Thursday, 10 October 2013

Interview with Michael Rosen

ANYONE who has children will probably be familiar with the name Michael Rosen. The legendary writer, broadcaster and former children's laureate has been a leading figure in children's literature in Britain for more than 30 years.

With a canon of 140 poetry books and novels under his belt including such classics as We're All Going On A Bear Hunt, not to mention being a regular on TV and radio, he has become a firm favourite with families across the country.

The 67-year-old was also one of the first poets to make visits to schools and is now a regular on the road, touring his one-man show to enthuse youngsters with his passion for literature of all kinds.

He has just kicked off his latest nationwide tour exploring science, imagination and sound and is coming to the Albany in Deptford on October 19.

Said show is Centrally Heated Knickers, based on his book of the same name featuring 100 poems about science and technology and which is supported by the Wellcome Trust, The Institute of Physics and the Arts Council of England.

But what makes this particular show different from others he has done is that it is a collaboration with music collective The Homemade Orchestra.

Fusing rhythms with rhymes, it aims to breathe life into the weird and wonderful world of science and sees Michael recite and perform live on stage accompanied by the orchestra's versatile gaggle of musicians.

"The book is a whole load of poems based on ideas to do with science and technology and which was commissioned by the Design Council," he says.

"They are funny poems to show children ideas about gravity, chemistry and designing things.

"The wonderful musicians Homemade Orchestra approached me and suggested putting it together and make it a show. So that's what I did."

Using poetry and puppetry and with the audience’s help, Michael and the musicians explore such questions as what am I? where am I? and how does it all work?

They discover how ears work, how music is made and even how a spot of electric circuit building can help keep our knickers warm.

"It's really good fun and although we try and make it as entertaining as possible, there is obviously an educational element to it," he explains.

Although Michael says he loved science at school he recognises that as a subject it can be a turn off for some youngsters. This show aims to change that.

"I was keen on Biology and liked Zoology very much. But I had teachers who were engaging. If it is not taught well in schools children find it dull and confusing," he says.

"Because we have invented science as a subject it can seem distant from real life. Whether we are breathing, standing or running or cooking these are all based on scientific things and the question is how we get kids interested in it.

"Science teachers have one way and poets have another way. With this show we discover things have rhythm and that it's something we take in through our bodies.

"We look at the ear, which is utterly fascinating and mysterious, and how sound gets in there.

"It's also about how we feel about something. Science is not really mad keen on how we feel. We have got to start with feeling in order to be interested.

"I hope it brings out the fun side in a subject that is often complex and confusing - there is a lot of humour in it!"

With so much passion and enthusiasm for inspiring kids, he is, as you would expect, not shy about giving his opinion on the education system.
"It needs to excite children," he stresses. "The best way to get kids to learn is by exciting them.

"I grew up in the 50s and it was very different. Nowadays schools have become little fiefdoms and it's something I would love to change.

"There is an attitude to professionals that they can only be bribed through performance related pay which is insulting.

"I would get teachers together to find out what works and what excites children in their learning."

And for Michael an essential component of this is access to libraries.

"Libraries are essential," he stresses. "It has been devastating to see them close - particularly in places like Lewisham - and shows the hypocrisy of what the government is saying about eradicating poverty and literacy.

"We have got to have places where people can read. People can't afford to buy books, schools don't have a budget for books and there is no statutory requirement to have libraries in schools. It's absurd.

"There is plenty of research to say if you want children to advance they have got to have access to as many books as possible. They have to be convenient. If we don't have libraries that won't happen.

"I was lucky as my parents were both teachers and loved literature and I was massively curious so they fed me books and I was hugely encouraged by them. It was the reason why I became a writer.

"I want children to read as much as possible to get them excited about words and language - and I hope this show will inspire and encourage them."

And he says he is looking forward to doing just that in Deptford.

"I've been to the Albany twice before - it's very matey with a strong local feel and commitment to it," he says.

"It's a lovely place to perform so I'm sure we'll have some fun there with this show."

Centrally Heated Knickers is on at the Albany in Douglas Way, Deptford on Saturday, October 19 at 2.30pm and 5.30pm.

Tickets cost from £12. Call the box office on 020 8692 4446.

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