I am so gutted to hear that the activist i met last year, Ahmed Mansoor, has been imprisoned.
His story is so shocking, it is hard to believe its happening right now in Dubai, but sadly it seems the more you read about the UAE, the murkier it gets. I wrote about meeting him last year. Ahmed is the recipient of Amnesty’s most prestigous award and he has been subjected to all sorts of attacks by the UAE government. His passport was confiscated, $140,000 wiped from his account, banned from working, imprisoned for 3 years with no trial and tortured, violently attacked, and was targeted in an unprecedented iPHONE hack in August. The hack would have used his phone to record and send back all inputs and communication mail/viber/whatsapp/web history. Apple issued a patch update within a day. This type of hack had never been seen before apparently and required a huge amount of resources to pull off. It was very widely covered. Here is a fascinating article in the Guardian
When I met Ahmed last year he told me that he was afraid he would be arrested and disappear like so many others in the UAE. More than 100 activists have been kidnapped and tortured since 2011. Some have never been seen again
I hope you can please join me in campaigning for Ahmed’s safe release. I feel a real responsibility to help him after meeting with him last year.
Hopefully you can join me at the vigil on the 27th
read more about this on Johnathan Emmet’s blog
THINGS YOU CAN DO:
thanks to Johnathan Emmet for these suggestions:
Amnesty International have produced a pdf outlining the details of Ahmed case with contact details for the UAE government which you can download here:
You can call for Ahmed’s release on social media using the hashtag #FreeAhmed.You can tweet the UAE’s Vice President and Prime Minister Sheik Mohammed on @HHShkMohd
You can write to the UK’s UAE Embassy at:
His Excellency Mr Abdulrahman Ghanem Almutaiwee
Embassy of the United Arab Emirates
30 Princes Gate
Tweet them on @UAEEMbasssyUK
contact them through their Facebook page
email them on firstname.lastname@example.org
or phone them on 0207 5811281
You can write to your local MP.
If you don’t know who your MP is, you can find out their name and contact details at https://www.theyworkforyou.com/mp/
The ICFUAE have provided a template letter calling for Ahmed’s release to send to your MP here:
And, if you live near London or Manchester you can take part in one of these vigils to demand Ahmed’s release:
London ICFUAE Vigil6.00 pm Monday 27th March, UAE Embassy
Manchester Amnesty Group Vigil6.30 pm Monday 27th March at Manchester Town Hall
The idea for this book came from visiting my sister Jan’s Montessori school. She was showing me some of the games and toys she uses in her class of 3 and 4 year olds.
She had a series of blocks to explain the powers of ten 1/10/100/1000. 1 square block, 10 stuck together to form line, 100 blocks together to form a plane and 1000 blocks making a 10x10x10 cube. We were talking about how ideas like scale can be shown visually so much easier than can be explained and it occured to me that it could be the perfect subject for a picture book. I like using images rather than words to tell a story visually and this is a very visual idea so it might work. I began thinking of Charles and Ray Eames’ ‘Powers of 10’ and if there was a way to create something similar to this that could be understood by very young children.
In fact I wrote another blogpost about powers of 10 here.
The first idea was a story about an ant who wants to know how big the world is and meets larger and larger animals along the way. She climbs to the top of the grass and meets a beetle, and then to the top of a bush to meet a lizard, a monkey on a tree, and an elephant who takes her to the top of a mountain. Each sequence would be an order of magnitude larger than the last and it would be fun to show the world zooming out all the way out from an ants point of view to the whole world. Note the lizard hidden on the bush in the top right.
The ant was exploring the world of the very small and there were lots of exciting worlds and things to draw.
However, the story was too linear and so becomes a little boring and predictable after the first sequence. As well as this, the whole premise seemed a little contrived. Ants don’t want to know how big the world is, and neither do very young children, it is much older children who become interested in a question like this. I couldn’t resolve this after more than six months I ended up abandoning the idea and instead created a different book (SHH! We have a plan).
Two years later I came back to it. A simpler way to explain scale to very young children is by acting it out. An action can be made big/bigger/biggest. I decided to abandon the ‘how big is the world’ idea in favour of a simple action simply getting bigger by being acted out by larger and larger animals. Different sized animals in order doing actions such as eating/moving/tickling have potential to build drama to a punchline. I drew it in a sketchbook on the beach.
After trying a few actions I hit on the idea of a contagious yawn that went from a tiny ant all the way to an elephant. The cut pages increase in size as the yawning animals get bigger a little like the sequence in the hungry caterpillar and other books. The animals then go to bed and the scale again increases, but this time rather than larger cut pages the scene zooms out further and further until we see all the animals and say ‘goodnight everyone’. The youngest children are not interested in the concept of ‘scale’ but they can notice the animals in the pictures get larger or smaller as the pages turn. It is introduced to them in ways they can understand.
We created a dummy book in pretty much the form it is now but my editor and art director had doubts about it as a book. It didn’t really have a story as such, and was a little different to my other books so it again got shelved and I tried out different ideas…
…an ant who was tickling larger and larger animals.
but the ant and insects seem threatening if they are coming to tickle you and are too realistic. So I abstracted them a little…
she finds bigger and bigger animals to tickle until she gets tickled back in the end.
That year I became an uncle, and at Christmas I spent a few weeks with my eight month old twin nieces. I was reading my books to them but at that age they were a little too young to properly follow the story, so we were mainly just pointing out things on the pages. I showed them my dummy books to see what caught their eye. Goodnight Everyone was the biggest hit. They loved the sequence where the larger and larger animals are revealed behind the leaves, and wanted to turn the pages themselves. When they turned them we would make yawning actions and after a few goes they began yawning too. They had been having terrible difficulty sleeping as they had come to Ireland from Australia for Christmas. One of the twins, Joanna, was very bad and it was as if she was fighting sleep, she seemed to be scared of it. Every time she noticed herself nodding off her face had a look of terror and she bawled crying. We just wanted to reassure her that going to sleep was nothing to be afraid of but of course you can’t explain that to a child so young. The only way you could really attempt explain that to a very young child I think is through pictures. I came to the conclusion that doing a picture book with no story and just a reassuring message about going to sleep was a good thing to try to do.
We used the book in their routine to put them to sleep and it worked so well that my sister and mum said really should forget my new idea and go back and publish this instead.
My two guest editors Joanna and May:
I took it back to Walker after Christmas and we agreed that actually with some tweaks it would work well for the very young. It would be for a younger age group than the other books. As I began creating the artwork I realised that it looked a bit weird having ants and beetles yawning and snuggling up to sleep. Birds and mammals yawn, but insects don’t, so I dropped the ants and beetles (although they are still there on the sleeping mice page). The elephant got dropped too once I realised i could make a link to the Ursa Major and Ursa Minor constellations. The two bears then become the lead characters (thanks to Alice Beniero for inspiring this idea)
What I try to do in my books is to simplify and reduce the words to communicate to the youngest children. What I am most excited about with this book is that it is told through actions which would be acted out rather than read, so I would hope a small child can understand without any language at all.
The first sequence begins with a small yawn…. which grows larger and larger until everyone goes to bed.
The final sequence begins with a snore…. which grows larger and larger until little bear gets a kiss goodnight and everyone is asleep.
The book is a mirror of itself, each page on first sequence is turned to reveal the animals, the mice, the hares, the deer etc
And each page on the last sequence is on the verso and so the animals are covered with each turning page, almost as though they are being tucked in one by one.
The final sequence zooms out from the little sleeping mice to the whole of the night sky. On each page we say goodnight to each of the sleeping animals. A dandelion seed is dislodged by the snoring mice and passes from page to page and past the constellations on the endpapers to return to the beginning of the book and grow a new dandelion. It passes the quote at the beginning which reads ‘No dreamer is ever too small, no dream is ever too big’.
The ‘day time’ front endpaper is the southern night sky with the earth and the solar system seen from the south, you can see the antarctic. The ‘night time’ back endpaper is the northern night sky with the earth and solar system seen from the north, you can see the arctic. The book from beginning to end is a zoom through the earth as it turns from day to night.
I am now building a version of this in 3D and I hope I can make a free app to explain night and day and the seasons as well as the solar system and the constellations. Coming soon!
GOODNIGHT EVERYONE comes out in the UK at the beginning of August. It comes out in other languages very soon too:
French: BONNE NUIT TOUT LE MONDE
Spanish: Buenas noches a todos
Catalan: Bona nit a tothom
Italian: Buonanotte a tutti!
Swedish: Godnatt allihop
Danish: Godnat allesammen
Dutch: Welterusten Allemaal
Norwegian: God natt alle sammen
Finnish: UNEN AIKA
German: Gute Nacht Allerseits
Russian: Всем спокойной ночи
Chinese/Japanese coming soon.
My latest book GOODNIGHT EVERYONE was inspired by the film ‘Powers Of Ten’ by Charles and Ray Eames. I’ve long been a fan of this film but when I read more about it I discovered that in fact the Eames’ were themselves inspired by a book called ‘Cosmic View’ by Kees Boeke. When I began looking into Kees Boeke’s life and how he came up with the idea it turned out to be very interesting so I thought I would make a short post about him here.
Kees Boeke was a Dutch Quaker who married one of the wealthy Cadbury daughters in the UK. He was deported from the UK for his campaigning for peace and opposition to WWI. He and his wife moved to the Netherlands and abstained from using money, tax and public transport whatsoever as it contributed towards the state and public funds are spent on weapons. The Boekes were imprisoned several times. In the later 1920s Kees changed tack and withdrew from international peace movements to focus his efforts on education as he believed that it offered the greatest power for change. He created a school called ‘De Werkplaats’ which was based on the Montessori method but extended to fit with his sociocratic philosophy. He believed such a system would never allow for conflicts or war. In Boeke’s school the children were treated as equal to adults and they themselves decided what they should learn. They needed to take responsibities for their actions, there were no cleaners, the children were responsible for everything to do with the school themselves including cleaning and food. His school eventually became well regarded in the Netherlands and the Dutch royal family even sent their children there.
Kees came up with the idea for his book Cosmic View during a lesson about the metric system. The metric system is of course based on decimals and so the children were experimenting with the consequences of adding more and more zeros. The children drew scenes of 1m/10m/100m and continued this until they went to the whole of the universe. The original version was apparently prompted and drawn by the children themselves. It was later redrawn and published as Cosmic View, and this was later made into the film Powers of Ten. Powers of Ten became a very influential short film and amongst other things inspired google earth.
Read more about Kees Boeke here: wikipedia
I was invited by Pixar to give a talk at their campus in SF a little while ago!
They are not only do amazing work but are also VERY nice people and have VEEEERY tasty food in their canteen.
They also have a nice cinema.
Hope I can go back.
I just came back from a tour of China and Japan, ‘SHH! we have a plan’ was awarded the Chen Bochui Award last year and I was invited to China to do a tour of 6 cities.
I did lots of interviews and talks. Some here:
there was a theatre show of SHH! in Pudong Library
and i did a talk afterwards..
There was an exhibition at Shenzhen Guanshanyue art museum alongside 4 other illustrators in Shenzhen, China. ‘Grow up Together’ for international children’s day. Featuring zhu ying chun, xu yu an, jiu er, michael grejniec, chris haughton
i also did some workshops…
Thanks to my excellent publisher Beijing Cheerful especially Xianzi and Zhangnan two fantastic editors and the founder Mrs Qu.
People’s daily online人民网:
China education news online中国教育新闻网：
China publishing media website 中国出版传媒网：
Beijing Morning News《北京晨报》6月1日第C02版
Beijing Daily News《北京日报》6月1日C版绘本画家霍顿和小读者“疯玩”
China Education online中国教育在线：
Hangzhou Daily News《杭州日报》6月1日第16版
Shanxi News Website山西新闻网：
After China I went to Japan did some events in Kobe/Osaka/Kyoto/Tokyo.
Thanks to everyone at BL Shuppan!
I had a great time reading my book in Chinese and Japanese and found it very inspiring to see how the text is adapts to very different languages. In fact the Japanese translator Ryo Kisaka won an award for her translation of OH NO GEORGE! This page makes me laugh out loud. I wish I wrote that!! 🙂
Thanks to Melody Masako Yoshioka for her translations too.
I went to Dubai to speak at the fantastic Emirates Literature Festival last month. Just before it opened a number of authors announced that they were boycotting the festival because of the UAE’s human rights record.
There was also a thoughtful petition by Human Rights Watch and English Pen as well as the campaign to boycott. I agreed to sign the petition but I thought and still do think there are much better ways to encourage free speech than by boycotting a literary festival. Emirates festival is the largest literary festival in the Arabic speaking world and I think we should be doing all we can to encourage dialogue everywhere but surely especially in the middle east where there are differing perspectives we can all learn from. Chris Cleave puts it a lot better than I could here.
Anyway, during the lead up to the festival a number of activists were tweeting to me encouraging me to boycott etc etc and i struck up a conversation on twitter with Ahmed Mansoor, one of the UAE’s leading activists who was previously imprisoned. We ended up meeting for a coffee and I was so shocked by his story that i feel obliged to write about it here:
‘the only thing clear in this country is it’s opacity!’
Ahmed Mansoor is an Emirati writer and poet who has a masters in IT. He did his IT studies in the US and on his return he was involved in setting up a discussion website in the UAE uaehewar.net (hewar means dialogue). The discussion threads that emerged were topics like politics, human rights, news from international media which is banned domestically. The website became popular and the UAE government managed to shut it down and imprisoned some of those responsible. Ahmed became more and more politicised by the actions that were going on around him that he and other intellectuals/activists initiated a petition calling for political reform. Five of them were imprisoned. He was detained for 8 months and the government ran a smear campaign. They were tried by a closed court which sentenced Ahmed to 3 years in jail and the others to 2 years each. Amnesty deemed the trial grossly unfair and after an international outcry the ‘UAE 5’ were released.
However after his ordeal he had a criminal record and his employer were forced to dismiss him. His passport was also confiscated in a raid on his house and has never been returned, his email and phone were hacked, a new ‘cyber crime’ law was passed by the government (which has been deemed unconstitutional) which means he and others like him will never have ‘security clearance’ and without ‘security clearance’ he has no possibility of getting a job. Then, all of his money ($160,000) suddenly disappeared from his bank account. The nature of its disappearance implicates not only the government but also the bank. When Ahmed was reporting the disappearance of this, his life’s savings, his car tyres were first let down and then his car was stolen… all outside the main court/prosecution building in Abu Dhabi. He was also twice beaten up and received numerous death threats which has made it impossible for him to complete his law studies at university. (He had tried to return to university after he lost his job)
So Ahmed is currently without his life’s savings or a job or a way to leave, but he says many are facing much worse consequences than he has. There are hundreds of political prisoners currently in jail without charge. Often they just disappear. People are terrified to speak out and face a similar fate. As Ahmed says ‘extremism grows when hope for peaceful change evaporates’ and i cant help worrying with him about the wider consequences of such extreme crackdowns.
Despite these stories there was so much else I saw in Dubai that seemed hopeful about the UAE. The festival itself was incredibly inspiring. The astronaut Chris Hadfield gave an incredible talk aimed at inspiring children into science and exploring the unknown and poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy made I call out to support womens day on the opening ceremony. I did school visits as part of the festival, all were very multicultural and open, one of the classes I taught had 110 children from an incredible 33 different countries, and the schools were some of the best equipped i have ever seen. One of my friends is an academic advisor working with institutions there and he raves about the enthusiasm of the young people and the set up that he works with. The country has developed at a faster pace than literally anywhere else in the world and has achieved an incredible amount in just a few decades. Hopefully the politics can be changed equally quickly.
Ahmed Mansoor won the Martin Ennals award in 2015
(Ennals was the first head of Amnesty International)
You can read about it on the BBC here