Bookshelf Bits & Bobs

Oxford Reading Spree


Today, for my post-SATs treat, I went to Larkrise Primary School for this year’s Oxford Reading Spree- a wonderful celebration of reading and children’s literature. It was great to meet up with so many familiar faces and to meet some new ones.


Ed Finch started the day by welcoming us all to his school and making sure we all knew the essential information for the day- like where the Roving Bookshop could be found.


The first speaker was Simon Smith, a familiar name on Twitter. He had spoken at Oxford Reading Spree in 2017 so it was great to hear from him again. Having set the scene about his school and its location, he then spoke passionately about reading comprehension (not the test kind!), the importance of teachers selecting the books they use with their children, how guided reading is vital to developing reading and of the importance of picture books for everyone. Plenty of music to my ears!


Nicki Cleveland then ranted (very nicely!) about the importance of libraries- both school and public- and the vital role they- and librarians - play. Her dedication to and enthusiasm for her role were evident and she used plenty of evidence to support her points. It is truly shocking to know that libraries are statutory in prisons, but not in schools, meaning we have ‘children growing up in the UK who stand a better chance of having access to books if they are convicted of a crime than attending their primary school’. Having discussed the benefits of having a school library, she then appealed to the audience for help by submitting case studies to the Great School Libraries website. (Find out more here.)


Next, Ian Eagleton reflected on his ‘Reading River’. His very moving and gently humorous session looked at his experiences growing up and how he was constantly looking for characters who reflected him in books when he was a teenager. He finished his session with a poem he had written called ‘The Army of Teachers’.


All this bookish wonder- and it was only coffee time! After a quick break (involving a trip to the bookshop!), we returned to the hall to hear from Ceri Eccles (@Teacherglitter) who was full of enthusiasm and ideas for ‘books and hooks’, including a wonderful severed arm belonging to Grendel! You had to see it to believe it!


Nick Swarbrick led a very entertaining and thought-provoking session about what children shouldn’t read- texts which cross boundaries or are concerned with topics which attitudes have changed towards. He questioned whether some texts are engaging for or relevant to children… He certainly offered a lot of food for thought!


Just before lunch, we were treated to a wonderful story with Adam and Charlotte Guillain, who were making the case for humour and rhyme in books. They were running one of the workshops in the afternoon as well.


After lunch, I was lured to Simon Smith’s session by the promise of lots of books- and indeed there were books a-plenty. Simon challenged everyone to think about who they should be shared with, when and why. He emphasised the need for teachers to know the books they are using- and the children they are using them with and to be mindful of all the things we don’t know about our pupils. At this time, Jo Cummins (@BookSuperhero2) held a workshop about the ‘serious side of funny books’ and the Guillains spoke about the ‘importance of unimportant books’. It was hard to choose where to go!


Once settled back in the hall, the head of Ryefield Primary School, Mr Tucker, told us about all the wonderful things he and his staff have been getting up to to engage their pupils with books and reading. I loved the alien tablets and am wondering how soon I can plagiarise his idea, subtly passing it off as my own!


The day ended with Bob Cox talking about the importance of using high quality texts. He shared many examples of children’s work inspired by using such work and his enthusiasm and energy were a great way of finishing the day!

Exhausting, but very enjoyable, this year’s Oxford Reading Spree was another great success- I’m already looking forward to next year! Many thanks to Ed Finch and his team for organising such an enjoyable day!

Please excuse the quality of the photos- all of the speakers were very animated and moved around a lot!

Oxford Literary Festival 2019


Today, I enjoyed the beautiful spring sunshine in Oxford for the festival. Last year, I drove through snow to get here; this year, it was fog, but by the time I arrived it was a lovely day.


I spent some very happy time in Blackwell’s which I absolutely adore. No book was left unturned in my quest to add to the amazing selection of suggestions we already have for this year’s awards. The staff were so lovely and friendly and the time flew by!


My first event was at St Cross College where David Fickling, Dan Freedman and Candy Gourlay were discussing what makes a great children’s book. The setting was lovely- the college courtyard looking beautiful in the sunshine.


David Fickling is one of the most inspirational, enthusiastic people I think I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. His passion for good stories and his pride in his ‘village’ of a publishing house was infectious and no one could doubt the warmth and mutual respect between him and his authors.


Dan Freedman explained how he had never really seen the point of writing until he realised that he could make a career of watching sport and writing about it as a sport journalist. The led eventually to his writing his Jamie Johnson books, a hugely popular football based series. He then spoke about his new book, published by David Fickling, called ‘Unstoppable’. Focusing on twins with very different sporting dreams , it is a gripping read which follows the many obstacles and complications which they face. Dan read two short extracts, one focusing on each twin. ‘Unstoppable’ will be reviewed very soon.


Candy Gourlay was completely captivating as she spoke about her childhood in the Philippines and how she came to reading and then to writing. Her latest novel, ‘Bone Talk’ has just been shortlisted for the Carnegie award and she explained how she had come to write about the Bontoc people and the American invasion of the Philippines. Candy was fascinating to listen to and ‘Bone Talk’ is a must read which I reviewed for Reading Zone a while ago. I will post my review here soon.


It was a fascinating session for everyone!

Unstoppable Dan Freedman

David Fickling Books ISBN: 978-1788450492

Bone Talk Candy Gourlay

David Fickling Books ISBN: 978-1788450188

Bournville Book Fest


At last year’s Federation of Children’s Book Groups’ Conference, I found myself having breakfast at the same table as a lovely lady, who turned out to be Sarah- the brains behind Bournville Book Fest! Having chatted for a while, I said that if she ever needed an extra pair of hands to let me know. And so, to my delight, she did!


Having left school earlier than I have ever done before, I made my way up the M5 to Birmingham. Sarah had kindly invited me to dinner with the authors and I was delighted to be able to attend. After a very interesting (!) taxi ride, I arrived at the Bournville Community Hub, a wonderful space, where everyone was gathering.


It was a lovely gathering with Nick Sharratt, Jacqueline Wilson, James Mayhew and Antonio Reche-Martinez. Sarah made a warm speech, welcoming everyone and the evening was wonderfully relaxed and friendly, full of conversation and laughter. A delicious spread was on offer and the fruit pavlova was unbelievable! (Thank you Sarah’s mum!)


The following morning, I was up bright and early and made my way to the Blue Coat School where the day’s events were to take place. Everyone was busy, preparing for the day ahead. Bravely ignoring the lure of the bookshop, I helped set things up and before we knew where we were, members of the public were arriving for Jacqueline and Nick’s event.


A ripple of excitement ran through the audience when children spotted Jacqueline Wilson through the curtain before she came on stage, once again reminding me just why children listening to authors is so powerful and important. There was a lovely atmosphere as the crowd hung on her every word and found out more about her life and her work.


Nick Sharratt then taught everyone- including Jacqueline- how to draw some of the iconic characters she has created in words and he in images. His step-by-step guidance led to some excellent drawings and inspired many illustrators-to-be!


Everyone was delighted when they found out that both these lovely people were signing books today. The queue was massive and there were some very moving stories about letters Jacqueline had written to people when they were younger which had inspired them and the effect reading her books has had. It was very heart warming!


Whilst they were valiantly signing, Tracey Corderoy had taken to the stage next door. Always a joy to watch, Tracey entertained her audience brilliantly with fun and games. Sadly, Steven Lenton was unable to join her as he is poorly (get well soon, Steven!), but Tracey rose to the challenge and taught everyone how to draw Slippery Sam. Excellent fun was had by all!


It was a pleasure to mingle and chat to those there whilst writing names on Post-Its and directing queues. There was a lovely crowd, very supportive of Sarah’s work and appreciative of the effort she puts into this venture. Local people are very proud of their festival.


Robin Stevens spoke next, fascinating young sleuths with insights into her work. She had her audience completely captivated and many were obviously ardent admirers who had brought their entire Wells and Wong collection with them to be signed! Whilst signing, Robin patiently answered question after question, inviting children to contact her via her website. One man was visiting from America and was delighted when he noticed that these were the books his daughter was reading back home! He showed me a photo of her, clutching the American editions.


James Mayhew’s ‘Ella Bella’ event had taken place in another part of the school so I hadn’t had a chance to see him; however, I caught up with him when he came over to take part in the Big Drawing Challenge. This was a fabulous event with lots of children joining the illustrators on stage and working with them to create amazing pictures!


This was only a fraction of all the wonderful things taking place throughout the day! I completely missed Isabel Thomas talking about her beautiful book, ‘Moth’, the science workshops, the Brambly Hedge stories, the craft activities…


What a wonderful festival Bournville Book Fest is! Huge congratulations to Sarah and her team for making it happen- and look so easy! The wonderfully warm, friendly atmosphere has not happened by accident- a huge amount of care and preparation have gone into this occasion and that personal touch speaks volumes. Thank you so much for offering me the opportunity to help out today- please ask me back next year!