Friday, 2 October 2020

#BookshopDay- a guest post from author Amy Wilson

As A Girl Called Owl by Amy Wilson was one of my favourite books of 2017, I was absolutely delighted to hear about the forthcoming release of Owl and the Lost Boy. I'm equally delighted to host a guest post from Amy about Bookshop Day, which takes place on Saturday 3rd October.

Amy Wilson’s favourite bookshops

Oh, a bookshop! Naturally one of my most treasured haunts, just stepping in through the doors is an adventure. I quite often get lost in them, forgetting what I came in for and wandering on until I’m rescued by a bookseller, or one of my children. Here are some of my local favourites:

Books on the Hill, Clevedon: A gorgeous bookshop, really active in the local community. The children’s section is bright and welcoming, and Alistair is a book-loving wizard who always makes time to chat.

Website:  Twitter: @booksonthehill

Chepstow Books: I love this bright, warm bookshop, tucked at the bottom of St Mary Street. Bookseller Matt has supplied books for several of my author events, and always has a warm and friendly welcome – and a lot of knowledge to help a lost reader!

Website:  Twitter: @ChepstowBooks

Max Minerva’s, Westbury Park, Bristol: One of the area’s newer independent bookshops, cosy and so helpful. I turned to bookseller Jessica during lockdown when I wasn’t sure what I wanted to read, and having mumbled vaguely about things I liked I very soon had a beautiful pile of previously undiscovered treasures.

Website:  Twitter: @maxminervas

Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, John Street, Bath: A palace of a book shop, recently expanded and heaving with goodies. There are some lovely twisty book-crammed corridors to explore, and the children’s section has been beautifully designed and decorated. Look out for author’s pens on the ceiling!

Website:  Twitter: @MrBsemporium

Waterstones Cribbs Causeway, Bristol: A bustling bookshop, always welcoming. Children’s bookseller Mary is a star, so friendly and on a mission to help young readers find their next adventure.

Website:  Twitter: @WaterstonesCC

Bookshop Day is on Saturday, October 3 and exists to promote all high street bookshops. Do support your local bookseller this week, if you can, and if you’re not planning to visit a shop this weekend why not tweet about your favourite shop. Be sure to tag @Booksaremybag and use #ChooseBookshops.

For anyone who doesn’t know where their local bookshop is, you can use this handy link to the Bookshop Search:

Amy Wilson

Amy Wilson is the author of several magical middle grade stories, including A Girl Called Owl, published by Macmillan Children’s Books. Her new story, Owl and the Lost Boy, can be enjoyed as a standalone or companion to A Girl Called Owl.

To find out more about Amy and her books, or to book her for a virtual or real-life visit to your school, please go to her website Amy tweets at @AJ_Wils.

Friday, 17 July 2020

Directory of independent children's booksellers

Many independent children's bookshops and booksellers are currently in a very vulnerable financial position and need sustained customer support if they're going to survive beyond the next few months. This map is in no way fully comprehensive but hopefully it's a useful starting point to help find your local children's bookshop. Any further suggestions for additions to the map would be hugely appreciated, please add them in the comments box below.

Also, here's a link to a wonderful blog by Button and Bear, a children's bookshop in Shrewsbury, with ten ideas for how we can all support independent booksellers:

If you do end up buying a book as a result of this map and you have a few seconds spare, do let me know by posting a comment- would be great to know that it's being used.

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Dear Deer Class

Dear Deer Class,

So Year Six, your time as a pupil at Moorlands is coming to an end. I normally write a letter to my class at the end of the summer term to reflect back on our year of reading together, but this one feels very strange as our journey was cut short halfway through. I know you'll agree that we’d already been lucky enough to enjoy several wonderful novels, including Floodland, Ella On The Outside and Seven Ghosts, some hilarious short stories by Paul Jennings and loads of incredible picturebooks and poetry. Is there a better book to read during the cold, dark months of November than Seven Ghosts? I honestly can’t think of one. And then, there we were, about four chapters into The Light Jar, when our school suddenly closed for many of you.

There were so many books that we’d already discussed reading together in the second half of the year. I can’t believe I won’t get to read you Boy In The Tower by Polly Ho-Yen. I know you’d absolutely love it, so please, please make the effort to read it in Year 7. It really is outstanding! The books we talked about are still all out there, on the shelves of libraries and bookshops, so read them anyway and then, when I bump into you a few years from now, I'll expect you tell me all about them - and you know I’m not joking!

Even though we don’t get to finish the year as we'd hoped and read everything that we'd planned to, I know that you've all become hugely passionate readers. I know because you’ve showed me every single day.

Because you have the confidence to read books by a wide range of authors. Because you were all desperate for the chance to have your turn organising the Reading Recommendations shelf. Because you understand that reading is far more than books, and that magazines, newspapers, riddles and jokes all count.  Because you ran Poem Of The Day and made sure it happened, even when I forgot. Because you always got excited if a brown parcel was delivered to the classroom, just in case it was books (and yes, it always was). Because I could hear you talking about books and making recommendations on the way to assembly, even though I pretended I couldn't. Because one of you hid our class book when I was away as you didn’t want me to miss out - thank you! Because the first conversation I had with most of you each morning was about what you’d read the previous evening. Because whenever I walked past the library on the way to lunch, I'd see you reading stories to younger children. Because a whole group of you started your own comic that became more and more popular as the year went on. Because you were all happy to end the afternoon with a story, every single day.

In fact, now that I’ve started, let me break it down even further

Hannah C, you’re a reader because you’ve recommended more books to me this year than I have to you! I love that you’re so passionate about Emma Carroll’s stories and that everyone in the class always listens when you talk about books.

Charlotte, you’re a reader because you stood up in class and shared your Poem Of The Day with everyone. I know how hard it was and I’m so proud of you for doing it.

Seb, you’re a reader because I can confidently state that nobody else in the country has ever made a David Attenborough bookmark! You were the driving force behind our class comic, Baby Fish and Octo Fairy, which eventually ran to about eight issues, and I loved reading it as much as the rest of the class.


Harley, you’re a reader because you still talk with excitement about our visit from SF Said. You passionately told people about how good Ghost Stadium by Tom Palmer is and encouraged so many of the class to read it. You also loved the book about the world's best footballers which, for some strange reason, didn't contain any Ipswich players.

Max, you’re a reader because you reminded me virtually every day for about six weeks to get hold of the last two books in the Who Let The Gods Out? series. I’m so glad that they lived up to your expectations.

Tyler, you’re a reader because you read the Mr Wolf’s Class graphic novel series and you loved them. And then you read them again. And then you read them again. And that’s absolutely fine.

Hannah H, you’re a reader because whenever it was time to read What’s That In Dog Years?, you’d be one of the first people to grab a cushion and move to the carpet. I was always impressed with how carefully you selected the books to read to the younger children at lunchtime.

Alfie, you’re a reader because you have the confidence to read what you know you’re going to enjoy and don’t mind if other people disagree with your choices. You're often one of the first to try out new books and you’re open enough to give your honest opinion on them.

Jack, you’re a reader because you know everything there is to know about our class collection of graphic novels. You enjoyed New Kid, Smile, Glitch and many more over the year. Just as impressively, you always seemed to know who else was reading them, how far they’d got and what their opinions were.

I could go on for longer but I won't, as I think I’ve made my point. I have wonderful memories of you all as readers and I want to thank you for being such a passionate and enthusiastic class. You always wanted to broaden your reading, you always wanted to talk about books and you always wanted to share your recommendations.

Anyway, the summer holidays will soon be upon us and we've all got a lot of reading to be getting on with; my pile of unread books seems to have become three piles of unread books over the past few weeks. Have a wonderful summer break and make the most of every single minute at secondary school. Find the library, make friends with the librarian and, most importantly, keep reading.

I’ll miss you all.

Mr Biddle

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

A letter to my class about reading

Dear Deer Class,

Well done for getting through Year Six. You've been an absolute joy to teach this year and I hope you've had as much fun as I have along the way. Just before you all head off to your different secondary schools, I wanted to take some time to thank you for being such a passionate and enthusiastic class of readers.

How do I know? Because the evidence is everywhere. Because you start getting ready for story time and moving the cushions to the floor before I've even noticed. Because you make wonderful recommendations to each other and talk about books all the time. Because you remind me about Poem of the Day whenever I forget it and keep it going when I'm not there. Because you give up your time to read with children further down the school. Because you work through lunchtimes to help keep the school library running. Because you loiter around the desk whenever you see a new brown parcel there, just in case it's a new book (and, let's be honest, it usually is). Because your parents post photos on Twitter of you visiting the library and reading at home. Because you sneak into class early to tell me about the books you've read over the weekend or during the holidays.

If you've got a couple of minutes, let me break it down even further...

Winter, I know you're a reader because you have an opinion on virtually every book that's in the classroom and you make me work really hard when you want a book recommended to you that you haven't already read. You've also pointed me in the direction of some fantastic books over the year, so thank you (and yes, I loved Can You See Me?).

Jack C, I know you're a reader because of the way you always listen so carefully to our class book. I absolutely loved watching your reaction as a certain dog saved the day in The Outlaw Varjak Paw.

Cayla, I know you're a reader because you grabbed the opportunity to perform one of your favourite poems at the National Theatre and then delivered something that will genuinely stay with me forever.

Daniel, I know you're a reader because you've read such a wonderful variety of graphic novels across the year. I understand why you love New Kid so much.

Freddie, I know you're a reader because you devoured the Maze Runner series in a few weeks and then wanted more. Enjoy the Hunger Games books next year.

Lois, I know you're a reader because you put such thought and care into selecting the books you read to the group of Year Two girls who seem to turn up in our classroom most lunchtimes.

Lillie, I know you're a reader because you have such an individual reading identity, which always comes through in the choices you make. I'm glad you enjoyed Swimming Against The Storm by Jess Butterworth as much as I did.

Toby, I know you're a reader because you powered through the first couple of books in the Skulduggery Pleasant series and literally nothing could distract you. They're one of my favourite series too, and I'm thrilled you enjoyed them.

Morgan, I know you're a reader because you'd read the Poem of the Day every day if you could. I think you've read more poetry than anyone this year.

Jack B, I know you're a reader because you love non-fiction books about different types of transport. I now know more about the various trains of the world than I ever did before.

Alfie M, I know you're a reader because you just didn't give up. It took a while, but you found the type of books you love in the end. Keep with it!

Emily, I know you're a reader because you're quite happy to abandon a book you're not enjoying. You don't waste time on the boring books because you know there's so much great stuff out there.

Alfie R, I know you're a reader because you invariably seem to know who's got the missing Amulet and Bone books. Thank you for keeping my books bill down!

Demi, I know you're a reader because you could always provide such an accurate summary of whatever happened in Boy In The Tower to anyone who missed a few chapters when we were reading it together.

Danny, I know you're a reader as you find the time. Life is busy, but you manage to find the time because you know it matters.

Honey, I know you're a reader because you loved reading, discussing and then reading again all the Raina Telgemeier graphic novels. Don't forget, her new one is out in September.

Jazmine, I know you're a reader because you came in every day for about a week insisting that the Narwhal and Jelly series are the funniest books ever and that I just had to read them. I did in the end and you're not far wrong.

Ruby, I know you're a reader because virtually every conversation we have is about books and reading. And sometimes different types of chocolate bar. You've read books by so many different authors this year, including Francesca Armour-Chelu, Tom Palmer, Cath Howe and Nadine Wild-Palmer, and you should be proud.

I could go on for a lot longer Deer Class, but won't as I think I've made my point pretty comprehensively. Also, the summer holidays are upon us and we've all got a lot of reading to be getting on with. Have a wonderful break and enjoy your time at secondary school. Find the library, make friends with the librarian, keep reading books and make the most of every single minute.

Mr Biddle

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Reading Questions

In an effort to help keep reading at the forefront of people's minds as much as possible during the school day, we created a very simple interactive display in the main corridor. We attached some paper cups to the wall and then filled them with questions about reading. The idea is that the children (and staff) read the questions and then think about and discuss them on the way to assembly, break, etc. We've found that it works best when we use them in short bursts of two or three weeks and then remove the display for a month or two in order to keep it fresh. Although I created the original set of questions, the children now make regular suggestions about what we should include. 'What is your favourite book about magic cats?' was one that particularly stood out. The questions we currently use are attached below, so please feel free to borrow and adapt.

Monday, 10 June 2019

Empathy Day 2019

As a result of being involved with the Patron of Reading movement, I was privileged to hear Miranda McKearney OBE talk about her new EmpathyLab project at one of our early conferences. Since then, I've been delighted to see their fantastic work gain real momentum over the past three years. The EmpathyLab approach is based around using books and reading to help children develop empathy skills. My school, Moorlands Primary Academy, was one of the original twelve pioneer schools and the work that we've done on empathy has made a significant difference to our pupils. A full evaluation report, published earlier this year, goes into detail about the impact that the initiative has had.

With the third national Empathy Day taking place on Tuesday 11th June, I felt it would be an appropriate time to share some favourite recent reads that have an empathy focus. Most have been published over the last year or so but there are a couple that are significantly older. To find even more suggestions, please check out the #ReadForEmpathy and #EmpathyDay hashtags on Twitter which will hopefully be trending on the day. The shortlist of books selected for the 2019 Read For Empathy collection is another useful place to look.

Recent empathy favourites

The Butterfly Circus by Francesca Armour-Chelu
A beautifully written story, very engaging, with a strong female lead character. The relationship between the two sisters in the story is absolutely key, as is the emphasis on belief and self-confidence. Enjoyed the vivid descriptions of the circus setting and also how the book touches on animal welfare.

When Sadness Is At Your Door by Eva Eland
Charming picturebook which treats sadness as an inevitable occasional visitor into people's lives. Sensitively and comfortingly done. Loved the subdued colour scheme and how the endpapers are an integral part of the book. Perfect introduction to dealing with difficult times for children in KS1.

New Kid by Jerry Craft
Probably one of my top three graphic novels of the year. Starting at a new school on the other side of the city and away from your friends is hard, but when you are one of very few people of colour attending the school, it's even harder. An engrossing read and provides so much to think about and discuss. This has been doing the rounds in my classroom from the minute it came through the door.

Runaway Robot by Frank Cottrell-Boyce
Everything FCB has ever written has been full of opportunities to think about and discuss empathy, and this is no different. The revelation in the final third of the book genuinely threw me and brought a tear to my eye. I had to stop reading for five minutes and regroup. Just wonderful.

Not My Fault by Cath Howe
Ella On The Outside, Cath Howe's debut book, has been one of our favourite class reads of the school year. This story about two siblings who are struggling to cope with each other on a residential trip is also excellent. Sibling rivalry, the never-ending power struggles that are the basis of many school friendships and the challenges faced by becoming more independent are all covered. Also a great way to introduce dual and unreliable narrators.

Click by Kayla Miller
Another sparkling and vibrant graphic novel, about children finding the courage to make their own choices during their time at school. A student faces up to not being chosen to be in any of the groups for her school talent show and has to find ways to deal with it. Many children will empathise immediately. I did.

The Sea Saw by Tom Percival
Highly atmospheric and engaging picturebook, ostensibly about a girl losing her teddy bear. Our Key Stage One classes have used this as the basis for much of their empathy work over the past few weeks. Exquisitely designed collages just add greater depth to the emotional journey. So many parallels with Kate DiCamillo's joyous The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, one of my favourite children's books.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds
On the surface, a story about a boy's experiences when joining his school athletics team, but really about so much more. First in the Track series, with the second book, Patina, coming out in the summer (and I can't wait). Family, guilt, fear and the importance of strong relationships. An absolute delight, packs a hugely powerful punch.

Inside Out And Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Although this book has been out for several years, I've only recently read it. An enormously moving verse novel about a family from Vietnam being forced to flee to the USA when war approaches their home town. Demonstrates how relationships need to evolve as circumstances change. Provides many opportunities to talk about the different reasons why people are forced to migrate around the world.

The Busker by Paul Jennings
Paul Jennings is one of the unrivalled masters of writing short stories for children and The Busker, despite being published over thirty years ago, is perhaps his best. A thought-provoking tale that touches on the nature of friendship, the importance of kindness and the necessity to stand up for your beliefs. Have read it to most of the classes I've taught over the past twenty years and it has brought tears and cries of disbelief every time.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

2019 Read For Empathy selections

After thoroughly enjoying my experience of being on the selection panel for 2018's Read for Empathy guide, I was delighted to be invited again to help select the books that would appear on this year's lists. As one of EmpathyLab's twelve original pilot schools from 2015, we've invested a lot of time and effort into developing our children's empathy skills at Moorlands. Much of our work has been centred around the use of high quality books, which studies have shown can have a positive impact on developing empathy, and it was a privilege to be able to help provide other schools with a similar opportunity.

Along Came A Different
a delightfully appealing picturebook about friendship

The first stage of the judging process involved spending a significant chunk of the summer holidays reading approximately 70 books which had all been nominated by their publishers and making notes about the suitability of each. Several books were discarded at this stage, not because they were poorly written or weren't enjoyable to read, but because it was felt that they didn’t quite deliver the specific empathy criteria that we had been tasked with finding. Each book was judged on whether they contain characters that readers can empathise with, the insights into the lives of others that are provided, how emotional vocabulary is used and how the book motivates the reader to put empathy into action.

The seven judges (more information heremet at the CLPE in London in early December to finalise a list of 30 books for primary schools and a list of 15 books for secondary schools. The final lists caused much discussion and occasional (highly professional) disagreements but, as the overall quality of the books was so high, a consensus was reached on the majority quite quickly. Both lists include an exciting combination of picture books, novels, poetry and graphic novels and the panel feel confident that the books selected provide a broad appeal to a wide range of readers.

Ella On The Outside
a very popular read with Deer Class

Some books I read by myself, some I relished having the opportunity to share with my class or my own children. Ella On The Outside, the debut novel from Cath Howe, was an absolute pleasure to read aloud to my Year 6 pupils. There were so many things about the book that the children could relate to and it led to several spontaneous discussions on a variety of subjects. The main character, Ella, suffers from psoriasis, as does a girl in my class, and every time we sat down to enjoy the book, she would shuffle to the front of the carpet and literally hang on to the bottom of my leg as I read. Speaking to her after we finished reading, I asked what she'd enjoyed about it the most and she replied, “It could have been about me. I haven’t read any books like that before". As soon as it went on the class bookshelf, she immediately borrowed it to take home and reread. She's become a real advocate for the book, recommending it to her friends in other classes and always moving it to the display shelf in the school library.

The 2019 Read For Empathy Primary Guide selections

As the above example demonstrates, all children love to see themselves represented in what they read, which is why I'm so delighted that, of the 45 featured titles, 44% have a BAME protagonist or cast of characters. This is significantly more positive than the recent Reflecting Realities study from CLPE, which found that only 1% of children’s books published had a lead BAME character. The selected books include the heartwarming Love From Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke, the beautifully engaging If All The World Were by Joseph Coelho and Allison Colpoys, and the powerful verse novel Booked by Kwame Alexander.

Love From Anna Hibiscus
a wonderful series to share with younger children

Another book that I really enjoyed, and which has been making its way around the class since September, is The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti. It's based on the author's own experiences of Stargardt's disease, a progressive illness which causes a gradual deterioration in eyesight, ultimately leading to complete blindness. It tells the story of Mafalda, who measures her failing vision by the distance from which she can see her favourite cherry tree on her morning journey to school. It's an emotionally powerful book and highly recommended. For my full review, please visit the Just Imagine website.

The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree
an optimistic book full of hope and joy

Each year, I try and read a couple of verse novels to my class, with Cloud BustingInside Out and Back Again and Love That Dog all being among the regulars. Everything All At Once by Steven Camden (aka Polarbear) is a verse novel about adjusting to life at secondary school, an experience common to us all. Every poem is a beautifully observed insight into school life, and the book provides numerous opportunities for discussions about empathy and understanding with students across Key Stage Three.

Everything All At Once
a poignant verse novel

I’m also absolutely thrilled that the collection also contains some well known ‘empathy classics’, including Elmer by David McKee, Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman and one of my all-time favourites, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. I’ve read this book to almost every class I’ve taught over the past seven or eight years and it's been one of the highlights on our reading journey every time. After the first few chapters, the children tend to decide that Edward is a self-centred and dislikeable character but, by the end of the book, they all adore him and can fully empathise with his emotional experiences. It's an absolutely wonderful book that should be on the bookshelf in every Key Stage Two classroom, and I genuinely look forward to my annual read.

The 2019 Read For Empathy Secondary Guide selections

If I had the time, I'd happily sing the praises of each book on the 2019 Read for Empathy lists as they all deserve to be celebrated. They all have the potential to change a child’s outlook on the world, and it’s so exciting to know that such a high quality collection of literature will be having a positive impact in classrooms across the country. I’m looking forward to finding out all the creative ways that they'll be used in the run-up to National Empathy Day, which takes place on Tuesday 11th June 2019, and can't wait to read and enjoy even more of them with the pupils and staff at my school.

More information about the selections that make up the two lists can be found on the Empathy Lab website.

The combined lists