Category Archives: Blogs

Polly Visits the Angel of the North

me and angelJann and Polly visited the Angel of the North whilst on holiday this year. It is an impressive structure, it is 20 metres high (65ft) and has a wingspan of 54 metres (almost 175ft). It was commissioned by Gateshead Council to attract tourists to the North and has been seen by 33 million people annually since it’s construction. Makes one feel quite insignificant when you stand at the feet of an angel.

sign for angel of the north

 

Where is Polly?

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Earlier in the year, Polly headed off on her holidays.  She visited Ireland, where she met many new friends and a few odd ones too.

There were Saints, Kings and Queens at Dublin Airport…

Castles, old churches and pubs…

as well as music shops, gypsy caravans and faerie forests, for her to visit, she had so much fun.

 

 

Play Time for Big People.

Sometimes we also need some downtime, so after visiting the Edutech Exhibition and seminars, Evadeen and I walked back through the Sandton Shopping Mall, near Mandela Square. Unfortunately for Evadeen, as we crossed the bridge between the Conference Centre and the Mall, Jann spotted one of the exhibit booths slightly ajar and empty. Well the temptation was just too much and i decided to play at being a mannequin for the day with the following results:

Evadeen you were a great sport taking the pics, and don’t worry we only had our name tags on so that the cameras can identify us ha, ha, ha.

SOMETIMES YOU JUST HAVE TO DO IT!

Polly Talks at CP Awareness Day

I walked around to the back of the marquee and cried, I couldn’t stop the tears. I was glad I had worn shades. Then I walked back into the marquee, having given myself a pep talk – “You can do this Jann, it’s important. These are the children you wrote the Polly Series for because others are too afraid to write about disabilities.”

Ok, pep talk over, I was there to do a job.

Polly had been invited to talk and read at a CP Awareness Day. So, what is CP? It is Cerebral Palsy. I knew it existed and could be severe, but until Saturday I didn’t realise the degrees of CP there are. As children arrived, some so severe they just lay them gently on blankets, or in the ball pit, others in wheelchairs, or with walkers. I could feel the tears welling up again and looked to Kim for support,

“Think it’s going to be an emotional day,” I said, she just nodded and I noticed she had her shades on too.

Then it was show time. It’s amazing, after the initial flutter of butterflies, as soon as I fix on a child, the words always seem to come. I think it is something about the expectation in their faces and not wanting to let them down that does it for me. And well, these were the children I had written for.

It had all started back at the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Paralympic Games. In his closing speech, Sir Phillip Craven (a paraplegic Paralympian himself,) told of how a young boy was reading with his mother. In the book, he saw a man with an eye patch over one eye, a hook for a hand, a parrot on his shoulder and a wooden leg. When asked who it was, he said: “Well, he has only one leg, so he must be an Olympian.” Such was the strength of the London 2012 Paralympics that it changed peoples’ perceptions of disability forever as well as my own.

I had always admired Oscar Pistorius racing on his blades, as well as Natalie du Toit swimming like a fish in the pool, but the more I researched, the more I had gained so much admiration for these athletes. I realised the dedication it takes to be a top class athlete who is able-bodied, let alone one who is disabled. (I have a gym 250m from where I live at the end of the road, and I can’t get my sorry butt down there,) These athletes train every day through the pain and I can only take my hat off to them, they really are super athletes.

Over time, I made friends with some disabled athletes, Nur in particular. It started on Facebook, there we started chatting. I didn’t realise he was blind and put my big foot right in my mouth. “But how can we be chatting, I mean, how do you read what I am typing?” I asked him, astonished that we had been able to converse so easily. TECHNOLOGY  was the answer, of course,  his phone read out what I had typed (NO MORE SHORTHAND!) I still haven’t met Nur, or Natalie du Toit, but I will one day.

That closing speech sparked something in me and I quickly googled PIRATES/PARALYMPICS/BOOKS. There was nothing. ‘That’s ridiculous I heard myself thinking.’ I typed in another set of keywords around DISABLED/KID’S BOOKS/PIRATES. Still nothing. So, I went to Amazon, ‘There must be a book here.’ I found myself thinking. Still nothing.

I’m not sure if I was more shocked or disappointed that there wasn’t a book with that connection for children and mentioned it to a friend.

“Then write one,” she said.

Just like that. Write one. So I did, and am I glad I did, because, last Saturday I was able to share that first book with some very special children, their siblings and parents. I think we sometimes forget the able-bodied siblings, but for them, my characters resonated too.

Polly and her pirates get up to all sorts of antics in the Polly’s Piralympics book, there’s climb the rigging gymnastics, walk the plank diving, a three-legged race as well as a Pirate Masterchef competition, amongst many other events. The pirates learn about cheating, not bullying as well as how hard it is to be in a wheelchair.

There are currently 5 books in the Polly’s Piralympics Series. They all have a strong anti-bullying and disabled themes through them, and teach that disability does not mean inability, and bullying is not cool, it’s for a fool.

I think my reading/talk was well received judging by comments afterwards, and am so glad I accepted the invitation to the CP Family Awareness Day. I personally walked a path I did not expect to but would walk it again tomorrow if asked.

 

 

Meeting Someone Special Who Touches Your Heart.

Last Saturday I met someone very special who touched my heart. His name was Rikus. I had already spoken at the Cerebral Palsy Family Awareness Day and was watching the children. Then I saw Rikus eating a biscuit he had made with his mum.

Rikus has severe CP, he can’t talk, walk, do anything for himself and his mum explained they don’t really know how much he can see. So Polly took over, she’s very good at that. Polly by the way, is my alter ego in the form of a parrot puppet who accompanies me to schools and events.

She asked Rikus if she could have some of his biscuit and was immediately met by a smile that stole her heart. She tucked and rubbed herself under his arm and the reaction was immediate. She went on to give him a kiss. I don’t think either I or his mum expected the reaction we got as Rikus made a clicking sound.

“He wants another kiss,” his mum told me.

Polly continued to interact with Rikus for about half an hour, and every action brought a reaction from him, from smiles to contorted gestures indicating pleasure and lots and lots of clicks which were returned with kisses from Polly. As our time drew to a close, I realised that Polly’s bright colours could indeed be seen by Rikus and her and my voices could be heard by him. So, if you are ever in any doubt as to whether someone who is severely disabled can communicate, just take the time to find out. Polly did, and her life has been changed forever, as did mine, for as I write this piece and look back over the photos I smile, because this young man was so happy that day, and it felt good to make a difference.

Rikus with Jann and Polly small

Edutech, Here We Come…

“Do you fancy coming to the Edutech exhibition with me?” I asked Evadeen, a fellow author a few weeks back.

“What is it?” she asked.

“I’m not too sure, but I think we should go,” I replied.

And so we did. It was actually all about technology in education – ‘COOL,’ I thought, ‘OK,’ thought Evadeen. But actually it was really cool, and what was so awesome was going with a friend. We had very different interests and that was ok too, she went to some of the stalls and I went to others.

I especially liked the idea of schools having their own tv channel – think of the possibilities when a parent can’t make a school play because they have a meeting, or Mpho makes the XI Rugby team and a parent is overseas on business. This was they can just tune in as it is live streames or catch up later as a podcast – HOW COOL REALLY IS THAT? The robotics were brilliant too, though I still like lego, maybe a throwback to when I was a kid, though in those days the pieces were all red and white and the trees flat, I think they had a motorised chassis by the time my brother started to get interested in it. NOW! Well, now you can programme the stuff – WOW!

We also attended a seminar by Dr Deon Oersen from St Benedict’s College before having a coffee to compare notes. As always Evadeen kept me on track and had visited stalls to find out about adding our books to their virtual libraries, as well as looking for potential sponsors for our Schools Reading Road Show – an initiative I started in January where I take authors with me into schools to read, meet and interact with the kids, AND to prove authors really do write books ha, ha, ha.

All in all, we had a really enjoyable and worthwhile day.

Polly Arrives In Port Elizabeth

After touring the Eastern Cape last April, I was lucky enough to be visiting Port Elizabeth and met up with the owner of Fogarty’s Book Shop.

And guess what?

My books are now available at Fogarty’s Book Shop in Walmer Mall. So if you are looking for middle-grade books for your youngsters for the Christmas Holiday’s, why not pop in and take a look at my Polly’s Piralympics Series. Loads of fun, interactive pages to draw on and get involved with Polly and the crew.

Or for younger readers there are my colouring-in story books the Toucane Series, teaching about not throwing down rubbish, how a friend is a friend no matter their colour and stranger danger. 4-8 years.