Category Archives: School Libraries

How do the IFLA Guidelines apply to us?, by Darryl Toerien

If history is, as Jacques Ellul (1989) claims, the consequence of ideas, then the idea of the school library as vital to education, and by extension to schools, has lost its power to produce a history of school libraries in which this turns out to actually be the case. There are many reasons for this, which will need to be confronted unflinchingly, but the pressing questions before us now are whether or not it is too late to reimbue this idea with enough power to change history, and whether or not we are willing to make the sacrifice for those who are to come?

In case you think me alarmist, consider the warning that Keith Curry Lance (of Colorado fame) issued in his contribution to the recent Louisville Symposium of the Greats: Wisdom from the Past & A Glimpse into the Future of School Libraries (2019), and this is well before the first ripples of the global COVID-19 pandemic became the first wave: “First and foremost, it is time to realize the extent to which school librarians are truly an endangered species—at least, the kind of school librarians which so many seem to advocate for.”

Now you could argue that Lance is not addressing us directly, given that he was speaking to colleagues in the US, but as the global COVID-19 pandemic makes painfully clear, we are actually all in this together, whether we recognise and/ or like it or not. And, our colleagues in the US are adapting to what Lance called their “overwhelmingly dystopian environment” from a stronger position than we are – they, as professionally qualified school librarians, are recognised as specialist teachers, whereas we, even as professionally qualified school librarians, are lucky if school libraries even got a mention in our studies.

So how do we go about reimbuing the idea of the school library with enough power to be vital to education, assuming that it is not too late and that we are willing to make the sacrifice?

Having now spent almost a year on the Section Standing Committee for School Libraries of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), I more convinced than I have ever been that we have taken the first crucial step towards doing so by endorsing the IFLA School Library Guidelines. The 2nd revised edition of the Guidelines was published in 2015, and was written by IFLA Section Standing Committee for School Libraries with contributions from the International Association of School Librarianship (IASL) Executive Board. Furthermore, the Guidelines are rooted in and nourished by the IFLA/UNESCO School Library Manifesto 1999, which, following extensive international consultation, is due be updated in 2020. There is also a set of workshop materials that was developed to support implementing the Guidelines, and that can be used freely and adapted to meet local needs.

Endorsing the Guidelines allows us to think globally, but act locally. This is important, because a debilitating feature of our “overwhelmingly dystopian environment” is that our idea of the school library is an amalgam of what we individually are willing and/ or able to do in practice, rather than what it is, or ought to be, by definition, and therefore lacks unifying and vitalising force.

The school library is, then, by definition “a school’s physical and digital learning space where reading, inquiry, research, thinking, imagination, and creativity are central to students’ information-to-knowledge journey and to their personal, social, and cultural growth” (p. 16).

There are three elements to this definition:

  1. The school library is a physical and digital learning space in which …
  2. … reading, inquiry, research, thinking, imagination, and creativity are central to …
  3. … the information-to-knowledge journey and personal, social, and cultural growth of our students

Our response to this definition, and the Guidelines it is drawn from, will determine our legacy – either it is accusatory and condemnatory, an impossibly heavy burden that wears us down, or, in the spirit of the Guidelines, it is inspirational and aspirational, an energising compromise between what we aspire to achieve and what we can reasonably expect to achieve. Should we choose to view this definition as inspirational and aspirational, then we are in fine company, that of a global community of colleagues who are striving to translate this idea into local reality, some from even weaker starting positions than us.

Our first challenge then, assuming that we have chosen this path, is to take stock of our situation from the perspective of the Guidelines. Broadly, this perspective includes the following (drawn from the Contents of the Guidelines and the corresponding workshop materials):

  1. Mission and Purposes of a School Library (Chapter 1 | Module 1)
  2. Legal and Financial Framework for a School Library (Chapter 2 | Module 2)
  3. Human Resources for a School Library (Chapter 3 | Module 3)
  4. Physical and Digital Resources of a School Library (Chapter 4 | Modules 4a, 4b and 4c)
  5. Programs and Activities of a School Library (Chapter 5 | Module 5)
  1. Literacy and reading promotion (reading for pleasure and reading for learning)
  2. Media and Information Literacy (MIL) instruction
  3. Inquiry-based learning (which can include MIL instruction)
  4. Technology integration
  5. Professional development for teachers
  6. School Library Evaluation and Public Relations (Chapter 6 | Module 6)

Given that this is the kind of ground that ought to be covered in a CILIP accredited academic programme with a school library specialisation, of which there are none, our next challenge will be how to begin effectively equipping colleagues in this country with the body of knowledge that the Guidelines represent, especially Chapter 5. This is likely to be our most daunting challenge and one that must be resolutely met, for our success hinges on it – as Lance and Kachel (2018) remind us, while “the mere presence of a [full-time, qualified] librarian is associated with better student outcomes,” what they do matters, and “since 1992, a growing body of research known as the school library impact studies has consistently shown positive correlations between high-quality library programs and student achievement” (emphasis added).

The final challenge, which is really the first of the next series of challenges, is summed up by Lance (2019):

And finally, what is the future of school librarianship going to look like? Can we ascertain enough about how it is changing for LIS programs, state library and education agencies, and school library advocates to re-tool themselves and re-focus their efforts sufficiently to equip the next generation of school librarians or whatever their successors may be called?

One sows and another reaps.

We hope.

If you are interested in exploring this further, then you may be interested in our upcoming seminar on the 29th July – The Value Added School Librarian , details and booking here


Ellul, J. (1989). The Presence of the Kingdom. Colorado Springs: Helmers & Howard.

Lance, K. C. (2019). “Last Lecture” Remarks about the Current Status and Future of School Librarianship and School Library Research. In D. V. Loertscher, & B. Woolls (Eds.), Symposium of the Greats: Wisdom from the Past & A Glimpse into the Future of School Libraries (pp. 50-56). Salt Lake City: Learning Commons Press.

Lance, K. C., & Kachel, D. E. (2018, March 26). Why school librarians matter: What years of research tell us. Retrieved from Phi Delta Kappan: The professional journal for educators:

SLSA Reciprocal Endorsement , Darryl Toerien

A year ago – led by Oakham School and with the endorsement of the CILIP School Libraries Group (CILIP SLG), the CILIP Information Literacy Group (CILIP ILG) and the School Library Association (SLA) – the FOSIL Group was formed to coincide with a paper presented at LILAC 2019.

The purpose of the FOSIL Group is to help whoever is part of the FOSIL Group – which is open and free to anyone who shares its purpose – more effectively equip our children with the kind of knowledge that will help them to get more knowledge for themselves.

Our efforts are centred on FOSIL, which stands for Framework Of Skills for Inquiry Learning.

FOSIL was developed at Oakham School in 2012 by the Head of Library, Darryl Toerien.

FOSIL – which is a model of the inquiry process, an underlying continuum of inquiry skills and a growing collection of free resources to support the systematic and progressive development of inquiry skills – is based on the Empire State Information Fluency Continuum (ESIFC).

The ESIFC was developed in 2009 and re-imagined in 2019 by the School Library Systems Association of New York State (SLSA) under the leadership of Dr Barbara Stripling, Professor Emerita at Syracuse University, which serves more than 3.2 million children in 4,236 schools in New York State (as of 1 June 2020, although the actual number of schools and students being served by the ESIFC in some form or another is greater).

The ESIFC is endorsed by the New York State Library, the New York Library Association, the New York State Education Department, and as of April 2020, the FOSIL Group.

This reciprocal endorsement marks a very important stage in the ongoing development of FOSIL and the FOSIL Group, coming, as it does, shortly after FOSIL was endorsed by the Great School Libraries campaign as its suggested model of the inquiry process in March 2020.

Dr Daniel Callison, Professor Emeritus at Indiana University, writes in The Evolution of Inquiry: Controlled, Guided, Modeled, and Free (2015, pp. 215, 11) that:

Inquiry provides a framework for learning. To become independent learners, students must gain not only the skills but also the disposition to use those skills (curiosity, open-mindedness, perseverance) along with an understanding of their own responsibilities and assessment strategies. … Stripling’s stages of inquiry apply neatly across grade levels and academic disciplines as a basis for a modern interdisciplinary, inquiry-based curriculum.

Barbara Stripling, writing in ‘Empowering Students to Inquire in a Digital Environment’ (2017, p. 52), adds that:

Providing a framework of the inquiry process is only the first step in empowering students to pursue inquiry on their own. The next step is to structure teaching around a framework of the literacy, inquiry, critical thinking, and technology skills that students must develop at each phase of inquiry over their years of school and in the context of content area learning.

In FOSIL and the FOSIL Group we have both a sound model of the inquiry process with a continuum of underlying skills that provides a framework for independent learning, and a growing international community of education professionals working together to more effectively develop these critical skills within an inquiry process.

What make this reciprocal endorsement even more special is that the ESIFC is an extraordinary achievement by highly talented colleagues, and FOSIL, which is only possible due to their generosity, now includes an original maker’s mark.

The ESIFC was ad(o/a)pted as FOSIL under CC BY-NC 4.0 by Darryl Toerien, Head of Library at Oakham School, and is made available under CC BY-NC 4.0.


Callison, D. (2015). The evolution of inquiry : controlled, guided, modeled, and free. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.

Stripling, B. (2017). Empowering Students to Inquire in a Digital Environment. In S. W. Alman (Ed.), School librarianship : past, present, and future (pp. 51-63). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

Resource Sharing During Lockdown, by Elizabeth Bentley

What is the role of a school librarian? Is it to issue books and run a library? Or is it to
support student learning whatever the circumstances?
With the announcement on March 18 th of the schools’ closure, members of the profession immediately took action both to collect and to disseminate useful links for e-learning.
However, this was not just about serving their own students. Up and down the country,
school librarians have been sharing online and remote learning resources for student use.And not just for secondary students, primary resources were also shared. They used the already established routes of the School Librarians’ Network (declaration of interest: I run this) and the Facebook groups Secondary School Librarians and Primary School Librarians. Twitter also played its part.
Initially, it was lists of links and resources that were shared. There swiftly followed requests, generally on the behalf of teachers, for free versions of books for students to read, though it was equally swiftly pointed out that there were copyright considerations. Authors were losing enough money with the cancellation of school visits, without losing royalties as well.
It is notable that authors and publishers were also rushing to the rescue of schools, with
special permissions for the use of books, as well as authors reading online.
Then librarians drew each other’s attention to the various commercial services offering free access during the lockdown. While obviously time limited, these offers have given librarians the opportunity to show teachers the wealth available online, at a time when students may have been more likely to take advantage of them and thus prove their value. SLG was able to collate these and post them.

This was swiftly followed by an article on this blog by Sarah Pavey giving ideas for things to do while the library is closed, which in turn was shared by an American colleague who then shared an American blog post on what librarians there were doing to support schools. Teachers were also asking for recommendations of e-resources to support their particular subjects, and once again the joint power of school librarians was able to help. Of course, this is nothing new, but with learning moving outside the school, it became more valuable to teachers. By the beginning of April librarians were sharing their own compilations of lists organised by subject, so that this mammoth task was not duplicated by every school librarian. Many thanks to Jane Hill and Dan Katz for sharing their amazing
And librarians were already beginning to share collated lists of resources. One of the first of these was Matt Imrie’s newsletter . The School Library Association was also curating resources, both book related & more general teaching/social tools and the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) reminded librarians of their poetry website:

Librarians also shared advice on running online book clubs for students, whether to allow the Carnegie Medal shadowing to take place, or more generally.
Meanwhile the Great School Libraries campaign started an “Ask the Librarian” page on their website. Please do look at this as you may be able to answer questions.
The e-services, both books and magazines, provided by public libraries received useful
publicity from school librarians, reminding all of us that these can be used by our students.
At the end of March ASCEL circulated a list of individual publisher guidelines for what they were allowing in terms of authors, teachers and librarians reading their books aloud, relieving a lot of worries over copyright infringement, at least for those publishers. Ideas for CPD to do while on lockdown began to circulate: webinars, MOOCs, OU courses, SLA, SLG.
The flood of information and ideas, which I have only touched upon, continued. And now librarians were putting together SWAYs, Wakelets and Padlets for their students, as well as the more traditional lists of resources, often learning new skills in order to do so. Good examples of the SWAYs being produced can be found here:
produced by Kristabelle Williams (my successor at
Addey & Stanhope School).
Finally, we have evidence that this is really beginning to pay off in terms of recognition
within schools. As Debra Perrin posted on Facebook: “I was surprised to be asked to
collaborate with our History department on their Dunkirk 80th topic. I realise this is
probably the norm for most of you but it hasn’t been in my school. However, since
lockdown, I’ve been creating online resources via Padlet, Wakelet and Smore and just sent them off to teachers. This is the first time they’ve not just said ‘thank you’ but they’ve asked me to do more. It’s a turning point in how the library and I as the librarian is seen. Chuffed to bits! Please feel free to add, share and keep this. I’d love to have more book recommendations.

Now as our minds turn to managing the return to school there are many questions that need to be asked and answered. SLG are running a webinar on Monday the 8th June that will hopefully help you plan a successful reopening of your library, hope to ‘see’ you there!

Dunkirk 80th Anniversary Wakelet

Things to do if your school library is closed, by Sarah Pavey


Send out reading lists for eg for AR levels, year groups or key stages with a precis of the chosen books and how they can be accessed online

Collate a series of video links of authors talking about their books

Create your own genre stickers

Create your own stickers for attaining reading levels

Create a story that can be read in parts and released to students via video or text

Create a downloadable pack of literary pairs eg Romeo & Juliet, Piglet and Pooh for a pelmanism game to play at home

Make a word search based on a fiction book (

Make a crossword based on a fiction book (

Hold a short story competition and publish the best in a self published ebook

Get students to send you reviews of books they have read and collate

Compile lists of books you would like to add to stock


Make guidance brochures for curriculum subjects 

Send out lists of free online databases to teachers and parents

Create reading lists for wider reading linking fiction reads to non fiction topics

Develop guides for enquiry based learning using models such as FOSIL, Big 6, 7 Pillars

Create a guide to help students understand critical literacy and academic writing

Set up a web quest for students (

Create a guide showing alternatives to powerpoint to present project results

Consider how digital literacy theories can be applied to projects and develop a guide

Investigate databases, organisations and websites/blogs that might support non fiction areas of the curriculum and compile lists

Create puzzles and quizzes to support non fiction curriculum areas


Create virtual posters using websites such as Glogster (

Plan displays for the future by researching the curriculum

Make QR codes with links to information (

Create infographics for subject areas (

Use to create giant posters

Explore #Poundlandpedagogy on Twitter for cheap display ideas

Have a go at some creative book folding through video tutorial or a book

Look for ideas and examples of how to make creative displays online


Tidy up your authority files

Add keywords and subject headings to more resources

Add URLs to resources including fiction

Add summaries to resources 

Create edocs to upload to your database

Add videos to your database

Make the home page of your catalogue more relevant

Add price data to your books

Add see also references to your references

Devise templates for reports

Tidy up your classifications / shelf marks

Create reading lists

Add reviews from students and official ones too


Create or update your Twitter account

Create or update your Facebook account

Create or update your Instagram account

Design a library logo

Create a library brochure for students

Create a library brochure for staff

Create a library brochure for parents

Preparation & CPD

Prepare/write your annual report

Read the Ofsted Inspection Guidelines & prepare any evidence you might need

Sign up for a MOOC (Massive open online course)

Finish or begin your portfolio for CILIP accreditation, membership, fellowship or revalidation

Complete an Adult Education and Training Level 3 (AET) online

Complete an online course offered by the School Library Association

Watch TED talks related to school libraries and education

Begin a distance learning degree or Level 3 qualification in librarianship, information or education

Read back copies of professional journals

Read books on professional development such as The Innovative School Librarian and primary or secondary guidelines for schools

Read some of the publications on practice available from the School Library Association

Key Issues – Fosil Based Inquiry for School Librarians:An Introduction

SLG are proud to present the next leaflet in our series Key Issues. These little booklets are meant to be taster introductions to some important subjects you need to know as professionals. Written by members of the SLG Committee, they all give a short introduction to the subject, and further links if you want to know more. This particular leaflet deals with Fosil Based Inquiry and was written by Darryl Toerien.
We hope you find these guides informative and useful, and look out for more in the series coming soon!

Great School Libraries Phase 2, By Caroline Roche, Chair of SLG and of Great School Libraries

After a packed two days of back to back meetings in half term – one Chairing Great School Libraries and one Chairing the School Libraries Group, I am writing to tell you about some exciting developments in the GSL Campaign, and how you can all help.

The Campaign has now launched Phase 2, after the successful Phase 1 which saw the ground breaking survey of school libraries. In Phase 2, we are looking at deepening our political involvement further. You will need to go to the Great School Libraries blog post to see this discussed in more detail, but we have one main and two secondary aims for the second half of this Campaign.

Continue reading

Postponement of the SLG Conference

As you will know the Coronavirus is at the forefront of many minds at the moment and you may be aware that the Kents Hill Conference Centre where the SLG conference is due to be held was requisitioned by the Government and has had the 120 people from the last plane evacuated from Wuhan placed in quarantine there. Although none of them tested positive at the time so the risk was very low, we had a number of people who had booked or were thinking of booking, express their concerns about attending because of this, as well as comments from some exhibitors and speakers. At the time we also didn’t know what impact it might have on Kents Hill if someone tested positive during the quarantine period so the potential impact on the SLG conference was potentially very high.

At our recent SLG committee meeting, we discussed this in some depth and felt that although the risk was low, safety was our biggest priority and we needed to recognise the concerns of all those who might be attending as delegates, speakers, sponsors and exhibitors. We have therefore made the decision to postpone the SLG conference until later in the year.  We are provisionally looking at the weekend of October 16th – 18th but are waiting for the Conference Centre to confirm that all the requirements we have for our conference can be met that weekend and we will confirm those dates as soon as the Conference Centre confirms.  As it happens we have since been notified that none of the quarantined people at Kents Hill came down with the virus and all have been released from quarantine and the conference centre is to be thoroughly deep cleaned  and re-open for business soon, but having made the decision and started to notify people, we feel postponing until later in the year is the best option for us. Bookings for the new dates will open as soon as the new dates are confirmed. If you have already booked, please let Karen Usher know if you would like your booking transferred to the new dates, once they are confirmed. If you have any questions or queries please contact Annie Everall (Sponsorship, Speakers, Exhibition)  or Karen Usher (Delegate Bookings)  Apologies for any inconvenience this may cause you

Caroline Roche & Annie Everall

Chair, SLG & Conference & Training Manager, SLG

Children’s Mental Health Week, Bev Humphrey

Next week is Children’s Mental Health Week (, a week that stresses the importance of children & young people’s mental health, and the theme this year is ‘Find Your Brave’. There are some excellent resources available to download for both primary and secondary schools on the website but I thought I’d suggest some books that fit the theme. 

Picture books 

Ruby’s Worry. Tom Percival – this is a lovely story about how Ruby learns to deal with her anxiety and realises that everyone has their own worries. Bloomsbury have some fun resources you can download to use with Ruby’s Worry here:

Black Dog, Levi Pensfold – allows children to explore their fears in a safe comforting way. There are great ideas for using the book here:

Julian is a Mermaid, Jessica Love – such a warm fun story about being brave enough to be yourself and express your individuality. Walker Books classroom resources here:

Middle Grade

I Go Quiet, David Ouimet – a picture book for older children that explores what it feels like to be an introvert in a noisy world. Gorgeous, poignant pictures and sparing but perfect text.

Wildspark, Vashti Hardy – The young female protagonist in this magical book is struggling to deal with her grief over the loss of her brother but she is definitely brave and strong. Resources available on the author’s website

Because of You, Eve Ainsworth – this one has an important message about standing up to online bullies – in the right way. Published by Barrington Stoke so a short read but a very strong one.


Letting Go, Cat Clarke – Fast paced adventure story about climbing a mountain both literally and figuratively. Powerful themes of dealing with depression and grief and building self confidence and independence. 

The Boy in the Black Suit, Jason Reynolds – both the main character and the girl he makes friends with are struggling with their own mental demons but manage to help each other see hope for the future.

Rowan the Strange, Julia Hearn – not a new book by any means but a story that has always stayed with me and that I think deserves to be more widely read. In wartime England Rowan who is suffering from mental health difficulties is sent to a lunatic asylum in Kent where he is treated with Electric Shock Therapy.

Positively Teenage etc, Nicola Morgan – there’s no one I trust more when talking about teen mental health than Nicola and all of her books would be a valuable read for students. Good resources on her website too :

Hopefully promotion and events of this special week will encourage young people who are having difficulties to seek help and to realise that they are not alone. Our libraries can provide a safe haven for struggling children and teenagers and if we have more books that mirror their feelings what a wonderful comfort that could be.

Good reading we bring, to you and your kin!, by Annie Everall

Christmas is fast approaching so If you are still looking for last minute presents or ideas for keeping children occupied over the festive period, here are a few children’s non-fiction, young adult books that might fit the bill plus some adult titles that you might enjoy.
How to Draw Nativity
Written and Illustrated by Steve Smallman
Lion Hudson £8.99
ISBN: 978-1781283455
A series of clear, step by step visual instructions, show how to draw different nativity
characters so that by the end, a child will have created a complete nativity. The book
includes a sketch pad and the nativity story itself. I had a go and produced some very
passable pictures. A great gift for a child who loves to draw (7+)

Unbelievable Football
Written by Matt Oldfield
Illustrated by Ollie Mann
Wren & Rook £6.99
ISBN: 978-1526362445
A fascinating compilation of true stories about the game of football. It includes well known stories like the Christmas Day truce when German and English soldiers stopped fighting and shared Christmas and a game of football to lesser known stories like the goalie who saved two crucial goals with a broken neck. Divided into six story sections, each contains a Weird and Wonderful story and there is a good references section to enable children to explore each story further. (9+)

A Giant Dose of Gross
Written by Andy Seed, I
llustrated by Claire Almon,
QED Publishing. ISBN: 978-0711243507
A follow on from The Clue is in the Poo, this time the king of fun and disgusting facts looks at some of nature’s most disgusting creatures. From puking vultures and farting goats to stinky opossums who pretend to be dead, this title includes disgusting but enlightening facts exploring each animal’s unusual skills and how they use them to survive.

It has been a very strong year for Young Adult fiction and here are just a couple that I’ve really enjoyed.
That Asian Kid
Written by Savita Kalhan
Troika ISBN: 978-1909991972
What do you do if you witness your favourite teacher kissing and in a compromising position with the teacher that you dislike the most and the one you think treats you unfairly and gives you really low marks because of racism. Fifteen-year-old Jeevan films it and then facesthe dilemma – should he post it on social media even though to get Mrs Greaves in trouble might also get Mr Green in trouble too. A fantastic read, which shines a light on the impact of social media, makes some thought provoking points about racism, has a great cast of characters and is both humorous and cranks up the tension. For ages 14+

I will not be erased
Written by gal-dem
Walker Books ISBN: 978-1406386370
An incredibly powerful collection of essays, reflecting the stories of women of colour
growing up in a world that made them feel erased. Written by members of gal-dem, an
award winning online and print magazine, created by and for women and non-binary people of colour, this book reflects some of their stories. Featuring fourteen stories about identity, sexuality, family, love and power, each is written from that authors perspective of looking back, reflecting and writing to her younger teenage self, offering an adult perspective on life then and now and the journey in between. The essays are re-assuring, powerful, emotional..
Some of the themes covered are hard hitting e.g. drug taking, virginity, sex and sexuality but they are very relevant to all young people. The book begins with a letter from two of gal-dem editors explaining that the book was written because it’s one they wishes they could have read when they were growing up and struggling to cope with their erasure from books, film, TV and the world they lived in, while dealing with the racism and sexism they were exposed to and experiencing. An interesting biography of the contributors is featured at the back along with a useful help and information section. I found this to be a thought provoking, challenging and inspirational read. Its subject matter is at times quite hard hitting but it has significant place and relevance for today’s young people. For age 14+

And what about us? – the adults, the parents, the librarians who want to curl up at some point over Christmas with a glass of something, a mince pie and a good book. Most of my adult reading is non-fiction and I’m particularly interested in American history and politics, criminology and biography as well as crime fiction. Here are a few of the adult books that I’ve enjoyed – just in case there are any kindred spirits out there with similar tastes to me.
Reading and Rebellion An Anthology of Radical Writing for Children 1900 – 1960
Edited by Kimberley Reynolds, Jane Rosen, Michael Rosen
Oxford University Press ISBN: 978-0198806189
It’s always fascinating to look at children’s literature from different perspectives, seeking and gaining new understanding, especially when edited by three authors with excellent pedigree and a preface by Polly Toynbee. This is exactly what Reading & Rebellion offers. It’s an anthology that brings together writings reflecting left wing radical perspectives from 1900 – 1960. It includes extracts from children’s fiction, non-fiction, plays, cartoons, poetry, newspaper pieces and Russian storybooks in translation, exploring how they shaped the authors themselves and other children who read them. Each of the fourteen thematic sections and individual pieces has an introduction, setting its context and history and bringing the extracts to life. Each extract is interesting on its own but looked at as a whole, they give a picture of the impact that children’s literature can have on culture and its potential influence on child readers. A thoughtful, thought provoking and thoroughly enjoyable book, to be dipped in and out of and returned to many times. It could be a valuable tool to spark discussions with young people, particularly as our world feels like it is moving further and further to the right, with ever increasing speed. It definitely makes readers want to go back and re-read with fresh eyes, books by writers such as Geoffrey Trease and Eleanor Farjeon.

A Year at the Circus: Inside Trump’s White House
Written by Jon Soppel
BBC Books ISBN: 978-1785944376
Jon Soppel is the BBC North America Editor and I loved his first book If Only They Didn’t Speak English. In this new book he takes the reader inside Trump’s West Wing and explores the impact that Trump’s presidency is having. It is a brilliant look at the chaos, subterfuge, relationship breakdowns that takes place on what seems like an almost daily basis. I couldn’t put it down.
Corrupt Bodies
Written by Peter Everett and Kris Hollington
Icon Books ISBN: 978-1785785528
Peter Everett used to be the Mortuary Superintendent at Southwark, the busiest mortuary in the country. This is his story of life in the London death industry. In his time there he dealt with over 1,200 deaths, 400 of which were murders and some very high profile ones such as the Stockwell Strangler murders. He also performed the post mortems for a number of notorious East End gangster’s and Hitler’s confidant Albert Speer. An absolutely fascinating look at this subject – gruesome, mind boggling – I was hooked from page 1.

Librarian’s Night Before Christmas
By David Davis
Illustrated by Jim Harris
Pelican Books ISBN: 978-1 589803367
My all time favourite Christmas book is Twas the Night Before Christmas. Every year I buy a new version of it and on Christmas Eve, I read it to my husband. One of my favourite versions is the one illustrated by Christian Birmingham and published by Harper Collins but no longer in print. I also love The Librarian’s Christmas and I re-read my copy every Christmas and I still enjoy it even though it also makes me sad to think we are experiencing these things more and more in our libraries. It’s a story in rhyme, telling how due to low staffing and reducing budgets, a librarian must spend her Christmas Eve, stocking shelves at her library which is in desperate need of refurbishment. After the strain of a long night that has left her feeling “like Bob Cratchet in A Christmas Carol”, she is so happy to see Santa and his elves coming to her rescue in their red book mobile. The illustrations are superb and I love the closing lines which Santa makes as he takes off again in his book mobile “Nick boomed from his book van – do one more good deed. Have a real Merry Christmas – teach someone to read”

So enjoy what time you manage to get for reading over these holidays, I hope Santa brings you some great reading material and I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

Annie Everall
Authors Aloud UK

Middle Grade books for reading alone & reading with confidence. Annie Everall

I think this has been a bit of a mixed year for fiction for children starting to read alone and for those growing in reading confidence who are looking for more substantial stories. There’s been some very strong titles at the older end but still too few good quality titles for children starting to read alone. If you are looking for books to buy as gifts or just to share with children, here are a few of my favourites. 

Red Riding Hood 

Retold by Beatrix Potter

Ilustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Warne £12.99 ISBN: 978-0241376539

This is the first time that Beatrix Potter’s retelling of this classic tale has been published as an illustrated picture book.  It is a darker version of the story as it more faithfully reflects Charles Perrault’s original tale with its ending. Helen Oxenbury has woven her illustrative magic on the story to produce a deliciously dark version that children of 7+ and adults will love. 

North Child 

Written by Edith Patou

Usborne £7.99 ISBN: 978-1474958585

I was delighted to see this novel come back into print this year. I loved it when I first read it back in 2003 and re-reading it, it has certainly stood the test of time.  It is an adaptation of the old Norwegian folk tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” Rose is destined to travel far from home on a dangerous journey. The magic of the northern lands is brought to life as Rose’ journey to her destiny unfolds. With a cast of truly magical characters, a story that grips you from the first page and one that is timeless, inspiring and hugely exciting. A must for all fantasy fans aged 9+


Written by Jamie Littler

Puffin £7.99 ISBN: 978-0241355220

Ash has never fitted in at the stronghold. His Pathfinder parents left when he was a child and he doesn’t know if they are alive. When a sleigh called Frostheart arrives at his isolated land, pursued by lethal Leviathans, Ash is revealed as a Song Weaver. Thus begins his challenge to find out the true meaning of his powers and an adventure of a lifetime. Wonderfully atmospheric, the story captures the reader and hooks you until the end. A great one for fantasy fans aged 8+ and the sequel is coming in Spring 2020

Eight Princesses and a Magic Mirror

Written by Natasha Farrant

Illustrated by Lydia Corry

Usborne   £12.99  

ISBN: 978-1788541152

An enchantress throws her magic mirror into our universe and it reflects the stories of eight bold, adventurous and empowered princesses who dare to be different. A fantastic collection of feminist princess tales blending the modern and traditional for ages 8+. Super storytelling, strong role models and powerful messages that it’s okay to be yourself. Loved it!  

Cloud Boy

Written by Marcia Williams

Walker Books  £6.99 978-1406381214

Harry Christmas and Angie moon live next door to each other. They’ve been friends and ‘almost twins’ since they were born two days apart. They are partners in everything – sweet eating, treehouse building and cloud spotting. When Harry starts getting very bad headaches that won’t go away and a visit to the hospital ultimately indicates a serious and life limiting illness, the bonds of friendship are tested to the limit, because it is when things are falling apart that they need their friendship the most. Interwoven with what is happening to Harry, is the second story, that of Angie’s Grandma Gertie and her late husband Grandpa Jimmy. They met as children while both were in Changi Jail during the second world war. We learn of Gertie’s experiences there, in helping to make the Changi Quilt in a series of letters she wrote to her kitten which she reads aloud to Harry and Angie as his illness progresses. The two stories interweave seamlessly and it is through understanding what Grandma Gertie went through that Harry and Angie are helped to deal with what is happening now. This element of the story is based on the memories of Olga Morris and the story of the real Changi Quilt and the book contains information on this at the back. Harry is also obsessed with cloud spotting and the fascinating wealth of information on this also enhances the story. An absolutely beautiful piece of writing, this is an honest, painful and sympathetic portrayal of children and families dealing with terminal illness, grief and loss. Written in diary format it draws the reader in from the first page and doesn’t let go. Even though it is dealing with such sadness, it never becomes mawkish and strength, love, hope and legacy are its underpinning messages. An excellent read and an enjoyable, poignant yet uplifting story. I came away from reading the book with a desire to read more about the Changi Quilt and to try to find a way to see the real thing as well as a growing curiosity about clouds. I’ve been finding myself looking at them all the time trying to see if I can recognise them and using the section on them at the back of the book to help. Books that try to weave information into a fiction story often don’t work successfully and it is a testament to Marcia Williams skills as a writer that in this book she has absolutely nailed it! I loved it.

As I said at the start of this blog post, there is still a shortage of high quality books for children just starting to read alone. I do feel that sometimes books in series aimed at helping children master the basics of reading and then grow in confidence for reading alone, can be less than stimulating. The books in the Bloomsbury Young Readers series by Bloomsbury Education however, refute that theory with every title. The series as a whole is structured as you might expect a reading scheme to be in colour bands of turquoise, purple, gold, white and green with specific page lengths, word counts and linked to phonic phases. However what sets them apart and what I really liked about all the titles that I read are they are all great stories, written by excellent children’s authors like Julia Donaldson, Jenny McLachlan, Emma Shevah Abie Longstaff, Narinder Dhami and Chitra Soundar, among others. The stories are simple, accessible and enjoyable. Each is really well illustrated with bright colourful illustrations. Each contains a Tips for Grown Ups and a Fun Time activity page designed to encourage further exploration but these books can all be enjoyed just as great stories – the best way to encourage children to read. These are just a few examples of the titles.

Cave Girl

Written by Abie Longstaff

Illustrated by Shane Crampton

Bloomsbury Education   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1472962768

After trying hard to get just the right present for her Mum, Aggie’s plans seem as if they are going to be ruined by a wild boar but as mum shows her, the best presents come from surprises.

It’s too Scary

Written by Adam & Charlotte Guillain

Illustrated by Sharon Davey

Bloomsbury Education   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1472962546

Jun is scared of everything and he certainly doesn’t want to go on the scary rides at the fair. Can his sister Lin help him overcome his fears and enjoy the rides

Manju’s Magic Wishes

Written by Chitra Soundar

Illustrated by Veronica Montoya

Bloomsbury Education   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1472959713

Manju wants to get her mum a present and when she finds a magic lamp she is sure she can get something great. Unfortunately the genie has other ideas.

Hello Baby Mo

Written by Emma Shevah

Illustrated by Katie Saunders

Bloomsbury Education   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1472963468

Adam wanted a baby brother. Instead he ends up with a sister who does nothing but cry and get his parents attention. Is he ever going to learn to like her?

My next blog will focus on some of my favourite factual books. Happy reading and sharing stories.