Category Archives: Reading for Pleasure

Best Verse Novels for 8-12 Year Olds – recommended by Alison King

Verse fiction gets to the heart of a story without much text, the immediacy of the characters and the storyline making it instantly appealing to readers, including reluctant ones.

Alison King, school librarian and committee member of CILIP SLG, explains to Tuva Kahrs why everyone should read verse novels, and recommends her top picks for 8-12 year olds.

Best Verse Novels for 8-12 Year Olds

The dangers of reading Fiction

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Blog post by Angela Platt, Librarian, Ibstock Place School

The term ‘reading for pleasure’ most widely refers to voluntary reading conducted independently.  According to the National Literacy Trust, it is summed as “reading that we do of our own free will, anticipating the satisfaction that we will get from the act of reading. It also refers to reading that, having begun at someone else’s request, we continue because we are interested in it”. Reading in this category most frequently refers to novels and stories which encourage empathy, creativity and vocabulary. It should be noted that reading for pleasure should not omit voluntary, independent reading of non-fiction, which can improve skills and instruct readers on subjects in which they are specifically interested outside of the classroom setting. However, as mentioned, this is most typically associated with the reading of fiction.

The early dangers of reading-for-pleasure

Although there are swathes of information regarding the benefits of reading fiction in our current day-and-age, especially via public and school libraries, this was not always the case! Indeed, when the novel took off in the late 18th – early 19th century, it was abhorred considerably by numerous members of the public. This was especially the case amongst proponents of evangelicalism, which was widespread in this era. They themselves did publish their own novels, but these were offered as a moral alternative to secular fiction – a religious counterpart which offered tangible moral imperatives interwoven within their text. This included works such as Hannah More’s Coelebs, a story about a young man who seeks a devout Christian wife after the death of his father.

Opposition to this type of secular leisurely entertainment was not unusual; indeed, Puritans in the 17th century had condemned theatre-going amongst their congregations, due to their beliefs in its invitation to and promotion of immoral behavior. In the late 18th and 19th centuries, novel reading was also opposed on moral grounds. Said one contributor to the Dundee Evening Telegraph in the late Victorian age:

“In the days of my youth, fiction was regarded a very dangerous reading, especially for young people. The novel and the theatre were placed on the same level. Both were of the devil, and consequently both were to be shunned.”

It was believed that novels promoted immoral behaviour. They portrayed immoral behavior in an attractive light, and caused readers to fall prey to their repugnant grip. Furthermore, novels tended to portray unrealistic versions of life, which could at the very least leave readers feeling discontented with their current lot in life. In 1864 a Dundee newspaper published a comment from the Archbishop of York which demonstrates the widespread disgust with this ‘vice’:

“[Novel reading] cascades people into useless outcomes, obsesses them with unnecessary passions, while providing a distorted view of life”

Additionally, novel reading was also believed to be frivolous and time-wasting. It was believed that women especially tended to fall prey to its clutches, and this resulted in the neglect of their domestic responsibilities. Numerous stories of domestic despair can be found which allude to a root cause of ‘novel reading.’ (some of which can be found here). Indeed, at a meeting in the Phoenix Lodge in the early 20th century a group of members decided that one of the greatest contributing causes to disruption and dissolution of families was ‘novel reading among women.’

Novels, as demonstrated, were considered ‘dangerous’ by a significant amount of 18th and 19th century contemporaries, and these suspicions continued until well into the 20th century. While now novel reading is considered part and parcel of overall well-being, it was not so in its initial phase. What about today though, is novel reading still considered a ‘danger’ in some sects of society?

Novel reading in our age

One blog, in a tongue and cheek manner, lists a number of dangers which reading for pleasure can elicit. Here are four of the given reasons:

1.      Books are filled with razor-sharp paper that can easily cut you.

2.      Reading can fill your mind with dangerous ideas. At least, some governments and organisations think so.

3.      Becoming engrossed in a book may distract you from feeding yourself, leading you to starve to death.

4.      Reading books helps keep librarians employed, a secretive group that may or may not be trying to dominate the world…

Although humorous, these claims do bear some remnants of truth. The third point recalls the fears in the 18th and 19th century that novels cause idleness. The most salient point, however, for ourselves may be the second point – which recalls to our minds instances where particular books have been censored or ‘banned’ from particular institutions or countries due to political and/or religious objections. Indeed ‘banned books’ have been a frequent cause for consternation in bookstores and libraries for decades; a number of publications which received this label can be found here.

Banning books is a demonstrable effect of the belief that books, or at least some books can be considered dangerous. Undoubtedly, this is a trickle-effect of the beliefs held by our Georgian and Victorian ancestors. Indeed, there are two reasons for which reading novels, even contentious ones, can be dangerous in a beneficial way:

1.      They inspire empathy

2.      They challenge us to think differently.

Reading for pleasure can indeed be ‘dangerous’ since it challenges us to consider new perspectives, perhaps even ones which we have not previously encountered. Given our diverse and global world, these can be especially helpful in developing a well-rounded character in social and professional environments. However, just for the sake of clarity,  I feel I should indicate what promoting ‘dangerous’ reading does not indicate:

1.      It does not equal agreeing with everything you read.

2.      It does not mean you must change your religion, political views, or ideologies to reach congruence with what you have read.

What ‘dangerous’ reading does indicate is the possibility of greater understanding of diversity. In our day and age, this is a salient issue. In truth, we have so much information bogging us down that many people have begun to ultimately form opinions with emotions rather than weighing of evidence. This is not a political piece which argues for/against this trend – undoubtedly there is a place for both emotions and rationalism. However, if post-modernism has taught us anything in this ‘biased’ world we must concede that it is probably impossible to separate our emotions from our rationalism – and reading novels aids us in this. It allows us to understand how people in other cultures and communities view the world. It also allows us to understand why people within our own larger communities might approach the same problems and issues in a vastly different manner.

Select bibliography and further reading:

Clark, C. and Rumbold, K. (2006). Reading for Pleasure a research overview. [online] Available at: http://www.literacytrust.org.uk.

Banned Books. Available at www.banned-books.org.uk

The dangers of novel-reading. (2017). The Beeton Ideal. Available at: www.thebeetonideal.wordpress.com

Dangers of Reading Books. (2011). Your Guide to Live. Available at: http://www.yourguidetolive.com/article.php?a=dangersofreading

Mandal, A. (2015). Evangelical Fiction in Garside, P. and O’Brien, K. English and British Fiction 1750-1820. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 260.

Pearson, J. (1999). Women’s Reading in Britain, 1750-1835: a dangerous recreation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 197.

Reading Outcomes Framework

The Reading Agency has published its long-awaited Reading Outcomes Framework. This tool is designed to ‘help improve impact evaluation across the sector…..It will help you understand, demonstrate and improve the impact of your activity to encourage reading. It will support you to make the case for investment and advocate for your work by outlining existing evidence about the outcomes of reading and providing guidance about collecting evidence about the impact your work makes.’ (Laura Venning, Reading Agency, Evaluation and Impact Research Manager). It is freely available to use across education, health and charities sectors. The toolkit is the end of the first phase and the Reading Agency asks anyone using it to give them feedback.

It includes a succinct one page framework of the outcomes of reading for pleasure and empowerment, sample survey questions which evaluate whether a project has impact on these outcomes and reference evidence about demonstrating how reading relates to these outcomes. The report and evaluation toolkit form a solid 72 pages, but it is well worth reading through it.
I have been interested in impact evaluation for a couple of years now and have developed some templates for Tower Hamlets SLS. This toolkit is a most valuable addition to the subject. Measuring reading for pleasure is notoriously difficult and potentially mainly anecdotal and subjective. This toolkit could contribute to producing measurable outcomes that can be used as advocacy.

The framework outlines four stages of analysis of a reading project from the ‘activity to encourage reading for pleasure and empowerment’ to potential reading impact outcomes. These may have a positive impact on health and wellbeing, intellectual outcomes, personal outcomes and social outcomes. These in turn lead to wider positive impact on cultural, economic and societal areas.
The survey questions are very detailed and are broadly similar to the ones used by the National Literacy Trust to evaluate their projects with children, such as Premier League Reading Stars and also The Reading Agency’s Chatterbooks book clubs . I have used this questionnaire myself with primary school children and, with guidance, it produces useful information and, if used before and after the project, potentially provides useful impact evaluation data. To be of greater value though you need to assess the continued impact some time later. The survey can also be used with other stakeholders.

The most interesting sections for me are the analysis tools and the references. As someone with no statistical background, I will be studying these to improve my skills.

Full details and links to the framework, the toolkit and an interactive version are at: https://readingagency.org.uk/news/blog/reading-outcomes-framework-toolkit.html

Lucy Chambers, SLG National Committee

Providing Excellent Library Provision

logo2By Alison Tarrant, MCLIP, MSc Econ Honour List Librarian, School Librarian of the Year Award 2016

Cambourne Village College is in its fourth year. We opened in September 2013 with a single year group, and have been building up year by year. Starting from scratch really enabled those running the school to think about what was needed – and a school library was definitely part of the plan. I was appointed as Librarian in the Easter term of 2013, which allowed me to plan an excellent library service.

Among some there is a misconception that the library is just a room full of books, and the Librarian someone who stamps them. Though the most visible aspect of the job, this is not excellent library service, and definitely doesn’t reflect the role of Librarian. At the core of excellent school library provision are two things: Information Literacy and Reading Development. These provide the fundamental helix which enables everything else.

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Information Literacy

Information Literacy (IL) is the ability to find, use and communicate information in an ethical manner,(1) and is often widened to include research skills – such as note taking and evaluating outcomes. It is teaching pupils the skills they need to maximise the opportunities the internet provides, while exercising criticism. As Librarian, I create worksheets that guide students through the research process we use. (2)  I introduce this to all Year 7 classes at the start of the school year, and recap with other years as necessary. I lead sessions to introduce specific skills when required. I collaborate with teachers to provide resources that provide scaffolding for students, while allowing them freedom, and I produce videos that guide students through resources or skills as reminders for homework. I create Research Starter booklets for any topics where it is harder to find information at the right level – using short excerpts from higher level texts allows students access to the information without its being overwhelming. This creates a platform from which students can conduct their own research; once they have a foundation of knowledge they can access other information more easily, both in terms of understanding (3) and validity.

Reading Development

The Library stands astride a difficult gulf – supporting reading for pleasure while simultaneously ensuring pupils are progressing in their reading skills. Those who literally cannot read will probably fall under an intervention department, but there are plenty of students who fill the spectrum between ‘able to read’ and ‘fully fluent independent reader’. (4)  At the most basic level, the Librarian’s job is to make this development easier by encouraging students to read, by connecting books (including e-books) and readers. Calling this ‘basic’ is not to underestimate its importance. There are pupils in CamVC who only read now because two years ago they found a book they loved – this can have long-lasting and potentially life-changing impact. Not all students will want to read, and I take a further step in trying to identify these students. ‘Attitude to Reading’ surveys given at the beginning of the year help us recognise those ‘reluctant readers’, while comparing the results to their reading ability allows us to identify different groups (‘can but won’t’; ‘can’t but will’ etc). This leads to intervention interviews with the students in question: What is it that is preventing this child from wanting to read? Is it a family matter? A self-consciousness? Do they struggle with idioms and contexts? Are they simply not used to it? It is only by talking to the students that we can get to the core of the issue and start to target the cause, rather than the symptoms. Of course we will not be successful with everyone, but sometimes having the conversation is more important than the outcome – the fact that someone cares can make a difference to a child.

Reading is important – it provides opportunities to experience someone else’s life decisions, and unveils the wider world in all its complexity, helping students understand themselves and each other better – and I am here to discuss this all with them. “Miss, what’s a hermaphrodite?”; “What do you think about the death penalty?”; “Why does this book have rude words in?” The journey of discovery is not complete without someone they can turn to and ask the questions that have been raised in their minds. The Librarian extends learning and guides curiosity – “Ah, you liked that one? Try this,” or places a book in the hands of someone who needs it (a book with an LGBTQ character for someone who is questioning their sexuality perhaps) because they will not ask for it, but it might be the most important book they will ever read.

Progression

For the first two years, the focus was on embedding the double helix – setting up the Patron of Reading scheme and ensuring library lessons were fully utilised with an activity to develop reading skills in each session. At the same time the library started to develop an atmosphere – warm, inviting and engaging. Each school library represents a school in the same way the daemons in Philip Pullman’s ‘The Northern Lights’ represent each character’s personality, and the library was starting to capture the best of the staff and school surrounding it. In the early days the library was empty, with far too few books (building the collection year by year is the only way that makes sense – allowing that flexibility to respond to changing curricula and students) and yet now the shelves are overflowing. We now have e-book lending set up and a few different e-resources to help students with their research. For us it is a combination of formats and information – not one versus the other. Books, e-books and the internet are all tools that are useful in different ways and for different things; part of my job is ensuring the students can select the appropriate one and use it to its full advantage.

The role of Librarian has developed as well, from the days of cataloguing and setting up the Library management system, whereas now it is more focused on the library being a whole school resource – including contributing to teaching. I am uniquely placed in having an overall view of what is being taught and when, so I created a curriculum map. Compiling this information is invaluable for realising opportunities for collaboration between teachers, and showing progression of knowledge. It gives me an opportunity to make sure my resources are up to date, and that any opportunities for research skills or reading lists are utilised. My knowledge of what is going on within the school makes teamwork with colleagues easier, and creates opportunities for collaboration between different members of staff. For some Librarians, using this knowledge means they can develop additional learning opportunities – whether this be through interactive videos, creative projects, or any other talents your Librarian has.

I contribute to the school at a strategic level. Attending Middle Leader meetings means I know the pressures and deadlines that exist within the school and enables me to provide assistance and contribute, for example, with suggestions for the school’s development plan. Given the central role the library plays in school life, this 360 degree view allows me to make sure the library is aligned with the school’s aims over the next year or so. Access to the development plan is essential for any library which functions as a department within the school, and ensures that the school is getting the most from its investment. It answers the fundamental question: Where is the library contributing to the school’s aims? My Library’s development plan is broad. It covers reading ages, inclusion, staff CPD, working with feeder primaries – and these are marked off against the annual report, showing the impact and value of the library and librarian.

It is only through being respected as a professional (5) in my own right that this excellent library service has been achieved. I am incredibly well supported by the Senior Leaders, with a sensible budget and access to CPD. (6) As the Library has developed, the role of a Library Assistant has become a necessity, and we are planning a long-term vision for library provision, laying out the core aims and priorities of the library. There are very few definite things in education, but research has shown that libraries that have this support, impact on student outcomes (7) regardless of economic status. Providing an excellent library service is far more than stamping books: it is varied, important and has a positive impact on both staff and students.

[1] Learning Resources in Schools, Library Association Guidelines for School Libraries (1992).
[2] http://loc.gov/teachers/tps/quarterly/inquiry_learning/pdf/StriplingModelofInquiry.pdf
[3] Hirsch, E.D. ‘Why Knowledge Matters’, Harvard Education Press, 2016. P.83
[4] For more information on the different stages of reading CLPE have created a brilliant diagram that explains the fluid stages: https://www.clpe.org.uk/library-and-resources/reading-and-writing-scales
[5] I am a Chartered Librarian, and as a member of CILIP I adhere to the code of professional practice. For more information on chartering for librarians see: http://www.cilip.org.uk/cilip/jobs-careers/professional-registration/information-employers
[6] The School Library Association runs brilliant courses: http://www.sla.org.uk/training.php
[7] http://www.rgu.ac.uk/research/research-home/research-at-aberdeen-business-school/news/impact-of-school-libraries-on-learning/

As first published in Leading Change – The journal of the Leading Edge network.

 

Reading Rocks event, October 2016

From time to time, SLG is asked to send representatives to different events around the country to speak or to set up a stand.  This involved us getting involved with a stand in the ATL Conference earlier in the year, being represented and giving a talk to a Headteachers’ Teachmeet in the summer, and the Reading Rocks event this autumn.  Lucy Chambers from the committee attended this event, and wrote her report for us.  Every meeting we attend is a chance for us to interact with people we wouldn’t normally reach, and to spread the word about the great things school libraries are doing.

Lucy writes: ‘I attended the first one day Reading Rocks 2016 conference, established to ‘discuss ways to make reading rock for every pupil.’  near Warrington, to deliver a workshop on behalf of SLG.  This was an opportunity to speak at an event aimed at teachers rather than just librarians and is something the committee has been discussing for some time: how to cross the invisible barrier and promote the impact librarians can have on a school to educationalists.

The District CE Primary School in Newton-le-Willows has won awards for its approach to reading and has many inspirational reading areas, from several small libraries within the school to a Story Shack, a book-themed playground and a Little Library of books for parents.   They promote reading with stylish and interactive displays and regular reading events throughout the year.

My role was to advocate the value of school librarians, in this case in primary schools, and to promote SLG.  I also spoke about how I use regular Reading Year events to get children reading in my four schools in Tower Hamlets.  The day was devoted to literacy sessions of interest to primary school teachers, with several authors and promoters of reading schemes. Keynote speakers included James Clements, the founder of Shakespeare and More, who works with schools to develop the teaching of reading, and Mat Tobin, Senior Lecturer in English and Children’s Literature at Oxford Brookes’ School of Education, talking about the hidden messages in picture books , including a thought-provoking interpretation of ‘Not Now Bernard’, elicited with discussion from Year 1 to Year 6 pupils.

Workshops ranged from sessions promoting First News, Phoenix and other magazines to a project using rhythm and music to improve reading comprehension in low ability children. Other workshops included storyteller Dan Worsely, Into Film, Mat Tobin, Jonny Duddle and Nikki Heath.

Altogether, it was a very impressive event with some excellent speakers, a great range of exhibitors and an ambitious programme.  If you are a primary school librarian or teacher, look out for Reading Rocks 2017 and sign up!’

See the school’s website www.district.st-helens.sch.uk/ for further information

 

SLG Regional Event in Kent/SE London

CILIPSLG held one of its very successful Regional Training Days at Eltham College in South East London on October 24th.  The day was heavily over-subscribed, and there are plans to rerun the day next March for all those who were disappointed this time.  Like all of the training days, there was an eclectic mix of subjects, and everyone found something to interest them in the day.

The first speaker was Caroline Roche, who also hosted us in her Library at Eltham College.  Caroline also runs Heart of the School website. She talked about using technology to help the learners in your school, and EPQ students in particular.  She showcased Diigo, MySimpleShow and Animoto, and gave out practical How To worksheets after her talk.

Next came Matt Imrie from Farrington’s School.  Matt runs the very successful Teen Librarian newsletter and website.  Matt talked to us about Freenocomics – how to get stuff for your library for free, and how to encourage your students to blog about books.

Last speaker before lunch was Maggie Thomas from Bacon’s College.  Maggie told us about a radical refurbishment of her library which involved her in strategic thinking and planning, including a review of how she should be line managed.  She had amazing support from her Line Manager throughout the successful process.

During lunch there was a great opportunity to network, and also to play the newly published Murder in the Library from BoxClever Education.  Alex Gillespie, an English teacher who devised the game, set it out in Eltham College Library, and we were all encouraged to find out who had murdered the Library Assistant!  This was an excellent game involving deductive thinking and reasoning skills.  There are many levels to the game, and is suitable for all abilities.  Everyone enjoyed it and quite a few people bought copies for their libraries.

In the afternoon Rowena Seabrook from Amnesty International spoke to us about Human Rights issues in Teen Fiction.  Her talk was thought provoking, both in how to promote and how to protect human rights of the students in the school.  There was a lot of productive discussion around LGBTQ rights and fiction, and also representation of teenagers of all races and colours in your library stock.  We all had a lot to think about after her talk.

CILIPSLG tweeted throughout the day, and a Storify of the tweets can be found here.

CILIPSLG Regional events are held throughout the year in different parts of the country.  If you are interested in attending one of our low cost events then keep an eye on this page.  If you are interested in hosting a meeting in your school, please contact SLG through their pages on the CILIP website.

 

 

SLG National Conference – Making the most of World Book Day and other national reading initiatives

Amanda Ball an myself have recently lead a seminar on how to run a successful World Book Day and other reading initiatives. During the session we explored the value in participating in an established National event but we also highlighted some of the most common challenges, some useful tools for evaluation and analysis after an event and finally we discussed practical solutions based on successful case-studies.

You can find below a copy of the presentation used during  the seminar as well and some of the handouts.

Making the Most Of World Book Day and

Evaluation tool – SWOT analysis

Library Ideas for Awareness Days and Reading initiatives calendar

Refugees and child migration: essential book titles

the refugee experience banner

Are you celebrating World Refugee Day this June ? Do not miss the opportunity to stock up your library with our fantastic book recommendations and prepare for this worldwide initiative.

Amanda Ball (Morpeth School) has kindly put together a fantastic booklist of her favourite titles which have a refugee-related theme: click Refugee and Displaced Person Reading List by Amanda Ball to view her booklist.

The UN Refuge Agency has also put together a very comprehensive book list for different reading ages: booklist here.

As part of the Trinity Schools Book Award, Librarian Cecile Mayanobe (Brighton College Senior School Library) has run a reading programme with a group of year 7 students on the novel ‘Alone on a Wide Wide Sea’ by Michael Morpurgo.

She has put together an informative and moving Alone on a Wide Wide Sea presentation which contextualises British forced child migration which is also the centre-theme of Morpurgo’s book. The presentation also includes various links to news articles and a link to the trailer for the film “Oranges and Sunshine”.

Cecile also recommends a visit to the V&A Museum of Childhood which is running a special exhibition from 24 October 2015 until 12 June 2016.

Exhibition – On Their Own: Britain’s Child Migrants

Exhibition overview: ‘An exhibition telling the heart-breaking true stories of Britain’s child migrants who were sent to Canada, Australia and other Commonwealth countries between 1869 and 1970. These children were sent overseas by migration schemes, which were run by a partnership of charities, religious organisations and governments, and claimed to offer boys and girls the opportunity of a better life in Britain’s Empire overseas. Many migrants never saw their homes or their families again.”

Featuring detailed first-hand stories, photography and personal items which belonged to child migrants, as well as video and audio which recount this period of history.

The exhibition will explore the complex moral motivations to these schemes and share the work of the Child Migrants Trust, which has brought some comfort to former child migrants, by finding their families and reuniting them with surviving members’

Article’s contributors: Amanda Ball (Morpeth School) and Cecile Mayanobe (Brighton College Senior School Library) 

Recommended graphic novel titles for school libraries

Recommended graphic novels for school librariesOur fantastic visit to the Forbidden Planet Megastore in London has really given all participants an insight into the world of graphic novels and really interesting discussions about some of the pitfalls regarding content and appropriate audiences for different age groups.

The store manager, Lou Ryrie, who is also a huge advocate for school libraries has put together just for our event a list of recommended titles, with very detailed comments about age-suitability and useful warnings. You can now find the list below:

Recommended graphic novels for school libraries.

Another fantastic source of recommended manga and comics lists for children and Young Adult is the Comic Literacy Awareness organisation (CLAW): www.claw.org.uk/

You can contact Lou for any queries at the following email: manager2.london@forbiddenplanet.com

Stan Lee Excelsior Award

We would also would like to draw your attention to the Stan Lee Excelsior Award which is the only nationwide book award for graphic novels and manga. Kids aged 11-16 decide the winner out of a shortlist of eight titles by rating each book as they read it.

To discover more, visit the award website: www.excelsioraward.co.uk

 

Why everybody should read Neil Gaiman

I used to hate London.

An odd way to introduce Neil Gaiman, you might think, but it’s true – the noise of the crowds, the smell, that particular level of physical and social discomfort that can only be found on a packed tube, everything about the place seemed hateful and dark. Throughout childhood and adolescence I could find nothing positive to say about that great sprawling city, nothing that cast it in a more pleasing light… and then I read Neverwhere.

Where before there had been only urban sprawl and smoke, I could now see the magic that animated it, hear the secrets whispered behind it. Empty tube trains moved through silent, shifting tunnels, connected by stations named after major arcana in an obscure hidden Tarot. Rats and the cults that serve them conducted arcane business in a shadow London ruled over by figures both familiar and deeply alien. Mystical London is not a unique concept, and Neil Gaiman was neither the first nor the last to write about it, but in my opinion he is the most successful, his vision of London Below simultaneously simple and charged with energy. Through his writing I was finally able to see a different London, a London transformed by hidden meaning into a place of magic, and it’s still his London Below that I see every time I take a tube, or walk past a piece of obscure graffiti, or catch a pigeon staring at me from the corner of my eye.

Like his literary heroes Michael Moorcock and Alan Moore, Gaiman’s great strength is to shine a light just behind the surfaces of our mundane world, and allow us to see beneath. He spent his childhood devouring mythology, fantasy and science-fiction, but rather than simply regurgitate them in familiar shapes he’s processed them into something simultaneously more mundane and more profound. He takes us to places we have seen a hundred times before, and shows us the danger and beauty we had never thought to see in them. In his stories, a conversation over a cup of tea can have repercussions that change the nature of reality, mundane daily items and places are charged with occult significance beyond a thousand Holy Grails. He pulls the mask away from life and reveals that it’s every bit as strange as we’ve always secretly hoped.

It has been said that the finest achievement any writer can aim for is to write something that is never forgotten – I have no doubt that my favourite passages of Neil Gaiman will stay with me until I die. The Angel Islington singing to himself in an empty room. The narrator of Murder Mystery piecing together those last broken fragments of memory, in the presence of a being beyond his ability to ever understand. Shadow finally realising who his old cell-mate was, in a piece of word-play so subtle that we’re applauding Gaiman for tricking us at the same time as wandering how we didn’t notice. The entirety of Snow, Glass, Apples, which will forever change a classic story beyond recognition in the mind of anyone who reads it. These moments – and the many equally powerful ones that can be found throughout American Gods, Anansi Boys, his short-fiction and the towering, genre-changing masterpiece of his Sandman comic series – combine comedy, beauty and genuine horror in a way that the greatest stories always have.

Put simply, and with great risk of hyperbole, Neil Gaiman is one of the best Fantasy writers of his generation, and the strengths of his writing are precisely the reason why Fantasy should be liberated from those who would turn it into a ghetto for Elves and Dwarves so that the approved fiction can glory in some other name. Like all true Fantasy, Gaiman’s stories are about humans, that strange synthesis of the animal and the divine who stands at the threshold of eternity and complains about the weather. Even the most mundane of his stories are ablaze with real magic, the magic which can be found in a discarded wrapper or comfortable living-room as readily as in a ruined castle – the magic which, at its core, is a reflection of the people who observe it. Allow yourself to see the world through the filter these stories provides, and you’ll see a world which is more frightening, more beautiful but, ultimately, only more human.