Bookshelf Special Days

Oxford Reading Spree

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.)

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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’.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

World Book Day 2019- We're Going on a Bear Hunt

News from another of our schools about how they spent World Book Day. Many thanks to Tracy!

World Book Day 2019  saw our school celebrate the 30th ‘bookaversary’ of the classic and  wonderful ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury.

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Children and Staff  were encouraged to dress up as their favourite ‘booky’ bear or wear an outfit befitting a Bear Hunt- so our classrooms were  full of intrepid explorers and Paddingtons, Poohs, your average Grizzlies and even a teacher ‘Rupert’ (whose heart broke a little every time a child asked ‘Who is Rupert the Bear?’ Ah, children today have missed out on the charm of Nutwood Forest!)

Our library had transformed into a ‘Bear Hunting’ zone complete with all the obstacles the mighty bear hunters face in the story.

There was grass, a river, mud, forest,snowstorm and cave all created out of junk, blankets, balloons,cushions, camo nets, duvets and our everyday library furnishings. It was made interactive by some adult ‘wafting’  and enthusiasm and of course,the vital ingredient of ‘imagination’- which our small bear hunt participants duly switched on by tweaking their ears before we began.

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In the spirit of the ‘Share a Story’ theme of this years World Book Day, our Bear Hunt was  ‘call and response’ with initial quiet, uncertain voices turning into giant, excited, giggles as we progressed through our hunt -repeating with enthusiasm the familiar refrains and joining in with gusto the necessary ‘Swishy Swashy, Splish Splosh, Squelch Squerch, Stumble Trip, HoooWoo, TipToe’ to accompany our obstacles. The crescendo was of course our ’Bear’. By then our children were so completely absorbed in the story book world that our average ‘Ted’  became our frightening quarry and the ‘quick’ return journey home was quite exhilarating. Our library walls positively shook with the voices and laughter of thrilled little and big bear hunters as they realised they had ‘Forgot to close the door!’ and the smiles and twinkly eyes of the little faces peeking out of covers to announce full heartedly ‘WE’RE NOT GOING ON A BEAR HUNT AGAIN!’ was one of those priceless moments of working with children when you realise, just for an instant, how so very small  and innocent they really are.

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Over 200 KS1 children took part in a Bear Hunt that day and each hunt had something ‘magic’ about it - from the little girls who, dressed as Princesses, lifted skirts to avoid muddy hems in the ‘Mud’ to the boys who ‘swam’ through the wafting ‘river’  and exclaimed that in the ‘snowstorm’ they had ‘Really walked on ice!’ (it IS quite surprising how slippery an uncovered duvet can be!). The day positively flew by! The magic lingers a little still - with the smaller children still viewing our now ordinary Teddy with some trepidation!

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Seeing teachers interact with their pupils  in an imaginary world is not something the curriculum allows on a daily basis so it is lovely that World Book Day exists and that  the amazing ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ could give our pupils and staff that 10 or so minutes of opportunity to make a memory of a happy school day and of course -  feel the power of a really great story!