Book Group

FCBG Conference 2019

This weekend, I travelled to Surrey where the 2019 FCBG Conference was being held. It was lovely to meet up with so many old friends- and meet all those wonderfully book-ish people!


We were welcomed by the Gruffalo who had come to celebrate his 20th birthday, bringing gorgeous cupcakes and making everyone smile. So many people were sharing fond memories of reading this story to their children, grandchildren, classes and in library sessions.


Having attended the AGM, the publishers then each made a presentation about some of the new, exciting things that they have in line for us all. There are so many amazing books around and just as I think my TBR pile couldn't get any bigger, I hear of new treats on the way. I really enjoyed listening to the enthusiasm of each new publishers- it was really inspiring.


A few stand out titles for me were 'The Suitcase' by Chris Naylor- Ballesteros, 'Africa' by Atinuke and 'Explorers' by DK, but there were so many lovely looking books; it was a bit like looking into a sweet shop window!


The Publishers' exhibition is always a highlight of this weekend. It is great to catch up with people you know and put faces to the names in emails or on Twitter. Each display was a cornucopia of delights and it was a joy to discuss favourite titles, new releases and listen to recommendations.


In the evening, we were joined by the wonderful Frank Cottrell Boyce who entertained us wonderfully with stories of his growing up, the experiences he had and the importance in his life of those who led him to reading. He talked about there being 'magic in well chosen words you don't have to understand' to enjoy or be affected by. It was a great talk, heart-warming and entertaining!


Just as you thought it couldn't get any better, the poets took to the stage! We were treated to a joyous performance of all kinds of poetry- humorous, moving, ones which needed audience participation and those set to music! They finish with a musical set, combining their many talents to perform together. More about this in a future post!


Up early the next morning and the day started with Lisa Williamson talking about her books, particularly 'Paper Avalanche'. With its theme of hoarding, this made me feel slightly twitchy about my extensive notebook collection, but she was fascinating to listen to! An equally interesting session followed about the importance of representation with Knights Of, Cynthia So and Aisha Bushby.


More cake next as we celebrated DK's birthday before heading back into the auditorium for the 'Empathy Panel'.


This was another fascinating session with each of the panel- Miranda McKearney, Ross Montgomery, Sita Brahmachari and Jane Ray- speaking movingly of their experiences and of the importance of the work they are doing in this field. It was very inspiring. The next session was supposed to be Sharon Dogar discussing her books, but sadly, she was ill and was unable to attend. However, Charlie Sheppard filled in for her. Sharon's new book, 'Monsters' is about Mary Shelley and I can't wait to read it!


After lunch, there were seminars with M A Bennett, Amy Wilson, Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet and Guy Puzey. These very different sessions were really well received and provoked plenty of discussion.


Back in the auditorium, we were celebrating twenty years of Giraffes Can't Dance, a huge personal favourite. Guy Parker Rees, whose amazing illustrations really make this tale come alive, was just wonderful as he shared pictures he drew as a child, drew pictures as we suggested ideas and read us the iconic story. Gerald (in puppet form!) even made an appearance himself before more tea and cake to celebrate. I cheekily asked if I could have one of the mugs and was delighted when I was given one- thank you so much!


Later that evening, we celebrated another birthday- Elmer's 30th! The patchwork elephant is another huge favourite of mine so it was lovely to raise a glass to him. (No cake this time!!)


The Gala Dinner followed and I was delighted to be invited to sit with Francesca Simon, the guest speaker for the evening. She was amazing to chat to- particularly about the importance of the Dewey Decimal System!- and my son, who used to read the Horrid Henry books with great enthusiasm, was impressed so it was a win-win situation! Francesca spoke passionately about the importance of reading and libraries and books, making a wonderful end to a very long and busy day.


Sunday started with snow! However, this was short lived and the sun did its best to peek through the clouds as we headed off to the auditorium again to listen to the 'middle grade' panel.


Candy Gourlay, Marcia Williams and newcomer, Serena Patel, discussed their books and the role they play in children’s reading development. I heard Candy speak about her wonderful book, 'Bone Talk', at Oxford recently, but it was a joy to hear her again. She has such a way of encapsulating ideas that I could listen to her all day. I was also very interested in Marcia William's new book- a novel instead of her usual comic strip style of text- and how she had come to write this. It was fascinating and I read 'Cloud Boy' as soon as I got home. A fantastic book, it will be reviewed soon! Serena's books sounded equally wonderful, but she was not allowed to give too much away- not even the title- but I'm sure it's going to be a brilliant read.


I had to leave after this session, but conference continued with sessions from Holly Smale, a non-fiction panel with Sam Hutchinson and Laura Knowles and finally, Nick Sharratt, before Conference 2019 closed.


It was a lovely weekend! Congratulations to everyone involved in organising it.

JAB South

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Today, JAB South met to begin the joyful task of reading and reviewing books for this year’s awards. Armed with chocolate biscuits and cups of tea, we set about browsing all the piles of books that have been suggested so far.

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There was so much book-ish chat! Everyone enjoyed sharing their suggestions and borrowing books to read. This year, there is a team for each category who will start to put a list of possibles together to share with the group.


So many lovely books! All too soon, the meeting was over and everyone left, clutching their pile of goodies to enjoy! It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm for reading and the importance placed on sharing this with children. I can’t wait for our next meeting! More news soon!


Time to reflect on the year that's passed...


It's been another very busy year for us here at JAB/ NSTBA HQ. In fact, I can't quite believe it's gone! So here's a quick round up of some of the things we've been up to!


The Awards:

2018 saw our fourth book awards. Once again, it was made a lovely occasion by those who attended and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. A huge thank you to all those who attended- the authors, illustrators, colleagues, family and friends. See you at the 2019 awards!


This year, the number of votes we received increased again and school membership has gone up. Our aims for next year are to encourage more colleagues from member schools to give up their precious Saturday afternoon to attend the award ceremony and to increase the size of the long listing group! Each category is going to have its own sub committee this year who will bring suggestions to the main group. We have already started reading and gathering suggestions for 2019 and are looking forward to sharing and discussing these. It will be our 5th anniversary so we’re planning to celebrate!


The Blog:

More and more people are visiting the website with thousands of page views each month. The feedback we get is really positive; many people have told us that they use our reviews to select books for home and school- and to read for themselves. We also share planning, themed book lists and book event ideas in the Members' Section. As we all work full time, have families and are generally busy people, this is something we would like to develop further, but it might have to wait for retirement days! At the moment, we add to it when we can! Each of our winning titles from the past four years has planning/ ideas either available or in production and many of the short listed books for our Quality Fiction category have also been used as key texts and there are planning ideas available for them.


Last year, we posted over 300 book reviews. In addition, we shared Guest Posts, Brilliant Bookshops, Places To Visit and feedback from author visits, festivals and events related to books! It’s hard to keep up at times as we read far more than we have time to review…

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JAB (Book Group):

Our two teacher book groups started 2018 very well with us gathering to share cake, biscuits and books regularly. Duncan Beedie joined us for one meeting and Peter Shelton from Beanstalk SW came along to talk about their work too.

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Sadly, the new school year has been over run by after school meetings (four a week since the October half term!), leaving no time for the meetings we would much rather be attending! Still, we have dates in the diary for next term so here's hoping we'll be back to normal! JAB (Just About Books) has been going for over 10 years now- that's a lot of books discussed and enjoyed- and we're all keen to continue!

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Author Visits:

We have been very lucky again this year and have had the opportunity to offer author visits to hundreds of children in North Somerset. Will Mabbitt, Sarah Lean, Liz Kessler and Steve Antony are among the authors and illustrators who have joined us.


These visits have a real impact on the children (and staff). As well as being a fun way to spend an hour or so, they raise the profile of reading, inspire children to read, write and draw, make writing seem more achievable, make authors/ illustrators come to life... We are so grateful to everyone who has visited, to the publishers who have helped and supported us and for the constant support of Waterstones in Weston, particularly Rowan, who never hides when he sees me coming with some new request!



This year, we visited literary festivals in Weston, Oxford (driving through snow storms to get there!), Hay, Cardiff, Chipping Norton, Bristol, Cheltenham, Bath and South Kensington.


There are so many more we would like to visit so this year, there will be no stopping us! If you hear of/ know a goodie, please let us know!


Brilliant Bookshops:

Always on a look out for great books, we spend half our lives in bookshops! New ones to us this year were The Marlow Bookshop, Blandford Books in Broadway, Jaffe and Neale (both shops!), Winstones in Sidmouth, Korn and Berg in Nuremberg, Gerrards Cross Bookshop, The Yellow Lighted Bookshop (both shops), Hatchards, Octavia's in Cirencester, Daunt Books and the Chorleywood Bookshop.


Each of these has been written about on the bog and many others have been re-visited too! Next year, we intend to seek out those in the Brighton area and investigate those in the Liverpool and Manchester areas! Suggestions welcome!


Book launches and events:

Sadly, we have to decline most of the things we are invited to as they do not fit in with a teachers' life! Getting to London for 6pm on a Thursday, for example, is impossible! We are usually leaving school at that time (often being forcibly removed!), but even if we were able to leave at 3.30, the chances of making it would be slim indeed! But we have made it to Bath for a few- Joanna Naddin’s at Mr B’s for ‘The Queen of Bloody Everything’ and Tracy Darnton’s at Waterstones, Bath for ‘The Truth About Lies’, for example. We also caught up with the lovely Yuval Zommer when he was at Waterstone’s in Bath one Saturday afternoon.


Many other things have happened too! One school in our group won two national awards- Highly Commended in the Egmont Reading for Pleasure Teacher Awards 2018 and in the Flying High with Reading World Book Day competition. We’ve attended exhibitions, conferences and all manner of book related teaching things! There is just never enough time to do it all!


What will 2019 bring?