Pets as therapy – in books and in action!

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When Madeline Finn and the Library Dog arrived from Old Barn Books, it was clear this was a very special book.  The story, written and illustrated by Lisa Papp, features Madeline Finn a little girl who really does not like to read – at all.  Madeline struggles with reading so she really does not enjoy it, especially when she has to read aloud at school.

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So when she meets Bonnie the library dog at her local library, something quite wonderful happens. Madeline stops worrying about getting it wrong; she stops worrying about being stuck and she learns to be patient with herself. Bonnie makes her feel that it’s okay to go slowly and Bonnie doesn’t laugh at her like the other children in the class do so Madeline can practice her reading aloud without any worries.  And on the day when Bonnie isn’t there to help her, Madeline pretends that she is and reads so well that she even gets a special star from her teacher!

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Madeline Finn and the Library Dog perfectly illustrates how some children struggle to read and how those struggles take away any joy they might discover between the pages of a book.  Madeline could have been any number of children I have worked with during my career as a librarian – I wish I’d had a library dog on hand to help.  What an amazing way to help a child feel more confident in themselves!  Beautiful illustrations depict the frustration and joy Madeline experiences and of course, bring to life the gorgeous dog Bonnie. This really is a lovely book and one that could help struggling readers understand they’re not alone and those who can read well feel more empathy with those who can’t. For every copy of this book sold Old Barn will donate 50p to support the work of the Read2Dogs programme run by Pets as Therapy.

It seemed a huge coincidence that at the time of receiving this book, I heard that the school my son attends, Warden Park Secondary Academy, had got a therapy dog.  I wanted to find out more so I’m delighted to say that the teacher behind the scheme, Amanda Bell, joins me on the blog today to share how this came about and the impact the gorgeous dog has had so far. Welcome to the blog Amanda!

Tell us how you came to have a therapy dog at Warden Park. The idea originated from setting up the garden space which was an area developed through an ASDAN course we were running. Part of that project led us into getting chickens and ducks. I watched the impact these animals had on bringing the children into school but also taking responsibility for their care. I wanted to see how I could engage a wider audience through animals and so researched the organisation ‘Pets as Therapy dogs’ and then contacted schools that already had a therapy dog. This enabled me to research into the impact of a dog in classrooms.

How did you go about finding/choosing the right dog? I researched the breeds – mainly for their temperament in working with children but also with regard to their ability to be trained and came up with a Springador which is a cross between a Labrador and a springer spaniel.

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Tell us about her! We decided to call our dog a name that links with the Forest as this was another initiative we had recently brought into the department. This would mean that we would not favour a particular child’s name – however, we did find out that we had one child with this name so I asked him if he would mind if we called our dog after him! We first brought our therapy dog into school at just ten weeks old to get her used to the noise and lots of different people. We also secured the help of Michelle Garvey from Essentially Paws who has already trained eight school therapy dogs. She did a few training sessions with me and then I worked on this over the summer holiday. At nearly seven months old, Oakley is now involved with individual students, tutor groups, interventions and staff book her for lessons in a variety of subjects. We have a ‘puppy points’ scheme where students have a card that they can collect points on essentially for acts of kindness towards each other, staff or the environment. Once they have accumulated some points, they can earn free time with Oakley, teaching her tricks or just being with her.

What is the main purpose of your therapy dog? Oakley helps with the well being of the students and just has a ‘feel good factor’. Classes respond with calmness. Some teachers have a group task where they present/read to Oakley. For some students, they are able to express how they feel more readily to the dog than a member of staff! Research has shown that during interventions, students are more likely to engage with the sessions and attend than without a dog present. We will be gathering data to measure impact. Oakley will also be around the school at lunchtimes and breaktimes and allows students to engage with her who may not have a pet at home.

How have the students responded?  There must be a queue to see him at times! Students have engaged really well with the dog. Their role is to ensure that they take control and make her sit before stroking her. They also have to ask if it is OK to stroke her before doing so in case she is in training or on a toilet break. They really love her being in their class and many students have collected a puppy points card. Each week, Oakley writes a blog in the newsletter and currently there is a little competition for students to identify where she is from a photo.

Would you encourage other schools to do the same? It can be time consuming in the first few months and it is essential to get the training right so that the dog learns to respond appropriately to students. However, only a few months in we would definitely repeat the experience as there have been many more benefits that we had not anticipated!

Thank you Amanda. I think the work you and Oakley are doing sounds like an incredible opportunity to support and encourage students in school in a completely unique way.  

Find out more about the above book and pet therapy at www.lisapapp.comwww.petsastherapy.orgwww.wardenpark.co.uk

With thanks to Old Barn Books for sending me this book to review.

 

 

 

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New review: Greta Zargo by A.F Harrold illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton

It’s always exciting to read the first book in a new series – but even more so when the book is by A F Harrold, a fantastic writer of books and poems.  Greta Zargo doesn’t disappoint with a mystery to solve, lots of silliness, some helpful anecdotes and immensely likeable characters,  it really is just a great book for children to read.

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Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space by A F Harrold illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton

Greta Zargo doesn’t know it, but she is the only one who can save planet earth from the death robots coming to destroy it! But right now, she’s a bit busy finding out who stole all the cakes! Warning: this book contains robots, peanuts, squirrels, trousers, an eleven-year-old spelling mistake, baths and, yes, lots of cake!

There’s not much for an intrepid would-be junior reporter to, well, report on, in Upper Lowerbridge, to create an award-winning, summer holiday story.  So Greta Zargo has to settle for finding a cake-thief, little realising that the real scoop is the planet-conquering robots making their way towards earth.  Greta’s no ordinary eleven-year old having been orphaned and left to fend for herself since the age of eight. She is determined to discover the culprit, working her way through a list of suspects – some of whom are not impressed to find themselves being questioned!  Meanwhile, the strange silvery robots approach, intent on finding The Great Zargo to ask if they can have planet earth in order to add data to the Harknow-Bumfurly-Histlock Big Book of Galactic Facts.  A small spelling error puts Greta unwittingly in place to save Earth from a terrible fate.  Will she succeed?

Fun and full of imagination, Greta Zargo is a fantastic sci-fi mystery adventure.  The two narratives of cake thievery and death-defying space robots run alongside each other brilliantly; aided by quirky and humorous anecdotal notes at the side of the page. Greta is a feisty character, with admirable determination, encouraged by her very eccentric and rather wonderful Aunt Tabitha, who I loved. Greta’s journalistic efforts are put to the test by an amusing cast of characters – including a giant squirrel!  The space sequences are hugely imaginative and full of impressive technical jargon and madcap space names. Although comical, it’s somewhat bittersweet as various weird and wonderful aliens inadvertently allow the complete destruction of their planets – perhaps a lesson for us all.   Illustrations throughout capture the quirkiness of the tale and help to create a really engaging, warm-hearted story.  I won’t give away the ending, but how refreshing  – how very polite death robots can be…!

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Find out more at www.afharroldkids.com and http://joetoddstanton.com/

With thanks to Bloomsbury Books for sending me this book to review

New review: Cat Learns to Listen at Moonlight School by Simon Puttock

It’s National Cat Day and soon to be Halloween, so a good time to celebrate this lovely picture book.  Cat Learns to Listen at Moonlight School by Simon Puttock, illustrated by Ali Pye, brings to life the magic of night time as well as the perils of being a little too inquisitive. A friendly witch, a beautiful moonlit sky, a cat full of curiosity and some furry friends create an enchanting night time adventure published by Nosy Crow.

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Cat Learns to Listen at Moonlight School by Simon Puttock, illustrated by Ali Pye

Have you met Miss Moon? Tonight the class are going on a nature walk. Bat, Owl and Mouse listen carefully as Miss Moon tells them they must take care NOT to wander off.  But Cat has spotted something interesting….

This is a very sweet tale featuring a curious little cat and her classmates, all of whom are eager to learn about nature.  They spot lots of lovely things in the night sky and all around during their nature walk. Readers will love spotting what each character finds and joining in by seeing what else they can find. But Cat is just a little too curious and inattentive and ends up lost in the woods on her own!

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Thankfully it’s not long before she is reunited with Miss Moon and her friends, once they’ve discovered a trail of clues to her whereabouts.   The story is complemented with lovely muted illustrations; the forest illuminated by the moonlit night and the wonder of nature brought to life on each page. With a gentle narrative and some very sweet characters, Cat Learns to Listen is a charming story with an important message about listening at its heart.

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You can read more about Miss Moon, Cat and her friends at Moonlight school in Simon Puttock’s other stories:

Find out more at www.simonputtock.com  and www.alipye.com

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me this book to review.

 

 

New Review: Safari Pug by Laura James, illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans

Who could resist the adventures of a courageous Pug dog?!  Safari Pug is the third book in The Adventures of Pug series by Laura James, illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans.  It continues the trend of fantastic storytelling, set by the Pug’s first adventure Captain Pug, which was shortlisted for the Watersones Children’s Book Prize!

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Safari Pug by Laura James, illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans

Pug doesn’t want to meet a LION. But LADY MIRANDA insists. They’ve packed a picnic and now they’re off on a SAFARI ADVENTURE….but what if wild animals like PUGS for lunch?

Another fabulous adventure for Pug this time featuring some very wild animals – and a villainous television celebrity!  Pug isn’t too sure about visiting the safari park, but as usual Lady Miranda thinks its a wonderful idea….So they all pack into the sedan chair and with the running footmen, soon arrive ready to see the wild animals. Their fun however, is interrupted by a very snooty and unpleasant TV presenter, Arlene Von Bling (what a great dastardly name!), who seems to have more than just seeing the animals on her mind – especially when it comes to the unique white lion cub… Adventure ensues and it’s up to Pug to help save everyone – not just from the jaws of the lions but the clutches of Arlene Von Bling!

Safari Pug is a great fun read, full of lively bright illustrations, that is sure to delight emerging independent readers.  I love the characters – there’s the faithful but possibly a bit long-suffering Pug, reluctantly going along with his mistress Lady Miranda’s eccentric ideas; Lady Miranda herself -very sweet but inadvertently getting them all into scrapes; the running footmen Will and Liam, who courageously transport Lady Miranda and Pug in a sedan chair on their adventures – surely the best and only way to travel?! I’ve also read and enjoyed Pug’s previous adventure Cowboy Pug – and my five year old niece is a huge fan of the stories!  Full of humour, the narrative is perfectly brought to life by Eglantine Ceulemans’ colourful illustrations. The Adventures of Pug celebrate a thoroughly endearing friendship and encourage even the most reluctant explorer to be brave and discover the big wide world!

 

Find out more at www.laurajamesauthor.com and www.eglantineceulemans.com

With thanks to Bloomsbury Books for sending me this book to review.

 

Book of the Month: Spectre Collectors: Too Ghoul for School by Barry Hutchison

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Our Book of the Month this October is the brilliant first book in a new series Spectre Collectors: Too Ghoul for School written by Barry Hutchison, illustrated by Rob Biddulph and published by Nosy Crow.  Barry Hutchison is an award-winning children’s author and screenwriter. A lifelong fan of funny books, Barry loves making readers laugh with his unique brand of comedy and is particularly passionate about encouraging reluctant boys to pick up a book. I can guarantee Spectre Collectors will do just that and what’s more will no doubt entertain all those who read it!

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Spectre Collectors: Too Ghoul for School

by Barry Hutchison illustrated by Rob Biddulph

Denzel is having no luck with his maths homework. First, it’s too difficult, then there’s a terrifying mess of smoky black tendrils that wants to kill him, then two teenagers explode through his window holding guns and throwing magic. They are the Spectre Collectors, and spooky is their speciality.  Realising that Denzel has a special gift, they sweep him off to their headquarters for training. Tested with awesome weapons and ancient magic, Denzel realises just how little he knows. But there’s a serious problem on its way from the Spectral Realm, so Denzel has a lot to learn. FAST.

Denzel is an ordinary 13 year old. Or so he thought.  After seeing a ghost in his bedroom, all manner of mad things start to happen. Attacked by ghosts and recused by two seemingly crazy teenagers, Boyle and Samara, soon Denzel finds himself in the hands of the Spectre Collectors.  It’s no surprise that things aren’t what they seem when dealing with the supernatural, but Denzel’s unique powers give him an insight no-one else believes.  His quirky best friend Smithy can’t help him and although he wants to believe he has a vital role to play, Denzel feels something just isn’t right. Especially when Director Quinn, the head of the organisation shows how ruthless she is. Denzel soon finds it’s not just the ghosts he’s got to worry about!

Spectre Collectors: Too Ghoul for School is a fantastic adventure with twists galore and a great cast of characters guaranteed to keep readers entertained. The story has real heart too – Denzel loses his parents and finds out just what friendship really means, whilst trying to save the world. I thoroughly enjoyed the action sequences, some of which were laugh out loud funny.  With gadgets galore and some maniacal monsters, it’s a brilliant mix of magic, mayhem and some amazing modern technology. Denzel and his friend Smithy make a great double act, with some hilarious dialogue and are hugely likeable.  The story has an imaginative plot, clever twists and a fast paced narrative which will have readers hooked.  A really entertaining middle grade book with great artwork by Rob Biddulph, Spectre Collectors is sure to be a hit – and makes a suitably spooky autumn read!

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Find out more at www.barryhutchison.com and www.robbiddulph.com

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me this book to review.

New review: Early Learning with The British Museum and Nosy Crow

 

The partnership continues between The British Museum and Nosy Crow with three fantastic new books in their series of books for 0-12 year olds.  The British Museum is the country’s leading visitor attraction and the second most visited museum in the world.  The books draw on the British Museum’s unparalleled, vast and fascinating collection of objects and Nosy Crow’s expertise as the Independent Children’s publisher of the Year 2017, to create a collection of titles that represent and celebrate cultures from around the world!

Colours and Opposites are the two new titles in their board books series, where inquisitive toddlers can enjoy learning all the colours of the rainbow and contrasting opposites alongside seeing wonderful photographic images highlighting cultures from around the world.

There is a useful index in each book, detailing all the artefacts shown, giving little ones and grown-ups the chance to explore and learn more.

Featuring everything from illustrations by Beatrix Potter to a mask made of coconut from Bangladesh, I love the celebration of history and culture giving a wonderful opportunity to inspire even the youngest of minds. I also think older sibling’s, parents and carers will enjoy the tour through history!

Mixed-Up Masterpieces Funny Faces is a fun photographic mix-up book, featuring faces from the museum’s collection.  With puzzles to solve matching up the correct faces and then hours of fun mixing them all up again, there’s hundreds of hilarious combinations!

The faces used are incredible real masks from around the world, with an index at the back of the book telling you about each one. Again this is a book that will inspire curiosity in the many and varied cultures around the world and bring history to life – something all the family can enjoy.

Find out more at www.nosycrow.com and www.britishmuseum.org

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me these books to review.

New Review: You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! by Em Lynas illustrated by Jamie Littler

Em Lynas writes stories and poems for children aged 5 to 12 years. You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! is her fantastic debut novel, published by Nosy Crow and illustrated by Jamie Littler. A perfect combination of lively narrative and marvellous illustrations that bounce off the page, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read!

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You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! By Em Lynas illustrated by Jamie Littler

Daisy Wart is NOT a witch! She is an ACTRESS!  And actresses do NOT go to witch school! So when she finds herself at Toadspit Towers, sleeping in a swinging cauldron (surprisingly comfortable) and eating gloop (unsurprisingly disgusting), she vows to escape at all costs.  But how can she get past the TOADSPIT TERRORS that lurk in the corridors? And what if she REALLY IS a witch? Maybe even the WITCHIEST WITCH of them all?

Daisy Wart is furious when her Granny leaves her at Toadspit Towers boarding school for witches. Adamant that she is not a witch and determined to escape, so she can prove her thespian abilities in her school play, Daisy hatches an escape plan. And another, and another….all of which are doomed to fail! Stuck in a dormitory with the irritating Dominique, Best and Brightest Witch in the school, the longer Daisy spends at Toadspit, the more the mystery surrounding her ancestry unfolds.  Not only this, the school has a few mysteries of its own and it seems Daisy’s escape is tied up with the fate of Toadspit. With two new friends to help her, Daisy gathers all her courage and ingenuity to once and for all prove she is not a witch….!

You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! is a fantastic story, full of humour and original, fun magical details that will delight readers.  I particularly liked the school reward system – magical ticks giving students the ability to ‘buy’ treats (I’d love to be able to do this at my school!) A lively cast of characters include Mrs Toadspit the resident ghost and headmistress; Mrs Thorn, a teacher with looks that cold ‘shrivel’; Jess and Shalini, Daisy’s friends; and of course a variety of magical creatures from hooting owls, carnivorous plants to magical wooden cats! I particularly enjoyed Ms Lobelia the singing/gardening expert (wonderfully drawn by Jamie Littler).

Daisy who is a loveable but somewhat feisty girl has to quickly learn how to fit in at her new school and make friends, something many readers will identify with – although I don’t imagine many readers sleep in swinging cauldrons! Jamie Littler’s fantastic Illustrations bring to life the humour and magic of the story and as the plot thickens, there are some brilliantly described edge of your seat moments. There is a slightly unexpectedly gruesome moment as the story climaxes to watch out for with younger readers, but I’m sure You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! will be a hit with all who read it and they’ll be clamouring for the next in the series!

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Find out more at www.emlynas.weebly.com.

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me this book to review!