Launch of Sheffield's Year of Communication - part of the ESCAL project

Yesterday (29/4/10) I was at the launch of Sheffield's Year of Communication. Sheffield is eight months ahead of a national year of communication which will run in 2011.

Sheffield's Year of Communication is part of the ESCAL project (Every Sheffield Child Articulate and Literate by the age of 11). Reading Matters is fully engaged with ESCAL, supporting volunteer reading mentoring in schools and organising family literacy training and support programmes.
There were some very engaging speakers and workshops at the launch. I particularly enjoyed Mick Waters, president of the Curriculum Foundation. He encouraged everyone to have realistic conversations with children and young people; not adopting that classic sing-song voice when speaking to young children, or telling a pupil to do something then two minutes later asking "so, what are you doing?". He spoke about Talk Partners in the classroom, but the message is the same for Reading Matters one-to-one reading sessions; conversations are so much more powerful when the "[young people] know that their partner does not know". Young people love to tell you facts and opinions when you show you are genuinely interested.
Mick ended they day with a video, that could have been one of Reading Matters reading sessions, with an adult and a pupil reading together. By the end of the clip a host of children who started out off-camera were crowding round the two readers to get involved. As Mick said, it was the adult giving her time, attention and dedication to the children that made all the difference.


Care2Read - Sheffield Foster Carers

Yesterday I attended the last day of a Reading Matters Care2Read training course for Sheffield Foster Carers. It is the first time we have run the course with the Sheffield Fostering Service, and it was just great.

The eye-opener for me was the numbers of children the foster carers look after and the range of ages. Of the 12 carers I met, on average they look after nearly four children each, with ages from 9 months up to 16 and older.

I have one 18 month old daughter who is quite enough of a handful, and clearly dealing with foster children can will be even more complicated.

As well as looking after the children, the foster cares have a big package of training and development to handle too. I hope Reading Matters can play a part in this in the future, obviously without adding to workloads.

The foster carers on the course were full of ideas and inspiration. They will get an accreditation from the course, but I think the main outcome was some reassurance that they are already doing so much to help the children with their reading and confidence. Building activities into your daily routine in an informal way (reading road-signs, recipes, shopping lists or whatever) is just as much benefit as a big structured 'educational plan'.

Another Care2Read training course for Sheffield Foster Carers starts today I hope this will go as well as the first.


Observer Article: Parents 'must let children choose what they read'.

There was an interesting article in yesterday's Observer; Parents 'must let children choose what they read'. It is hard to argue with the article which is based on, findings by Michael Norris in the Book Publishing Report. But I do get frustrated that so many articles like this appear from the publishing industry. My guess is that the Observer article is based on a press release from the publishing group. The ultimate aim is to sell more books. I have no problem with this, but I'd love to see a similar number of articles based on findings from librarians, teachers, parents or literacy charities. I suppose these groups are just not as skilled in preparing eye-catching press releases.

Despite my moaning, here are the rather good five tips for parents on how to make happy young readers.
  • Don't make reading a chore; it is not "good" behaviour
  • Let your child choose their own reading from a handful of selected books
  • Don't edit their choice by the age range on the back: see what they fancy
  • Don't tell them what you enjoyed when you were their age
  • Stand back and let your child talk directly to the librarian or bookseller


Escape From Colditz by Deborah Chancellor - Barrington Stoke Book 13

Escape From Colditz is the third book in a row that I have looked at on this blog that has elements of non-fiction. Looking at the author, Deborah Chancellor's other books, it is clear non-fiction is her speciality (I particularly like the look of I Wonder Why Lemons Taste Sour).

Escape From Colditz is the true story of the escape of two dutch prisoners from the notorious World War II prison. It is written as a story, but a few things give it away:
  • This version is obviously not autobiographical, and has been heavily adapted from the original, not least it has been translated into English
  • It is written in the present tense, which feels a little odd for a historical story
  • The sentences and paragraphs are perhaps a little longer than in other similar adventure books
  • The characters are not really given distinct personalities, (after their escape, the two heroes actually fall-out and separate on their way to the Swiss border, a clear personality-clash that I would loved to have heard more about, but is not really explored)
As a result of these points, the book feels a little clunky. It is still tense however, and a gripping story including:
  • Dummy prisoners
  • A fake padlock
  • Barbed wire and 4 metre high walls
  • German guards
  • A complicated journey to the border
  • Fake papers
  • Search lights
  • A moonlight border crossing
As with all the Barrington Stoke books it is beautifully presented, I love the cast list and map at the start and the illustrations have a super graphic-novel feel. In fact, I wonder if the story would have been better told as a manga-style graphic-novel?


Getting Linking 4: Printable Resources

I have written a few previous posts with links to websites providing sources of materials for use in the sort of one-to-one partnerships Reading Matters supports. These have proved pretty popular and so I am going to continue them as a series under the title Getting Linking. In this post I am concentrating on items you can print out and use in reading partnerships. I am sure there is something of interest here, let me know if you spot any other resources we can share.


The Doomsday Watchers by Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore - Barrington Stoke Book 12

I only realised The Doomsday Watchers was a sequel (to The Doomsday Virus) a few pages in. The story and characters are nicely re-established, but I always prefer to read a series in order, and I think it would of helped here.
In addition, it feels very much like the middle book of a trilogy or longer series. Not much actually happens in this book, whilst the previous book sounds a lot more action-packed. I did like the four key characters. The young hero and his authority figure enemy are both very arrogant; neither is actually very pleasant! Their respective side-kicks are much more attractive personalities.
The book is in Barrington Stoke's FYI: Fiction with Stacks of Facts range, and there is lots of nice cutting-edge equipment to discover. There is also a glossary of terms at the end of the book, a nice introduction to this style of presenting information. All of the technology does mean there are some tough words and phrases, such as "Hard disc recorders linked to uni-directional microphones".
I love the black-and-white illustrations. I hope there is a third book in the series to round off this story.


They Shall Not Pass by Andy Croft - Barrington Stoke Book 11

They Shall Not Pass by Andy Croft is a story set in and around the very real Battle of Cable Street which took place in the East End of London in 1936. Depressingly the issues, racial tension, gang crime and right-wing antagonism, are still very relevant today. The hero of the book, Sam, has to deal with all this. He also has to cope with his own more personal issues. These are also relevant to contemporary readers, if a little more extreme, he is fourteen and works 60 hours a week, he still has problems with friends, fights and girls.

The plot focuses on Sam's relationship with work-mate Alf and girlfriend Rose. Sam is Jewish, Alf Irish and Rose English. Sam and Alf fall out over Rose. Alf seems to be a simple racist, but the book shows it is never as simple as that as Alf is jealous and abused by his dad.

After a sensitively drawn build-up there is a dramatic show-down as the Battle of Cable Street rages around the characters. This isn't the last chapter however, and the conclusion stretches the story across Sam's lifetime, demonstrating the far-reaching implications of the events of his childhood.

They Shall Not Pass is in Barrington Stoke's Solo range, meaning it is incredibly easy to read, but still gripping and thought-provoking.


The Lady Grace Mysteries: Loot By Grace Cavendish - Random House Review by Reading Leader, Sabeela Mahmood from King Ecgbert School

The third in our set of reviews of Random House books by Reading Leader, Sabeela Mahmood from King Ecgbert School.

The Lady Grace Mysteries: Loot
By Grace Cavendish


The story is about a maid of honour serving Queen Elizabeth. It is the day before the Queen’s coronation anniversary when the crown of St Edward gets stolen. Grace must now turn Lady Pursuivant and track it down.

The main characters are Lady Grace, Queen Elizabeth I, Ellie, Mary Shelton and the Jewel Thief.


The book is a great blend of adventure and 15th century life. I thought it was very well written and it had a lot of tense bits making me want to read right through to the end. The descriptions of life then was very detailed and convincing. I would love to read the other books in the series. I would definitely recommend this book to my friends. Overall it was a wonderful and great book to read.

By Sabeela Mahmood