Category Archives: Education

Schools for Charlotte Square

It’s short and sweet, the schools programme at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. ‘Making books more affordable’ is a good motto, I feel. May it be successful and reach the children who need it the most.

I know I shouldn’t read the programme and plan, but I can read it and think. Some of the authors on the schools list will be doing ‘normal’ events too. And there is always the perfecting my school appearance. One of these days it will work.

Last year someone I’d just met talked very enthusiastically about Jason Reynolds, whom I’d never heard of. Well, this American is coming over, for an event with Chris Priestley who has illustrated his book. That should be pretty special.

Clémentine Beauvais is someone else I’ve not seen before, and she will be appearing with Sarah Crossan, which will be good. James Mayhew I have always managed to miss, so I could perhaps undo that, and Melvin Burgess, whom I’ve seen a lot, is coming back after a break of a few years. Or did I merely miss him?

Ehsan Abdollahi and Delaram Ghanimifard

Ehsan Abdollahi will return, which pleases me, and he’s appearing with Eloise Greenfield. I’ve not seen Beverley Naidoo for years, and I don’t know her events partner Marjan Vafaeian at all, which I hope can be remedied.

I will quickly tiptoe past the ‘star attraction’ on the Thursday morning, to mention that the last day will be special as always, with people like Theresa Breslin and Philip Ardagh and lots of other fun.

As you can tell, many school children will have some great events to look forward to. I’m always in awe of the school groups who get up before dawn cracks, to travel across Scotland to come to one of the events. Hopefully it will be a memory for life, and be the beginning of a bookish future for some.


ABC board books

Chris Ferrie of ‘Science’ for babies fame is also responsible for a few ABC board books. As with the other books, the age they will suit is mixed. But I reckon you can start a little sooner, because they have words on three levels. And the more advanced level demands a fair bit of the reader.

But they are still board books. And they are not your normal ABCs. The three that Daughter – yes, her again – just had to get, are ABCs of Science, Mathematics, and Physics.

Chris Ferrie, ABCs of Physics

Instead of D being for Dog, it is actually Doppler Effect, Division and Diffraction, as any sane person will know.

The first level simply states ‘D is for …’ while the second level has a brief explanation, and the third level a longer one. I could see that a child might be sufficiently interested in particular pages and therefore be ready to move up a level or two, sooner than you’d think, just because it looked fun.

But what do I know? Not a lot about diffraction, anyway.

Just think how intelligent your baby will be. In fact, they will overtake their adults before long.

And I need a child.

To board or not to board

Toddler Tollarp is two today. When his mother invited us to an Easter lunch last week (I was very grateful because no one ever invited me/us to a proper Swedish Easter lunch in all my Easters here), we felt we wanted to bring an early birthday present. Daughter had rather fallen for those books we saw in Oxford the week before, and wanting to engage in some massive brainwashing she ordered a few books for Toddler Tollarp.

Let’s just say that they had never expected books like that!

Rocket Science for babies, and General Relativity for babies. Yeah, at two he is slightly too young, but you need to start in time. I think the books are intended for children a few years older, but no self-respecting five-year-old – or his/her parents – would look at a board book at that stage.

Because that’s what they are, and quite sensibly too. Larger than a baby board book, so it fits in with the serious nature of the subjects. And being a board book it should withstand the young genius through some rough times (unlike that train book Son killed over a couple of years) and plenty of re-reads.

However, if the child and his/her adults also see the title XXX for babies, the baby-ness of the board book will be reinforced. And then where will you be? Who is it to be for, and who will buy it? A baby will almost always be somewhat young for Quantum Physics. Even if starting early is good.

(I occasionally suspect that commissioning editors aren’t always aware of the facts of life. Titles like Quantum Entanglement for babies are so attractive. But are they truthful? And then there is the board book aspect.)

It is time we take back control of board books and their juvenile looks. The sturdy quality is good for years, and a child will generally like a beloved book for a long time. All we need is for the adults not to tidy them away prematurely.

Chris Ferrie, who has written a whole host of these clever little books, is on to a good thing. At least if pride doesn’t get in the way.

Chris Ferrie, Rocket Science for babies

(If I seem confused re book titles, it’s because all this quantum stuff is now twirling round in my brain and I no longer recall which book is which. But they are all good, and all seem to be about balls…)

Fifty-three go to Hastings

Cough. (Recently on Bookwitch. Yesterday, in fact.)

Go back four decades, and that would be me, when I was in charge of 50 Swedes, average age 14. Plus my ‘co-adult’ and our local native English speaker ‘adult.’ A full day in London, was topped by going to see The Rocky Horror Show at a Leicester Square theatre before getting the train back to Hastings from Victoria.

With my considerable experience of the Underground, I knew that the short – but requiring a change – tube ride at 11pm was anything but ideal. We were bound to lose one or two 14-year-olds on each train. Inconvenient. I decided to walk back to Victoria. Half an hour’s walk, tops.

I knew the way, so I led, with the others bringing up the rear. I chose side streets to make it easier. The effect on other pedestrians, hearing the sudden pitter-patter of 100 teenage feet behind them in the dark was fairly interesting.

But we weren’t denying elderly ladies their pavements.

I lost no one and only one 14-year-old had lost her ticket, which is what the emergency cash was for. In Hastings at two am, three pre-booked taxis took turns to ferry the 14-year-olds back to the host families. Today, I do feel some guilt over keeping them up so late…

And I wouldn’t dare repeat it now, when the likelihood of trains getting themselves cancelled is too great.

A small Oxford miscellany

The Bodleian Library shop is a dangerous place. I only went in because Daughter went in, and because it meant standing still instead of walking even more. I have a very effective do-not-buy filter that I can apply in a situation like this. Still, I went from one item to the next, feeling that as a one-off I really could buy it. Or that other thing. Maybe both.

In the end I channelled my inner Chris Riddell and bought what he had when I last saw him; a notebook covered in the cover off an old – now dead – ‘real’ book. I know, I know. But if it was good enough for the then children’s laureate to doodle in, then what hope could there possibly be for me?

We began Sunday morning by resting on the seat outside Trinity College. As we sat there, Sheena Wilkinson walked past. But these things happen. We’d had our Weetabix in the same college breakfast room as well.

Palm Sunday, Trinity

Anyway, Trinity. Suddenly there was singing from afar. The singing drew nearer and Daughter got up and said people were coming towards us. There was incense and some of them carried bits of what looked like stalks of grain. Finally, the penny dropped and Daughter remembered it was Palm Sunday. They were singing their way to the morning church service.

Very Oxford.

A ‘classmate’ from St Andrews had popped up on Facebook the previous night, and we had arranged to have lunch with him. We chose the biggest tourist trap in town, or so it seemed. But it came with Morse and Lewis connotations. And they had my broom on a beam on the ceiling.


The classmate had recently started his PhD in this venerable spot. Oxford. Not the pub. It has something to do with doughnuts. I think.

After we’d fed, we staggered round past a few more bookshops, and finished up in the Weston Library. Which is very nice. They have seats. Good baking. And a shop. Saw Ian Beck, presumably on his way to an event.

Then we agreed we’d done quite enough for one day, and walked back to our luggage and a train to take us to the sleeper train home, via another bit of Blackwells. We went in and said we wanted to buy ‘that book in the window.’ They were extremely helpful.

It would be safest never to go back there, ever again.

Lounge mouse

Sleeper passengers get to wait in the lounge at Euston. We met a nice little mouse in there. I suspect it was getting ready to collect the day’s food debris, fresh off the floor. It knew to wait until the exact right moment.

And this is not an invitation to put any traps out. Or poison. It was cute.

Pupil Library Assistants

The other night I had a dream about one of the pupil library helpers at Offspring’s secondary school. It was probably the effect of reading about the finalists of this year’s Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Award. They went to London last week for an Award Ceremony, which involved lots of authors and librarians. And at the end they marched over to Downing Street to let Theresa May know what they think is important about libraries. (I suspect she has no idea.)

I’d have loved to have been there.

As I said, Offspring did this kind of thing, back in the day. I was so keen on the whole library thing that I joined them there. Hence me knowing other library helpers I can dream about.

I think we all enjoyed it. At first I was taken aback when I discovered Son joining up immediately on arriving at his new school. I didn’t disapprove; I was just not expecting it. Younger siblings clearly need to follow in the footsteps of older ones, so Daughter went along on her first day. And I doubt Bookwitch as you know her would have existed without that school library.

There was one fail, though. When asked if I could suggest any new helpers, I came up with the sister of one of Daughter’s peers from primary school. I felt she’d be perfect. However, she’d got to the stage where she needed to be cool, and the library wasn’t cool, so she declined. I think she’d have fitted in well, so it’s a shame that peer pressure can take you away from books.

Black holes and other fun

The image of Stephen Hawking, who died yesterday, that generally comes to [my] mind when I think of him, is the happy one of him floating weightlessly inside one of those planes where you can simulate being in space. It tells you that this was a man who was up for fun, and not someone always weighted down by his reputation in science or the fact that he’s very famous, or even as ‘someone in a wheelchair.’

In other words, Stephen was a role model to lots of people, in many different ways.

If you only encountered him as the ‘Stephen’ who writes about science in his daughter Lucy Hawking’s books about George, you’d probably think he sounded like an OK guy. Not old, not filled with his own importance. And if you’re ten, which you could well be as a reader of the George books, that might be the only thing you know about him.

But he did get to grow fairly old. All right, 76 isn’t that old, but to outlive a life expectancy of a couple of years by another fifty is pretty good going. And I admired his public – and political – stance on what the government is doing to the NHS. It needs people of some importance to speak out, because the rest of us don’t seem to count. And as a user of the NHS, Stephen had more of a track record than many of us.

It’s also heartening to know that a man considered to be so brilliant now, was seen as more average or mediocre when he was young. That, if anything, is a sign that you can pull yourself together, and that you can turn into someone who inspired many young scientists, my own little one included. Nine years ago in Edinburgh Lucy Hawking shared an early opinion (school report, maybe?) on her father, just after he had received the Medal of Freedom from President Obama. ‘This boy will never amount to anything.’

He showed them.

I have no idea how close to the truth the Eddie Redmayne film The Theory of Everything came, but in it you will see some of that playfulness. On Wednesday’s Today programme John Humphrys seemed taken aback at the idea that Stephen Hawking might have danced in his wheelchair.

I don’t see why not. Just because you can’t walk doesn’t mean you have to be boring. Or not want to dance.

Lucy Hawking, 'with' Stephen Hawking

(I borrowed the above photo from Lucy. It’s such a great illustration of how she travelled the world on her father’s behalf, even if he turned into a hologram on occasion.)