Water Vole Watching

Tom Moorhouse, an ecologist at the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology and author of the brilliant debut The River Singers (out now in paperback) shares his tips on finding and seeing water voles in their real habitat.

The River SingersWhen I talk to classes of children in schools, I always ask them the same question: “How many of you have seen a water vole?”. Usually a few hands go up – perhaps one in ten children, excited to describe their wildlife encounters. And that’s great. The thing is, though, that if I had asked a class that question in the 1980s (the parents of the current generation), perhaps a third of them would have raised their hands. And if I’d asked a class in the 1950s (the grandparents) the vast majority of hands would have gone up. Indeed, for children living in the 1950s seeing water voles was “normal”, a part of going for a walk by a river or canal. It’s difficult not to think that our children are missing out in some ways. The small joy of seeing water voles swimming in a river, doing their determined “doggy paddle”, is now a real rarity, not what it used to be: a common oh-that’s-lovely before carrying on with your day.

The good news is that there are still places you can go to watch wild water voles. Your local Wildlife Trust should be able to point you in the right direction. And if you find a suitable river try to get there early in the morning, or late as the sun is setting, and take an apple with you. Locate a pile of feeding sign or a latrine (chopped up piles of reeds or other stems, about 10cm long, or piles of droppings that look like black tictacs, both hidden at the base of the plants at the water’s edge) and leave ¼ of the apple nearby. If you’re lucky, and sit very patiently and still, a water vole will steal up to the apple and sniff it for a bit. Then it will either eat it, or grab it and scarper. Either way, the sighting will be worth it, I promise. And, of course, you’ll be helping to restore, in some small way, what was once a common experience.

 

The Rising, the sequel to The River Singers will be published in October.

The Rising

Tom MoorhouseTom Moorhouse lives in Oxford, where he enjoys the refreshing and perpetual rain. He is somewhere in his mid-thirties. This, he has discovered, means that small white hairs now grow out of his earlobes when he’s not looking.

He spends a lot of time climbing rocks. He used to play the trombone, but doesn’t any more. He is, without the slightest fear of contradiction, the world’s worst snowboarder. Ever. Tom also happens to be an ecologist, working at the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology. As a child he devoured – not literally – just about any fantasy book going.

The Rising, the follow-up to his critically-acclaimed debut novel The River Singers, will be published in October 2014.

 

 

Making writing fun with the Oxford Children’s Colour Dictionary

Nilanjana Banerji,  Editor of Children’s Dictionaries for Oxford Education gives us a sneak peek behind the creation of the brand new edition of the Oxford Children’s Colour Dictionary for primary schools, which includes writing tips from top children’s authors for the first time.

Charlie Higson, Andy Stanton, Jeremy Strong, Jacqueline Wilson are all well-known names in the world of children’s fiction today but not normally found in a children’s dictionary. The Oxford Children’s Colour Dictionary has this unique and exciting feature – all of these authors have written for it.

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We began updating this dictionary to make it colourful, contemporary, child-friendly, with clear definitions, helpful tips, bright, modern illustrations, and a new supplement on grammar, punctuation, and spelling, for essential language help.

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As usual, we consulted the curriculum and used the children’s language research based on the Oxford Children’s Corpus, a database of writing for and by children, to create an authoritative and age-appropriate children’s dictionary. From enchanted to prehistoric, from e-book to parliament, young writers can look up all the words they need for homework help and creative writing.

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But how could we help more with creative writing? Why not ask the experts directly? This was a great new idea – for the first time we had successful authors giving us fun tips like Don’t be afraid to copy and Don’t be afraid not to copy! We editors were gratified to hear authors saying Edit your work. And our mission was captured perfectly by the important message Make writing fun.

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This vibrant new edition of the Oxford Children’s Colour Dictionary will make literacy fun and give children aged 7+ a head start in reading, writing, and spelling.

The Oxford Children’s Colour Dictionary is out now.

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Islands and imagination

Julia Green, author of Sylvie and Star and Tilly’s Moonlight Fox gives us an insight into the inspiration behind her brand new book for younger readers, Seal Island.

I’ve loved islands as long as I can remember: I like the smaller, more intimate scale of an island, the way you can get to know it on foot, the sense of community found there, and the relationship with the weather, the sea and the rhythm of the tides. Recently I’ve re-visited the Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland, and this is the setting for my new book for children, Seal Island.

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My island is imaginary but based on these real places. I drew a map to show where everything happens in my story (I loved maps in books as a child).

 

mapThrough Grace’s story, I hope to bring a sense of this beautiful place to my readers, to share the pleasure of beachcombing, spotting seals, making friends and experiencing the freedom to play and explore. I researched real seals, but also read the old tales about Selkies – half seal and half person – and wove these into my story.

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Grace learns about the island, about life and loss – there are some dramatic events after a storm – but I have tried overall to capture the summery feel of life on an island, the warmth of family and friendship, the rhythm of the sea and the wide starry skies.

Seal Island is out now.

Seal Island

Copyright Kim Green

Copyright Kim Green

 

Julia Green lives in Bath. She has two sons.  She writes fiction for children and young adults. She is the Course Director for the MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. Julia leads creative writing workshops for children and adults in a variety of settings, including festivals and schools and for the Arvon foundation. She has worked as an English teacher in school, as a lecturer in FE, Higher and Adult Education, as a tutor for young people not in mainstream school; she has also been a publicity officer, a sub editor for a publishing company and a library assistant at a medical school in London.

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