Thursday, 8 June 2017

Entrepreneurs Tackling Illiteracy – Project Literacy Lab

project literacyThis is the august Royal Institution, venue for last week’s exciting Project Literacy Lab event, which I felt very privileged to attend.

Project Literacy is an international partnership between Unreasonable Group and Pearson which aims to eliminate global illiteracy by 2030, by helping entrepreneurs deliver successful rapid growth ventures. Given that over 758 million people, 10% of the world’s population, lack basic literacy, it’s an exceptionally ambitious target. A year on from its inception, Project Literacy already touches the lives of over 10 million people across 30 countries. The entrepreneurs’ brief TED-style presentations about their ventures were inspiring, with lots of moving stories. One that has stayed with me was of a grandfather engaged in an anti-recidivism project determined to learn to read so he could read to his granddaughter. Some of the initiatives develop children’s and/or adults’ literacy skills directly, in several cases through brilliant apps and other accessible technology. Mobile phones have a reach that was previously unimaginable. Other projects do not tackle illiteracy head on, but nevertheless have a major impact. By making solar lighting available in homes with no access to the electric grid, Angaza enables children to study after sunset. The affordable, reusable sanitary pads produced by AFRIpads mean girls no longer skip school or drop out due to lack of menstrual products.

Literacy is vital, for individuals and for societies. Nisha Ligon of Ubongo, a great educational entertainment programme, said ‘once children learn to read, they can read to learn’. Entrepreneur and Project Literacy co-founder Daniel Epstein spoke of the link between literacy and life expectancy. Lily Cole, Project Literacy’s amabassador, told us the rate of violent crime is double among illiterate people, and that literacy is key to combating radicalisation and AIDS. Infant mortality goes down 30% if mothers are literate.

An amazing afternoon.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Children’s books in translation

IBBYI was very lucky to attend the IBBY UK event on books in translation this week. Translator and children’s book expert Daniel Hahn chaired a fascinating panel discussion with Helen Wang, winner of the Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation for her translation of Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxaun; Joy Court, books editor of The School Librarian and co-editor with Daniel of Riveting Reads: A World of Books in Translation; and Sarah Ardizzone, whose renditions into English of a wide variety of French books have won many plaudits and prizes. (I made a very small contribution to the Riveting Reads book, championing Sarah’s superb translation of Alpha by Barroux.)

The panellists talked first about the importance of children’s books in translation. Without them children miss out. They miss out both on books that are culturally specific and books that are universal. Children need books that are windows, doors and mirrors, Joy said, quoting the famous words of Rudine Sims Bishop. Children have the right to be omnivorous, Sarah told us, paraphrasing her own translation of part of Daniel Pennac’s wonderful book The Rights of the Reader.

People often think of translated books as worthy, but thankfully most are not. They are just great reads. Thankfully too, the amount of books available is growing, though publishers rarely see a good financial return on them. Prizes for books in translation raise their profile and give translators the validation they deserve. Books in translation can now be nominated for the Carnegie and Greenaway awards which has increased their exposure. One, Wild Animals of the North by Dieter Braun and translated by Jen Calleja, reached the Greenaway shortlist this year. Hopefully the Riveting Reads publication will also build awareness of the wealth of fabulous titles that children can enjoy.

It was particularly interesting to hear about the role of the translator. Daniel described it as a mix of artistry, craft and creativity. Translators need to be editors. As Joy said, the literary quality of a translated book is all down to the skills of the translator. Translating the words is just the start of the process, Sarah explained. Helen spoke about the work involved – seven drafts to achieve something that reads well. All asserted in one way or another that the key is to be true to the spirit rather than the letter of the original text. Metaphors are apparently particularly tricky. We heard that it is crucial not to over-edit: not to produce a book that is beautiful to read but smoothes out the quirks of the original. The quirks can be what make a book, but translating them into the appropriate vernacular is an extremely hard task.

A great evening, full of insights, and very thought-provoking. Thank you IBBY!

Friday, 5 May 2017

Books for children and young people – sources of information, recommendations, reviews and lists

IMG_4114I’m often asked how to find out about good children’s and teenage books. Here are links to websites and journals that I find particularly useful.

All these are valuable sources of book reviews, and each also has interesting articles about the wider children’s book world: Books for Keeps, School Librarian, Carousel Guide to Children’s Books and Armadillo Magazine. (I should perhaps point out that write reviews for both Armadillo and School Librarian.)

Book Trust is an invaluable source of information about books for children and teenagers. I find their Book Finder extremely helpful.

I’m also a big fan of the Scottish Book Trust. Their themed children’s booklists are excellent, as are their lists of books for teenagers.

Love Reading 4 Kids and Love Reading 4 Schools have good lists and recommendations.

Schools library services, for those lucky enough to have one nearby (find out from this list), have wonderful book knowledge and huge expertise in providing book collections geared to individual schools’ curriculum needs.

School librarians are supremely knowledgeable about good books to enthuse students about reading and to support the curriculum.

For those working in the primary sector Core Books Online contains well curated booklists and information.

Books for Topics is great for anyone seeking ideas for books to support primary curriculum topics.

Letterbox Library is a fantastic source of inclusive books. Their themed booklists are exceptionally useful.

Books can be of great therapeutic value. Healthy Books provides themed lists of children’s books on specific emotional and physical needs.

The Federation of Children’s Book Groups has lists on a variety of themes.

I recommend the School Library Association Riveting Reads. I’m proud to have contributed in a tiny way to the latest one, A World of Books in Translation.

It’s worth keeping an eye on book award winners. IBBY UK has a useful overview of major national and international prizes. The Heart of the School site has another valuable list, including local book awards.

Finally, I find Twitter enormously helpful for keeping up to date. Almost all of the sites and organisations I’ve listed have good Twitter feeds. The book review page on my website contains a book bite section, with book items that have caught my attention on Twitter, or that I have tweeted about.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Books for children and young people about refugees and migration

journeyA couple of months ago I was lucky enough to hear Francesca Sanna talk about the inception of her prize-winning picture book The Journey. She spoke to many children and adults in a refugee centre. Her wonderful and thought-provoking book is an amalgamation of the stories of their journeys. The illustrations are stunning. Ever since then, I have been intending to do a blog that pulls together other great children’s books published in the last few years on the themes of refugees and migration. Here it is – by no means an exhaustive list, just books that I know and that impress me.

Firstly, a few other recent picture books. Welcome by Barroux, Ice in the Jungle by Ariane Hofmann-Maniyar and Refuge (about the birth of Jesus, focussing on the refugee aspect) by Anne Booth are exceptional. My Name is Not Refugee by Kate Milner is extremely valuable and very poignant. All suitable for young children. I also love Here I Am by Patti Kim. I’m a big fan of Azzi in Between by Sarah Garland for over 7s.

Novels now. Nadine Dreams of Home by Bernard Ashley is lovely and very accessible. A Story Like the Wind by Gill Lewis, which could not be hotter off the press, is superb and deeply moving. Red Leaves by Sita Brahmachari  and Deborah Ellis’s My Name is Parvana, a sequel to The Breadwinner Trilogy, are both outstanding. Two recent novels for older children and teenagers that have totally taken my breath away are Welcome to Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird and The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon, which has been shortlisted for this year’s Carnegie medal. I cannot recommend them highly enough. While not ostensibly the main subject of SF Said’s magnificent novel Phoenix, the plight of refugees is one of its many nuanced themes.

Alpha by Barroux and Bessora is a brilliant and chilling graphic novel for teenagers (and adults).

Two excellent information books came out last year. Refugees and Migrants by Ceri Roberts is a great introduction to the subject for 6 year-olds and up. For older children Who Are Refugees and Migrants? by Michael Rosen and Annemarie Young is immensely valuable. Both books have good glossaries and indexes plus useful links to sources of further information.

Where Will I Live? by Rosemary McCarney is a book of forceful photographs of refugee children in a number of countries. The text is minimal but effective.

As I say, this is my pick of purely recent titles. Do take a look at these other lists, all of which include fantastic older books too:

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Recent news and articles about children’s and young people’s reading

IMG_3406I love this picture, Jeune fille lisant by Simon Simon-Auguste, which I came across in the art gallery in Troyes in France last summer. It seems the perfect illustration for my latest round-up of reading news.

‘How reading impacts your kid’s brain’ pulls together research on the benefits of reading for brain development, mental health and even life expectancy.

‘Learning to read is a complex process, so we need to make sure that it isn’t reduced to one strategy’ identifies methods for helping young children engage with the written word.

There are more good ideas for making reading fun in the early years in ‘Making storytime special.’

In ‘Why whole-class reading beats a carousel – and seven ways to ensure it is successful’ a KS2 teacher explains his preference for whole-class reading sessions over guided reading, and lists key ingredients for making them work.

A US study demonstrates that classroom book collections arranged by topic rather than by level increase children’s reading skills, motivation and enjoyment.

The International Literacy Association’s annual What’s Hot in Literacy survey highlights significant mismatches between what is currently hot in literacy teaching and what should be.

New research indicates that print books remain more popular with children than reading from screens. The study also discovered that the more devices a child has access to, the less they read.

‘Print matters’ explores the reasons for children’s and families’ preference for print over digital reading. Parents and children like the physicality of printed books and enjoy the emotional closeness of sharing them.

However, the way children read changes with age. Whereas 9-12 year-olds read offline for twice as long as online, 13-16 year-olds spend double the amount of time reading online, according to a new Childwise report. The report also found that a third of 15-16 year-olds say they never read, compared to 5% of 9-10 year-olds, and that boys are almost twice as likely never to read as girls (20%, compared to 11%).

I was delighted by a headteacher’s piece on why she asks interviewees what they are reading. ‘I need teachers who have a rich hinterland, and who can encourage reading in children. I want them to have read enough books not to be embarrassed when faced with a class reader. I want them to be keen to enter another world for a bit, and I want them to do it for themselves.’

Finally, do read this heart-warming letter from teacher Jon Biddle to his class.