Treasure Trove: ‘Aslan’s Theme’ by Geoffrey Burgon

This short piece was the theme music for the BBC’s ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ back in the 1980s. I loved the series, and consider it to be superior to the more recent movies because it was far truer to the books and therefore did a far better job of conveying the deeper meaning of Lewis’ works, rather than focussing on the visual appeal of special effects.

Characters from the BBC's The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, 1988
Characters from the BBC’s The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, 1988

Geoffrey Burgon (1941-2010) was a composer of television and film scores whose best-known works include the scores for Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ and ITVs ‘Brideshead Revisited’. He won BAFTAs for his themes for ‘Longitude’ and the remake of ‘The Forsyte Saga’. He was also a jazz trumpeter, and this was his original intended career. He eschewed the various musical trends of the 20th century in favour of more traditional styles and medieval influences. As a result he was dismissed by critics as ‘commercial’ – and popular with mainstream audiences like eight-year-old me who understood nothing of classical music but liked the pretty, hummable tune which heralded the latest instalment of a favourite show.

Random Poem: ‘This Be The Verse’ by Philip Larkin

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A good parent makes all the difference. In Roald Dahl’s ‘Danny the Champion of the World’, the close relationship between Danny and his father is an integral part of the story.

“Tell me about Danny,” (not his real name, obviously), the social worker said.

I smiled. “You know how we’re not supposed to have favourites?” I told her. “Well, he’s one of the favourites that I officially don’t have.”

Danny was a kid with a lot of challenges, but he was lucky: he had mum firmly on his side, determined to get him the help he needed. Not all kids are so fortunate, a subject which the social worker and I touched upon before she left. Modern British poet Philip Larkin captured this reality all too well in his funny, offensive (the f-word, so don’t click ‘Read More’ if that’s something that will offend you), and heart-wrenching poem ‘This Be The Verse.’ Continue reading “Random Poem: ‘This Be The Verse’ by Philip Larkin”

Local Culture: Pantomime at the Rep

pantomime-poster**Please note that all pictures in this post have been ‘borrowed’ from the Wanganui Repertory Theatre Facebook page, with the exception of the final shot which comes from local paper the Midweek**

When I was a child in England a trip to the pantomime was a Christmas tradition. Mum would take us to buy a big bag of pick and mix sweets, and we’d spend two blissful hours lost in the world of a fairy-tale gone slightly nuts, booing the villain and informing the hero/ine that “he’s behiiiiind you!” before all ended happily and we went home, hyped up on drama and sugar in roughly equal proportions.

This year this wonderful Christmas tradition made its way to Whanganui with the local Repertory Theatre’s production of Little Red Riding Hood. Keen to get my Christmas comedy fix I headed along and was not disappointed. Continue reading “Local Culture: Pantomime at the Rep”

Introducing Children to the World of Art

*Please note: all the photographs included in this post are publicly available on my employer’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/ymcacentralnz/, and parents have consented to having their children’s images posted online. Also note that I do not actually have any pictures from our visit to the Sarjeant so I’ve used pictures from a different trip.*

As I write this it’s the New Zealand Spring school holidays and I’ve been busy running a school holiday programme for five and six year olds. One of my goals in planning holiday programmes is always to cover a wide variety of interesting activities, so along with trips to the swimming pool and baking and sport and art projects I decided to take the kids along to the local art gallery, the Sarjeant.

Continue reading “Introducing Children to the World of Art”

Author Profile: Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957)

Little House in the Big Woods first edition
First Edition of Little House in the Big Woods

Having owned, and read repeatedly, the entire ‘Little House’ series as a child, I was already aware that Laura Ingalls Wilder had lived the adventurous childhood of a true ‘pioneer girl’ (the original working title of her memoirs). However, unlike many authors of fictionalised accounts, Ingalls actually downplayed, or omitted entirely, some of the events of her childhood. Like the brother who died in infancy (a particular tragedy at a time when it was still considered important for a man to have a son: Laura had no other brothers), or the time a man in the town where her family was living got drunk and accidentally set himself on fire. Continue reading “Author Profile: Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957)”

Author Profile: Enid Blyton (1897-1968)

Enid Blyton signatureOne of the most popular British 20th century children’s authors, Enid Blyton’s relationship with her own children was, to put it mildly, strained. Blyton was a prodigious author: Wikipedia lists a total of 762 published works written by Blyton. Continue reading “Author Profile: Enid Blyton (1897-1968)”

Author Profile: Roald Dahl (1916-1990)

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Me reading ‘Matilda’ on Christmas Day 1989

I can still remember hearing the news that Roald Dahl had died, because at the time I was the perfect age to be a fan of his work. Just a few months before I had seen him interviewed on children’s television show ‘Blue Peter’ and one of his last works, ‘Matilda’, had been a Christmas present the previous year. Continue reading “Author Profile: Roald Dahl (1916-1990)”

Twelve Classic Books for Older Children

Again inspired by Stuff’s list of Fifty Books Every Kid Should Read By Age Twelve, and by Goodread’s Top 100 Children’s Books list, here is my hopelessly-biased (the majority of the books are British, and most are favourites from my own childhood) but still very good list of twelve of the best classic reads for children aged eight to twelve.

As with my list of Classic Books for Younger Children I’ve arranged them in rough order from the simplest to the most complex. As different children develop in reading at different rates I haven’t given a hard-and-fast indication of exactly what age kids need to be to tackle these books: I’m pretty sure I’d read them all (with the exception of J. K. Rowling, whose books came out when I was… a little older) long before I turned twelve, but I was a comparatively advanced reader and definitely still loved all these books at that age. For particularly reluctant readers, and those who are struggling, reading stories aloud can be a great way to keep them interested in books.

Continue reading “Twelve Classic Books for Older Children”

Ten Classic Books for Younger Children

Recently New Zealand news website Stuff published a list of Fifty Books Every Kid Should Read By Age Twelve. While I can’t help but question whether some of these books are really suitable for pre-teens, as someone who loves books and loves working with children here is my own offering of ten classic books for reading aloud to younger children, aged from around three to seven. Some of these books appear on the original list; others do not. All have been road-tested on real children and pass the most critical test of all: the kids enjoy hearing them, and thus are encouraged into the love of reading which paves the way to becoming life-long readers. I’ve arranged them in rough order from simplest to most complex.

Continue reading “Ten Classic Books for Younger Children”

Through the Eyes of a Child: WWII in Children’s Literature

World War Two was the war of my father’s childhood. It began when he was one year old and lasted until he was seven, with societal repercussions (returning soldiers, damaged infrastructure, continued rationing etc.) that continued for far longer. So it makes perfect sense to me that some of the classic books of my childhood were written by people who lived through that same period and authored works which showed WWII from the point of view of children. Here, then, are five classic children’s books addressing the experience of children caught up in aspects of that particular conflict. In most cases it’s been many years since I read them, but they’ve stuck with me all this time, and that’s arguably the hallmark of truly great literature. Continue reading “Through the Eyes of a Child: WWII in Children’s Literature”