My blog posts are erratic despite best intentions to write fortnightly. Like many, I am time, sleep and leisure poor. It seems life is about working through the rush. It could be television binge watching, a seven-minute workout, or 30-minute no fuss dinners. Recently, Bake Off winner, Nadiya Hussain created ‘Time to Eat‘. She offered ‘recipes designed to help us all save time and calm our hectic lives’.
What is the rush? Who is counting down? Furthermore, are we permitted time to read?
Bookwagon is on an autumn tour, from Somerset to Surrey, North London to the Midlands. The journeys allow us time to read and a lot of time to catch up and make discoveries. We are captives in the car. We talk about the books we’ve read and enjoyed. I’ve realised anew how much Mr Bookwagon loves the series initiated by Rory Branagan, Detective He feels Lucy Strange is amongst his favourite middle grade writers- The Secret of Nightingale Wood and Our Castle By The Sea.
Reading on the move
I’m reminded of how important it is to have time to talk about the books we’ve read. There are book groups, obviously, and schemes built around books, but what about the reading? Isn’t that most valuable?
The Somerset Tsunami by Emma Carroll
It was an honour to popup within the esteemed gathering of the annual Somerset Literacy Network meeting. Speakers included Charlotte Hacking and Farrah Serroukh (CLPE- Centre for Literacy in Primary Education). Both emphasised the need for educators to take time to read and consider what they are reading with their classes. The pair spoke about the role of pictures in reading, emphasising the value of taking time to develop visual literacy. They encouraged the company to absorb the view and pitch perfect text in picture books like those from guest Joseph Coelho.
Somerset Literacy Network Bookwagon popup
Guest Nicola Davies spoke of time anew. She asked us to consider the three hundred years it takes for an oak tree to grow to full maturity.
Later, guest Laura Carlin shared her sketchbook. She asked us to contemplate the time it has taken her to grow into the illustrator and designer she is now. We were reminded of how important it is to be allowed to be wrong, erase, review and view.
From acorn to oak…
Laura Carlin’s sketchbook
Bookwagon supports and arranges visits by writers and illustrators. We know the value of these to schools. School funding issues and the rigidity of school timetables can make these difficult. Indirect, deep learning potential of school visits may not be realised because of dense school schedules. Do these schools allow time to chat and discover, and time to read?
The ticking clock
We are all working to deadlines. Nadiya Hussain repeated, ‘In our time short world….‘ We watch Noel and Sandi shouting about how much time the GBBO contestants have to perfect their jaw-dropping crafts. Thereafter, we block our ears to Gregg Wallace’s or Joe Lycett’s warnings, or Michelle Ogundehin’s footsteps approaching as would-be designers fluff their cushions ahead of deadline. It is little wonder that so many viewers enjoy ‘The Repair Shop’. Craftsmanship is valued over a time limit, here.
Migrations, 2019 nominee for BAMB Beautiful Book Award
A consideration of targets
Who sets these targets? What do they determine? What are we seeking? Does everyone step to the same beat?
Could it be, as Nicola Davies and I considered, that animals, such as dolphins and whales, are superior to us in that they follow a natural rhythm? Artificial goals, affirmation through targets, the need for ‘things’ do not determine worth or happiness.
Dolphin, Cedar Key, Florida
Deadlines for writers
In Spring 2020, we are promised ‘The Mirror and the Light’, the third, long awaited,final book of Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy. The writer said, ‘“When I began work on my Thomas Cromwell books back in 2005, I had high hopes, but it took time to feel out the full scope of the material. I didn’t know at first I would write a trilogy, but gradually I realised the richness and fascination of this extraordinary life. I hope they will stay with me as we walk the last miles of Cromwell’s life, ascending to unprecedented riches and honour and abruptly descending to the scaffold at Tower Hill. This book has been the greatest challenge of my writing life, and the most rewarding; I hope and trust my readers will find it has been worth the wait.”
Worth the wait…. We’ve been aware this year, of writers at the end of their tether, desperate to meet deadlines. These are writers whose income and self-belief depends on meeting deadlines. Bills, edits and thereafter, sales concern them. We can at least offer them the courtesy of taking time to read their works.
The Adventures of Harry Stevenson
Recent Desert Island Discs’ guest Lin-Manuel Miranda of ‘Hamilton‘ says he gets his best ideas from ‘listening to people’s stories‘, and ‘playing around in my imagination.’
When Nicola Davies discussed her poignant picture book,Perfect she reminded us about swifts. She explained their design enables them to fly continually for two years, so that their lives are on the wing. They ‘live meaningful lives’.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first chosen disc, ‘Cabaret’, reminds us that ‘it isn’t that long a stay.’ So, let’s take time to read. Reading offers possibilities, avenues, explanations, questions, affirmation that ‘We’re all right.’ Aren’t we all better for taking this time?
Bookwagon hopes you have made a happy return to the new academic year. This annual marker affects everyone in the community, from hairdresser to long-distance lorry driver. However, the biggest, most lasting effect of the start of a school year is upon the school goer. These first days are daunting especially for the very young. There is such pressure in being small within a big new world.
Assuming new people, routines and settings in new places is stressful. Furthermore it is demanding for families. There is a comfort in returning to the familiar at the end of a working day, with food, chat, bed, bath and books. Bookwagon seeks to be part of your daily routine with books we’ve read and love and recommend to you. Happy new school year.
At the end of a school day
In the meantime…
Bookwagon has refined its appearance and products, while the world enjoyed its summer holiday. We are proud of our new look and opportunities. There is a variety of subscription packages, including Book Bundle and a Birthday list service.
The first enables a customer to buy a bunch of books for a reader, maybe a series, or a selection created from the information you provide. It’s an especially great choice for the reading devotee, as a gift, or for a specific period of time.
The second, the Birthday list service, was inspired by a regular customer requesting gift books for her daughters’ friends’ parties. What if you could preorder a number of gift books, advising us of recipients’ essential details ahead of their celebration? Bookwagon chooses the book, gift wraps and writes your birthday message before posting the selection. What is better than the gift of a book?
A message from Bookwagon
Bookwagon offers a bespoke service. Being small means we can assist our customers personally, using our knowledge of our children’s books to suit specific individual needs.
It means we can get to know our writers too. Recently we met with acclaimed non-fiction narrative writer, Joanna Grochowicz. After failing to find biographies about the polar explorers to fulfil her sons’ interest, this writer created her own. Extensive research and commitment culminated in Into the White: Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey and Amundsen’s Way: The Race to the South Pole. Ernest Shackleton’s polar adventure will feature in a third title.
Joanna Grochowicz, London, September 2019
Into the White and Amundsen’s Way
We are proud to be Joanna’s on site bookseller during her schools’ tour in November, and then again in December. Moreover, her first visits coincide with National Non-Fiction November. Imagine stepping inside an historic figure’s (snow) shoes, ‘feeling’ their determination, fears, hopes and experience. Joanna’s books are stirring, informative and important.
I have learned to drown out the clamour of bigger booksellers despite feeling intimidated by their reach. Reading every book we sell means we are less inclined to rush to a new release likely to be splashed across the chain stores. Being small means Bookwagon may champion titles and writers lesser known but meriting a wide readership. We recommend books through our experience of them, with authority.
During the summer I enjoyed reading Gabrielle Kent’s Penfurzy set adventure series- Knights and Bikes and Knights and Bikes Rebel Bicycle Club. The first was an introductory selection for small startup Brixton publisher ‘Knights Of…‘
Knights and Bikes’ series
I could hear the Cornish accented Demelza, and smell the oil of the bike chains. What a great adventure series, with crafty Arthurian links!
Small, bubbly, smelly and communicative
On Thursday, the third title in Jennifer Killick’s ‘Alex Sparrow’ series is released. I read these titles backwards, i.e., I read and loved Mo, Lottie and the Junkers ahead of Jennifer’s Alex series. As our gift book subscribers can attest, I love that first title SO much and recommend it hugely. The beauty of being an independent children’s bookseller is that I am able to read our books in the order I choose; I’m not being driven by the market or a publicist.
‘Mo, Lottie and the Junkers’ inspired me to read both ‘Alex Sparrow’ titles on the trot. What a treat! If your reader enjoys books with dialogue, humour, rather annoying main characters, flaws, the unexpected, quirky humour, coincidence and pratfalls, please don’t overlook Jennifer Killick’s titles. Roll on in ‘Alex Sparrow and the Zombie Apocalypse’!
Titles by Jennifer Killick
Small publishing houses
Many of of Bookwagon’s favourite titles have emerged from smaller, bespoke publishing houses. These appear to have a vested interest in discovering and nurturing quality writers and picture book makers.
However smaller publishing houses have cautious print runs, through necessity. Furthermore, they do not have the big marketing budgets of large international publishing houses, nor the network for global sales. This means writers and picture book makers are at the mercy of booksellers and a reading public. What a responsibility!
A Bookwagon gift book
It can be frustrating to be a reading bookseller, championing wonderful writers. So often publicity is attached to known writers or picture book makers, reprised titles, or the quick thrill of a debut. It’s why we read every book we sell, so that we can urge readers toward books and writers and picture books we know you’ll enjoy.
What it means
Being small and independent offers this bookseller opportunities to read and sell international titles like Felicita Sala’s Lunch at 10 Pomegranate Street, created in France, or Australian Aaron Blabey’s riotous The Bad Guys. We cheer the arrival of Uncle Shawn and Bill and the Not One Tiny Bit Lovey-Dovey Moon Adventure the third title in A.L.Kennedy (yes, that one) and Gemma Correll’s bizarre, hilarious series, celebrating kindness and individuality.
Bookwagon new titles
Being small can be powerful, as Clementine shows, in picture book maker Chris Wormell’s astounding graphic story, The Magic Place
Small is powerful in real life. Mr Bookwagon and I were both brought to tears reading the true stories selected for Children Who Changed the World. As I write another small, strong girl protests outside the White House; Greta’s Story
A new Bookwagon chapter book selection
On the road
Being small means that when Bookwagon is called to popup in schools throughout London and the Home Counties, we curate each event specifically. We work to create book fair selections that captivate, win and challenge readers. It’s a demanding order, but one we love!
There is value in being small, starting small, but reading large and widely. We look forward to sharing a depth and breadth of wonderful reading opportunities throughout the new season and beyond. We can’t wait!
Looking for meaning
The range and wealth of children’s poetry has been a delightful discovery for me. Since starting Bookwagon, I have sought to read and expand my knowledge of children’s poetry.
Poets are looking for meaning in their creations. The tweezer picked perfection and impact of their words create images and stimulate feelings. Poetry is a most accessible genre to children and adults. It offers children a chance to understand, word play, recall, recite and build a word relationship.
I found teaching poetry a direct, structured, liberating form of writing. Poetry invites us to write and read for meaning.
Young New Zealand poet Isabel Carmichael had been asked to consider the impression of war on a setting, when her class learned about Gallipoli:-
In one minute’s silence…..
Can you imagine the firing of the guns as the sky turns black from the bullets?
In one minute’s silence…..
Can you imagine people having a good day,
When suddenly people with guns come running onto the shore?
In one minute’s silence……
Can you imagine all of the diggers shooting at all of the other soldiers,
When they know that they are just as important as them?
In one minute’s silence……
Can you imagine all of the dead bodies lying on the floor from being shot…..
In one minute’s silence.
Bookwagon loves, recommends and sells this year’s CLiPPA poetry prize nominations’ list proudly.
Thinker My Puppy Poet and Me is an empathetic poetry diary between a new puppy and his boy master. They are looking for meaning in their relationship with each other and the world.
Dark Sky Park by Philip Gross is rare and tender and beautiful, recommended to nature loving families.
A Kid in My Class is essential school fare. Rachel Rooney’s dedicated examination of a classroom of children is raw, empathetic and recognisable.
School is the setting for Everything All At Once by Steven Camden. We travel through secondary school doors with an assembly of characters, keen to fit in, experience, not stand out, be themselves… if they knew who that might be. They are looking for meaning in alien worlds of adolescence and education.
A selection of CLiPPA nominees
Oxford Spires Academy
Oxford Spires Academy has won more poetry awards nationally, than any other title. Writer in residence, Kate Clanchy has compiled a selection of this school’s poems in an outstanding collection, England Poems from a School
Students speak more than thirty languages with more than fifty dialects. Yet there impressions of home, growing up, England and their future resonate with truth, longing and hope.
Rainbow over fields of barley, Oxfordshire
The meaning of words- Geordie style
My Geordie mother-in-law enjoyed opportunities to recall traditional words and phrases from South Shields. ‘Wey aye ‘man!’ as she agreed with something, ‘cannae’ offered in a stream of conversation for ‘can not’. Reminiscing about wartime dance floors, she would occasionally consider a ‘Bobby Dazzler’, or a ‘bonnie lass/ lad’ or her ‘marra’, Doris. Cheryl (Tweedy/ Cole/ Versini-Fernandez) delighted Helen, until she disappointed her. ‘I think she’s gotten above her station. She’s not a Geordie lass.’
Geordie lass and lingo
The meaning of words- Kiwi speak
Mr Bookwagon is beginning to understand the New Zealand art of understatement. A family member texted him after Watford F.C’s devastating loss in the FA Cup final- ‘No words mate’.
Nouns that tangle me still, include:-
- cling film- Glad Wrap (New Zealand)
- flip flops- jandals (New Zealand)
- tacky back plastic- contact (New Zealand)
- newsagent/ corner shop- dairy (New Zealand)
- Tippex- Twink (New Zealand)
- lolly- iceblock (New Zealand)
- plasters- Band Aids (New Zealand)
- kiwi*- kiwifruit (New Zealand) * – This one makes me very cross! A kiwi is our native New Zealand bird, and/ or a native New Zealander, not a hairy fruit.
Iceblock eating Kiwi
What writers do
Emma Carroll, best-selling, award-winning children’s writer explained Operation Mincemeat to a recent school audience. She explained its initiative and how this event in WWII developed into a story within When We Were Warriors. Emma shared how she is looking for meaning in her research and storytelling. Her research allows her to ‘be who she wanted to be’ and ‘create the stories she wanted’.
Asked for a top tip when writing, she advised, ‘Lose the adjectives. Give the words a chance to make a story.‘
Emma Carroll school visit
Kate DiCamillo- and how we read for meaning
Walker, Kate DiCamillo
Kate DiCamillo’s books are deceptively simple. Yet her words are laden with poignant meaning. We seek meaning in the context and our innate understanding to assume nuance, impulse and setting. Deckawoo Drive, her early chapter book series including Leroy Ninker Saddles Up, offers complex words and feelings.
Leroy Ninker lives a small life. His dreams of being a cowboy sustain him.
‘ A car drove by Look, Mama!’ a boy in the backseat of the car pointed at Leroy. ‘It’s a very tiny cowboy.’
Leroy stood up straighter.
‘I am a cowboy on his way to procure a horse,’ he said. ‘I am a man wrestling fate to the ground.’
Fate appears to conspire against Leroy, yet he does not buckle.
Leroy Ninker Saddles Up, Kate DiCamillo & Chris Van Dusen
Early chapter books
Bookwagon has hit the trail with a succession of author visits and popup book fairs recent weeks. I have spoken about children’s literature, also .
Bookwagon popup fair
Frequently, we are asked for recommendations about early chapter books, titles to bridge picture books and middle grade readers.
Bookwagon asserts picture books’ relevance to readers of all ages. Picture books offer an incomparably varied opportunity to readers looking for meaning. We are looking for meaning in the pictures of our daily lives; from babies, physical health, DIY, gardening, internet shopping, home interiors, to photographs. They are part and parcel of how we understand.
Early chapter books are a landing stage, however. To that end, Bookwagon has been working to extend our selection of ‘forever’ early chapter books, titles where the stories are interesting and meaningful.
A selection of early chapter books
We invite readers to click on our tag cloud to discover a unique selection. Remember! Every Bookwagon book has been read and loved by us. We only recommend and sell books we love. We are looking for meaning.
Words and meaning
A friend’s grandsons are being raised to speak three languages. They will hear, speak and read for meaning in these languages. My nephews are fluent in Japanese and English.
Bookwagon family readers
A difficult part of raising bi- lingual or tri-lingual families is unravelling the nuances of individual languages. A basic example of this is in national humours. Another is gestures. When we work to acquire another language we are looking for meaning beyond the words and phrases alone.
ESOL/ EAL experts recommend families speak and read to their children in the adults’ first language, but ‘share’, i.e., read books together, in the adults’ secondary languages.
Bookwagon is building a range of quality translated titles from around the world. The subtleties, subjects and construction of these works, even in translation, are different from English books. Reading translated books extends understanding for readers looking for meaning.
Across the oceans
Before an audience at the British library, children’s laureates Lauren Child and Sir Quentin Blake discussed how their different works hit problems in translation. Lauren Child shared the consternation of American publishers by ‘My Uncle is a Hunkle’.
“What’s a hunkle?” her publishers demanded.
“It’s word play,” she explained.
Looking for titles with determination
I am delighted when international titles we seek to share with our readers become available in Britain. Works by writers like Kate DiCamillo fly from the wagon into readers’ waiting hands. Recently, we’ve included unique early chapter/ graphic books by Canadian writer Ben Clanton- Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea!
Minh Lê and Dan Santat collaborated to form a glorious picture book about characters looking for meaning in their relationship in Drawn Together
Polly Horvath wrote ‘Everything You Need on a Waffle‘, a favourite title I read to classes. It is unavailable in Britain. I am very happy to welcome her most recent title, The Night Garden. The setting is Sooke, a little known, hidden treasure on Vancouver Island. We holidayed there before the giddy days of Bookwagon.
Some recent international titles
Further looking for meaning
Customers ask how the Bookwagon team maintain our pledge to sell books we’ve read and loved only. We are committed to knowing every book we sell. It means we recommend children’s books for your children confidently in person, by gift and online. It means that I am writing in a room covered in books seeking my readership. What bliss! Check out the latest titles rolling off this reader’s lap and onto a page soon!
RIP- Helen Mayho, Granny Bookwagon
In the beginning
My teaching career began in a seaside, rural school miles from my home. Children between 5 and 13 years of age attended; it was a local, community school. I drove a speedy Honda Civic to and from home morning and night, along gravel, winding roads, that even today, defy belief.
The children were diverse, naïve, tender, troubled, inspired and wonderful. We’d begin our day with full school P.E, had daily swimming in the big school pool and knew to avoid the field should it be soggy and whiffy. (That meant the septic tank needed attention.)
We ran a tight ship. The learning was thorough, ambitiously planned and monitored, within a creative curriculum. Reading was at the heart of the learning. Building readers for life was our priority.
During my training, I created a booklist of children’s titles I wanted to share with my pupils. I brought my own copies into the classroom. The children would record their names in a notebook when they borrowed these titles. They became battered, especially if they were passed on to the next reader, but building readers for life was at the forefront of my actions. I loved it when the children suggested additions. I brought more titles in based on recommendations from the public library, press, and the South Auckland Children’s Literature Association, which I joined keenly.
Selecting the right books
Once a term, I travelled into the city to collect a crate of books from the central school library service. These books were like gold dust. More than once, a title would disappear…. However, repayment was a small price to pay for the growing reading habit.
The school library
The school library housed school journals. Their poetry, non-fiction articles and stories fed our reading programme. Whole class books, including big books, offered opportunities to build understanding and teach literacy skills. Guided reading was a core component. An individualised reading programme was resourced by real books. Progress was monitored through home-school diary communication, anecdotal teacher assessment, discussion, and reading, one-to-one, with every child at least twice a week.
Sharing a book
We taught grammar and dictionary skills, that the children could write and research confidently. We created differentiated vocabulary lists to extend the children’s word skills and interest. Children employed comprehension cards, at the beginning of a school day, individually or peer assessed.
The school sought to extend its reading resourcefulness and range through building a library. We were charged with building readers for life.
Proud Muschamp Primary School library
The beating heart of building readers for life
Every day, there was silent reading. We called it ERAB- Everybody Reads A Book. Teachers would read a book at this time too. Each person was captive within our reading world. We recovered through taking time during the week to talk about the books we were reading.
Every day, teachers read aloud to our classes. It was a set time, most often after lunch, when the playground needed offsetting, and children’s energy levels had naturally dipped. These remain amongst my most cherished times of teaching. We were building readers for life.
A blackberry pie sized silence
On one occasion, I had to leave school promptly during the mid-afternoon for an appointment in the central city. I returned home late in the evening. It was only as I prepared for bed that I realised I’d a huge blackberry pie splodge across the right buttock of my white and polka dot trousers. I’d been wearing this stain for some six or seven hours. The following day, I enquired with my class. ‘Oh yes, we saw,’ I was told. ‘We worried that if we told you, you’d rush off to get rid of the mark without finishing the chapter…’
The culprit pie?
World Book Day Week 2019 has been a whippy cream frenzy of delight. Bookwagon travelled from Brighton to North London to Oxfordshire. Writers and illustrators with whom we worked have travelled to Lancashire, Cambridgeshire, Somerset, Wiltshire, Leicestershire and Hertfordshire. Busy itineraries continue throughout the month.
We relish opportunities to meet teachers, librarians and parents. We’ve seen Great Book Off competitions and extreme reading. One school had a Caryl Hart Focus Day to celebrate World Book Day. We heard of art installations to encourage a love of picture books. Everywhere we’ve seen dressing up, extreme reading, guest readers, author/ illustrators’ visits and a wholehearted celebration of books and reading.
The Great Book Off Bake Challenge
Yet…. why a day? Isn’t building readers for life something to reckon upon every day? Any day?
From one extreme
Bookwagon has been deluged by enquiries from schools seeking writers and illustrators for World Book Day. Some of these were requests for visits with only days to spare before the nominated day. I’ve taken enquiries about writers who are no longer breathing, let alone writing. Too many have come with the double- edge of seeking a free visit, or a Crufts’ style assault course schedule for the guest- sometimes both. One enquiry was for a writer/ illustrator who would stay overnight at a teacher’s home, before running eight sessions across a day with children between Years 3- 11. There would be a packed lunch.
To the other
Many schools call at the beginning of an autumn term, well ahead of a nominated World Book Day. ( Some book a year ahead!) These schools have preferences as to their visitor; their school will know their books. More specifically, the teacher/ librarian calling will love their chosen guest’s books.
These teachers and librarians realise writers and illustrators deserve payment for their work, including travel costs.They understand the need for a reasonable number of sessions/ workshops within a day. They appreciate their guest needs to prepare. This is a day absent from the story board or light box of a writer’s/ illustrator’s profession. These callers appreciate this opportunity for a writer/ illustrator to meet their readers, so sales and book signing are built into the schedule.
Emily Hughes, school visitor, and reader
These teachers/ librarians demonstrate a commitment to children’s books. They are building readers for life.
The librarian and the teachers
Bookwagon selects its books to sell at popup book fairs specific to each venue. We aim to support the school’s efforts in building readers for life. To ‘hook a child’ onto the right book is akin to Paul Hollywood finding the perfect pie crust.
Bird pie, ‘The Twits’
In recent popups, we have been aided by staff demonstrating a huge commitment to reading. They know and love children’s books. These adults talk about books, know what their pupils are reading, and what they like and do not like. They offer opinions and demonstrate their enthusiasm for children’s books. Students visiting our popup fairs in such establishments almost palpate with an attachment to reading books. They are curious and engaged, keen to make informed, confident decisions. These interactions are my most cherished moments of being an independent children’s bookseller.
World Book Day popup
World Book Day
From my start, to where I am now, a change of country and career, building readers for life has required a devotion to children’s books. Adults who love children’s books and reading, parent, teacher, librarian and independent bookseller, are fundamental to real reading development. Parents must be enabled to read and love reading. Schools and communities have the right to fully resourced and staffed libraries. Teachers must have the opportunity to read and love and share children’s books. Building readers for life remains the priority.