A letter from Jeanne Willis

It doesn’t seem less than a month ago since we were enjoying World Book Day and the privilege of working with the outstanding author, Jeanne Willis!

Jeanne has been in contact with Mrs Lewis and has kindly nominated our school for The Reading For Pleasure Awards. Thank you Jeanne. Here is an extract from Jeanne’s nomination letter:

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I’d like to nominate Skyswood Primary School for the Reading for Pleasure Awards, please .I’ve been visiting primary schools up and down the country for the past 40 years and this school is exceptional. I’ve been invited back several times and I’ve been blown away by the creativity, enthusiasm and warmth of the staff and children.

This year, I arrived on World Book Day to be greeted by a glass cabinet full of amazing models of the characters in my books that the children had made. There was also a huge display of illustrated concepts for picture book covers in the hall that I was asked to judge – it was almost impossible to choose – they were so good, I asked if I could steal some of their ideas and promised that if I got them published, they’d be named as co-creators – the winner was a five year old , with the title, ‘Giraffe Needs a Laugh’ – a hilarious story, better than some I’ve seen in print – give that girl a gold Smartie!

It’s a real honour to visit Skyswood – they have the greatest respect for authors and seeing the effect my writing has had on their writing reminds me why I love my job so much. They deserve this accolade – my thank you to them.

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The children really enjoyed created the models and designing a front cover in the style of Jeanne Willis, making effective use of humour, pun and rhyme. Some of our children were not content with just designing the front cover, and went on to write their own wonderfully imaginative stories.

This Easter ‘holiday’ will of course be far from the usual. We’ve been thrilled with the contributions of our children so far through Poetry Club, and I’m sure many of you have also taken to writing letters; whether they be to loved ones, such as grandparents, or as a tonic for those selfless heroes who work for the NHS.

We recognise that many children love writing stories too. You may already have ideas for your own story titles, or (like Jeanne) you might actually love the idea of somebody else’s title that is deserving of a story to be written around it! So here are some of the front cover titles that might just give you the inspiration to write a short story of your own over this ‘Easter holiday’ period where we’re all still under the social restrictions but, as it’s the official holiday time, you won’t be receiving daily learning activities from your teachers over the next fortnight.

These titles have GREAT potential for a story. (I’ve put the names of the children who suggested each as a title)

Funny Bunny (Charlotte)

The Wobble Monster (Chloe)

The Digging Dog (Ted)

Smellephant! (Rory)

Super Snail Saves the Day (Rose)

Ellie the Elegant Elephant (Ellie)

Cock-a-Dood-Achoo! (Annabel)

The Crafty Giraffey (Elodie)

And here’s a couple of my own suggestions:

Cyril the Squirrel goes Nuts!

The Hip Hippo, Ray!

Of course, you may come up with a fantastic title of your own.

When we write stories, we often get inspiration or ideas from other people. It may be something that somebody does, or that somebody says. Sometimes the simplest of things can trigger an exciting idea.

Last year, during one of the Friday tea-parties, we were talking about animals with striking colours or patterns, when one of the children asked why flamingoes were pink! This led us onto talking about their diet, and there was then a suggestion that it would be quite interesting if there was a flamingo who refused to eat shrimps and plankton, and preferred bananas. From here the conversation spiralled and we agreed that ‘Yellow Flamingo’ would be a good title for a book. It took a while, but here’s the story that was inspired by a Friday tea party:

Frieda was a yellow flamingo.

She’d not always been a yellow flamingo. In fact, for most of her life she’d been cherry-blossom pink, just like the rest of the flock.

But Frieda was fed up with just being part of the flock. She was fed up with being pink. She was fed up with the never-changing daily diet of shrimps, and she was fed up with just standing around on one leg for most of the day, daydreaming about a different life. She wanted change. She wanted to be different.

“I’m fed up with being pink!” Frieda announced to her friends.

“But you’re a flamingo, and flamingos have to be pink,” said Finn. “Pink is our colour. Pink is what flamingos are!”

“Pink is beautiful,” added Felix. “People love us being pink.”

“Are there any colours other than pink?” asked Frederick.

“There are lots of different colours,” said Frieda. And what’s more, I’m fed up with just standing about all day on one leg doing nothing. I want to run like a cheetah, jump like a kangaroo, and dance like a chimpanzee!”

“But you can’t run like a cheetah,” said Finn. “You’re not built like a cheetah. You’re a flamingo. And flamingos don’t run!”

“You can’t jump like a kangaroo,” said Felix. “You haven’t got powerful legs like a kangaroo. You’re a flamingo, and flamingos don’t jump!”

“Can chimpanzees really dance?” asked Frederick.

“I’m not sure, but I’d like to give it a try,” said Frieda. And what’s more, I’m fed up with eating shrimps. We get shrimps for breakfast, shrimps for lunch and shrimps for tea. I’ve had it with shrimps!” she complained.

“But you’re a flamingo, and flamingos eat shrimps. That’s what flamingos do!” said Finn.

“That’s why we’re bright pink, it’s because we only eat shrimps and plankton,” said Felix.

“I quite like shrimps,” said Frederick.

Suddenly, a little light bulb lit up in Frieda’s flamingo brain. I’ve got it!” she cried. “I’ve got it! I’ve got it! I’ve got it!” and off she ran.

To be honest, she wasn’t able to run quite like a cheetah, and her little skips of delight were far from the boisterous bounce of a kangaroo, and she hadn’t yet figured out how to dance. But she was able to run off and she most certainly had a plan!

So, from that day on

Frieda ate…

Bananas and custard,

Melon and mustard,

Sweetcorn, cheese, and eggy flan,

And a whopping great slice of lemon meringue.

And would you believe it, within a few weeks she had turned BRIGHT YELLOW!

Frieda was proud of her yellowness and she ran back to show off to the rest of the flock. But the rest of the flock were not impressed. Some of the flamingos simply turned their heads and ignored her. Some of the flamingos teased her. The Queen of the Flock was not amused!

“Flamingos should be pink,” scowled Finn. “Yellow flamingos don’t fit in!”

“It’s not right,” agreed Felix. “You’ve brought shame to our flock.”

“I quite like it,” said Frederick.

“Of course I’m still part of our flock,” argued Frieda. “I’m just different. We’re all different. Life is so boring if we all try to be the same!”

Frieda’s friends paused for thought…

“I must admit, I am a bit bored of standing around on one leg all day,” admitted Finn.

“Mmmm… I was a bit surprised to see that you can sort of run,” confessed Felix.

“Are bananas nice?” asked Frederick.

One by one, the flock started to turn their heads and listen in on the conversation.

“Look, I’ve never been a fan of shrimps, but I’m proud to be cherry-blossom pink and that’s something that I’d never want to change!” said Ferdinand.

“There’s always candyfloss and bubble gum,” suggested Frieda.

“The definition of the word flock is ‘a number of birds of ONE kind feeding, resting, or travelling together,’” announced Felicity in her poshest flamingo voice.

“But one kind doesn’t mean we all have to be identical. And feeding together doesn’t mean we all have to eat exactly the same food,” said Frieda in response.

Suddenly, the Queen Flamingo sprang into action;

“For generation upon generation we have always been proud of our distinct flock shade of cherry-blossom pink.

And for generation upon generation we have always migrated to this exact spot in Lake Bogoria.

And for generation upon generation we have always feasted heartily upon pink crustaceans.

CHANGE IS FRIGHTENING!” she bellowed (as much as any flamingo could ever bellow.)

“But it’s also rather exciting. If I’m honest Frieda suits her yellow and I’ve always quite fancied the Bahamas. I say let’s give it a go, let’s go for it. Let’s dare to be different!

Well, at this point there was much commotion amongst the flock. After generations of having to stand on one leg and eat shrimps from Lake Bogoria, the Queen Flamingo had suddenly offered them freedom to eat and behave just how they pleased.

The freedom went straight to their heads and several flamingos were, rather awkwardly, skipping, running and prancing around on the banks of the Bogoria. Tanya and Titania were genuinely attempting the tango. Frieda was in heaven, her dream for the flock was unravelling right before her fluttering flamingo eyelashes.

And from that day on the flock celebrated each other’s differences. Finn found a passion for tomatoes, cherries and strawberries and gradually turned a rich, ruby red. Felix became vegetarian, with a diet of broccoli and beans, and brussels and greens.

And as for Frederick, he took a liking to sticky humbugs and was soon looking like a cross between a flamingo and a zebra.

The flock were happier and closer than they’d ever been, and Frieda was most certainly looking forward to next year’s scheduled flight to the Bahamas!




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