This is a reading school
‘This is a reading school’ are words that cheer our hearts. While we realise such a declaration is mandatory, it suggests determination. Yet what is a reading school?
I am reluctant to comment or advise about the reading schemes and methods employed by schools publicly after three years away from teaching full-time. I share my experience and training when asked. However I know what makes a reading school.
Curated and waiting popup book stand
Preparing to meet the reading school
Bookwagon creates our popup book fairs meticulously. We are still making a final selection, considering the best matches for the school we are visiting, right up until the evening ahead of the visit. I peruse all the information I have amassed. No two popup book fairs are identical.
Recently we had a run of five across a week in four different counties. We curated our lists specifically for each setting. We have a good idea of the likely outcome of a visit from the interactions with the school before we arrive. Having a contact who is proactive, enquiring and excited about our visit guarantees a Bookwagon popup book fair will be a hit! We will be visiting a reading school.
Setting up a school popup book fair
Schemes and expectations
We do not create a popup book fair to support a school’s reading program because reading for pleasure doesn’t work that way for any one. A packaged measuring scheme or reading journey record, neither creates nor maintains a reading habit. Bookwagon supports the good work families and schools do to build readers for life. Reading schools build readers for life.
How do families build readers for life?
Parents build readers for life through demonstrating their own need to read. They have a reading habit, and show that reading satisfies and informs their lives. They model reading every day. There is a family bedtime reading routine that everyone enjoys. Library visits are commonplace. Books are gifted, discussed, compared, enjoyed, and treasured.
Bedtime shared reading
How do schools build readers for life?
Schools build readers for life with teachers who demonstrate their need to read. Staff model reading every day. Book shelves are kept in good order, with titles updated, displayed, discussed, reviewed while old titles are replaced or discarded. The school values its library. Staff seek to know what children like reading. They seek to extend experience and understanding. Reading is celebrated. Books are discussed, compared, enjoyed and treasured. Personal, recreational, unevaluated reading time is part of the daily timetable.
Emily Hughes, school visit
The library in the reading school
Reading schools ask our advice about their library stock. Bookwagon reads every book it sells, which means we can offer confident recommendations about titles, genres, collections. Furthermore, our experience means we know what works, i.e., which books and writers can go with others, to encourage a reading for life habit.
Teachers visiting a recent popup
Recently, we have been asked for guidance by four schools seeking to establish and extend their school library. While one school sought a particular genre, another sought titles for a particular key stage. The other two requested suggestions as to long term development. Two of the schools have enrolled with our School Orders subscription service, developed to support schools’ specific reading needs.
Bookwagon is about to hit the road anew with popup book fairs across London and the Home Counties until the end of the year. We pick up the pace in the spring anew. We hope to meet reading schools such as the last setting we had the pleasure to experience.
This primary school included ‘Drop Everything and Read‘ in its daily timetable for everyone on site. Books were thoughtfully displayed at child friendly heights and accessible front covers. Thereafter, titles, authors and genres were labelled clearly. We did not see battered, abandoned books. It seemed like the school library was the active heart of the school.
Sharing books at a recent school popup
Staff visited our popup and asked us about our book selections. Furthermore, they made suggestions and shared their experiences. They encouraged visitors, directing them toward choices they thought they would enjoy. Staff demonstrated their interest through browsing, asking our opinions, and being seen to buy our books. The Headteacher and senior staff engaged with us throughout our visit. This reading school showed that reading for pleasure, with the opportunity to extend reading range and experience, is essential.
Reading teacher, ‘I Am a Tiger‘
The students at this school enquired about our books. We read everything we sell, which meant that we could talk about our books and make informed decisions. Even KS1 children listened, asked questions and made choices based around what they heard and saw. Many children shared their opinions and experiences, and their reading selections proved wide and varied. We sold out of picture books. At no point did any visitor to our popup book fair suggest that they were ‘too old for picture books’. This reading school respects the value of every genre.
Picture books, Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
The school did not raise its reading program with Mr Bookwagon and me for this was irrelevant. However we know that this school is a reading school from our experience of the school’s practice in building readers for life. Bookwagon feels privileged to have been part of that initiative.
The reader for life
We hope your school is a reading school!
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?
The summer holidays stretch ahead like an ocean with a feeling of emptiness and wonder. Lauren Child, current children’s laureate, would offer it’s an ideal time for children to ‘daydream and stare out the window.’
Summer is a time for making discoveries
What a great time to read!
What to read? How to read? Bookwagon is bombarded by these questions on a daily basis. Currently, we’re having parents turn to us, asking for direction following school reports and concerns about their children’s reading direction and expectation. They’re brandishing recommendations from schools, booklists bearing cobbled together titles like First Term at Malory Towers and The Skylarks’ War in the same reading bracket! It’s despair at dawn! Reading is not a competition. There is no finishing line!
Make time to read every day. More importantly, make sure you take the time so your children realise reading is important to you, too. While attention to social media is a popular bow to break us, other considerations cut into our time.
Sharing a book on a day out
We are more scheduled than we have ever been.
We are connected to our cars more than ever. My mother, a very wise and environmentally aware woman well ahead of her time, suggested every family should have no car days every week. We are linked to the shuttle- from car, to school, football practice, ballet, play dates, … We need time! Reading is not a competition, something to be snuck in as an ‘oh heckfire, we’re meant to read!’ What sort of message does this give? Do you take time to read? Do your children know how much you value this time? Value time off the wheel?
Time for guinea pig grooming
2. Support your children’s selections
Support your children’s reading selections, whatever they might be. Your children might be influenced by friends’ recommendations. Books chosen may be well ahead of their chronological or reading age, or seemingly well below. However, in showing your children that you trust their decision making, it allows them to own any mistake and move on.
Reading (the same book) together
3. Buzzy noises
Do not hear the buzzy noises of ‘what they SHOULD be reading’- please!! Most of the buzzy noises are nonsense from media campaigns pushing a blockbuster. Many popular books are pulp fiction, destined to be discarded to increase landfill. Support your children’s selections so that they find ‘forever’ books.
Dismiss the playground buzz of ignorance suggesting your child is reading below ‘their level’. What does that even mean? We don’t read for levels! We read for satisfaction, information, meaning and joy. See the light! Reading is not a competition. It is a lifelong link to wonder!
A selection of international titles
4. Don’t deny your children their preferences- comic books
Mr Bookwagon grew up loving Marvel comics- Thor, Captain America and Spiderman.Mr Bookwagon’s comic devotion did not delay or affect his reading adversely. Quite the contrary. He has a wider reading range than anyone I know. In a day he reads entomology research, sporting facts, cryptic puzzles, economic titles, thrillers and children’s books. His range makes my head spin! However, reading is not a competition.
After to a recent school talk to parents, I was approached by a staff member. She thanked me for reminding parents that comics are a valuable reading matter. Her son had been dismissed throughout his primary school years for his comic book devotion. He is currently in his final year of medical school, a keen and curious, devoted reader. Reading is not a competition.
Bookwagon shares great books with schools
4 (B). Don’t deny your children their preferences- picture books
Do not deny your children picture books, please. There is no cut off time when they become too old for picture books. There is more to be found in the nuances of picture books than in most other forms of literature. They are a rich resource for building inference, knowledge and deep understanding. Seek out picture books. Reading is not a competition.
Activity and non-fiction picture books
A trio of great new picture books
3. Seek people who know
In your routine, include your public library, know your children’s school library change day, and link with independent booksellers. Librarians and independent booksellers are charged by a love of literature. They can make inspired and informed recommendations. Make friends with them.
Librarians and independent booksellers have their fingers on the pulse of what is really out there. They pass by the pulp fiction plastering chainstore windows, discounted to dust supermarkets, recommendations by billions-following vloggers, or past-it bookclubs. Leading librarian, Dawn Finch says, ‘You don’t feed your child junk food, so why feed them junk books!’ We are in a golden age of children’s books. Ask, seek, search, read!
A snapshot of Bookwagon’s new chapter books
Bookwagon’s gift book subscription is built for your reader uniquely. I have a notebook into which I match titles to our readers throughout the month. It takes a day to email my suggestions to our subscribers. We do not choose the same book for any reader. It takes Mr Bookwagon and me a day to write the personal notes and wrap the books to each reader.
Gift book preparations
Bookwagon will be extending its book subscription packages to include book bundles and schools and teachers’ subscriptions. Book bundles offer families opportunities to purchase a specified number of books for a holiday, special event, season, or follow up a theme, favourite writer or topic, e.g. nature, Lisa Thompson, or moon landings.
Gift books preparing for postage
Please avoid a Marie Kondo approach to books in your home. Your home is not a hotel. It’s a place of safety, nurture and memory. Keeping books supports a feeling of home. Opportunity to reread offers any of us time to reflect and feel reinforced. Every rereading experience brings something new. Seek ‘forever’ books that are meaningful time and time again.
Talk about your favourite books. Don’t expect your child’s to be the same. Read at the same time. Work toward a regular bedtime reading habit. Furthermore, choose from the wealth of brilliant children’s writers who are skilful, wonder winning and glorious.
Candy Gourlay titles
Series, themes and a good laugh
Seek themes, moreover in a variety of genres. Currently we are beset by space books. Obviously, don’t look to the most obvious, but seek those that have been curated, considered and are ‘forever books’ of quality.
Seek series. We all love the feeling of reading through a character, a writer, a theme, a setting. Furthermore, reading a series builds stamina, confidence, inference and pleasure. Reading is not a competition- ever.
A Bookwagon selection of series
If your child is a more reluctant reader, look for funny books, but don’t head to the most obvious, ‘world’s worst’, selection. Books that make us laugh promote the joy of reading, stay with us, and make us want even more.
A ticklish trio of funny books
Show the joy
Reading is a pleasure. Laura Venning, Impact and Evaluation Research Manager of The Reading Agency reports on results from a recent survey:- Why reading for pleasure is important. Reading decreases the symptom of depression and dementia, improves wellbeing and relationships and increases empathy. Don’t you want that for your children? Reading is not a competition.
Feeling the joy
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