Children’s Mental Health Week, Bev Humphrey

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

Picture books 

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

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

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

Middle Grade

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Annie Everall
Authors Aloud UK

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

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

Red Riding Hood 

Retold by Beatrix Potter

Ilustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Warne £12.99 ISBN: 978-0241376539

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

North Child 

Written by Edith Patou

Usborne £7.99 ISBN: 978-1474958585

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


Written by Jamie Littler

Puffin £7.99 ISBN: 978-0241355220

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

Eight Princesses and a Magic Mirror

Written by Natasha Farrant

Illustrated by Lydia Corry

Usborne   £12.99  

ISBN: 978-1788541152

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

Cloud Boy

Written by Marcia Williams

Walker Books  £6.99 978-1406381214

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

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

Cave Girl

Written by Abie Longstaff

Illustrated by Shane Crampton

Bloomsbury Education   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1472962768

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

It’s too Scary

Written by Adam & Charlotte Guillain

Illustrated by Sharon Davey

Bloomsbury Education   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1472962546

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

Manju’s Magic Wishes

Written by Chitra Soundar

Illustrated by Veronica Montoya

Bloomsbury Education   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1472959713

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

Hello Baby Mo

Written by Emma Shevah

Illustrated by Katie Saunders

Bloomsbury Education   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1472963468

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

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

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Festive gift suggestions – picture books, by Annie Everall

I LOVE Christmas – I always have done!. I love everything about it – the twinkly lights that brighten up our dark wintry streets, the tasty treats that fill our shops and homes, the festive decorations, the Christmas stockings and the peace and goodwill that comes from remembering the true meaning of Christmas. I especially love buying or making gifts for the children and adults in my large extended family. As you would expect, I particularly like choosing books to give them as gifts. I’m delighted to be writing the Christmas blog for SLG and over the next few weeks running up to Christmas, I’ll be sharing some of my favourite children’s books and Christmassy reads. Hope you enjoy sharing them with the children in your life or letting Santa know that they would be great gifts for your children 😉  I’m going to start with a few of the many picture books that have delighted me this year.

Leah’s Star, Written by Margaret Bateson-Hill, Ilustrated by Karin Littlewood

Alanna Max  £12.99 ISBN: 978-19087825

A wonderful re-telling of the Nativity Story, told from the perspective of Leah, the Innkeepers daughter, when Mary gives birth to Jesus in her dad’s stable. The text and stunning illustrations work so perfectly together they manage to make the Christmas story speak to each reader on a very personal level.

The Crayons’ Christmas, Written by Drew Daywalt, Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

Harper Collins £14.99 ISBN: 978-0008180362

I’ve so enjoyed the previous Crayons titles and the Crayon’s homage to Christmas certainly doesn’t disappoint. Like the other titles, this is full of fun and humour as Duncan and his crayons prepare for Christmas. This interactive book contains letters, ornaments, a poster and even a pop-up Christmas tree. A definite must for Christmas stockings!

The Most Wonderful Gift, Written by Mark Sperring, Illustrated by Lucy Fleming

Little Tiger £11.99 ISBN: 978-1788813822

One snowy Christmas morning, Bear and Esme find a wrapped gift under the tree – but it isn’t for either of them. They set off on a snowy, wintry, icy, windy, journey to take it to the rightful owner only to discover they have delivered the greatest gift of all. A wonderful tale about friendship and caring for others and which highlights the true meaning of Christmas. Beautifully illustrated, this is a joy to read alone and to share.

The Snow Dragon, Written by: Abi Elphinstone, Illustrated by: Fiona Woodcock

Simon & Schuster £6.99  ISBN: 978-1471172465

The orphanage where Phoebe and her dog Herb live is a miserable, gloomy, place. It bans daydreaming, and has cancelled Christmas. One enchanting, snowy night, Phoebe meets the Snow Dragon and embarks on a magical adventure. Could it lead to her Miracle Day, when she finds a forever family who will take her away from the orphanage? A wonderful read, breath-taking illustrations, it’s a book to own, to savour and one which will become a family Christmas classic.

Think Big, Written by Kes Gray, Illustrated by Nathan Reed

Hodder   £6.99  ISBN: 978-1444942132

Humpty Dumpty is sitting on his wall, thinking about what he wants to be. When he says he wants to be a boiled egg, all his nursery rhyme friends who are sitting on the wall with him, tell him he should aim higher and that if he believes in himself he can achieve anything and they give him lots of ideas, but how will his future turn out? A brilliant new picture book from Kes Gray aimed at 5 to 7-year olds. Full of fun, irresistible humour, with a wonderful tongue in cheek twist at the end that I didn’t see coming but had me laughing out loud. I love the underpinning message to child readers, that of aiming high, believing in yourself, and doing what you want to do, which is a very powerful one. Bold, bright illustrations add humour to the text bringing an additional vibrancy to the story. Really enjoyed it and can see this becoming a firm favourite with children and adults alike.

The Shortest Day, Written by Susan Cooper, Illustrated by Carson Ellis

Walker  £12.99  ISBN: 978-1406389265

Susan Cooper’s extraordinarily beautiful poem celebrating the Winter Solstice is further brought to life through the stunning, atmospheric illustrations of Carson Ellis. The feel of winter, the joy of the Yuletide season and the hope for a bright new year – just wonderful!

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

Annie Everall, Director, Authors Aloud UK

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Yes YOU can, YOU can do it!!! , by Amanda Deaville

How many times a day do we say this to our students? Numerous times as we encourage and cajole them to have a go and do their best. But how many times do we say this to ourselves? Probably never! Instead we battle on feeling undervalued, misunderstood, put upon, weary, despondent, isolated and for some, invisible.

As school librarians, it can often seem that we are pre-conditioned to think that we can’t do it, particularly as repeated requests for support, resources and funding can seem to fall on deaf ears as more urgent needs are addressed. Our brilliant ideas and inspirational new initiatives sometimes fail to get off the ground, lacking crucial support whether from students, staff or even SLT. I could go on but that only serves to compound the negativity already being felt. Instead let’s focus on the unique role and position that you have in your school that can really benefit all. Rise above the niggles, the perceived lack of support, the negativity and make sure you use your skills. YOU can do it.

So how, I hear you ask, when you’re so weary and fed-up with the continual struggle to be heard and to be noticed?

  1. SEEK HELP – it’s not a sign of failure; it’s a sign that you want the situation to change; that you’re prepared to do something about it. You’re going to be pro-active. So where can you get this help? From a colleague, a member of staff – who can emphathise with your situation. If there’s no-one within school, then seek help from your nearest School Library Service. They’re there to help so use them. They offer advice, training and support and will often act as a ‘critical friend’ so you can talk in confidence, vent your frustrations with someone who will understand what you are experiencing. They’ll put you in touch with librarians in other schools – so get talking, get networking, share issues and concerns – a problem shared is a problem halved. Even better, start sharing ideas – there’s no point in reinventing the wheel. It will enable you to begin to see things in a different light, even from a different perspective. Make use of your professional memberships, e.g. the CILIP School Libraries Group – Committee members can help here. We’re all seasoned and experienced practitioners who are more than happy to help – so make that first step and ask.
  1. IDENTIFY key staff who would/could be supportive. They may not be who you think at first! In one of my schools it was the Site Manager who was my main ally. You’ll need to emphathise and understand what other staff are up against too. Many spend more than enough hours already trying to keep their heads above water, never mind taking time to get involved in another event in the Library. So what can you do?
  1. WORK COLLABORATIVELY – work together on a project that is mutually beneficial. Talk, exchange ideas, inspire, get involved and work as equal partners. Yet that little voice will be saying ‘I can’t do that! I’m not up to it; I’m not a teacher so I can’t possibly teach!’ But yes YOU can. Work together, be prepared to learn, be guided, bring your unique skills and insights into play and have a go. You’ll need to practise but you’ll soon start to feel more confident, start to enjoy working with others and learn from your mistakes. So prepare to change and accept the challenge. Be prepared to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again. It may be you have identified some gaps in your skill set so start to explore what training is available and be pro-active in learning new skills.
  1. KNOW YOUR STRENGTHS AND YOUR WEAKNESSES – don’t set yourself up for failure. Know your skills and use them. We can’t all be good at everything so don’t try to be. Identify and recognise your strengths, build and capitalise on them. Put them to good use. Don’t waste time and precious energy on something that you know will be a struggle. Team up with a colleague who has complimentary skills and work on the project together. 
  1. BE REALISTIC – this is something that all of us can forget to do. Start small, walk before you run and enjoy every little success, no matter how inconsequential it may seem. Go for quick wins, things that can make an instant difference. Build on them and gain confidence, gain new skills. But don’t expect to change everything overnight as it won’t. Be prepared to put in the effort; chip away at it as it will take time but your endeavours will be rewarded. You’re in for the long haul but be clear, from the start, about the outcomes and the benefits that will result from your work and commitment.
  1. LEARN TO SAY NO – it’s hard but you’ll be thankful that you’ve learned this particular skill. Don’t be everyone’s doormat! Is your job description up-to-date and does it actually reflect the job you are doing? It may sound silly but you’d be surprised at how many don’t. Does it set clear boundaries for your role or do you need to set them? If you’re not sure, then note down all that you do each day for one week – every task, no matter how small or mundane, some of which you won’t even be aware that you are doing! From this you will be able to identify what you’re spending your time on, whether intentionally or by default and it will highlight where your energy is being used well or unnecessarily. Use it to set priorities and focus on the key areas outlined in your Library Development Plan which in turn should echo the School Improvement Plan. (More of this in a future blog.) There will be tasks that you are doing simply because they’ve always been done but are they actually needed? So learn to say no. Accept that you can’t be all things to all people – so stop trying and stop being hard on yourself.
  1. CHALLENGE the perceived norm of the ‘librarian’ in your school. Stand up and make YOUR voice heard but try not to complain to anyone that will listen – hard I know at times –as this only helps to exacerbate the negativity that you are feeling and confirm people’s perceptions. Instead push the positive, display, model the benefits of working collaboratively with colleagues – that’s what they will remember next time you ask them to get involved. This doesn’t mean that you are a push-over and will help with every little request; no, you need to be ensuring that before accepting the task, you are checking if it is one of your priorities, one of your developmental areas and will it benefit your role and that of the Library.

So are you prepared to smile, rise above, and tackle the task ahead? Are you going to be realistic and learn to say NO? Do you know your skill set; know where you can make a difference and above all, be open to a new challenge? So have a go, take the risk, learn from your mistakes, think what you would do differently next time and try again. The biggest risk, by far, is not to take the risk and do nothing at all.

So remember the difference we, as school librarians, can make. YOU can and DO make a difference. Apply these words to yourself, not just to your students. YOU can do it, yes YOU can!

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New Key Issues

SLG are proud to present the next two leaflets in our new series Key Issues. These little booklets are meant to be taster introductions to some important subjects you need to know as professionals. Written by members of the SLG Committee, they all give a short introduction to the subject, and further links if you want to know more. These two leaflets deal with Instagram in the School Library written by Bev Humphrey and Schools Library Services written by Amanda Deaville, Jill Florence and Elizabeth Hutchinson.
We hope you find these informative and useful, and look out for more in the series coming soon!

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Key Issues – A Good Starting Point

SLG are proud to present the first three leaflets in our new series Key Issues. These little booklets are meant to be taster introductions to some important subjects you need to know as professionals. Written by members of the SLG Committee, they all give a short introduction to the subject, and further links if you want to know more. These three leaflets deal with Cataloguing and Classification written by Sarah Pavey, Using Twitter written by Caroline Roche and Impact Evaluation written by
Lucy Chambers. I hope you find these three useful, and look out for more in the series coming soon!

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Reading Rooms, Karen Usher

In 2017 Hull was UK City of Culture and thousands of wonderful events took place. The programme sought to involving the whole city in multifarious events – both as spectators and as participants.

Reading Rooms was a legacy project started by DerryLondonDerry – the previous UK City of Culture. It was run by Hull Libraries and as a newly retired librarian fulfilled my craving to involve people with books. The premise is that we read a story or extract to a group of people. We break the stories into chunks and invite the participants to talk about the stories and incidents in their lives that the stories remind them of. So, its Talking Rooms too! We finish each session with a short poem that matches the theme of the story in some way. We ask the group if any of them would like to read the poem after we have discussed it.

To become a member of the Reading Rooms team one attended two and a half days of training – involving safeguarding as well how to actually do a session – lots of practice of the latter before a filmed try out with analysis of our performance. Glad to say I passed!!

Over the last two and a half years I have done a weekly RR with another volunteer (we always try to do RR in two’s) at an independent living facility in Hull (another whole blog!), a six week session at a special school and covered for holiday absences at two locked care homes. There is an enormous amount of joy mixed with a small but not insignificant amount of pain in doing Reading Rooms.

You make friends with total strangers who open their lives to you. Participants in my regular group are aged between 25 and 92 years old. Some have lived in Hull their whole lives with occasional trip to Bridlington! Others have seen the world. Almost all are now on their own and many have health problems. We have seen our numbers fluctuate as members have gone to more secure accommodation or their health means they can’t attend the sessions. I am most pleased that some of our regulars who never used to speak now join in the ‘conversation’.

I have been told off for being late – usually I arrive early but being just-in-time was ‘late’! I took cupcakes on my birthday and the following week was given a present 😊 There has been a lot of laughter – one story about a fashion shoot in an Italian seaside town I read in a faux Italian accent and I brought the house down helped by the risqué actions of a villager who didn’t like the ‘photoshoot’ and dropped his trousers in protest, and then there was ‘Albert and the Lion’ in a Yorkshire accent – well possibly a Yorkshire accent!

The stories and poems are picked by the Hull Library team who organise RR. Sometime we all don’t like the story, sometimes the poem is a little too opaque for participants but they keep coming back. 

After the session we often chat about what has been going on – visits from llamas, donkeys, dogs and birds of prey happen on a regular basis. The facility has a large and beautiful garden. There are concerts and demonstrations and participatory events.

The librarian in me is sated and my horizons expanded by their fascinating life experiences and I will keep going as long as they keep turning up.

Reading Rooms is supported by Hull Libraries and The James Reckitt Fund. Reading Rooms takes place in Care Homes, Independent Living Facilities, Schools, with Home Educated groups, Hospices and in a variety of departments of The Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

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Student Library Assistant Training Day 12.12.19

This very popular training day is running again at The Elmgreen School in London. Why not take along your pupil library assistants for a day of learning and fun. For full details download the flyer below.

Once you’ve trained up your assistants don’t forget to nominate them for the Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Award!

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Librarians as Teachers and Information Skills Developers, Elizabeth Hutchinson

I was recently asked to talk at the SLG training day and this is the talk I gave: 

School libraries are in crisis. Fake news and misinformation are rife and it seems to me that Google is taking over the world. Our role as school librarians and teachers is to bring our expertise to education and the curriculum and through doing this help our schools understand the value that our libraries bring to their students and teachers. 

I am not sure about you but I know that when I finally decided that I wanted to become a librarian I never thought about the fact that that I was signing up to teaching as well. I was a late starter so after leaving school at 16 I worked in Newcastle City library until I got married when I left to bring up my children. So I was 36 by the time I got my degree in Information and Library Studies, I knew that I was going to work for Schools Library Service in Guernsey and in no way did this prepare me for a job working in school libraries and if someone had asked me about teaching at that time I would have laughed.  

I think back in 2003 my understanding of school libraries was very much from my own experience from school. A space where I could hide at lunch and break time, read books not chosen by my mother and somewhere that we were taken for the odd lesson to find a book on a subject we were studying. This was a memory from my middle school and I am sad to say that I don’t remember my secondary school library at all.

I am glad to say that this has all changed over my 16 years of working with school libraries both within Guernsey and beyond. I believe that I joined the profession at the right time. A time where the internet was beginning to take root and our skills as librarians were needed more than ever. No longer were we the people who only look after the books; we had so much more to offer.  The issue, however, has always been how can we transition through the barrier of expectations to reality. The definition of ‘teacher’ is one whose occupation is to instruct

Teachers by definition have a body of knowledge that they use to instruct  i.e. subject specialists. Librarians, on the other hand, instruct what? I would say that our specialism is information literacy but where has that come from?  

We know that school librarians have knowledge of curation and expertise in research and this should bring us front and central into teaching but with no training or support how do we go about teaching it. Although, knowledge, passion, drive, commitment and ability to instruct could be our greatest asset we have such a fragmented profession we seem to be unable to communicate to schools why this is important. Part of the reason for this is we have no instruction on instruction and secondly we are de-professionalising the profession. Where do we learn how to teach let alone work out what it is we need to teach? It is important that we make sure that we are doing all we can to give ourselves a fighting chance. It is no longer possible for us to wait for things to change, we need to be the change. 

So how do we do this? Sadly there is no blueprint for how school librarians teach and instruct research skills. There was no-one there to teach me how to teach, so what do you do when you suddenly find yourself in front of a class for the very first time? I think like most of you I began to realise that if this was going to be part of my job and I had to find a way through it.  

However, most of us have not got 16 years to work it out so I thought I would give you my top 4 survival tips to teaching that you can take away today…

Tip 1 Know and understand your own expertise

Our skill set is resource management. In simplest terms we know how to:

·      Find good quality information quickly, efficiently and ethically

·      Critically evaluate sources

·      Give credit for what we find and produce bibliographies

These are all skills that our students and teachers need. Don’t be fooled that your teachers and students know more than you do. Just because they can turn on an iPad and type a question into Google does not make them experts in research and critical thinking.“Teachers forget that learning how to do research is not an innate skill and is not the same as being tech-savvy” A Quote from a recent JCS blog. (‘How school librarians are meeting the challenges of teaching information literacy | JCS’, n.d.) 

Without question, they need your expertise but maybe they just don’t know that yet. However, do you understand your own level of expertise? I would like to explain this by using Neil Gaiman’s famous quote “Google can find you a million answers a librarian can find you the right one” How many of us have shared this quote? I have to admit that I am one that did so this is not a criticism! However, over the years I have begun to understand that if this is how we see ourselves we are going along with the stereotype and misunderstand our own level of expertise.  

Librarians as teachers are not about putting the answer into the hands of our students but to teach them how to access and make sense of the information they find. This begins to point to a different role for the school librarian, where the librarian and teacher collaborate to help students build knowledge from information.  

This moves away from the traditional role of the school librarian. 

  • The teacher asks the student to find X, 
  • The student goes to the librarian and asks for X, 
  • The student takes X  back to the teacher. 

Everyone is happy but who has learnt anything? 

You have so much more to offer! 

Tip 2 Widen your vocabulary

  • Know your own tools and how they link with the curriculum
  • Online catalogue 
  • Online resources
  • Finding more than one source
  • Website evaluation, fake news, misinformation, e-safety 
  • Learn “Teacher speak” 

If you have a library management system or any online resources, learn how to talk about them as digital literacy tools. Know the features that will enhance student learning and research and offer to share this with teachers and then to support them in the classroom the first time they want to use it with their students. Find out the tips and tricks that make searching these tools easier and use the same terminology as the teachers.

·      Pedagogy (The methods of teaching in other words how do you teach?) 

·      Heuristics (Allowing students to learn by discovering for themselves)

So, for example, I now use the phrase that FOSIL is a pedagogy tool to support student heuristics. Sound great doesn’t it? All it means is that FOSIL is a tool that supports students learning for themselves. 

There are many more but the more you learn the easier it is talking to teachers. When I hear something new I try and learn what it means and then use it when appropriate. Don’t hide behind your library terminology, widen your vocabulary and speak to them in their own language even if we mean the same thing. We need to move into the teaching world as they are really not going to move into ours.  

It is important that we understand that we are learning to become a teacher and the more we comfortable we are with this, the easier it will be to talk with authority. We are not pretending to be teachers we are learning to become teachers. 

Tip 3 Commit yourself to an ongoing process of purposeful professional learning. 

  • Joining in CPD from school
  • Building up a map of your school curriculum 
  • SLG
  • SLA
  • FOSIL Group forum 
  • IFLA Guidelines for school libraries 

It is important that we are proactive in our own learning. How does this look for you and how will you achieve this? 

The majority of us have arrived in the school library without teacher training so how do we go about finding what we need? We know that there are training opportunities within our own schools. Make sure you are part of the same training offered to teachers. Building up a picture of what is going on in school. In primary schools, make sure you have a map of the curriculum and can confidently talk to teachers about what they are planning to teach. In secondary knowing what the expectations are for exam boards. i.e in Geography they need to reference and caption a picture. If you know that is what they need to do you then have the opportunity to start a conversation. 

SLG and SLA provide training opportunities which do cost money, however, before you say that you know that your school won’t pay or give you time off you need to understand that it is still an opportunity for you to raise awareness of the importance of your own CPD. It is essential that you ask every year and tell them why you need to attend. Don’t make this a tick box exercise really find out about the courses and generate a good argument. This professionalism speaks volumes! 

IFLA – International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions guidelines has been put together by the international association of school librarianship giving an inspirational and aspirational vision for what a school library ought to be with Free practical workshops to move you forward in your journey as a school librarian. 

A shameless plug! I run an online forum for school library staff #LibraryStaffLoveLearning in order to read books, articles, blog or listen to podcasts or TED talks to create a place for learning in a safe environment. I did it because I did not feel that I was reading enough myself and wanted to provide something that was not too expensive and to provide something for others. You can read it all without having to sign up but if you want to comment you do need to register and apart from the occasional cost of a book the only other commitment is your time. 

I would also add that if you have asked to be sent on training and the answer is no then a follow up asking for a book to join in CPD in your own time is more likely to be allowed. 

Tip 4 Practice, practice, practice

Once you have started on the above 3 it is important that you learn how to talk about what you can do and why you do it and the only way to do this is to practice talking about it. With your colleagues, with your teachers, with your friends (ok not too often unless you want to lose all your friends)  

I once said to Darryl that I would never be able to talk about what I do the way he did and he said to me that the more you do it the better you will become. Which is true. Everyone has to start somewhere and sometimes you are not going to get it right. You are going to leave a conversation and go.. I wish I had remembered to say …But each time you do this the better you will get at it. 

Remember that you are the only one who knows what you are capable of. You are the only one who can make this happen but you are not on your own. We have a wealth of knowledge and expertise around us and we just need to be prepared to find it and use it.  

And finally what has kept me going into classrooms and teaching all this time? This one simple phrase that keeps getting said over and over again by teachers I have worked with. “I wish I had been taught that at school.” This to me says that my role in the classroom is important for future generations of children and teachers. 

The survival of our profession is more than the individual librarian in their schools. We have to look beyond ourselves where we are, to where we need to get to. The only way we are to survive is to lay the foundations for those who are coming behind us. If we are only looking to our future we are helping to sell our profession short. 

We are teachers, we do know what we are talking about and it is time to unleash our own potential.

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