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Meet Sabeen, one of our Junior Librarians!

Here at St Michael’s we like to involve the older children in the running of the library. It provides them with responsibility and a sense of ownership, which they rise to well. What’s so good is seeing how the older children help and motivate the younger children with their reading. Sabeen, our featured helper in today’s post, comes in when we have a special lunchtime session for Years 1 and 2. She talks to the children about what they like to read and helps them make choices. The younger children love the attention from an older child and Sabeen is an excellent role model.

Sabeen has written a short piece about the library and what she does, so over to her!

The School Library is popular with people who love reading, drawing and much more. It attracts upper key stage 2 because once you are in year 5 and 6 you get a job and help out. I have a job and work on Thursdays with the Y1s and Y2s. It’s for all years and every couple of months there is an event/competition. People are always bursting to come in and and there is normally a crowd at the door. I spoke to Grace in Y1 and she said, “I really like doggy books!”

Sabeen has always been a keen supporter of the library and has participated in many activities. A year or so ago, she was regularly drawing comics and showed she had a tremendous gift at putting funny words to funny pictures. I hope she will continue with this as she definitely has talent. And we’re lucky to have her with us in the library!

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Let’s Celebrate Libraries!

This week is National Libraries’ Week, when people across the UK celebrate everything that is good and great about libraries. And, of course at St Michael’s, we want to join in!

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With libraries becoming increasingly threatened by budget cuts, it is even more important to celebrate the purpose of libraries and the wonderful opportunities they offer their users, from babies at story-times and rhyme-times to adults learning IT skills.

I know I am biased but I believe that their importance in schools cannot be overstated. A school library should be a place where children can:

  • explore a wide variety of books – from new, old and favourite authors and illustrators
  • ask questions about books and reading
  • think creatively about the books – we often do this through themed or related activities (we made our own Supertatoes from real potatoes, then planted them in a pot to grow baby Supertatoes!)
  • discover books they might not have considered and find out about new topics
  • share their thoughts on the books they read and recommend them to others (or not!)
  • write book reviews, blog posts and letters to authors
  • draw their own comics and picture books (we have a whole folder of fantastic creations!)
  • find peace and quiet in the midst of a busy school day. Some pupils visit the library to have some time out when they need to recharge
  • meet authors and illustrators in person and learn about their jobs (we’ve been lucky to host Peter Bently, Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Duncan Beedie in the last couple of years alone)
  • read for pleasure rather than skill and ability. I try to encourage the children to read what interests them and break down barriers that state, for example, that children shouldn’t read picture books above a certain age (I’m over 40 and still buy and read them!) or that books featuring girls can’t be read by boys.

Lucky librarian

I am fortunate enough to work in a fantastic school, where reading (especially for pleasure) is prized so highly that the room that used to be dedicated to IT was turned three years ago into the Library where I now work. Walls that used to have computers running along them are now covered in bookcases. We have so many books, that the cases are full-to-bursting.

We also have incredibly supportive parents, who buy books from our book fairs (which then helps us to buy books for the library) and who give us kind donations so we can invest in keeping the library the lovely place that it is.

What the children say

I’ve never been in a school where reading is such a key part of its identity – to the point where, if a class misses its weekly, hour-long library slot, the children get quite upset and demand when they can catch up!

When I chatted to the children this week about Libraries’ Week, they gave me a whole raft of reasons why libraries are important, such as:

“Because you can read lots of books and then return them and get more books out.”

“You don’t have to pay for the books, like you do in bookshops, so you can read lots.”

“You read stories and then return them so that other children can read them after you. I like that – that others read what I’ve borrowed. It’s nice.”

“The [school] library is my favourite place. It’s fun.”

When I explained to the children that some libraries were closing down, they said it was sad. Many use local libraries outside of school time on a regular basis and couldn’t imagine not having access to it. One boy told me today that every Saturday, he cycles to his swimming lesson, then has lunch and then goes to his local library in the afternoon and enjoys arts and crafts there and borrowing books. This was obviously a much-treasured weekend routine and a time when the family enjoyed doing something together.

I think this is one of the key benefits of libraries, especially to families with younger children. They offer people a free, or at least inexpensive, opportunity to share time together doing something fun and enriching. They open doors to new worlds inside the covers of the books they stock, be they non-fiction books about space or a mystery series starring favourite characters. They boost language ability; they spark creativity.

When I posed the luckily unlikely ‘what if’ scenario of our school library closing, the children first of all looked horrified – eyes wide in shock, little mouths open in disbelief – then grimly determined. One child said:

“I would go all the way to London to Buckingham Palace and demand the Queen give me enough money, and then I would come back to Oxford and give the money to the school so the library could open again.”

… while another shook her head and said:

“I would go back to my country and never return.”

A third promised he would get his dad and granddad to build a new library free of charge so that we would have a place to share books once again.

At St Michael’s I think it’s very clear that the children love their library. And this librarian loves sharing it with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Happy World Teachers’ Day!

Apparently, today is World Teachers’ Day, so make sure you’re extra nice to them!

This is a perfect opportunity to look at the best and worst teachers in children’s books.

The first lovely teacher that springs to my mind is Miss Honey (even her name is gorgeous) from Roald Dahl’s Matilda (incidentally my favourite book by the master storyteller). She’s kind, she’s patient, and she even has a fantastic way of spelling the word ‘difficulty’.

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Of course, her arch enemy is the dreaded Miss Trunchbull – the child-hating, child-swinging bully who locks people up in the Chokey if they dare do anything to annoy her. Why she ever became a headmistress, I’ll never know.

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When I asked the children for some examples of teachers from the books they’d read, the staffroom from Hogwarts immediately came to mind – here are a few examples:

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They all look remarkably different to all of us here at St Michael’s! And we teach more mundane subjects such as English, maths, science, art, etc rather than the weird and wonderful subjects covered in the syllabus in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

Gillian Cross’s The Demon Headmaster certainly lives up to his name. Ruled by a desire to take over the world, he hides his bright green eyes under sunglasses until he’s ready to hypnotise his victims (pupils) with their piercing glare.

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One of my favourite depictions of how a child sees his or her teachers is in Peter Brown’s hilarious picture book My Teacher is Monster:

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This book deals with the embarrassing scenario of meeting your teacher outside of school boundaries. It always makes me chuckle how very little children assume we sort of stay here all the time, as in this book:

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… and they can’t quite take it in when they see us in other surroundings (though I must say all of the St Michael’s children I’ve seen have always been chatty and friendly!). Bobby in this book thinks his teacher is a monster because all she does is yell at the class to be quiet and take away their paper airplanes.

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When he sees her sitting in the park one day, the sense of awkwardness leaps off the page:

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Neither one seems terribly happy to see the other but it all comes out OK in the end.

Teachers are perfect characters for children’s literature though. They are:

  • authority figures who need to have their eyes opened to the evils of the school
  • symbols of an adult world that seeks to thwart the best intentions of a child
  • a perfect target for practical jokes (see Enid Blyton’s boarding school stories, and the havoc the girls wreak on the Mamzelles in particular)

Admittedly, the rebellion mainly comes later in books aimed at older children – in picture books, a more friendly, nurturing soul is encountered, else no one would turn up – they’d be scared rigid.

So who are your favourite teachers in children’s books? Friend or foe? Ally or enemy? Let me know!

 

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Our poetry

What? Two posts in ONE day? Well, it IS National Poetry Day after all so we need to celebrate it!

Today, our year 6 children had a go at a difficult task. I printed off random images from the internet, popped them into a bag, and asked them to choose one. The selected picture would be their visual prompt for a poem they had to write in ten minutes.

You should have heard the groans of despair. The ‘I can’t do this, Miss!’ and the ‘Do I have to?s’. But THEY DID! And these are some of the results. I am dead impressed and hope you are too.

The Shining Ball, by Alfie

The sun

Glistening

Off the delicate

Glass ball

The feathers

Are burning

Yellows

The wet

Grass

Shining  from

The Sun

 

Charlie Cooper, by Duke

National Galleries of Scotland

Charlie Cooper

Was a skater

But he had to go to tea a bit later.

He was off in a hurry

To get some coffee

Before he was off to the ice rink.

Like an elegant swan he skated

Stopping for a break, he gloated

About how great he was.

 

Pufferfish, by Luke

Pufferfish

Human in the

Ocean

Top of the food chain, they eat

Octopuses, they

Smell like

Overweight

Poo.

Flying

All over the

Internet’s

Locker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s National Poetry Day!

Today is National Poetry Day, and I’m pretty excited about it. I love poetry, from the dreaminess of the Romantics to the silliness of Spike Milligan and Edward Lear.

Children love poetry, too, particularly poems that rhyme. In fact, sometimes we have to gently encourage them not to always write a poem around the rhyme as it can sound a little forced! That was why last week’s read of Michael Rosen’s ‘Chocolate Cake’ was so great – the children learned that there are other ways of writing poetry and it can be just as effective! (The children are STILL begging me to read that book this week.)

However, rhyme is important in other ways. It helps children learn the rhythm and cadence of language and it’s also wonderful for helping with their prediction skills. Yesterday, I introduced our new Reception children to the delights of Peter Bently’s Dustbin Dad and, even though none of them had read it before, they accurately guessed the end rhymes much of the time (and had a great laugh in doing so).

Poems are a wonderful way to share emotions with children, too. Sadness, silliness, happiness and joy can be found everywhere in children’s poetry, as can wonder at the natural world and consolation when times are tough. Pop into our library and take a look at our poetry collection and tell me your favourites!

I’ll leave you now with some poems and excerpts to enjoy. Happy National Poetry Day!

A lovely, hilarious rhyming couplet from Roald Dahl’s Revolting Nursery Rhymes (Little Red, in case you didn’t know!)

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From Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech

And finally, one of my all-time favourites:

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Welcome to the new term!

We’re a couple of weeks in to our new school term and the Library has been really busy! We’ve had new books and a new time slot for children and adults to come in after school on a Wednesday to see the library and share books. Yesterday, we had several children proudly showing what the Library has to offer to their adults and it was so lovely to see how they knew where everything was! Thank you to everyone who came in and I look forward to seeing more of you in the weeks to come.

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been sharing some funny books together. Last week, to coincide with Roald Dahl Day, we started reading the new edition of Billy and the Minpins, illustrated by Sir Quentin Blake.

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The children enjoyed the thrill of Billy’s disobedience into the rather scarily named Forest of Sin and helpfully reminded me of its name when I kept saying Forest of Doom instead this week! Being a Dahl book, there were plenty of funny names to listen to and the excitement of a child being a bit naughty. We will keep reading this in the weeks to come.

This week, I have enjoyed reading Michael Rosen’s Chocolate Cake.

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If there was ever a book to be read aloud, it’s this one, with its cheeky storyline and its joyful exclamations. Nearly everyone loves chocolate cake (only one person in each group said they didn’t) and the children thought it marvellous how little Michael got up in the middle of the night to raid the cupboard. Some hid behind their books when ‘the terrible thing happened’ (no spoilers please!) although for most it was their favourite part! Naughtiness combined with cake is a perfect combination, and Rosen’s words have a natural appeal for the young.

There were plenty of belly laughs, and not just from me! And when I opened the library yesterday after school, the children made a beeline for the book – all of them – waiting in turn for their chance to show their adults what they had been reading, and begging for a second or third helping!

You can see Michael Rosen performing Chocolate Cake on YouTube here. The children loved it – it’s definitely worth a watch.

Back soon!

 

 

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Pottertastic – celebrating 20 years of Harry Potter!

Every year at St Michael’s Primary School in Oxford, where I am the Librarian, we run a fun summer challenge based on books and reading. In previous years, we’ve had Cakespeare (make/decorate a cake based on something from Shakespeare), Supertato veggie/fruit villains and heroes, and the Strangest Place to Read.

Since this year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, we decided to base our competition on J.K. Rowling’s publishing phenomenon. I called it ‘Pottertastic’ and the challenge was for pupils in Key Stage 1 to colour in a picture from either Harry Potter or Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Children in Key Stage 2 were encouraged to create a new character, object (eg wand, horcrux), Petronus, shop, etc, that could fit in nicely with the books.

With two weeks to do their best, the children set about their work, while my daughter Holly helped me design the background for the display, together with the help of Bloomsbury Kids UK, who sent me some decorations.

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The display awaiting the children’s artwork

When the deadline arrived, I was amazed by the results. Two classes – Reception and Year 1, had embraced the competition and decided to use it as a prompt for their Big Write or class artwork. Therefore, I had pictures of Fantastic Beasts from every one of the children in both classes, with the children in Year 1 also writing amazing descriptions of what their beasts were and what they could do.

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Some of the writing was very impressive indeed, and we gave special writing awards to two children for their efforts. See, for example, Lucy (below) who wrote about her beast, Diamond, of whom she is very fond:

Diamond

Three children in the school created models of their entries.

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Sapphire Bird (this has feathers on the underside – hopefully I will be able to hang it up!)
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Voldemort’s Spirit (another horcrux) lies inside this green tub and flashes! Under no circumstances must you open it. This handy map also gives you further information.
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This is a fish but with a  human head. It can move on both land and water!

Interestingly, the children in Key Stage 2 based their creations on potential family members from the past and future. We have:

  • Valdi – Voldemort’s son who is 12 and really wants to be good but his father won’t allow it
  • Harry’s twin sister, Ellie – who was trapped in a crystal
  • Emily Potter – Harry’s long-lost sister!
  • Emma Upton – who escaped from Voldemort’s attack, although she has the same scar as her brother
  • Dobby’s family – both his mum and dad seem to love socks!

As you can imagine, judging the competition was extremely hard. Holly and Carl (my husband) went through all 75 entries and narrowed them down to 17 (I didn’t get involved to ensure neutrality!).

On Monday of this week, a good friend of mine, children’s/YA author Angela Kecojevic, came into school to help announce the winners. She treated the children to some slimy character creations based on her Hobbledown books and theme park and they all squealed with delight at her descriptions of her characters, especially when fellow pupils had to act them out in front of the assembly.

It always delights and inspires me when the children, families and staff enter into the spirit of these competitions, and we are incredibly fortunate to be supported in the activities we run to promote reading for enjoyment. Our library is an amazing resource but it wouldn’t be the place it is without the support, love and enthusiasm of everyone who uses it. Pottertastic was a huge success and it’s all down to everyone who supported it!

I’d like to thank Bloomsbury Kids UK for their generosity in sending us bunting, posters, bookmarks and other items to help with our display. I’d also like to thank Carl and Holly for their time in helping me with the competition – especially Holly, who designed the display board! And finally, a huge thank you to everyone in Year 1 and Reception for devoting so much time to supporting this competition.