Monday, 28 January 2019

Reading for mindfulness and wellbeing – a new course and useful links

SloughI loved seeing this girl immersed in her library book, oblivious to all that was going on around her, stress-free. There is growing evidence that books and reading can play a valuable role in supporting children’s wellbeing. I was delighted to give a course about this recently. We explored the links between reading and mental health and identified ways to use books to build children’s self-esteem, self-awareness, mindfulness, resilience, empathy and understanding. The discussions were inspiring. (Details of this new area of training are now on my website.)

I thought it might be useful to share links to organisations, reports, articles and a video that I have found particularly illuminating and helpful, some of them about children’s mental health, others specifically about books and reading.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Children’s and young people’s reading – recent research and articles

family in Daunt BooksI loved seeing and hearing this family’s shared reading in a bookshop recently. What a perfect illustration for my latest round-up of reading news and views.

Author Cressida Cowell argues strongly that if we want our children to thrive, teaching them to read is not enough – they must learn to enjoy it.

‘When screens are more appealing than books, we need to teach children how to be biliterate’ is worth a read.

New research shows that the home literacy environment is a correlate, but perhaps not a cause, of variations in language and literacy development.

Another recent study highlights the importance of a book-rich home environment in adolescence. Teenagers in homes with almost no books went on to have below average literacy and numeracy levels, whereas teenagers with only lower levels of secondary education but who came from homes filled with books become as literate in adulthood as graduates who grew up with only a few books.

Young people who read fiction have significantly stronger reading skills than their peers who do not, according to new findings from the Institute of Education.

School librarian Sally Cameron’s article ‘Why incentivising reading does not work’ makes interesting reading.

Comprehension is a crucial aspect of reading skills. ‘Comprehension is a long and wide game’ by Simon Smith is interesting and useful. Michael Rosen’s blog ‘What does it mean to read and understand a text? The “reader-response” processes’ is packed with detailed ideas.

This month saw the release of the latest ROGO Index. The annual index brings together data on the reading skills, reading enjoyment and reading frequency of eleven year-olds. These are this year’s headline findings:

  • children’s daily reading levels have risen slightly since 2016/17
  • daily reading levels continue to be an area of great concern, lagging significantly behind levels of reading skill
  • levels of reading enjoyment have remained relatively unchanged
  • national curriculum reading scores increased by 3 percentage points over the past year while reading scores from GL Assessment and Renaissance have remained relatively stable
  • girls continue to outperform boys in all areas of reading, with a particularly marked gap in daily reading levels

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Reading in the early years – links to useful websites, reports and books

you choose 1##I’m giving lots of courses on creating a love of books and reading in the early years at the moment. It’s one of my favourite training topics, and a crucial one. I will blog soon about why it is so important. Meanwhile, I thought it might be useful to share links to websites, research and books that I find particularly valuable. Many of these are relevant across the board, while some are particularly applicable to early years practitioners and teachers, some to librarians, some to parents and carers.

And what better way to illustrate the list than this fabulous photo of a 20 month-old, sent to me by a course participant last week.

Book Finder
Bookbug
Books for Keeps
Bookstart
Core Books Online
Developing Early Literacy 0-8: From Theory to Practice, ed Virginia Bower, Sage, 2014, ISBN 9781446255339
Digital Technology and the Early Years, National Literacy Trust, 2017
Early Literacy Practices at Home, National Literacy Trust, 2016
Federation of Children’s Books Groups
Foundations of Literacy, by Sue Palmer, Featherstone Education, 2013, ISBN 9781408193846
Healthy Books
Library Services from Birth to Five: Delivering the Best Start, ed Carolynn Rankin and Avril Brock, Facet Publishing, 2015, ISBN 9781783300082
Love My Books
Love Reading 4 Kids
Preparing for Literacy, Education Endowment Foundation, 2018
Read On Get On
Reading Zone
Rhyme Time and Seven Quality Principles Toolkit
Road to Reading, by Jillian Harker, Early Education, 2011
Universally Speaking – Ages and Stages of Children’s Communication Development for Children Aged Birth to 5, The Communication Trust, 2013
Words for Life

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Equal Play: What does gender equality look like in childhood?

Equal Play 1The Mayor of London’s Equal Play conference was fascinating and important. (And how lovely to see children’s toys in the Council Chamber of City Hall!) These were some of the most significant take-aways for me:

  • children’s brains are not gendered by nature, and are malleable
  • gender stereotypes are pervasive and set in even before birth: expectant parents speak differently to babies in the womb according to gender
  • children are treated differently at home, in settings and in schools according to gender, both in terms of language used and what they are praised for
  • children are surrounded by messages about how they should be and these are overwhelmingly gendered
  • gender stereotypes are more pervasive now than they were a generation ago
  • ads targeted at girls use words like magic, princess, beautiful; those aimed at boys use words like power, battle, adventure
  • the collective impact of gendered marketing, language, attitudes, clothing, books, toys etc limits girls’ aspirations, confidence, self-image, career choices, earning potential
  • gender stereotypes limit boys too and fuel toxic masculinity
  • the UK is one of the worst countries in Europe in terms of the numbers of women in STEM careers
  • society needs both boys and girls to become tomorrow’s problem-solvers
  • encouraging girls into STEM subjects is critical for our future
  • play is a vital first part of this
  • inclusive toys, books and clothing enable children to see and explore a range of options
  • gender-neutral attitudes, language, and marketing can reduce the negative impact of stereotypes
  • manufacturers and advertisers need to adopt gender-neutral approaches
  • the Advertising Standards Agency is changing its rules to limit gender-stereotyped advertisements
  • campaigning by Let Toys Be Toys, Let Books be Books and others is making a difference
  • increasing numbers of manufacturers, publishers and retailers, including big names such as Boots and John Lewis are adopting less gendered approaches
  • London has a new Gender Action Award to encourage schools and pre-schools to put gender equality at the heart of all aspects of school life
  • there is a very long way to go
  • we all need to foreground gender equality in our professional lives

We heard from inspiring speakers throughout the day, not least Sam Smethers, CEO of the Fawcett Society, Gina Rippon, Professor of Cognitive Imaging, Rosie Rios, the 43rd Treasurer of the US, Olivia Dickinson of Let Toys Be Toys, Shaddai Tembo, founder of Critical Early Years. Who had the most galvanising impact? Without doubt the Science Leadership Team from Gillespie Primary School. These children made their resentment of gender-stereotyped products and marketing very clear. Why do all girl dolls have long hair? Why when they go into bookshops are the boys directed to science books and the girls to fairy stories? Why should they feel judged when they go into toyshops? Yes indeed. Why?

Thursday, 4 October 2018

IBBY UK Honour List celebration

IBBY Honour awardLast’s week celebration of IBBY UK’s Honour List was very special. The IBBY Honour List is a biennial selection of outstanding, recently published books, honouring writers, illustrators and translators from IBBY member countries. It is one of the many ways through which IBBY encourages international understanding through children’s literature. Each national section of IBBY nominates three books, one for writing, one for illustration and one for translation. I was extremely privileged to be a member of the selection team for the 2018 UK list. The books toasted last week are all outstanding: for writing, Tender Earth by Sita Brahmachari (on the right in the photo); for illustration, I Am Henry Finch, illustrated by Viviane Schwarz (on the left), written by Alexis Deacon; for translation, Wildwitch Wildfire, translated by Charlotte Barslund (in the middle) from Danish, written by Lene Kaaberbol.

Charlotte translates from several Scandinavian languages, children’s, YA and adult books. She explained that she only takes a book on if she can hear it in English in her head at her first reading, and only if she ‘gets’ it in her heart, as each book takes several months to translate. It matters to her to have a good working relationship with her authors, and this was the case with Lene, a hugely popular author in Denmark. They have had many rich discussions about this first Wildwitch title and the subsequent ones in the series. Vocabulary is always a huge issue in translation. Danish, along with many other languages, has far fewer words than English. There are also cultural issues to consider: how to convey things that need no explanation to a native audience but may seem very strange to an English-speaking one. Her advice to new translators: always read as much and as widely as you possibly can in the language you are translating into, to improve your vocabulary and use of language.

Viviane was in celebratory mood, as her British citizenship had come through that day. She always drew from childhood, and had a comic published at thirteen. In her teens she was told she didn’t have a sense of humour (ironic, since humour is immensely important to her in her work, as she told us later), and she took to writing science fiction. Luckily someone advised her to be an illustrator. She trained in the UK as her native Germany had no suitable courses and was quickly published. She and Alexis Deacon have worked together on a number of books, in particular ‘books about small animals that explore big ideas’. It was she who suggested a finch as the protagonist for I Am Henry Finch. She loved depicting Henry’s development into a self-aware and philosophical little bird. The book remains one of her favourites, along with her Tiny Cat books. She gains a huge amount of ideas and inspiration from her creative workshops with children. She never aspired to be best at drawing, caring much more that children see that they too can be artists.

Sita told us that she hadn’t intended to write a third book about the artichoke charm that first appeared in Artichoke Hearts and was given away to a poor child in India at the end of Jasmine Skies, although children told her they didn’t like the story ending there. Several books later though, she returned to the theme. The first draft of all her books is very abstract and fairly incomprehensible. She and her editor then work together, something that suits Sita, with her collaborative theatre background. All her books draw on real world issues such as poverty and hunger. ‘We writers taste the news’ she said. Authenticity, integrity and respect are crucial to her and she does a great deal of research, for instance about bat-mizvahs for Tender Earth. It was a very emotional book to write because Simon, one of the characters, was based on a friend of hers who died. She is passionate about children having access to inclusive books, and appalled by the decline in school and public library provision.

tender earth bannerMany thanks to Chitra Soundar for this photo of Sita with one of Laila’s banners from Tender Earth.

A fascinating evening. And good news at the end that the IBBY UK nominations for the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen award for 2019 are John Agard for writing and Helen Oxenbury for illustration. Two giants in the children’s book world!