Last month I was thrilled to be asked by Greenhouse Books to go to Istanbul in Turkey to visit some schools. I spent a whole week travelling back and forth across the Bosphorus, giving talks and workshops in International Schools and one Turkish school. I met children from so many different countries, I quickly lost count! They may all have come from different backgrounds, and they may all have spoken different languages, but every single one of them had two things in common: they spoke English to me, even if they only knew a few words, and they LOVED reading English books!

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The first school I visited was the British International School of Istanbul (BISI). I met a lovely teacher who has even more pets than I do, including two tortoises, one of which was found after someone had run over it. (Ouch.) She told me that lots of families come for a two- or three-year work placement and let the kids have a pet and then they move on to a different country and can’t take the animals with them. She said she was well-known as a soft-touch when it came to animals, so she ended up housing all the creatures that were left behind! At one time she had rabbits, guinea pigs, cats, dogs, tortoises, lizards and hamsters all living in her apartment.

The Turkish people seem to love cats and dogs as much as we Brits. There are wild dogs roaming everywhere, but they are well looked after. The local authorities round them up and neuter them, give them vaccinations and make sure they are fit and healthy, while people everywhere leave out food and water for them. Cats are more of a law unto themselves, of course. I saw many a well-fed alley cat in the city centre, though, proud and self-possessed and certainly not interested in a cuddle!

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The second school I visited was Koç School – a Turkish school with a large campus where I stayed for three days and three nights. I had a comfy flat, five minutes walk from the main school building where I had my meals and gave my talks and workshops. The children had learnt English as a second language in school, but were so fluent and creative in the language that it was difficult to believe they had not also been speaking it at home since birth. I watched a drama production they had put on especially for Book Week and was bowled over by their confidence in English and their evident love of reading in English too.

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While at Koç I did my best to learn a few words of Turkish so that I could say ‘Hello’ (Merhaba!) ‘How are you? (Nasılsınız) and ‘Coffee with milk, please.’ (Sutlu Nescafe, lütfen.) This last phrase was the most important one, as I was up very early every day…

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I felt I got to know people very well during the three days I was at Koç and was sad to say goodbye to everyone. On my last night I was lucky enough to be taken into the centre of the city with some of the teaching staff and we had dinner overlooking the breathtakingly beautiful Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. I am now very keen to go back so that I can explore the insides of these buildings and find out more about Turkish history and culture.

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My last day was spent in the International Community School of Istanbul (ICSI). I raced through workshop after workshop before being whisked away to get my plane home. This school, much like the BISI, had pupils from all over the world, some of whom had only been learning English since September. This did not stop them joining in with brainstorming animal names and funny places where you might find an animal. We soon had some lovely story ideas which the pupils started writing up or illustrating.

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So I have learnt that even if you are not fluent in a language, you can have a good go at learning to speak and read it! Perhaps we in England should learn this from our European neighbours. Meanwhile, ‘Görüşürüz. Okuduğunuz için teşekkür ederim!’ (I hope that says, ‘Goodbye and thank you for reading!’)

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