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!


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.









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!



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:



Happy World Book Day!

Hello everyone and Happy World Book Day!

As you probably know, we celebrated our World Book Day yesterday with the amazing author and illustrator Duncan Beedie. He visited our school and managed to give four different talks and even a drawing masterclass – he must have been exhausted at the end!

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All our children loved the day – and I’ll be posting pictures soon of all our fun, once I’ve managed to work out how to download them from the digital camera…

Year 2 summed up what they enjoyed most about yesterday:

  • “The best bit was when Duncan Beedie came to talk to us.”
  • “It was good when we talked to Duncan Beedie about gardening in Gardening Club.”
  • “I liked dressing up as a fox, it was really good.”
  • “I liked reading books because they were unusual fiction books.”

In honour of Duncan’s visit, one of the fir tree seeds he sent us with his new book The Lumberjack’s Beard had actually sprouted! The Gardening Club were, rightly, very proud of their efforts.

I would like to thank all the children and staff who made huge efforts to dress up for the day, and for parents for putting in so much time and energy. I don’t think I have ever seen so many lumberjacks in one place before, and today we all feel rather bare without our beards. Narelle, our cook, really went to town on her costume but assured us that she did not cook with her magnificent beard on!

We also had trees, birds, forest animals, woodland nymphs and Aragog from The Lord of the Rings (who people kept thinking was Darth Vader, so a two-in-one costume!). There was an amazing porcupine in Reception, with realistic quills sticking out his back.

Today the children exchanged their £1 book tokens for a World Book Day book, unless they wanted to go into a bookshop for a further browse. As predicted, David Walliams’ Blob went down well, as did The Famoud Five, Horrid Henry and Jacqueline Wilson’s Butterfly Beach.

I’ll be back soon with the photos … watch this space.


Our new librarian?!

In the manner of the Three Bears, when I came into work the other day, I asked:

‘Who’s been sitting in MY chair?’

Of course, I could answer it immediately as he was still there.

A big, grey, cuddly BEAR!

(Not Goldilocks this time.)

He hadn’t been eating porridge, at least. But he looked rather comfortable behind my desk and when the children came in, they greeted him with such enthusiasm that I thought I might be out of a job soon.

Here is the cheeky interloper:


Everyone keeps asking me his or her name but, at the moment, I’m not having much luck finding that out. So, instead, I thought we could have a little competition to name the bear.

If you’d like to suggest a name for him/her/it, come to the library and tell me. I will draw up a list and then everyone can vote! Hopefully we will have a name when we come back after half-term.

After an interesting discussion with Anonymous Bear, he (let’s just assume this for now)  told me that he would like children to read him stories. But Bear has a bad memory, so every time you read him a story, he’d like you to write the title down in a special book, along with the date, so he can remember all the lovely things he’s heard. You can come in at lunchtime to read to him – quietly, mind. He doesn’t like a lot of noise!

Anonymous Bear is currently residing on a gold throne in the Library…



The Heart and the Bottle

Two weeks ago, I read Oliver Jeffers’s picture book The Heart and the Bottle to children in Years 1 and 2 at school. It is a book that I read a few years ago and enjoyed – admiring its ability to portray human grief sensitively and poetically. I wanted to share it with the children at school but I soon discovered that perhaps this was a picture book best aimed at older children.


In brief, the story is about a young girl who finds joy and fascination in exploring the marvels of the world, from the deep oceans to the infinite skies. She is encouraged to do so by a man who we believed was her grandfather (he walked with a cane and had grey hair – perhaps we were being too stereotypical)  but others have said is her father. Regardless of the relationship, one day she draws a picture for the man and runs to give it to him, only to be faced with an empty chair. Her partner in exploration has gone and, bereft, she decides to put her heart in a bottle, which she wears around her neck to keep it safe. It remains there for many years until, one day, she realises that she needs it. Her problem, though, is knowing how to get it back.

This story is a very touching metaphor about how we deal with the devastation that death brings. The little girl, like many of us, just cannot bear the grief that threatens to break her heart and decides to keep it in a place where it will remain out of harm’s way. The problem, of course, is that she is also denying herself the opportunity to feel positive emotions, such as happiness and excitement. It is not until she meets a young girl on the beach – a girl who is around the same age as she was when she put her heart inside a bottle – that she realises that she wants access to her emotions again, to wonder at the stars and the sea. It takes the innocence of a child to gain her heart back again:


I loved this book when I first read it. It spoke volumes to me, as an adult, about how humans shield themselves from distressing emotions but, consequently, risk denying themselves their more joyful counterparts. However, as I read the book to the 5, 6 and 7 year-olds in the library, it became clear that the extended metaphor was perhaps too difficult for them to grasp at such a young age (ironic, really, when it is a child who is the hero in this story).

The problems first started when we reached the page where the girl finds the empty chair. I had a mixture of responses when I asked what they thought was happening:


One child said the man had gone away. Another, with an impatient sigh, declared (very loudly) “He’s dead.” (No mincing of words there, then.) Another boy yelled, “He’s jumped out of the window!” To be honest, all three were possible interpretations – we’re never told what happens and we have to use emotional detective work to figure it out. For example, the blue light, the shadows, the presence of night are all typical representations and symbols of death. But would a young child know this? Probably not.

The next part that caused consternation was when the girl removes her heart and puts it in a bottle. “But she’d be dead!” cried an indignant girl, while another asked, “How did she get it out of her chest?” The second-year pupils had more suggestions than the first-years, claiming confidently that it wasn’t a real heart – she’d made one out of paper and put it into the bottle. This was the closest we got to an understanding of the metaphorical, and I was impressed by their reasoning. One little boy, who was upset at the idea of the girl losing her (grand)father, insisted that it was the man who had given her his heart to keep it safe.

All the children understood that the girl had become older in the pictures – she was taller, yet stooped by the emotional weight she was carrying. Then, at the end, when she needs to get her heart back, they don’t understand how she can’t break the bottle – either by bashing it with a hammer or saw, or dropping it off a wall from a great height, as portrayed in the pictures. What kind of bottle is that? When we understand that it takes a young girl to help her, they take it literally (as the picture suggests we do):


The young girl can fit her fingers into the bottle whereas the adult is too big. That makes sense. But of course the metaphor is that a child thinks differently to an adult, and it is because of this that they are the only ones who can solve this particular problem.

As I said above, I do love this book and I know of other adults who treasure it. There’s something magical and poetic about the words and the drawings … but I am not sure whether it is a useful book about death for younger children, who have much more literal minds than we do. The heart itself is drawn more anatomically than the red, rounded shapes on Valentine’s Day cards, and this alone makes the children believe that the girl has actually, literally, taken her heart out of her chest. I may be mistaken, but I think that younger children benefit more from a more factual approach to life than a metaphorical representation – especially if my experience with the pupils in years 1 and 2 are anything to go by. I hope I didn’t cause too many difficult conversations at home on those days!