As some of you know, I am currently working as the Schools Project Manager for the Oxfordshire Reading Campaign, a two-year project aimed at helping to improve children’s ability in and love of reading. The children involved are typically aged six or seven, though we have some older children too. I do this for the National Literacy Trust, which was commissioned by Oxfordshire County Council to deliver the programme.
The programme is now drawing to a close and we’ve been celebrating the achievements of the pupils, all of whom have made amazing progress. Some have improved their reading age by at least 13 months in a four-month period! This is thanks to a reading programme, based on Project X Code books (published by Oxford University Press) and delivered by dedicated teaching assistants, who are passionate about the work they do and the children they work with.
We’ve run a total of nine events around Oxfordshire, inviting schools to attend a graduation ceremony in a host school. As part of the celebration, the children have enjoyed a special session with a wordsmith, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting new authors and storytellers as a result. They were:
John Dougherty, who has written many books, amongst which are Stinkbomb and Ketchup Face and the Badness of Badgers. You can actually see John talking about the book with a group of pupils at Edward Feild Primary School in Kidlington, which is one of our participating schools and also hear him sing the song for the book on this video!
John Dougherty reading from his book at Edward Feild; image courtesy of youtube.com
I really enjoyed John’s session as not only did I hear some very funny writing and singing (the song about pants was particularly side-splitting) but I also liked the fact that he talked about reading more generally to the children and how it doesn’t matter what you read as long as you enjoy it. Beware parents who berate their children for reading picture books when they should be reading books with just words – watch out for your son or daughter’s retort when you pick up the latest copy of Hello! or Top Gear magazine…
Gareth P Jones
Unfortunately I was unable to attend the event where Gareth P Jones presented a workshop for pupils but I heard he was amazing and funny too from my colleague. Gareth is perhaps best known for his Ninja Meerkats series, which you can find out about in this video. Gareth has written lots of other things too, and won the Blue Peter Book of the Year 2012 with The Considine Curse. Gareth often writes accompanying songs to his stories, so why not check out his website for lots of info and fun.
image courtesy of www.garethwrites.co.uk
Storyteller Katy Cawkwell did a couple of our events, and wowed child audiences with her enthralling tales. We listened to a tale of a greedy king in Turkey and a clever bird who foiled his murderous attempts at every step, and laughed along at a silly boy called Jack (not of the Beanstalk fame) who just didn’t understand how to carry things home (but still won the heart of a wealthy and beautiful young woman). Katy also told a lovely story of how the Man Who Lived in the Moon got there, and helped the pupils remember a way of telling the story themselves.
image courtesy of katycawkwell.co.uk
Having a storyteller was a fab way of reminding everyone, not just children, that the stories we often read in books have their origin in oral storytelling and, for a very long time indeed, this was the main form of entertainment for societies around the world, who would sit down in communities and share tales. It’s a very dynamic form of entertainment.
Jon Lycett-Smith is both an author and illustrator. The Big Splash, a book he illustrated for writer A.H. Benjamin, featured as the CBeebies bedtime story on 2 June 2014, read by actress Rosamund Pike – you can see it here! Jon read this book to the children, as well a book he had both written and illustrated – Moo! … said Morris, in which he was accompanied by Morris the Mouse himself.
A spread from Moo! … said Morris, courtesy of http://www.digitalleaf.co.uk
As well as reading from his books, Jon answered questions on the writing and illustrating process, which fascinated children and adults alike. At the end, he had a queue of children demanding pictures from him, and one child who dedicated their own illustration of Morris especially for him.
Jan Burchett and Sara Vogler
Authors Jan Burchett and Sara Vogler have written an astounding 160 books (minimum), amongst which are some of the Project X Code titles that the children will have read as part of the Reading Campaign. The children adore the stories in this series and love the fact that they are part of a special project when they go out to read together.
image courtesy of oup.com
I travelled around the county with cardboard cutouts of the above characters and felt like I was accompanying celebrities! Children stopped in their tracks and gasped and pointed, and at each event they all wanted their pictures taken with them. Therefore, the opportunity for the pupils to meet the authors in person was thrilling! Jan and Sara did a special workshop with the children, inventing a new zone and answering questions about the books and characters. Some children have been writing their own stories about the characters and were keen to share them with the experts!
Jan and Sara also write Sam Silver: the Undercover Pirate which is featured on the BBC’s ‘Bringing Books to Life’ programme, presented by actress Anjli Mohindra.
Author and poet Alan Durant writes books for children of all ages, toddlers to teenagers, and for our event, he brought along some of his best-known titles for seven-year-olds (or thereabouts). One of these was his successful Burger Boy picture book, featured on CITV’s Bookaboo programme, about a boy who eats nothing but burgers with dire consequences. It was interesting to hear that Alan got the idea for the book from The Gingerbread Man and he explained how tales from his childhood acted as inspiration for his writing nowadays.
image courtesy of amazon.com
Alan also did some ‘physical poetry’ with the children, getting them to perform the actions to one of his poems entitled ‘Tony Chestnut’ (based on body parts … work it out! ;-) ) and then asked the children to close their eyes while he read them a beautiful poem by Walter de la Mare called ‘Dream Song’, which I absolutely love:
Gloaming at the close of day,
And an owl calling,
Cool dews falling
In a wood of oak and may.
Darkness at the shut of day,
And lions roaring,
Their wrath pouring
In wild waste places far away.
Touchwood-light and toad-light,
And the sea a shimmering gloom of grey,
And a small face smiling
In a dream’s beguiling
In a world of wonders far away.
What an evocative poem for the senses. Alan asked the children what images came to mind when listening to the poem, and the answers included ‘stars’ ‘my bedroom at night’. Listening to poetry is a real treat.
I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to hear everyone read, speak, sing or draw. It just goes to show how much talent is out there in the world of children’s literature and how devoted authors and storytellers and illustrators are in participating in projects and events that strive to encourage a love of reading. I also feel inspired to start getting some of my ideas down on paper (or screen)!