A 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. 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.
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:
I 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.
I love giving training on looked after children. I’ve been very privileged in the last couple of months to provide courses for foster carers, designated teachers and virtual school staff, and I very much enjoyed giving a workshop for Letterbox Club last week. If you haven’t heard of it, Letterbox Club is a wonderful scheme run by Booktrust that posts books and learning-rich games and activities to looked after children.
Most children and young people in the care system have experienced trauma, loss and disruption. A high proportion suffer mental health problems. Low self-esteem and low self-confidence are commonplace, as are high anxiety levels. It doesn’t help that aspirations for looked after children are often low. All of these are significant barriers to learning. But having worked with many inspiring carers and professionals (teachers, social workers, librarians and museum workers) over the years, I know that with the right support looked after children can and do thrive, educationally and socially and emotionally.
It’s always a delight to hear carers talk about how they support learning. It’s the everyday things that often make the biggest difference to looked after children’s attitudes to learning. Things like cooking together, looking up information together, going to the shops, gardening, kicking a football around together, doing puzzles together, playing board games, playing computer games. Visits to the library and to museums can be transformative. Carers can be fabulous role models. Recent Booktrust research shows a correlation between the amount that foster carers read themselves and the amount that the children they look after read. Lots of children who enter the care system have poor reading levels for their ages, but I am not surprised that the Booktrust survey demonstrates that the longer a child has been in foster care, the longer they have been living with their foster carer and the older they become, the more likely they are to be average or above average in their reading level for their age. Enjoyment is key. Enjoying reading together, whether from books, comics, magazines, newspapers, catalogues or anything else has enormous impact. So does having lots of engaging reading materials that tie into individual interests lying around. These words of a carer highlight the power of books in foster homes: ‘We all had a go at Where’s Wally. Even the teenagers wanted to have a go.’
For anyone interested, here is a peer-reviewed article on looked-after children and reading I wrote.
A little while ago I blogged about the importance of family learning and gave some links to sources of information. This time, I thought I would share a few of the photos I showed on a recent course on the topic for an inspiring group of community development workers, children’s centre staff and library staff. They give an indication of the many forms good family learning can take.Rhyme times are fabulous in terms of fun, and for developing social and emotional skills and language. This is a great one run by Barnet Libraries.Enjoyable activities like this drop-in event at Orleans House Gallery support family bonding and give ideas for things to do at home.There’s nothing to beat story times for building a love of books and reading. Lots of engagement in this Bromley Libraries bedtime story hour.Everyone enjoys creative activites, and they support social and artistic skills. I was very lucky to be part of Historic Royal Palaces’ Curious Stories project.I loved contributing to this Barnet Libraries project. Lots of fun, and everyone got a real sense of achievement, an important aspect of family learning.For family learning to work it must be enjoyable. This is a wonderful collaboration between the Museum of Classical Archaeology and Fitzwilliam Museum.Research shows that family learning supports well-being. You can see how it happens in these photos from a Cardiff Story event.Family learning is inclusive and intergenerational. Don’t forget grandparents! These photos were taken at events in Liverpool and Enfield libraries.Lots of good family learning is very informal, as in this event at Crealy Adventure Park mounted by the Royal Albert Memorial Museum.Lastly, a reminder that play is an important part of family learning activities. Here is an Enfield Libary Service toddler time.
Family learning is transformative. For anyone interested in finding out more about its benefits and ways to support it effectively, there are still places available on two courses I’m giving later this term: Sheffield on 23 March and Cardiff on 28 March. I also deliver bespoke in-service family learning training for local authorities, schools, museums, and other organisations.
What a lovely afternoon I had on Friday: a visit to Coopers Lane Primary School in Lewisham to see their fabulous tube carriage library, and talk to headteacher Paul Hooper about its inception and use. The story started with a vote by the children in the school to call their classrooms after tube stations. That led to a wild idea to get a tube carriage into the playground and to make it into a library. The old one had to make way for a classroom when the school expanded. Many conversations and lots of work by lots of people later the dream became a reality. You can watch the installation and hear more about the project here.
This is a school that places huge emphasis on instilling a love of learning and that sees reading for pleasure as a vital part of this. The library is a manifestation of their educational priorities. It takes pride of place in the playground, and the children flock to it during playtimes. There are loads of carefully chosen books for them to read, and they love playing in the driver’s cab.
The library is also used very imaginatively to support learning across the curriculum, for example when the year 6 children explored evacuation during World War 2 they boarded the train as evacuees. The Reading Dream Team – such a great name – pair up with children in need of support to enjoy books together in the library. The children have written their own Poems on the Underground, some of which were read at the library opening ceremony. They are also going to appear on the underground network, an incredible accolade.
It’s not only the children who like reading in the library. I was very pleased to introduce Paul to a new favourite book of mine, Dog on a Train by Kate Prendergast, a wonderful wordless story which features tubes and tube stations.
Many thanks to Paul and the school for a very heartening end to my week.