Chelsea Library’s special reading events: a recap

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our readers
who participated in Chelsea Library’s reading events in 2018 and this year. A big
thank you and here’s to many more in 2020!

Our next reading event is on Tuesday 21 January when we will meet Ruth Galloway and read from ‘The Crossing Places’ by Elly Griffiths.

What is so special about Chelsea Library’s reading events? Well, we  read extracts from the books aloud; we share favourite moments and discuss relevant issues and characters. But, if you just want to listen and comment, and do not wish to read, that is fine too. You do not have to be a book club member to join us either. Sometimes readings are linked with a film or a TV series, such as Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Hugo’s Les Miserables and Gerald Durrell’s The Durrells.

An Evening with Tolstoy, in September 2018, marked the 190th anniversary of Leo Tolstoy’s birthday. That was our first such event and we focused on ‘Anna Karenina’ We watched a few remarkable moments from film adaptations, and then passionately commented about the right or wrong choices of actors in these films. We read in English, Russian. Italian and Serbian, completely oblivious that one of the guests present was one of Tolstoy’s descendants. Amazing!

In October 2018 we read from the Great War diaries and letters written by female doctors and nurses.

Last December we met to celebrate the 175th anniversary of ‘A Christmas Carol’. Since that time, this Ghost story of Christmas has become an irrefutable symbol of Christmas, and Marley and his companions – ghosts of Christmas past, present and future –have become some of the most popular ghosts in literature. So, gathered enthusiastic readers took part in reading my abridged dramatized version of Dickens’ classic and we all had a great time playing Scrooge, Marley, Bob, Tiny Tim … and eating mince pies.

For this December I decided to stay within the supernatural milieu and we read extracts from the ‘Haunted house’. If you have not read it before, it is never too late. Please, read these paragraphs to give you a flavour what you can expect. It is funny, it is witty – Dickens at his best. Serve with mince pies and brandy cream, as we did. Delicious!

“It was a solitary house, standing in a sadly neglected garden: a pretty even square of some two acres. It was a house of about the time of George the Second; as stiff, as cold, as formal, and in as bad taste, as could possibly be desired by the most loyal admirer of the whole quartet of Georges. It was uninhabited, but had, within a year or two, been cheaply repaired to render it habitable; I say cheaply, because the work had been done in a surface manner, and was already decaying as to the paint and plaster, though the colours were fresh.”

After first few weeks of living there the narrator’s state of mind became “so unchristian”. “Whether Master B.’s bell was rung by rats, or mice, or bats, or wind, or what other accidental vibration, or sometimes by one cause, sometimes another, and sometimes by collusion, I don’t know; but, certain it is, that it did ring two nights out of three, until I conceived the happy idea of twisting Master B.’s neck—in other words, breaking his bell short off—and silencing that young gentleman, as to my experience and belief, forever.”

Back to earlier this year and to honour my French readers, I chose Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’ for January 2019.

 

When I had ‘Hamlet’ in mind, the idea was to involve the Danish Embassy and talk about Helsingborg / Elsinore castle. For somebody like me, with English as a second language, the challenge of reading Shakespeare aloud (and not to kill the beauty of the masterpiece in the process) was a daunting prospect. That worry proved to be needless. Everyone present was reading Shakespeare with such ease, as if they were eating Victoria sponge cake and drinking English tea. Fantastic! (The Danish Embassy were too busy to spare anyone, but I had to go to Copenhagen and visit Hamlet’s castle. Could not find anything rotten there.)

Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ followed. We watched extracts from Andrew Davies’ BBC adaptation, laughed at Mr Collins, argued as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy did, and even had heated discussion with a Jane Austen-expert who was in attendance. Marvellous!

Our June reading session was dedicated to holidays, to Corfu, to Gerald Durrell and his fantastic book ‘My Family and Other Animals’. Who could blame the Durrells for moving to Corfu after this kind of August in Bournemouth?

“July had been blown out like a candle by a biting wind that ushered in a leaden August sky. A sharp, stinging drizzle fell, billowing into opaque grey sheets when the wind caught it. Along the Bournemouth sea-front the beach-huts turned blank wooden faces towards a greeny-grey, frothchained sea that leapt eagerly at the cement bulwark of the shore. The gulls had been tumbled inland over the town, and they now drifted above the house-tops on taut wings, whining peevishly. It was the sort of weather calculated to try anyone’s endurance.”

So, the Durrells moved to Corfu, in 1935, ‘like a flock of migrating swallows.’ The lush green landscape greeted them on their arrival.

“Halfway up the slope, guarded by a group of tall, slim, cypress-trees, nestled a small strawberry-pink villa, like some exotic fruit lying in the greenery. The cypress-trees undulated gently in the breeze, as if they were busily painting the sky a still brighter blue for our arrival.”

Talking about people and animals we discovered that one of the readers, Emina, featured in Maria Perry’s book ‘Chelsea Chicks’, with a story that involved her very social parrot.

In September 2019 we had a guest speaker, Sir John Nott, who talked about his book ‘Memorable Encounters’, in which he selected twenty famous people who made a distinctive impression on him, from Margaret Thatcher, Enoch Powell, to Robin Day and Ted Hughes.

Sir Nott’s career in politics and business has given him a unique perspective on some of the key events in British public life. The gathered audience were obviously charmed by his witty comments.

In October I was so happy that Simon Brett accepted my invitation and included Chelsea Library in his busy and dynamic schedule. Simon is a renowned author of comedy thrillers, mystery who-done-it novels and has written to date 106 novels. He is best known for his Mrs Pargeter novels, the Fethering series and the Charles Paris detective crime series. In 2014, he was presented with The CWA Diamond Dagger and in 2016, he was awarded with OBE for his services to literature.

Simon talked about his career, his books and characters and we laughed and thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

Here is an extract from ‘Mrs Pargeter’s Principle’, which he read to the audience.
It is just after Sir Normington’s funeral.

“Helena Winthrop, in designer black, did not look prostrated by grief, but then she had been brought up in the upper-class British tradition that any display of emotion was unseemly and embarrassing. Also, her face no longer had the capacity for much change of emotion. Feeling the approach of age, she’d had some work done, which had left her with an expression of permanent surprise at how old she was.
She had acted as hostess at many public events for her husband and appeared to bring the same professionalism to this one as she had to all the others. The absence of Sir Normington on this occasion was not something to which she thought attention should be drawn… though her guests did seem to want to keep talking about him.
Mrs Pargeter, experienced in widowhood, wondered whether Helena Winthrop would fall apart into a weeping mess the minute she got back to her empty Mayfair home, but rather doubted it. Unshakeable stoicism was ingrained into women of Helena’s class. She had spent so long suppressing her emotions, Mrs Pargeter reckoned, that she wouldn’t recognize a genuine one if it bit her on the bum.”

Edited to add this part – Simon sent us this lovely quote  in response to this piece and we thought we’d share it with you.

I greatly enjoyed my visit to read and talk at Chelsea Library. The audience was acute and perceptive, a legacy of the series of events which had been set up to encourage reading in the borough. I remember, when I first started doing library talks, the plea ‘Has anyone got any questions?’ used to be followed by a profound silence and a lot of people looking at their feet. That, I’m glad to say, is no longer the case. The growth of book groups and events, like those set up by Zvezdana Popovic in Chelsea Library, have ensured a much readier and more informed response. As an author, I always find such sessions fascinating, because they always make me question – and sometimes even make changes to – the way I write. So, keep up the good work, Zvezdana.

 

I hope that you have enjoyed sharing this recap from our previous reading events. One of our future events is definitely reserved for the Brontë sisters. Tell me which book (or author) you would like to be included and we’ll go from there.

Once again, best wishes.
God bless us, everyone!

Zvezdana, Chelsea Library

Christmas memories from our Biography Collection

Our December display for the Biography Collection at Kensington Central Library is an unashamedly nostalgic celebration of some Christmas traditions, ancient and modern, from the cosily kitsch to the highly artistic.

The display falls into two halves. First there are the memoirs of Christmasses past. Published in 1955, Mary Clive’s Christmas with the Savages is a hilarious reminiscence of an Edwardian childhood Christmas staying with the Savage family of upper class eccentrics, like a kind of surreal, unruly version of Downton Abbey. Suzanne Lambert’s Christmas at the Ragdoll Orphanage is a heart-warming tear-jerker set in 1930s Newcastle; perfect for curling up by the fire with a mince pie. With chapter headings including “Near Collapse”, “An Awful Smell” and “Difficult Guests”, Hazel Wheeler’s Crackers at Christmas records a half-century of Yorkshire Christmases between the 40s and the 90s with a stoic misery that combines Eeyore and Scrooge, and paradoxically manages to be immensely cheering for those of us with mixed feelings about the festivities. From 1908, Queen Alexandra’s Christmas Gift Book was designed to look exactly like a personal photograph album belonging to the royal family, featuring intimate snaps and homely captions.

The second half of the display focuses on some of the people who created or invented rituals and experiences we cherish as part of Christmas. Their Christmas contributions may only have represented a small part of their achievements, but provide a good starting point for looking more closely at their lives. As you would expect, there are some Great Victorians – Henry Cole, who as well as founding the Victoria and Albert Museum, gave us the first commercially produced Christmas card; Isabella Beeton, who perfected the recipe for what we now know as Christmas pudding; Christina Rosetti, whose poem “In the Bleak Midwinter” has become one of our most popular carols – and of course, Dickens, the man who probably did more than any other to create the dream of a London Christmas in the mid-nineteenth century to which our imaginations have returned for generations, with his surprisingly scary and moving, life affirming A Christmas Carol. (Did you know he was involved in a court case about a plagiarised version of it? We include an account of this extraordinary footnote in literary history). No Prince Albert, I’m afraid, as it seems the idea that it was he who introduced the Christmas tree to Britain is erroneous – in fact we owe that to his wife’s grandmother, fellow German Queen Charlotte, and have included a fascinating biography of her.

Christmas in Hollywood has always been a sparkly affair, so you can find Frank Capra, director or It’s a Wonderful Life, Irving Berlin, composer of “White Christmas”, and a host of singers including Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Nat King Cole, who have provided the soundtrack for countless “Merry Little Christmasses”.

The story of Kensington’s own Peter Pan was the first great Christmas “show for all the family”, so J. M. Barrie is included – as is Tchaikovsky, whose Nutcracker ballet continues to enchant. Composers of some of the most magnificent Christmas music are also here – Handel (The Messiah), Bach (Christmas Oratorio), Britten (A Ceremony of Carols and St. Nicolas) and Vaughan Williams (Fantasia on Christmas Carols). All of these works are available through our website via the Naxos Music Library  (There’s free access to this for library members)

So turn down the brussels sprouts, retrieve the tinsel from the dog, turn off the TV for a while and enjoy a biographical glimpse at some of the people who have sprinkled a little sparkle over Christmasses we have loved.

The Biography Store Team, Kensington Central Library

Winter Fair at Kensal Library

On Thursday, there was a very special event at Kensal Library – over to the staff there to tell us more –

We had so much fun at Kensal Library’s Winter Fair. There was a lot to keep everyone busy from decorating gingerbread men, having your photo taken via the photo booth, arts and crafts, guessing which stocking had the prize, drinking some tasty hot chocolate from the hot chocolate bar, a lucky dip and writing letters to Father Christmas.

The lucky dip proved to be very popular and we’re going through the letters to Father Christmas before posting them to the North Pole to find the best one which will win a prize.

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We believe we made a few new friends and we hope to see you all again throughout the new year!

Thanks to all our helpers: Ayoub, David, Kate, Eve, Isabelle and Sundus.

Merry Christmas from all the staff at Kensal Library!

A Christmas Display at North Kensington Library

Merry Christmas and a Happy New 2017 Year !

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I am sure that now and then we all come across a new picture book in our libraries that bursts out with that special WOW! factor when your fingers and your heart just itch to make your own picture book, make illustrations just like those, retell the story to all the children in library, at home or in nursery.

Continue reading “A Christmas Display at North Kensington Library”

Kensington Mums celebrate their 5th blog anniversary & announce their second Kensington Christmas Fair

Find out more about one of Kensington and Chelsea’s community groups, Kensington Mums (who have blogged for us before), a support network for local mums and mums-to-be, and join them at their Family Christmas Fair on the 27th November. Over to our guest blogger, Dina…

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Award winning ‘Mummy group’ and parenting support network, Kensington Mums, has reached its 5th blog anniversary and to celebrate has announced its second Family Christmas Fair which will be taking place this month on 27th November 2016 at the stylish Kensington Close Hotel from 10am to 5pm in support of the charity Best Beginnings.

Throughout the fair there will be lots going on to keep little ones entertained: arts and crafts, face painting, hair braiding and nail stamping to name but a few of the day’s activities and surprises. Parents, in the meantime, can enjoy festive shopping, with various exhibitors at the fair, including Bambini and Me, Club Petit Pierrot, Hesper Fox and Finns of Chelsea. The exhibitors at the fair are also mums in business, and Kensington Mums use the fair as a way of supporting and financially empowering these entrepreneurial mothers.

How did Kensington Mums start?
Kensington Mums founder, Dina Maktabi, first created the group when she found herself living in Kensington as a new mum. She was two thousand miles from her Beirut homeland with just her husband for support and the challenge of new motherhood hit hard and she struggled in isolation for months with Post Natal Depression.

More than eight years ago, with her new born in her hands, she recalls grabbing handfuls of outfits in high-street stores in the pretence of shopping, and retreating to the changing rooms to breastfeed, as the high-street had yet to cater to mothers and babies effectively.

Thankfully there has been some progress in societal views around breastfeeding and its public acceptance, but the isolation which many new mothers experience remains, particularly for ex-pat mums who are without the support network of their own family to cushion them through the early stages of starting and raising a family.

Kensington Mums was birthed in 2011 out of Dina’s desire to reconnect with other women and create the support network she was missing, and has become a celebrated free support network open to mothers from all over London.

“The friends I began to make through the launch of Kensington Mums became my family and inspired my desire to reach and help other mothers who might be experiencing the same thing. It turned out that I was not the only one. In 2014 Nathalie Bernadotte came on board and now we are an unstoppable duo with a growing ‘family’” says Dina. Today the network command an audience of over 24,000 London based mothers, many of whom live outside of the Kensington area but tap into the community for its blend of events, advice and connectivity.

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The group has many awards under its belt: winning the Mumpreneur UK’s bronze award for Best Website; shortlisted for the Brilliance in Blogging Awards; and was listed as a Top 100 winner of the Mumsclub Business Mum Award. Kensington Mums has also garnered support from celebrity mums Tamara Beckwith, Tamara Ecclestone, Caprice Bourret and HRH Marie Chantal and their vision is to expand their offering and reach mummy communities internationally. In 2014 sister site Mums in Beirut  was launched in the Middle East, becoming an instant hit with mothers in the region, and is now viewed as Beirut’s answer to ‘Mumsnet’.

Keeping Mums in the loop with the latest trends and family outings, Kensington Mums provides everything from family friendly healthy and delicious recipes, to regular competitions giving families a chance to win prizes from a host of well-known brands. Kensington Mums has become a destination website for honest reviews of products and services for London families. The ‘mumthly’ events held in a host of desirable London venues, have ranged from inspiring mum get-togethers to nutrition coffee mornings with expert advice on the impact of diet on toddlers and expectant mothers. The brand’s online motherhood exhibition was included in New York’s Museum of Motherhood in 2013 after the success of their original exhibition in Chelsea.

“When the opportunity to team up with Dina came in 2014, I didn’t think about it twice. I wanted to help and be part of the community that once helped me so much.  Not having family close by and being the first to have a baby within my close circle of friends, I often didn’t know who to talk to – about my labour and birth fears or who to ask advice and share tips on breastfeeding, burps and naps. I felt very lucky to have found Kensington Mums which brought me amazing friendships and helped me gain confidence in being a mother every day” says Nathalie.

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In 2014 Kensington Mums launched a (free to download) KM App, meaning modern mums have instant access to the online magazine’s resources. The App is available on ITunes and GooglePlay.

Boasting an increasing group of ex-pat mothers who connect with the network before they have even made their move to London, the need for support and shared experience by like minds is evident. In an age where networking has become increasingly digital, Kensington Mums are successfully illustrating that the online landscape can be a fantastic resource for creating relationships, which cross over into ‘real’ life.

Look here for further information on Kensington Mums Christmas Fair on 27th November 2016, and here for  Beirut Mums.

Dina Maktabi, Kenisngton Mums

Have a look here for our A-Z directory of other community groups and services.

Making monsters & more with Jessica Spanyol

Creativity was in abundance at an event in Kensington Central Children’s Library  last Friday, when author and illustrator Jessica Spanyol visited to inspire some eager young artists. Jessica began by reading some of her picture books and talking about how characters take shape in her imagination. She introduced us to Clive, the hero of her new series of colourful books, and also read us the story of Carlos the giraffe’s exciting first ever visit to the library – a story she said she first wrote and illustrated when she was six, proving it’s never too early to start!

carlo

Next, sheets of paper with abstract shapes printed on them in different colours provided an amazingly fruitful starting point for the budding illustrators. Have you ever played the game where someone does a random scribble or doodle, and someone else has to make it into a recognisable thing? Or looked up at the clouds and seen the shapes of animals? This worked in the same way, and it didn’t take long before seemingly random shapes had become a range of amazing creatures. These newly-invented characters were embellished with collage made from lots of coloured paper, stick-on googly eyes and enthusiastic colouring-in. It was amazing how different people could transform the same shape in completely different ways.

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Jessica gave some great advice about creating characters for stories, which should come in useful for all aspiring authors: try starting with a picture, and building the words around it, instead of the other way around – and think of a name for your character (which might be based on someone you know in real life – Jessica confided that “Moshi cat” in the Clive books is named after her own cat, Moshi)!

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All in all this was a really enjoyable event and I was so impressed with the beautiful creatures – and some quite scary monsters! – the children produced.

We’ve got some more crafty events coming up soon with Eithne Farry: take a look at the libraries website for dates and times.

Claudia Jessop

Christmas at Notting Hill Gate Library

Laila and SantaDuring this Christmas festive season, we wanted to celebrate the occasion in a way that it has never been done at the library. We had a very special visitor from the North Pole. Can you guess who it is? You’ve guessed right, it was Santa! The afternoon brought both children and parents together to listen to Santa’s extraordinary story.

Reading at Christmas
Reading at Christmas

The story was so inspirational that it got us into the Christmas spirit, so we started to make Christmas cards for our friends and family. The library looked like we were in Santa’s house because the children got so excited with the glitter and it ended up everywhere. But never mind that, we all had such a fantastic time.

Making Christmas Cards
Making Christmas Cards

 

Olaf the Snowman, Book tower
Olaf the Snowman, Book tower

To mark the end of the activity, Santa brought us early presents. They were cupcakes, cupcakes that were generously donated to us by The Hummingbird Bakery. They were scrumptiously tasty! As one of the little ones put it, ‘They were the best cupcakes ever!’

 

Christmas Cupcakes from the Humming Bird Bakery
Christmas Cupcakes from the Humming Bird Bakery

Humming Bird Bakery

 

As 2015 has ended, we would like to thank everyone who has supported us. We look forward to entering 2016 with a prosperous year and to begin we will have a New Year storytelling with Sarah Deco on Saturday 16th January 2016, 2:30 to 4pm.

Donated Christmas trees by The Friends of Notting Hill Gate
Donated Christmas trees by The Friends of Notting Hill Gate

Notting Hill Gate Library welcomes all readers, existing or new so don’t forget to pop in and be a part of this exciting experience!
By Laila El-Boukilli
Senior Customer Services Assistant at Notting Hill Gate Library.

Christmas has arrived at Brompton Library!

Steph, Librarian at Brompton Library, writes: 

Brompton has now swung into full Christmas mode! We had our first Christmas craft session last Saturday and the youngsters decorated little card Christmas trees with glitter and all manner of sticky things. Their parents and carers were delighted!

Glue, sequins, paper...Christmas fun!
Glue, sequins, paper…Christmas fun!

Elisabeth has created an Advent Christmas tree and adds a new box to it every day for the children to decorate (I don’t know where she gets all her great ideas for the kids!)

Advent tree
Advent tree

For the grown-ups we have our terribly tasteful Christmas tree complete with presents (library stock) underneath for the taking plus our hand-picked display of Christmassy books, CDs and films.

Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas!

 

Christmas music, books and more!
Christmas music, books and more!

For the rest of this month we have another Christmas craft session for children this Friday– please join us!

From Monday 15th December onwards the staff will be initiating the public who may be giving or receiving tablets and e-book readers into how to download our new, improved collection.