Category Archives: Education

The author effect

I mentioned that Teri Terry made a return visit to a school when she was in Scotland the other week. I had assumed it was because she’d made a really good impression and they wanted her back. Then I learned that she wrote a character for her new book, Contagion, who goes to that very school.

A few weeks earlier Lari Don talked about a chat with someone who was now an adult, but who remembered an author visit to his school when he was younger. It had made a great impression on him, and had got a non-reader started on reading, which he still did.

So, all was good. It’s such an encouraging story to hear; to discover that author visits to schools really can make a difference.

Lari then asked who the author was. But he couldn’t remember. And I’m with Lari on this one – it’s even more impressive that the visit made such an impact, but that it became immaterial who the visitor was. Maybe a big name, or perhaps someone virtually unknown. But they made a difference.

Maybe one day a Callander student will tell their children about the time his or her school ended up in a novel. And maybe it won’t matter if they remember it was written by Teri.

ABCs and much more

I do miss Sesame Street. We used to watch every lunchtime; me in the corner of the Klippan sofa, lunch balanced on the armrest (I think it only fell off once or twice), Daughter on my lap and Son nestled next to me.

Presumably we moved away from it gradually, or school got in the way. I can’t recall. And when I woke up missing it, I couldn’t find it anywhere. I have been thinking about Sesame Street on and off over the years, trying to convince myself I’m too old for it. That I don’t need it.

But when I read about their new autistic character, I was seized by a strong wish to start watching again. This time I researched a bit more. And it is on, but only on some pay channel I’d never heard of and that I can’t get. I mean, I suppose I can, but we don’t believe in paying for parcels of programmes that will rarely if ever be watched.

So I’m feeling a bit disappointed, to be honest.

I’m wondering, too, how it ended up on a pay channel. Is it because it is so valuable that you must pay, like for new movies and sports events, or is it because it’s so uninteresting that none of the regular channels could be bothered? Had a quick look at a typical day on CBBC and it was dire. I used to enjoy watching after school. Not everything, but quite a lot, and would have to drag myself off to cook dinner. Mornings were also good, but I could rarely fit in more than a minute here and there as we were getting ready to leave the house.

Whereas I’d actually sit down for Sesame Street. ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ…

We might cry

I’ve been known to cry myself, to ‘get what I need.’ By that I don’t mean I set out to cry my way to satisfaction in every situation. But I was struck by Victoria Coren Mitchell’s tale in the Guardian of crying over 5o tiny tambourines.

(I don’t believe this has anything to do with books. But there’s something touching about weeping over tambourines. Especially if they are tiny.)

Victoria’s sudden idea of buying 50 tambourines as a statement gift not to be forgotten, is one I sympathise with. I once bought 30 sets of sturdy colouring pencils from ‘Early Learly’ (that’s how we referred to the Early Learning Centre) just so Son could hang on to his without them being borrowed. They were good pencils, which is why I’d got them for him to use at secondary school in the first place, and which is why his fellow class mates always needed to ‘borrow’ them.

Without thinking [much] I decided to give every child in his form their own set.

That was no easy task. We were able to buy a few sets in one shop and another few from some other branch of the ELC, and by the time we’d got all 30 we’d cleaned out South Manchester. But it certainly worked as a statement gift. The form teacher was astounded and the children remembered, long after I’d forgotten.

But at least I didn’t cry over them.

I did when the locum GP refused to admit Daughter to hospital once (and then it turned out it was because he didn’t know the procedure, and he’d rather pretend she wasn’t ill).

And now we have to cry to get anywhere with customer services, everywhere. It shouldn’t have to be like that. Not caring about their customers, as Victoria says, ‘exposes the relentless grind of the emotionless, profit-hungry machine. It’s frightening and alienating. It’s what happened with United Airlines and the injured doctor. If you empathise and apologise, it makes people feel less lost in that machine. It’s a really good thing to do. You should be proud, not reluctant, to say sorry; that’s your act of humanity. It doesn’t reduce your standing, any more than it reduces the standing of a skilled librarian to lead a roomful of toddlers in song.’

This is why I shop much less these days.

And I’m sorry for my bookless post.


Yes. I do eat all the time. Brunch last week. Dinner this week.

Thank goodness for travelling authors, who come and bring excitement in the midst of getting on wrong trains and talking in schools and all that.

As I mentioned before, Teri Terry has come to Stirling for its book festival, and she wasn’t too tired to agree to dinner last night with the local witch. She also introduced me to author Moira Mcpartlin, who was kind enough to drive us to a very nice restaurant that she had chosen (I don’t go much past Pizza Express), so the Resident IT Consultant was not needed, and it was all civilised.

I felt almost like a grown-up.

We talked about Teri’s new book Contagion, which is partly set in Killin and Callander, and that is why she returned to the same school as on her last visit. (Maybe she kills someone off?) I will be able to tell you more once I’ve read the book. So for now we will leave the idea of Contagion somewhere not too far from here and hope all will be well. Well-ish, at least.

But somewhere between my cauliflower starter and the main course I ended up signing a non-disclosure form, so I’m terribly sorry but I can’t tell you a thing.

Actually, I’m not sorry. But it seemed politer to say I am.

So, lots of lovely gossip. But I’m old and it has already been forgotten, even without the form.

Although, it might be OK if I mention the mould. In places where it shouldn’t be. And places with no taxi ranks. Which is not true of Bathgate, which does have one.

It also seems that Moira had heard of me. I expect it was nothing good, but I’ll take all the fame I can get.

It all adds up

The Resident IT Consultant had to explain to the garage that next Friday Scottish school pupils sit their Maths exam. And he needs his car, so that his little group of hopefuls don’t fail, simply because the garage ordered the wrong part.

In the last few weeks he’s taken on a ridiculous amount of Maths tuition sessions, with old and new students. If it was going to go on for much longer I would not have allowed it, but felt he could cope with the pace for now. We just didn’t reckon with the car feeling unwell. Or the wrong part.

Getting a tutor for your child – or for yourself if you are a university student – is [mostly] proof that you want to do well, and that in itself is an encouraging thing. Often those who do don’t really need a tutor. They need confidence, and exam techniques. Some erroneously believe that finding the tutor will absolve them from having to do work, but they don’t tend to last long. You still need to work on your Maths, and you still need to sit the exam.

Since we live in a smallish town, several of the students live some distance away, so have to have ‘double Maths’ to make the drive there worthwhile. And to do that, the car needs to work. Being stranded in some attractive, but remote, spot isn’t ideal.

The garage could see his point, and promised the Resident IT Consultant a courtesy car in case the right part didn’t turn up the next day.

(Yes, I could lend him the broom,  but you should see the amount of paperwork he carries around.)

The Power of Picture Books: Building Communities, Families and Futures – 2017 Bookbug Conference

Arriving slightly late to the 2017 Bookbug Conference in Edinburgh on Wednesday morning, I was shown to a chair. Unfortunately it was the Chair’s chair, so I went to sit on the side, which suits me best, and Chair Jenny Niven kept her chair.

My arrival coincided nicely with the start of Dr Vivienne Smith’s talk on Reading as a Playful Act, which was one of the best talks! Ever. The slides might have ‘gone bananas’ as Vivienne put it, but her research on young children’s reading was so interesting. I chanced upon super-librarian Yvonne Manning in the break and we both agreed on how great it had been.

Vivienne Smith

Basically, reading should be like playing, and none of this sounding out words letter by letter, which will not give the young reader the right experience. In one experiment, even the keen readers from bookish families chose the Lego and the dinosaurs before the book. But from another group, a couple of young children were so taken by the toy version of book character Beegu that one of them invited him to her birthday party, and the other wrote him a letter, two years later.

There is little emotion in the reading that happens at school. Reading can help your well-being, like disappearing into Pride & Prejudice every time you move house. You learn empathy from reading, and more so if you read ‘worthier’ books, where you are forced to think more. They make you likelier to vote, to volunteer, to recycle for the good of the environment, and so on.

You learn that life can be changed, made better. As Flaubert said, ‘read in order to live.’ For the well-being of society we need children who read!

I could have listened to Vivienne all day, but we had to take a break and drink tea and eat banoffee tarts and chat to people. Which was nice too.

A panel on The Power of Picture Books followed, with Vivienne again, and illustrator Alison Murray, Dr Evelyn Arizpe from University of Glasgow, Rowena Seabrook from Amnesty International and Nicholas Dowdall of the Mikhulu Trust (South Africa), chaired by Jenny Niven.

Picture books panel

They started by choosing a picture book each, one that meant something special to them. Nicholas showed us a short video of a tiny boy in South Africa reading with an adult, and his surprised and delighted reactions to what happened in the book. Evelyn mentioned a Mexican, version of Red Riding Hood, which led Vivienne to say that for this to work well, you first need to know the basic version, which is ‘cultural capital.’

Alison likes a balance between the sexes of her characters, and Vivienne said how we are ‘all so flipping middle class’ making assumptions and taking things for granted. Rowena mentioned a description of a book with an ungendered character, which still contrived to gender the character (male). Nicholas pointed out that in the townships they need books which are not about things that readers won’t know. To make picture books work well, you must read them out and read them well.

Replying to a question Vivienne said that it’s fine to be disturbed by the content of a book. It makes you think. And you have to remember that children can only take on what they understand, so a lot would simply go over their heads.

This panel discussion could also have gone on for much longer, but there was lunch to be eaten.

Mark McDonald, minister for Childcare & Early Years started the afternoon session. He didn’t have long, as his work in Parliament was ‘pressing’ this week, but he mentioned the First Minister’s reading challenge, and how reading takes you to magical places. 80% of a child’s development comes from what they do outside of school.

Mark McDonald

He talked about his children and their reading. The daughter likes Fairy Ponies, and next time Mark needs to vent about their quality he has learned not to do it to the publisher in question. Oops. His son, who is on the autistic spectrum, finally became interested in books via Nick Sharratt’s illustrations, so he is their god. (I know that feeling!)

Mark appreciates what we (that will be the teachers, librarians and other community workers) do, and ‘his door is always open’ if we want to speak to him. A yellow party bag saw Mark back off to Parliament.

Sabine Bonewitz

The next session was a talk by Sabine Bonewitz from Stiftung Lesen, the German Reading Foundation. She talked about encouraging parents to read with their children, spreading the joy of reading. Sabine had statistics to show us, she talked about their bookbags which feature a kangaroo (big steps) and finished by astounding everyone with German McDonald’s collaboration for reading, offering books with their Happy Meals.

Following this Happy idea, we all went our separate ways to different workshops. I had chosen to hear Alison Murray talk about Navigating the Story Arc. Important facts about reading picture books is that you do it in company, and that the paper can be tactile, and you might even want to sniff it. Boardbooks you can ‘eat.’

Alison Murray

Alison showed us a sketch of John Dewey’s shape of stories, showing how it fits almost every book; reading us her own Hare and Tortoise. Before finishing she read us her new picture book, Dino Duckling, a kinder version of The Ugly Duckling. It was lovely.

All in all, delegates will have gone home with much to think about, and lots to try on their own small ‘customers.’ As for me, I went in search of eldest Offspring, who was once much smaller than he is now.

Funny on Facebook

It was easier than the time I carried a Christmas tree round St Andrews, eventually taking refuge in a bar while I waited for Daughter to come and take the tree off my hands. This time I merely carried her forgotten boots, but nevertheless I took refuge in the same bar as I waited for her to come and take the boots off my hands. One has to have traditions.

Those of you who are awake right now might recall that Daughter has left St Andrews. But there are conferences and things, and this was one such thing, for which the boots were required. And what are parents for, but to carry, deliver and generally help? Today, as you read this, we are in Edinburgh, collecting the same boots, because their usefulness is over. Until next time.

Uncharacteristically for the young, she invited me to come and hear her talk, which meant that after the boot-handover we trudged to the university department where she spent four years and that I occasionally visited. There were a lot of men! St Andrews is odd in that the ratio of female to male students at the Physics department is unusually equal. Hence my reaction to seeing so many men. But that’s conferences for you.

I had mock-threatened to ‘speak to her teacher’ but had no intention of being that embarrassing. In the end it was the teacher (one of them) who spoke to me because she recognised me. Did I visit too often?

I was also introduced to one of the conference organisers, who is a ‘fan of mine on facebook.’ Seems I’m funny. Well, we knew that. Besides, having a parent at a conference is cute… Apparently.

The talk was good. I almost understood it. But then, star spots are ‘easier’ than the white dwarfs which preceded them. We had the pleasure of hearing the professor exclaim ‘what was the question?’ and I discovered that the chap in front of me has a bank balance of just over £2000.