Penny Readings 2015: Northern powerhouses, Astounding Broccoli Boys and Dickensian cheer

Maxine 1 - Caro Rowland
Maxine Peake on stage at the Penny Readings 2015 (credit: @CaroRowland on Twitter)

Last night, St George’s Hall in Liverpool was full to the brim with festive spirit as the Penny Readings 2015 took place. For just over two hours, the glittering Concert Room – which Charles Dickens himself deemed as “the finest room in the world for reading” when he read on the very same stage – saw the sell-out show wow the audience with seasonal literature, music and entertainment, all for the price of just one penny a ticket.

Our star readers came in the form of ‘Northern powerhouses’ Maxine Peake and Shaun Evans, delighting and moving us in equal measure with their choice of readings. We were treated to a double helping of D.H. Lawrence with extracts from Sons and Lovers and The Rainbow, perfectly brought to life by Maxine’s dulcet tones, with her take on the Morel’s family Christmas awaiting the arrival of eldest son William back from London rightly called ‘captivating‘ by one of our many audience members – a feeling that was surely shared by the whole room. The Dickensian spirit of the Penny Readings was in full effect with Shaun’s piece from David Copperfield, which saw the title character in particularly high spirits, and his characterful reading of the ‘devilish good fellow’ brought frequent gales of laughter from the crowd. Maxine ended with a poignant Christmas piece – The Oxen by Thomas Hardy – although arguably her most challenging role of the evening came when she was called upon to draw the famous Reader Raffle, which had some incredible prizes on offer including a Kiehl’s gift-set, tickets to The Alice Experience and The Beatles Story, hampers from Asda and LEAF, Independent Liverpool cards and a signed authenticated picture of Liverpool FC midfielder Phillipe Coutinho!

Shaun Evans reading from Dickens (credit: @Sbarber5bp on Twitter)
Shaun Evans reading from Dickens (credit: @Sbarber5bp on Twitter)

Another memorable performance came from the ever-entertaining Frank Cottrell Boyce, who read from his latest hit novel The Astounding Broccoli Boy after regaling us with tales from his schooldays and in particular the case of a nun who may or may not have been concealing a Dalek status…Frank also pleased the crowds by signing copies of the book in the foyer afterwards. Angie MacMillan treated us to an exclusive preview of the latest in the A Little, Aloud series – A Little, Aloud With Love, due to be published in early 2016, and the Christmas cheer was brought back into proceedings with special guests Adele, Madison and Josh from Norman Pannell Primary School telling us the story of How The Grinch Stole Christmas. As ever, Phil Davis invoked the festive spirit with the traditional reading from A Christmas Carol, bringing the scene from the Cratchits’ dinner table to life.

Musical interludes were brought courtesy of The Ukulele Uff & Lonesome Dave Trio with their set of singalong classics including the love song for insects Never Swat A Fly and Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies, the super-talented piano player – and composer! – Evie Gill-Hannan, and the AINE Gospel Choir, finalists from the BBC Songs of Praise Gospel Choir of the Year 2014, who led the whole cast and crowd in a soulful rendition of Lean On Me to bring this year’s proceedings to a rousing close.

It was a real compliment for our supporters Publiship to call this year’s show the ‘Best Penny Readings ever’ and the #PennyReadings hashtag on Twitter was full of similar highlights from those in attendance:

Absolutely loved our first at . Thanks for organising a great evening! 🙂

all sounding/looking beautiful for the magical

Loved listening to made me laugh and nearly cry at end of reading…

Thanks and for a fab night.

Shaun Evans and Maxine Peake backstage with staff from Whitefield Primary School
Shaun Evans and Maxine Peake backstage with staff from Whitefield Primary School

With so much festivity and goodwill in abundance, we like to think that Dickens would be proud.

All that is left to say is a massive thank you to all of our performers, supporters, stall holders including News From Nowhere, Royden Revolve Rotary Club and The Reader Cafe, staff members and everyone in attendance for making the Penny Readings 2015 so memorable. Here’s to next year! In the meantime, to borrow a phrase or two from Bob Cratchit:

“A merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!”

‘The magic of story’: The Unforgotten Coat in Germany

The Unforgotten Coat has been on quite a journey since its publication in 2011 for The Reader’s Our Read campaign. It’s been shared in schools and universities, at festivals and events and has garnered several award wins and nominations. We’ve been amazed at how the story – inspired by true events – has become a global sensation, but not all that surprised given that it was penned by the brilliant Frank Cottrell Boyce.

Recently, Frank embarked on a trip which highlighted not only the appeal of the book but also its relevance to current events that are happening across the world. He writes for us:

Frank Cottrell Boyce making the children's keynote lecture at the Berlin International Literature Festival
Frank Cottrell Boyce making the children’s keynote lecture at the Berlin International Literature Festival

A few months ago I won a prestigious book award in Germany – the James Kruss prize. This involved me in the difficult work of being wined and dined and feted in one of the world’s most beautiful libraries – the International Children’s Library in Schloss Blutenburg near Munich. I wrote about the experience here. It also involved me giving the children’s keynote lecture at the Berlin International Literature Festival last week.

I find it surprising and thought-provoking that all this prestige comes from the book I wrote for The Reader in response to the badgering of Jane Davis – The Unforgotten Coat. This is a book I wrote quickly, inspired by a Mongolian girl I met in a school in Bootle. It’s illustrated with photographs taken by friends Carl Hunter and Clare Heaney. It could not be more home-made. Yet it seems really to have hit a chord in Germany.

The events were all packed. I was taken to schools and to a refugee project where the kids were doing work inspired by the book. A party of Mongolian children turned up, delighted by the fact that the book’s heroes are from Mongolia. It’s always been well-regarded in Germany (it won the state-sponsored Jugendliteraturpreis last year) but the events of the summer, and the refugee crisis in particular, have made it seem relevant and timely. I was even invited onto the news to discuss the crisis, which turned out to be slightly embarrassing as I only remembered that I don’t really speak German when I was on already on air.

There’s something to be said here about the magic – or the grace – of story. When the book was written there was no refugee crisis. I wrote it purely because its two swaggering, resourceful, vulnerable heroes seemed fun and real. When politicians are referring to refugees as “swarms” and “floods” as though they were the plagues of Egypt, it’s important to be reminded that we are talking about individuals – as needy, as worthy, as eccentric as we are ourselves.   Narrative is a great mental and moral discipline.

Frank Cottrell BoyceIt also says something about the inherent internationalism of children’s stories. When I was growing up I was immersed in stories that came from Finland, Africa, the Middle East – but they all seemed to belong to me, part of my inheritance every bit as much as Scouse or the Beatles. By the way, The International Children’s Library was founded by Jella Lepman – a Jewish refugee who got out of Germany just in time and then, when the war was over, went back to help rebuild it. Imagine that. She got away. She got a nice job at the BBC. Then she went back. The more I think about it, the more I think that’s one of the most moving and salutary things I’ve ever heard. She went back because she thought that children’s stories were important. I put her picture over my desk and say a prayer each morning that I don’t sell her vision short.

I went home via Hamburg where I took my little son to see “Miniatur Wunderland” – a terrific display of model towns and villages. One room contains a series of scenes of one street through time. From the Bronze Age, through the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, the Nazis (“in the far corner we can see Rosa Luxembourg being murdered …”), the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Wall and then… it doesn’t stop. The next few cases show visions of what the same street might be in the future. Each of those cases has been put together by one of the main political parties. They were each asked to show what their vision of the future would look like at street level. It was revelatory and oddly moving to see that politicians dream too.

This is a picture of the Miniatur Wunderland version of the collapse of the Wall.

Miniatur Wunderland picture (Frank CB blog)


 

The Unforgotten Coat received its international premiere at the Berlin International Literature Festival on 9th September at the Children and Young Adult Literature section of the festival, with a special focus on ‘Escape, displacement and migration’.

“Good stories help us make sense of the world. They invite us to discover what it’s like being someone completely different.” – Author Gillian Cross writes for The Guardian on how fiction can help us to understand the Syrian refugee crisis. The Unforgotten Coat has been offered as one recommendation (and we agree), but there are many more, suggested by readers here.

An exhibition of original digital and Polaroid-style photographs from The Unforgotten Coat by Carl Hunter and Clare Heaney is on display at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield until Saturday 26th September.

Turning Pages Together: A Celebration of Children’s Literature

worldbookdayTurning Pages Together: A Celebration of Children’s Literature
Thursday 11th June, 4-6pm
Calderstones Mansion House, Liverpool L18 3JB

Join Nicolette Jones, Children’s Books Editor for The Sunday Times, award-winning author Frank Cottrell Boyce and The Reader Organisation as we take a fascinating journey through the world of Children’s Literature at this special event at Calderstones Mansion House.

Nicolette Jones has been the Children’s Books Editor at The Sunday Times for over two decades, and in 2012 was shortlisted for the Eleanor Farjeon Award for distinguished service to the world of children’s books. Last year she created The Sunday Times 100 Modern Children’s Classics, a definitive list of contemporary stories for children of all ages, and she’ll be discussing the choices on the list with Frank, showcasing some of the greatest modern literature you may have heard of – and some that might be new, too.

Author and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce is known for his children’s books, including Cosmic, the 2004 Carnegie Medal winner Millions and The Unforgotten Coat, winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize 2012 and German Children’s Literature Award 2013, that was also written especially for The Reader Organisation.

With input and insight from two experts in the field, there’s bound to be lots of inspiration in store.

Attendees will also get the chance to hear an exclusive talk from staff at The Reader Organisation on the Storybarn, Liverpool’s first interactive story centre for children and families, which will be opening later this year. This will be followed by drinks, nibbles and time for discussing and sharing thoughts on Children’s Literature with other attendees and speakers from the event.

Places at the event are free but limited, and prior registration is required. Sign up for your place at: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/turning-pages-together-a-celebration-of-childrens-literature-tickets-16787884013

The Menlove Treasure: The end is in sight…

The grass turned silver, the stone doorway shone red. The long, skinny shadows of the children twitched across the shovelled earth.

“Old tradition says they are the gates to hell,” he says, “also they are haunted by Lady Menlove who forgot to come back for her treasure. Sometimes you can hear her whistling the tune.”

Rylan realised that they were now back in the twenty first century. That if Charlotte was still inside the safe, then she had been there for a hundred cold, dark years…

menlove_treasure_front2_200x279The snippets above are all thrilling excerpts from the previous chapters of The Menlove Treasure, the latest serial from award winning author and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce. Have you unearthed it yet?

Written exclusively by Frank for City of Readers and their Give Us 5 campaign, The Menlove Treasure is a wonderful tale for the whole family to discover and enjoy, set in the mysterious old Mansion House in the middle of a Liverpool park, and following Frank’s script for an episode of the latest series of Doctor Who, is another journey through time. Over five chapters, we’ve joined schoolboy Rylan on his journey to find the truth about the strange torn painting and match up the past with the present. What other thrills will be in store?

Chapter 6, the final chapter in the serial, will be unveiled exclusively at the Ha’Penny Readings this Sunday 21st December at Liverpool St George’s Hall via video link, read by Frank himself, and will be available on the City of Readers website soon after. If you haven’t already discovered the story, or if you want to refresh yourself, you can read all five previous chapters on both the City of Readers and The Reader Organisation websites to get right up to date.

You can still be amongst those who get to hear the final chapter of The Menlove Treasure live and exclusive – there are a few tickets left for the Ha’Penny Readings, our festive, family-friendly extravaganza. The show starts at 2.30pm, and will be full of reading, entertainment and fun – the perfect way to start off the Christmas celebrations. You can purchase your tickets online by visiting: https://pennyreadings2014.eventbrite.co.uk (maximum of 4 per order)

City of Readers and Liverpool City Council are also organising a book donation scheme so that the city of Liverpool can share the gift of reading this Christmas. Donations of either new or second hand books, especially those aimed at children and young people, can be dropped off at the special book bins, which can be found at the following locations around the city:

  • Toxteth Annexe
  • Liverpool Central Library
  • Norris Green Library
  • Childwall Library
  • Calderstones Mansion House
  • Goodison Park

You can find out more about the scheme and a special City of Readers supporter on the Liverpool Echo website: http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/everton-star-samuel-etoo-launches-8260409

City of Readers launch unique Give us 5 for reading video

On Wednesday afternoon people from across the City descended on Blackburne House for the debut screening of the Give us 5 video. Produced by Jack-All Productions, the awe-inspiring film captures a glimpse of the power of reading for pleasure beautifully.

Over the past few weeks organisations and individuals have united with City of Readers to dedicate their time to the project; Blackburne House generously donated the venue and Brian Patten kindly allowed his poem to be read, as well as those who offered their time to be featured in the video.

Prior to the showing of the video, Director of City of Readers and our Founder and Director, Dr Jane Davis emphasised the importance of the work City of Readers do in their aim to make Liverpool the foremost reading city in the UK. Laura Lewis, one of our Schools Coordinators also shared heartwarming anecdotes detailing the impact reading has had on some of the children City of Readers work with.

Last term City of Readers reached 579 school children in 17 schools and conducted 372 reading sessions. In one school staff saw 75% of pupils with poor attendance improving attendance, with 88% of pupils more willing to independently choose to read. Another school said that 79% of reading scores had gone up over the Summer, with 17% staying the same. This is fantastic as most reading scores plummet when children are away from school.

The launch was an opportunity for people to learn about this worthy project, and to discover how they can get involved. City of Readers are delighted with the passion, dedication and enthusiasm shown by attendees to the launch. Amongst those who attended were representatives from Mersey Travel, Waterstones and Baltic Creative who all generously pledged to Give City of Readers 5 for reading.

photo-3

Esteemed author Frank Cottrell Boyce has donated 5000 words to City of Readers. The final chapter will be read live at the forthcoming Penny Readings in December.

City of Readers urge everyone across Liverpool to get involved and Give us 5. So how can you pledge? Do you have 5 books that have been untouched in months? You could donate them to the City of Readers project. Or can you spare 5 minutes of your day and read to a loved one? For more ideas and details on how you can Give us 5, visit the City of Readers website here.

You can watch the Give us 5 by following this link or scrolling down to our blog post ‘Give City of Readers 5 and some exciting news at Calderstones’.

Give City of Readers 5 – and some exciting news at Calderstones

Reading is becoming big news in Liverpool as there are some exciting plans afoot to ensure that generations can engage with literature for years to come.

Our friends at City of Readers have been hard at work over the past few months gathering support from individuals and organisations across the city for their Give Us 5 campaign. Frank Cottrell Boyce, Liverpool Echo and Baltic Creative have been amongst those who have lent their support to turn Liverpool into the UK’s foremost reading city over the past year, and thanks to a very special campaign video even more people are on board. The brilliant Jack-All Productions have been busy putting together the video, featuring the Royal Liverpool Hospital, National Museums Liverpool, Whitefield Primary School, BBC Radio Merseyside and local poet Levi Tafari, who are all encouraging everyone around Liverpool to give 5 for reading. The video was launched at Blackburne House in Liverpool last week, along with a special CPD event with The Reader Organisation’s founder Jane Davis and Frank Cottrell Boyce giving a rundown of their favourite books to read for pleasure with children.

Take a look at the video below, and find out more about how you can get involved with giving 5 for reading on the City of Readers website: http://cityofreaders.org/

There was also some wonderful news for our continued redevelopment at Calderstones Mansion as we received funding from the Social Investment Business for The Story Barn at Calderstones. The Grade 2 listed Barn and Stable area of the Mansion will be transformed to become an interactive Story Barn, bringing literature to life and encouraging reading for pleasure amongst young people and the wider community within the heart of Calderstones. Exhibitions from children’s authors and illustrators will feature alongside a permanent interactive space which will allow children and families to explore, play and interact with literary adventures as well as the nature of the park surrounding. With our weekly shared reading groups for children already successful, the Story Barn will be an important cornerstone in continuing to create a love of reading in future generations and the creation of making Calderstones Mansion House an International Centre of Reading.

We’re proud to be part of regeneration in Liverpool alongside an initiative from Squash Nutrition which also received funding to develop Toxteth Food Central. You can read more about the fantastic news here: http://www.liverpoolexpress.co.uk/funding-secured-two-major-social-projects/

The Menlove Treasure: Read Chapter 2 online now

menlove-treasure-front2The second chapter of Frank Cottrell Boyce’s exclusive online serial The Menlove Treasure is available to read now on the City of Readers website.

The book, written especially for City of Readers ‘Give Us 5’ campaign, is being released in monthly instalments from now until December, when the ending will be read aloud by Frank himself at this year’s Penny Readings at St George’s Hall, Liverpool.

The story so far:
On a school trip to Calderstones Park, Rylan Jennings is amazed to discover that Mrs. Crowley – the woman pretending to be his nan while his mum has disappeared – has a portrait of him: painted a hundred years before he was born. How is this possible? Who is Mrs. Crowley? and what is she doing on a school trip anyway?

Being published online is not its only special feature: the story is also accompanied by some special illustrations and animations that make the action come to life. And readers can be involved too…do you have a picture that reminds you of The Menlove Treasure? Something in the story, a piece of history or your own mysterious treasure that may be able to help Rylan in his quest? All you need to do is Instagram your pictures and videos with the tag #MLTreasure and they’ll be posted to the City of Readers website where they’ll add to the story as it unfolds.

It’s not too late to join in the adventure, as you can start from Chapter 1 on the City of Readers website. And if you’ve already begun then Chapter 2 is waiting for you! http://cityofreaders.org/online-serial/

Readers from all over the World Wide Web have already been enjoying the story:

“Wonderful cliffhanger! Definitely, I’m hooked!”

“FCB hits the spot again!”

“Loved it – can’t wait to show my 8 year old granddaughter so we can read next chapter together – I know she will be hooked just like me!”

Be part of the story – quite literally – by visiting the City of Readers website: http://cityofreaders.org/online-serial/

What is the secret of The Menlove Treasure?

Online serial (2)

The Reader Organisation is excited to announce the beginning of a very special story…

As part of Liverpool City of Readers ‘Give Us 5’ campaign, award-winning author Frank Cottrell-Boyce is donating 5000 words in the form of a totally free online serial story.

Taking inspiration from authors such as Charles Dickens who released their stories a chapter at a time, Frank is releasing his story bit-by-bit.

Chapter One is out today and tells us about Rylan, a young boy keeping a secret from the world, an eccentric old woman pretending to be his nan and the mysterious Park Mansion House where he is staying.

Each month a new chapter will appear online, cumulating in the last chapter being read aloud in December as part of the Penny Readings.

You can follow the adventures as they unfold online at: http://cityofreaders.org/online-serial/

You can also get involved yourself by tagging your Instagram pictures and videos, inspired by the story, to #MLTreasure where they will be posted on the City of Readers website.

Why is Rylan keeping a secret?  What tales will the old Mansion reveal?

And what is The Menlove Treasure?

Click the link to start the adventure. Chapter One – http://cityofreaders.org/online-serial/

The Reader Cafe and Gallery opening

The Reader Cafe and Gallery opening
6-8pm,
Thursday 3rd Aprilunforgottencoatflyeraltlogo2 (2)
Calderstones Park, Liverpool, L18 3JB

We are delighted to announce that the Lord Mayor of Liverpool will be officially opening the brand new Reader Cafe and Reader Gallery in Calderstones Park on Thursday at a special launch event.

After the Lord Mayor has cut the ribbon at 6pm, visitors will be welcomed into the gallery to hear from our Director, Jane Davis, and photographer Carl Hunter, whose exhibition will be on display. Barefoot Wine are providing free refreshments and, after exploring the gallery, visitors are invited to head over to the cafe to sample the delicious menu and enjoy a shared reading taster session at 7pm. All welcome!

The Reader Gallery

The Reader Gallery is in the Coach House building, and the opening exhibition is one very close to The Reader Organisation’s heart; The Unforgotten Coat. Carl Hunter and Claire Heney worked with author Frank Cottrell Boyce to create the stunning and atmospheric photography in the award-winning book, transforming Liverpool into a version of Mongolia through the medium of polaroids.

This exhibition, originally from Edge Hill University will be on display in the gallery from 3rd -19th April, 11am-5pm (closed Mondays and Bank Holidays).

The Reader Cafe

We’ve been deligblackboards onlinehted with the reaction to The Reader Cafe, which opened for the first time last week with our friendly team behind the counter.  Pop in to enjoy a tasty lunch, hot drink or slice of cake with a lots of books and good company, every day 8.30am-4.30pm.

stunning and atmospheric photography from Frank Cottrell Boyce’s award-winning The Unforgotten Coat, transforming Liverpool into a version of Mongolia through the medium of Polaroids. – See more at: http://www.thereader.org.uk/events/the-reader-cafe-and-gallery-launch.aspx#sthash.UOULhEsr.dpuf

stunning and atmospheric photography from Frank Cottrell Boyce’s award-winning The Unforgotten Coat, transforming Liverpool into a version of Mongolia through the medium of Polaroids. – See more at: http://www.thereader.org.uk/events/the-reader-cafe-and-gallery-launch.aspx#sthash.UOULhEsr.dpuf
stunning and atmospheric photography from Frank Cottrell Boyce’s award-winning The Unforgotten Coat, transforming Liverpool into a version of Mongolia through the medium of Polaroids. – See more at: http://www.thereader.org.uk/events/the-reader-cafe-and-gallery-launch.aspx#sthash.UOULhEsr.dpuf

 

 

 

City of Readers project launched

Liverpool Learning Partnership’s City of Readers project to transform Liverpool into the UK’s foremost reading city was officially launched

Children at the City of Readers Launch c. Liverpool Echo
Children at the City of Readers Launch c. Liverpool Echo

last week at a celebration at Calderstones Mansion House. The project developed out of Mayor Joe Anderson’s pledge to improve education standards and ensure that no child, if able, leaves primary school unable to read. The Reader Organistation are key partners in the project, and Founder and Director of The Reader Organisation, Jane Davis, has been appointed by Liverpool Learning Partnership to run the campaign alongside her current role. City of Readers aims to raise the profile of reading in the city and developing a new generation of readers.

Children from Springwood Heath and St Christopher’s primary schools enjoyed stories and crafts at the launch event, alongside Cllr Lana Orr, Cabinet Member for Reading, and representatives from the project’s media partners, Liverpool Echo and Radio Mersesyside. Calderstones Mansion was buzzing with reading activity last Friday, as alongside the launch event we also welcomed PGCE students from our Hope Readers project at  Liverpool Hope University were joined by children from local schools to enjoy some shared reading and get passionate about books.

The importance of reading to a child’s development has never been so clear, with a recent study from the Institute of Education demonstrating that reading for pleasure is more important to a child’s social mobility than their parents’ education, and that those who read more perform better academically at maths as well as spelling and vocabulary.

Jane said:

“Reading simply for enjoyment is so important to a child’s development and a wonderful activity to share with others. We need everyone in Liverpool to act as role models for our children, reading at home, reading in schools and reading in the community.

City of Readers is asking individuals and organisations to ‘Give Us Five’ towards the project, whether joining the Echo’s campaign pledging to read an extra five minutes a day, donating £5 towards an event, or volunteering for five hours a week.

Together we can make Liverpool a City of Readers. ”

cityofreaderslogoThe Give Us Five campaign is central to the first year of activity and the first pledge was given by our patron and local writer Frank Cottrell Boyce. He has offered 5000 words through the writing of a brand new book for the project which will appear in installments on the City of Readers website from June. Members of the public will be invited to send in sound recordings which reflect Liverpool to inspire each installment, before the book is finally unveiled at The Reader Organisation’s Penny Readings in December.

Liverpool Echo is calling for people to spend a minimum of five more minutes a day reading – adding up to a grand total of five million more minutes across the city in a single year. You can sign up to the Echo pledge here.

If you’d like to Give Us Five or find out more about the City of Readers project, visit www.cityofreaders.org.