Guest blog: Helena Pielichaty, Patron of Reading

We have a special guest writer on the blog today, children’s author Helena Pielichaty. She is the Patron of Reading at Ysgol Esgob Morgan in Denbighshire and was recently featured (along with A Little, Aloud for Children!) on BBC Wales Today.

I am a children’s writer and an important part of that, for me, is visiting schools and libraries. I love doing visits as they bring back all the happy memories I had from my teaching days. For me, the best memories of all come from the times we just read; either me reading to the class or all of us reading our own books in silence. Magic.  However, I’ve noticed on my school visits that many schools have misguidedly dropped the class reader through ‘lack of time’. How sad is that?

patron-school-pupilsOne school that wasn’t like that was Ysgol Esgob Morgan. ‘You’ll like this lot,’ Bethan Hughes, the head of Denbighshire Library Services told me as we waited for Y6 to arrive at St Asaph Library. She wasn’t wrong; they were fabulous. The children were keen, motivated readers who lapped up everything I gave them. At the end of the session it was obvious that their teacher, Tim Redgrave, was largely responsible for their positive response. Talk about enthusiastic! I’ve done hundreds of sessions in schools, before and since, but that was one of the best. So when I received an email from Tim at the end of 2010 telling me he’d had this idea about a patron of reading and asking me if I’d take on the role, I didn’t hesitate.

It’s a wonderful idea and I share Tim’s vision that every school should have one. The joy of the initiative is that it’s about helping schools to create life-long readers. Children who’ll willingly go to the library, choose a book, lose themselves in it, tell their mates about it, then go back for more. It’s also cheap. Apart from paying my fees as a school would for any author visit, there’s no cost involved. Schools who’ve ever had an author visit will know what impact that one hour or day can have; imagine if you had your own, special author for three years!  ‘Magic dust that lasts’ indeed.

The school has to be behind the project wholeheartedly for it to work, as does the patron. Luckily Tim has an amazing staff, headed by Lit Co Jenny Ritchie whose classroom is always a pleasure to enter. Last time I visited there was a display of giants on the wall as a result of a book I’d sent at Christmas (The Giant Book of Giants); the time before that a life-size model of a Tardis.

What’s great is the patron of reading shares many of the aims of The Reader Organisation, something I realised when I first heard Frank CottrellALittleAloud for Children cover online Boyce talking about The Reader Organisation at a conference.  That’s where I first heard about A Little, Aloud for Children, too.  What a great book. I’ve been recommending it to everyone since and chose it to read in front of the TV cameras last week. Stupid, I know. Most writers would have used the opportunity for mass product placement of their own stuff but for me, the patron idea isn’t what it’s all about. I knew A Little, Aloud for Children contains perfect bite-sized extracts ideal for a short reading on t‘telly. ‘The Snooks’ was perfect – just check out the expressions on the kids as I read it to them in assembly. Afterwards, one TA who’d have to leave before I’d finished asked how it ended and the head of governors bought it for her daughters. Any chance of commission?

Click here to watch the full BBC TV news clip.

Anyone interested in finding out more about the Patron of Reading initiative, please visit http://www.helena-pielichaty.com/blog/patron-of-reading/

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