New reviews: Brilliant Barrington Stoke books!

I have long been a fan of Barrington Stoke who publish super-readable books for children and young people. Each book has brilliant features which make them more accessible particularly to children with dyslexia or visual stress. In both my working and home life I’m well aware of the challenges being a reluctant or struggling reader presents, so it’s great to have something to offer those might who need a more accessible read. Bringing together award winning authors and illustrators, Barrington Stoke publish a whole range of brilliant stories and the three I’ve read recently are no exception.

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McTavish Goes Wild by Meg Rosoff, illustrated by Grace Easton tells the story of the Peachey family and their delightful rescue dog McTavish. A wonderful spin on who is rescuing who, McTavish knows what’s best for the family and exactly where they should take their summer holiday. Like any family, each member has his or her preference but McTavish with brilliant doggy intelligence leads them on a fantastic journey of discovery through the countryside. This really is a delightful tale; I had a smile on my face the whole way through. Wonderfully observed and with lovely quirky illustrations, we see the Peachey family face the annual dilemma of how to keep everyone happy on holiday.  Thankfully McTavish is on hand to help. I would love a dog like him to solve family disputes and remind everyone what’s important!  This is the second book to feature McTavish and is aimed at children aged 8-12 years.

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Hari and his Electric Feet by Alexander McCall Smith, illustrated by Sam Usher is a magical story aimed at 8-12 year olds, featuring Hari and his unique dancing talent. Discovering he can dance is one thing but when Hari and his good friend Mr Ram realise just how infectious it is, a wonderful adventure ensues. From the local street sellers to the farm animals to fighting politicians, everyone comes under Hari’s spell with lively illustrations capturing the movement. I love the idea of dance bringing such joy to people so much so that it even helps bring about world peace! Hari is a gorgeous character and you almost want to join in with his electric feet. If only world politics were that simple….

mariella

Mariella Queen of the Skies by Eoin Colfer, illustrated by Katy Halford tells the brilliant adventures of nine year old Mariella and her quest to escape bedtime. Full of inspired ideas and inventions she won’t rest till she has conquered sleep. Mariella discovers how to fly away from night time and spends her time visiting far off places and thinking of fabulous inventions. But it’s only when her ideas run out she realises that sleep is more important than she thought! Taking the familiar battle of avoiding bedtime, this story captures the imagination and wins hearts with a magnificent heroine in Mariella. And also reminds us sleep is essential no matter how smart you are and how many ideas you have! Featuring lovely colourful illustrations, this is one of the Little Gems series aimed at children aged 5-8 years.

Whether you’re looking for an accessible read or just a great story these books are a must-have addition to every bookshelf and library.

With thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending me these wonderful books to review. 

 

Making reading accessible at the Bookchat Roadshow!

It’s really important we ensure all children can access reading, whatever their ability. And supporting dyslexic readers is a cause close to my heart – my 14 year old son is dyslexic so I am well aware of the struggles this can cause.  We want to make sure the Bookchat Roadshow supports parents and carers of children of all ages and all reading abilities.
BS_button_whtSo I can’t tell you how pleased I am that Jane Walker from Barrington Stoke will be speaking to parents at the Bookchat Roadshow on 20th July. Jane says:
“At Barrington Stoke we are all about cracking reading. We have nearly twenty years experience of publishing fiction particularly for the reluctant, struggling and dyslexic young reader and I will be talking about how we remove the barriers so that everyone can access and enjoy a good book. I look forward to meeting families and being part of this excellent initiative. “
Jane will be sharing tips and interesting facts around ‘readability’ and reading for pleasure and a very brief overview of what Barrington Stoke can do to support readers of all ages.
We also have the brilliant organisation Helen Arkell exhibiting at the event and on hand to give advice to parents and carers. Helen Arkell Logo Online
Helen Arkell offer dyslexia support and advice to anyone who may need it, whether they think they have dyslexia or care for someone who may have dyslexia. They support children and adults alike through assessments, training, consultations and offer a variety of courses on dyslexia and related topics. Their aim is to “inspire people to believe in themselves, achieve their goals and succeed on their own terms”.  

You can register for FREE to attend the Bookchat Roadshow, which takes place on 20th July 2017 at Harlands Primary School, Haywards Heath, West Sussex.   The Roadshow brings together authors, industry experts and people passionate about children’s reading and writing for pleasure.  With inspirational talks and an author panel bookchat, plus a selection of exhibitors, we give a huge range of ideas to help support children’s creativity. Speakers include author Nikki Sheehan and also the team behind Scoop Magazine. Register online now!

For more information please visit www.thebookactivist.com.

 

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Non-fiction: why is it so important for children’s reading?

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You may have noticed that November has been National Non Fiction Month. With so many days and occasions to celebrate reading, the focus is often on fiction.  This of course, is wonderful and absolutely as it should be. But it’s also wonderful and as it should be that we celebrate the plethora of amazing non-fiction books out there for children.  And that’s just what the Federation of Children’s Book Groups does through National Non Fiction month.

So why is non- fiction so important for children’s reading?  Well, one might say, it teaches them about the world and helps their education perhaps supporting whatever current topic they’re working on. And of course this is true; knowledge is empowering at any age. But it’s more than that. Because for some children, reading stories just isn’t something they want to do or perhaps it’s something that they can’t do.  So non-fiction opens a door to reading ensuring they too can experience the wonder of words.

Non-fiction books help children unlock the world around them, but also enable them to participate in reading, tapping into their varied interests and engaging them in a way that stories sometimes can’t.  If a child has a learning need, they can struggle with understanding the often inferred narratives in a story – with non-fiction they don’t have to worry about this, they can just read the facts off the page!  Would you believe that many children I have worked with say they don’t want to read because they don’t like stories? Of course I explain to them that this is simply not true, they haven’t found the right book yet.  But if they are adamant and don’t want to read a ‘story-book’, I will establish what their interests are and recommend a wonderful non-fiction book as a starting point that fits the bill; whatever the topic there’s bound to be something they will enjoy.  As it’s not a ‘story’ and it fits in with their interests, they start to read.  And whilst they read they are still benefiting from language, vocabulary and expression through the information presented in front of them.  This is amazing sight to see, when you’ve had a student roll their eyes on being asked to read – and a little while later they’re busy enjoying a book!

There are some simply gorgeous and amazing non-fiction books produced today for all ages with beautiful illustrations bringing the information to life. The FCBG have put together an amazing list of 100 children’s non-fiction books; plenty of ideas to choose from!

And there’s always what are viewed as the more ‘commercial’ non-fiction books; the Guinness Book of Records, Lego, Minecraft……a bone of contention for some; ‘It’s not reading’.  Well actually, yes it is. It’s a start. And for those young people who are so switched off from reading they’d rather stare at the wall, it’s the perfect combination of words, pictures and fantastic facts.  Without even realising it they become engrossed in a book, through something that interests them.  It’s a step on the road to reading – it’s fun and above all we want children and young people to associate their reading experiences with fun.  Once they find the joy of books, they are far more likely to develop a reading habit. Sadly not all have had a positive start to their reading journeys, not all have homes with books in and many have a complete lack of input as they get older.  So if we can find something that hooks them, non-fiction or fiction, little by little they will discover reading for pleasure.

How to get teens to #LoveToRead.

Waking up at 5am with a horrible cold, I got up and sat with my lemsip, flicking through the somewhat weird and wonderful world of early morning TV.  I remembered I’d yet to watch ‘The School that Got Teens Reading’.  This is just one of the programmes scheduled for the BBC’s #LoveToRead campaign, so I settled down, between sneezes, to see what it was like.

I’d never heard of the exuberant Javone Prince before. He admitted to being somewhat nervous having no experience of schools other than his own schooling – I don’t blame him! I remember my first ever library lesson about ten years ago – I was absolutely terrified. But what he lacked in experience he made up for with enthusiasm; it was great to hear how much he loves reading and wanted to share that passion with the students.

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Bookchat Roadshow – success!

The alarm went off bright and early yesterday morning and it was all systems go.  We got to Warden Park Primary, having pre-loaded the car the night before just as the head teacher, Steve Davis, arrived.  I’ll admit to being a bag of nerves and excitement – more of the latter though as this was something I’ve been planning and thinking about for the best part of the year and I couldn’t believe it had actually arrived!

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Set-up didn’t take too long, thanks to various helpers and the friendly school caretaker along with various members of school staff.  With the banners out, participants began to arrive.  Gill from Inkpots was closely followed by exhibitors Discover & Be, Helen Arkell, the Public Library Service and Schools Library Service.  Louise from Lovereading arrived, bringing lots of brilliant information from Barrington Stoke. It was taking shape before my eyes! Waterstones arrived with a fantastic array of brilliant books for the bookstall. Parents and carers filtered in and the air was filled with curiosity and expectancy.

Steve Davis gave a perfect introduction placing reading at the heart of learning.  I began my presentation with a little trepidation but also huge excitement! It was great to be able to share so many ideas and suggestions with parents and carers who want to support their children with reading for pleasure.  Gill from Inkpots followed with an overview of creative writing, saying that we all have a story to tell and that creative writing should be a fun and collaborative process.   Louise Weir shared all the wonderful things Lovereading does to support children’s reading and book choices.  The tea break was buzzing with activity when parents had the opportunity to visit the various exhibitors covering a range of reading and writing related areas from phonics to dyslexia and finding out about the local library service.

Then the grand finale arrived, with three fantastic award winning authors forming the first ever Bookchat Roadshow panel (sadly Eve Ainsworth couldn’t participate due to ill health). Sophy Henn, Nikki Sheehan and Jamie Thomson shared their childhood memories of reading, along with ideas for encouraging children who aren’t enthusiastic about reading and creative writing and their thoughts on the importance of stories.  There were lots of laughs as Jamie kept being ‘taken over’ by the Dark Lord in between reminiscing about childhood reading and where he gets his writing ideas. “Ideas can come from anything – turn the ordinary into the extraordinary! How do you know the old lady on the bus isn’t an international spy?”  Sophy had wonderful insight into starting the creative writing process using images and pictures and how stories can be created just using your surroundings as inspiration. “Even just going on a family walk you can play the inspiration game, all coming up with ideas to create a story!” And Nikki shared that for her empathy is the most important reason for reading and writing stories “We find out who we are and who others are through reading and telling stories”.

During the panel discussion, there were questions from the audience and these were responded to not just by the authors, but by the various representatives of exhibiting organisations and those who had delivered presentations. It was collaboration in action, with the conversation focusing on supporting those attending so they could go away feeling truly inspired.

Initial feedback has been hugely positive which fills me with great joy! Huge thanks to all those who participated, supported, attended and helped in any way. Whilst the dust is still settling, I am on to planning Bookchat Roadshow number 2, so spread the word and we may well visit a school near you!

For more information about the next event email thebookactivist@gmail.com

Memory recall & reflection.

It’s like starting all over again” said my 13 year old who is going into Year 9 in September – and is dyslexic. “I don’t remember anything…a, b, c”. Then he laughed as he spelled out the alphabet.

Privately assessed by an educational psychologist when aged 7, who said “it’s glaringly obvious” that he has dyslexia, we have been aware of his learning needs for some time.  We’ve done our best to support him throughout – including moving schools, when one particular headmaster responded to my complaint that my son was not getting any support, even with an ed psych report:  “This is all we are going to do. If you don’t like it, take him somewhere else”. So I did. Parent power is essential for any child with a learning need, in an age where some schools are still ill-equipped to help or are oversubscribed with an ever-increasing number of children who need extra help.

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