Showing posts with label guest post. Show all posts
Showing posts with label guest post. Show all posts

Monday, 16 September 2019

The Right Book for the Right Child (Guest Blog Post By Victoria Williamson)

I remember very clearly when my love affair with Jane Austen began.

It was the summer between fifth and sixth year of high school, when I was seventeen. I’d picked up Pride and Prejudice for the first time, but not because I actually wanted to read it. It was a stormy day despite it being July – too wet to walk up to the local library. It was back in the nineties before the internet, Kindle, and instant downloads were available. I wanted to curl up on the sofa to read, but I’d already been through every single book in the house. All that was left unread at the bottom of the bookshelf was a row of slightly faded classics belonging to my mother. I only picked the first one up as there was clearly a book-drought emergency going on, and I was desperate.

The reason I didn’t want to read it, was because I already knew it was going to be totally boring.
Well, I thought I knew it. I’d already ‘read’ the classics you see. When I was ten or eleven, thinking I was very clever, I branched out from my usual diet of fantasy and adventure books, and opened a copy of Bleak House by Charles Dickens. I can’t remember why now – it might have been another rainy day and another book emergency situation, but whatever the reason, I spent several miserable hours ploughing through page after page of unintelligible drivel about Lincoln’s Inn, Chancery, and a bunch of boring characters who said very dull things, before giving up in disgust.


I ‘knew’ from that point on that the classic novels teachers and book critics raved about were the literary equivalent of All Bran instead of Sugar Puffs, and I wasn’t interested in sampling any more.

I didn’t pick up another classic until that rainy day at seventeen, when I sped through Pride and Prejudice in a day and a night, emerging sleepy-eyed but breathless the next day to snatch Emma from the shelf before retreating back to my room to devour it. That summer, after running out of books by Austen, the Brontes and Mrs Gaskell, I tried Bleak House again. And what a difference! Where before I had waded thorough unintelligible passages without gaining any sense of what was going on, I now found an engaging, and often humorous tale of a tangled court system far beyond the ‘red tape’ that everyone was always complaining about in present-day newspapers. Where before I’d only seen dull characters who rambled on forever without saying anything at all, I discovered wit and caricature, and a cast of people I could empathise with.

That was when I realised that there wasn’t anything wrong with the literary classics – it was me who was the problem. Or rather, the mismatch between my reading ability when I was ten, and the understanding I had of the world at that age. I could read all of the words on the page, I just didn’t understand what half of them meant, and I thought the problem was with the story itself.

I was reminded of this little episode in my own reading history recently when I spent the summer in Zambia volunteering with the reading charity The Book Bus. One afternoon we were reading one-to-one with children in a community library, when I met Samuel. Samuel had a reading level far above the other children, and raced through the picture books and short stories they were struggling with. I asked him to pick a more complicated book to read with me for the last ten minutes, and after searching through the two bookshelves that comprised the small one-roomed library, he came back with a Ladybird book published in 1960, called ‘What to Look for in Autumn.’

He did his best with it. He could read all of the words – the descriptions of wood pigeons picking up the seeds to ‘fill their crops’, the harvesters – reapers, cutters and binders – putting the oats into ‘stooks’ and the information about various ‘mushrooms and fungi’, but he didn’t understand anything he was reading. Needless to say I looked out a more appropriate chapter book from the Book Bus’s well-stocked shelves for him to read the following week, but the incident reminded me of the importance of getting relevant books into children’s hands if we’re to ensure they’re not turned off by the reading experience.

This is a problem often encountered in schools when teachers are looking for books to recommend to children. A lot of the time we’re so focused on getting them to read ‘good’ books, the ones we enjoyed as children, or the ones deemed ‘worthy’ by critics, that we forget that reading ability isn’t the only thing we have to take into consideration. We have to match the child’s level of understanding to the texts that we’re recommending – or in the case of that Ladybird book, get rid of outdated books from our libraries entirely!

Children often find making the leap to more challenging books difficult, and comfort read the same books over and over again – sometimes even memorising them in anticipation of being asked to read aloud with an adult. If we’re to help them bridge this gap, we must make sure our recommendations are not only appropriate for their reading level, but match their understanding too, introducing new words and ideas gradually in ways that won’t put them off.

Samuel and I were both lucky – we loved reading enough that one bad experience wasn’t enough to put us off, but other children might not be so fortunate. Let’s ensure all children have the chance to discover the joy of reading, by getting the right books into the hands of the right child.

Victoria Williamson is the author of Fox Girl and the White Gazelle (click here for my review) and The Boy with the Butterfly Mind, both published by Floris Books.

Monday, 2 September 2019

Choosing The Gods by Steve Kershaw, Author Of Mythologica (Guest Post)

Imagine my joy! I’m a Classicist, a person who spends his life in the world of dead languages and the people who don’t speak them anymore, when all of a sudden I receive a fantastic opportunity to collaborate on a fabulously illustrated children’s encyclopaedia featuring fifty of Ancient Greece’s most powerful gods and goddesses, fascinating earth-dwelling mortals, and terrifying monsters. What could be better? I teach this stuff for Oxford University, but I’ve loved it ever since I was a kid myself. At my lovely Primary School in Halifax in Yorkshire, our teachers would read to us from wonderful books for the last 20 minutes of each day. And when a new young teacher read bits out of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey to us, I thought this was totally amazing! Gods, monsters, heroes, astonishing adventures… I was entranced!

So who should I include in Mythologica? Obviously the twelve Olympian gods and goddesses. They can be a pretty jealous lot: if I’d left any of them out, they would just have ruined my life in the most horrible way imaginable. But they are also completely entrancing: Zeus, who can blast even the most awesome of giants into oblivion with his thunderbolts; Athena, his daughter, born from his head, with her mesmerising grey-eyed beauty and fearsome intelligence; Artemis, running free in the countryside with her dogs; or the blacksmith Hephaestus, who was severely disabled but still physically powerful, and married to Aphrodite, the most beautiful female in the universe! In some ways they seem incredibly distant and alien, and yet again they can be so like us. They are a close-knit family, and they behave like one, always squabbling and arguing with each other, but if any outsider threatens them, they immediately come together in inseparable unity. They’re just so easy for children to relate to!

Illustrations from the book by Victoria Topping
Selecting the mortals was like choosing a sports team from a squad of world superstars. Some, like wily Odysseus, beautiful Helen, mighty Heracles, swift-footed Achilles, and Medea the barbarian witch, picked themselves, but sadly others had to be left on the bench. Greek mythology can seem a bit male-dominated, but we wanted to strike a slightly fairer balance between male and female characters, and the ones who made the cut had to bring the amazing stories, staggering achievements, and brilliant skills that would excite our interest and emotions, and make us think. Our mortals needed to be people who we could admire, fear, love, hate, laugh at, or feel sorry for. As heroes and heroines they had be able to do things that we ordinary mortals could never dream of, face unimaginable dangers, make terrible mistakes, and possibly win eternal glory.

Our humans also needed to look great, and to provide a diverse range of character types. So in looking for inspiration for Victoria Topping’s magnificent artwork we thought about their personalities and behaviour, what they wore, what distinctive things they carried, their hair- and/or skin-colour, what their eyes looked like, where they lived, who they interacted with, and what amazing powers or abilities they might have. I think we found a hero for a very reader.

When it came to the monsters we just wanted the biggest, baddest, mightiest, weirdest, wildest, snakiest, doggiest, fire-breathingest, flesh-eatingest, turn-you-to-stone-est, set of colourful, evil, hybrid creatures that the Greek myths could offer. They had to encapsulate that wonderful world of ‘the other’ that kids find so entrancing. Cerberus the hell-hound, the Gorgon Medusa, the dangerously alluring Sirens, the bronze giant Talos, and their various brothers and sisters all had to thrill, scare, and astound.

Why are these tales so important and enduring? At heart, they are just fantastic stories with wondrous characters, and children adore them for that reason alone. The myths are so vivid that we feel we can get to know the gods, monsters and mortals personally. We can meet Athena, travel with Jason, and fight with the Cyclops. But there’s more to them than that. Myths are good to think with. But they’re not preachy, and they’re often morally ambiguous. We don’t find straightforward answers; easy morals are sometimes hard to find; it’s not always about ‘Good people’ versus ‘Bad people’, with the Good ones winning in the end - even the good guys do bad things; life can be unfair; bad things happen when it isn’t your fault, but they also happen when it is; and, ‘they all lived happily ever after’ doesn’t happen very often. So these Greek myths challenge our children’s imagination, and invite them to reflect on how we live today, presenting them with lessons and problems not just about the world as we would like it to be, but about the world as it is. The world of Greek mythology is still very much our children’s world.

Steve Kershaw is an expert on dead languages and the people who don’t speak them anymore. He’s been captivated by the Greek myths ever since childhood when he used to read Homer’s Iliad with his torch under the bedclothes. Steve wrote his PhD under Richard Buxton, arguably the leading scholar on Greek myth in the world. He has taught Classics in numerous establishments, including Oxford University Department for Continuing Education and Warwick University. He runs the European Studies Classical Tour for Rhodes College and the University of the South. He’s also an internationally renowned jazz musician.

http://stevekershaw.com/

Monday, 1 October 2018

Guest Post: Introducing Poetry to Primary School Children by Ana Sampson

By the time we leave school, some of us have been rather put off poetry. Actually – confession time, now – I was. Picking it apart and poring over the meanings throughout my education had sucked some of the simple joy out of poetry. I became paralysed by the thought that I must understand every element, rather than just enjoying it – I had to learn to love poetry again.

Primary school children, however, don’t have any of those associations. The earliest things we hear and learn are usually songs and nursery rhymes: from the sun putting his hat on to the little piggies of our toes. We often read rhyming books with our children: my five year old is word perfect on everything from There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly to Room on the Broom, and woe betide me if I try to skip a verse to get to bedtime quicker! Children are at home in rhyme before they learn to talk, so they don’t have any of the associations some adults have of poetry being intimidating and difficult.

So, my advice on sharing poetry with young children is just to get started! Here are three ideas for how:

Share Classic Nonsense Poetry

I love Lewis Carroll’s inventive and whimsical poems. Even though today’s children won’t be familiar with the Victorian rhymes many of them parody (though they might enjoy Mary Howitt’s ‘The Spider and the Fly’, which is one of them) the nonsense and fun of ‘The Lobster Quadrille’ or ‘You Are Old, Father William’ will tickle them. Edward Lear’s poems are wonderful too. Ask them to draw a Jabberwocky, the Jumblies in their sea-faring sieve or the Pobble who has no toes, and watch their imaginations soar. There are lots of great modern collections of poetry aimed at children that continue this imaginative tradition.

Read Poems Aloud (Dramatically!)

Reading poems aloud, in as dramatic and over the top a way as possible, is a brilliant way to bring them to life to children. My daughter loves A A Milne’s ‘Disobedience’ with its rapid, building rhythm and repetition of ‘James James Morrison Morrison William George Dupree’. If you feel they’ll respond well to a touch of goriness, Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children will appeal – try Jim, who was eaten by a lion.

Read Poems That Appeal To Their Experiences

Researching She Is Fierce I came across some wonderful, lesser known poems by women that even young children will – I hope – enjoy as much as I did. Liz Lochhead’s ‘A Glasgow Nonsense Rhyme for Molly’, and Katherine Mansfield’s playful ‘When I Was A Bird’ are bound to delight younger readers. For slightly older children, the chatty, encouraging tone of ‘God Says Yes to Me’ by Kaylin Haught will appeal. Jan Dean’s ‘Three Good Things’ could inspire a discussion about the three best things to choose from their day. Jean Little’s ‘Today’ – like the poems in Allan Ahlberg’s much-loved 'Please Mrs Butler' – speaks directly to the experience of school-children, and they will be delighted to find themselves reflected there – and with the poem’s rebelliousness!

You’re never too young for poetry and I’d love to hear what poems young readers (and listeners) enjoy! You can tweet me and let me know their favourites at @Anabooks.

She Is Fierce
Brave, Bold and Beautiful Poems by Women
Edited by Ana Sampson
ISBN 9781509899425
Publishing 6th September 2018 |£12.99 |Hardback

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Guest Post: Changing Personalities by Dr. Gary Haq

In my new children’s book 'My Dad, the Earth Warrior', Hero Trough’s dad has a bump to the head and then wakes claiming to be Terra Firma, son of Mother Earth, sent to protect her.

The notion of a person changing their character and behavioural traits is not new in literature. Miguel de Cervantes’ 'Don Quixote' (1605) is a story of an old nobleman who after reading stories about knights, decides to become a knight-errant and goes off in search of adventures. Robert Louis Stevenson’s 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' (1886) explores the interplay of good and evil in human personalities with two contrasting characters.

From Marvel Comics the journalist Clark Kent, wealthy industrialist Bruce Wayne and science student Peter Parker are the alter egos of Superman, Batman and Spiderman respectively.


When Mr Benn visited a fancy-dress shop and traded in his black bowler hat and suit for a new costume, he then entered a new world appropriate to his costume and a new adventure via a magical door.


In 'My Dad the Earth Warrior', Dad has become boring to Hero - having taken on the task of updating Cuthbert’s encyclopaedia collection. Fed up with an increasingly distant father, Hero yearns for change. Then one day, Dad has this freak accident and wakes up claiming to be an earth warrior.

In his new persona, Dad is strong and charismatic - determined to achieve his goal of gathering a tribe, becoming a chief and protecting Mother Earth. Hero struggles to deal with Dad as an earth warrior and all the ensuing consequences. However, there are times when he actually is intrigued that Dad is different.

I have always liked the idea of changing personality and have enjoyed dressing up in fancy dress. As you, can see from these photos on the left! Changing from Mr Average to someone different provides the opportunity for many wonderful adventures as Hero and his Dad experience in the book.

Gary Haq is an earth warrior whose day job is saving the planet. He is an associate researcher at a prestigious global environmental think tank and a research scientist at a European research centre. He tries his best to be the change he wants to see in the world and hopes to inspire others with his stories. When he’s not involved in his own eco-adventures, he likes to write, read, learn languages and explore new cultures. Gary lives with his wife and young daughter, and spends his time between York, England and Laveno, Italy. My Dad, the Earth Warrior is his debut novel - available now.

www.garyhaqwrites.com
@drgaryhaq
www.facebook.com/garyhaqauthor
www.worldenvironmentday.global

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Guest Post: Reading In My Dad’s Bookshop by Ewa Jozefkowicz

 Many adults have one or two characters in a book that they read as a child - their ultimate hero or heroine - who stays with them through the years. But whenever anybody asks me who mine is, I find it difficult to make a shortlist of ten, let alone to carefully select one or two. I was extremely lucky to grow up surrounded by books meaning that I could browse, peruse and devour them at every available moment.

My dad was a bookseller, and when I was at primary school, I would spend every half term and many a weekend in his bookshops, reading in the children's section. I was so fascinated by books that I would read anything and everything, from Point Horror classics, through Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, all the way to The Moomins. Looking back now on the characters that I loved, there was only one thing that linked them. They could be any gender, background, age or period, but they had to overcome their fears and to be brave. So whether it was Lyra meeting the king of the Gyptians, Charlie stepping into the Chocolate Factory, or Tracy Beaker setting out to find her real mum, they had to be bold in everything they did. It was characters like them who made me believe that anything was possible as long as you put your mind to it.

When I'd thoroughly read my way through the shelves of children's literature, I started on the adult sections - my tastes here also varied dramatically. I loved nature books with all the illustrations of different animal species, but I was also fascinated by travel stories, and even big coffee table books about fashion through the ages.

I was hugely fascinated by books in other languages. There was a foreign literature children’s section in our bookshop, which was really the only part which was out of bounds for me, because I didn’t understand the words. The only other language that I could read in was Polish, and I felt envious of other kids who could read in French, Mandarin, Swedish and so on… I remember always searching for the most interesting looking stories in their English versions.

My dad often had to visit warehouses to put in new orders for books and I was always so excited to be one of the first people who would see the new releases. Some of the warehouse team got to know me, and I was allowed to carefully read a few of the children's books that had just come in (if I promised not to bend the spine or leave any fingerprints). Sometimes, I even got to help out with
suggestions of which titles to order.

My dad passed away when I was sixteen and I still think about him every day. Unsurprisingly, he crops up in my thoughts usually when I've opened a new book. I wonder what he would have thought of this one, I say to myself when I've finished it, and a part of me is sad that we can't discuss what we'd just read. I hope he would have been proud of me writing 'The Mystery of the Colour Thief'. He certainly played a big part in making it happen.


'The Mystery of the Colour Thief' by Ewa Jozefkowicz is available not in hardback, £10.99 from Zephyr

You can follow Ewa on Twitter: @EwaJozefkowicz

Click here to read my review of 'The Mystery of the Colour Thief'