Dolly’s gift to Scots kids

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Here’s some good news:

Scotland’s looked after children are to receive a free book every month until their fifth birthday thanks to a new partnership with country and western superstar Dolly Parton.

The Dollywood Foundation has been working nine to five with the Scottish Government and Scottish Book Trust to bring the Imagination Library to Scotland.

Each of the country’s 3,341 looked after children under five will build up their own personal library of up to 60 books, improving their literacy and encouraging their parents and carers to read with them.

And  here’s a link to the Scottish Book Trust’s reviews from World Book Night on Saturday.


Alternative World Book Night plan

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World Book Night

With the full support of the Publishers Association, the Booksellers Association, the Independent Publishers Guild, the Reading Agency with libraries, World Book Day and the BBC, one million books will be given away by an army of passionate readers to members of the public across the UK and Ireland

It’s an ambitious venture intended to spread a buzz about the joy of reading up and down the country.

But a report in The Guardian describes the doubts that some have about the mass giveaway.  They argue that it could impact negatively on independent booksellers struggling to survive in a particularly tough retail climate, while failing to reward authors properly for their work.

One day between now and next Saturday (5 March), let’s each of us buy a book, preferably from an actual bookshop, or direct from a publisher. Any book, Nicola Morgan suggests on her blog.

Write inside it: ‘Given in the spirit of World Book Night, March 5th 2011 and bought from [insert name of shop] – please enjoy and tell people about it.’ And give it to someone. Anyone. A friend or stranger, a library or school or doctor’s surgery or anything. Then go home, and enjoy whatever you’re reading yourself.

Stressing that she wanted her proposal to be seen as a positive intervention in the debate, Morgan explained:

It’s very simple and everyone wins: the bookshop, the recipient, the author, the publisher, the agent, even you, the giver, because you’ll enjoy the frisson of pleasure that comes from giving. There are no losers. That’s why I like it.

Susan Hill is among the novelists responding with enthusiasm to the idea. Hill said she was “totally against” the mass giveaway of pre-selected books in the World Book Night scheme.

One of my publishers has had to spend £40,000 on printing books to give away which is £40,000 he cannot now use to publish and promote new authors. This is a much better idea and I’m up for it.

This puts me in mind of Bookcrossing, a free online book club which began in order to encourage the practice, aiming to “make the whole world a library.”

The ‘crossing’ or exchanging of books may take any of a number of forms, including wild releasing books in public, direct swaps with other members of the websites, or “book rings” in which books travel in a set order to participants who want to read a certain book. The community aspect of has grown and expanded in ways that were not expected at the outset, in the form of blog or forum discussions, mailing lists and annual conventions throughout the world.

You can find your local Meet Up group here.


Babies need Books: a whole new world

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Ladybird launches ebook app for babies

Ladybird Baby Touch app

The Guardian reports that the Baby Touch series, aimed at children as young as six months,  has been adapted for the iPhone and iPod .

As of today, it won’t be just the parents of toddlers who have to wrestle with their children for their iPhone. Babies as young as just six months old can now be introduced to the world of ebook apps, with Ladybird’s popular Baby Touch Peekaboo series going digital.

Penguin’s app for the Baby Touch books went live at Apple’s digital store last week, for download onto the iPhone, iPod touch or iPad.

It uses four stories from the Baby Touch series of tactile playbooks designed to allow babies to experience their different cloth textures while also opening flaps to uncover images hidden underneath.

The digital version, which has been tested on babies from three to 18 months, uses similar bold patterns and bright colours to engage its tiny readers on the themes of the sea, farms, animals and vehicles. The parent, or the baby itself, can tap on the screen to reveal secondary images hidden underneath the designs.

The app can’t emulate the board books’ different textures, but instead incorporates animation, voiceover, music and sound effects.

Ladybird editorial director Heather Crossley said the app had been designed to reflect the various different stages of baby development. The “gentle” movement of characters on the screen aimed to suit the tracking eye movements of very young babies in the first stages after they learn to focus, while the screen-tapping of the app encourages the six-month-old baby to develop his or her attention span and motor skills.

Anna Rafferty, head of Penguin’s digital division, said that while the publisher already had experience of developing its Spot the Dog and Peppa Pig apps for slightly older children, an app for babies had posed new technical challenges. “We had to make the touch area much bigger, because babies don’t always hit the spot exactly, and we slowed down the action, because babies take a bit longer to press the screen, and to be delighted by the image underneath,” she said. But Rafferty foresaw a promising new market for the baby apps. “We certainly have a very healthy baby book list that does very well, so we’re interested to see how this goes,” she said. “From the research, you actually can engage very well with very young babies.”

Audio Books for learners with dyslexia


It is easy for me to recommend the use of audio books to enable learners with dyslexia to access rich text structures, vocabulary, storylines, author’s craft, etc. without the barrier of print. I do it on every report I write.

However, I am well aware that the reality is not so straightforward. There are some children who so loathe appearing to be different that they prefer to turn the pages of a book of which very little is accessible to them. There are some who find just sitting and listening far too stressful. Others don’t have the concentration to focus on the spoken word for any length of time.

And we haven’t even touched upon the difficulties inherent in locating a quiet place, or headphones, or a CD player or available computer or ….

Despite this, I am flagging up here an audio library that can be accessed at home (for free) and at school (for very little outlay).

Calibre  is a charitable organisation that distributes audio books in various formats to people with reading difficulties – whether it’s those with sight problems, dyslexia or other disabilities that prevent them reading a print book. They offer a wide choice of fiction and non-fiction (about 1400 titles) on standard cassettes, MP3 disks and USB memory sticks, for both children and adults. The service is easy to use and is absolutely FREE.

Parents only have to complete a form declaring that the child has dyslexia. No one checks as the charity works completely on trust.

Try it out.

Books for young people about Dyslexia


The Alphabet War: a Story About Dyslexia – a story book for children about Adam, a young dyslexic boy learning to read. Adam represents the creative, talented and imaginative spirit in all of us and the author expertly describes Adam’s frustration and near defeat as he learns to overcome his shortcomings with the help of his mother and tutor. Its impossible not to cheer him on as he learns to stop pretending and feeling behind and breaks the “code” to win the war against words. The confidence he gains in himself is emphasized by the colourful, life-like illustrations. Recommended for anyone with a child struggling with dyslexia.

 Dyslexia Wonders
Written by 12-year-old Jennifer Smith, Dyslexia Wonders reveals the daily struggles of a child plagued by dyslexia.
Happy-go-lucky until she entered Kindergarten, Jennifer seemed like the other bright children her age. She was energetic, curious and talkative. But when it came time to learn the ABCs, to read or to tie her shoes, Jennifer couldn’t comprehend and her world began to slowly collapse.
As time passed, it became clear to her that she was indeed different from her classmates. She felt alone, afraid and stupid; but most of all, she was ashamed of herself for not being able to learn.

 Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief
At first sight, the young hero of this book doesn’t have much going for him. 12-year-old Percy Jackson is dyslexic, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, keeps getting thrown out of schools and hasn’t seen his father for years.
He has a nasty, sneering stepfather. The good news is that he is a Greek demi-god, with supernatural powers…

 ‘My Name is Brain Brian’ – Brian and his fellow members of the Jokers Club hate school. To make it more fun, they create a secret game, winning points for making other people laugh during the day. Brian wins the first point when he writes his name as “Brain” on the blackboard. But it’s no joke. He is dyslexic. The author weaves in a good deal of information on this learning disability, but first and foremost, this is a story. Brian, who narrates, is characterized by more than his problem. Not only must he practice new ways to learn, but he must also deal with his father, also dyslexic; with a childhood friend whose behaviour becomes increasingly disturbing; and with a girl he hates. As readers follow him through the sixth grade and see the changes it makes in his life, he becomes a real person to them. (Grade 4-6)

 ‘So, You Think You’ve Got Problems’‘ – by Rosalind Burkett (Egon Publishers; ISBN 0905858859) – This easy-to-read book is for dyslexic children of all ages. It explains, simply and sympathetically, what is happening to them, and how they can be helped to overcome their problems. It also hopes to show children that they are not alone in their difficulties, and that there are others with the same problems. The aim of this colourful book is to put dyslexia into perspective, particularly for a child, but for parents also

 Thank you, Mr. Falker – by Patricia Polacco. Fans of Polacco’s (Thundercake; Pink and Say) work know well her talent for weaving her colourful family history throughout her picture books. Here Polacco shares her childhood triumph over dyslexia and discovery of reading in an inspiring if slightly formulaic story.
Young Trisha is eager to taste the “sweetness of knowledge” that her grandfather has always revered (here symbolized by drizzling honey onto a book and tasting it, which harkens back to Polacco’s earlier The Bee Tree). But when she looks at words and numbers, everything is a jumble. Trisha endures the cruel taunts of classmates who call her “dumb,” and falls behind in her studies. But finally the encouragement and efforts of a new fifth grade teacher, Mr. Falker, trigger a monumental turning point in Trisha’s life. She begins to blossom and develop all of her talents, including reading. Polacco’s tale is all the more heartfelt because of its personal nature. Young readers struggling with learning difficulties will identify with Trisha’s situation and find reassurance in her success. Polacco’s gouache-and-pencil compositions deftly capture the emotional stages – frustration, pain, elation – of Trisha’s journey. Ages 5 and above.

 How Dyslexic Benny Became a Star – Benny’s story changed my son’s life. It’s the first book he ever read twice. Unfortunately, I was too much like Benny’s father. Seeing myself portrayed changed my attitude. Now I know why it’s important to support my son instead of badgering him.

 Dyslexia (Talking It Through‘ – by Althea – aimed at 7-11 years olds, telling the story of a group of children with dyslexia.
‘I first came across this book four years ago and have since used it constantly as a starting point to explain dyslexia to parents and their child. The book is very short but filled with factual based material that explains the symptoms and effects of a learning difficulty in a very clear way. The text is matched by excellent illustrations and graphics and a dyslexic child will find it easy to follow and comprehend. Would strongly recommend it to parents and teachers as an excellent explanatory resource.’ (A Bohan).

I have by no means checked all these out – let me know if you recommned any of them.

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I like dead trees


Appropos of my previous post:

I am excited about the new definition of text as the medium through which ideas, experiences, opinions and information can be communicated. I actively encourage colleagues to keep a wide range of reading materials available.

There is a real likelihood that hard pressed teachers (and the squeeze is becoming tighter) will have not have the resources – emotional, intellectual, economic – to familiarise themselves with a broader range of texts than those we already use.

However, we do a profound disservice to our young learners if we ignore the fundamental habits of deep and earnest reading and embrace the new unreflectively.

While my sons at 8 and 9 years old adored having books read to them and were very literate in the broad sense, they were totally uninterested in reading. Then they were introduced to ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books. These ‘interactive’, non-linear texts (this was the early ’80’s) were the breakthrough for them, not least because they just had to read short paragraphs and felt they were actively involved in creating the story. Determining the protagonist’s next course of action, albeit from a very limited range of choices, was immensely satisfying for them. After a preference was made, the plot branched out and unfolded, leading to more decisions and eventually multiple possible endings. But a crucial point was that such books required less stamina than more traditional ones.

They rapidly moved on to more sophisticated and, it has to be said, more conventional, texts, eschewing the comic books, early graphic novels and sci fi so dear to many of their contemporaries. They built up stamina, learned to read stories which not only had more complex vocabulary but more profound concepts that needed to be pondered upon, incubated, borrowed and for and incorporated into their own thinking. For this, they needed time and space, practice and more practice (with encouragement at times), the opportunity to explore their new learning and link it with what they already knew.

I fear that the bells and whistles of ‘transmedia’ texts (what’s the difference between these and games? Perhaps there doesn’t need to be a distinction) represent an easier option.

Oh I do struggle with all this ‘transmedia’ stuff. I try to act as if I’m in the 21st century – honest. But I wonder about the efficacy of promoting these interactive books without the caveat that we have must not discard books. I don’t believe there is a set body of knowledge, a prescribed list of classics with which every child should be familiar (I’ve never read Dryden and have little inclination so to do). I do sincerely believe that unless young people are exposed and – yes – sometimes urged to step out of the constantly changing scenery of a game or text such as Alice, then they may never acquire the mature skills (or more importantly, the deep pleasure) that come when you finish a good book. It’s a different and equally necessary part of developing literacy.

I’m all for relevance and engagement. I know and dimly understand where kids are coming from today, although I do think it a myth that all youngsters are equally ‘wired’. I am keen on utilising all available tools to support learners to develop and grow and construct their own learning.

But… But… But…

‘Literacy experiences’ don’t always have to be immediately ‘relevant’ and full of whizz bangs just because that’s what the kids are used to. (Forgive me if I’m sounding like Chris Woodhead. Perish the thought!).

The joy of story stems from the emotional connection between reader and read to as well as the quality of the yarn: the child snuggling up to someone who loves her in the age old tradition of listening to a tale. No inanimate object, however jolly, can replicate that. Would I prefer to read ‘The Secret Garden’ to our 6 year old cosying up on the sofa and then take her to the theatre production or would I rather sit her in front of a screen to be made to feel sick at Alice’s trajectory through the desert? I know which she would choose. How about you?

When I’m reading a good novel, I want the story to continue, I need to be immersed and totally involved, to have my imagination exploded and my emotions squeezed.

I want to suspend my disbelief.

I really have no desire to exit the story. I make a story my own by being enraptured, wrapping myself in it, linking what I’m reading with my own experiences. Any exodus, distraction, interruption means I lose my focus, my involvement, my joy in the narrative.

There may be occasions when I want to be a ‘co-creator’. That’s fine. Kate Pullinger, the author of Alice writes about the ‘potential for interactivity that has come about as readers around the world create their own versions of new episodes of the story’. Another commentator describes ‘students developing their own works and stories, using the story as a launch point’.  That’s great. We need to enable our children to express themselves, to create, but that’s something separate from deep reading. Disruption is not conducive to the experiential reading that results in profound thinking and lasting ownership. At least not for me.

People become the stories they hear and the stories they tell. What I need as a reader is fewer distractions and a comfy chair. And children need the same. Perhaps not all the time, I agree. Of course there is a place for interactivity; I would never object to any tool that enabled anyone to explore and learn. After all, my life’s work has been to enable learners with dyslexia to access literature.

But, you know, we need stories as much – at times more – than food to stay alive. Some people need them more than others. And there are some who may never have the experience of self discovery through immersion in a book unless we in school provide the opportunity. We don’t always have to produce something in response to a stimulus in order for it to become part of ourselves. It seems that we’re in danger of focusing more on valuing what we can most easily assess rather than assessing what we value.

Possibly I’m exaggerating (moi?). Perhaps the drive to encourage digital technologies to become a part of learning to read is necessary because my grandchild’s literacy lesson may be very familiar to my sons or even, heaven forefend, to me.

But, I keep thinking of that poor baby and its bathwater.

The Future of the Book


The Future of the Book. (from IDEO on Vimeo).

Here is a thought provoking video – sorry I am defeated once more and can’t embed it.

Thanks to Ollie Bray for the  link.

I was particularly interested in the section of this video about ‘Alice’ as there has been some discussion of ‘Inanimate Alice’ here and here.

Bill Boyd describes ‘Alice’ (I assume it’s the same thing) as

a genuinely new concept in reading which combines elements of the written word, digital still photography, moving image, drawing, painting, puzzles, music, sound effects and elements of computer gaming. Unlike a computer game, however, it does have the linear progression of a book, and the reader ‘turns the page’ when he or she is ready to move on.

He quotes a teacher who thought it

so wonderful seeing some of my most challenging students and struggling readers completely engaged with this text.

I am sure that for those ‘developing their transliteracy skills’ it is a great resource. And I couldn’t agree with Bill more when he writes that if young people are to be considered literate,

we have a responsibility to equip them with the critical skill necessary for them to be able to interpret and create the kinds of narratives with which they will be surrounded.

I’m just a bit concerned about thowing the baby out.

I am trying to stop myself from ranting so will leave this here and post another time!

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