers were built with support of wealthy patrons and could therefore use materials brought from further afield.  Door lintel type is also indicative of an early date.

*** There is a possibility that the towers were consider sacred places in which one could claim sanctuary, which would not necessarily have been respected. The annals record several deaths in Round Towers including the murders of two kings.

**** In fact some towers were adapted for just that use in the Middle Ages, caps removed and battlements added. But O’Keefe dismisses/Lalor questions the idea of the towers as lookouts as some of them don’t provide a particularly good view from the top.

Acknowledgements:

The Irish Round Tower, Brendan Lalor, Collins Press 1999 ; Ireland’s Round Towers, Tadhg O’Keefe, Tempus 2004 ; Round Towers and Tall Tales, June 28 2014, Irish Times, https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/round-towers-and-tall-tales-1.1847765 (George Cunningham)

Etch-a-Sketch!

We’ve been etching again. I used a sketch of a wolf I made last year at Wolf’s Hollow as the basis for one of my etchings and Michael used some sketches from the baby book he’s working on.

First we scratched…

Then we inked…

Went to the press. Laid down the plate. Rolled…

And revealed.

And started all over again!

And here are our prints:

It’s the second time we’ve attended a day course with Debora Ando. She’s a great teacher, patient and clear and fun. The National Print Museum holds all sorts of interesting workshops. They also have a really great wee cafe with excellent coffee and fantastic food.

Canada – the Ottawa Album

Our last gig – a Q&A session with Neil Wilson

Our last stop in Canada was the Ottawa International Writers Festival. They have had many Irish writers take part over the years and last year brought writers and illustrators to Dublin for the CBI conference. The sun came out in the capital!

We saw wonderful Inuit art in Ottawa and also the fabulous Maman by Louise Bourgeios which deserves its own album! There is a lovely picturebook about Louise and her Maman, who was a weaver, illustrated by Canadian illustrator, Isabelle Arsenault

Canada – the Montreal Album

With Dr Susan Cahill at the Irish Studies’ Centre in Concordia University, Montreal

Next stop on our tour of Canada was the Blue Met Festival, Montreal. Click on images to go large/get info/scroll

Then it was off on a train to the capital, writing as we went…

Canada – the Moncton Album

The first of three photo albums from my trip to Canada representing Irish children’s lit with Deirdre Sullivan, Óisín McGann and Dave Rudden. First CBI sent us to the Frye Festival in Moncton, New Brunswick  (for more info, roll over or click on an image)

We spent four lovely days with the folk at the Frye Festival but then we made the mistake of going to Magnetic Hill…

Magnetic Hill is drawing us away…

The Ed Emberley Exhibition

Kahbahbloom!

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For the first time in its 120 year history the Worcester Art Museum just outside Boston is hosting an exhibition of a children’s book illustrator, and that illustrator is Michael’s dad, Ed Emberley. We went to see it in January with Ed and Barbara and some good friends.

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Ed has written and/or illustrated more than a hundred books over his long career, working in various mediums and many styles, always experimenting and exploring. The exhibition in Worcester displays a wide variety of his art, rough sketches and finished pieces for some of his most iconic books, including Drummer Hoff (Caldecott Medal 1968), the best-selling and innovative Drawing Book series and many more.

The art for One Wide River to Cross (Caldecott Honor 1967) was created using woodcuts, some of which you can see pictured below:

dscf0378Woodcuts are always carved in reverse so you can see the animals are marching in the opposite direction on the prints (below). This is final art marked up with instructions for the print run. dscf0377

In the printed book there are colourful backgrounds, like so:

The art for The Story of Paul Bunyan (1963) was also created using woodcuts. Below is a print pulled from the ginormous woodblock Ed made as a promotion for the book – that’s the woodblock you can see to the left of the image. We all laughed when Rick stood in front of it, having unintentionally dressed the part!

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Part of the joy of walking around the exhibition with Ed was being able to ask questions about the techniques he used. Here is a small selection of pieces from the exhibition – click on an image if you’d like to read how it was made. (You will need to roll down a bit below the image for the info, if you’re using a phone.)

We also heard some family memories. Barbara, Rebecca and Michael were often drafted in to help finish art and Barbara and Michael tried to recall who did what on which book. Most of Ed’s pre-computer book illustrations were created using the “pre-separation” process – a technique which involved using Ed’s original black line art combined with three additional paper overlays indicating colour placement. Michael explained that for a book like the ABC, he might have created the overlays on say, an alligator, Rebecca a bear, Barbara a cat.  Meaning, with a felt-tip pen, Michael would have marked the areas which Ed intended for the alligator as yellow, red and blue, literally ‘colouring them in’ (on overlays) like a highly detailed coloring book. Yes, it’s confusing if you’ve never seen it done! Ed’s studio is in the family home, Barbara worked on many of the books and in more recent years Rebecca and Ed have created books together, so all the books are deeply woven into everyone’s memories.

It was really interesting to see Ed’s work explored in this way. He has created so many great books that it can be overwhelming, but the exhibition doesn’t try to show it all. Curator Caleb Neelon and Worcester Museum director Adam Rozen chose some favourites from across Ed’s work and the result is terrific.

And it was great fun going to see it with friends – Tom and Rick, Anne, Sika and Susannah. We made a party of it! The show runs at Worcester Art Museum (MA) till April 9th.

http://www.worcesterart.org/exhibitions/ed-emberley/

Make Way for Ducklings – Ipswich, Mass. Version

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCluskey is a classic American picturebook set in Boston. The statue commemorating the book is in Boston Public Garden and I took this photo in May, a few days before Michael and myself met one tenacious mammy duck and her two plucky ducklings in downtown Ipswich Mass. What followed was a pretty amazing set of coincidental sightings, as we anxiously followed their attempts to get back home.

dscf6379Day one: we paused on our way back from morning coffee/work to look upriver from the bridge over the weir (A).b-wierIn this photo the water is quite calm but that morning it was very turbulent and we were alarmed to see a duck leading her two tiny babies into the tumbling water, attempting to scale the weir.

Once we began watching we couldn’t look away. Over and over, Mammy Duck went into the foam, and over and over, the ducklings tried to follow her. After approaching the falls head-on multiple times, she led them to the right where a tree trunk was lodged, but the water there was particularly rapid so they couldn’t reach it. She gave up and brought them all the way over to the left where there’s a salmon run, but again it was too difficult for the little ducklings.


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Every now and then she’d drop back to the stones in the corner of the photo above to let the babies rest, before starting all over again. The ducklings were tiring and it seemed only a matter of time before one or both of them was swept away. It was a huge relief to us when Mammy finally decided to give up and let the current bob her and the babies under the bridge we were standing on, where she led them onto a sandy bank mid-stream.

We went home, exhausted from watching. I googled ducks as soon as we got back to Ed and Barbara’s, and every article described how strong a mother duck’s instinct is to get back to her nest. We thought we had just witnessed one (sensibly) give up!

Day two: still on Irish time, we headed off early to Zumi’s for coffee.

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After a few hours writing we again took the river route home, stopping as soon as we reached the water (1) to check for Painted Turtles. There was a duck swimming below us, with two small ducklings.

‘It can’t be the same one?’ Michael said.

‘This is right where we last saw her,’ I said. ‘And every other duck we’ve seen has four or more babies.’

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The duck began to swim to shore and got up on the bank in front of us. We thought she was taking the babies out to bask in the sun. It took a minute to realise we had arrived just in time to witness the beginning of another attempt by Mammy Duck to get her family home.
2journeybeginsThe day before Michael had suggested that the only way the duck would get her ducklings upriver again was by land, but given the built-up nature of the water at this point he’d figured she’d have quite a way to go. He’d pointed to exactly where they were coming ashore right now as the nearest logical starting point.

This morning it seemed Mammy Duck had reached exactly the same conclusion.
3offtheygoWe watched her lead the ducklings across the path towards a carpark. It was railed off; we couldn’t follow. Instead we walked along the river path, watching as Mammy and babies appeared between parked cars, hugging the walls of the buildings as they went.

From the bridge (A) we watched Mammy Duck lead her babies out across another wide expanse of concrete until we lost sight of them. A woman crossing the concrete stopped and turned, as if she was watching them too, then came out onto the bridge through an employee gate.

‘Did you see the ducks?’ we asked. ‘Where did they go?’

‘Up towards the street,’ she said.

We felt sure they were going to walk around the big red brick building (B) and re-enter the river on the far side of it, so we sat down on a bench and waited. When nothing happened we decided to walk to the riverbank opposite the building for a better view.

But still, no sign of the ducks.

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Red line is the duck family journey on day two – some of it a guess, as they were out of sight. The blue line is us, watching them.


We gave up. It was half an hour since we’d last seen them. They’d obviously slipped into the water and we’d missed it. We decided to walk the dirt track along the river anyway. I kept glancing at the bank opposite, just in case. At one point (C) I looked across and stopped. That would be a good spot to re-enter, I thought, if they haven’t already. I hung around for a bit. Then I thought I saw something – movement under the wheels of the car parked behind the pole.

‘It’s them,’ I called to Michael, who’d gone ahead. ‘Quick, quick! Here they come!’

4heretheycome And it was them. Mammy Duck and her babies on her tail. She led them into the water and let them rest a few minutes behind that clump of grass, before bringing them out into midstream.

5-rulookinatmeShe turned her head and looked straight over at us for a few seconds before she headed upstream. I’m sure she was checking us for danger but it felt strangely like a salute.
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We followed through the trees till we reached a fence (D) and then watched the little family swim out of sight, thrilled to know they had made it home. We were amazed – at the tenacity of Mammy Duck, at the bravery and hardiness of the wee ducklings, at the serendipity which had allowed us to witness the whole thing.

dwatchingthemgoFair play to those babies! I hope they make through 2016 to begin families of their own in 2017.

Apologies for quality of duck photos – they were snapped on phone at extreme zoom.

Little Old Ladies

Kisses...

So we were asked recently by a good friend living in Galway, “How would you like to house-sit for a month while I’m away?”

“Sounds good!” we replied. A chance to get away. Do a bit of writing. Perfect. We’re on.

“Oh, and you’d just need to keep these two little old grey-haired ladies company – Ellie and Dinah. Feed them, take them for walks, oh, and, they’ll need to sleep in your bed at night…”

So Ellie and Dinah are dogs, not aunties. Mel has owned several dogs in her life but I’ve never owned one, let alone slept with one. And I’ll admit I’ve been overheard making disparaging remarks about yipping “toy” dogs. So the idea of two noisy, hairy things keeping me up all night for four weeks was a potential deal-breaker. But I agreed. We committed.

Once committed, an “instruction” sheet arrived, outlining fine details like baths, feeding times, psychological history, plus post-walk towel drying and daily arthritic joint massages…

Oh dear.

But as you can see by the photos, after four weeks, I fell for the old gals, their sad history of abandonment and rescue from shelters, their snuffling and twitching at night, their distinct complex personalities. I became so good at sore leg massages they’d fall asleep, and so efficient at a wash and blow dry I could apply for a salon job.

In short, my innate dog cynicism was broken down by these two little old ladies. I got less writing done than I thought, but now we’re home again I still occasionally wake up expecting to hear them snoring softly…