Heathfield Junior School, Twickenham, are doing a month long project with year 4 pupils based on my book Tales Told in Tents (illustrated by Sophie Herxheimer and published by Frances Lincoln (2004). They will write and tell stories and learn about Central Asian cultures.
I visited the school through Authors Aloud. I took with me coats, hats, carpets and musical instruments I had collected on trips to Kazakhstan and Kyrgzystan. I told stories from the book and talked about my travels. The children listened to the sound of goat and camel bells, and the temir komuz – the Central Asiain mouth harp. I taught them how to say hello in Kyrgyz. And they tried on hats and coats.
We discussed how felt is made, and looked at the patterns found on the textiles and the meanings they have. The patterns are deeply part of Central Asian life. Many of the patterns are based on the natural world: ram’s horn; eagles wing; goose neck; raven’s claw, and are auspicious – bringing luck, fertility and prosperity to the wearer.
The children had such interesting questions. One was, “why are all the countries in Central Asia called ‘stan’.” This led to a discussion about Central Asian history, and the Russian Empire putting borders, boundaries and names to migratory routes that had always belonged to nomadic tribes. I was impressed how deeply engaged and interested the children were during the session. Their project is about exploring world literature, but through Tales Told in Tents we looked at so many other topics along the way: art and religion; weather and landscape; costumes and food; nomadic culture; storytelling traditions and language. I loved sharing stories with them. At the end of the project they will send me some of the work they make – I will update my blog with the results!