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

The Bookchat Roadshow

I am so excited to announce the first ever Bookchat Roadshow!  It’s been a long time in the planning and came about as part of my desire to help and encourage parents in supporting their children with reading.  Parenting is hard work, endlessly rewarding of course, but so often we don’t have time to do all things we’d like to for our children, especially when it comes to reading.

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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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Bookchat at Warden Park Primary

I had a fantastic visit to Warden Park Primary to run bookchat workshops with Year 5 & 6. The children were brilliant and enjoyed sharing their thoughts about reading, as well as participating in the various activities. The aim was to share the joy of reading and enable them to discover the magic of books, with guidance on how to go about choosing the right book, using their own interests as a guide. We looked at the concept of genre and played genre based games, which they loved.  They also loved the travelling bookcase and the fantastic books it contained!

It’s such a joy to talk about books with children and see their excitement and appreciation. Bookchat is such a great opportunity to develop reading skills and empower children to become more confident in their reading choices.   I’m delighted to say the feedback was great; thank you Warden Park Primary!

“The children loved the workshops, they are now so much more motivated to read and explore books – children that used to say that they didn’t like reading are now asking to go to the library so that is great! Also, when I ask them to find book to do some quiet reading I am now met with smiling faces! The activities that you led were engaging and really encouraged the children to think about reading and what it means to them without being too intense! The workshops had an extremely positive impact.”

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Bookchat at Waterstones, Haywards Heath.

When the Manager of Waterstones in Haywards Heath got in touch to ask if I’d like to get involved with a primary school visit to the shop, I jumped at the opportunity.

Lindfield Primary School brought a group of children ranging from Reception to Year 5, to find out about their local bookshop and choose a book for themselves. After an insightful talk about the bookshop from James, one of the fantastic booksellers, I set about delivering a bookchat workshop.  Being in a bookshop was a little different to the usual classroom setting, but was definitely a very appropriate place to be chatting about books! I was able to encourage the children in choosing the right book for themselves, giving them hints & tips along the way.  Being able to share my love of reading, as well as some favourite children’s books was a thoroughly enjoyable task!

The children were brilliant and clearly very excited to have the opportunity to buy a brand new book. It was great to see them put the ideas they came up with during the bookchat straight into action and choose their books.  With so much wonderful choice, there was lots of animated discussion! Finally, decisions made and with the school bus beckoning, there were 25 very happy souls who went back to their classrooms, each clutching a brand new book!

I’m very grateful to Waterstones for inviting me to participate and to the children & teachers from Lindfield Primary for their wonderful response. Thank you!

Lifeboat at the BOAT!

The B.O.A.T theatre in Brighton played host to a wonderful event on Sunday 19th June to raise money for the School Bus Project, set up to provide education to children in the Calais refugee camps.  A group of amazing authors & illustrators came together to entertain and enthrall an audience of children and their parents, with activities running throughout the afternoon.


Having read about the event at the last-minute, I was unaware of how many people were involved, so I couldn’t quite believe just how many fantastic authors were under one roof – well, not exactly, as it’s an open air theatre, but you know what I mean!    I’ve been to some wonderful book events, but this must surely have been one of the best – the atmosphere was great – and not just because of the wonderful venue and glorious sunshine! Hosted by Sid from CBeebies, we sat with bated breath as author after author performed/ read aloud/ drew/ played games and even sang & danced for the watching crowd.  Children were delighted to be involved, as were even the most reluctant of parent participants.  There was even an opportunity to do some life-drawing with a group of artistes posing in various costumes – including a storm trooper! Phoenix comics were running workshops and there were various vintage type circus games going on, each with a related book theme. From Emily Gravett to Axel Sheffler it was like a who’s who of children’s picture book illustrators and authors.

I was delighted to bump into a Book Activist friend, Adam Stower, who was enjoying talking with fellow illustrators.  He very kindly introduced me to Anthony Browne…! Okay so yes, I was a but start struck but wouldn’t you be? Anthony Browne has written some of the most incredible picture books ever published and there he was right in front of me.  He too joined in the fun, and had the audience helping him draw marvellous pictures. A F Harrold gave a brilliant performance of his poems and had everyone in stitches. But perhaps most exciting was Axel Sheffler, who proceeded to delight one and all by drawing one of the all time favourite picture book characters, The Gruffalo.  How completely magical to see these wonderful images appearing on the paper in front of our very eyes!


Enough of the name dropping – not forgetting the cause that the proceeds of the event were going to. The School Bus in question was actually there and I spent a good deal of time talking to those involved in creating the project.  What an amazing idea – to give those who have no opportunity to access any kind of education the chance to be taught by a range of volunteer teachers on a converted school bus, which will be filled with resources.  Inspiring. And incredibly brave.


This event totally proved the point that having authors share their wonderful creations directly with children and their parents is absolutely the best way to promote and encourage reading. The joy on everyone’s faces was a sight to see. It also enabled a huge amount to be raised for a very worthwhile cause. I defy anyone not to have left the B.O.A.T that day with a renewed love for children’s books and stories and an insight into telling stories through pictures. And of course, the very positive feeling of doing something to support children who live in the most dire of circumstances.

For more information about the event and the project visit:

https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/gallery/2016/may/27/lifeboat-childrens-illustrators-refugees

http://www.schoolbusproject.org/