A Quick Reading Roundup

Following a relaxing Christmas break, we’re back in full swing here at The Reader Organisation and while we’ve been gone, there has been plenty going on in the world of reading, so here’s a quick roundup of interesting topics that have cropped up.

Best Books of 2013:

Throughout December, a variety of lists on the ‘best books of 2013’ were published to help readers see a roundup of the year in reading, while giving a little bit of help and advice to Christmas shoppers, and reminding us what a fantastic year for fiction 2013 has been. The Guardian’s best fiction of 2013 list included Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize winning book The Luminiares and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. This year has also seen an interesting boost in sales of 48 year old novel, Stoner, by John Williams, which became the 2013 Waterstones Book of the Year. Evidently, 2013 has proven to be a year of triumphs for fiction both old and new. Can you tell us what the best book you read in 2013 was? And which book are you most looking forward to reading in 2014? Comment below or tweet us with your choices – we’d love to hear them!

Reading increases brain function:

Over the festive period  a study at Emory University published in the journal “Brain Connectivity”  has found that reading increases brain function. The study monitored participants’ brain activity after reading, and found that it was more active for 5 days after reading. This research links interestingly with research by The Reader Organisation’s research partners, Professor Philip Davis and CRILS (Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems at the University of Liverpool) into brain pathways for which researchers used scanners to monitor the brain activity of volunteers as they read works by writers such as Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Eliot. Professor Davis stated that “the research shows the power of literature to shift mental pathways, to create new thoughts, shapes and connections in the young and the staid alike.” Please see our full blog post on this research here. Both pieces of research place emphasis on the important biological changes that occur when reading good literature, and really emphasise some of the many benefits of reading. These findings help demonstrate the value of our work, and inspire us to continue working hard in building a reading revolution.

Report suggests less people are reading on a daily basis:

John Gingham’s article in The Telegraph reports Ruth Rendell’s belief that “Reading has become a “specialist activity” which only a minority enjoy regularly, rather than something most people do routinely.” The article then suggests that you can see a decline in reading when Philip Hensher refers to noticing the lack of people reading on public transport compared to 20 years ago. See the full article here. Here at The Reader Organisation, we are dedicated to working to make sure that reading is not something only a minority enjoy regularly.  Consequently, this article gives us an even greater drive to continue building a reading revolution and to spread the word on the  the positive work we do in getting people into reading.

With all this taken into account, we are beginning 2014 with an absolute belief in the importance of the work we do and we carry with us a drive to continue doing what we do best which is, getting people into reading great literature.

Half-Term Hijinks at Calderstones Mansion House

We’re extremely excited for our first October half term at Calderstones – and to celebrate, we’ve planned a full schedule of  exciting Halloween themedPrint events for children, young people and families.
Monday 21st October:
We will kick-start the week on Monday morning with ourGet Into Reading Spooky Special’ (10-11.30am, ages 14+).  For this spine-tingling event, we’ve plenty of horror stories at the ready for you, but BEWARE! This is not for the faint hearted! The fun will continue into the afternoon from 2-5pm with The Worst Witch Academy, as we read about Mildred Hubble’s chaotic first year in Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. We have a craft session especially for young witches and wizards following this where you can make your own hat. This session is suitable for ages 4-11.
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Tuesday 22nd October:
On Tuesday you can come and join in with more Halloween fun from 10am-12pm, with a reading of the fantastic Room on the Broom, and some Pumpkin Painting! Bring your family for a fantastic storytelling session and have a go at some Pumpkin Painting afterwards.  This special session is for under 7s. Following this, there will be another lovely family event where you can carve your own pumpkin whilst listening to the legend of sleepy hollow from 1-4pm. After an afternoon of creativity, if you’re feeling brave enough, come and join us for our Horowitz Horror Night (5-6.30pm, aged 11+). Be prepared to be terrified as we read a selection of horror stories from young adult writer Anthony Horowitz. In these tales the weird, the surprising and the truly terrifying are lurking just out of sight…
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Wednesday 23rd October: 
The spooky fun continues on Wednesday, where we have another great morning of activities planned for under 5s. We’ll be reading the classic children’s story Funny Bones and singing some children’s songs, from 10-11.30am. On top of this, we’ll play some of our favourite games and make spooky spiders! From 6-7.30pm, as the night draws in, things are going to get pretty scary at we deliver another Get Into Reading Spooky Special; this time we will transport you into the supernatural world of Edgar Allen Poe as we read some of his greatest works (for adults and aged 14+).
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Thursday 24th October:
To finish off our Half-Term Hijinks and top off a great week of activities, come and join us from 1-5pm for Where the Wild Things Are. This is a family afternoon for all ages filled with reading, Halloween games and crafts.
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All of these events are free but booking is required. Contact Roisin Hyland on roisinhyland@thereader.org.uk or call 0151 724 5000. All craft materials will be provided. For more information please click here.

Let the wild Rumpus start!

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Finally, on Saturday 26th October, there is an opportunity for adults to do something for themselves, and join The Reader Organisation for our latest Short Course for Serious Readers: The Test of the Sea. This special one-day course will take you on a journey across the seas, exploring life and the lights and shadows of the soul reading Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad together. Come along to discover some great literature in good company in the beautiful surroundings of Calderstones Park this Autumn.

See our Courses section for full details.

The Reader Organisation Wins The Social Enterprise Network Growth Award

We are pleased to announce that The Reader Organisation won the Growth award at the Social Enterprise Network Powerful Together Awards last night, recognising our consistent growth, entrepreneurialism and resilience.

awardSocial Enterprise Network is the home of social enterprise in Greater Merseyside. Its annual Powerful Together Awards celebrate the brightest and best local businesses and community organisations that are committed to social value.

The winners were announced at a glittering presentation ceremony last night at the Liverpool Town Hall. The evening was thoroughly enjoyable, involving complimentary wine, delightful food and many, many bespoke SEN cupcakes that The Reader ladies did not hesitate to take away at the end of the night…

We were also runner-up for the Creativity and Healthy Environments awards, which deservedly went to Big Heritage and Heart of Mersey.

The Reader has a strong track record of making ideas happen and creating social impact.  Since 2008, we have doubled our income, increased staff numbers by 200%, and increased our shared reading activity by nearly 300%. The development of projects and teams across the UK mean that Get Into Reading is now reaching more communities than ever before and we currently have sister projects developing in Belgium, Denmark, Northern Ireland and Australia.

One of our most exciting new projects is the development of Calderstones Mansion House into the International Centre for Reading and Wellbeing. This will not only strengthen our position in the North West as a leading facilitator of social change; it will also enable us to uphold this foundation in places across the UK and beyond.

We thank Social Enterprise Network for allowing us to be part of such a great night, and for their hard work in recognising and celebrating new and existing social enterprises on Merseyside.

Get Into Reading: Reducing Implicit Prejudice

Four women talk about The Unforgotten Coat outdoorsThis week, we were pointed towards a rather insightful article about a piece of psychological research by one of our partners in Belgium, Dirk Terryn. Dirk has been part of our ongoing work in developing a shared reading partnership with the city of Antwerp and the wider region of Flanders, led by the city council’s education service, which has played a huge role in taking the work of The Reader Organisation to an international level.

The research, which was carried out by the Association for Psychological Science (APS) and published in their journal Psychological Science, focused on the prevalence and tendency of implicit prejudice; particularly across different cultures and ethnicities. The article (which can be read here) describes how this sort of prejudice is often caused by a lack of knowledge or lack of understanding about a particular (or indeed, several) culture(s), and how the APS research showed that increased connection and exposure to members of a cultural group is likely to decrease our prejudice towards it.

More specifically though, the research showed that even a brief opportunity to take part in another’s culture can vastly improve intergroup attitudes, even months down the line. Cues for participation or connection as small or insignificant as, for example, a shared birthday, have been shown to bring people together, eventually even leading them to share common goals and motivations.

In a way, this is what The Reader Organisation is trying to achieve through Get Into Reading, our shared reading scheme that takes place in a variety of settings throughout the country, every day and every week. The bringing together of people from various backgrounds and walks of life to sit within a small group of about 5 – 8 people is what, first of all, creates an opening; an opportunity for communication and social connection between those very people.

After that, the various perceptions and meanings that are often steadily teased out from the text which the group may be reading is the second step. This is essentially the creating and strengthening of shared meanings, often across social and cultural boundaries , which is what Get Into Reading is all about. Members of a group can and often do find that they have things in common, which inevitably leads to social relationships being forged outside of the group. And over longer periods of time, many begin to share personal feelings or anecdotes that are unwittingly brought to the surface by the nature of the various texts.

The researchers at APS do note, however, that the positive effects of the study are very much dependent on people feeling that they have “freely chosen to participate and engage in cultural activities”. Making people feel obligated to take part can, therefore, reduce these benefits and even possibly have an adverse effect.

Group members are not encouraged to participate in Get Into Reading groups with the aim or motive to improve their understanding of another’s culture. Reasons for attendance at a GIR group will obviously vary massively for many people, being highly dependable on the setting, nature and purpose of the group; not to mention the personal reasons of the readers themselves. But multicultural interaction does take place regularly across GIR groups, and is without a doubt one of the most valued benefits.

Just take this view from a London-based reader who moved to the UK from Madrid and decided to participate in a GIR group to familiarise herself with British culture and have more opportunity to practice her English. She said:

It’s nice to arrive and be greeted with such kindness. The reading of fragments that are then discussed at a not-too-big a table with a cup of tea in hand creates an intimate atmosphere conducive to sharing impressions, feelings and experiences. Our coordinator, Val (also Penny and others), plays a key role as she keeps the cadence, encourages us to talk, touches points to develop and contributes, like the others, with her personal experiences that enrich the conversation. Val’s high intelligence, skills and sensitivity make it a particularly pleasant and interesting experience.

My group has been very generous to me and Val and the other members take the time to explain to me what I might miss because English is not my native language, because I did not grow up here, or for whatever reason. The time shared has favoured the development of personal relationships and more than once I have found myself sharing concerns as well as good and bad personal news.

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We may perhaps say then that multicultural interaction is a secondary outcome, or ‘byproduct’ of Get Into Reading…it strives to improve connections amongst people within communities, which may or not include those from contrasting social and cultural backgrounds. This is the beauty of Get Into Reading – the fact that no two groups are ever the same in their composition, and the fact that new and unforeseen outcomes are making themselves known all the time.

Reducing implicit cultural prejudice may just be another of these many wonderful outcomes. While it is perhaps not always the aim, it is certainly always most welcome.

Think You Could Lead?

Reading group with smiley womanThe Reader Organisation are delivering three new upcoming Read To Lead courses this October in Devon, Glasgow and London. If you have a passion for sharing literature, then Read To Lead is a fantastic opportunity to help get others into reading.

Read To Lead courses take place across three days in which you will learn about the working practices of shared reading, explore its profound benefits for well-being, and connect with other shared reading practitioners both past and present. This is followed by an exclusive 12-month Ongoing Learning provision, which will enable you to deliver shared reading sessions informed by The Reader Organisation’s visionary practice.

Benefits of being a shared reading practitioner are numerous both for you and your beneficiaries. Not only does it develop an appreciation of literature and its social value, it also increases confidence, social awareness, group facilitatation skills and communication skills. You’ll enjoy a varied working environment where no two days are the same, and become part of an extraordinary network that is diverse, supportive and stimulating.

It’s a wonderful journey; a homecoming of sorts. I really like the motion and experience of something coming to life off the page and becoming real to the hearer in the moment.

Read to Lead re-energised me. You can get so bogged down, ticking other people’s boxes, but this helped me to focus on what is important and helped to build what we hope will be lasting partnerships.

Most gratifyingly, the sense of accomplishment and purpose which I get from running my group has spilled over into a general increase in my job satisfaction.

A background in literature or education is not necessary – we welcome people from all professions and social groups. All we look for is a strong belief in the social value of reading; passion; curiosity, and bags of enthusiasm.

Courses cost £750 per person (including the 12 month Ongoing Learning), with £250 concessionary places available, and there are flexible payment options to suit all.

To find your nearest Read To Lead course and book a place, simply visit www.thereader.org.uk/courses or contact our Literary Learning Co-ordinator Sophie Johnson at sophiejohnson@thereader.org.uk.

Reading for Pleasure with The Reader Organisation

There’s been quite some focus in the042 news recently about the wonderful activity of reading for pleasure, and worries about whether our children are doing enough of it.

A  research study funded by publishing group Egmont was reported by The Guardian to suggest that today’s parents’  increasingly busy lifestyles are preventing them from having the time to actually sit down and read to their children usually after the age of five. Meanwhile, teachers argue that due to the target-driven policies of education today, they do not get time to instil a genuine love of reading in the children they teach, and introduce them to a variety of books. This means that our younger generations are missing out on one of our greatest human pleasures, and no doubt growing up with an inhibited appreciation for language and its creative power.

In December 2012, The Reader Organisation held a Reading For Pleasure In Schools Day Conference, a successful event that focused on strategies to engage primary and infant school children in reading for pleasure. That means no testing, no grades, no pressure for the child…just pure, plain, enjoyment. Over 50 teachers and teaching assistants from across Merseyside were in attendance, along with special guest speakers Frank Cottrell Boyce and two representatives from Walker Books UK. It ended with a consultation session where teachers gave their opinions on what would enable them to turn their school into a ‘Reading Revolutionary School’.

Now, we’re focusing on secondary school pupils.  Our upcoming Reading For Pleasure in Secondary Schools Day Conference will be taking place next Monday 15th July at Liverpool Hope University, and we hope that you will join us. It is one thing to get068 primary school children to read, an age group whose imaginations are still fluid, excitable, and naturally curious. It is quite another to engage secondary school pupils, who are at a greater risk of losing connection with literature because of the mental space it demands, the time within their schedule it may require, and even perhaps a slight insecurity about whether reading is indeed a ‘cool’ thing to do. During this conference, The Reader Organisation will be exploring how exactly we can encourage adolescents to read more.

On the day you can expect a range of interactive and focused sessions, including participating in shared reading sessions based on TRO’s award-winning Get Into Reading programme, and learn more about how to encourage children to read for pleasure within and beyond the classroom.

Guest speaker Frank Cottrell Boyce, best-selling author, screenwriter and patron of TRO,  will be returning and answering your questions. Founding Director Jane Davis and Liverpool Hope University Reader In Residence Charlotte Weber will also be talking about The Reader Organisation’s work, and our partnership with the university.

This event is FREE of charge, and refreshments and lunch will be provided on the day.

To book your place, please contact the Liverpool Hope Partnership Team on partnershipoffice@hope.ac.uk or call 0151 291 3062