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How to Plan Your School Author Visit

As many of us have not had authors physically in our school buildings for a while, I thought now might be a good time to reblog this. I hope you find it helpful!

Rachel Coverdale

If you work in a school and intend to host an author visit, I recommend you read through this blog carefully. If you’re not, I recommend you don’t read it at all – this really is an example of writing to inform and not writing to entertain!

Every year I book three authors to visit our school. Our Patron of Reading always visits our Year 7s then I choose a different author each year to visit our Year 8s and finally we are “given” an author at discount price through the “Crossing the Tees Book Festival” for our Year 9s. I was pretty daunted the first time I had to organise a visit; worried sick I’d forget something important. Having done it several times, I thought I’d set out everything I do here so you can use it as a starting point for your author visits 😊 This list is…

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The Worry for Racists

Dear Racists,

I’m worried about you. Are you okay?

I know things can be confusing for you. One of your criteria is to bully minority races. When England was predominantly white British, a different skin colour made spotting the “other races” very easy for you. But confusion has set in for you now. Should you be racist against Polish people who are white but a different race? How do you know that a person is a different race from you if they’re just quietly walking by in the street minding their own business? If they speak, that could help you because they might have an accent, but can you tell a foreign accent from a regional accent? What if they don’t speak? Should a law be passed that white non-British must speak at all times? That will help you to identify them.

One of your favourite slogans is “Go back to your own country.” But there are people living here who go back many generations. I know it’s incredible to think that they can still look like their heritage and have lived here without losing their own skin tone, but it’s true. What probably frightens you more and you cannot really contemplate is that some people with darker skin than you may actually have been here longer than you. So when you’re shouting “Go back to your own country”, should you follow your own advice and also head back to which ever country your heritage originates from?

Then we get to mixed race. What a conundrum that is for you poor mixed-up racists. If a person is 50% black and 50% white, and you make the assumption that the black heritage is from another country, should you send half of the person “back” and keep the other half here? What if it’s not a mathematically easy 50/50 split? What if there is more bias towards the white heritage side or the black heritage side? What if the mix is from another heritage but not black? What if there is more than two heritages? What if the mix is two different black skinned races but neither originally from Britain but are about 10th generation? Oh dear, it get’s very complicated doesn’t it?

What will happen as more and more races are mixed? It will make it very hard for you to distinguish between the colours of people’s skin. Especially as a lot of you are addicted to sunbathing in the summer. If your skin goes darker than the mixed race person next to you, will your racist friends turn against you? Should you pick on yourselves? Is the colour of the skin the important factor here or the original race? If the colour of the skin doesn’t matter in summer, why does it matter in winter? Many of you like to holiday in Spain. When you’re out there, despite the illusion that it’s filled with white British, the white British are actually the minority. So, referring to the earlier rule of minority, do you then start picking on yourselves and leave the Spanish alone? Do you all chant “Go back to your own country” at yourselves?

The thing is, I don’t think you racists are very good at maths. You worry that “your” country will become too full, because although you can do basic level addition, it would appear you cannot subtract and so all the “white British” (who may or may not be white or British) who emigrate away from this country are not accounted for in your sums.

I’m sure you were very excited when Brexit happened, but now who is driving the lorries? We need more doctors, nurses and care staff. But they’re back in “their own countries”. Should we invite them to return or continue with dangerous shortages? It’s a big question isn’t it – let decent people work in the UK and have everything running smoothly, or claim we don’t want them and keep stumbling on through shortages? Hmmm…

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Friendship

How many friends should we have to be truly happy?

One? Two? Ten? A hundred? On social media, it’s definitely the more the merrier. But are they friends? The number we should have, is constantly in dispute. And this is because the term “friend” has varied meanings.

The in-tune friend:
If we’re lucky, we have that one friend, who knows exactly what we’re thinking and we can finish each other’s sentences. Sometimes just a look is all we need to know and we fall about laughing. That’s a great friend to have. You feel in tune with that person and therefore have a sense of belonging which so many of us need. But not everyone has that friend. There are other types of friends.

The Forever Friend:
Then we might have that friend who we rarely see, perhaps once per year at most due to distance, family or just life. But when we meet up we feel we’ve never been apart. We have the same viewpoints and interests so we instantly reconnect.

The Effortless Friend:
Then there’s the friend who we can relax without the need for conversation. The friendship is peaceful. It’s effortless. We all need peace in our lives.

The Challenging Friend:
In contrast there’s the friend who we feel we should hate. Who argues with us and has totally different viewpoints. When you analyse your friendship you have no idea why you keep arranging to meet up all the time. But perhaps, unbeknown to you, you actually like the challenge of having to prove your viewpoint. The relationship is fiery but fun and keeps you feeling alive.

The Reliable Friend:
Then you might have that reliable friend. You know if you arrange an event, whether it’s a party or a sponsored run or a litter-pick, they will turn up. They will support you whatever you do, even if they don’t like what you’ve organised. You organised it, so they’ll show up. They’re solid.

The Party Friend:
If you organise a party they’ll be there and they’ll be the important life and soul of the party. But they’re unlikely to come to much else. They know what they like and they stick with that. And that’s fine – they don’t owe you anything.

The Friend of a Friend:
We don’t invite them out and they don’t invite us out, but whenever you bump into them, you get along. Probably because you have the same friends.

The Fantasy Friend:
Sometimes a celebrity or fictional character in a book can feel like a friend. We’re not daft, we know they don’t know us (perhaps don’t even exist), but it’s still a nice feeling – I have a lot of those!

The Phone Friend:
If you’re feeling down, you can pick up the phone and they’ll listen. They don’t interrupt, they don’t tell you what to do, they just listen.

The Social Media Friend:
They interact with lots of your posts. That brief moment of trepidation when you post something that you hope others like but maybe won’t is immediately alleviated by their reactive “love”. You might never even have met them, but you feel a bond with them which you reciprocate by liking and sharing their posts too. Often this can be a “business” rather than an individual person, yet you still feel that bond.

The Work Friend:
You get on like a house on fire at work. You really appreciate each other and have a good laugh. You only want to go to work dos if they’re going to be there. But you never meet up any other time.

The Family Friend:
It could be your spouse, sibling, parent or adult child. The friendship is different but so important. They know you so well, yet never hold that against you! They may be your only confident.

The Furry (or feathery or scaly) Friend:
It’s no joke – your pet can be that constant source of love and acceptance. You can tell them your deepest darkest secrets and they’ll never tell a soul.

The Manipulative Friend:
The one who sucks the life out of you, makes you feel angry, depressed, worthless and tells you that you owe them. They’re not a “friend”. They’re just a manipulative “person”.

The Self Friend:
This friend is the most over-looked friend – it is you! Are you kind to yourself? Do you allow yourself “me time” or are you harsh and judgemental? Friendship definitely starts with yourself because you’re with yourself 24/7.

Some of the above might be the same person. And we don’t need all of them. But what if you don’t have any friends? Not any true friends – just people who you associate with and think they’re your friends. Sometimes, friends are not the people you expect them to be…

In “The Boy Who Couldn’t”, I put Greg, a boy with a difficult family life and who was considered cool and tough, with two younger boys, one of whom, James, was very uncool and certainly not tough. It was like a little social experiment. Of course, none of them wanted to be friends, they never would have chosen each other in a million years, but circumstances placed them together.

As they were forced to spend time together, they saw past these external façades and began to get to know the real character inside. Greg began to admire James for his knowledge and passion for the countryside and in particular for badgers. James glimpsed a kinder side to Greg and a vulnerability as he saw him smile and laugh for the first time as he watched the badger cubs playing and came to the realisation that Greg must usually be very unhappy.

This tenuous friendship is soon tested when the boys have to rely on each other to save the badgers from dangerous baiters. Distrust and misunderstandings quickly cause problems.

The friendship that is perhaps more important than any other in this story is James’ father towards Greg. It’s the relationship he should have had with his own dad and it is the gentle glue that holds Greg together when his world is falling apart. It is initially James’ father’s idea for the boys to spend time together and it made me think about how often we can influence our children’s friendship choices.

Too many times I hear of children with autism, ADHD or some other difference, being excluded from parties. Recently, it was one of my own friends who poured her heart out; how upset her child was knowing he wouldn’t be invited to the “Freedom” parties during the summer holidays. We need to teach our children that everyone deserves a chance at friendship. Every child deserves forgiveness and second chances when they get things wrong. When you invite that troublesome or lost little soul to your child’s party, you won’t miraculously cure all their problems, but you can be one significant signal to that child that you think they’re worthy.

World Friendship Day this year is 30th July 2021, followed two days later by National Friendship Day UK on 1st August 2021. Wouldn’t it be great if every child and every adult picked up the phone, called round (if rules allow) or sent a message to a friend – whatever type of friend that might be. And if they reached out to someone who isn’t a friend yet, even better.

Friends make the world a better place. To quote Winnie the Pooh (well, A A Milne I guess), “A friend is someone who helps you when you’re down, and if they can’t, they lay beside you and listen.”

Let’s all try to be that friend and teach our children to be that friend too.

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How Can I Get My Teenager to Read?

Teenagers… they’re a little more challenging than they were when they were in single figures!

We all try our best, but I frequently have frustrated, worn out parents of teens asking me for the magical cure to make their previously cheerful child recover from their current reading refusal.

At this point, I wouldn’t blame Primary school teachers for feeling a little smug – they did a fantastic job teaching the children to read, but now those same children are at Secondary, it’s all gone awry!

So, what’s changed and how can you fix it?

They are older. Okay, I know I’ve stated the obvious here, but think about it – have you actually made any adjustments for their age? Are you still trying the same author that your child liked five years ago? Or last year? Are you trying to protect your children from horrors and thrillers perceiving your child to still be too young and in need of protection? Pre-teens and teenagers love danger and taking risks – the safest way for them to experience danger and risk-taking is through a book so let them push their boundaries.

They think reading is so uncool! Well, if they’re still reading the same books they read at Primary school, yes it is uncool. If you’re still using their Primary teachers and (I’m sorry…) yourselves as role models, then yes – you are soooooo uncool, like OMG embarrassing! Change the role models, how about Marcus Rashford, Frank Lampard, Georgia Toffolo, Scarlett Curtis, Stacey Dooley, Stormzy, Oti Mabuse, Nish Kumar, Aleesha Dixon, Tom Hardy, Taylor Swift… If you haven’t heard of some of these, you prove the point! Look out for my next blog where I’m going to be looking at the reading habits of certain celebrities.

The books are too difficult/too big. If your child hasn’t reached the fluency stage yet (which happens at a reading-age of approximately 12/13 then they are still concentrating hard on the actual reading itself: decoding, sentence structure and punctuation. It’s only when they reach full fluency that reading becomes almost as subconscious as breathing and they feel like they’re watching a film rather than doing any work. Teenagers are old enough to have this explained to them. Tell them that just like anything, football, gaming, dancing, whatever – practice is the only way to improve. But be clear that the practice will pay off – once they reach fluency it really will be like sitting down and watching TV! Now what self-respecting teenager isn’t attracted to the idea of no work at all! Oh and contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of older children’s books which are nice and short! There are also “Hi-Lo” books which are written for higher aged students with lower reading ages, so if their reading age is younger than their actual age, they don’t have to read “babyish” books. Ask your school librarian for recommendations.

They don’t have as much time as they used to. They don’t have time or you don’t have time? Time management is one of the most useful skills you can teach your child. They have more homework now and they still want to attend their clubs, then there are their friends to play out with. There is time to read, but it needs to be scheduled into their daily plan. Make sure their reading time is also your reading time. If you sit down and read together it makes the calm, relaxed and focused time they need. If you’re zipping about doing the laundry or making dinner, they’ll be distracted and stop reading. This is the best excuse ever to stop the housework, sit down and relax with a good book – and you’re being a brilliant parent doing it. I’m handing it to you on a plate! Take it 😊

They just don’t want to. In order to make reading an attractive proposition, we need to enhance the experience. Make sure the room is clean, tidy, comfy and quiet. Get yourselves a hot chocolate or a cool lemonade, light a scented candle, put out a snack, snuggle up with your pet… anything that makes the time more attractive. Make sure they have plenty of choices of books. If they find a book boring, there needs to be another one to hand. Borrow lots for free from your school or public library. Your teenager doesn’t need to read for long. 10 minutes is enough to start with and then build them up to 20 minutes per day if you can.

They have a new hobby. Excellent! They can read lots of non-fiction books about their hobby to learn as much as possible about it. And I guarantee, no matter how weird their hobby is, there’ll be a fiction book out there with a main character who has the same hobby!

So there you have it. What has changed is your child! They don’t have the same mindset, tastes or attitudes they did last year. We have to let them grow up, no matter how much we want to press the pause button, but we can still guide them. And the fact you have just read this blog shows you want the best for them. You are fabulous and they will appreciate you … eventually.

Good luck! xx

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Reading with Mother (or whoever)

A great blog here on how to help your young child foster a love of reading. Written by Jessica Norrie.

Words and Fictions

Once a week we send two “reading books” home from the school where I teach.We also send a library book, English and Maths homework from year 2 onwards; requests for help with projects like family trees, local history or holiday diaries; pleas for junk modelling materials and Sainsbury’s vouchers; payment demands (technically optional) for school outings/ visiting performers/ tuition in musical instruments, sports or drama; slips to be returned with appointments for parents evenings and curriculum information sessions; reminders to bring in PE kit /suncream /rainwear / asthma pump /no cuddly toys in in case they cause arguments; occasional instructions for special clothing, eg red for Red Nose day, jeans on Jeans for Genes Day, superheroes on – you get the picture – or once, crazy hair (can’t remember why)… Then there’s a newsletter containing information about everything else, except what’s forgotten and has to be disseminated via separate letters, and what is officially copied…

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