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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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Empathy – and where to read about it

Today is Empathy Day, and what better way to learn about what it is and why it is important than through children’s books?

What I love about children’s books is that they can convey very important messages and morals without sounding preachy or authoritarian. That’s a pretty impressive skill and one that perhaps isn’t always celebrated when considering the impact and effect children’s literature can have on its readers. I know of many examples of books that portray difficult emotions and conditions exceptionally well, from grief and sadness to anger and frustration. These needn’t be ‘special’ books either – ones that have been written for children dealing with bereavement or social anxiety, for example. Their strength lies in their ability to inspire or soothe, explain or question. Children learn through osmosis – they understand what’s in front of them without it having to be made explicit.

For today’s post, I will concentrate on Empathy since it’s celebrating its own special day! But I will return to other emotions soon!

Great  books for talking/learning about empathy:

The Lumberjack’s Beard and The Bear Who Stared

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Duncan Beedie’s recent creations deal with empathy in a humorous yet effective way. In The Lumberjack’s Beard, the titular lumberjack suddenly realises what effect his tree-unfriendly actions have on the environment and tries to put it right. In The Bear Who Stares, the bear doesn’t understand why everyone he meets gets angry with him… until a friendly frog sets him straight and tells him that staring isn’t the best idea when trying to get on with others. Both books have wonderful illustrations that enhance the story and which children never tire of seeing.

Dave’s Rock

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Frann Preston-Gannon’s second book featuring caveman Dave is a great look at the importance of sharing and getting along with others. In it, Dave is competing with Jon to see whose rock is better, but all it leads to is frustration and annoyance. However, in the end, the two find a way for them both to be happy, by understanding how each other feels. This makes them feel better than winning any competition.

The Cow Who Fell to Earth

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Nadia Shireen’s new book, The Cow Who Fell to Earth, takes a very bizarre situation and makes a heartwarming comedy from it. Poor Woo has landed on Earth and no one can understand a word she says. To make matters worse, the sheep assume she is a he and call her Dave. When Woo starts crying tears of sadness and frustration, the sheep work hard to make her feel better and get her back home. A hilarious and sweet book about the importance of helping others, even if they speak a different language!

Odd Dog Out

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In Rob Biddulph’s humorous story, being out of place seems like the worst thing in the world, until Odd Dog discovers that it’s kind of cool to be different. When she decides to be true to herself, she realises that plenty more dogs want to be their own dog and sets a trend. This is great for teaching children acceptance of other people’s differences and to be happy in themselves.

Mr Stink

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It’s not very nice to be stinky but there’s often a reason behind it, as Chloe discovers in David Walliams’s Mr Stink. The two characters soon forge a firm friendship based on their experiences of being bullied and misunderstood, and find ways to help each other out of sadness andloneliness.

Matilda

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On a similar theme of not belonging, Roald Dahl introduces us to Matilda, a clever young girl who seems to have been born into the wrong family. Preferring books to television and education to laziness, Matilda finally finds a kindred spirit in Miss Honey, who turns out to be the niece of the very wicked Miss Trunchbull. Even though life becomes very difficult for the two, the fact that they have found each other makes it much more bearable.

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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.