Anansi the Spider, Sunday 1st July, 11am, The Manchester Museum
Words and photographs by Emma Reynolds
A host of free activities takes place at The Manchester Museum today.
Children are invited to create their own web and spider or indulge in a bit of colouring, while live Kora music (also known as an African Harp) is performed by Jali Nyonkoling Kuyateh, where people can have a go at playing themselves!
I meet Jackie Olde, a teacher from Manchester who also works for the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust. They are running the Anansi Spider workshop today, and run workshops in schools where they produce a published book created by the children. The trust was created in 2001 and works with educators to promote an anti-racist culture in education. When Jackie started working at the trust, she wanted to develop creative projects with schools, and about seven years ago, they created their first publishing project. I ask Jackie about how it all started:
‘I was conscious as a teacher, that children’s creative work usually ends up in the bin, or it is displayed in schools and nothing else happens with it. I wanted to show some value for that creative work. I was also very conscious as a teacher who works in the area of race and black achievement, that there was very little literature out there by black British heroes, so those two came together. I’ve now done eleven books with Manchester Schools.’
I ask Jackie if she has a favourite book that they’ve published, and she tells me that it is Mohini and the Monster. ‘A wonderful text from India, about a brave girl who defeats a monster who is terrorising her village, so it’s a good anti-sexist one as well! It’s also interesting the continuity of themes across cultures. There’s the idea of wit against raw power, cleverness defeating strength, which is another theme that is universal across fairy stories.’
I am very interested in hearing more about the important work they are doing in encouraging children’s creativity and boosting their confidence through having a published record of their achievements. I speak to Emma Britain, who painstakingly designs many of the trust’s books, about what is most important for her about the work they do. ‘For me, it is all about this: They can show their parents their photo, their name and their artwork in a publication and be proud to say, ‘I’m in a book.’ That’s what it’s all about for me.’
Emma’s favourite book that they’ve published (which they have sold out of today!) is called King Popiel and The Mouse Army, which I think sounds absolutely delightful. Jackie tells me that it is based on a traditional polish story, which they made in a school where polish children attend. ‘This is another thing we’re trying to do’, Jackie tells me, ‘Reflect the cultural groups that are in our Manchester schools.’ Emma also explains it’s her favourite book because they made 3D sets and the photographs give a wonderful sense of space where you feel the images really come out of the book. I have to agree, and buy myself a copy of The Blue Fox, which also uses three dimensional sets, as I find them wonderfully evocative in telling the story. They remind me of fantastical animation sets, and I can imagine the children had so much fun arranging the figures to tell the story. That being said, I still find the hand drawn fox truly delightful as well!
Emma shows me their latest publication about Britain’s Black Olympians, where they worked in with a total of fifteen primary schools across Manchester. Emma tells me how she finds it interesting how different children from different cultural backgrounds draw faces, and shows me some of the work and paintings that really stand out to her. Some of them are incredibly affecting, and I’m very moved by the projects and the work they are doing.
Jackie and the book team believe passionately in ‘encouraging children with their own creativity, and celebrating that when it happens.’
You can learn more about the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust and order their books on their website here. They are a registered charity and all of the proceeds go towards making more books!
We look forward to seeing more from them in 2014.
Jali passing on Kora music knowledge.