Happy World Book Day from The Reader

Happy World Book Day! We were delighted to start celebrating the day by appearing on BBC Breakfast talking about the importance of reading for pleasure. Here’s The Reader’s very own Sophie Clarke on the BBC Breakfast sofa with Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell.

BBC Breakfast 3rd Mar 2016 resize

From Robert Lyon, Communications Intern

World Book Day has arrived! Once again millions of children and adults will come together to celebrate books in all their glory. A day to recognise a host of books, authors, illustrators and the readers themselves, World Book Day is celebrated with a host of events across the country. One of the longest standing features of World Book Day is of course the £1 short stories that are available to buy in stores from today. This year you have the option of enjoying:
WBD2016_yellow_rightdown
Kipper’s Visitor by Mark Inkpen;
Supertato: Hap-Pea Ever After by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet;
Daisy and the Trouble With Jack by Kes Gray;
The Great Mouse Plot by Roald Dahl;
Welcome to the World of Norm by Jonathan Meres;
Star Wars: Adventures in Wild Space by Cavan Scott;
Harper and the Sea of Secrets by Cerrie Burnell;
The Boy Who Could Do What He Liked by David Baddiel;
Spot the Difference by Juno Dawson;
Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell.

Schools all over the country will be distributing their £1 World Book Day tokens that get you any one of these fantastic titles or £1 off any other book you may want to buy.

At The Reader and The Storybarn we have been running a competition that allows children from across Liverpool and the local area to send in a drawing of what they love about their favourite book with the hopes of winning the prize of a free day at The Storybarn for their class. The response has been amazing with masses of bright and creative drawings gracing the walls of The Reader office as we struggle to pick a winner. The winner is being picked out later today and the lucky child and his or her class will soon make a trip to the wonderful Storybarn! Have a look at some of the brilliant entries over on The Storybarn’s website, with the shortlist also being featured on the Liverpool ECHO site.

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Happy World Book Day from The Storybarn!

A major theme of every World Book Day, to children’s delight, is of course the fancy dress! All over the country on World Book Day children will be dressing up as their favourite book characters. The Storybarn gives children the chance to step into an interactive storytelling environment – including getting the chance to delve into the story-inspired dressing-up box –  and this will continue on World Book Day! Tickets are available for a day of fun and imagination while encouraging reading on World Book Day 2016.

The Reader Review of 2015

“If this life of ours
Be a good glad thing, why should we make us merry
Because a year of it is gone?”
– Alfred, Lord Tennyson

P1000516It’s been a year of merriment as well as hard work, development and much Shared Reading around the UK, but before we close the momentous chapter of 2015, we want to take a little look back on just a few of the highlights of the past twelve months at The Reader.

From Liverpool, via Leicestershire, to London – Shared Reading across the country

Our Shared Reading model reaches people of all ages, demographics and settings, and in 2015 we’ve been able to bring Shared Reading to new places, as well as extending it across regions we’re already working in.

In Liverpool, there’s been a strong focus on our projects with children and young people where we’re encouraging a love of reading for pleasure from an early age, along with our partners at City of Readers. We’ve been delighted to help lead the way with reading as an early intervention in nurseries across the city and have ensured that a legacy can continue with little ones, parents and carers by the distribution of 300 Story Time boxes to nurseries and families. Our Off The Page project – our biggest volunteering project to date – started its three-year journey, reaching disadvantaged young people across the city with one-to-one weekly reading sessions that show how fulfilling connecting with books can be. Over in the Wirral, we started a similar project for Looked After Children, funded by Children in Need.

It’s been a big year for new projects in the North West, with Shared Reading coming to Knowsley, Cheshire East and Cheshire West and Chester, with groups for the community, older people living with dementia and carers. In Sheffield we celebrated the last four years of Shared Reading across Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust with a special event, and extended our volunteer-led project with Leicestershire Libraries in Leicester.

In the Southern parts of the country, our London projects went strength to strength with reading for wellbeing across South London, funded by Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity and the Maudsley Charity, a new memory loss group in conjunction with Tesco as part of our Barnet project and volunteering opportunities in West London. We brought Shared Reading to Somerset and our Wiltshire project for people living with dementia and memory loss became an award winner.

‘Great things are done when Men and Mountains meet’ – Shared Reading and Events

2015 was another year for wonderful events, many of which took place at our base at Calderstones Mansion. We welcomed Nicolette Jones and Frank Cottrell Boyce for a celebration of the 100 Modern Children’s Classics, hosted a summer spectacular of theatre which included the return of Shakespeare’s Globe on Tour with the classic Romeo and Juliet, brought together literature, art and music with Ad Hoc Creative EXPO and brought together more than a hundred of our group members, volunteers and trustees at an inspiring AGM.

Misty summit reading close upWe joined forces with City of Readers and Beanstalk to bring a day of reading across five locations in Liverpool with Anytime is Storytime in the summer, and brought something very Big to Calderstones in the form of The Big Dig, the first archaeological dig at the park to involve volunteers from the local community. Taking on big challenges was something of a theme this year as our team in North Wales organised the highest ever Shared Reading group at the peak of Mount Snowdon, overcoming all difficulties and perilous weather conditions.

The year rounded off in fine style with the twelfth annual Penny Readings at St George’s Hall. Another sell-out festive extravaganza saw captivating performances from Frank Cottrell Boyce, Maxine Peake and Shaun Evans.

A Year of The Reader – and other Great News

The Reader offered up more literary goodness and thought-provoking pieces throughout 2015, with issues offering contributions and interviews from names including Tim Parks, Ken Loach, Salley Vickers, David Constantine, Bill Bailey and Blake Morrison.

The value of Shared Reading continued to make an impact as we were shortlisted for the Social Enterprise Network Powerful Together Awards and the 2015 Natwest SE100 Awards, along with 21 other organisations in the UK. Our status as a social enterprise doing good for health and wellbeing rose as we were part of a rising contingent in the North West on the SE100 Index; even better news when we’re rapidly expanding our social enterprise work at Calderstones Mansion.

P1000158Our year ended with two big pieces of news that will ensure that our work can reach many more people who will benefit from Shared Reading can continue into the future. In November, we were delighted to continue our partnership with Social Business Trust as they awarded us funding and business support worth £1.5million which will help us to reach 27,000 people by 2018. Earlier this month we were able to secure the future of the International Centre for Reading at Calderstones with a confirmed grant of nearly £2million from Heritage Lottery Fund, rebuilding the future of Calderstones whilst celebrating its past heritage.

All of this made us very happy indeed – very appropriate considering that Jane made the Independent on Sunday’s Happy List this year!

We’re looking forward to the year to come, with two big things on the horizon early on – the launch of The Storybarn and A Little, Aloud With Love, the newest member of the A Little, Aloud anthology series. There’ll be lots more to come, including more stories from our group members and readers, and so as 2016 approaches we’re embracing Lord Tennyson’s outlook:

but Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…”

From all at The Reader, we wish you a happy and restful festive season.

The Curious Incident of Reading Aloud

Joanne Sarginson has been working with us since September as People Intern at our head office in Liverpool. She writes for The Reader Online about her own personal experience of reading being shared within her family – particularly with her brother – and the significant impacts it can have.

My brother was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of eight. I was ten at the time and had recently discovered the Harry Potter series. As a result, I thought that ‘dyslexia’ sounded like a spell everyone’s favourite boy wizard would utilise in order to disarm an aggressive Death Eater.

Dyslexia had a significant impact on my brother’s relationship with books and the way in which he perceived reading in general. In the years following his diagnosis he visited a series of specialists, almost all of whom recommended that he read for at least an hour per day with one of my parents. The idea was to make books more accessible. By reading aloud, my brother was forced to engage with the writing before him. The words were no longer a cluttered mass of letters on a page and were instead clearly verbalised, allowing him to establish a greater connection both with the characters in the book and message that the author was trying to convey.

However, although he was making progress, a sense of obligation soon began to develop around the idea of reading. Every time that my brother picked up a book, he did so under the impression that there was something wrong with him – that he had ‘special needs’ and that he was reading in attempt to fix himself. As a result, reading quickly became an activity that he associated with pressure as opposed to pleasure. He was increasingly reluctant to read. Eventually, my mum was forced to entice him into his daily reading sessions under the condition that she would reward him with a Curly Wurly at the end.

On a couple of occasions, my brother asked me why I liked reading. I like to think I gave the following response:

“For me, one of the best things about reading is the sense of shared experience. It is comforting to establish a connection with a character, to visualise an element of yourself within them, something which enables you to think ‘that’s what it’s like for me’.

In reality, it was probably much less eloquent and more along the lines of ‘sometimes, I feel the same as the characters’. Hoping to engage his interest, I asked him if he had ever experienced a similar connection with a fictional character. He frowned for a moment and then said:

‘I guess I connect with Captain Underpants.’

Captain Underpants is a children’s book series in which two mischievous school children hypnotise their headmaster, compelling to remove his clothes and perform heroic acts in his underwear. I asked my brother in what way he felt related to Captain Underpants. Was it the idea of a lack of control, the feeling as if he didn’t have total authority over his own actions?

‘I wear underpants too,’ he said.

the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time-promoI read Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time with my brother when he was fourteen years old. Before this, my attempts to read with him had been largely unsuccessful. I did not possess the natural authority of a parent figure and, unlike my mum, did not have access to a supply of coveted Curly Wurlys. As a result, my offers were frequently met with a range of responses, including ‘no’, ‘nope’, ‘no way’, ‘nah’, ‘not going to happen’ and ‘books are gay’. My brother’s lack of interest in books frustrated me and I would often moodily contemplate what gave him the right to so forcibly reject my noble and selfless sacrifice of my time, let alone comment on the sexual orientation of a piece of literature. On the rare occasions that he did allow me to read with him, his focus would be erratic and he would rapidly become disinterested.

Initially, it was a similar experience with The Curious Incident – the same shifting eyes, small sighs and restless fidgeting. However, this changed when we reached p56 of the novel and read a passage in which the main character, Christopher, who has Asperger’s syndrome, comments on his perception of special needs:

‘Everyone has learning difficulties because learning to speak French or understanding relativity is difficult and also everyone has special needs, like Father, who has to carry a little packet of artificial sweetening tablets around with him to put in his coffee to stop him from getting fat, or Mrs. Peters, who wears a beige-colored hearing aid, or Siobhan, who has glasses so thick that they give you a headache if you borrow them, and none of these people are Special Needs, even if they have special needs.’
(The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon, p56)

My brother was completely still. After a few seconds, he opened his mouth and quietly said:

‘that’s kind of a little bit how I feel too’.

Over the course of a month, we made our way to the end of Haddon’s novel. A few weeks later, I found my brother reading The Hunger Games. There were no Curly Wurlys involved. He had volunteered as tribute.

You can read more from Joanne over on her blog: https://joannesarginson.wordpress.com/

Shared Reading in Libraries

P1000169‘Well I just love coming. It’s something to look forward to. It makes you think…when I’m here I don’t think of anything else.’ – shared reading group member in Melton Mowbray Library, Leicestershire

Each week our Shared Reading groups are taking place in libraries across the UK, connecting people of all ages and backgrounds with literature and one another. From groups improving health and wellbeing in West London to groups that help stimulate memories and reconnect older people with those closest to them in Wiltshire and the South West, shared reading in library settings is creating a variety of positive impacts for individuals and within local communities.

Take a look at how Shared Reading works in libraries across the UK

Researching Reading Groups

Are you a facilitator or a member of a Shared Reading group? A small collective of experienced researchers with backgrounds in education and lifelong learning are currently exploring the part that libraries play in supporting reading groups, including shared reading groups, in the community and in promoting reading for pleasure. Their research will document what is currently happening and highlight best practice in this important area of libraries’ work.

To help, they want to find out more about why people join Shared Reading groups and why they keep coming. If you have a story about your experience of Shared Reading in libraries, please do get in touch.

For more information, please contact Lesley Dee: ld205@cam.ac.uk

Here are some examples of what’s happening around the country

During shared reading sessions, people may identify with the experiences revealed by characters in literature and find a way of linking it to their own lives – perhaps subconsciously. Over time, and with the help of the support of others in the group and the texts that are read, they may feel confident enough to find their voice on difficult subjects and discover different perspectives within themselves. A is one of our regular group members at Seacombe Library, Wirral:

P1000174“A, who attends the group each week, is a keen reader and it’s always a pleasure to share a story with him. Recently we read an extract from Dickens’s Great Expectations that introduces the reader to Miss Havisham and her self-imposed seclusion at Satis House. I asked A what he made of Miss Havisham and why he thought she lived her life in that way. ‘She could be scared’, was his response. I agreed with him and asked why he thought that was the case. ‘Because she’s stuck in the past; she still wears the same clothes and doesn’t want to move on’.

I asked A to imagine he were Pip and standing before Miss Havisham. ‘What advice would you give her?’ I asked. ‘To move forward slowly’. I thought this was a really insightful comment, and perhaps one that mirrors A’s own experience. We ended the group with A asking if he could keep his copy of the extract so he could read it again in his own time. It was with this request that I realised how much the group had meant to him.”

It’s not only our readers who are benefitting from sharing stories in their local library, but also volunteers – over in Leicestershire, our project with Leicestershire Libraries is almost entirely run by volunteers, creating hundreds of reading experiences and lasting friendships across the county, including the weekly group in Oadby Library:

“What was the best thing for me was seeing, possibly for the first time, the real benefit of shared reading. B said she just listened with her eyes closed to me reading which she found very helpful. By the end of the session her colour had literally returned and she forgot herself and, helped by D’s personality and the literature, became animated and laughed. Equally S and D had apparently been reading poems to each other the previous day and D has joined a poetry appreciation group, inspired by reading poetry in our group.”

Coming Soon: The Storybarn and The Wonderful World of Oliver Jeffers

Storybarn-Website resize 1Christmas may be fast approaching, but we’re already looking forward to opening up the doors of a very special interactive story space in the New Year…

The Storybarn, located at our Head Office at Calderstones, is Liverpool’s first children’s literature centre, giving families and young people a place to play, learn and discover the magic, pleasure and imagination that comes from stories. Our Storybarn team have been busy over the past few months creating some exciting things inside and The Storybarn will be ready to explore from February 2016, alongside a very special exhibition arriving at Calderstones Mansion.

Once There Was…The Wonderful World of Oliver Jeffers will let visitors to Calderstones into the stories of popular children’s artist and illustrator Oliver Jeffers from Monday 8th February – Monday 18th April 2016. Created, designed and produced by Discover Children’s Story Centre, the immersive exhibition is designed especially for children aged 3-6 and allows children and families to walk through environments inspired by books including How to Catch a Star, Lost and Found, Up and Down and The Way Back Home. Key aspects of these beautiful books have been reimagined into 3D such as the South Pole, the boy’s bedroom, a garden featuring a rocket, a street of magical shops and a Lost and Found Office.

Oliver Jeffers 1Once ticketholders have explored The Wonderful World of Oliver Jeffers at the Mansion, they’ll be able to head across to The Storybarn to be one of the first to experience the interactive story space inside. Storytellers will bring the barn to life with a variety of tales and craft activity throughout their visitor experience.

Tickets for both experiences will go on sale in January 2016, but those wishing to gain priority booking can register their interest now at www.thestorybarn.org.uk

Tickets to both experiences will be £9 per child including a free adult for an hour in each space. Once the Oliver Jeffers exhibition has closed entry to the Storybarn will be £5 per child with group rates available for large parties and schools. Tickets for the exhibitions cannot be purchased separately.

For more information about The Storybarn, visit http://www.thereader.org.uk/calderstones/storybarn or follow @caldiessb on Twitter.

Reading with Looked After Children in Wirral: Pudsey approved!

Say hello to a certain someone our Wirral team discovered on their travels...
Say hello to a certain someone our Wirral team discovered on their travels…

BBC’s annual Children in Need appeal takes place this Friday, so there’s no need to be alarmed if you spot a sudden surge of fluffy yellow bear ear-wearing individuals. Just last week, we happened to come across a VIB (very special Bear) at MediaCityUK…

Earlier this year, we were awarded a grant from Children in Need to fund our project reading with Looked After Children in Wirral. Our previous work with Looked After Children across Merseyside has shown how reading for pleasure can bring a variety of benefits, not least in creating a safe environment in which young people can engage with literature that relates to them.

“I love this, I want it to go on forever” – a Looked After Child reading with us as part of our pilot project

By reading one-on-one with a project worker or volunteer in a familiar setting, children are able to expand their imaginations and discover new possibilities. Not only does our shared reading approach encourage a love for reading for the sheer fun of doing so, but also allows young people to reflect on the experiences of the characters they encounter, stimulating a greater sense of empathy and understanding.  Making children excited about books in their own space often gives the incentive of wanting to read more, and so we’ve found that confidence with literacy increases, as does general self-esteem.

For some children, reading can offer a support unavailable elsewhere – a way of getting to grips with their emotions and providing a safe domain through which their voice can be heard, and in some cases found. The connection between reading and wellbeing allows for a retreat from the stresses of everyday life and an escape into another world. This was true for Liam, who took part in one of our previous projects:

“The support of reading together was apparent another week, when Liam looked like he’d been crying and his carer said he had not had a good day in school. He did not want to talk to me about it, but he did feel like reading. We got absorbed in the story together, and by the end he looked much happier. I asked him if he felt better than before the session and he said he did, which was very rewarding.”

Over the next three years, we’ll be able to create more of these reading experiences for over 100 young people aged between 5-15 on the Wirral thanks to the funding received by Children in Need. We’ve already started to recruit volunteers who will be matched with a child for one-to-one reading sessions in foster and care homes. After six months, young people will be able to continue by taking part in group sessions with their peers, encouraging friendships to be formed as well as their love of reading to grow.

For more information about our Wirral Looked After Children project, see our website or contact Charlie Kelly, Looked After Children Volunteer Coordinator: charliekelly@thereader.org.uk

Read more of our Reader Stories from Looked After Children in some of our previous projects:

W’s Reader Story
P’s Reader Story

“Amazing things happen”: The Reader’s AGM 2015

Annual Report frontWhere would you find over 100 guests eating warming bowls of stew followed by scoops of ice cream, taking an exclusive tour of the North West’s forthcoming interactive children’s story centre and sharing poetry, laughs, bursts of emotion and gasps of recognition?

At the beginning of this week, we were delighted to welcome volunteers, commissioners, trustees, staff and many of our shared reading group members from around the country to our base at Calderstones Mansion for our 2015 AGM. Our third AGM to date at Calderstones, we gathered to celebrate a year of many highlights of shared reading activity – the written details of which can be found in our 2014-15 Annual Report. With the appearance of our special guests, we were able to tell some of those wonderful stories aloud.

Acting Chair of The Reader’s Board of Trustees Kathy Doran started proceedings by arranging the board together, before the celebrations of another successful year of shared reading could begin. Once more, the breadth of our activity has grown in the past year but Jane brought us back to the heart of what we do by reading a poem that sums up the fundamentals of what happens in each and every one of our groups. It is our aim, Jane so aptly summarised with help from John Keats, for everyone within a group to find there their own space ‘silent, upon a peak in Darien’.

Keats AGM poem
On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer – Jane’s choice of shared reading at the 2015 AGM

Our volunteers from across the UK shared their own stories about the projects they have been involved in – some for years, others for months, but all with real impacts to the communities they read with. From Liverpool to London, Somerset to North Wales, and reading with a wide range of people, including older people with dementia, library-goers and young people outside of an educational environment in their own homes, all of our volunteer representatives spoke movingly about the difference shared reading is making – in some cases, being nothing short of life-changing. This year’s AGM marks our signing of the 125-year lease at Calderstones Mansion and we celebrated all that has happened at the Mansion so far, including the efforts of our Calderstones volunteers, who still get the chance to read in all of their various roles.

We were also joined by Vicci Tatton of Prinovis, our corporate social responsibility supporter, who told us more about how their staff are getting involved in bringing reading into the workplace, and one of our commissioners Richard Rodgers, Lead for Substance Misuse Services at Greater Manchester West Mental Health Trust who explained how shared reading helps to “bring the pace of busy life down” for service users across the trust.

All in all, it was an evening full of inspiration – from the words of classic literature to the numbers of people we’re reaching throughout the country, and most significantly, the stories of our group members. To quote Kathy Doran in her closing speech, “amazing things happen” when people come together to read – and we’re looking forward to even more amazing things in the year ahead.

The Reader’s Annual Report 2014-15 is now available to download from our website – discover more about our work in health, with young people and criminal justice settings, as well as many more highlights from ‘a vintage year’.

The Story Box Breakfast – celebrating our Nurseries project

By Vish Amarasinghe, Communications Intern

Storybox event 1
The Lord Mayor of Liverpool reads to the young readers from our Nurseries project

Today marks a week since The Reader celebrated its fruitful shared reading project across nurseries in Liverpool. For the past nine months, we have worked with 37 city nurseries to deliver shared reading groups, encouraging parents and their children to enjoy books and reading for pleasure in a fun, relaxed and friendly environment at a crucial stage in Early Years development. Outcomes of the project have been felt by all involved; parents have gained confidence to read aloud with their children, nursery practitioners have developed their skills in reading aloud with children, and our young readers have enjoyed some brilliant stories.

The Story Box celebration took place at the Walker Art Gallery on Thursday 8th October. Children, parents and staff from three Liverpool nurseries were in attendance, as well as very special guests the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Liverpool!

We estimate we have reached over 500 children and 100 carers through the project, while providing training to over 50 nursery practitioners. 96% of participating parents surveyed from January to May 2015 agree that they are now more confident in reading aloud to their children, and that they know more about the value of reading regularly with their children.

The project is part of the City of Readers campaign, which aims to transform Liverpool into the UK’s foremost reading city starting with the youngest readers to encourage a love of reading that will last through their lifetime. One of our project workers told us about the impact of the project on the two-year olds involved and their families:

‘A little boy who hadn’t shown any interest in reading, came over to a reader and handed a book to her to read, joining in with the book and pointing at the pictures. The nursery staff took a photograph and presented this to his Mum, who cried with happiness when she saw it because she had never seen him sat with a book before!’

Young readers meet the Storytime Penguin
Young readers meet the Story Time Penguin

We celebrated with pastries, cake, and balloons, and the highlight of it all was a special shared reading session. The Lord Mayor himself led the reading from Shh, We Have A Plan!, the superbly illustrated children’s book by Chris Haughton, to the children’s delight. Our project workers, who have been working hard across the city these past nine months, also led reading and songs. The children were entranced by the stories that were shared, and their engagement was a real testament to the success of the project.

Our Story Time Penguin mascot was a big hit with the kids, who were thrilled when they received high fives from him and when he joined in the songs and dancing, before helping the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress give out Story Time boxes filled with books, a blanket and a special penguin puppet for each nursery.

Neil Mahoney, coordinator of the Nurseries Project, told us how the end of the project is in fact the beginning of a new chapter:

“We’re delighted that not only did the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress celebrate the success of the nurseries project with us, but that the event launched our distribution of 300 Story Time Boxes in the coming weeks to participating nurseries across the city – boxes containing more than 2,000 books in total! We hope through this legacy that Story Times will continue to encourage reading for pleasure among young children and help give them the best start in life.”

The Storyboxes handed out by the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Liverpool, assisted by the Storytime Penguin
The Storyboxes handed out by the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Liverpool, assisted by the Story Time Penguin

The event was a fantastic celebration of the Nurseries Project and of all the hard work that had gone in to it. Thank you to everyone who came along!

Learn more about the impacts of our projects with children and young people, including sharing stories in Early Years, on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/what-we-do-and-why/education-young-people

Finding a way into reading: Alan’s Story

In the run-up to the publication of The Reader’s Annual Report 2014/15, here’s another highlight from our shared reading activity in the past year. 

Our shared reading projects with children and young people focus entirely on reading for pleasure. Even in school settings, stories are shared in an informal, interactive and engaging way to encourage an enthusiasm for reading. Alan is one of our young readers at a primary school in Liverpool, where we have been working in partnership with City of Readers.

Alan, along with twenty other year 3 and 4 pupils, attended the first shared reading session which we ran at a local primary school as part of the Reading Revolutionaries Roadshow. As the group were new to the training course and shared reading model we explained that if students felt too shy or anxious to ask any questions out loud, they could write their questions on a post it note, in which we would address and respond to after the morning break.

We read Oh No George! by Chris Haughton and a lively discussion ensued with lots of the pupils relaying stories about their naughty pets. The group were totally engrossed and all participated in shouting out ‘OH NO GEORGE!’

One group member stated:

“It’s hard when you’re told not to do something though, because it makes you want to do it even more. Like George…I bet he wasn’t even thinking about eating the cake or the playing in the mud, but as soon as he’s told to ‘be good!’ they’re his first thoughts. I’m like that too…like George…as soon as I’m told I ‘can’t’ that’s when I ‘want’.”

After we finished reading, Alan, who had been mostly quiet for the duration, approached me and stated that he had made a mistake with his question on his Post It note and needed to ‘fix it’. We went through the notes until we found his Post It which read ‘I don’t read anything’. He took his note and came up to me around ten minutes later with a new submission which read ‘Did George go in the bin or not? Would George be good next time or not?’

In one twenty minute shared reading session Alan had transformed from a self defined ‘non reader’ to an inquisitive and interested literary thinker.

A's story City of Readers
Alan’s amended Post It note after reading Oh No George!

Taking reading Off The Page

“I learnt about my good qualities and realised how much of a difference the small things make, especially because I cared about being the best person I could be for the young people.” – volunteer at the Book It! Summer School 2014

A small selection of some of the wonderful books sent to Off The Page by Siobhan Dowd Trust
A small selection of some of the wonderful books sent to Off The Page by Siobhan Dowd Trust

Our Off The Page project is getting underway, with our volunteers being trained and inducted into the programme where they’ll be helping us reach hundreds of disadvantaged children across Liverpool with reading. Team Off The Page have been busy making a star appearance on BBC Radio Merseyside (as well as snapping a selfie with Roger Phillips), selecting texts to read – a big thank you to the Siobhan Dowd Trust for sending through a hundred old and new favourites especially for the project! – and planning for their week-long Summer School, which will be coming to Calderstones Mansion House at the end of August. We’re currently looking for a charismatic, entertaining and enthusiastic individual to become our Summer School Leader – if you can think creatively and are passionate about engaging young people with literature and new experiences, you could fit the bill. More information can be found here (deadline for applicants is Thursday 16th July, 9am).

Last year’s Summer School was an amazing experience for the young people involved, with stories being shared, confidence built and friendships made. Many of the young people discovered books they had never heard of or read before, and in many cases found that their enthusiasm for reading grew:

“I’m dyslexic so I don’t often read that much, this has made me more confident because here no one laughs at you when you make a mistake.”

“I’ve finished reading the Diary of a Wimpy Kid – I finished it in three days because I felt more confident. Now my mum gets me a new book every Friday instead of pocket money. I’ll do a lot of reading now.”

Our volunteers working on the Summer School project also rediscovered the power of reading, and how important sharing stories, especially one on one with a child or young person, can be:

“One day one ten year old boy was having a really bad day. He had taken a while to begin to join in with the team but had settled in, and we’d found a series of books he’d liked which we were really pleased about. This one day he was restless and uncooperative. The other assistants and I were worried about him and cared deeply that he was obviously unhappy.

I asked him if he wanted a bit of time out from the group and we sat together and I read Jack and the Baked Beanstalk by Colin Stimpson while he listened. It was young for his age but as we often found, suitable age groupings for books were irrelevant if the story was a good one. He really loved it and I loved being able to give him that time. It was a true shared reading experience and I think we both benefitted from it! I really felt the calming and inspiring power of literature and reading stories. I didn’t need to ask him what was wrong but he visibly relaxed and engaged with the story. He was great at drawing cartoons and when we rejoined the group he sat and drew his own version of the book. We were reading a story out loud at the time and when we were talking about it he joined in, so we knew he’d been listening and enjoying that too. It was such a positive experience, I’ll never forget it.

If we were lucky enough to have had people who took the time to encourage us to read for pleasure when we were young it is easy to take that aspect of childhood for granted. My experience at the Summer Camp enabled me to see that some children’s’ lives are so full of disruption, whether around them or in their thoughts, that that time hasn’t happened. Reading one to one is an opportunity to share peace, and fun, and the wonder of possibility, to give that time that should be every child’s right.”
– Ginni, volunteer at the Book It! Summer School 2014

Of course, a love of reading isn’t just for summer – we’re looking for volunteers who would be able to commit to reading with a young person aged between 11-16 one-on-one for a minimum of six months. You’ll receive full training and support from our Off The Page team, and the rewards you’ll receive from sharing literature and being involved in a young person’s development at such a vital stage are endless.

For more information on volunteering as part of Off The Page, see our website or contact Emma Melling, Off The Page Volunteer Coordinator: emmamelling@thereader.org.uk