October is Black History Month and we’ve taken this opportunity to ask Tamarind’s founder, Verna Wilkins, about how Tamarind began 25 years ago.
Verna Wilkins is the author of 30 picture books and biographies for young people. Her books have featured on National Curriculum and BBC children’s television, and been chosen among the Children’s Books of the Year. She was born in Grenada and lives in London.
Why did you start Tamarind?
Why do you feel it’s important for children to see themselves reflected in the books that they read?
Has the industry changed since Tamarind first started publishing books?
We have been quieter than normal on the blog and on Twitter. Truth is, we’ve been super busy back here at Tamarind Towers! We are building a list of honourable Patrons, buying exceptional books and working hard on a new look for our list including a revised mission statement and logo.
Last month, Class 3O at Brecknock Primary School studied the work of Tamarind author Verna Wilkins. They each wrote her a letter asking questions about her life. On Thursday, Verna visited Class 3O in person! Their teacher Siobhan reports…
Class 3O have been studying many books by the author Verna Wilkins, including biographies of Stephen Lawrence and Benjamin Zephaniah, as part of the Literacy Unit Authors and Letters. When they wrote to her to ask her to come and visit, imagine their surprise when she did! Especially as they were to first to hear her read her new book, Abdi’s Day which is not due out until September 2010. Here are some of the class’ comments about her visit:
Danae: “It was delightful that what I wanted to happen happened on Thursday because Verna Wilkins came when we wrote letters to her.”
Josh: “It was extremely good that our dream to meet Verna Wilkins came true. She is an extremely nice woman and she told us about how she wrote her books.”
Merrill: “It was amazing to see Verna Wilkins and her telling us her new story, Abdi’s Day. I asked her if she would ever write her autobiography and she said she would get to work on it when she gets home!”
Amal: “It was so outstanding to meet Verna Wilkins because I really want to be an author when I grow up and she told me everything about how to be a writer.”
This week Ealing Council held its Early Years conference. Tamarind founder and author Verna Wilkins gave the keynote speech. Verna shared a lifetime of experience and success with local practitioners. The event was held to launch Building Futures: Believing in Children, a government document giving guidance on inclusion in the Early Years. Verna brought the Tamarind titles to life, injecting heart and humour into good inclusion practice. Here’s what the audience thought:
“She was so inspirational. Every word she said had a deep meaning to it. I thoroughly enjoyed her speech.” – Attendee from Ealing Montessori School
“[Verna’s speech] reminded me as to why I am still in teaching. Does she do talking books???!!! What a fantastic reader.” – Delegate from Greenfields Children’s Centre
“We should have more sessions like this to enhance our creativity and understanding of the world.” – Attendee from Sudbury Hill Montessori School
“[Verna] encouraged me to look and think about what children say and to promote children learning through their personal experiences.” – Delegate from Windmill Children’s Centre
Multicultural bookseller Colourful Kids displayed the full range of Tamarind’s Early Years titles on the day.
You know you’ve done something special when children are studying you at school. The charming Class 3O from Brecknock Primary School in Camden wrote to tell us about their work on Verna Wilkins‘ books. Their teacher Siobhan says:
"We have really enjoyed reading your books this term... The children were so motivated by your stories and have asked that we contact you."
Here are a few of the letters for you to enjoy. Thanks Class 3O!
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It’s not every day that you get to learn complete nonsense at school. But that’s exactly what 20 lucky Year 6s did at St Anselm’s School in Harrow: The author Verna Wilkins read Edward Lear’s poetry book Complete Nonsense with the class, and inspired them to write their own hilarious rhymes. See their work below.
The children worked with Verna for six sessions, learning how picture books are written, laid out, illustrated and edited. Verna brought in works in progress marked with red corrections and illustrated with rough, thumbnail sketches. The sessions demystified the process of how a book is made. The children became authors themselves, taking their own writing from an initial idea to a finished product. They completed the sessions by performing their work to an appreciative audience of reception children.
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Equipped with a range of beautiful Tamarind picture books, Verna Wilkins visited Whitefriars School in Harrow. The head teacher Lynne Pritchard requested the visit because she is aware of “the importance of adequately meeting the educational needs of all the children, regardless of their ethnic origin.”
Tamarind books focus on universal themes, making them accessible and engaging resources for use all year round, and not only to be dusted off in Black History Month each October. Verna highlighted the curriculum topics, early socialisation themes, shared experiences and family life in the books. One powerful example, The Silence Seeker is popular because of the interwoven themes of migration, the value of silence, noisy city life and friendship without words. The lyrical writing and stylish illustrations widens its appeal to older children.
With the Tamarind range on board, the teachers felt able to deliver a truly multicultural curriculum. The head teacher was so inspired that she bought 44 Tamarind titles for the school and for her charity Red Earth, which trains teachers in Uganda. Through working with Tamarind, Lynne has become excited and equipped to integrate multicultural books across the curriculum. Lynne’s particularly keen to take The Day Rains Fell to Uganda on her next trip, and to take Verna too!
Verna founded Tamarind to address the issue of inclusion in early years education. Her work with schools over 20 years has shown how much personal value children feel when they see themselves reflected in their learning materials.
Donna Panton’s independent business, Colourful Kids, was founded only about a year ago, but it is already established in North West London as a great source of books and toys that reflect children from diverse backgrounds.
In November 2009, Colourful Kids held a launch event to celebrate its new online buying tool. Tamarind supplied activity packs and posters for children attending the event, which we’re told went down a storm. After an inspiring speech from Tamarind founder Verna Wilkins, £500 worth of books was sold in 30 minutes!