National Short Story Week (11th-17th November)

national short story weekIt’s National Short Story Week! An annual awareness campaign run by Stories Unlimited C.I.C., the week aims to focus the attentions of the public and the media on the short story and short story writers, publishers and events – to get more people reading, listening to and writing short stories.

Although accounts of the origins of the form vary, there is general agreement that its roots go back centuries, with short narratives and tales having existed in one way or another for a long time – the Canterbury Tales, fairy tales and the Bible are all cited as examples of early types of the form. Subplots in plays and novels, pamplets and narrative poems have also been considered to be predecessors to the stand alone short story. The short story as we now know it is generally thought to have come into existence in the 19th century, when mass middle-class literacy arrived in the west. The Guardian’s ‘A Brief Survey of the Short Story’ series provides a useful introduction to a wide range of interesting and influential short story writers.

The form continues to flourish, and it’s been an exciting year for the short story with the publication of a new collection by George Saunders and an all-female shortlist for the BBC National Short Story Award 2013 (the prize was won by Sarah Hall for her story ‘Mrs Fox’).

Here at The Reader Organisation, short stories play a important role in our work every day, as we read and share them with our reading groups. Short stories allow readers to experience and enjoy a wide range of subjects, styles and genres of literature, and their self-contained nature works particularly well where group membership can change from week to week.

A few of The Reader Organisation staff members share some of their favourite short stories below:

  • Casi Dylan, Literary Learning Manager: ‘My all-time classic starter short story to read with groups is ‘Through the Tunnel’ by Doris Lessing. It just has everything you need for a starter story: childhood experiences, parent/child relationships, a really strong narrative, loads of atmosphere – and it’s a good length!’
  • Ellen Perry, Communications and Development Assistant: ‘One of my favourites is ‘Tea with the Birds’, by Joanne Harris. There’s loads to discuss and relate to, including the topics of neighbours, language and sleep. The writing is beautiful and it’s got a fair balance of sad and happier elements. Personally loving it also makes it a pleasure to share with others.’
  • Chantel Baldry, Development Co-ordinator:  ‘My favourite short story comes from Angela Carter’s fantastic selection of re-written fairy tales The Bloody Chamber. The title piece is a brilliantly empowering, mysterious, blood-curdling version of the Bluebeard story mixed with the infamous antics of the Marquis de Sade.’

The Reader Organisation’s anthologies, A Little, Aloud and A Little, Aloud for Children are also packed with a huge range of quality short stories, perfect for sharing.

Happy National Short Story Week!

Recommended Reads for Children: Fortunately, the Milk…

Marianne is back with another great Recommended Read for Children, Fortunately, the Milk…, by Neil Gaiman.

FTMIIn light of Neil Gaiman’s inspiring address to the Reading Agency published in the Guardian on October 15th I thought it fitting to review one of his latest books for children. In this lecture Gaiman talks of the ‘obligation to imagine’, and as a writer for children sees this as crucial to what he does. Read any of his books and you will see that he does this very very well.  He speaks of how everything around us has at some point been imagined and indeed, with brilliance in his latest book he exemplifies how a story can be found in every moment, step, nook and cranny of life. If you want to allow your imagination to wander around in Neil Gaiman’s head for a bit I suggest you read ‘Fortunately, the Milk‘.

Our story begins in the kitchen. Two kids, with dry cereal, and a Dad with ‘no tea face’ realise that they forgot to get the milk. Dad comes to the rescue and dashes off to the store to save breakfast! But time ticks slowly by until the kids strongly consider soaking their cereal in orange juice. Dad swoops back in the door with much more than just milk, a hilarious ‘you will never guess what happened to me’ story that will have you laughing out loud.  The story that follows is a highflying, alien abduction, will-the-milk-make-it-home-in-time tale with genius twists and turns through time.  It’s a chaotic, action packed ride met with dinosaurs, aliens and a talking volcano! You will find yourself reading this out loud without meaning to, words like ‘FIZZ’, ‘PLIP’ and “thummthumm” need to be off the page. Gaiman captures the magic of storytelling perfectly on the page and captures the joy and magic of a Dad telling a story to his children beautifully.

I encourage you to read any of Neil Gaiman’s books he truly is a wonderful storyteller that never fails to please. In his lecture he highlights the great importance of reading for pleasure and reading aloud:

We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves.

Working in the children’s section of a bookstore it is great to be given the opportunity to recommend books to parents and carers but what is even better is to talk to children themselves about what they love to read. I agree with Gaiman that there are no bad authors for children, we must encourage any enthusiasm they have for books, books they enjoy will lead to more books, do not kill the pleasure they have found, this will lead to nothing.

Reading for pleasure is at the heart of The Reader Organisation’s ethos, through shared reading they connect with adults and children everyday. I don’t know if Neil Gaiman is aware of the work that The Reader Organisation does but hope he soon will be.  Here is a group of committed and enthusiastic individuals working together to raise a nation of readers through the pleasures of shared reading, strong with the belief that ‘everything changes when we read.

Fortunately, the Milk, Neil Gaiman, Bloomsbury, (2013)

NB: Neil Gaiman is indeed aware of TRO’s work – he very kindly gave us his poem ‘Instructions’ to use as the opening of our anthology, A Little, Aloud for Children, completely free of charge.

Featured Poem: Among His Books by Edith Nesbit

It’s the last Bank Holiday for a few months, so why not take full advantage and stay in relaxation mode for a little while longer by reading this week’s Featured Poem?

Just recently saw the 155th anniversary of Edith Nesbit’s birth. She was best known for her children’s books, of which The Railway Children was the most popular – and an extract from the book is featured in A Little, Aloud for Children, so you can dive in and begin enjoying the adventure for yourself. Being among books is surely the perfect way to spend the Bank Holiday – before you immerse yourself amongst the shelves, see if you can be surprised by this verse…

Among His Books

A silent room – grey with a dusty blight
Of loneliness;
A room with not enough of light
Its form to dress.

Books enough though! The groaning sofa bears
A goodly store –
Books on the window-seat, and on the chairs,
And on the floor.

Books of all sorts of soul, all sorts of age,
All sorts of face –
Black-letter, vellum, and the flimsy page
Of commonplace.

All bindings, from the cloth whose hue distracts
One’s weary nerves,
To yellow parchment, binding rare old tracts
It serves – deserves.

Books on the shelves, and in the cupboard books,
Worthless and rare –
Books on the mantelpiece – wheree’er one looks
Books everywhere!

Books! Books! The only things in life I find
Not wholly vain.
Books in my hands – books in my heart enshrined –
Books in my brain.

My friends are they: for children and for wife
They serve me too;
For these alone, of all dear things in life,
Have I found true.

They do not flatter, change, deny, deceive –
Ah no – not they!
The same editions which one night you leave
You find next day.

You don’t find railway novels where you left
Your Elsevirs!
Your Aldines don’t betray you – leave bereft
Your lonely years!

And yet this common Book of Common Prayer
My heart prefers,
Because the names upon the fly-leaf there
Are mine and hers.

It’s a dead flower that makes it open so –
Forget-me-not –
The Marriage Service…well, my dear, you know
Who first forgot.

Those were the days when in the choir we two
Sat – used to sing –
When I believed in God, in love, in you –
In everything.

Through quiet lanes to church we used to come,
Happy and good,
Clasp hands through sermon, and go slowly home
Down through the wood.

Kisses? A certain yellow rose no doubt
That porch still shows;
Whenever I hear kisses talked about,
I smell that rose!

No – I don’t blame you – since you only proved
My choice unwise,
And taught me books should trusted be and loved,
Not lips and eyes!

And so I keep your book – your flower – to show
How much I care
For the dear memory of what, you know,
You never were.

Edith Nesbit

In need of some reading to inspire you before the last of the summer sun shines upon us? All of The Reader Organisation’s anthologies, including A Little, Aloud for Children, and the bumper 50th celebratory issue of The Reader magazine are available to buy from our website – plenty to keep your spirits up as Autumn fast approaches!

Featured Poem: The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear

We recently held a special Afternoon Tea celebration event for our North West volunteers, many of whom are part of our Big Lottery funded Merseyside Volunteer Reader Scheme. They go into care homes every week to deliver shared reading sessions with the residents, improving their own confidence and the lives of those they read with.

Both volunteers and care home residents came along to the Afternoon Tea, with many of them taking turns to read poems aloud, enjoying shared reading on a grand scale. A clear favourite was Edward Lear’s ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’, which had everyone in the room joining in together – childhood poems never get old.

The Owl and the Pussycat

I
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
   In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
   And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
    What a beautiful Pussy you are,
         You are,
         You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

II
Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!
   How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
   But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
   To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
   With a ring at the end of his nose,
             His nose,
             His nose,
   With a ring at the end of his nose.

III
“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
   Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
   By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
   Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
   They danced by the light of the moon,
             The moon,
             The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
 
Edward Lear
 

A Little, Aloud for Children at Just So Festival

just so festival logoA Little, Aloud for Children will be going on an adventure this summer to the wild woodlands of Cheshire, where we’ll be Telling Tales tucked away in the heart of the forest…

The Reader Organisation will be heading down to the Just So Festival 2013 on Saturday 17th August and we’ll be sharing stories from A Little, Aloud for Children in special family storytelling sessions throughout the day.

ALittleAloud for Children cover onlineJust So Festival is a weekend-long festival aimed at children, young people and their families, promising three jam-packed days full of imagination, magic and fun. The natural environment of the festival allows kids to experience the arts freely and safely, while there’s lots for adults to enjoy too. Over the three days, the festival will feature a broad range of musical, theatrical, visual and aural performances, workshops and installations, with creativity around every corner of the campsite for families to discover and delight in.

On Saturday 17th, we’ll be in the ‘Telling Tales’ area of the festival campsite reading A Little, Aloud for Children to little and big kids alike. Come and find us for a magical adventure!

For more information about the festival, ticketing and full line-up, see the Just So Festival website. You can also keep up with what’s happening in the run-up to the festival on Just So’s Twitter and Facebook pages.

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You can also now buy your copy of A Little, Aloud for Children on The Reader Organisation’s new look website. Haven’t got yours yet? What are you waiting for? Head to our Anthologies section to snap one up – and don’t forget to come back to the blog to tell us what you thought!

Just So Festival 2013

just so festival logoThe Reader Organisation at Just So Festival 2013
Saturday 17th August
Rode Hall Parkland, Scholar Green, Cheshire

The sun is shining, the schools are about to break up for summer and we’re slap bang in the middle of festival season, which means there’s lots of fun ahead. This year, The Reader Organisation is taking part in Just So Festival 2013, a weekend-long festival aimed at children, young people and their families – and we’re very excited about sharing some stories.

ALittleAloud for Children cover onlineJust So Festival will be in Cheshire on 16th/17th/18th August, promising three days full of imagination, magic and fun within a natural landscape, allowing kids to experience the arts freely and safely while there’s lots for adults to enjoy too. Over the three days, the festival will feature a broad range of musical, theatrical, visual and aural performances, workshops and installations, with creativity around every corner of the campsite for families to discover and delight in.

The TRO team will be down at Just So Festival on Saturday 17th August, running family storytelling sessions with A Little, Aloud for Children in the Telling Tales area. It’s right in the heart of the woods, so come and join us for a magical storytelling adventure!

For more information about the festival, ticketing and full line-up, see the Just So Festival website. You can also keep up with what’s happening in the run-up to the festival on Just So’s Twitter and Facebook pages.

Shared Reading Practitioner Day: A World of Imagination

Imagination is one of the fundamental aspects of reading, and especially shared reading. When we read aloud, together, whole worlds open up within us – some fantastical and previously unimagined, and others much closer to the central reality of our lives.

The building blocks of imagination are unfolded and most vividly come to life for many of us when we have read as children, and indeed, our capacity to imagine is often opened up again when we read with little ones. Some of the most imaginative works of literature have been written from the perspectives of children or for children to enjoy, childhood being the place where imagination can truly run riot.

Just think of the truly imaginative, incredibly wacky Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll:

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
all mimsy were the borogoves,
and the mome raths outgrabe.

‘Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!’

This famous poem and many more stories to send the imagination soaring can be found in A Little, Aloud for Children. The editor of the book, Angela Macmillan, will be speaking at our first Shared Reading Practitioner Day about the very topic of Imagination, on what promises to be a truly imaginative and enriching day.

If you’ve been on Read to Lead, snap up the final remaining spaces for ‘Speaking Our Own Language’  at Liverpool Hope University Creative Campus on Saturday 20th April. Visit The Reader Organisation’s website for information and booking, or contact Sophie Johnson with any enquiries: sophiejohnson@thereader.org.uk / 07973 247890

World Book Day 2013

WBD2013_turquoise_rightMarch is quite a busy month for literature lovers – not only was yesterday World Read Aloud Day (and we’re still recovering from all the read aloud fun), but today it’s World Book Day. We’re certainly enjoying having reading in the spotlight here at The Reader Organisation!

World Book Day 2013 is being celebrated in great style, with lots of great book events happening in the UK, as well as an online festival that can be caught from anywhere in the world. ‘The Biggest Book Show on Earth’ is happening for one hour only, 11am-12pm today, featuring nine big name bestselling authors and illustrators, including Liz Pichon, Francesca Simon and Anthony Horowitz. A show not to be missed! As ever, school kids can also get their hands on £1 World Book Day tokens which will allow them to get one of eight special World Book Day titles for free or money off a wide range of other books and audiobooks.

It’s the perfect day to pick up a book, and one ideal choice is A Little, Aloud for Children. For World Read Aloud Day yesterday you’ll have seen that we had fun reading ‘The Secret’, yet there’s plenty more great stories to share, all packed into its pages. If you’ve been enjoying a Little, Aloud for Children for a while now, or if you’re just discovering it in just in time for World Book Day, why not tell us about your favourite bits over on our A Little, Aloud blog? We’d love to know what you’ve been reading, and who you’ve been reading it with. Perhaps you’re even celebrating World Book Day by dressing up as one of the characters in the stories – maybe a Moomin, or Mr Toad?

Of course, World Book Day is just as much for adults as it is for kids. Though we’re certain that grown-ups will love A Little, Aloud for Children, there’s lots of brilliant stuff in A Little, Aloud too – a book so full it’s guaranteed to keep you going for well more than a day.

And, if you fancy choosing a book to read on World Book Day completely at random, there are fewer great places to start than looking through our Recommended Reads – books all recommended by The Reader Organisation staff. You might just meet your ideal book match…

Happy reading!

Happy World Read Aloud Day 2013!

Today – Wednesday 6th March – is the big day: World Read Aloud Day 2013.

The Reader Organisation is proud to be a WRADvocate partner of World Read Aloud Day, celebrating the pleasures of reading aloud every day of the year. Today, we’re encouraging everyone to read something aloud today, be it a few lines from a poem or a short story, to help raise the voices of those throughout the world who are unable to do so.

This year’s World Read Aloud Day theme is ‘Read It Forward‘. To mark this, some of our Readers are reading something special from A Little, Aloud for Children forward…enjoy (and we hope they inspire you to Read It Forward too)!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HD7oKXW4yaM]

Why not tell us on Twitter and Facebook what you’ll be reading aloud today for World Read Aloud Day?

Remembering Richard Briers

By Angela Macmillan, Editor of A Little, Aloud

Before Chatto and Windus published A Little, Aloud in 2010, they put together a mini version and sent it to the great and good and influential in order to drum up support. The response was overwhelming but perhaps none so warm and spontaneous as that of Richard Briers who immediately telephoned a surprised and delighted editor at Chatto saying, “What can I do to help?”  What he did was to write a wonderfully warm encomium for the back cover, turn up on a June evening for the launch at Waterstones Piccadilly and give a spirited and heartfelt reading of ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ to a delighted audience and as if that were not enough, give an interview to The Reader magazine (Issue 41) about his reading life and his work as patron of Interact Reading Services.

“I read to stroke victims so know first-hand the power of good that reading aloud can do. This first-rate collection is a real treasure trove and I can’t recommend it highly enough” Richard Briers

Richard Briers at the launch of A Little, Aloud
Richard Briers at the launch of A Little, Aloud

The many tributes have all described a thoroughly decent, generous, funny, enthusiastic and kind man. We found him to be all these things and remember him with affection. The Reader Organisation has good reason to be grateful to him.

Click here to listen to Richard reading The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Richard Briers with (l-r) Joanna Trollope, Jane Davis, Blake Morrison and Angela Macmillan
Richard Briers with (l-r) Joanna Trollope, Jane Davis, Blake Morrison and Angela Macmillan