Thursday, 29 April 2010

IBBY, Inkpen and the Secret of Romford

Yesterday I attended the annual meeting of the UK branch of IBBY, the International Board of Books for Young People. IBBY works around the world to promote international understanding through children’s literature and ensure that children everywhere have access to good books. You can find out more about them here.

The venue was on the 16th floor of the Hachette offices looking out over London. 
The view was terrific. 
The biscuits were glorious. 
But best of all was their guest speaker: Mick Inkpen, the man behind Kipper, Threadbear and many other brilliant books for children.

Mick’s writing has a special place in my heart because one of his books, Anything Cuddly Will Do, was a breakthrough for me in my work with Volunteer Reading Help. It was the first book to capture the interest of one of the boys I worked with. (The second was Where’s Wally, whose creator Martin Handford apparently used to live down the road from Mick in Romford. There must be something good in the water!).

Mick spoke in support of that time of play and discovery that happens before you’re old enough to go to school and get caught in the world of qualifications and check-boxes.

He reminded us that when you’re four years old, ‘Life can stream at you as it is, and you can run at it headlong.’ Mick explained how everything he does on the page connects to this – from uncluttered illustrations which maximise drama, to stories which empower their readers even as they point out the limits of adult authority.

Mick also brought some of his fab illustrations to share and it took all my willpower not to try and sneak one out of the building! His passion for storytelling and injunction to write from the heart came at just the right time to send me back to some of my current projects with a fresh perspective.

Mick’s presentation was based on a masterclass he had previously run in Edinburgh; it should be published in some form soon and I’ll post a link when it’s out. In the meantime, you can find out more about Mick here.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Shakespeare Half-Marathon

Phew! I managed the Shakespeare Half-Marathon in 1:59, better than I expected. (This is right before the end: you can just see a carrier-bag-wielding well-wisher pursuing me on the left-hand side!).

There wasn't anything on TV in the afternoon, so I ended up on the sofa with my laptop, writing.* Productive or what?

More news later in the week....M

*Okay, let's not be too pious. I may have watched a DVD of WALL-E!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

It could be you...

I’ve just found out that my work with Children in Care will be mentioned in Volunteer Reading Help’s report to the Big Lottery Fund. This was the fund which allowed VRH to expand their work with Children in Care – and brought me into literacy work and, ultimately, schoolteaching!

You can find out more about VRH here and I’ve written on my experiences with them on this very blog, here.

Still to come: girl pirates, alternative fashion for kids, and...Stig of the Dump.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Stories from the Web

Before we return to our normal service of brilliant books and unusual adventures, it’s time for another interview…

Easter sees the relaunch of Stories from the Web, an exciting website for young readers and writers where you can explore the world of books for yourself. You can find them at and they have a blog at

If your local library isn’t using SFTW, ask them to sign up today!

Barry Griffiths and Debbie Mynott from SFTW were kind enough to answer a few questions:

What is Stories from the Web?
Stories from the Web is an exciting, interactive reader development website combining conventional literature promotion with computer-based activities to engage children and young people in creative reading, writing and drawing activities. There are three areas to the site; the 0 - 7 area is an introduction to picture book extracts, storytellers, interactive books and games, the 7 - 11 area encourages reading through a myriad of activities linked directly to books whilst the older 11 - 14 age group can learn more about writing through interviews and tips from authors, can get their work 'published' online and can feedback on each other's work. There are also many session plans and downloadables in a special Staff Area.

Who can submit work to your site?
You need to be a member of Stories from the Web to use the site. Many Library Authorities are members, this means that all the children in a subscribing area can use the site, both in the library and at home. The staff in the libraries may use the session plans, the downloads and all the promotional materials. Every member will be able to send in work to their galleries. Everything sent in is moderated by experienced staff before going live on the site.

How did the project begin?
Stories from the Web began as a research project back in 1997 with three partners; Birmingham, Bristol and Leeds Library Services. The idea was to find a way of using new technology in libraries in a creative and educational way. Originally the site was used through Stories from the Web clubs and only had an area for 7 - 11's. The site soon developed with a 0-7 area and later an 11-14 area. All these areas have gone through many redesigns, the latest incarnations having been launched this year (2010). As the idea of the site developed, Stories from the Web has become not only an enjoyable and educational site for children, young people and their families but is an essential resource for librarians.

What does the future hold for Stories from the Web?
The site has gone from strength to strength over the 13 years since its concept. This year we decided to become a member only site and only allow access to subscribing authorities. We have undertaken a major redesign and have moved to a faster and more efficient server to cope with the amount of users. We will soon be launching a subscription for children & their families and later this year a school subscription. There are many ideas in the pipeline - more storyteller videos, a nursery rhyme section for early years, featured books and authors for older readers, bigger, better competitions, blogs, podcasts, more sessions ideas and downloads, etc, etc. We are always adding ideas to keep the site fresh and interactive.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Escape from New York!

I'm back from New York. There are stories and adventures to share, but they'll wait until after the Easter weekend. (A four-day festival of chocolate and Doctor Who, as far as I'm concerned).

Coming soon: the real girl pirates, children's clothing designers, audio recordings and Stig of the Dump!

Happy Easter...Matt