A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
When I signed up to write this blogpost, I was going to write about my usual school visits. But then something unusual, and completely wonderful happened.
I was contacted through Twitter by a school in Hampshire which had been using my book, Swan Boy, as their Year 6 read. They had already posted pictures of a few Swan Boy-based activities online, but this particular message was to let me know that they had started work on a musical of my book.
Say whaaa? Reader, I was blown away, and just a bit tearful.
As the weeks went by the school posted pictures and videos of their progress – all of which made me tearful all over again – including these shots, which received lovely comments from the actual Swan Lake director and choreographer, Sir Matthew Bourne, and his principle dancers too.
Unfortunately I couldn’t make the evening performances, so instead I went to spend the day and watch a rehearsal a few weeks ago.
I arrived at Portway Junior School, near Andover, to the sound of Swan lake rocking out on electric guitars, and, as I peered through the hall doors, I saw a lot of leaping happening, both on and off stage!
After a quick coffee and a meet and greet with the school’s wonderful staff, many of whom had read the book, I was taken into the hall where all 96 Year 6s were rehearsing.
And it was incredible. I had to resist videoing the whole performance, because it’s difficult to feel present when I’m looking through a camera, but I did capture a few scenes of wonder. Boys leaping like professional dancers, girls singing beautiful solos, amazing acting, much of which had been scripted by the pupils, and such a feeling of joy in the hall. This wonderfulness was down to an amazing Year Six team, and in particular, teacher Kevin, who treated the children like professionals, and helped them to attain incredibly high standards.
One of the highlights for me was a scene where the main character, Johnny, expresses his frustration. In the book, it’s written as internal monologue, but the pupils really brought it to life, with Johnny at the front of the stage speaking,while the swans danced around him. It was just perfect.
After the rehearsal I signed a million books, and then I led a Swan Boy workshop, followed by a very long Q&A session with the most knowledgeable kids I’ve ever met! It was obvious that, over this year, they had begun to live my story.
Author visits always make a difference. But that day I knew that my story had touched these children in their final year of primary school, and, according to their teachers, thinking about issues such as difference, identity and bullying, may have eased their transition to secondary school.
Of everything that has happened to me as an author, this makes me the most proud. And, I have to admit that when a few of the boys told me that they are going to carry on dancing, I almost burst.
Finally the pupils, who had all written 6 month-later epilogues, had a chance to tell me what they think happened next in the story, which was fascinating, and there were definitely a few ideas worth stealing.
And then, sadly my visit had come to an end. On my way out though the Head Teacher gave me a school badge and pen, an honour, he said, that had only been bestowed on one other author ever before, and it almost made up for not getting a Blue Peter Badge when I was young.
Vicky, the wonderful deputy head has kept me up to date since then, and kindly sent me a list of all everything that the three classes have done, based around Swan Boy. I was amazed at their ingenuity and bowled over by their enthusiasm for the book.
Their activities included, studying ballet, script writing, studying swans in science, making kites and stained glass, using swan feathers to make repeated patterns, dance (!), writing a charter on spreading love, not hate, and recording an anti-bulling video.
I love school visits, they’re all great, but this is one that will be hard to top.
With huge thanks to the staff and pupils at Portway Junior School in Andover.
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Nikki Sheehan is the youngest daughter of a rocket scientist and went to a convent school in Cambridge where she was taught by real nuns in habits. Her writing was first published when she was seven and her teacher sent a poem she had written into a magazine. She always knew she wanted to be a writer, but, for some reason she can’t remember she did a degree in linguistics followed by psychology. Nikki’s first job was subtitling the Simpsons. She then retrained as a journalist and wrote features about child psychology for parenting magazines and the national press. She is married and lives in Brighton with her husband, three children, two dogs and a cat.
Books: WHO FRAMED KLARIS CLIFF? | SWAN BOY | GOODNIGHT, BOY