Bookchat Roadshow. Just brilliant!

It’s a week ago today that we were busy welcoming parents to the Bookchat Roadshow at Harlands Primary in Haywards Heath.  This was a unique event, bringing together children’s authors, publishers, education specialists, along with local organisations and the Public Library Service to share ideas with parents and carers.  And being the second event I was possibly even more nervous than the first time round! The first event had gone so well, would this one be the same?  I can safely say it was even better, not least because after the main event, the authors ran workshops with 240 children at the host school!

“The atmosphere is positively buzzing” one parent said to me – and I couldn’t agree more. It really was exciting and I am so grateful to my brilliant fellow presenters, participating authors and the organisations who were exhibiting for helping to make it this way!  After a lovely introduction by the school’s Headteacher, Jane Goodlace, I spoke to parents about encouraging reading and the importance of reading for pleasure. It’s not easy to do this in such a short time – there is so much you could say!059_The-Book-Activist-Bookchat-Roadshow But the crux was how to help your child’s enjoyment of reading through helping them choose the right book for them, taking into account their interests. I truly believe parents can be the best reading role models a child can have but as parents we often worry about our children’s reading and this can sometimes remove the joy of the experience – for both parent and child.  If we can remove the stress from the situation and focus on what children want to read and get enjoyment from, the path to discovering the magic of stories is much smoother!

“It was really helpful to confirm I am doing the right thing and to give me new ideas” Parent feedback

I was followed by Jane Walker from Barrington Stoke, who spoke brilliantly about reluctant readers and making reading accessible. It was fascinating to hear how Barrington Stoke produce books that are so readable on a practical level and also really helpful to hear how whether your child can’t read or won’t read, there are ways to support them. “Reading is for everyone” Jane said.

Moving on from this, author Nikki Sheehan was totally inspiring on how to encourage children’s creative writing, with brilliant and achievable ideas that all parents – and of course their children – could benefit from.  Her final comment was ‘be their inspiration’ – what better advice could you get?!  I was delighted that both Kate Manning and Clementine McMillan-Scott from Scoop Magazine joined the line-up and shared the story behind Scoop.  Their presentation focused on the importance of celebrating all kinds of stories, sharing that every reader is different and how we can all play a part in encouraging all types of reading and writing.

“Congratulations on delivering such an inspiring and positive event!” Parent feedback

On that note, the coffee break arrived, and the celebrating continued with attendees having the chance to peruse the exhibition.  Parents had the opportunity to ask advice from organisations including local education service Discover & Be, dyslexia specialists Helen Arkell, Inkpots Writing Workshops and Nature Nuture Sussex. Even the Schools Library Service and the Public Library Service were represented with parents able to join up if they weren’t already members and find out about the Summer Reading Challenge!  With a bookstall provided by Waterstones Haywards Heath, and Usborne books it was a hive of activity!

“Attendance should be compulsory; it was inspirational!” Parent feedback

The grand finale of the morning was the fantastic author panel Bookchat featuring four award winning children’s authors; Nikki Sheehan, Jamie Thomson, A F Harrold and Jenny McLachlan which I was very excited to be chairing.  There is something magical about authors sharing their ideas – they create the worlds we inhabit when we read and I like to think some of the magic rubs off on those who hear them!

A lively chat ensued with questions from the audience and the authors shared their best tips for getting children into reading and writing and why stories are so important. As a parent myself I am eager to encourage my children’s reading and hearing the author’s childhood experiences of books and stories was just brilliant!  It was the perfect consolidation of all the wonderful ideas and advice heard throughout the morning, but with the extra inspiration everybody needs.

“It was a fabulous morning with excellent presentations and entertaining authors” Parent feedback

After a quick lunch break, it was back to work for the authors who ran workshops with pupils in years three to six at the host school as well as signing lots of books!  On visiting each classroom, I can’t tell you how incredible it was to see the look at the children’s faces as each author brought their stories to life and inspired them with ideas for getting into reading and writing.

Jenny McLachlan talking to Year 6

Jenny McLachlan reading an extract from Stargazing for Beginners

Nikki Sheehan talking to Year 4

Nikki Sheehan working her creative magic

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Jamie Thomson aka The Dark Lord!

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A F Harrold performing poetry

Schools don’t often have the opportunity to benefit from one author visit, let alone four, so this was a real achievement! As you may know this Roadshow was supported with funding from West Sussex County Council and I am truly grateful to them for recognising the value of the Roadshow and the importance of empowering parents and carers to support their children.   

The Roadshow was a great success… The combination of authors, publishers and specialists provided a focus for everyone in the audience… The workshops went down incredibly well with teachers and especially the children.” 

Jane Goodlace, Headteacher of Harlands 

I am so pleased we had fantastic photographer, Adam Hollingworth, to help capture some of the magic of the Roadshow! Feedback for the whole event has been even more positive than I could have hoped for and I’d like to say a HUGE thank you to EVERYONE who supported the event and made it so special.  Bring on the next one!

All photographs courtesy of Adam Hollingworth Photography.

If you would like to get involved please contact thebookactivist@gmail.com.

With thanks to our funding partner:

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For more information about the Bookchat Roadshow visit www.thebookactivist.com.

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Reading matters…at the Bookchat Roadshow

I’ve been fortunate to interview some wonderful authors on my blog and I’m thrilled to say some of them are here today with wise words on reading in support of the Bookchat Roadshow and the importance of encouraging children’s reading for pleasure.

 

 

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“I learned to love books, words and the worlds they created because of my Mum and now I try to pass on that love to my children – I’m so thrilled to see the Bookchat Roadshow helping this happen.”  

Alice Broadway

 

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Reading to a child is a unique experience you share together. You become travelling companions and join them on an adventure into the unknown. You meet new friends, you face adversity. You share how you feel and wonder at the world that unfolds in front of you. Finding time to read to a child is precious time. Find time. Childhood is all too short.” 

Gill Lewis

 

 

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‘No one’s ever too old to be read aloud to. Better yet, why not read aloud together. Showing your passion for reading, whether that’s reading aloud with your child or reading books together so you can discuss them, is the best way to inspire a lifelong love of reading. Pick things you can both be excited by and always go beyond the page. What do you think happens after the end of the book? Which character is your favourite? Where would you love to go in the book or which object would you most want to have from it? Reading is as much about what you put into making the book come alive in your imagination as what’s on the page. Seeing that is the gateway to writing your own stories…’ 

Alexia Casale

 

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“I love that this event is designed to support parents and carers to help and encourage their children to read and write for pleasure. That’s the key word here, for me. Pleasure. Not enough people read and write for pleasure. So anything that aims to encourage reading, writing and creativity as a form of pleasure, escape and fun, is definitely good in my book!” 

Maria Grace

 

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“I’m very pleased to be taking part in the Roadshow, because I like to read and I liked to read when I was younger too, and sometimes it’s nice to share those things that make you happy. In this day and age the empathy and other-person’s-shoe-ness that reading, both fiction and non-fiction, can help nurture and grow inside a human heart cannot be a bad thing to encourage, so let’s encourage it.”  

A. F. Harrold

 

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“I’m so excited to be taking part in the Bookchat Roadshow! As a reader, writer and story mentor with Little Green Pig, I’m very aware of the miracles that can happen when you allow children to take ownership of their reading and writing. There’s nothing better than the look on a child’s face when they realise that there really are no limits to the worlds they can explore and create, and as parents, teachers and librarians it really is within our power to help them to access to their own wildest imaginings.” 

Nikki Sheehan

 

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“Looking forward to receiving the oaths of allegiance on pain of death from all my minions at… no, wait, wrong speech. Umm…. Looking forward to helping parents getting kids reading and writing at the Bookchat Roadshow! Well, my books at any rate. Forget the other authors, pah!!!’ 

Jamie Thomson

 

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“I’m thrilled to be participating in the Roadshow and meeting parents and carers to talk about the wonderful world of reading. When I was a teacher, I saw first hand the hugely positive impact reading has on the lives of children and young people. Reading is empowering, encourages empathy and provides a calm oasis in what can be a chaotic world. A love of reading is one of the greatest gifts you can give a child which is why I’m so excited to be taking part in the Bookchat Roadshow.” 

Jenny McLachlan

 

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The Bookchat Roadshow takes place on 20th July 2017 at Harlands Primary School, Haywards Heath, West Sussex.   You can register for FREE to attend this unique event bringing together authors, industry experts and people passionate about children’s reading and writing for pleasure.  With inspirational talks and an author panel bookchat, plus a selection of exhibitors, we give parents and carers a huge range of ideas to help them support their children’s creativity. Presentations will include author Nikki Sheehan on creative writing, the team behind Scoop Magazine on celebrating stories and Barrington Stoke and reading and accessibility. With giveaways galore this is an event not to be missed!

For more information please visit www.thebookactivist.com or REGISTER your space for FREE via Eventbrite.

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A Dangerous Crossing by Jane Mitchell

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Ghalib doesn’t want to leave his home. But Syria has become too dangerous, and his family has no choice but to flee. Together they start out on a terrible journey that leads them through dark and dangerous places. Ghalib comes under fire, is caught in a tear-gas attack, experiences the wretched and hopeless life of a refugee camp, and he still has to face the perils of a voyage in a boat that is far from seaworthy. 

Ghalib lives in war-torn Syria with his older sister Bushra, younger disabled brother Aylan and his parents, Baba and Umi and grandmother, Tata. They are part of a tight-knit community but increasingly it becomes clear that they can no longer ignore the ever growing danger caused by the war.  Air strikes and explosions are part of their everyday lives and when Ghalib is injured, nearly killed in a barrel bomb attack, it is the final straw for Baba and Umi.  This, coupled with the hint that their daughter may soon join the army to fight, spurs them on to leave, taking little with them other than the clothes on their backs and gold jewellery with which to barter.  Weighed down with an elderly grandmother and little Aylan, who only just manages to keep up, the journey is slow and fraught with peril.

Ghalib does what he can to help and be brave, but as they get further from home it is clear there is a long, hazardous road ahead.  Escaping a near miss under sniper fire; finding food and water and surviving explosions are just some of the challenges they face.  At the border, Ghalib becomes separated from his family and has to fend for himself, coping with his injuries alone and not knowing who to trust. His journey becomes even more fraught but he finds safety of sorts in a refugee camp.  It is only the appearance of his refugee friend Safaa and her brother Amin that keeps his hopes alive and once reunited with his family, the final, most perilous part of their journey draws near.

A Dangerous Crossing puts into words the horrendous events many Syrians just like Ghalib are going through even as I write this review.  Where do you begin to describe the absolute devastation and human suffering? It’s hard to imagine how it must feel to experience a war, let alone have to leave your home, your possessions, your friends, everything you’ve ever known, to escape.  And escape to what? An unknown future where you could be killed, turned away, starve, lose yourself completely.  This book opens the reader’s eyes to the plight of the Syrian refugees and shows us exactly how it might feel, what could happen and perhaps most importantly, how the human spirit survives even in the most dire of circumstances.

The narrative explores so many things: family relationships and how they change under such pressures; friendships across ethnicity; the degrading treatment of refugees; the extreme kindness of those who want to help; the dangers refugee children face; loss of loved ones; human exploitation; the absolute terror of war and desperation of those wanting to escape it. Central to all this is the love and hope that can be found even in the face of death and destruction, when there is no time to grieve and no telling what the future holds.

I defy anyone not look at the news reports with different eyes after reading this book. A Dangerous Crossing is well written, with a strong cast of characters and good balance of action with more emotional scenes to suit all readers. It would be a great book to use as a class reader in schools for children aged 9+, to explore the refugee crisis and prompt discussion and understanding, as well as all important empathy.

Find out more at www.littleisland.ie and on Twitter @JMitchellwriter

Thank you to Little Island for sending me this book to review.

The Boy Who Drew the Future by Rhian Ivory

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It’s starting again…

Blaze has to draw people’s future to survive, with threats of the workhouse and witch trials hanging over him. Noah tried all he can to stop drawing but the more he fights, the more it takes over. He just wants to pass for normal in his new school.  As he gets closer to Beth, will he give himself away?

One boy hiding in the past, one in the present. Can their futures set them free?

Growing up can be a challenge at the best of times but when you’re someone with a ‘gift’, it makes life even harder. Both fifteen years old, Noah and Blaze can ‘draw’ the future, predicting what might lie ahead for the person they draw for.

Blaze, in an age where witchcraft is recognised but feared, knows he can use his ‘gift’ to protect himself.  And after the death of his mother, Blaze has no choice but predict the future in return for shelter and food. He is constantly overshadowed with the threat of being discovered and sent to the workhouse – or worse.

Noah, lives 100 years later, where such things as being ‘psychic’ mark you out as a ‘freak’, and whilst not a death sentence, make ‘normal’ life almost impossible.  Consumed by guilt believing his drawings have only brought harm, Noah is terrified someone will get hurt again.  Noah’s parents are desperate for him to stop drawing, hoping that yet another new home and school will be the answer. When Noah makes friends with Beth, he feels he might be on the road to a fresh start; but his hope is short-lived when the drawing starts again….

In the The Boy Who Drew The Future, Rhian Ivory takes all the best components of storytelling and blends them to create a novel which is gripping, eerie and immersive. A thoroughly enjoyable story, I read it in one sitting. This a great book for those who might be more reluctant readers and gives some wonderful historical insight as well as reflecting the lives of teenagers today.

Told alternately from both Noah’s and Blaze’s points of view, the narrative switches smoothly from the present to the past.  Both worlds are brilliantly described – the poverty and destitution of the 1800s; and the challenge of being a teenager in the modern world with all that entails from friends to school to family problems.  Empathy is instant for both characters in their respective predicaments and as the plot progresses, it is clear the outcome is inevitably entwined. The tension mounts and Noah can barely resist confiding in Beth with whom romance is blossoming, much to the irritation of their fellow classmates. Blaze, a soulful boy with only his precious dog for companionship, veers ever closer to danger and has no one to help him. Both boys must face their worst fears and overcome them. Reaching an exciting climax, we discover that perhaps it’s not our ‘gifts’ that define us but how we use them that does.

The Boy Who Drew The Future received a well deserved Carnegie Medal 2017 nomination.

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Find out more about Rhian Ivory at www.fireflypress.co.uk and follow her on Twitter  @Rhian_Ivory

With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this book to review.

 

Chris Riddell & Friends, Imagine Fest 2017

Chris Riddell & Friends, Southbank Centre Imagine Fest, 9th Feb 2017

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It was half term for many schools in London last week coinciding with the Southbank Centre Imagine Children’s Festival which ran from 9-19 February.  A unique festival run by children for children, the Southbank Centre works with local primary schools to put together an amazing array of events to entertain and inspire.  Just one of these events was the Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell & Friends presenting live illustration, readings and a glimpse into the inspiration behind their work.
The friends in question were Cressida Cowell, author of the How to Train Your Dragon series; Liz Pichon, author of the Tom Gates series and author and illustrator Posy Simmonds. Add to this a special surprise guest in the shape of Neil Gaiman and it was going to be a very special hour!
Chris began with some live illustrating,  drawing members of the audience as they sat waiting for the event to start! They were lucky enough to be given said illustrations to take home. He then introduced his guests through drawing them and shared his own excitement at having then join him on stage. Each guest was given fifteen minutes or so to share some of their writing and illustrating history, how they got started, and where the ideas for their hugely successful books came from. We even got to see some of their early childhood works, including scrapbooks which were fascinating.
All of them had sound advice for the young aspiring writers and artists in the audience. Which in a nutshell was: don’t let anyone tell you you won’t amount to anything or achieve anything through the art of telling stories in words and or pictures. And don’t let anyone hold you back by saying you’re no good at drawing or no good at writing (even if you have dyslexia, which Liz Pichon does).  Sat next to me was a young girl of about 13 who sat drawing in her sketchbook as she listened – inspiration in action.
Particularly special and perhaps a once in a lifetime moment, was Neil Gaiman reading aloud from Fortunately the Milk whilst Chris Riddell illustrated live on screen. Neil also shared his poem Witch Work with illustrations Chris had drawn earlier. Wow.
It was an utterly inspiring event – a wonderful celebration of stories and illustration. It never ceases to amaze me how a person can put pen to paper a draw the most incredible characters and create the most wonderful stories.
Find out more:

Crossan and Conaghan at Waterstones Brighton.

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I was somewhat excited about hearing Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan talk about their new book We Come Apart at Waterstones, Brighton and arrived about 45 minutes early in my haste to get there on time.  The seats filled quickly and the talk began, brilliantly chaired by Nikki Sheehan (author of Swanboy and Who Framed Klaris Kliff?).  It was absolutely fascinating to hear the story of how two award winning authors with such unique writing styles came together to produce what will no doubt be a bestseller.  We Come Apart, written entirely in verse, tells the story of Nicu, an immigrant from Romania and his relationship with Jess, a a fellow teenager with a troubled home life.  I’m looking forward to reading it, especially after hearing how it came together.

Brian approached Sarah with the idea of writing together and Sarah agreed; and so began an incredible process of writing mainly via What’s App! With no actual ‘plotting’ the story unfolded between them, each author taking on one of the central characters. Brian would write the story from Nicu’s point of view and Sarah would write the story from Jess’ point of view. Rather than plan the story, each author would write responding and reacting to what the other author had produced, so the process was totally organic.  With their own varied approaches to writing it was clear from the conversation that their various strengths and weaknesses blended well.  And unbelievably it took just five and a half weeks to write!  Both authors shared what they had learnt from the process of a joint writing experience. Amongst other things, Brian, to plan a bit more and Sarah, to keep the gremlins of self-doubt at bay! It also came across as a very brave thing to do, which Nikki Sheehan highlighted saying that as a writer ‘giving’ your story to anyone is like giving something or someone very precious away.

When asked if they would do it again, both agreed there wouldn’t be a sequel.  They also said they’d consider writing together again but perhaps in prose. They both have ideas of characters bubbling away so perhaps it’s a case of watch this space!  It sounded like it had been a very rewarding but also quite challenging experience and it was fascinating to hear the creativity behind it.

As a young girl, I will admit I really disliked poetry. Having studied Chaucer (the original text) to death when I was about 14, I think you could forgive me for being put off poetry for some time.  I was somewhat sceptical when I first heard about The Weight of Water and whether it would appeal to young people based on my own youthful experiences. Sarah shared how in the UK it had been a much harder ‘sell’ because of some negative attitudes to poetry.  She pointed out that young people are often more flexible than their elders and they quickly embrace different styles of writing.  Not only that, for many it appeals as it’s often a quicker read and can be easier for children with dyslexia. Sarah described writing in verse as like sewing lots of different pictures together and how you can get to the heart of the story much more quickly when you don’t have to describe every tree and every ‘high road’! Brian and Sarah both talked about how writing in verse enables the reader to use their imagination to ‘fill in’ the blanks, creating those elements of the story that are left out, in the way they choose.  In that sense, it can be incredibly powerful and also very personal.  For me, reading in verse is an amazing way to communicate a story and has gone a long way to restore my love of poetry.

I wasn’t aware that both Sarah and Brian were previously teachers and both of them talked about this and how it informs their writing. Brian spoke about how he would often be talking to the reluctant readers in the classroom so that he could engage them in even just a small amount of reading, so they could feel a sense of achievement and enjoy stories like anyone else. Not being much of a reader himself as a teenager, he can relate to those who don’t read and even now doesn’t read books with a tiny font.  Brian commented that he writes books for people, about real life and real situations and for those who don’t like this, well, they don’t have to read his books.  I can’t help but agree with this sentiment.  Life is a varied and many splendoured thing and writers can choose what they want to reflect on and the reader can choose what they want to read.  Hence why book choice is so personal – and so important.

Sarah shared that as both a teacher and a mother, she felt a sense of responsibility in being very aware of what she chooses to include in her books and that she always likes to end with even just the tiniest glimmer of hope – even if the ending isn’t a ‘happy’ one.  I can’t help but agree with this too – life is hard and full of difficulties, but it’s often our hope in each other and the future that keeps us going and it’s good for young people to believe this.

Brian and Sarah were both hugely entertaining to listen to, and I can only imagine how excited their agents and publishers were when they were told they had written together; this confirmed by the Bloomsbury representatives and Brian’s agent in the audience.

It’s what I love about the world of books and reading; people are so passionate about stories. Listening to those who write them, hearing their enthusiasm and the creativity behind the story is totally inspiring.  I’m so glad I was able to attend and if Crossan and Conaghan are visiting a Waterstones near you, make sure you go if you can!

A review of We Come Apart will follow soon!

A Sky Full of Kindness by Rob Ryan

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A Sky Full of Kindness by Rob Ryan

Join two birds on an epic adventure as they become parents for the first time…

The story begins with two birds who are ecstatic to discover they are going to be parents. Their fellow feathered friends are overjoyed for them, but are soon sharing their wisdom, causing the mother bird to become frightened about all the potential perils of parenting. Are they ready to have a child? Such is her fear, the wisest and oldest bird of all sends her on a journey of discovery to see if she can find some peace about what lies ahead. The journey takes her across the land and sea and she meets many other birds of all different kinds, each reassuring her through kindness that whilst the world might be big and full of danger, there are many people in it who can help when you most need it.

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This is a stunning book by the incredible artist and illustrator, Rob Ryan. The artwork alone is a sight to behold; each word and image beautifully paper cut down to the finest detail. The story itself is lyrical and flows beautifully; a tale depicting the journey towards parenthood with all its highs and lows and everything in between. Poetry and prose combine, with each word literally illustrating the magic of the childlike but utterly insightful narrative. The mother bird is determined to find out how she can allay her fears, travelling over the widest oceans and unknown lands looking for answers.

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The other birds she meets are strange and exotic, each with their own wisdom to share, each showing her kindness. The mother bird repays the kindnesses she is shown along the way and she finally realises that through being kind, brave and finding hope, she can face her fears.

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A Sky Full of Kindness is a heart warming tale about unconditional love, the hopes and fears we have for our children and ultimately shows how kindness can change the world we live in. A must-have book for everyone’s bookshelf!

Find out more about the author and illustrator at www.robryanstudio.com and on Twitter at@RobRyan_Art. A Sky Full of Kindness is published by Chronicle Books.

Review can also be found at Discover & Be.