Book Events · Panel Notes

What’s the story? Listening to Deaf and Disabled Children.

Please note these are the notes I took during the panel, all of these are my jottings down and are not direct quotes from any panel member

Hosted by Alexandra Strick, Booktrust Consultant – organisation’s ongoing consultant on all aspects of disability and inclusion

Julia Donaldson – Author
Rebecca Atkinson – Writer
Ros Asquith – Illustrator
Lauren Metcalfe – Action Deafness Books
Aminder Virdee – runs sessions in school around disability equality, London Ambassador for the Trailblazers network at the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign
Joyce Dunbar – author of over 80 books (now a severe/profoundly deaf lipreader)

Signed Stories, National Deaf Children’s Society, Life and Dead, Sense, Sign Health, Action on Hearing Loss and Deaf Kidz International are all supporters.

Every children’s laureate expected to have special interests, hers are performance, libraries and deafness. Already felt informed and had views on first two but on deafness felt it was going to be a journey of discovery.

Started off by doing a lot of thinking, remembers saying she wanted there to be more books for deaf children – son said but deaf children can read any book, reading is not dependent on hearing. But actually the preschool sharing stories is so important and is listening based. So not as simple as that. Found there are a number of websites with signed stories ( Does feel these websites could benefit from linking with each other.

Went to Edinburgh Festival, saw a signer on stage and chatted with her. Edinburgh Book Festival now has consultation to ask which sessions should be signed, she’s going to talk to other events now e.g. Bath Festival to see if this can be adopted as a way of working.

Exhibition at Seven Stories included screens with signing, from some words to whole stories. Hearing children entirely fascinated by the signs.

Next year on World Book Day hopes for theme of children acting out stories and that one strand of this will be signed stories.

Feels there is a danger of just sitting deaf children in front of a screen to watch signing so is keen that there are picture books suitable and appealing for deaf children so that they can still have that experience of sitting on the adult’s knee and enjoying the sharing of the book.

Important to realise there is such a wide spectrum of deafness, there is no typical deaf child. When a child is in a signing household there isn’t so much of an issue of communication but resources may not be there, deaf parents who were taught in a different time may have different attitudes to reading or poor reading skills themselves. Majority of deaf children born into hearing family so they have a huge amount to learn about all forms of communicating including how to enjoy books with their children.

Constantly being approached by families asking what are appropriate resources for their children, so important to have deaf characters so children feel there is someone like them. With older children important to think about we move from picture books so visual aids are removed, need to continue to have picture books that are suitable for older children.

Most deaf children are born with same potential as hearing children but when you look at deaf adults average reading age is 8 so we’re letting these children down. Much of what we pick up is incidental, a lot of this is missed by deaf children

Two key areas 1 – representation of deaf and disabled children in books, 2 – how deaf children are accessing books. Not just important for deaf children to see deaf characters but for hearing children to see good and positive representations of deaf people. She has been teaching her hearing children how to communicate with her using Julia’s book Freddie and the Fairy. Some deaf children grow up thinking they will be hearing as adults ‘cos they don’t know any deaf adults. Feels screens means there’s the potential for a leveller to improve access to children so there’s a balance to be found. Maybe the option for eBooks with a little signer in the corner?

Alexandra: Looking at representation and positive images, Joyce how important is sign access to books? How can more publishers be supported?

Very difficult, bottom line for publishers is commercial. Disability is not commercial, produced a book in 1986 (Moonbird) took 6 years for this to be picked up by a publisher, still hasn’t earned back its advance. Feels deaf people not just unable to hear but unable to be heard. Feels deaf people continue to be invisible.

Alexandra: Do you find there are a lot of books featuring deaf or disabled characters?

Very rare, usually comes from a concerted effort from a group of individuals. Elizabeth Laird’s idea gave Joyce and Rebecca the opportunity to tell a story together. Feels every minority group has made a lot of progress but there is still so far to go.

Alexandra: When you do highlight the books you then have to consider how the books match the scope of individuals, there aren’t anywhere near enough books to come close to representing the range of experience. Feels she often talks about deaf and disabled children and forgets that these grow into deaf and disabled adults and that these people are probably even less represented.

So important for these to be represented, included children’s fiction showing disabled adults – children may have disabled parents or grandparents. Wouldn’t it be great to see a deaf superhero?!

Also about those incidental characters, books about teaching others about deafness etc, but so great to see a character who just happens to be deaf rather than aiming to explicitly educate. Need things to be more incidental.

Alexandra: Ros, I know this is something you have interest in with interest in diversity.

Not deaf herself but one of earliest jobs was working with adults with severe learning disabilities, horrified by how badly they were treated, introduced by mental age e.g. this is Pam she has a mental age of 2. Gave her early interest in all these areas, when she asked the adults what they most wanted their response was that they wanted to eat off proper plates, they were all given paper plates. Tries hard to subvert expectations.

Now including far more disabled children, sometimes this is in the foreground, sometimes in the background. Focus is on the child not the disability. Should not be about being worthy, or PC. Need to be able to be light-hearted or have a laugh. (Max’s Dream Day picture – inhaler on bedside table, wears glasses, I didn’t even notice!)

Alexandra: Becoming increasingly aware of challenge of getting these changes in publishing, can’t expect individuals to be experts in every area of disability. Books worth noting:

• The Raging Quiet by Sherryl Jordan
• Twinkle Twinkle little Star (Sign & Singalong) by Annie Kubler
• Freddie and the Fairy by Julia Donaldson – excellent messages about communication particularly with deaf people
• Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick told half by prose, half by pictures, pictures do not match words they actually tell story – style previously used by author, not developed especially for deaf children
• Read My Lips
• The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean
• Goat Goes To Playgroup by Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt
• Moonbird by Joyce Dunbar and Jane Ray
• Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin
• Best Friends by Mark Jacobs
• It’s Okay to be Different by Todd Par

Julia: deaf children were thrilled to see Monkey wearing a hearing aid in Goat Goes To Playgroup.

Alexandra: discussion with Aminder was hugely valuable, she and her brother both very strongly involved in working with changing attitudes from a young age.

Positive portrayal is a big drive personally, she and her brother were put in front of assembly at school and it was pointed out that they were disabled, because of this they spent a lot of time isolated, children scared of hurting them. Recently got passionate about seeing positive representations in books, as a child she never saw this, always negative stereotypes e.g. Long John Silver with wooden leg and eye patch, Hunchback of Notre Dame – Disney changed the story so that Quasimodo did not get the girl. Working in many schools teaching about disability awareness and how important it is from an early age, needs to be integrated in stories but not the sole focus.

Alexandra: Important for us all to be working on this, not just changing publishers changing everyone. – Booktrust web resource on books and disability.

‘What’s The Story?’ resource coming at the end of May.

Other useful resources:
Letterbox Library
Healthy Books
In The Picture

Book Events · Panel Notes

Express yourself: Bali Rai and a group of Young Londoners

Please note these are the notes I took during the panel, all of these are my jottings down and are not direct quotes from any panel member

Introduced by Liv Bird – Chief Executive of Booktrust, have scheme on website for online writer in residence, currently Bali Rai. A wonderful resource for anyone interested in reading and writing and getting children engaged with the process. Bali is a great supporter and advocate for young people, has made sure we’re listening to them.

Alongside Bali the panellists are all keen readers, teenagers. M (13), K (13), E (16) and L (16).

Idea behind the panel – part of offer from Booktrust was to focus on teens and YA as the book gifting was likely to be dropped, so remit was to talk to teens and YA. What could he do? For years industry spends lots of time talking about what children want, but there are never young people involved in this discussion. So this panel is for the industry to actually talk to young people. Teens have been briefed to be completely honest!

Q (Bali) how do you feel young people are represented in books?

M – Not shown very realistically, don’t feel that I’m reading about a kid my age just another book with an adult, authors not in touch with inner child or familiar enough with what teens are really like. We’re not just robots, we get mad and happy at the smallest things. Bad side particularly badly done, e.g. hoodies always mean bad, she wears a hoodie and isn’t bad, has been challenged in places for wearing a hoodie.

K – Agrees, characters are described as being ordinary kids but they’re not. Characters tend to be far more emotionally strong than real teens, they’re braver, they can do far more than real kids actually do. Would be terrified to do lots of things teens are being depicted as doing.

E – Don’t feel some books represent their world e.g. Twilight – liked that Native Americans contrasted with white Americans, not always seen. But Bella is so passive and found the relationship very uncomfortable. Contrast to Rani and Sukh where there is a strong character.

L – Some teen books focus on really small issues, suggest teens don’t have awareness of bigger things going on. Can relate to characters but feels like the focus is too narrow, and can be too one track minded.

Q (Bali) – So how does he as 40 year old male get into the head of a 15 year old female character?

M – All adults have an inner child and just need to tap into that, think about own experiences and how they related to others at that age.

Q (Bali) – Are we talking about seeing you as humans first rather than as teens?

M -Yes as individuals rather than teens as a whole thing, everyone’s different.

E – Immerse yourself in the culture, read the fiction, watch the tv shows, read the magazines. Get teen girls to read writing, see if they agree.

L – Interesting to have a conversation with the character, talk about the issues being faced, give characters proper personalities.

Bali -Barrington Stoke does this, every single book goes out to schools for feedback.

E – Maybe author can do this first individually, and then panel for discussion.

Bali – What about the voice you hear? One thing heard on school visits is that in some YA fiction the voice is not authentic, sounds like an adult.

M – Adults would sound more professional, teens have their own way of talking e.g. TTYL is actually said by teens, if writers don’t get teen lingo then they’ll never sound right. Most adults are pretty boring, they’re disconnected and have embraced adulthood and responsibility. Some adults think that young people can’t have opinions.

E – Agree, best way to get a genuine teen voice is to go out there and listen to them, go to schools and listen though be aware that teens talk differently in different situations so maybe look at their creative writing.

L – Stream of consciousness might give most accurate language.

Bali – But we have to be aware slang changes rapidly and so can date a book,

E – Still read Pride and Prejudice and loved it, so it maybe doesn’t matter

B – Talked about his love for The Outsiders and how specific the language is to that time period.

M – not a problem, gives a feel / understanding of then.

E – Sees books like this as a welcome challenge

L – Enjoyed Small Island, written in accent, hard but felt better connected to character

B – Has strong opinion about difference between children and YA and thus what written, feels a lot of what is written for YA is about children not YA. Are you children?

M – No, stop being a child when you enter secondary, that change from having a single constant teacher to a teacher per subject, more expectations, lack of consistent support. Completely different, child transition from being entirely dependent little person to someone responsible for themselves.

K – Sometimes the representation is right, it depends on how the author sees you, depends on the individual, some children are more mature than some teenagers. Feels she knows how the world works and how to cope alone. Don’t know everything about how adults work, still learning and still has development to do.

L – When she was 12/13 didn’t read teen books, started reading adult books. Teen books at that age are hard to relate to, teens feel more grown up than they actually are, and then as got a bit older went back to YA and could relate to it far more, feels voices are more like 16/17. Feels a definitely gap in the market, very few books that are really suitable for 12/13, no one is providing what they want to read. Capable of understanding from adult point of view but still so much developing to do.

E – Adults recognise teens have fewer experiences, at 14 was overconfident only now realise year on year how much developing is still happening. Don’t underestimate ‘cos teens will feel patronised.

Q (author) – Which adult books were you reading?

E – Catcher In The Rye (hated it but wants to revisit now older), Eva by Peter Dickinson, Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Jen Mah, biography of Mary Bell

L – Beloved (confusing but loved it), A Piece of Cake (about prostitution and drugs, very good but feels was too young, learned a lot about how difficult life can be, feels adults would have underestimated ability to understand)

M – Colour Purple (was told it was too old for her so motivated to read it)

Q (Storytellers Inc, St Annes) – Do you want to read about teens your age? She wanted to read things she shouldn’t have been, adult books.

M – Fine with both, older will have different experiences and perspectives. In Killing God by Kevin Brooks main character was about same age, could relate well to her.

L – Thinks with Twilight, Bella is an average teen, this is why she’s so loved ‘cos she’s the same age and relatable. Tended to read books that mom was reading so has influenced choices of books. Interested in both same age and older, likes to discover through other characters but there’s something comforting about reading a character same age going through same thing.

Q (Student, Publishing, 74) – Where are the males on the panel? What are your feelings about literature poetry? (Currently collecting poetry from teens, having translated into range of languages.)

M – Doesn’t read poetry, doesn’t understand why people do but has friends that love it, they say it’s quicker and shorter and interesting, can still have same depth.

E – Loves poetry, reads and writes it, enjoyed Shakespeare’s sonnets, the Romantics, foundShelley hard but loves Byron’s She Walks In Beauty, loves Caroline Duffy, easier to understand but still has depth. All introduced through school, so may not have experienced otherwise.

L – Don’t naturally think of poetry, thinks it should be as popular as prose.

M – There was supposed to be a boy but he chickened out. She feels boys more interested in sport / physical activities. One of her teachers has said boys can’t stay still, girls are far quieter and more passive so take things in better.

E – Thinks boys less vocal about reading, has male friend who reads loads, knows another guy who reads and writes creatively lots.

M – Doesn’t know any boys who read, feels they don’t even get what reading means. They don’t even like reading in class, make fun of it, don’t pay it proper attention. Knows that if they’d try they’d love it.

Bali – Does lots of work with reluctant young men, feels lots of them aren’t telling the truth, they do actually read but secretly.

K – Does think there are boys closet reading.

Q (Lucy Coates) -She gets asked not to put in swearing and sex as it won’t get past gatekeepers. How do you feel about them?

M – All teenagers know about sex, most teens swear. Not going to be anything new, no more bad examples to be set.

L – It happens, why shouldn’t it be in a book? Feels this is why there are issues around such things, should be open about things. Best way to tackle issues is to talk about them, a book is a great way to start a discussion.

Q (lawyer, freelance writer (Christian journals) and writes for teens) – How far do you go with gratuitous violence, gang issues?

E – Has an 8 year old brother, didn’t like him having toy guns etc. Now feels it does happen so books can deal with it in a responsible way, can show how things are bad and harmful. Brilliant school librarian guides right kids to right books to discuss these issues but important to have that discussion support.

L – By going there you can deal with a lot of issues e.g. why gang member joined gang.

Bali – Are there any lines that shouldn’t be crossed?

M – Is uncomfortable with idea of young teens reading about rape, but knows she was aware of it and so the right discussion could be had.

L – No, but it’s about the way it’s dealt with.

Bali – Authors do get feedback on this, e.g. his recent book opens with graphic rape scene and one school had issue with it.

Q (writer) How much are you interested in non fiction?

E – Leisure reading choices all fiction, non-fiction reading is mainly down to exposure (mum studying law), feels it’s not aimed at teens well, not interestingly presented

K – Haven’t read any, feels it’s not interesting enough, the layout’s not suited to teens, Horrible Histories are fun but others just show facts and are boring.

M – Don’t really read any, in the library walks straight to fiction, non-fiction just looks like a big mess, would go and look up specific thing, too much like studying.

Q – Is reading a form of escapism? And if so surely reading gritty, hard things doesn’t allow for escapism? Would something less everyday be more escapist?

M – Doesn’t matter if book is full of unicorns, werewolves, or not you’re stepping out of you and stepping into someone else. The character will always be different to you even if faced with the same situations.

Q – Is 24 and not ancient, but as a teen hated text speak, prefers to read words written properly, so wouldn’t text speak alienate some teens? Would it not make novel more for a niche.

E – Personally agrees, she and her friends feel boys sound like idiots in texts, thinks it’s about doing something new and original, e.g. novel written in notes on fridge. Okay in moderation.

M – Don’t need whole novel in text speak, just accurate to how teens talk – things like “Me and my mates” not “My friends and I”. No one talks perfectly.

Q – On the subject of boys reading, went on school trip to France, on last night talking “what’s said in France says in France”, group of boys ended up all talk about reading, discovered one of them actually writing a book. Do any of the panellists write?

M – Writes short stories, doesn’t share, hides under bed, writes about anything that comes to her.

E – Carries notebook everywhere, writes poetry lots. Some part finished stories.

L – Had to write short story for school, would love to be able to write but doesn’t feel that creative.

Q (Someone from Booktrust) – runs website with teen section, where do you find out about the books you want to read?

M – Walks into library and browses, title first, then blurb, then skim to see if interesting.

L – Amazon’s recommendations, libraries, mum, friends’ recommendations

K – Picks based on cover, then blurb, then reads last pages, finds books in school library.

E – No time now for library so book recommendations and Kindle free books.

Bali – really hopes people will now take this on board and talk more to young people.

Book Events · Panel Notes

Waterstone’s Children’s Laureate Promotion with Julia Donaldson.

Please note these are the notes I took during the panel, all of these are my jottings down and are not direct quotes from any panel member

Marian Keen Downes – Booktrust
Melissa Cox – Waterstones
Julia Donaldson – Children’s Laureate

Marian – Booktrust always keen to promote picture books not just in early years but right through into secondary school programme.

Julia – chosen 10 picture books for the promotion. Initial brief was for Julia to choose books that could be read aloud. Lovely task, 10 being featured but chose 20 and had another 20 that nearly made her shortlist. It was Waterstones that chose the final 10 from 20. Her love affair with picture books started long before she started writing them, when she was discovering them with her own children. Loves that for all children picture books give an opportunity to explore the world, to find out about things they wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to experience or to find out about themselves e.g. books about bereavement. Parents can also find out about their children things they wouldn’t necessarily discover. Loves the huge variety of picture books there are from the very realistic to the very wacky, fiction to non fiction, prose to poetry.

Asked publishers to send their 5 star picture books for her selection.

  • Dogger by Shirley Hughes, very realistic, good story, opportunities for discussions
  • The Day Louis Got Eaten by John Fardell, structure more comic like, humorous story, it’s predictible but also unpredictable – don’t know what the next creature will be
  • Six Dinner Sid by Inga Moore, cat has 6 owners all living in the same street, neighbours don’t know each other
  • Dogs Don’t Do Ballet by Anna Kemp / Sara Ogilve, dog just wants to be a ballerina, lovely nice recurring phrase that children can join in with
  • Would you rather… by John Burningham
  • Otto the Book Bear by Katie Cleminson, Otto is a book bear, looking for a new home – the library full of books and book characters, ends up being read by lots and lots of children
  • The Snorgh and the Sailor by Will Buckingham/Thomas Docherty, also about books, longer story (smallish text)
  • Handa’s Surprise by Eileen Browne, a short text but lovely
  • Mad About Minibeasts by Giles Andre/David Wojtowycz, a book of little poems about insects, very bright and colourful featuring lots of bugs, could inspire children to write their own.
  • Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel, Julia’s absolute favourite, quite muted colours, longer stories, frog and toad are like a comedy double act (frog is straight man, toad is comic), each small book contains 5 stories, there are around 4 books.

Waterstones are passionate about story telling and getting children reading. They sponsor Julia as children’s laureate. Aware that their average store has 6000 different children’s books (large stores have 10-15,000) so wanted a promotion that could provide guide to some of the best books for children. Leaflet will be available in stores alongside display of books. Alongside Julia’s choices Waterstones have added a couple of their own.

Picture This competition last year, Julia wrote text and illustrators competed, winner now working on a second book with Julia.

One that didn’t make the list, unsure if it’s still in print, Whose Mouse Are You? by Robert Kraus and Jose Aruego. A question and answer book, nice to have the variety of structure. Has cliffhangery element, question on right hand page, turn page to get the answer. Would also have liked to have had more rhyming books e.g. Mr Magnolia by Quentin Blake.

Promotion launching now, will be down to individual stores as to exactly how they do it, but all will have leaflets and most will have some sort of displays.

Q – You mentioned picture books for secondary, what are these books like?
Marian – depends on what book is for, recently selected Anne Frank picture book which is quite dense but mainly illustration, also Antony Browne’s Hansel and Gretel which has dense, dark, quite adult text. Things like A Monster Calls are very different.

Melissa – thinks the potential for there to be illustrated books for older readers, Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman is YA colour illustrated book, will be published by Egmont later this year, already out in the US.

Marian – trend for GN and manga is making it less difficult.

Julia – think it’s lovely to have the availability of these books, though also need for plenty of books without illustrations. Personally finds pictures in GN hard, not the way her understanding works.

Comment from audience member – because librarians have identified the desire for older readers to read picture books many have now got collections.

Q – Julia you mentioned wishing for more rhyming books, so why didn’t they make it?

Julia – submitted shortlist but was aware that some may have been out of print, so not entirely sure of what the ratio had been. Whilst she does love rhyme she feels there are some very clumsy rhyme books out there.

Melissa – decision was not made to exclude rhyme books, decision was based on in print / available and then to make sure there was a good variety of books including both illustration style and story style

Q – Will there be another Picture This?

Melissa – not finalised but do hope to do so, both books already done need to be published!

Julia – was very interesting thing to do, made her realise how important the central character is, some were so talented but some of the fairies looked so original that it didn’t work. Karen George managed to get the appeal right, realised you can love an authors work but their characters don’t work for the particular project.

Q – When writing how closely do you work with the illustrator?

Julia – not at all, when writing doesn’t know who it will be that does the illustrating, may think it will be done by a certain one, but they still have the opportunity to turn it down. Writes story in a vacuum, contact is mainly with editor – useful go between.

Q (Marian) – What are you working on a the moment?

Julia – on the road mainly so grabbing writing time when she can, working on series of very short plays for reading groups, 6 characters, feels absolutely best way of learning to read. Far more animated than simple prose. Working on a couple of other ideas for picture books. Not working on long form fiction, doesn’t work with her way of writing and being on the road.

Book Events · Panel Notes

Discover Stories: Getting Children Reading and Writing

Please note these are the notes I took during the panel, all of these are my jottings down and are not direct quotes from any panel member

Sally Goldsworthy – Discover Children’s Story Centre, London.

Discover Children’s Story Centre, set up 2003, Stratford, East London. Promote children’s literature and reading for pleasure. 80,000 visitors per year. Aim to spark children’s imagination. Staff are called storybuilders, aim to facilitate children’s storytelling. School groups in the week, families at the weekend. Work with foundation, KS1 and KS2.

Feel stories help to build connections, develop empathy, link old with new. Encompass visual storytellers and all ways of telling stories. Process is about asking open ended questions. Very physical, very visual. Lots of different environments within building, very sensory. Very low tech, didn’t want lots of buttons to push and then wait for action. Lots of creative environments, dress up, listening, writing mirrors. Host lots of activities, festivals etc.

Some research has shown that some families see literacy as being antisocial and therefore don’t place value on reading at home. This is something that Discover are trying to educate against. Encouraging families to read and share stories.

Have an illustrator created installation a year, an immersive environment, like walking into a picture book. Previous one was designed by Ed Vere, Sarah McIntyre and Neal Layton. Current one is Superheroes by Steve May. These installations always have a story that can be accessed on various levels, for this it is Alphabet City, evil letter Y has stolen all the vowels. Lots of problems to be solved e.g. dog can’t “Woof” as there are no o’s. These aesthetic values have driven the new project.

Story cloud – Project being delivered as part of 2012 Cultural Olympiad. Goes live 18th June, runs until 9th September.

Discover’s previous digital experience – have a good website tailored to getting people to visit centre. Other than this had little experience but experience from Connecting Stories project. Spent 3 years in Newham collecting stories from the community, recording them (professionally edited), encouraged them to tell their stories – white working class families were the ones who responded that they didn’t have stories, different to e.g. Bengali mum’s group, West Indian elders. Think this relates to the concept of what a story is, white culture does not necessary consider things to be stories that other cultures do.

Looked at concept there are just 7 archetypal story plots. Neil Philip “The Cinderella Story” collects many versions of the Cinderella story together. Project in schools looked at connections between these versions. One major issue they found is the Disneyfication of stories e.g. the children’s Cinderellas always come back to singing mice!

Other drivers behind digital project were 1) looking at the fact children are spending increasing amounts of time engaging with digital, many stories are adventure led or picture book with minimal interaction. Since starting the project however things like Nosy Crow have improved app presence hugely. 2) high quality of iPad images. 3) Based in Stratford, so Olympic games a big influence.

London Festival 2012 is culmination of cultural olympiad. Lots of things going on UK wide. Lots of opportunities for participation. Discover felt there was nothing to showcase children’s reading and writing so that is what they’re doing.

Wanted to create a free app that didn’t require iPhone / iPad or other expensive device to access. Wanted to give children’s stories equal weighting to adults’. Met with Winged Chariot press, they produce multilingual apps, who are allowing the app to be made as a web app that can be accessed through Chrome or Safari. Acknowledged there have to be compromises, that the app can only be accessed through these browsers is the compromise needed.

R&D found parents like using computer with children as an enjoyable shared activity rather than to monitor. Most use PCs rather than tablets etc (also this means app is suitable for library computer use, school computer use, electronic whiteboard use). Most commonly used sites / activities are those linked to TV shows e.g. Cbeebies, and games sites e.g. Moshi Monsters.

Worked with Sarah McIntyre and Philip Ardagh to develop test story, included just simple click animation – two or three click e.g. click a character and eyes move. Tests showed that you need to read the story first before you can start playing or the story gets forgotten about.

Commissioned 12 stories, 8 from established authors and 4 from community (3 from children, 1 from a mum in Haringey). Will release one a week for 12 weeks. Each story illustrated wonderfully. Choose story, first see text and hear it being read. Once you get to the end the picture will come up and you will be able to play with it and make things happen. Still relatively simple, not an animated film. After you’ve seen the illustration there’ll be a task and a challenge for the children. These will be open ended enough for children to be able to write what they want but not so open ended that it feels like homework. Responses can be emailed or posted by regular mail. Will create a gallery on Discover’s website with as many as possible uploaded. Will be a selection so that if things are unsuitable they won’t be included.

Some tension over the authenticity, how much do you correct e.g. child’s immature use of language, adult telling story in additional language. As a result the text accompanying the audio will have minor adjustments only.

In addition to the author / illustrator’s story there will be information about their work and they will recommend a book too.

Book Events · Panel Notes

Growing up too soon: Fiction that asks if teenagers are ready for the adult world.

Please note these are the notes I took during the panel, all of these are my jottings down and are not direct quotes from any panel member

Julia Eccleshare – Guardian
Nick Lake – author “In Darkness”
Celia Rees – author “This Is Not Forgiveness”

Julia – “Witchchild” influenced covers for YA for some time. Worked ‘cos both boys and girls wanted to read the book.

Celia describing This Is Not Forgiveness:
Book is contemporary thriller, departure from more recent books which have all been historical, though started with contemporary thrillers for YA. Very interested in writing for teenagers. Watched “Jules et Jim” and idea for updating came to her, story is set in WW1 but is timeless so lent itself well to a contemporary setting. Began with two young men as friends but that didn’t work so changed it to brothers. One is your every-teen, reflects experiences of most ordinary teen boys. Other is very different, 23, left school at 16, anti school, joined army and is serving soldier (tours of Iraq and Afghanistan) and is now home, injured out of army. Girl, wanted to make her different, gave her an interest in radical politics, people questioned whether this was realistic but then student marches etc showed that it was.

Nick describing In Darkness:
In Darkness is first person narration by Shorty, from slums of Haiti. Finds himself trapped in rubble of hospital after earthquake. Inspired by news after the earthquake, already interested in Haiti following MA in linguistics including study of Creoles. Interested by stories from those being rescued, the experience of not being able to distinguish between own voice and voice of mind. Found a way to bring in story of Toussaint l’Ouverture, a kind of black Spartacus character.

Julia: You’ve both written books with young people in difficult circumstances, they deal with death, about protagonists who are victims of circumstance, and about what choices they can then make. Is this what adolescence is really about? Were you aware of that?

Celia: Think one difference between childhood and adulthood is that this transition is very fertile, much literature has focussed on this (Jane Austen’s characters, Tess is 17). Children can also be victims but are helpless whereas teens do have choices and can influence world around themselves, it’s about them finding themselves and their world.

Julia: You both use more than one voice to tell the story, one perspective.

Nick: Feels young people are not as aware of the significance of their actions and the consequences. Interested in people who don’t have a voice. Lack of awareness of how important these choices are, and also how limited they can be.

Celia: Influenced to have multiple voices by Patrick Ness (was teaching alongside him). By having multiple voices you don’t have to mediate, they sort it out for themselves! Each character is strong and different and needed to represent themselves. Voices are important ‘cos it allows the reader into the head of each character.

Julia: Shorty is violent and has access to arms, Rob has legitimised access to violence. Is the presence of violence acceptable in YA ‘cos it’s now so prevalent in society?

Nick: Toussaint offers a moral perspective, encourages non-violent action against former slave owners but then he has less access compared to Shorty. Was interested by way Rob fetishises gun. Thinks it’s important to realise that if you have a gun it’s difficult not to fire it, the purpose of having it is to shoot it.

Julia: Celia’s description of sniper training is a legitimising of this action.

Celia: The difference between a civilian killing and a sniper killing is in that training, you go into the army to get broken down and rebuilt, most young recruits don’t actually want to kill anyone, have to be trained to do this. They have to be able to do it and to do it with no reaction, and to be able to see and care for the results of this extreme violence. We never witness this, we don’t know anything about this world that they inhabit. Understandable therefore that for Rob it’s so hard having to move back into this world of ours not his.

Julia: The concept of gang warfare is not new (Romeo and Juliet), is it much harder for teens now?

Nick: Feels it’s much easier now, world has got better, easier to be gay, non-White, not hit by teacher. There are still problems but situation is far better. Though our ease is caused by shunting difficulties elsewhere e.g. hard to be teen in Afghanistan.

Julia: Are decisions easier too?

Celia: Much easier now but there are difficulties now that even 20 years ago never existed e.g. cyberbullying, wide amount of pornography on the internet. Young peoples’ lives are far more complicated than they’ve ever been, they may make smaller choices but are making more choices.

Nick: Facebook etc makes an issue now of how you present yourself, everything you say and do is open to scrutiny. However is almost more concerned by how adult world is shifting, more and more pressure for adults to be like teenagers.

Julia: You’ve both written about violence and both written about death. Celia, written about two brothers trying to woo same girl.

Celia: Wanted to take the chance to nail some colours to mast and say that she believes older teens should have their own fiction, didn’t want book to be for 12 year olds, wanted it to be for 16-18. Wanted it to reflect real teen life, people swear, have sex, use drugs recreationally at weekends, get drunk and stagger home. Wasn’t thinking about shocking anyone, just wanted to make relationship sharp and true. Wanted to sharp focus on emotions, making them brothers allowed this.

Nick: Interesting that in This Is Not Forgiveness the real betrayal is not sexual, is philosophical.

Julia: Whereas Nick’s book has a different family bond very close and broken.

Nick: There’s no sex in book, very violent but no sex!

Julia: Feels they’ve considered a lot of territory, lots of what goes into a book for YA. Feels we’re respecting teen readers far more by providing such a good thing for them.

Q and A.
Q – As a school librarian, 11-18, has to be careful about what they buy, wonders about the market being awash with teenage themes presented in paranormal setting rather than contemporary?

Celia: Has written vampires, doesn’t like werewolves (doesn’t like the issue of nakedness post transformation back to human) also has written ghosts, hopes that fiction for teens should be broad with lots of different strands, so have fantasy and paranormal and contemporary so that people have choice. Does worry a little that may have one kind of book swamping the market. Dislikes weak, victim girls. Much fantasy casts lead as hero which is great escapism but not realistic.

Nick: There’s room for all kinds of books, good spread of genres. Getting a bit bored however of post apocalyptic books where some characters live in the dome some live out of dome, become trilogies.

Q – Reads YA to be familiar with pop culture, how can we harness the buzz from hugely successful books to take people across to read more

Nick: Admits responsibility for the Twilightification of Wuthering Heights etc, feels this was doing precisely that but this was the thing that got him the greatest criticism.

Julia: There is a potential difficulty of these books driving better books underground

Celia: Anything that will attract teenagers, or children, to reading is important. The book is under pressure and we need to keep it as being such an important part of our society. The important thing is that you want them to be able to move on to further books, either different genres or different authors within the same genre. This is the value of librarian guiding – if you like this then try this, librarians will know when children are ready to move on.

Nick: Agrees, there’s a lot to be said for children reading for pleasure.

Q – Wonders if the difference between the ages is that teenagers don’t have power but adults do (Candy Gourlay)

Celia: The parallel between two stories in Nick’s book was so exact, interesting that it could relate out far more broadly, impressed by the contrast between the two stories particularly in Toussaint’s approach. Feels that as well as being a matter of age it’s also a matter of character / personality.

Nick: Feels that youth literature looks out and adult literature with young protagonist looks in. Interested in the way giving a little power to a powerless individual can give big reactions. Writes about violence ‘cos he doesn’t like violence, wanted to show that the choice of violence leads to really terrible consequences with repercussions that last for a very long time. Not a fan of violence or death without consequences.

Celia: Books where there are large numbers of deaths or no consequences to deaths allows reader a get out, allows them to not look and see what happens when these things occur. This is okay but there need to be books where you’re forced to look and to consider the consequences.

Q – Feels both plotlines could be transported into adult literary novels (cites The Art of Fielding), what are the tropes that make these two books YA fiction rather than adult?

Julia: Lack of hindsight

Celia: Often where publisher places novel, considers self to be a writer rather than a writer for children, YA deserve their own fiction that can be literary, popular, genre based, but is just for them.

Nick: Not sure who it was written for, thinks the whole looking out versus looking in is important, points out that The Art of Fielding has an adult slant, focuses on adult character

Book Events · Panel Notes

The World into Words: Why Reading Non-Fiction is Vital for Children.

Please note these are the notes I took during the panel, all of these are my jottings down and are not direct quotes from any panel member

Average person encounters 13 new pieces of information a day.

Panel will be focussing on narrative non-fiction, where a narrative is woven around the facts so there is a clear beginning, middle and end.

Dislikes negativity of the term “non-fiction”, likes to share information via “fiction that is not fiction” – it answers the whys as well as the other wh-s..

Pointed out that non-fiction is seen as the generic term but it doesn’t cover factual things like biographies.

Looking information up online is not the same, it doesn’t give the dialogue that comes from talking to somebody, books contain this same feeling of conversation. Feels the best sorts of books are those where there is a passion and warmth, and those that will lead on to further investigation.

Her passion is for sharing information and knowledge

Most important is that readers are excited, engaged and wanting to find out more. Narrative non-fiction makes learning open ended. Gives that idea that you can always be learning.

Easier to remember a story than a string of facts so narrative non-fiction makes information more accessible and easier to remember.

Don’t have these sorts of questions about adult non-fiction, discussion is solely around children’s non-fiction, blames a lot of teachers and librarians, there is this concept that non-fiction books are solely about lists of facts.

Both authors also write “standard fiction”. Nicola – there’s not much difference between writing the two, they need the same skills and attention (imagine rope of information that needs to be paid out at the right pace so that there is enough but not so much that it all hangs loose). Viv – it’s interesting when you go into a bookshop, can find the same book shelved in either non-fiction or fiction depending on the shop or the time. Ideal is for the book to be shelved in both.

Non-fiction authors on the whole are having a difficult time at the moment with attitudes in publishing, an awful lot of information books aiming for the lowest common denominator, too many with pictures “squirted on the page” with words round as “grouting”. These are the books most often put in front of reluctant readers i.e. boys but there is nothing there to engage the reader or encourage reluctant readers to become readers, nothing to establish a pleasurable reading experience.

These books do not follow through, there is no obvious structure, just lots of isolated bits of information which is often inaccurate.

Comment from audience member:
In her experience pictures tell one story, captions tell another and text tells a third, each meets the needs of a different reader.

How can growth be continued?

Nicola: low priority area in the establishment, poor reviews, poor awards, particularly bad for non-fiction. Culture here still needs shift, reviewers could be braver and could become great advocates for children’s non-fiction.

Viv: used to review for Guardian, had complete freedom to review fiction or non-fiction and current or less current that may have slipped under the net. Need to demand more from newspapers.

Nicola: response from American teachers is very different to UK teachers. Most UK teacher training has barely any time about children’s literature, may be as little as 1 hour! Feels many of these teachers are not readers.

Is there a tendency for non-fiction titles to link to what national curriculum is doing?

Nicola: there is the idea that non-fiction can be marketed as being tied into National Curriculum. Great that there are some books that tie in but there’s been a loss of the idea that reading is pleasurable and that the way you get kids to read is to make it pleasurable. Publishers have got less courageous.

Viv: has huge respect for teachers, so many instructions come in from everywhere and so many boxes that need to be ticked, limited scope for originality. Need to be able to think around the topic e.g. Vikings – what did vikings read?

Nicola: it goes back to open endedness of learning, the purpose of teaching currently is to pass tests not to expand children’s thinking. Teachers are having to produce a product.

Considering digital technologies and eBooks:

Viv: sure there is a way for this to be harnessed, books currently coming out with added value CD. Likes technology but feels it’s very easy to concentrate too much on digital side. It’s going to be an interesting seeing how the balance is found, at our core we are communicators, not sure how far technology can go to replicate that. Can’t see how technology can go far enough to replicate that discussion. Think it will continue to be add-ons rather than replacement.

Nicola: feels it’ll continue to be you and a child together reading the text, though the format of this text will vary, same experience if it’s a physical book or a Kindle page, it’s the sharing that will be the important focus.

Viv: has a slight reservation when it comes to picture books. Feels it’s important to find the right way for each child.

There’s this perception now that all information available from internet so shouldn’t we all be striving to push non-fiction books of all forms rather than simply narrative non-fiction?

Nicola – yes, what non-fiction authors do is to package information in an expert manner, to communicate it . Feels we need to stop the panicking about competition between technology and books, it’s the reading that’s important not the device.

Q – Isn’t it important to highlight to kids that books have already evaluated the information, kids are using the internet for homework far more but take 45 minutes to find the information that a book could deliver in 30 seconds.

Panel agrees that showing children this is valuable and that with time the two information sources will work well alongside each other.

Comment from audience member – Recently public research (see Such Stuff As Dreams by Keith Oatley) argues that stories, written or spoken, are important for producing empathy and for tapping into part of brain that gives tolerance, narrative non-fiction therefore vital for developing these skills.

Nicola Morgan’s Blame my Brain – highly recommended.

Viv: we are all a story, we have a beginning, a middle and an end.

Nicola:  when talking about story here not talking about plot and characters, talking actually about text that has a shape. It’s that structure that’s the important bit.

Q – Any comment about local authorities closing libraries?

Nicola: has very strong opinions, fantastically short sighted, stupid, ultimately money wasting exercise. Very bad thing.

Q – What about how inconsistent it is, some areas are building libraries (e.g. Redbridge) whilst others are closing?

Nicola: unsure of how these successful boroughs are managing to fight the tide.

Closing remarks:

Nicola: need to keep libraries open, keep relationships being built between schools and libraries and encouraging the development of reading as a pleasurable experience

Viv: need everyone to keep pushing for reviews in the press for fiction that is not fiction