Monday, 27 December 2010

Books and Adventures Review of the Year

As we soak in the warm bath of another festive lull, it seems a great time to review a busy first year on the blog at Books and Adventures.

We got started in February with an ABCTales/AbracaDABra Radio award for my children’s story Shark with the Mind of a Rabbit. The story had a dual origin in reading sessions with Volunteer Reading Help and old university jokes about a lecturer who we had cast as a wicked witch...

Then came the interviews – and our first celebrity interviewee was a Teletubby, no less...Nikky Smedley joined me to discuss her storytelling and dance production The Tell Woman in March.




April saw the Annual General Meeting of the British branch of IBBY, where I met Mick Inkpen of Kipper fame. During my time with Volunteer Reading Help, I saw a child go from tearing books up on sight to vowing to write his own...Mick’s Anything Cuddly Will Do was a key book in making that transition.

In May I wrote my first theatre review for Claire Massey’s great blog, The Fairy Tale Cupboard. Claire, who edits New Fairy Tales, also pointed me to one of my favourite events of the year, Ignite 2010.


July was the highlight of the literacy calendar for me - I was privileged to speak at the House of Commons on behalf of Volunteer Reading Help, the incredible English charity which helps children develop a lifelong love of reading.

In the same month, I read the first of the late Patricia Wrightson’s Wirrun books, which led on to an interview with Patricia’s publisher Mark Macleod and a series of features on these important, controversial and underrated pieces of fantasy writing. Huge thanks to Judith Ridge for putting me on to this great writer.

The Song of Wirrun, and Nnedi Okorafor’s pitch-perfect novel Zahrah the Windseeker, were my favourite reads of the year. (To be honest, I’m almost scared to read anything else by Nnedi because that first book was so perfect!).

The latter part of the year saw Books and Adventures go on a ‘world tour of literacy support’ with NGOs and charities from San Francisco to Sydney and beyond. Starting with Reading Partners and Reach Out and Read in the USA, we moved on to South Africa’s help2read, and then Rhonda Brain’s inspirational Paint the Town Read scheme in Australia.
 

In November, I was foolhardy enough to participate in, and complete, the 50,000-word challenge of NaNoWriMo, although the resulting text (written to a topic determined at random by fellow writers) will now be broken up to be re-used in an entirely different way!

Still, Chris Angotti, who runs the Young Writers’ Program for Nano, was kind enough to grant an interview during his busiest month of the year –you can find what he had to say about enthusing and supporting young writers here.

Roland Pietsch



Other highlights from the year’s interviews included: Stories from the Web, Edgardo Zaghini of Outside In, storyteller and psychologist Steve Killick, philanthropy guru Mike Dickson, Elena Schmitz of Wales' Young People's Writing Squads, and an old colleague turned pirate historian, Roland Pietsch. Some of these went on to provide useful fodder for Zoe Toft’s directory of book charities at Playing By the Book.

Amid all this frantic reading, writing and blogging, there was a little time for some running, too. Getting bitten by that bug has led me to make some dumb commitments, like signing up to run a 10k in the immediate aftermath of Christmas. (Assuming we don’t get snowed off, I’ll be the guy at the back of the field, with turkey and sprouts visibly bouncing up and down in a still-swollen belly!).

Once post-Christmas recovery has completed, there’ll be a lot more Books and Adventures to come in 2011...I’m looking forward to more interviews from around the world, including YA author Claire Dopson, and guest bloggers including storyteller Eric Maddern. There’s also some big travel plans on the horizon, so hopefully I’ll be delivering some front-line reports from foreign climes along the way!

Wishing you all the best for the season...see you in 2011!

Matt

PS...How pleased was I to see flying sharks in Doctor Who???

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Festive sneak preview

Especially given the weather...I couldn't resist a festive sneak preview...

*
Winter wasn’t right this year.

It seemed normal enough in the city of London. The weather was cold, the streets were full of shoppers, and there were Christmas songs on the TV and Radio. School finished and the holidays started. Children played in the park, wrapped up in coats and hats and thick woollen scarves.

But winter wasn’t right this year. And only Stella knew it.

Stella’s parents were in the kitchen having breakfast. Dad served the coffee and peeked over Mum’s shoulder at the newspaper.

‘I see there’s a new exhibition on at the Modern Art Gallery,’ he said.

‘Mum,’ said Stella.

‘We could go and see it after we take Stella to the theatre,’ said Mum.

‘Dad,’ said Stella.

‘That would be nice,’ said Dad. ‘I’m just so excited about seeing Barry Hercules! They say it’s the greatest magic show ever!’

‘OI!’ shouted Stella.

‘What?’ said her parents.

‘Come and look at the snow,’ Stella said. ‘It’s…weird.’

*

Stella and her parents stood in the doorway looking out at the street. The sky was thick with black clouds and the cars had almost disappeared underneath a deep sooty layer of snow.

Stella looked at her parents.

‘Well?’ she said.

They looked at her.

‘Black snow?’ she said.

Dad reached down and picked up a handful.

‘Looks pretty normal to me,’ he said. He made a snowball and threw it at Stella.

It exploded with a PLOOMPH on her coat. It left an oily stain.

‘Look!’ said Stella. ‘Look at my coat!’

Mum reached out and put her hand on Stella’s forehead. ‘Are you getting a temperature, darling?’

‘It’s black snow!’ Stella said again.

‘I think she’s overexcited,’ said Mum. ‘With the trip and all.’

‘Probably,’ said Dad. ‘Come on, Stel, let’s have some breakfast. Plenty of time for excitement later.’

Stella scowled as her parents led her back in doors.

Soon the family would be off on their special trip to the theatre.

And by the end of the night, Stella’s parents would disappear from the face of the Earth.

*





Merry Christmas!!! Matt

Friday, 17 December 2010

The Lesson of League Tables

I’m sure many UK readers will have seen the news today about the primary school league tables, whose results have just been published.

Angela Harrison of the BBC reports that almost 1 in 10 of schools with validated and published results failed to meet minimum standards in the SATs. But how many of these schools will be located in the most challenged areas of this country, where pupils and parents alike need support and encouragement, rather than teachers bound to a regime of relentless formal assessment?

Teaching in a London school where a high percentage of pupils had English as an Additional Language, I was incredibly frustrated by the box-ticking mentality, especially in literacy.

Such an attitude encourages teaching to the test rather than a love of reading and writing. The best teachers in the world will find themselves sitting with an “underperforming” student on the day results are due in, thinking, “Just let me tick one more box so I can move you up another sub-level!”

My class made great progress in their literacy skills – but more from an attitude on the part of our year group that we would make learning fun, engaging and creative.

A poetry unit was delivered to rap music – our class gave themselves rap names and learned to freestyle to The 900 Number (“I like / chocolate / I want / CHOCOLATE CAKE!”). I knew we had made an impact when months later one of our pupils, who had little English and numerous educational needs, was still using the rap names with his friends in the playground.

In another class, we created a ‘living comic book’ together, using a whiteboard for each panel of the story of ‘Melon Boy’, a superhero who transformed into a caped, flying cantaloupe when he consumed too much of the fruit in question.

The story was inspired by a boy in our class who had given himself a laughing fit that morning, when he said, ‘My mum says if I eat too much melon, I might just turn into one.’

It was the first time he had ever given himself an attack of the giggles. He couldn’t stop, and the whole class ended up laughing along with him.

By using that moment as a springboard for our literacy lesson, the entire class became enthused and empowered to apply their own creativity to reading and writing.

When the education system mandates ‘teaching to the test’ in the very earliest stages of schooling, which should be about fostering a love of learning...
When teachers have their performance management directly linked to children’s formal levels....
It becomes incredibly difficult for classroom practitioners to be confident, creative and...dare we say it...a little subversive.

With the best will in the world, teachers find themselves ‘playing it safe’ and delivering mediocre education under such a system. Check-boxes will never prioritise the kind of passion for learning which brings together parents, pupils, and teachers – the kind of whole-community commitment which schemes like Paint the Town Read deliver so well in Australia.

It’s frustrating that around the world, so much of the ‘heavy lifting’ of encouragement and enthusiasm in education – work which is actively frustrated by the league table/”No Child Left Behind” mentality – falls to committed, creative, subversive teachers – and to those generous members of the community who commit to schemes like Volunteer Reading Help, Reading Partners, or Paint the Town Read. It’s time for the authorities to rethink their priorities and put a love of learning before league tables.

*

Well, that’s almost it for 2010. Next time on Books and Adventures, our review of the year, along with some sneak previews of features, interviews and guest writers for 2011!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Paint the Town Read - Interview with Rhonda Brain, Part 2

You'll find Part One of this Interview here:

Rhonda Brain, founder of Australia’s Paint the Town Read scheme, now takes the PTTR message to other towns across New South Wales and beyond.

“When I share our scheme with communities, I always remind them that we have been going for a long time, so they shouldn’t be daunted by the amount of things we do....Other towns may use as many or as few of our strategies as they like: they’re a springboard.” 

A number of the communities have adopted the idea of a reading mascot, and most run a Community Reading Day, but as Rhonda puts it, “on the whole, committees take on the concept and run with it! The concept is THE biggest "engenderer" of creative and fun ideas, I have ever come across....PTTR committees are always amazed and excited at how the ideas will flow...”

For example - in Toongabbie, New South Wales, the Portico Plaza shopping centre worked with local authorities at Holroyd City Council this year to run storytelling and craft sessions for children, hosted by local reading mascot Poppy the Possum.


'Poppy the Possum' in Holroyd, NSW encourages the community to 'Paint the Town Read'
 


Diane Hacking of Portico Plaza explains why the staff and management were so keen to get behind the scheme:

“We’re a small neighbourhood centre, and the majority of our shoppers are families. We had no hesitation in helping local children to get a good start, giving them a chance to be better educated, and hopefully to secure a good job later in life. Many of them will grow up to be the teenagers, mothers and fathers who we serve here at Portico Plaza.”

The fun-filled events run by PTTR committees are fuelled by grassroots passion, but based in the latest scholarship on language development.

“There’s a plethora of research now on the brain's need for stimulus for language development, from birth right up to age five,” says Rhonda Brain. “But it’s of little use if parents near hear of it....so, our motto is RESEARCH SAYS IT, WE SPREAD IT! In a creative, fun-filled, celebratory way.”

Rhonda sees a profound impact in this apparently light-hearted approach: “When something is celebrated, it is given value. We create a climate of wanting to read...with the whole community owning the project, from the mayor to the schools, businesses, parents, maternity wards, police, and beyond!”

Rhonda is emphatic that such a project serves the whole community, not just infants:

“We’ve seen the huge impact such a project can have on building social capacity and connectiveness - addressing our 3 basic emotional needs: to have a sense of belonging; a sense of worth and a sense of competency; relationships - not to mention the positive impact it could have on the economy...”

In 2010, PTTR continues to spread from town to town and Rhonda is now lobbying the government of New South Wales to adopt it as an official scheme.

 ‘Whether they do or they don’t, it’s happening, spreading like wildfire from town to town’ she says. ‘I would love to hold a book relay across New South Wales…and then Australia. One day we hope to have Australians celebrating literacy at the same level we celebrate sport – wouldn’t THAT be something!’

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Paint the Town Read - Interview with Rhonda Brain, Part 1

Find the latest on Paint the Town REaD at www.paintthetownread.info 
Dr. Matt Finch's new website is at booksadventures.wordpress.com

‘I hope you’re reading to the baby, Mum, ‘cause I don’t want a dumb sister’

When a child in a New South Wales kindergarten met his newborn sister for the first time, he knew just what advice to give his mother.

The young boy wasn’t even in primary school yet, but he had been brought up to value literacy thanks to ‘Paint the Town Read’ (PTTR), an Australian campaign to raise awareness of children’s need for a language-rich environment right from birth.

It seems that no-one does ‘Books and Adventures’ quite like Australians. We’re back down under on the blog this week to talk with Rhonda Brain, a former headteacher from New South Wales who has seen the PTTR scheme, which she devised, take her homeland by storm.

Teaching in Parkes, New South Wales, Rhonda and her team realised that there were a growing number of children coming to kindergarten with delayed language development. Rhonda decided to target every new parent right at source – in the maternity ward!

She continues the story: “I wrote to every school and pre-school in Parkes, asking them to donate an agreed amount to purchase books for every new born, with a message in it from the schools ...and later from the Shire Library.”

Government funding allowed Rhonda to think even bigger. She recruited a team of movers and shakers in childcare and literacy, including teachers, maternity nurses, and the local speech pathologist. With a motto of “We don't want your money but we do want your co-operation!”, the team quickly secured the support of the mayor and other town leaders.

Rhonda explains: “It is wonderful, the town really do have ownership of the scheme, even to the point of being annoyed when TV reports the latest person as coming up with this wonderful idea of reading to your children from a young age.

“We held our launch in August 1996, gave the first baby born after the launch many books and prepared for our first Reading Day, held in 1997. We had many out-of-town guests from educational institutions and from parliament. The mayor held a civic reception for them and our committee and principals. Special education expert Dr Loretta Gircelli spoke at our launch and at our first reading day.”

PTTR activities today fall into three categories: on-going, one-off and annual.

Communities involved in PTTR arrange for books to be given to every child throughout their early years. The first of these on-going gifts is given to every newborn baby by their maternity nurse, complete with a personal message, and is followed by age-appropriate PTTR-designed story booklets, given out at immunization days, antenatal bookings and high school events.

One-off events included the clever appropriation of Y2K media panic to create the Millennium Reading Bug in 2000. This mascot has become increasingly popular, even generating its own fun dance at school socials and PTTR events. (When the Reading Bug laid an egg in 2004, children were encouraged to visit it and read to it just as their parents read to them!).

Along with a human chain of readers stretching more than a kilometre down Parkes Main Street, a 12-hour overnight “readathon”, and other attention-grabbing activities, Rhonda’s team have worked hard to keep literacy in the spotlight across New South Wales. In 2005, a Reading Relay saw a book passed, like the Olympic torch, from town to town across over 60 communities and 5500 kilometres in just two weeks. The message to ‘Paint the Town Read’ travelled by hot air balloon, motorbike, fire engine and even on horseback in a striking celebration of the communities’ dedication to encouraging children’s literacy.

The highlight of the PTTR calendar is the Annual Community Reading Day. Now in its fourteenth year, this event sees schoolteachers rise early to literally ‘paint the town read’, decorating shopfronts and streets throughout the town. Pupils, teachers and local workers all dress up according to a theme, and storytelling events take place in the town’s stores before the local park plays host to a celebratory ceremony that has over 2000 people in attendance. Guest speakers have included sports personalities, writers, government ministers, and even the Governor General of Australia.

Next time on Books and Adventures we’ll follow Rhonda as she takes the message of Paint the Town Read to communities across Australia.

You'll find Part Two of this Interview here:

Friday, 12 November 2010

NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program – Chris Angotti Interview

It’s been hard to miss it this month – in cafés and libraries from Vancouver to Vienna, you’ll have seen them hunched over laptops or notepads. The Internet is resounding with their hopes, dreams…and occasional frustration as they battle on towards a final word count.

Over 250,000 people worldwide are participating in this year’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which sets contestants the challenge of producing their own novel between 1st and 30th of November.

Among those thousands of dedicated souls are 50,000 under-18s who have signed up for NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program, setting their own word count goal for the month. The Program provides a wide range of resources and support for budding novelists and their classroom teachers – available here.

Chris Angotti, who runs the Young Writers Program for NaNoWriMo’s parent organization, joins us today for an interview on Books and Adventures.

What was the aim of setting up the Young Writers Program at NaNoWriMo? Was it hard to get schools on board initially?
The Young Writers Program was originally set up as a way to support teachers who wanted to implement NaNoWriMo in their classrooms. In the beginning, many of them were participants or friends of participants. So it wasn’t hard to get schools onboard; these folks were already aware of the potential of NaNo. Since then, we’ve done some outreach, but most of our expansion has been through word of mouth, with more and more young writers and educators excited by NaNo every year.

What has been the Program's greatest success to date?
I think our greatest success has been how much we’ve evolved. We’ve gone from a few classrooms to thousands. Our materials have gotten better, and we’re seeing the results of the hard work we’ve put in.

In terms of specific successes, I get those when I ask for stories from our participants. My greatest satisfaction is when I hear about kids—sometimes whole classes—who have gone from writing simple sentences to entire, involved novels. All because of the Young Writers Program.

What else does the YWP teach apart from creative writing skills? How does it affect students’ broader outlook?
I’m very proud of what we do for students’ self-esteem. In our surveys, almost 100% of educators agree that the program has made kids look at themselves as more capable and accomplished. They tell us that their students are ready to take on far more in life than just writing.

In addition, the program teaches time and project management skills—life lessons that are well conveyed through this challenge.

Is there a danger of pupils taking away a message of quantity not quality from the Young Writers’ Program? Are there educational benefits to a ‘quality not quantity’ approach?
We’ve always said that what NaNoWriMo helps with is a first draft. We definitely think it’s important that writers edit and revise their work. By the end of November, students are so attached to their novel that they want to do this. It’s no longer the chore it might be during standard grammar lessons. These young authors are proud of their work, and they want it to shine.

There’s a lot of pressure on teachers to fill an already packed school day with all the curriculum activities demanded by education authorities. How much time should they make for NaNoWriMo each day and why?
It’s really up to the individual teacher to determine how NaNo can work with his or her class. Some teachers simply introduce the challenge, and then students work on it individually at home. Others make it a major part of November, with time spent in class for planning, sharing, and editing. I think it depends most on students’ needs, and nobody knows that better than good teachers.

Have there been any memorable ‘Thank Goodness It’s Over’ parties held by the YWP groups?
We hear about people doing all kinds of stuff: prizes—quills, crowns, certificates—for writers; presenting students with finished copies of their novels; even just eating lots of pizza and celebrating. The TGIO party is an important part of the process—to acknowledge what students have completed and to make a special time to celebrate it.

One of my favorite parties is the one the Washington School for the Deaf throws every year. That’s a great inspiration.

What have been your own experiences as a ‘Wrimo’?
This is actually my first November as YWP Director, and my first year doing NaNoWriMo. So far, I’ve been keeping up the best I can with my word count. It’s not as hard as people think! The support I’ve gotten from the office, and from my local region, has been invaluable. I love it, and I’m happy to be forced to write. I know that even if my book is not perfect (or even close to it), I’ll have accomplished something that most others haven’t.

What are your favourite books?
I like most anything by Fitzgerald or Hemingway. They’re my go-to authors. Two more recent books that I really love are Jim the Boy by Tony Earley and Underworld by Don DeLillo. Each is epic and evocative in its own way—one more simple and restrained, the other sprawling. I’m always reading, though, and have too many favorites to list.

You can find out more about NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program at http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/


Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Patricia Wrightson, Part 5: Looking To The Future

You can find the first part of this feature here:


We've made it to the fifth and final part of our discussion of Patricia Wrightson, and it's time to look towards the future.

The challenges of Wrightson’s legacy, the power of her storytelling, and the undeniable literary quality of her writing, make it an absolute shame that her books are so hard to get hold of today.

I was lucky that Judith Ridge’s notice of Patricia Wrightson’s death led me to pick up old paperback editions online, and lucky once more that Claire Massey of the Fairy Tale Cupboard led me to Katherine Langrish’s blog, Seven Miles of Steel Thistles.

A post on Seven Miles, ‘Cultural Appropriation and The White Saviour’, addressing Katherine’s own use of Native American myth in her fantasy writing, brings us forward to the 21st century. It pointed me towards the Australian government’s protocols on using Aboriginal culture in literature – a valuable initiative which nonetheless raises further interesting questions about how legal and governmental bodies regulate the imagination!

But ultimately, as Katherine points out: ‘While I find it terribly sad that Wrightson’s books were shunned, I can see also that when so much has been stolen, people are going to feel strongly about ownership of their own stories. Stories are the signature of a culture. And sometimes stories are all you have left.’

I recognise the limits of what we’ve done here at Books and Adventures this month. All I can hope is that, for readers as new to Wrightson as me, these few instalments on the blog have gone beyond the obituaries and given a little more attention to the issues, and existing discussions, surrounding Wrightson’s work.

Let's give the last word to Mark Macleod, who talked to me about the prospects of a reissue for Wrightson’s works:

‘A very few publishers have shown that they are willing to republish Australian classics, but the problem is that the 'classic' presentation they choose has almost no appeal to young readers today, and the sales that result create a self-fulfilling prophecy about the likely level of interest in such writers. Maybe some enthusiast will find ways of making them work in the digital space, by focusing on readers who are not the traditional supporters of literary fiction.’

Next time on Books and Adventures: an interview with Chris Angotti, Director of the Young Writers' Program at NaNoWrimo...

Monday, 8 November 2010

Patricia Wrightson, Part 4: Shadows of Time



Patricia Wrightson’s Shadows of Time (1994) is a strange and powerful novel. It recounts the journey of an Aboriginal boy and English colonist girl who, by the gift of spirits, ‘travel in a timeless dimension’ – drifting without ageing or changing through Australian history. En route they are chased as devils, encounter various supernatural creatures and even come across a mysterious stone figure who may be the protagonist of the earlier Wirrun books. Although Wrightson had to some extent ‘let go’ of indigenous subject matter by this period, Shadows unmistakeably revisits some of the themes of her earlier novels.

Mark Macleod links Shadows to the Australian bicentenary of 1988. ‘That itself was a problematic anniversary. Indigenous Australians had already renamed Australia Day (26 January, the day when Captain Phillip took possession of the country in the name of the English king) 'Survival Day'. And as the Bicentenary approached non-Indigenous Australians were increasingly asking 'What is there to celebrate?'

The timeless quality of the children’s journey in Shadows, ‘given the privileges of water – to flow wherever is natural’, allows for a meditation on Australian history and, thereby, on Wrightson’s concept of culture.

As Mark Macleod explained in our recent interview:

‘In Shadows of Time, Wrightson invents a spirit character that seems very like those she borrowed from Indigenous culture in earlier works, but is in fact her own. For a writer who speaks repeatedly of borrowing only the equivalent of European 'fairies' and being careful not to touch the spirits of creation mythology, and who speaks of her terror of misrepresenting the spirits she does borrow, this is almost a defiant move, coming as it does after she has acknowledged that time has overtaken her whole project. The novel is therefore a coda to her major work, reasserting the mutability of cultures and her right as an artist to let her imagination flow where it will. Her readers and Wrightson herself might have changed their views over time - but not entirely.’

As time continues to flow, and Wrightson becomes a posthumous figure to be considered primarily through her legacy, there are challenges ahead for those who wish to preserve her work and circulate it for a new generation.

Mark Macleod comments, ‘I think we are still vaguely embarrassed or guilty about the idea that she might have been just another one in a long line of exploiters of Indigenous people.’

But it is precisely the encounter with Wrightson’s texts which dispels that idea, while at the same time forcing us to consider the complex and uncomfortable connections between storytelling and the legacy of colonialism.

A fantasy writer ‘cannot restore the original context for mythic stories, but she can create new contexts – as living cultures themselves do constantly. The fantasist can use all the resources available to the contemporary novelist to fill gaps within and around the story, and at the same time can alert the reader to some of what was lost.' - Brian Attebery
Brian Attebery makes a distinction between a fantasy writer like Wrightson and any self-appointed white spokesperson for Aboriginal people: ‘Her job, as a writer, is to work out in fictional form her own relationship with Australia’s troubled history and haunted landscape. Her strategy has been to bring in Wirrun and other characters to share the task, going where she cannot go. These fictional collaborators remind readers that we need to invite other collaborators, fictional and real, to help us extend the quest for understanding beyond the boundaries of the text itself.’

Attebery’s comments raise so many questions worthy of debate. That fantasy writer ‘alerting the reader to some of what was lost’ sounds like those white 1930s poets busy writing on behalf of the Aboriginal culture they perceived to be dying, which leads us back to asking: Who set Wrightson the task of ‘working out in fictional form her own relationship with Australia’s troubled history and haunted landscape’? And what do we make of the notion of a ‘fictional collaborator’?

These are questions to which there’s no final answer, but they are thrown up by the challenge of Patricia Wrightson’s legacy today – which forms the basis of our final instalment, next time on Books and Adventures.

You can go to the fifth and final part of this feature by clicking here.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Patricia Wrightson, Part 3: Outsiders and Indigenization



Patricia Wrightson was born in 1921 and grew up between the two World Wars of the 20th century. Publisher Mark Macleod points to her childhood in the 1930s as setting the context for her relationship to indigenous culture. The interwar years saw Australia disillusioned by the sacrifices of the First World War and turning away from ‘Old Europe’ towards the cultures of its own continent: ‘This was the Australia that Patricia Wrightson grew up in: with some sense of loss of its connection with Europe, and some sense of impending loss of its Indigenous culture and the need to 'save' it.

‘The devastating loss of young Australian lives in a war that had no geographical imperative for us, but was wholly motivated by the political connection with the UK, and the resulting destruction of European society on a massive scale produced a turning-away from Europe by many Australian artists. It seemed to many that European culture was moribund … So writers and visual artists particularly began to look to Indigenous Australian sources of energy for the imagination … The artists - having been brought up with the general belief that Indigenous Australian culture was dying - thought they were preserving it.’

John Murray locates Wrightson’s work within a tradition of literary ‘indigenization’ – fiction that seeks to bring European-descended inhabitants of countries like Australia ‘into imaginative contact with the lands in which most of them were born but in which, by comparison with their indigenous peoples, they are aliens.’ To Murray, Wirrun himself becomes an explicitly indigenizing figure, unifying Australia: by the final book of the trilogy, he has taken on heroic responsibilities to the entire spiritual and material ecology of the continent, from spirits to the white urban population and the animal kingdom besides.

Mark Macleod told me: ‘It is possible to read Patricia Wrightson’s emphasis on 'folk' as a romantic reverence for simplicity or innocence. This comes dangerously close to the racist construction of indigenous cultures generally as childlike … We understand now that we can kill the thing we love, but it is too easy to approach this difficult and complex issue ahistorically and condemn it out of hand.’

An alternative, Mark suggests, is to look at the overlapping experiences of outsiderness between indigenous Australians and other groups. He points to the poet Les Murray's early interest in Indigenous subject matter in the 1960s and 70s: ‘With his Scots heritage and his upbringing in rural Australia, he sees a natural empathy between the marginalising of Celtic Australians, non-Anglo migrants and Indigenous Australians. They have all been colonised by the English.’

Brian Attebery, writing on Wirrun in 2005, chimes with this perspective when he discusses George, a white ‘Inlander’ who helps Wirrun at the climax of the first book by distracting other white Australians who threaten to interfere with our hero’s plans. George, a farmer of harsh and isolated country, is an outsider in the mainstream society of white Australian ‘Happy Folk’, figures who feature only in the margins of the Wirrun books.

Attebery suggests that the Australian continent is the real protagonist of The Song of Wirrun, and all the other characters are defined by their relationship to the land – a sliding scale from the ignorant, superficial Happy Folk with their air conditioning and service stations, graduating through the Inlanders to the Aboriginal People, heroes like Wirrun, and finally the spirits whose actions trigger Wirrun’s quest.

Mark Macleod writes, ‘The reality is that there are Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and they need to find ways to coexist. Their histories and mythologies are different; their values often seem diametrically opposed. [Wrightson’s] project to try and create a pan-Australian imagery therefore rests finally on the idea that all they really have in common is the land.’


‘There is a sense of loss by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. But what they all have in common is the land. Wrightson says repeatedly throughout her career that her books must not be read as 'good vs. evil' stories. The real issue is ecology: the rightful place of all beings.’ - Mark Macleod
Seen in this light, George the Inlander is an outsider, too – like Les Murray’s Celts. Although he’s not directly allied with Wirrun on his quest, he obliquely helps by keeping other white Australians away. He does this, tellingly, by taking on a number of roles which satirise relations between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, pretending to be first an anthropologist, then the producer of a hippyish Aboriginal ‘happening’, and finally a snake collector who has hired Wirrun and company to collect poisonous reptiles.

Mark Macleod suggests that for Wrightson, the key figure was always that of the outsider, be that the artist in Australian society, or the child in the adult world. In their different ways, George and Wirrun, and Wrightson herself, are all outsider figures.

Wirrun was Wrightson’s first indigenous main character. As Macleod points out, ‘He is a city boy, who travels to the central Australian desert and reconnects with the Dreaming. He is marginalised in his own culture.’ Brian Attebery takes this further by pointing to the Stolen Generation of Aboriginal children who were taken from their families and raised in homes or adopted by white families. The white-educated Wirrun is likely either a member of the Stolen Generation, or a child of that generation – although this is not confirmed explicitly by Wrightson’s text.

Mark continues: ‘By the mid-70s, when the Wirrun books started to appear, Indigenous Australian voices were becoming a powerful political and cultural force … So Wrightson's desire to alert non-Indigenous Australians to the need for a new vision was becoming increasingly irrelevant … She did realise it, and from the mid-80s she lets go of the Indigenous subject matter for which she had become known around the world.’

This idea of letting go of indigenous subject matter from the mid-80s is the line that is taken in Patricia Wrightson’s UK obituaries…but one of her most interesting and challenging books is the unusual, dreamlike Shadows of Time. This novel, published in the wake of Australia’s bicentenary, seemed almost to revisit the world of Wirrun, with both an indigenous main character and seemingly indigenous spirit characters.

We’ll be looking at Shadows next time on Books and Adventures. To go to part four of this feature, click here.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Patricia Wrightson, Part 2 - The Representation of Aboriginality



Clare Bradford’s 2001 Reading Race: Aboriginality in Australian Children’s Literature was one of the key academic texts to question Patricia Wrightson’s use of Aboriginal myth.

Bradford’s study was a clear-headed critique of Aussie writing for children, with lasting value. Reading it now prompts us to consider, for example, that this year’s Australian movie Tomorrow, When the War Began, adapted from the 1980s novels by John Marsden, is also implicated in the period of colonialism by harking back to the ‘frontier spirit’ in a tale of white teens fighting back against Asian invaders.

For Bradford the key question was how children’s texts try to position their readers with regard to aboriginality. From 1950s books, where Aboriginal Australians ‘appear, if at all, as a melancholy presence, doomed to extinction’, to more recent appropriations of Aboriginal myth, she diagnoses a tendency to represent Aboriginal people as an undifferentiated ‘Other’ to the white Australian readership.

Bradford questions the image of Wrightson as an advocate or defender of Aboriginality. She writes: ‘To look closely at the discourses which inform these texts is to recognise how the warm glow of Aboriginality conceals its appropriating and controlling strategies.’

In Wrightson’s later Shadows of Time, Bradford suggests, the novel’s Australian spirits are merely mapped on to Western notions of hobgoblins, mermaids and dragons.

Brian Attebery and Mark Macleod have both emphasised that Wrightson was always careful to use figures from Aboriginal superstition and myth rather than sacred religious beliefs such as creation myths, trying to focus, as Attebery writes, on fantastic creatures ‘without explicitly invoking religious ideas.’

This was an attempt to show respect by populating her fantasies with the creatures of folk tale rather than figures of religious significance, but Clare Bradford questions the legitimacy of such a sliding scale, where all supernatural tales are assigned a value – sacred or trivial – according to the writer’s judgment: ‘Cinderella and ‘How The Kangaroo Got Its Hop’ jostling in the lowest level, Adam and Eve at the top with the Rainbow Serpent … Wrightson’s use of the term ‘superstitious’ degrades the narratives that she claims for her own purposes.’

Against this, we can read Attebery: ‘No amount of care can make [Wrightson] into a tribal elder, nor can her use of Aboriginal folklore ever be fully ‘authentic’. However, she can become... a participant in the reshaping of tradition for a modern world in which authenticity is an inaccessible ideal.’

So why was Wrightson looking to participate in these traditions at all? Next time we’ll go back to the 1930s, the time of her childhood, to look at the impulse by some white Australian artists to ‘save’ a culture they saw as threatened with extinction.

For part three of this feature, click here.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Patricia Wrightson, Part 1: The Song of Wirrun and Beyond

Books and Adventures starts an in-depth look at the work of the late Patricia Wrightson (1921-2010) this week.

I read her trilogy The Song of Wirrun for the first time this year, immediately after hearing news of her death in March. It’s an absorbing, sophisticated fantasy quest rooted in Aboriginal mythology.

A few comments from my earlier blog post are here. I wrote it based on the books I happened to be reading at the time, Wirrun and John Gordon’s The Giant Under the Snow, which draws on British legends for its spooky, dark adventure. Now, looking back, my comments on ‘the power of the land’ seem rather naïve in the face of long and deep-rooted debates about the place of Aboriginal culture in Australian children’s writing.

I was keen to move beyond the snapshot of Wrightson’s work offered by the obituaries and, from my limited Pommie perspective, try to understand the issues raised by her use of indigenous Australian myth. In fact, I was compelled: these books were just so gripping for me as a reader, I needed to know why they were out of print and so controversial. Over the next few posts on the blog I hope to give an outline of the critical debates on Wrightson for readers as new to her novels as I was.

Mark Macleod, Patricia Wrightson’s friend and publisher at Random House, was kind enough to join me for an e-mail discussion of her work and legacy. I started by asking him about the importance she held for Australian children’s literature in the postwar period, as both a writer and as the editor of Australia’s School Magazine.

He explained how Wrightson acted as ‘an enabler, whose passionate commitment to making stories with an Indigenous theme part of the literary mainstream helped prepare readers for the many Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists who followed. The cross-cultural partnership of Dick Roughsey and Percy Trezise, who changed Australian picture books in the 1970s, for example, found an audience already used to thinking of Indigenous subject matter for children as exciting, dramatic and edgy. That is at least partly due to the high profile success of Wrightson as a 'real author' in the education market before them.’

Yet somehow Wrightson has become a writer less read than revered: a name to conjure with, but one whose books are difficult to obtain.

‘It was significant that news of her death was carried in Midwest newspapers and regional networks in the United States, but barely rated a mention in Australia,’ Mark Macleod suggests. ‘I think we are still vaguely embarrassed or guilty about the idea that she might have been just another one in a long line of exploiters of Indigenous people - but in many cases that view is not the result of close acquaintance with the texts themselves.’

So why are these fantasy adventures by a heavyweight of children’s literature so hard to get hold of these days? And what is there to say about her use of Aboriginal myths and beliefs in those fantasies?

Over the next few blog posts, I want to look a bit deeper at Patricia Wrightson’s work and legacy. As critic Brian Attebery points out in a 2005 article, ‘the borrowing of one culture’s traditions by another is a serious and risky business’, with a danger that privileged white societies ‘acquire whatever is of value in indigenous culture while consigning the bearers of that culture to invisibility or extinction.’

So how might we read Patricia Wrightson’s relationship to the Aboriginal myths in her writing - appropriation, advocacy or something else entirely?

We'll be looking at this question next time on the blog. For part two of this feature, click here.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Birmingham Half Marathon


Yesterday saw the EDF Energy Half Marathon take place in Birmingham. I was pleased to get round in 1:48 - just shy of my target time.

Thankfully donations for VRH didn't fall short and I'm pleased to say that we've raised enough to fund the Helper based at Herne Bay Infant School for 2010-11.

A few odds and ends are still coming in from generous folk who weren't able to donate online - and there's still time to click on the widget above and give to this outstanding literacy charity. Every penny goes towards helping school pupils become literate for life.

This week on Books and Adventures we'll be starting the long-awaited series on the late Australian writer Patricia Wrightson, and following that up with news from Paint the Town Read, an exciting literacy scheme that runs down under.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Roland Pietsch on The Real Jim Hawkins


Today on Books and Adventures we’re joined by Roland Pietsch, a historian whose chequered past includes running a music venue, and work on TV’s Who Do You Think You Are?, alongside university and outreach work in East London.

Roland’s book The Real Jim Hawkins, released this month, looks at the real-life counterparts of the hero of Treasure Island – boys as young as thirteen who enlisted in the Navy when Britannia ruled the waves. For fans of Robert Louis Stevenson’s great adventure story, it’s an opportunity to see the truth beyond the swashbuckling adventure.

‘Of course I was a Treasure Island fan as a kid, even though I grew up in the very non-maritime city of West Berlin,’ Roland told me.


Roland Pietsch

Treasure Island had been adapted as a West German television series. Then my auntie from the other side of the Wall gave me the actual book, and an East German record, as Christmas presents. Jim Hawkins’ treasure hunt not only easily crossed national borders, but even the hardened ideological borders in my childhood.’

As an adult researching his PhD, Roland discovered the truth behind Stevenson’s novel in the archives of the London Marine Society, an eighteenth-century charity that recruited thousands of impoverished boys for service at sea.

Roland found that the real-life boy sailors had a surprising amount in common with Stevenson’s Jim Hawkins: ‘Both were placed in such dangerous and adventurous situations, that they had to stop being boys and prove themselves in the adult world.’

One of the reasons for recruiting sailors so young was to make them immune to the horrors of war. The Navy fostered a culture of fearlessness and nonchalance in the face of danger. It was also necessary to impose discipline on unruly boys brought on board.

Roland compares this to ‘an eighteenth-century ASBO’, but then points out that Stevenson’s Jim Hawkins is no clean-cut hero himself: he takes the stolen treasure at the end of the novel, without considering that his mates have no more right to it than Long John Silver and company: ‘Doesn’t this hint that even the fictional Jim Hawkins was a bit of a cheeky character?’
Sadly the fictional Jim’s prospects were far happier than those of real 18th-century boy sailors.

In such dangerous roles as ‘powder monkey’, boys were expected to fetch gun powder from below decks to charge the ship’s guns, dodging shot and wooden splinters in the heat of battle.

‘Many lost their lives at sea,’ says Roland, ‘or struggled to come to terms with witnessing so much bloodshed at such a young age. Some battle scars went deeper than a wooden leg.’ Alcoholism and internment in the infamous madhouse at Bedlam were often the consequence of a seafaring youth.

One of the more incredible real-life stories discussed in Roland’s book is that of Mary Lacy. Disguised as a boy, this teenaged girl managed to serve on board a cramped Navy vessel. Ships of the time like HMS Victory comprised 850 men in a small wooden world, 50 metres long, 15 metres wide and 6 metres deep, a challenging place in which to conceal one's true gender.

'Then again,' Roland points out, 'washing opportunities were limited, so nobody ever detected Mary. The closest they came was when she challenged one of the other ship’s boys, who was a bit of a bully-boy, to a fight - she was expected to take her shirt off for the boxing match!’
Roland’s book offers a fascinating and often surprising glimpse of the truth behind the vision of seafaring life found in novels and movies. It’s available here, and you can find Roland’s article on The Real Jim Hawkins for Sabotage Times here. For more information, visit Roland's website, http://www.rolandpietsch.com/

Next time on Books and Adventures – pausing only to catch breath after the Birmingham Half Marathon – we’ll be beginning our in-depth look at the writing, and legacy, of Australia’s Patricia Wrightson.

Friday, 15 October 2010

help2read - Volunteer Literacy Support in South Africa

Books and Adventures continues our world tour of literacy support this week, heading to South Africa to visit the literacy NGO help2read.

help2read founder Alex Moss started visiting South Africa shortly after the introduction of democracy to the country in 1994. A visit to a township with a leading member of the struggle against apartheid inspired Alex to help with the construction of a new society in South Africa.

‘I was struck by the shocking levels of illiteracy arising out of the lack of adequate education during the apartheid years,’ Alex explains. ‘I was convinced that the disadvantaged majority would only ever be able to reach their full potential if they could fully enjoy the benefits of education, benefits which require the prerequisite of literacy.’


Working as a volunteer with Volunteer Reading Help in the UK showed Alex a model of literacy support which could be taken to South Africa at a comparatively low cost, but it took time for the project to get off the ground.


Early in 2005, Alex met Dee Cawcutt, the Principal of Muizenberg Junior School, just outside Cape Town. Dee offered to put her school forward as the first for what would become the help2read programme. The children, aged 5-12, are selected by class teachers as being those, other than children with special needs, perceived as most in need of assistance. They read and play literacy games with their volunteer helper, working in the school library or a quiet place outside the classroom, supported by help2read’s resource boxes full of interesting and beautiful books.

Alex takes up the story:


‘In the summer of 2005 I persuaded my daughter to come back from Washington DC, to be trained at VRH and to go to Cape Town to set up the programme. She arrived in Cape Town in early November 2005 and quickly set about recruiting volunteers wherever she could. On 1 February 2006, six trained volunteers started at Muizenberg Junior School.’


Within weeks the school was reporting unprecedented change in the pupils on the programme, ‘from being completely shut down to becoming happily involved in school life and the excitement of learning.’


The early volunteers for help2read were, like those of VRH in the UK, often middle-class people eager to share the benefits of their education and make a contribution to society. In South Africa, this group continues to provide a significant minority of volunteers – but a great change has come about from 2006, when help2read began recruiting from among the parents of a township school.


This proved very successful and quickly became the model for most help2read volunteer recruitment. Alex explains: ‘The volunteers are the literate parents of children at the same school as the children they are helping and are able to achieve equally impressive results with the children as those we gained at Muizenberg. Volunteers also benefit from the empowerment that they experience in becoming a respected member of the school community and with the success which they achieve with the children they are helping.’


help2read has already helped over 5000 South African primary school children to become literate. ‘In every single case,’ says Alex, ‘these children would have been early drop outs from the education system without the help our volunteers have given them. Now each one of them has the opportunity to go all the way through the system, to university and beyond.’


help2read’s sights for the future are also set high. Having adapted the VRH model, developed in a wealthy Western country, to a South African setting, the help2read team are planning to extend their programme to all African countries where English is the medium for education.


‘We hope to open our first programme outside South Africa by 2012,’ says Alex. ‘In the longer term, we believe that the help2read concept can be replicated in other languages and can be a major part of the solution to the literacy problem that exists in all developing countries.’


To find out more and get involved, visit http://help2read.org/

Monday, 11 October 2010

Running for Reading at Herne Bay Infant School

Busy times at Books and Adventures – but we still need your help to raise just £510 for a Reading Helper at Herne Bay Infant School.


Tomorrow I’m speaking at a VRH event in Kent, the county where I first discovered this amazing charity – and I’ll be dropping in to the brilliant school whose pupils need your help.


Our fundraising target is tantalisingly close – as is the race; my aching legs will find the end of all this training on 24th October a welcome relief – so every penny counts.


Click on the widget below or go to justgiving.com/booksadventures...


Friday, 1 October 2010

Books Around the World with Outside In - Children's Book Week Event

Just a quick reminder that next week is UK National Children’s Book Week.

This year’s theme is ‘Books Around the World’, and to kick things off, the team at Outside In are holding an event at the Free Word Centre, Farringdon, on Monday 4th October at 5pm.

Alexandra and Ed from Outside In will be talking about the ‘Reading Around the World’ programme which has successfully encouraged UK children to read more books in translation.

You can find my May 2010 interview with Ed here and more on Children’s Book Week at the Outside In website, here.

Have a great weekend, all.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Reach Out and Read at New York Presbyterian Columbia University Medical Centre

Staying with our transatlantic theme after our feature on San Francisco’s Reading Partners, this week finds Books and Adventures in New York to find out more about the Reach Out and Read (ROR) programme at the New York Presbyterian Columbia University Medical Centre.

ROR is a national literacy and healthcare programme which operates across the USA. Under the scheme, volunteers read stories to children in clinic waiting rooms, paediatricians advise carers on the importance of reading aloud, and children visiting their doctor from the ages of six months to five years receive a new book to take home at every check-up.

Paediatricians and educators working together founded the programme in Boston in 1989; in 1997, Reach Out and Read came to New York Presbyterian Columbia Medical Centre, serving families in largely Spanish-speaking areas of Northern Manhattan.

Over 13 years the programme has grown from a single site in Washington Heights to cover five clinics, serving more than 10,000 children and distributing nearly 20,000 books per year.

Volunteers commit at least six months a year to engaging children in literacy activities and demonstrating to carers that sharing books with a child helps them to bond and communicate with adults. Volunteers’ interactions in the waiting room can inspire parents and carers to support their children’s literacy at home.

Paediatricians and hospital administrators have shown equal dedication to the programme, reflecting their belief that exposing young children to high quality, age-appropriate literature will not only encourage a passion for books, but also have a positive impact on growth and development.

‘Paediatricians do not merely give books to their patients as lollypops at the end of a well-child visit,’ says Emelin Martinez, Literacy Co-ordinator at New York Presbyterian. ‘They provide parents with advice and strategies they can use to enhance their child’s social, cognitive and motor skills development in using books that are developmentally appropriate.’

ROR as a programme takes a long-term view of literacy support: as part of care visits throughout early childhood, doctors see the same children two to four times a year.

‘Advice from each encounter builds on the last encounter and at the end of the five years, each child has a library of 12-14 high-quality, culturally, developmentally and linguistically appropriate books,’ explains Dr. Mary McCord, medical director of the programme. Many volunteers establish a bond with patients who attend multiple well-child visits. As the average wait in a clinic runs to two hours, volunteers have plenty of time to engage children with pleasurable and constructive reading sessions on each visit!

What really marks ROR out from other literacy programmes we’ve discussed on Books and Adventures is its pre-emptive approach. Where many schemes operate with a remedial focus, ROR aims to prevent literacy problems before they start. There is a focus on delivering anticipatory guidance to the carers of young children, promoting literacy and healthy development from as young as six months.

Emelin Martinez explains how this attention to literacy benefits a community’s health and well-being: ‘From a population perspective, poverty is the single most important determinant of health. Education has proven to be the only strategy to successfully move people out of poverty. Promoting literacy is one of the most important tasks that a paediatrician has with their patients early in life, to ensure that children can become healthy and successful adults.’

The ROR team at Presbyterian are proud of the positive impact their programme has had on families in Northern Manhattan. Caregivers have reported that watching their children’s interaction with volunteers has inspired them to implement the strategies seen in the clinic when they get home.

Emelin Martinez says, ‘On many occasions, I’ve witnessed parents reading to their children in the waiting rooms of our clinics, which demonstrates that parents’ behaviour regarding early literacy is changing. For some families, ROR books are the first books they have in the home. For others, parental illiteracy emerges as a problem when giving out these books and encourages caregivers to attend literacy programmes themselves. For paediatricians, it is touching to see how children ask for the books as soon as they come in, changing a long standing tradition of having stickers or candy be the reward for a medical visit.’

Huge thanks to Emelin Martinez and Dr. Mary McCord for joining Books and Adventures to discuss a programme which reflects such a positive and progressive approach to literacy and well-being. You can find out more at http://www.columbia.edu/itc/hs/medical/residency/peds/new_compeds_site/programs_ror.html

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Birmingham Half Marathon / Volunteer Reading Help Fundraising Update

As regular readers will know, I’m running the Birmingham Half Marathon on 24th October to raise funds for Volunteer Reading Help, after I found out that they need just £510 to fund their helper for 2010-11 at Herne Bay Infant School in Kent.

Well, I'm glad to say we're now more than three quarters of the way there, thanks to some generous donations.

In particular I'd like to thank staff and customers of the Anne Tudor fashion shop in Stratford-upon-Avon, who worked hard to boost my coffers prior to the run!

Just a few hundred pounds will pay for a year’s worth of one-to-one work with the children who most need support with their reading skills, so please click on the justgiving widget at the bottom of this post or head straight to justgiving.com/booksadventures to help out this marvellous charity.




Thursday, 16 September 2010

Reading Partners - One to One Literacy Support in California and Washington D.C.

This week Books and Adventures crosses the Atlantic to feature Reading Partners.

This US non-profit literacy organisation, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, helps children to become lifelong readers by developing communities’ ability to provide individual literacy support.

I was particularly excited to discover the scheme as there are many parallels between Reading Partners and the UK literacy charity Volunteer Reading Help, on which you can find more here.

Reading Partners was founded in 1999. A retired school nurse, Mary Wright Shaw, was working in a neighbourhood of Palo Alto, California, when she discovered that many local children were unable to read the books provided in her clinic’s waiting room. Together with two friends, she committed to do something about this – and what was then the ‘YES Reading’ programme was born.

Now known as Reading Partners, the organisation has expanded throughout California and Washington D.C., serving over 1700 pupils and growing from a single trailer outside of an elementary school to 37 school sites.

Volunteers work on school campuses in 45-minute one-to-one sessions with children who need extra help to get their reading up to grade level. Many pupils, coming from homes where English is not the first language, may have stronger speaking skills, but still require support with reading and writing. Reading Partners, whose volunteers range all the way from high-schoolers through to retirees, records an 88% success rate in helping students accelerate their progress in reading.

Development Manager Allison W. Cohen joins Books and Adventures to tell us more.

‘Our model is scalable, high impact, and high quality,’ she explains. ‘In the past five years Reading Partners has grown by over 600% and maintained consistent results for students in the program.’

The Reading Partners scheme has its own curriculum, designed to California Department of Education standards in collaboration with experts from the Stanford School of Education. The organisation uses Houghton Mifflin’s RIGBY PM to assess student progress, alongside state standardized tests.

This commitment to providing measurable results makes Reading Partners an attractive option for charitable donors, as Allison makes clear: ‘Reading Partners gives donors measurable, tangible results that they can point to. It is easy to see how your money is being used and the value of that donation.’

Reading Partners has responded to the challenges of the economic climate by partnering with the federal AmeriCorps programme. As the charity becomes leaner and more efficient, plans for the future are optimistic: ‘We hope to serve at least 100 schools in the next three years and tackle the childhood literacy crisis on a national scale.’

You can find out more about Reading Partners, and read their report ’10 Stories for 10 Years’, here.