Sunday, 18 March 2018

The Meanseas - at Meanwood Institute

Florence and Julian Oxley
Photos Richard Wilcocks

Florence and Jem
Matthew Bellward

Doug Sandle writes:
 It’s not often that as well as the author, one also has the chance to meet the characters of a book. However, for the launch of Julian Oxley’s third book on the adventures of young Florence and her dog Jem in Meanwood Park and the woods of the Hollies, they were all present plus a narrator - the sonorous and expressive Matthew Bellward. Unfortunately given the weather, the book’s talented illustrator Clare Morgan could not be present, but examples of her excellent illustrations, as well as those in the book, were on show. 

The adults were asked ‘not to fidget, cough or talk’ during the reading , but as it happens they were as attentive and engaged as their children, as the charming story of the magic places, creatures and ‘people’ of the park and woods unfolded. 

“Hopefully, by now you’ve already heard the stories about the whale and the wooden dragon. You have! Then you know all about a girl called Florence and her handsome dog called Jem. What’s that, you two? Tell them it’s not all about you but about having magical adventures. That’s a very good idea.” 

And ‘sitting comfortably’ we are drawn into the story as.... “Curtains of rain swept the valley and lashed against the houses on the Mount. Raindrops, rattled on the window of Florence’s bedroom where inside she was tucked up cosy in bed. 

But behind her closed eyelids, ADVENTURE! Water sprayed and waves crashed, cannons blared and swords clashed as she battled aboard a pirate ship! 

Meanwhile, across the valley in Hollies Wood, the brutish wind pulled at the enchanted trees. The bloated beck thundered over the great weir and nearby an old oak tree crashed down across the water.”.. 

But next day “Florence and Jem were soon down the donkey steps and on the valley trail...’ 

A whale in the Hollies? Yes and a grounded Pirate Ship, a man-of-war called The Mean Seas, a shipwrecked galleon rising out of the old riverbed. “Its masts and deckhouses had long since been replaced with trees and bushes but its guns and hull could clearly been seen”. The galleon was inhabited by a sturdy loud speaking (and a bit unfriendly) crayfish, one of the American variety, who 
seems to have taken over the ship along with a gang of muscular crayfish as the Signalmen. The American crayfish evidently were not at all friendly with the indigenous white variety, the Whiteclaws. 

With a tale of a secret map and lost treasure, there is a happy ending and a twist to the story, and as for the other two books in the series, the tale makes good use of the natural environment of the area, cleverly using its landmarks and landscape to instil interest and knowledge in the young listeners and readers. The illustrations by Clare Morgan are a visual treat and are not only engaging but are also informative and educational. With delicious cake (before and after), the morning launch brought a comforting warmth to the otherwise cold and snowy day. While the choices of cake may have distracted from the task of filling in our feedback forms, the delight expressed in the chatter that followed confirmed that the tale, its telling and the illustrations had all woven their magic into the hearts and imagination of young and old alike. 

Copies of this and the other two in the series can be purchased from 

Audience Comments

Well read, well organised. Home made cakes! Yum! I particularly valued the local nat. history knowledge of the whale in hollies, the signal + white-clawed crayfish. A really good way to teach children nat. history and love of outdoors.

It was great to feel part of the Meanwood/Headingley community and fantastic for our children to meet an author writing about the local area.

Very excited to be at this long awaited event. Lovely reading of the story. My children say ‘brilliant’ (age 9) ‘amazing’ (age 5). Thank you.

Lovely to be ‘local’.

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