On Saturday I was thrilled to hear that my rhyming picture book, Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam (beautifully illustrated by Steven Lenton) had won the North Somerset Teachers’ Picture Book Award, 2015.
Shifty and Sam were two bumbling robber-dogs who were firmly shown the error of their ways during (yet another failed) robbery, and thereafter turn from a life of crime to a life of cupcakes instead, becoming very competent and happy bakers!
The North Somerset Teachers’ Book Awards was founded by the ‘Just About Books’ teachers’ book group and was born out of a desire to celebrate the best in children’s literature. They decided that there was a need for an award aimed directly at teachers to support them in the role they play in developing life-long readers.
To win an award so strongly linked with schools and teachers is particularly special to me. Not only was I once a teacher, but I have an immense respect for the part they play in shaping future generations.
Having an inspirational teacher stays with you forever. A teacher who sees something special in you and goes out of their way to nurture that something they see. In short, a teacher who believes in you.
I was born in 1965 and grew up on a deprived council estate in industrial South Wales. An estate built for steel and chemical workers. There was a beach and sometimes, when the tide was up, the waves were huge and sparkly. But when the tide was out the sea’s sad ripples resembled a wrinkled brow, and the bubbly grey oil clung to you long after you were out of the water.
There were hills too, shrouded in smoke. But the flame-coloured tulips and bright yellow daffodils planted by my mother always shone through.
My childhood was punctuated by bereavement and so school, for me, became a bright oasis. I didn’t always love it. There were, I remember, teary clingings-on at the infant school gates. But the turning point came early, and I can pinpoint the day. I was painting on an easel – dots – red, blue, green. It was an apple. And the paint ran in dribbles, like streams finding their way. It was both messy and totally beautiful. And even now collections of dots make me smile.
By the time I was at Secondary school – the roughest Comprehensive for miles – I wouldn’t have known what to have done without school, even attempting a group number to Showaddywaddy’s ‘Under the Moon of Love’ for a school singing competition when I was about 12. Even that!
And there was one teacher who, I would say, paved the way for me becoming a writer. For she gave me books. Wonderful books. And poetry which made me cry, but cry in a good way. And these stories were journeys that lifted me out of the greyness into a kaleidoscope of colour and wonder. I am still in touch with that teacher, over thirty five years later. And she still says that she’s proud of me.
So a huge “Thank you!” to the North Somerset Teachers’ group for choosing Shifty and Sam for this award. Because people like them, who really care, will not only encourage life-long readers, but perhaps create the writers of the future too.
Thank you, Tracey, and congratulations to you and Steven! You can take a look inside Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam below: