Pets as therapy – in books and in action!

dog

When Madeline Finn and the Library Dog arrived from Old Barn Books, it was clear this was a very special book.  The story, written and illustrated by Lisa Papp, features Madeline Finn a little girl who really does not like to read – at all.  Madeline struggles with reading so she really does not enjoy it, especially when she has to read aloud at school.

9781910646328_spd_1_1024x1024

So when she meets Bonnie the library dog at her local library, something quite wonderful happens. Madeline stops worrying about getting it wrong; she stops worrying about being stuck and she learns to be patient with herself. Bonnie makes her feel that it’s okay to go slowly and Bonnie doesn’t laugh at her like the other children in the class do so Madeline can practice her reading aloud without any worries.  And on the day when Bonnie isn’t there to help her, Madeline pretends that she is and reads so well that she even gets a special star from her teacher!

9781910646328-1

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog perfectly illustrates how some children struggle to read and how those struggles take away any joy they might discover between the pages of a book.  Madeline could have been any number of children I have worked with during my career as a librarian – I wish I’d had a library dog on hand to help.  What an amazing way to help a child feel more confident in themselves!  Beautiful illustrations depict the frustration and joy Madeline experiences and of course, bring to life the gorgeous dog Bonnie. This really is a lovely book and one that could help struggling readers understand they’re not alone and those who can read well feel more empathy with those who can’t. For every copy of this book sold Old Barn will donate 50p to support the work of the Read2Dogs programme run by Pets as Therapy.

It seemed a huge coincidence that at the time of receiving this book, I heard that the school my son attends, Warden Park Secondary Academy, had got a therapy dog.  I wanted to find out more so I’m delighted to say that the teacher behind the scheme, Amanda Bell, joins me on the blog today to share how this came about and the impact the gorgeous dog has had so far. Welcome to the blog Amanda!

Tell us how you came to have a therapy dog at Warden Park. The idea originated from setting up the garden space which was an area developed through an ASDAN course we were running. Part of that project led us into getting chickens and ducks. I watched the impact these animals had on bringing the children into school but also taking responsibility for their care. I wanted to see how I could engage a wider audience through animals and so researched the organisation ‘Pets as Therapy dogs’ and then contacted schools that already had a therapy dog. This enabled me to research into the impact of a dog in classrooms.

How did you go about finding/choosing the right dog? I researched the breeds – mainly for their temperament in working with children but also with regard to their ability to be trained and came up with a Springador which is a cross between a Labrador and a springer spaniel.

SAMPLED_10130335_930_698_nocrop__

Tell us about her! We decided to call our dog a name that links with the Forest as this was another initiative we had recently brought into the department. This would mean that we would not favour a particular child’s name – however, we did find out that we had one child with this name so I asked him if he would mind if we called our dog after him! We first brought our therapy dog into school at just ten weeks old to get her used to the noise and lots of different people. We also secured the help of Michelle Garvey from Essentially Paws who has already trained eight school therapy dogs. She did a few training sessions with me and then I worked on this over the summer holiday. At nearly seven months old, Oakley is now involved with individual students, tutor groups, interventions and staff book her for lessons in a variety of subjects. We have a ‘puppy points’ scheme where students have a card that they can collect points on essentially for acts of kindness towards each other, staff or the environment. Once they have accumulated some points, they can earn free time with Oakley, teaching her tricks or just being with her.

What is the main purpose of your therapy dog? Oakley helps with the well being of the students and just has a ‘feel good factor’. Classes respond with calmness. Some teachers have a group task where they present/read to Oakley. For some students, they are able to express how they feel more readily to the dog than a member of staff! Research has shown that during interventions, students are more likely to engage with the sessions and attend than without a dog present. We will be gathering data to measure impact. Oakley will also be around the school at lunchtimes and breaktimes and allows students to engage with her who may not have a pet at home.

How have the students responded?  There must be a queue to see him at times! Students have engaged really well with the dog. Their role is to ensure that they take control and make her sit before stroking her. They also have to ask if it is OK to stroke her before doing so in case she is in training or on a toilet break. They really love her being in their class and many students have collected a puppy points card. Each week, Oakley writes a blog in the newsletter and currently there is a little competition for students to identify where she is from a photo.

Would you encourage other schools to do the same? It can be time consuming in the first few months and it is essential to get the training right so that the dog learns to respond appropriately to students. However, only a few months in we would definitely repeat the experience as there have been many more benefits that we had not anticipated!

Thank you Amanda. I think the work you and Oakley are doing sounds like an incredible opportunity to support and encourage students in school in a completely unique way.  

Find out more about the above book and pet therapy at www.lisapapp.comwww.petsastherapy.orgwww.wardenpark.co.uk

With thanks to Old Barn Books for sending me this book to review.

 

 

 

Author Interview: Wanuri Kahiu

I’m delighted to welcome to the blog Wanuri Kahiu to talk about her first picture book and the inspiration behind it. The Wooden Camel is a beautiful story full of hope, written by Wanuri, illustrated by Manuela Adreani and published by Lantana. Wanuri is an internationally renowned filmmaker having won awards including five African movie Academy Awards, Best Narrative Feature at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, Best Short Film at the Cannes Independent Film Festival and the ‘Citta di Venezia 2010’ award in Venice, Italy. She is one of the TED Fellows of 2017.  She currently lives with her partner and two children in Nairobi.

The-Wooden-Camel-cover-copy-12.49.13-PM-e1487202774602

Thank you for joining us today!  Can you tell us about the inspiration for writing The Wooden Camel? I am fascinated by Lake Turkana and I have been for a while. It is the largest permanent desert lake in the world and is under threat of extinction. so the people who have lived and based their culture and tradition around the lake will soon be pushed elsewhere. I write to draw attention to the region and the people.

The theme of family comes through strongly in the narrative; Etabo’s relationships with his father and siblings are beautifully reflected. Was this inspired by your own family relationships and feelings about the idea of family in general? I have a daughter and a son who are my most precious gifts and my husband has two other children. His relationship with them is truly exceptional to watch and I wanted to honour him. I also wanted to represent the creativity and kindness of the sister and her love for her brother as witnessed in the relationship between my daughter and her three brothers.
The-Wooden-Camel-p.-11-e1487203985138
Etabo calls on the Sky God to help him keep his dream alive. How important do you think faith and belief is for people in achieving their dreams? Dreaming is unachievable without belief. We must believe in ourselves and in the universe that our dreams will be delivered and that whatever dreams we have are valid and that they are sufficient. And when dreams come true there is always an element of magic, of some unexplainable spirit like Akuj the Sky God.
The-Wooden-Camel-p.-7-e1487203955406
The illustrations for the story are stunning. How did you work with the illustrator to achieve this? It must have been amazing seeing your words and come to life.
Working with Manuela was a dream. I had never worked with an illustrator before and watching her bring words to life was extraordinary. Sometimes she took the lead and I would rewrite the scene to add to her writing rather than the other way around. Her attention to detail in the clothes and the background and the world have made it the most pleasurable reading experience.
Do you have plans for any more children’s books and if so are you able to share with us what you’re working on? Yes. More books and more YA books to come. Too soon to talk about but I thank Lantana Publishing for taking a chance on an unknown writer and giving me the confidence to believe that I am capable of publishing and that my dreams are enough.
I can’t wait to read your next book and wish you every success with your writing; thank you for taking the time to share your experience with us!
Find out more at www.wanurikahiu.com.  Read my review of The Wooden Camel.

Author Interview: Simon James Green

9781407179940.jpg

Simon James Green is the author of Noah Can’t Even, a story described as “snort-laugh-out-loud” funny!  Simon was an Undiscovered Voices finalist in 2016 and is also a screenwriter and director; Noah Can’t Even is his first novel and will be published by Scholastic on 4th May.  I’m delighted to welcome Simon to the blog today; thank you for joining us!

You can’t help but smile when you see the cover of ‘Noah Can’t Even’! Tell us what the story is about. It’s a funny, sweet, coming-of-age (and coming out) story about learning to be brave enough to be yourself. On the cusp of his 16th birthday, Noah longs to be accepted by his cool classmates. He thinks one way to social success might be to kiss Sophie, the most fabulous girl in the school. But Noah’s plans go awry when his best mate, Harry, kisses him instead and a chain of events is unleashed that turns Noah’s life upside down – with laugh-out-loud consequences!

What was the inspiration behind the central character Noah? Admittedly, there’s quite a lot of me in Noah. We both grew up in small towns and I certainly wasn’t one of the cool kids at school either. We also both have slightly geeky obsessions with Agatha Christie, although I must point out that my mum has never done a Beyoncé tribute act! Growing up is all about working out who you are and what you want to be, and sometimes that takes a certain amount of bravery. I wanted Noah to be dealing with those types of issues and be battling with feelings that he couldn’t (or refused to) understand. Noah worries about fitting in; he has that need to be accepted and liked, and he ties himself up in knots worrying about what people think about him. You eventually reach a point in life where you couldn’t give a damn about any of that, but for Noah, it’s a very real concern. Finally, when I think about my own teenage years, and when I think about why I love writing about this age group so much, it’s the fact so much of what you experience feels heightened. That’s probably because you’re being faced with a lot of things for the first time and you don’t always have the experience to know how to deal with it and know it’ll all work out OK. As a result, you make rash, irrational and sometimes plain crazy decisions. Of course, making those mistakes is how you learn, but in the meantime, it’s often comedy gold! (Although at the time, I definitely was not laughing!)

You were selected for the SCBWI’s Undiscovered Voices 2016 – this must have been very exciting; how did this come about? UV was such a fantastic experience! Two people really encouraged me to apply – my friend, the author Katie Dale, and my editor at the Golden Egg Academy, Jenny Glencross. I sent in the first two chapters and was staggered when I was not only long-listed, but then was actually one of the winners who would be included in the anthology. From there I was contacted by over 20 agents in both the UK and USA, who all wanted to read the full manuscript and within 7 months I’d signed with Jo Moult at Skylark Literary and had a book deal with Scholastic. I mean, it’s a fairy tale, right? It was such a fast, exciting, roller coaster of an experience and I’m so grateful to everyone at UV for everything they’ve done for me. And, to you all writers out there looking for rep, UV is open for submissions for the 2018 anthology, so get submitting – it’s life changing!

How has writing your first novel differed from writing screenplays? One of the key differences is all the extra stuff you need to put into a novel. With a screenplay, you generally allow the actor to interpret the lines and action in order to show the audience how they are feeling and what’s going on for them internally. With a novel, you need to get that on the page a lot more, and that was a big challenge for me at first. I’m also used to a much faster turnaround time with screenplays (I once had to do a rewrite in 48 hours), so it was lovely being able to work on the manuscript for longer than I’m used to.

As a coming-of-age novel, what do you hope readers will gain from reading Noah Can’t EvenFirstly, I really hope people have a good laugh reading Noah Can’t Even. I’m a big fan of funny books and I hope that when the humour in Noah is combined with some of the sweeter moments, it’s a book that gives you all the feels. And that’s what growing up is all about, right? You laugh, you cry… you screw it all up and make it all better again. I hope people read it and think – ‘that’s OK, what I’m going through isn’t completely weird and unusual then.’ But fundamentally, I wrote Noah for the same reason I write screenplays or I direct for stage and TV – I enjoy entertaining people and I hope it makes them happy.

The audience for YA novels is growing, which is great news for all concerned not least those reading the books! Were you a reader when you were a teenager? Yes, massively! I loved Agatha Christie as a teen and read loads of her books, but I also devoured Adrian Mole, The Catcher in the Rye, and most of Stephen Fry’s books, to name just a few of my favourites.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? Throw all the bad stuff you’ve got at your main character… and then make it even worse. That’s exactly what I’ve tried to do with Noah – in every chapter I turn the screws just a little bit more, until he’s basically in an impossible position. It’s a great way to drive the story, up the stakes and keep the reader interested!

And finally….have you got a thing for bananas and Beyonce?! Hasn’t everyone?! Actually, I think ‘Bananas and Beyoncé’ would be a great title should I ever write my autobiography!

Thanks so much Simon for sharing your experiences with us. We wish you every success with Noah Can’t Even!

Find out more at www.simonjamesgreen.com and on Twitter @simonjamesgreen.

Spring time quote

Author Interview: Hayley Barker

Show Stopper.jpg

Hayley Barker’s debut novel Show Stopper will be published by Scholastic on 1st June 2017.  Described by her editor, Lauren Fortune, as “dazzling and dark, heartbreaking and heart-racing” Show Stopper is a YA novel set in a dark and not so death defying circus.  I’m very excited to welcome Hayley to the blog today to tell us all about her new novel and the inspiration behind it.  Thank you for joining us today Hayley!

Show Stopper sounds thrilling – I’m looking forward to reading it! Tell us about your inspiration for the book. Thank you so much! When I was younger, I loved reading circus stories. The circus always seemed to be an almost magical place, one which operated outside of the normal rules of society, and the life the circus folk lead was so exciting -free and wild and wonderful. Because of that, I had been thinking for a while that I would really like to write my own story set in the circus.

When I started writing Show Stopper, there were lots of reports in the media about the growing wave of hostility towards ethnic minorities and immigrants in England. Groups with extreme right wing views were gaining momentum, not just in England, but across Europe, and the right wing press was becoming more and more vocal in its suggestions that the faults of the country all lay at the hands of immigrants. It made me feel worried about where we were heading and I wanted to try address this concern in some way in my writing. The two ideas merged in my mind and the concept of a truly terrible circus, which is far from magical, was formed.

You’ve chosen a unique setting for the novel. What research did you do to inform creating the setting of a circus? It must have been fascinating! I read a few books about the traditional circuses of the past and researched anything else I needed to know about as I was writing. If anyone was to look at my internet search history, there would be some bizarre and slightly disturbing results on there! Subjects I’ve researched include, medieval torture methods, how Tasers work, ways in which the Nazis used the body parts of people they had exterminated in the concentration camps, and traditional and extreme circus acts. In the book, Hoshiko balances a stool on the high wire and then stands on it. Believe it or not, this is not only possible but has been done before – you can watch someone do the very same thing on Ukraine’s Got Talent on YouTube!

Tell us about Show Stoppers’ protagonists – Ben and Hoshiko, who have very different backgrounds.  Ben is a Pure, one of the leading elite in the country. His mother is a really important political figure with leadership aspirations, and he is surrounded by people who hate the Dregs– the suppressed underclass of Immigrants and ethnic minorities. He befriends a Dreg servant, Priya, and begins to question everything has been told about the Dregs being inferior. When he goes to the Cirque and sees Hoshiko, he is captivated by her and determines to rescue her from her terrible fate.

Hoshiko is the star of the show, a brilliant high wire and trapeze artiste. She has been witness to the torture and murder of many of the people she cared about and she herself experiences horror on a nightly basis. She is fiercely loyal to her friends in the circus and feels trapped and embittered about the life they are forced to lead, and angry and resentful towards the Pures. When Ben tries to befriend, and then rescue her, she is far from grateful, but slowly comes to see that not all Pures are prejudiced and cruel.

Did you always intend on including a romance or did that evolve? I did always want the story to have a romance at its heart. I felt like a lot of YA fiction included love triangles or one-sided relationships. I wanted a Romeo and Juliet style love story, one about love at first sight which becomes deeper, a love which redeems and heals. The overall message of the novel is that love is stronger than hate, and that we can always change things if we are determined enough. I think that message, while certainly not a new one, is important and true.

You’ve been a secondary school teacher for 18 years. How has this helped you in terms of your insight into writing for a YA audience?  I think any good teacher needs to be able to relate to and understand the people they teach. Young adults don’t deserve to be patronised, they have real concerns and worries and they think deeply at the world they live in. They don’t want to be lectured to and like stories which have a dark and sinister edge. They want page-turners– books which keep them hooked from the start. That was what I tried to achieve when I was writing Show Stopper.

As a debut author, what are your three top tips for anyone starting out on the road to trying to get a book published? My first tip is to believe in yourself: believe you can do it and try, try, try. I think the difference between a pipe dream and an ambition is simply the action you take to fulfil it. The minute you commit to a plan, and do everything you can to achieve it, your dream becomes an ambition – one which is possible and achievable.

My second tip links to the first and it is to keep going in the face of rejection. Writing is a skill like any other–one which you get better and better the more you do. If your first attempt doesn’t quite make it, try again.

My third tip is to go to the Winchester Writers’ festival, or another similar event. I went when I had completed the first draft of Show Stopper and booked four incredibly useful 1-1 appointments with literary agents. Not only did it ensure that that they had all looked carefully at my writing, but I also got lots of illuminating and useful feedback. All four agents were positive about my writing and wanted to see more, which was a real boost and I also got some excellent tips for further improvement.

Thank you Hayley for these fantastic tips and sharing your writing experience with us.

Follow Hayley on Twitter @HayleyABarker.

flowers 2

 

Editor Interview: Hannah Rolls on Bloomsbury High Low Fiction

flowers 2

I’m delighted to welcome Hannah Rolls, Editor at Bloomsbury who works on the brilliant Bloomsbury High Low books.  Published this spring, the series aims to encourage and support reading practice by providing gripping, age-appropriate stories for struggling and reluctant readers, those with dyslexia, or those with English as an additional language. The High Low series is produced in association with reading experts at CatchUp, a charity which aims to address underachievement caused by literacy and numeracy difficulties.

Hopewell High, The Street, Mission Alert and Skate Monkey are four new series in the High Low range offering exciting and dynamic stories. Each title is printed on tinted paper with a dyslexia friendly font and a recommended reading and interest age. Thanks for joining us Hannah!

Tell us a bit about your role at Bloomsbury. I look after the educational fiction list. That means I’m always on the lookout for stories which might be useful in schools – either to help children who are learning to read or to tie into topics they will be covering. My job includes a bit of everything: negotiating contracts, editing manuscripts, writing briefs for illustrators, talking to teachers about what they need, wandering around bookshops to see what is going on in the world of children’s books…

high low bloomsbury

The High Low series is great! Can you tell us a bit about the series and what makes these books more accessible than standard paperbacks? We know there are loads of children out there who struggle with reading – because English isn’t their first language, because they have dyslexia or another special educational need, or just because they didn’t ‘get’ it when all their peers did. But poor reading skills have a massive impact on children’s chances in life – struggling to read is closely linked with low pay and unemployment.

So, to try and help tackle this problem, the High Low series was developed so that the interest age of the books is higher than the reading age (you can see both printed on the back near the barcode) so that children who are struggling with reading don’t get stuck with books they find babyish or boring. The typeface we use is one that is recommended by the British Dyslexia association so it is really clear, and we also use cream paper to improve things for anyone with Irlen syndrome or other visual problems associated with dyslexia. We look carefully at the plots and the language to make sure they will be readable and engaging to our target audience and we try to keep the books quite short so that everyone can get the satisfaction of finishing a story!

How do you go about commissioning the High Low books? First, I looked at what other children that age would be likely to be reading. I was really keen that we should cover a wide range of different genres and that if their friends were all reading the latest superhero or spy book, that we would be able to give the struggling readers something that looked cool in the same way.  We don’t have every genre covered yet but I hope we will soon.

Then, I talked to some authors (some I had worked with before and some I hadn’t) about what they might want to write about and tried to match that up with things I knew were popular. I also did some research into what can help struggling readers, and had a lot of meetings with the design and production teams about typefaces and paper!

The series was produced in association with CatchUp; what was their role? CatchUp are key in making sure everything is as tailored as it can be for struggling readers. They have experienced teachers who act as language editors for me – they spend a lot of their time working with struggling readers so they can advise on whether a sentence structure is too hard, if a particular word or plot twist will be sensitive in schools, and even a word has gone out of fashion in the playground! They also took a close look at design of the series and the font to help us make sure we got that right.

And finally, what do you think is the key to successful books for children/young people with specific learning needs or who are reluctant readers? I think the key is to remember that they aren’t all the same – some of them will think it is the coolest thing ever that a giant octopus fights an underwater dragon in Skate Monkey: Fear Mountain whereas some of them will be engaging with the emotional struggles of the girls at Hopewell High… Some of them will be struggling because they are newcomers to the English language, some will have specific difficulty and some will just have found books a bit boring! I always try to make our books as … as possible: as funny as possible, as exciting as possible, as dramatic as possible, and so on. When you get right down to it, every child is different but they all deserve the chance to become readers.

Thank you Hannah for sharing some insight into your work and about the High Low Fiction series.

For more information visit www.bloomsbury.com

Spring time quote