I was last at Pechersk School International (PSI) In Kiev about twelve years ago, when I briefly taught English as a foreign language. I had a chance to go back last week, and it was great both to see how the school has grown and developed (it’s probably quadrupled in size), and to be there in a different capacity, as a visiting author for the school’s annual book fair.
It was fascinating to talk to such a wide range of age-groups (from five to eighteen) about all three of my books – in particular this was the first time I’d done Jack And The Dragon’s Tooth in a school and it was such a pleasure to see how much the children enjoyed it.
It’s also the first time I’ve had an audience familiar with the books’ settings in Kiev and Crimea, which lent a whole different slant to my talks and their questions: less time explaining what a trolleybus is, more time debating whether baba Yaga is ever a good witch, while because it’s an international school the themes in Dream Land of moving and settling in to a new country had a particular resonance for many of the children.
The classes came up with many wonderful observations and questions. After talking with them about the issues in Dream Land, I can say that if PSI grades six and seven were running Crimea, there would be far fewer political and social tensions there. I’d like to thank grade three for explaining so comprehensively and enthusiastically just why it is so great to read. The questions and comments from grades eleven and twelve made me think afresh about the links between fiction and journalism and what is suitable reading for children. Grade five thought up so many interesting ‘what might happen next’ scenarios for Riding Icarus I’m tempted to write the end of the book all over again, while grade four had some impressively disgusting suggestions for baba Yaga’s tea party menu. Grades two and one explained brilliantly all about fairytales and why Jack is a hero, and I think my absolute favourite question came from a perspicacious child in grade one, who asked “Why do you need an editor?” It’s such a good question I am saving it for another post.
Huge thanks to PSI pupils first of all, for being so enthusiastic and interested, interesting and inspiring; to the staff and particularly librarians Graham and Susan for organising the two days so efficiently and making me feel so welcome, and to Sean and Viktoria from Dinternal for providing books and making the initial link with PSI. I hope we’re going to continue working together, and not just on books; if our ideas work out, I’ll be posting more on that in future.