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Inspiration and humility in equal measure

Last week Christina kindly invited me to attend the Sue Ryder Yorkshire Women of Achievement Awards at the Royal Armouries in Leeds.  The annual, daytime event honours the best women in Yorkshire in eight categories and then one is announced as the overall Woman of Achievement for that year.  In addition a Yorkshire Rose Award is presented to a woman or group of women chosen by the judging panel because they have represented Yorkshire to an exceptional level and their achievements are outstanding and worthy of recognition – more on this award later.

As I entered the building I was met by an array of women (and a very small handful of men), all dressed up for the occasion, milling around with a glass in hand waiting to enter the hall and sit down.  The variety of women of all shapes and sizes, from all sorts of backgrounds was a timely reminder that success is down to hard work and not where you come from and what you look like.  I located Christina who introduced me to some of the other ladies who would be sitting on our table.  They included the creator of a healthy eating brand for children, an architect and a ward sister at a Sue Ryder Hospice.  The event is organised by the Sue Ryder charity.  I was immediately struck by the amazing work that these women do and felt rather humble; being an editor and translator, working with other people’s words, hardly seemed to match up to the fantastic professions these ladies are in.  We chatted until we were invited to take our seats for lunch and I sat down feeling a little inspired from the conversations I had, had thus far.  I could not foresee how much this feeling would grow throughout the afternoon.

Before we ate, our host Liz Green from BBC Radio Leeds introduced the White Rose award.  As I said above this goes to someone outstanding and this year it was presented posthumously to the MP Jo Cox who represented Batley and Spen in West Yorkshire.  In addition to being an MP Jo championed diversity and had a strong belief in a better world.  As her family took to the stage, I can’t imagine that there was anyone in the room who didn’t have a lump in their throat.  In accepting the award on behalf of the family, Jo’s sister Kim spoke about both who Jo was and what she believed in.  I was in awe of how well Kim spoke in the circumstances, and the sense of inspiration and humility her speech left me with.  Political allegiances to one side, Jo was a human being who cared deeply about others and was willing to fight for what she believed in, a fairer, kinder and more tolerant world.  The experience of seeing this award presented left many of us reaching for tissues and hopefully inspired many to take part in the events which are being organised to commemorate the first anniversary of Jo passing.  For more information please visit the Jo Cox Foundation page.

The other awards were presented after lunch.  We had each been given a booklet detailing the shortlisted nominees for each award and a bit about them.  This booklet contained such inspiration and as the awards were presented, the humility of the recipients was overwhelming.  Each thanked so many people and some even suggested that those who supported them were more deserving of the award than themselves.  One thank you by one particular winner really struck me.  Dr Sarah Heath is a university lecturer in nuclear engineering as well as other aspects of chemistry.  Her research has greatly contributed to the UK’s current response planning for nuclear terrorism.  She thanked many people who were with her and one of those was her chemistry teacher from school, whom she had invited to attend.  It was wonderful to see someone at the age of 50 acknowledge where the roots of their achievement were first planted.  Such humility was fantastic to see.

I could write for a long time about each of the recipients, their achievements and the humble way in which they accepted their awards, but I am sure that no one would want to read to the end due to boredom.  I feel very privileged to have not just attended the awards, listened to and met some amazing women, but also to have been inspired by the event.  Whilst I don’t work in an industry where women are in a huge minority, the event leaves no doubt that gender is not a barrier to achievement, whatever field you work in.  Inspiration is all around us and we should be excited by what we can achieve through hard work and dedication.  I know I will be busy trying to implement some of the many ideas I have been left with and hopefully will be able to blog about them in the future.  Take time to look around you for inspiration this week, it is out there in abundance!

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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March 2017 - York Press

Success for inaugural reading festival...

http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/15189342.Success_for_inaugural_reading_festival/

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Feb 2017 - York Press

2000 children to take part in Selby reading festival...

http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/educationnews/news/15109257

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Jan 2017 - Lancahire Telegraph

‘Everybody deserves a chance to fall in love with reading’ - meet Blackburn author Christina Gabbitas...

http://www.lancashiretelegraph.co.uk/news/15044029

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Safeguarding – let’s get the message out there

Here’s a question: how do we teach young children about what secrets are good and what secrets are bad, give them the confidence to speak out about things that are troubling them, but not scare them?  As a parent, a school governor with responsibility for safeguarding and a former church safeguarding coordinator this is a question I have pondered often and I am sure I am not alone.  Too often children are groomed in an attempt by the perpetrator of the abuse to stop them speaking out and as a society I believe we are still not bold enough in talking about this topic with children in an appropriate manner in order to protect them.

I do not think anyone could claim to have the complete answer to my question above, but here at Poems and Pictures Christina’s passion for improving things in this area lead to her writing a book to go some way to doing that.  A year of research showed that there were no books for four to seven year olds that addressed this issue in a manner appropriate to their understanding.  Abusers target children of any age and we should not try to hide from this issue and pretend it doesn’t happen to younger children, it does.  Using public support from Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform for creative projects, and her own money Christina wrote and published Share Some Secrets.  Illustrator Ric Lumb provided the carefully crafted pictures which ensure the story is not at all graphic in tackling this sensitive subject.  Christina carefully worded the story to make it not only appropriate for the age range, but to allow those reading the book to the child to use everyday language that they themselves would also feel comfortable with.  The book received immediate recognition when it was entered in the spring collection 2016 of the People’s Book Prize in the children’s category.  It made it to the 2016 final.

To ensure that the book reached as wide an audience as possible and those that needed it most, Christina forged partnerships with both the NSPCC and Barnardo’s.  The NSPCC endorsed the book that reinforces the behaviour promoted by their Underwear Rule campaign and placed it in their library.  One hundred copies also went out through the charity’s Schools Service.  In a corporate partnership with Barnardo’s a special edition was produced for their 150thanniversary and a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book went to the charity.  Further endorsements followed from teachers, parents, children and safeguarding consultants, such as Ann Marie Christian.  Christina also had the privilege of being invited to meet Dame Esther Rantzen when she visited The NSPCC’s Leeds base as part of Childline’s 30th anniversary celebrations.

Christina’s passion for getting the message across to as many children as possible hasn’t stopped since the initial publication and partnerships.  Last summer I was asked by Christina to translate Share Some Secrets into Spanish.  This was an interesting project as the original book is written in rhyme, but it is often difficult to replicate rhyme in translation.  The most important part of the book is its message, so we decided that must take priority over more stylistic matters.  Compartamos Algunos Secretos, the Spanish title, is awaiting publication and we are looking forward to seeing how it fares in a new market for Poems and Pictures.

The translation isn’t the only exciting ongoing development with Share Some Secrets.  On 18 October last year Christina met a group of students studying animation at Sheffield Hallam University, who will be turning Share Some Secrets into an animation.  Headed by senior lecturer Melvyn Ternan as Creative Director the group of six students have been working hard since October.  Christina visited Sheffield to record the voices in March and we can’t wait to see the finished animation.

With arrests and trials still happening in the most high-profile child exploitation scandal in the UK, that of Rotherham, it is important that we do not rest in the mission to ensure that children, as well as their parents, carers and teachers, have the tools they need to prevent child abuse happening or stop it in its tracks at an early stage.  We have a long way to go to achieve this aim, but each step along the way is vital to improving outcomes for all children and preserving childhood as the special time it should be.

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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Finding the fun in poetry at school

With the end of our eight line rhyme competition here at Poems and Pictures only 48 hours away I couldn’t help but return to thinking about it this week.  After my blog a few weeks ago I am particularly heartened to see entries coming in about the seasons as well as climate change.  One poem about all four seasons particularly captured me in the last week, evoking so many memories of what each season means to a child.  Whether it makes the final book after judging remains to be seen, but it definitely made me smile.

As I have mentioned previously last month was national poetry month over in the United States and I particularly enjoyed last week as Poem in Your Pocket Day was celebrated.  For those of you not familiar with this idea it was instituted by the Academy of American Poets and is an annual day where participants are called upon to carry in their pocket a poem that means something to them and share it with someone else that day.  A quick search on Pinterest shows that this event is becoming increasingly popular and there are some great craft ideas to encourage children to get involved with pocket shaped envelopes and more being made to put poems in.  One idea that particularly captured me was a book published by the Academy some years ago containing 100 poems in a spiral-bound format, so that a young reader can rip one out each day or when they feel like, and put it in their pocket.  Some libraries also carry poem cards that people can take away for free, so that they can participate.

The whole idea behind Poem in Your Pocket Day is to inspire and our own competition is all about inspiring children to have a go.  The new National Curriculum makes poetry more important than its previous incarnation did and this is encouraging.  Children are now required to memorise and recite poetry from year one.  Some see this as a retrograde step, seeing the requirement to memorise and recite as draconian, but we shouldn’t forget that children start memorising and reciting poems much earlier than year one.  Nursery rhymes are simple poems that we learn from a young age.  There is such a breadth and depth of poetry out there from Christopher Marlowe to modern poets who are working today that the possibilities for children to find joy in poetry seem endless.  It should not be a formal disciplined thing, but something which is fun, engaging and even laugh out loud silly.  Requiring children to recite poetry should present so many opportunities.  Whether they have the confidence to read their own poem out loud or whether they take part in turning a poem into a play, learning to work as a team and gaining their confidence that way, they should be encouraged at every stage.  Whilst our competition at Poems and Pictures focuses on two themes, poetry really can be about anything and this is another reason that it should fit into anything that a class is studying.  There should be no excuses for poetry being pushed to the back of the queue in terms of lesson plans anymore.  Of course poets and authors are always more than willing to come into schools to give that extra inspiration to children too, as Christina has done on numerous occasions.  Many will provide a copy of some of their books as part of their visit, providing a lasting legacy for the school, which can go on inspiring future pupils through the school library.  

As a school governor literacy is one of my areas of responsibility and not surprisingly I am passionate about how this is taught.  Whether you are a teacher, a parent or anyone involved in helping children to learn, make it your mission this week to inspire a child with poetry.  It may be too late for your child to enter the eight line rhyme competition this year, but you can definitely make sure they are all ready for 2018!  

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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Size matters… or does it?

Whilst sitting here writing this blog I am watching snow trying to settle in my garden and I can’t help but feel a tinge of jealousy when I think about where Christina is.  She is currently in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  However, before you jump to conclusions and think I am jealous of not just the location and weather but that she must be on holiday, you would be wrong.  For the third year in a row Christina has been invited to be a guest author and workshop presenter at the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF).

Before I started this blog I decided to find out a bit more about the UAE, and Sharjah in particular, given it is somewhere I have never visited.  The country is a federation of seven emirates established in 1971, with an area approximately a third the size of the United Kingdom.  Sharjah is the third largest of the emirates both in terms of area and population, with a population according to Wikipedia of approximately 1.4 million people, making it smaller than some metropolitan areas of the UK, including Birmingham and Manchester.  A quick consideration of these statistics might lead you to think that an event held there would be on a similarly small scale, but you would be wrong.  Sharjah hosts one of the largest reading festivals in the world as well as the fourth largest book fair in the world, and it is the former that Christina is attending.

The impressive statistics don’t stop there though.  Sharjah has long invested in culture and cultural events and SCRF is no exception.  Under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, it runs for eleven days, making it as long as any of the longer established literary festivals we have here in the UK and don’t forget the SCRF is for children, not like many of our larger festivals which just have a children’s element.  One of the most striking elements looking at the SCRF website is the variety of countries represented by guest authors and workshop presenters at the festival.  Whilst Christina and Poems and Pictures friend Andy Seed are just some of the guests representing the UK, in addition to guests from the Middle East region itself, other guests come from countries as diverse as the Philippines, Spain, Egypt, Pakistan, the USA, Russia, Sweden, Brazil and Australia, meaning the only continent not represented is Antarctica, which is an impressive statistic in itself.

The heart of any event though is its vision and mission statements.  Both strike a real chord with us here at Poems and Pictures.  The vision statement on the SCRF website is as follows:

‘We strive to enrich children’s imaginations and provide them with friends for life through the gift of reading.’

This is a great vision. As I have written about before in the blog entitled ‘Pleasure and privilege’ letting your imagination run free whilst reading and encouraging children to do the same is so important.

The SCRF mission is also inspiring:

‘To become the premier reading festival for children in the region, and draw high attendance and trade participation, by creating an experience that is involving, entertaining, educational and most importantly that makes reading fun.’

Fun and a gift are two great ways to describe reading.  The festival is really living up to its vision and mission with over 110,000 visitors in the first four days.  We really hope that all the children who attend the festival have had fun, not just with Christina’s workshops involving Triangular Trev and friends, and encouraging children to have a go at the eight line rhyme initiative, but through all the experiences they will have at the festival meeting authors, poets, illustrators and a whole range of advocates for the arts.  

As the actress Marlene Dietrich was quoted as saying ‘You’re never lonely with a book’.  Enjoy getting stuck into a good book this week, encourage your children to do the same, accepting the gift of reading, having fun and making a friend for life, and perhaps we will see you at a festival closer to home very soon.

Rebecca Thomas, Editor


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Chilled Children is currently in The People's Book Prize!
VOTE HERE: http://www.peoplesbookprize.com/book.php?id=1525 

Let’s talk about children’s mental health

I thought long and hard before starting this week’s blog.  It is both a departure in some ways from previous blogs and also I am very conscious of being seen as just jumping on the current bandwagon for talking about mental health, although this in itself would not be a bad thing as removing the stigma around this conversation is very important.  However please stick with me, as this is a subject that really matters not just to me but to many people.  

This story starts last autumn… well actually it goes back some years before that.  A phone call I received whilst on a half term break with my family last October was a direct result of this.  I had been expecting the call and it was asking me to quote for some editing work on some school resources.  The quotation sent I then tucked into my fish and chips, a must, given we were staying at the seaside, and waited for confirmation that the work was going to go ahead.  Shortly after tea an email came in, but instead of being the go ahead for the work, I found that it required me to give some more information namely why I was the right person to be doing this work.  I spent the rest of the evening giving this due consideration and writing my response.

The project mattered to its authors who have personal experience in this area and it mattered to me.  At this point I should probably elaborate on the nature of the project.  Its authors are Stuart and Amanda Jewell.  Through their company Aquamarine Holistic Health they aim ‘to provide parents and teachers with the resources they need to support our children’s mental and emotional health, to enable our children to become balanced, positive and successful adults’.  Reading the Chilled Children resources that Stuart and Amanda had written it struck me how useful they would have been with my stepdaughter who struggled with her mental health alongside a learning difficulty.  She is now a young adult, but my husband and I spent a lot of time at CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) with her throughout her teenage years.  We also saw how the challenges she faced were dealt with at school, and whilst they were largely dealt with well, any additional help would always have been useful.  As a parent and a school governor too I continue to see the need for support for children and teachers today.

Whilst the prime minister’s speech at the Charity Commission in early January put the spotlight firmly on mental health, a quick search on the Office for National Statistics (ONS) website reveals that the last comprehensive survey on young people’s mental health was carried out in 2004.  Whilst a new survey is being carried out, it is not due to report until 2018.  As the ONS points out in a blog post on its website from 22 February ‘The world has changed a lot since the last comprehensive mental health survey. In 2004, Facebook had just launched, the iPhone was still 3 years from its launch and the first tweet was yet to be sent on Twitter.’  Data published by Ofcom in 2014 showed that 40% of five to fifteen year olds owned a mobile phone rising to 80% of twelve to fifteen year olds.  These statistics show how the instantaneous nature of social media must be permeating classrooms and putting teachers on the front line of fighting the effects of negative social media interactions amongst pupils whether they feel equipped to do this or not.  The current picture of mental health amongst children therefore remains something of a mystery in terms of cold, hard data until the survey is published next year, but it is undeniable that it is a problem that needs tackling through a variety of methods.  As I noted when reading an interview on theschoolbusblog.net with John Tomsett, headteacher at Huntington School in York and author of This Much I Know About Mind Over Matter… Improving Mental Health In Our Schools, he rightly points out that we have a physical health and a mental health, and the latter is often ignored in preference for dealing with the former.  Opinions on the current funding issues facing schools aside, we need to look after our children’s mental and emotional health as a first step to helping them transition successfully to adulthood equipped with more than just practical skills for the workplace.

The Chilled Children resources are a great place to start in supporting our children’s mental health and I am looking forward to working on new resources as Stuart and Amanda are able to expand the range.  The current resources have also earned a place in the People’s Book Prize spring collection and are available to vote for now.  A vote would be just one way of helping to continue raising the profile of children’s mental health and the role teachers are being asked to play in tackling the problem of mental health.  

On a Monday morning at work we often ask each other how the weekend was and the stock answer that most of us seem programmed to give is ‘fine’.  It can be easy to fall into the same trap when asking children about their school day.  Whilst children may not like being probed, keeping the conversation going throughout the evening rather than being accepting of a one word answer is a great place to start.  This week make time to keep talking and you never know how important that conversation may be in helping them to unpack what has really gone on with their day whether positive or negative.

Rebecca Thomas, Editor


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Spring into poetry

Well the Easter bunny is approaching just around the corner, daffodils have been in full bloom for weeks now and the sun is shining, so we can definitely say spring has arrived.  As a season I love spring.  The promise of new life, lambs taking their first steps in the fields, flora and fauna alike waking up from winter, colours appearing everywhere as blossom covers trees , birthdays, well in our household anyway, it is a truly magical time that serves to really blow away any post-Christmas blues.  On a very personal note it also reminds me of my grandma who loved the daffodils and all the promise that they held for the months ahead.  Each year we used to try and find somewhere different to take her to see them en masse, although there is also something special about finding them as Wordsworth did in his poem by just coming across them clustered together.  With all these ideas about what spring means to me I feel I should be entering the eight line rhyme competition, this year taking as its topics the seasons and climate change.  However I am not sure I would under any circumstances pass as a seven to thirteen year old, the recommended age for the competition!

Like many of the judges the competition is now occupying my thoughts a little more as the deadline approaches in just over three weeks.  On the other side of the pond this month is national poetry month and we do not need any excuse to celebrate poetry here at Poems and Pictures.  It is exciting to see children’s entries to the competition coming in, in this important month for poetry.  There have been some excellent ones about climate change, the half of the topic that captures the zeitgeist a little more, but the nostalgic side of me is looking forward to seeing the seasons captured in eight line rhymes.  Looking back the seasons are something that inspire childhood memories without us even realising it.  As adults I am sure that we have all participated in conversations over recent years about how the seasons are less defined now and climate change is playing its part.  However in a world where the pace of life seems to quicken all the time, and instantaneous response and reaction is demanded by so many, it is good to take some time out and look for the signs of the seasons that are all around us.  My five year old daughter is great at pointing these out and I am looking forward to when she is a little older and able to put pen to paper to capture these childhood thoughts.

Returning to my role as a judge for the competition I am honoured to have been asked along with a great list of other people involved in the arts, education and promoting opportunities for children.  The list of judges includes award winning authors such as Andy Seed, a winner of the Blue Peter book award, former Apprentice candidate and runner up Claire Young, founder of the People’s Book Prize Tatiana Wilson, former ambassador and entrepreneur in residence at the British Library Dr Stephen Fear and representatives from the Young Poets Network, and the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood to name but a few.  The latter is somewhere I have to confess that I hadn’t heard of prior to working with Christina, but I will definitely be putting it on my list of must visits next time I am in the capital.  The history of how the museum came to be is fascinating in itself and its wide range of collections from dolls to clothing, teddies to construction toys, is sure to hold something to interest everyone.  I particularly like the idea that the plot of land was originally bought in 1690 to feed the people of east London and as ‘mid-Victorians anticipated, it is their minds that continue to be nourished’ to this day as the museum’s website says.

Poetry is just one way to nourish the mind, but such an important one to encourage children to have a go at and enjoy.  If you have children don’t forget during the Easter break to help them to not just enjoy all the sweet treats on offer, but to appreciate the changing world and seasons around them, and perhaps when they return to school they will just have time to enter the competition and maybe see their work in print, hopefully starting a lifelong love of poetry.

Rebecca Thomas, Editor


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Lyrics and rhythm

This week has been somewhat quieter than previous weeks, but that doesn’t mean that Christina hasn’t been out and about. She visited Southey Green Community Primary School in Sheffield with her Felicity Fly books and year three had a great time getting involved in the eight-line rhyme initiative on this year’s topic of seasons and climate change. Entries to the competition continue to flood in and with only a month left to go I can’t wait to start reading some, as one of the guest judges this year.

During the last week I have listened to the radio rather a lot as editing and writing have had to dovetail neatly with a unusually high demand for cake in our house in the shape of an afternoon tea event, a school Easter fair and my daughter’s birthday. Listening to the lyrics perhaps more closely than I normally do, I have been struck by the amount of lyrics which rhyme and are in essence poetry. This made me think about the relationship between poetry and music. Are lyrics and poetry but one and the same thing?

Referring to one of the editor’s tools of choice The Oxford English Dictionary the definition for poetry does not mention lyrics, but interestingly does talk about the ’expression of feelings’ and ‘distinctive style and rhythm’, both things which we associate with song lyrics and their writers. The definition of lyric is more helpful. Whilst it lists as one definition the ‘words of a popular song’, the first definition is ‘a lyric poem or verse’, i.e. one expressing the writer’s emotions. So there is an intrinsic link.

Thinking back to the reading festival the link was there in front of me with two of the authors in particular. Christina writes all her books in rhyme and characters such as Daniella Dragon Fruit and friends, and Triangular Trev and friends all have their own rhyming songs, which come on CD with the books. Performance poet Rappaman Donovan Christopher had the children rapping rhyming lyrics about a whole host of subjects. Both girls and boys were equally engaged in enjoying poetry and making music with a great rhythm.

This got me thinking about the problem that we are often told about of boys trailing girls in results in literacy and writing, whether that be prose or poetry. Whilst I enjoyed poetry as a very young child, and it was often read to us in school, my first real experience of more grown up poetry was as a nine year old. On a Thursday afternoon our teacher would give us a poem, or a section of a poem, to copy out, and then we had to take it home and learn it that night. This introduced me to poems as varied as The Charge of the Light Brigade, On the Ning Nang Nong, The Owl and The Pussy-Cat and Meg Merrilees. Those who were brave enough were given the opportunity to recite what they had learned to the rest of the class on the Friday morning. I relished this opportunity, but on reflection I don’t recall any of the boys participating in this Friday ritual, or indeed some of the quieter girls. However I now wonder if they had been asked to recite the lyrics of the latest hit by a new romantic or new wave group or an early Stock Aitkin and Waterman act, would they not have done so with ease? Back then this was not seen as the right thing to do in education and I would question whether many teachers would be brave enough to do this now. Sure, the song would have to be carefully chosen, but rhyme can be found in the lyrics of many songs by artists and groups as diverse as One Direction, Alicia Keys and Adele, and rhythm can be found in all music as can often a depth of emotion that is not easily expressed in pure prose. I think it is worth consideration.

Enjoy listening to poetry when you get the chance this week and perhaps you might just find it in places that you hadn’t considered before.

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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Pleasure and privilege

For the third week in a row I am unashamed to be writing about the same thing, i.e. Selby District Children’s Reading Festival. However the difference this week is that it has now happened and I have the joy of being able to report back on how it all went. There are many words and phrases that I could use to describe the festival, fun, exciting, interesting and even hard work, but I think the two words in the title of this blog capture my feelings about the event on a number of levels.

For those of you who do not know much about the structure of the event and what it was trying to achieve a brief summary: a two day schools’ event where each child would enjoy a 45 minute read aloud session with an author appropriate to their age group, followed by a family day with a rolling programme of events by the same authors to encourage the community to come along. Each child who attended a school session received a voucher to bring to the family day to redeem for a free book by one of the authors. The idea behind the event was to give children from all backgrounds and abilities an equal opportunity to attend a book-centred event.

Right, now back to pleasure and privilege. During the two days of the schools’ event over 1700 children walked through the doors of Selby Abbey hopeful of being entertained by an author and they were. It was a pleasure to see them choosing the characters and colours for Liz Million’s illustrations, learning about the importance of different fruit and vegetable in a healthy diet with Christina and Daniella Dragon Fruit, rapping about houses made of sweets with performance poet Rappaman Donovan Christopher, laughing at Andy Seed’s side-splitting tongue twisters or being enthralled by Daniel Ingram-Brown’s description of a black skeleton emerging from a box in his latest book The Nemesis Charm. The pleasure was not just mine though it was evident in the faces of the children and staff who attended the event, and in the authors who enjoyed sharing their craft with the audience. My pleasure didn’t stop on Friday though as I had the opportunity to take my own daughter to the family day on Saturday, and she was equally excited and enthralled.

Moving on to privilege, it was a privilege to be involved in an event which brought reading aloud to such a large audience of children, seeing so many being inspired across a range of ages. However the event also put privilege to one side in the sense of background, status or money. None of these meant anything as each child came through the door and all were equally engaged and enthralled regardless of where they were from, and it was special to see this fundamental aim of the event being fulfilled. As I said in the blog two weeks ago, gone was the idea of a highbrow literature festival for the privileged who know about these things, and instead reading aloud to all who came regardless of background became the focus. This continued on the family day as both those who had visited with their schools and those who had not flocked to meet and listen to the authors, and claim their free books with the tokens they had received.

So what does all this tell us about reading and children in particular? Children should be encouraged to see reading as a pleasure, a time when they can let their imagination wander, whether learning about this world or one of the author’s creation, but moreover reading is not something which goes with privilege, it is for everyone and is to be shared. Books are to be shared whether you own them or borrow them from the greatest collection of books to be shared, a library.

This week share a book, share it with your child, your best friend, your spouse or just with your own imagination and take pleasure in the privilege that is being able to share a story. Let your imagination run free.

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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To rhyme, or not to rhyme, that is the question?

Well this last week has been very busy here at Poems and Pictures, but more on the specifics of that later.  The above title may seem somewhat confusing, but it allows me to wish you both Happy Shakespeare Week and Happy World Poetry Day, although the latter was celebrated yesterday.  

I am an unashamed fan of Shakespeare, both his plays and his poetry, and think it is great that we have a week to encourage primary school children to take an interest in a body of work, which can even to the most educated be divisive.  Which is the best of his plays?  Was all work attributed to him authored by him?  Is Hamlet’s soliloquy, misquoted in the title above, even a soliloquy as Ophelia is there in the background?  Whilst debate over these and many other points has continued for centuries, one thing I am certain of is that poetry is something else which can divide opinion: either you like it or you don’t.

World Poetry Day was adopted by UNESCO at its 30th session in Paris in 1999.  A quick search of UNESCO’s website reveals that one of the aims of the day is to ‘create an attractive image of poetry in the media, so that the art of poetry will no longer be considered an outdated form of art’.  Personally I don’t believe that poetry is outdated, but I do think it is something that we perhaps become more reluctant to use as we get older; if you have not developed a love for crafting poetry by the time you leave school there is a chance that you will never.  

My favourite poetry book as a child contained everything from Wordsworth to Spike Milligan, who is one of Christina’s inspirations.  All of Christina’s books are written in rhyme and the national poetry initiative that she founded is now in its fifth year.  The initiative was created to encourage children to have a go at writing poetry by producing an eight line rhyme on a theme.  Since its inception the competition has encouraged over 15,000 children to put pen to paper.  Christina’s inspiration came from her own son who has dyslexia and found short, rhyming stories more engaging.  Many children’s stories are written in rhyme and as a parent I know that some of the most memorable stories for my own daughter are those written in rhyme, where the rhythm helps her to remember the words and join in more readily.  Some of our earliest memories are often of nursery rhymes, simple rhyming songs that have endured for generations.

Whilst most of the entries to the competition are written using rhyming couplets, of course not all poetry needs to rhyme, something which generates the question posed in the title of this blog.  Poetry uses style and rhythm to express ideas and feelings.  A few weeks ago I mentioned Philip Larkin in the blog.  Not all of his poetry rhymed, but whether in rhyme or not it captured a level of melancholy that only poetry could accurately express.

Before ending this week’s blog I am aware that I said that this week has been very busy.  This is because we are looking forward to the Selby District Children’s Reading Festival which starts tomorrow.  If you are local then please take the opportunity to come to the family day on Saturday and meet Christina and the other authors.  Children will have the opportunity to enter the poetry competition and there will be a prize for the best poem on the day.  

As Wordsworth said of Shakespeare’s sonnets, ‘with this keyShakespeare unlocked his heart’.  Let poetry capture your heart this week.

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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Literature… or should that be reading?

At the end of last week I met up with Christina at the lovely Selby Abbey to discuss an exciting event happening at the end of this month, Selby district’s first Children’s Reading Festival. The event has been organised following some research that Christina did last year. Out of 350 literature festivals in the UK less than 10% have children’s events during their programme. However why have a reading festival, not a literature festival, and why Selby?

On a personal note the word literature still makes me think of my worst GCSE result, English literature, and how the whole subject left me somewhat perplexed for a few years. Whilst in relative terms the grade I got, a B, was far from poor, I could never work out why someone who loved reading and writing, and had received a better grade in English language, was so poor at a subject which to the logic of a sixteen year old should suit me perfectly. All I knew was that I was, according to the teacher, ‘unable to draw the correct conclusions’ from the books and poems that we read. Not being a particularly rebellious teen I just accepted this analysis, but did test it out further in my first year at university and found I was similarly ungifted in the study of French literature! Fortunately neither of these two experiences dampened my enthusiasm for books and I feel privileged almost two decades later to be working in such a creative industry, where inspiration is everywhere.

My own story above goes some way to explaining Christina’s reasons for choosing the word ‘reading’ in the festival’s title. The word ‘literature’ has a connotation of highbrow knowledge and in some cases can even conjure up an idea of elitism. The definition of the word literature does nothing to dispel this sense of superiority, the Oxford English Dictionary defining it as:

‘written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.’

As a definition this is hardly something that leads us to immediately think of children’s books. However delve a little deeper into the word and we find that the sense of its origin is ‘knowledge of books’. I can’t help thinking that my four year old daughter’s ‘knowledge’ of certain children’s books is far greater than mine, but when it comes to her describing what she likes at school, she will simply say ‘I like reading’ and I totally agree with her, so do I.

The idea of a reading festival is therefore born out of the wish to create something that is accessible to all. Its location is partly born out of it being near to home for Christina, but moreover a great desire to give children from all backgrounds and abilities an equal opportunity to attend a book-centred event. Whilst Selby did not feature in the top 400 most vulnerable constituencies with regard to literacy in a recent survey by the Literacy Trust (http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/campaigns-policy/literacy-score-mapping-literacy-need-in-england) , like many communities across northern England it has suffered due to the decline in heavy industries such as coal mining. The Selby coalfield with its six pits built only 40 years ago is no longer visible on the local landscape and shipbuilding in the town ceased in the late 1990s. We really hope that the festival will be a success and can help with the development of festivals in similar areas across the country, each one hopefully contributing to raising literacy levels and aspirations in that area.

We will be reporting back on the festival in future blogs, but until then enjoy literature… or should that be reading?!

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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It’s awards season don’t you know!

Okay, so the Oscars and the BAFTAs may have come and gone, but here at Poems and Pictures we have had a few reasons to get excited and celebrate in the last week. Yesterday, on the eve of International Women’s Day, Christina attended the Northern Power Women Awards 2017 where she was nominated in the Person with a Purpose category. Whilst Christina didn’t come away with an award, she was delighted to have been shortlisted along with many other fantastic female role models, showing what can be achieved with determination and passion. Here on International Women’s Day, when so much work is still required to bring opportunities to girls and women the world over to create more equality, it seems particularly appropriate to celebrate the success of female role models here at home.

Last night’s awards ceremony has not been our only reason to get excited here this week though. You may recall that two weeks ago we asked you to get voting for Triangular Trev in the People’s Book Prize. Well we are now delighted to announce that Trev and the Shape Idols have made it through to the final! We now eagerly await the awards ceremony in May and will be sure to update you on how Triangular Trev gets on.

Our interest in the People’s Book Prize does not end with Triangular Trev though. Last autumn we worked on two mental and emotional wellbeing resources for primary schools with the lovely Stuart and Amanda at Aqua Holistics. These were published just before Christmas and we are really pleased that they have been shortlisted in the spring collection for the People’s Book Prize non-fiction. Please have a look and get voting once again to give them every opportunity of making the final.

By now you have probably had enough of our awards excitement, so we thought we would give you a quick update on what else is happening here at Poems and Pictures. Today Christina was out and about supporting the Hull Children’s University. She and Felicity Fly illustrator Julie Omond held a storytelling, song and illustrating workshop for over 400 children at the Wilberforce Theatre, and Christina also gifted 400 books at the event. The Children’s University is a charity which aims to raise aspirations amongst young people in Hull with unique learning experiences. Hull is the UK city of culture for 2017 and it is important to seize the opportunity to inspire children across the city. Less than fifteen years ago Hull was named as the worst place to live in the UK. However the city has most definitely invested in its retail quarter and many industrial projects over the last decade. This year sees many projects and events to celebrate being the city of culture with a view to building a legacy for the city. Hull will this year host the Turner Prize, the prestigious annual art prize. One of Hull’s most famous son’s is its MP from 1780-1784 William Wiberforce who campaigned for the abolition of slavery. He was an independent MP always voting with his conscience.

I searched for a quote from one of Hull’s more recent well known residents, the poet Philip Larkin, to end this blog, but his melancholy defeated me. Instead I think we can all take inspiration from Wilberforce and indeed the work of the Children’s University to raise children’s aspirations through hard work, determination and of course a love of books.

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

 

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Books, books, books!

As I sit and write this on the eve of the official World Book Day, I feel like I am somewhat lagging behind Christina in celebrating this event, as she has already been to two London schools this week and is visiting another one tomorrow. She has been to Betty Layward Primary School in Stoke Newington, St Anthony’s Catholic Primary School in Forest Gate and she is looking forward to visiting the Wetherby School in central London tomorrow. In addition to celebrating all things stories in the form of the Felicity Fly books and Triangular Trev, Christina has run poetry workshops and talked about being an author. By the end of the week she will have celebrated with over a thousand pupils and staff, which is quite a party!

I know like me many parents will have spent the last week or so trying to arrange costumes, or being creative or crafty on a book theme as schools across the country prepare to celebrate. My daughter’s school are focussing this year on the 30th anniversary of Where’s Wally?. Cue our local supermarket now being sold out of Wally costumes and frantic Facebook forum conversations about where else to find a costume at the eleventh hour! Whilst the costumes and crafts are fun, the greatest fun comes from the books themselves.

Our celebration of World Book Day stems from UNESCO’s World Book and Copyright Day held around the world on 23 April, the date being chosen as it is the date of birth or death of several significant authors including Shakespeare. Whilst the charity The Reading Agency organises World Book Night on 23 April, which is largely aimed at adults, World Book Day in the UK was moved to March to avoid the clash with St George’s Day and school Easter holidays.

Anyway history lesson over, World Book Day celebrates its 20th birthday this year. There are ten different books for which a child can redeem their £1 book token, which cover ages pre-school up to fourteen. However don’t forget that the token can also be exchanged for £1.00 off any book from participating booksellers, so you could choose to meet Pablo Pineapple from Caracas in Felicity Fly Meets the Dragon Fruit or find out what instrument Equilateral Eric plays in Triangular Trev and the Shape Idols. Whatever book a child chooses they should be encouraged to enjoy owning and reading that book. Some of our earliest memories of stories stick with us not just through our childhood, but well into our adult life. Whilst I may not read Paddington as often as I did as a child, I still love getting stuck into a good book. Children these days spend an increasing amount of time in front of a screen whether that be at home or at school, and spending time away from the screen with a book should be a pleasure. Getting lost down the rabbit hole with Alice, avoiding being eaten by the Gruffalo, exploring the Hundred Acre Wood or plotting with Matilda against the frightful Miss Trunchbull, the characters and their exploits live in the memory, and inspire us. Reading and the enjoyment of books really is a skill for life.

So whatever you are doing to celebrate World Book Day, at home, at nursery, at your local library, at school or indeed if you are lucky enough to be meeting a fantastic author like Christina, enjoy the day, and help your child to cherish their book. Enjoy the gift of reading!

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

 

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The importance of reading aloud

Before we get to reading aloud, welcome to the first Poems and Pictures blog! Life at Poems and Pictures is very hectic at the moment, which means there are so many exciting things coming up, including book signings, school visits and reading festivals to name but a few.

Last week Christina visited The Olive Tree Primary School in Bolton to celebrate World Read Aloud Day 2017. The Olive Tree Primary School is proud to be Bolton’s first free school, and has the great slogan ‘Inspiring to Achieve’. Christina read two of her books aloud to a packed assembly hall containing over 400 pupils and staff before leading poetry workshops for pupils in key stage two. The children really were inspired to achieve and many have entered the national eight line rhyme initiative with this year’s theme of seasons and climate change. As one of the judges I can’t wait to read the entries. (More information on the initiative can be found on the website.)

Reading aloud to children is so important, as research has repeatedly shown, and the benefits are numerous. It introduces new vocabulary and helps children to improve their own literacy skills. Children who are read to are more likely to enjoy reading for fun and want to learn more about the world around them. Children learn how books are structured and are able to use this information when being creative and imaginative as they grow and learn. Talking about books helps develop both reading and writing skills. As a parent myself I love reading to my daughter at bedtime. We enjoy discussing the books and storylines, sometimes creating our own alternative endings. After all, who doesn’t enjoy putting on different accents for different characters whilst building an important bond with their child?

Talking of accents, this weekend at WHSmith, Meadowhall from 11:00 until 16:00, Christina is signing copies of her latest book Triangular Trev and the Shape Idols, which as always comes with a narrated audio CD also containing the Shape Idols song. Christina brings the characters to life with her great voiceover work. This rhyming book introduces mathematical shapes and terms in a fun way. The rhyming element makes it a fantastic read aloud book and gives plenty of things to discuss from Nonagon Norma’s funky hair to the definition of the word ‘isosceles’. The book is being showcased in the People’s Book Prize and voting ends on 28 February, so if you haven’t voted yet, what are you waiting for?!

That’s all for this week, but check back next week for lots of World Book Day news. In the meantime enjoy reading aloud and don’t forget to vote for Triangular Trev!

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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Selby Times - 5th May 2016
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I had a wonderful time staging storytelling sessions and poetry workshops at Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival in the United Arab Emirates. There are some amazing poetry writers and illustrators who have entered into our initiative. The closing date is 5th May.

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World Book Day:   I have visited many schools connected with World Book Day, here are some of the highlights:

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11, 12 & 13th March
I had a wonderful time with storytelling sessions celebrating British Brands with Best of Britannia at the Old Historic Post Office in Preston, Lancashire. I met the fabulous team from University of Lancashire and will be working with them promoting healthy food with Felicity Fly Meets the Dragon Fruit at their Science Festival on 2nd July. We will also be exhibiting some of the children’s work from our national initiative, An Invitation Capturing Children’s Imagination.  All our products are produced and printed in the UK.
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Emma Hutchinson Poetry Book Presentation

Emma is one of forty children with her poem published in the Children's Poetry Volume 3. Now available on Amazon, Blackwell's and Waterstones online.

BBC Radio Humberside interview with Christina Gabbitas - Children's Author.

Here's the interview from July with Radio Humberside.

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BBC Radio Lancashire - John Gilmore interviews Christina Gabbitas.

Christina Gabbitas talks to John Gilmore at BBC Radio Lancashire about the history behind the Felicity Fly series of books and the children's poetry competition, now in it's third year.

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An Invitation That Captured The Primary School Nation - TPBP Dame Beryl Bainbridge First Time Author Award 2015

I began a writing initiative in 2013 to encourage children of all abilities to 'have a go' at writing.

The children are invited to write an eight line rhyme on topics chosen each year. For 2014 this was creatures and food. We had entries from all over the UK.

Wonderful news! I picked up the Dame Beryl Bainbridge Award for Children's Poetry Volume 2, as a result of the national initiative www.poemsandpictures.co.uk/competition 

After researching children's books that were available for young children addressing child sexual abuse, I decided to pen a rhyming story.

Share Some Secrets, teaches children about the difference between good and troublesome secrets.

This publication, is suitable for a child to pick up and read without parental supervision. More details can be found on www.sharesomesecrets.com. 

Share Some Secrets is now in the NSPCC Library.

Share Some Secrets Book listing on the NSPCC Website

 

Guest author at The British Library with Dr Stephen Fear, Ambassador and Entrepreneur in Residence, World Book Day.

I was invited to talk about the importance of encouraging children to use their imagination, as words are nothing without this!

Here is a link to the interview with Dr Stephen Fear, Entrepreneur and Ambassador in Residence at The British Library.

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I will be encouraging reading in WHSmith Trafford Centre, Manchester from 10.30 am Saturday 28th February. I will be signing books and have information on the national initiative, An Invitation To Capture The Primary School Nation. Take a peek at the initiative page via this website.

I will also be chatting to John Gillmore on BBC Radio Lancashire, Friday 27th at 1.00pm, about being guest author at the British Library with Dr Stephen Fear on World Book Day, my visit to Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, encouraging reading, and all things being an author, with the Felicity Fly series and other publications. 

Share Some Secrets has been featured on the NSPCC Website

Share Some Secrets Book listing on the NSPCC Website

 

An Invitation to Capture Imagination with Words and Illustration

Entry has now closed for this year's competition, next years competition will be announced later in the year.

Children (aged 7-11) are invited to write an eight line rhyme on the topics of Music and Artists, this can be anything from a musical instrument, to a painter or pop artist.

The initiative runs from 11th Jan until 5th May. The children also have an opportunity to illustrate too.

The words must be the children’s own work and handwritten.

A small selection of poems will be published in a national poetry book and exhibited at venues around the UK.

 

Children's Poems Vol. 4

This poetry book is a result of a national initiative to help encourage and inspire children of primary school age to read and write.
OUT NOW.
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Events & Signings

2017

23rd May Peoples Book Prize Final - Triangular Trev and the Shape Idols

12th May - YWOA  - Sue Ryder Leeds Royal Armouries

11th May - Safeguarding Conference  - Manchester

April

24-30 April - United Arab Emirates, Sharjah Children's Reading Festival - Workshops

20th April - Sacred Heart School, Leeds - Poetry Workshops

28th March - Sheffield School - Storytelling & Poetry Workshops

23rd- 25th March - Selby District Children's Reading Festival 

8th March - Theatre event 400 Children - Children's University for Hull City Culture

7th March  - Northern Power Women Awards - Manchester Shotlisted 'Person with a Purpose'

2nd March - Wetherby School London 

1st March -  Storytelling St Antonys Catholic Primary School London

28th February - Betty Layward School London 

25th February - WHSmith Sheffied Meadowhall - Booksigning

16th February - World Read Aloud Day - The Olive Tree School, Bolton, Lancashire 

11th & 12th January - Poetry Workshops with Children's University  - Hull City of Culture

9th January - Poetry Initiative Launch - www.poemsandpictures.co.uk/competition

2016

3rd December - Selby WHSmith, Book signing

26th November - Doncaster WHSmith, Book signing

19th November - Beverley WHSmith, Book signing

30th October - Sheffield 10k for ChildLine NSPCC

29th October - WHSmith Halifax, Book signing

28th October - Waterstones Wakefield

27th October Waterstones York, Storytelling and Book signing Triangular Trev and the Shape Idols

26th October Selby Library, Storytelling & Book signing

25th October - Sherburn Library, Storytelling & Book signing

22nd October - WHSmith Sheffield Meadowhall - Book Launch. Triangular Trev and the Shape idols

6th October - World Poetry Day  - Fairburn School

21st September - Soroptomists Visit

26 August - Children's University

19th August - Storytelling & Book signing North Leeds Food Festival, Roundhay Park

1st August - Sheffield Hallam

14th July - Sheffield Hallam

12th July - Peoples Book Prize with www.sharesomesecrets.com

6th July - School Visit Worcester & BBC Hereford & Worcester

3rd July - Exhibition of Children's Poetry, Samlesbury Hall, Lancashire

2nd July - Guest of University College Lancashire - Science Festival

30 June - BBC Lancashire with John Gillmore

27 June - School Visit, Cleckheaton

28th May - Pop-up Shop, St Georges Centre, Preston, Lancashire - Storytelling & Poetry University College Lancashire

20th May - Yorkshire Women of Achievement Awards