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Loving my library

22 Mar

I’m reading a book that is holding me by the shoulders and staring hard in my face. It Will Not Let Me Go. And I love it when a book does this to me.

The book is The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout. Not a children’s book, so perhaps a little out of place on this blog, but it has led to a bit of a revelation and I’m feeling sharey. 

I was in the library for my daughter. We had a big pile of books for her and I happened across The Burgess Boys in the Quick Picks section while we were hanging out in the queue. (Those pesky librarians and their chocolates-at-the-checkout hard sell!) Seeing it there, beckoning to me, reminded me of how much I’d loved Strout’s book Olive Kitteridge and the tv adaptation. So I grabbed it. And I’m so glad I did because it has started off an adventure. Because I am suddenly remembering how awesome libraries are for adults. I’ve always been a fan for small folk but I am fickle and tend to forget how much they have to offer for me. 

I am immensely lucky; reading books is basically my (sadly, as yet unpaid – but you know… one day) job and to do that job I get sent some books for free. And I’m lucky that I have a good local independent book shop and can afford to buy a book that I am desperate to read. But I am also painfully aware that it hasn’t always been this way and certainly isn’t this way for many people. I have a collection of yellowing, creased and oh so loved paperbacks that I bought, one a month, for 50p – a pound at a push, if I wanted it so much I was willing to forgo my payday chocolate bar – from my local charity shop. Anything above that was from the library. The library has always been there for me. When I was a child trying to understand who I was and where I could fit; when I was living in an unfamiliar bedsit and the few paperbacks on the shelf helped me remember and hold on to the me I had discovered; when I lived above a band who liked to rehearse ‘full-amp’ and I needed a place to study; and when I was feeling tired and isolated as a new mum looking for a community. The library gave me identity, refuge, community, friendship. Books were, at those points in my life, both a luxury and a necessity. But now that I am happy, secure and able to buy books as I want to read them, I forget to use the library and I miss out on chance encounters like The Burgess Boys. Just because I don’t need the library doesn’t mean I don’t need the library, if you get my meaning. 

But (cue dramatic music) just as I’m falling back in love with my library, along come The Cuts, knocking at the door. My lovely local library has gone into consultation for a round of cuts to staffing and opening hours. I’ve campaigned against library cuts and closures and watched them creeping ever nearer and now here they are, encroaching upon my library. And so.. My new adventure. I’m going to be using my library hard! I will support them with footfall; drop in more; borrow more. Maybe start a Quick Pick challenge to mix up my reading a bit. I’m joining in the consultation and having my say; speaking to the librarians; donating books; seeing how I can help. I want to stop being complacent; to get in there and make the most of my library; to encourage others to do the same so that we don’t all become complacent and forget what we have until it’s taken away from us. Because if we don’t use it, we’ll lose it. 

The library adventure starts here.

Once by Morris Gleitzman

20 Feb

Yesterday I took my daughter to the library and had a dig through the Junior fiction shelves and stumbled upon Once. It is a book I’ve heard so much about but never picked up before. I know I am years late to the party on this one, but that’s the joy of libraries – you come across gems like this entirely by accident. And that’s one of the many reasons that libraries are vital in every community…but that’s another rant for another time.

Last night I devoured Once and then immediately downloaded the next book in the series onto my phone. And I devoured that too. This morning I am a bit blurry eyed and downloading the third book. I am totally under Gleitzman’s spell.

“Once I escaped from an orphanage to find Mum and Dad. Once I saved a girl called Zelda from a burning house. Once I made a Nazi with toothache laugh. My name is Felix. This is my story.”

These are powerful books. Harrowing, yes. But also moving and affirming.

The way Gleitzman uses childhood innocence and imagination against the backdrop of nazi brutality is what makes Once shine for me. In SF Said’s brilliant piece in the Guardian this week, he said “re-reading is a given for children’s authors. It’s one reason why we try to write books that have many layers and work on different levels, rewarding re-reading by growing richer each time.” And that is where the child’s perspective excels in these books. The layering and contradiction of the reader’s awareness and the characters’ innocence is hard to bear but it’s also what makes this book so successful and what is making me itch to start on book three, Now.

Source- my lovely local library.

18 Dec

I’m making the assumption that, as you are reading this blog, you share my belief that books can change lives. The belief that learning to read and having access to quality books is the most important thing for a child’s successful education. I truly believe that, and I work hard to introduce books and a love of reading into children’s lives. And that’s how I came across Give A Book and why I asked for help when my daughter’s school went into Special Measures and lost its entire book budget.

Give A Book is a wonderful organisation that was there for our school when we needed them. A UK registered charity, Give A Book facilitates the gift of books to selected charities and other organisations. Their aim is to get books to those who need them. They use donations to source new books at cost price, then package and post the books to selected charities, schools or organisations.

When our school went into Special Measures and we lost our entire book budget, Give A Book got in touch.

Thanks to the generosity and support of Give A Book’s donors, our school received a big box of fairytale early reader books. These books were used across all the classes in the school to help children learn to read, they supported the Early Years classes with their Fairytale topic and they gave the staff and children a much needed smile and morale boost. They spread through the school and they made a huge difference.

Whilst there is still a way to go, the school is on a journey of improvement and is now out of Special Measures – and much faster than initially anticipated! The children’s reading and writing has come a long way and there is a real sense of achievement and pride in their work. We wouldn’t have been able to achieve so much so quickly without the support of Give A Book and the others who helped us with our book budget crisis. Thank you!

Thankfully, our time of need has come to an end. But Give A Book keeps working and helping those that find themselves in need. Every donation you make buys and distributes a book to someone who – for differing reasons – might need one. You could be supporting prison book groups, magic breakfast book clubs, Beanstalk reading support, or a school that needs a helping hand. Have a look at some of the wonderful initiatives that Give A Book are supporting and help out if you can.

Gove stole our books but he couldn’t steal our learning

18 Dec

You may remember I wrote this post about my daughter’s primary school going into special measures and losing its entire book budget. I asked for help with books and was bowled over by the response.

Well guys, together, we did it! We have been told this week that the school is officially out of Special Measures! And in record time too.

I want to say a huge thank you to all the authors, illustrators, publishers and booky friends who supported the school by sending books, encouragement and messages of support. Particular thanks to Caryl Hart, Clara Vulliamy, Louie Stowell, Ellie Irving, Joanna Nadin, Anne Booth, Paula Harrison, Leigh Hodgkinson and for their generosity and kind words.

Together we stood up for education, for the importance of reading, and – most importantly- for the children. And we showed Gove that he can’t win against integrity and passion and honesty and a group of people who believe in the power of books. Bravo to us!!

A new book nook!

13 Aug

The summer holidays has been mainly based around books. We have signed up to the summer reading challenge and Mollie is reading towards her goal of 100 books in a year so she can collect all the online challenge badges. She is a quarter of the way there already! I have been sorting and re-shelving and reading and sorting again. Although I am being ruthless and passing lots of books on, I have also been creating some new book storage areas. Now that she can read herself, Mollie is beginning to collect a stack of chapter books but I don’t think we’ll ever ‘move on’ from picture books. So we created a new reading/writing/art area for Mollie to store her big-girl books.


This area used to have a big wooden toy chest that was wasted storage space as it was far too big and heavy for Molls to open herself. New drawers filled with paper and stickers and toys, new shelves for big girl books, and rainbow art pots for her pens and pencils and all those little bits that end up in a big tub to be glued on to pictures. These are just Tupperware pots with plastic picnic cups in, hanging on drawing pins. Molls can lift them down when she wants to write her next masterpiece or dig in and design something beautiful.

I’m quite jealous!

Reading my Rainbow Red-Orange-Yellow

13 Aug

My summer reading challenge is a thing of joy! I am rediscovering old favourites, finding new friends and getting to know my shelves again. I am also sticking to the challenge of getting rid of a book a day. And oh it’s actually quite therapeutic! I thought it would be awful but I’m feeling good about it all. I’m tidying shelves, creating more storage and building new book nooks (pictures soon). What’s not to love??

Here are my favourite books from my reds, oranges and yellows. You can find out more about each book, and even buy yourself a copy, here.





Now on to the greens!!

The Summer Reading Challenge starts here

1 Aug

Yesterday Mollie signed up for the Summer Reading Challenge at our local library.
She is officially hooked:

Reading Missing Mummyat the library.


Home for a booky picnic.


Reading a big girl book to add to her new and VERY exciting Summer Reading Challenge online profile. “I’m going to read all the way to 100 books, Mummy!”


A reading break to draw her own Sarah McIntyre inspired unicorn.



And then, this morning; “I read these in bed last night, Mummy. Can we put them on my special computer list?”


So 5 out of 6 (or 100) books read on day one. Not bad for a 5 year old.
Can’t think where she gets it from??
The Summer Reading Challenge really is a fantastic way of encouraging children to read for pleasure over the school holidays; helping to prevent that dreaded reading dip and setting them on the path towards becoming a reader for life. Hurrah, and thank you, to The Reading Agency, Sarah McIntyre and our lovely local library.

You can sign up for the Summer Reading Challenge at your local library. It’s completely free and children can collect bookmarks and stickers and other goodies along the way. All children who read 6 books over the summer holidays will be awarded a certificate. You can choose whether to collect yours from the library or have it sent to their school. Mollie was very proud to collect hers in assembly last year!

The challenge doesn’t stop there! For extra fun, children can register online to create their own Summer Reading Challenge profile and add the books they’ve read to their online list, collecting badges and unlocking secret videos and learning about Sarah’s fantastic characters along the way. With loads of great features and games there’s something here for all ages. Read about favourite authors, review books and find out what others thought, enter a Finish The Story competition and find your next favourite book. Plus an extension challenge for the bookies out there-Can they read 100 books in a year??

All books count towards the challenge – library books, books online or from home or school. Have a look at the book recommending gizmo on the Reading Challenge website for some great ideas.

And head over to The Guardian where Sarah McIntyre is ready to teach you how to draw your own unicorn.

What are you waiting for????

Reading the Rainbow – my summer reading challenge

30 Jul

This week I’m taking Mollie to the library to sign up to the Summer Reading Challenge and then we’ll have a booky picnic in the park and read each other stories. And I’m really looking forward to it! Last summer Mollie and I had a very booky summer holiday and this one is heading in the same direction. I guess it’s no surprise that books manage to infiltrate every corner of our lives. And of our house. Which leads me nicely to my summer book challenge.

My house is overflowing with books. I know that won’t come as a shock to any of you. I have a lot of The Rainbow Library books here for a summer holidays patch up and reshuffle, a (large) heap of review books I haven’t caught up with, all of Mollie’s books and all of my books. And somehow I still manage to keep buying more! You can actually hear the house creaking and shifting under the weight of all this paper. This beautiful, dream-smelling, transporting paper. But something has got to give. It’s the books or the house. And if I didn’t have my house where would I put my books??

So my challenge this summer is to release a book a day.

As well as all the boxes of books for The Rainbow Library, I have my own Rainbow Library in my house. It is full of actual grown up books (yes… I do read grown up books too! A lot of them)

And I have my beautiful book nook on my landing.

And what’s left of my Christmas book tree and the three rows of children’s books by my bed. And… And… And…
And then Mollie’s Room. Which is basically a library disguised as a bedroom.

I’ve been following the #bookaday tweets and thinking about all the amazing books I have stashed away that I don’t really look at enough. It made me realise that my books are a little bit neglected. I have a lot of unread books that have been gathering dust and overtaken by newer books in my reading list. It’s time to get up close and personal with my books again.

So my challenge is two-fold; to explore my bookshelves and read some of the books that have been hidden at the back of the queue, and to reduce the volume by releasing a book every day. I’m going to read through my rainbow, starting at red and choosing one book from each colour in turn. I’m going to read some of the books that have been smiling down at me, patiently unread, for a very long time. And I’m going to be Ruthless. I will give up on books that don’t grab me. I will give books away. I will cull. (But I will do it nicely while stroking them and telling them they are going to live on a farm.)

The ultimate plan is to get to know my books again and to give them a bit of an overhaul, hopefully making a bit of space. I’m not deluded enough to think that there will be more outgoing books than incoming. But at least I’ll be easing the floorboards a little.

Follow the fun with #readingmyrainbow

I hope that this will lead to some book chats. I do love book chats! So I’m going to start it off by asking which of these red books I should read first. What’s your recommendation?


East Sussex Children’s Book Awards 2014

18 Jun

Oh, books! They are incredible things, aren’t they?! They have a special magic and the power to bring people together, unite them and excite them. I feel very privileged to be able to share books and spread their magic.

It was a joy to take my year 6 book group to the East Sussex Children’s Book Award final ceremony last week. To see their excitement and watch them revel in the build up to the announcement of the winner. To hear them chatting passionately about their chosen authors and to watch them bouncing at the thought of actually meeting them in actual real life. They were so passionate about their chosen authors that, on the minibus on the journey there, they gave themselves temporary biro tattoos on their hands to proclaim their faith. “Matt Haig to win” “Christopher William Hill rocks”. (I was holding on to my twitter-based insider knowledge that Matt Haig was at his home dealing with estate agents and house viewings, and therefore not the soon-to-be-revealed winner.)

The East Sussex Children’s Book Award is an annual award run by the East Sussex Libraries and Museums Service. It is an incredibly child-centred award with children in years 5 and 6 involved through the entire process. The five shortlisted books are selected by a group of local schools and the participating years 5 and 6 children spend six months reading, reviewing and working creatively with the shortlisted books. The winner is voted for entirely by the children and is revealed in a special award ceremony for the children.

This year the shortlisted books were:


Since the start of the year we have been busily reading and discussing the shortlisted books, and the children have been writing reviews, designing book jackets and doing their own creative writing based on the books.

Matt Haig’s To Be a Cat caught everyone’s imagination and was unanimously enjoyed, Ali Sparkes’ Out of this World had a core group of fans, but it was Christopher William Hill’s Osbert the Avenger that ignited the most passion within the group. One of my girls is a voracious reader and dreams of becoming a writer. She inhaled Osbert and then bought the next book in the series and raved about it to the group. It was swiftly shared round and a Christopher William Hill gang was formed. Often seen huddled round copies of the books and whispering together, they knew every inch of every murder and death and plot twist. They have analysed his writing style and written their own reviews. They have been begging me to get my hands on an advance copy of the third book, but alas, they will have to wait til next school year.

The intensity of their love for Christopher William Hill’s books and the way they have been inspired by his writing both surprised me and filled me with joy. Unlikely friendships grew from their shared love of the books. A so-called ‘slow reader’ burst from his shell and became animated when discussing the books. They asked for recommendations and sought out other books that they might enjoy and recommended them to each other. This is what books can do! This is what reading can achieve! And it is beautiful to watch!

So back to the ceremony. I’m sure you can understand now that I was sitting on crossed fingers for Christopher William Hill to win. The CWH crew were sitting next to me, faces alight with hope and anticipation. And when his name was called as the winner we all burst out with YESes and cheers. I looked round to see my crew and I wished I could have photographed their faces. Filled with joy and pride and amazement. And then in came Christopher William Hill. The room erupted! My kids could barely stay in their seats.

Christopher William Hill was joined on stage by one of the shortlisted authors, Ali Sparkes. We had seen her at an event during the build up to the final and she is a fantastic speaker. If you get the opportunity to see either of them at an author event, grab it! They are both fun, witty, honest, incredibly funny and fantastic with the kids. Their passion for what they do is palpable and they really did light up the stage. They were very generous with the children, happily signing books and answering questions and having their photos taken.

My kids came out of the event energised, passionate and full of chatter. About what would be the best way to die, what food sounded the most deadly, where Ali Sparkes got her incredible sparkly boots and whether there was a story behind them. They raved about the authors and their stories. They chatted about what they want to be when they grow up and what kind of books would be the most fun to write. They were buzzing. And that’s what books can do. Yes, Christopher William Hill and Ali Sparkes were energising but these kids have been chatting about books like this since we started. They have been set alight by books!

The best thing about this whole experience has been sharing it, and loooots of books, with the kids. It has been a real privilege to see them grow up over this school year and to share all the booky chat with them. I feel very honoured to have been able to ignite their book passion and help them find and explore so many new books. I have loved being a small part in the process and I really hope I get to run the book group again next year.

A HUGE thank you, from me and from my booky crew, to East Sussex Libraries and Museums Service, to all the shortlisted authors and especially to Ali Sparkes and Christopher William Hill. I think I have some budding new writers growing here, thanks to you.

And for Christopher – my student’s passionate and prize-winning review of Osbert:
The story is about a boy called Osbert Brinkoff , who is a young genius. Osbert and a girl called Isabella both pass an exam to enter a school called The Insitute. Yet they did not know that the teachers at the Insitute were cruel and horrible. Soon after the two children get accepted, Osbert speaks out of line to the head master of the Insitute. Trouble lies ahead for the Brinkoff family when Osbert gets expelled and vowed revenge on the teachers of the Insitute.

My favourite character , undeniably , is Osbert; because, in my eyes he is quite admirable for creating those ingenious plans to get rid of the teachers of the Insitute and not get caught.

I loved the entire story, I loved the plot line and how every thing was set out; It honestly is the best book that I have ever read.

I think that both boys and girls would enjoy it, mainly boys though. It may appeal to a small selection of girls, I am one of those girls. The age group reading this book should be 9-12 year olds.

How Gove stole our books

1 Apr

For the past few months I have been quieter than normal, on the blog and on twitter. I have been fighting hard for education in my own little corner of the world. Now that things have come to a head I feel that it’s the right time to lift my head above the parapet and ask for help. Because I think it’s important to try and make a difference, to do what you can and to do so with honesty and integrity. I am trying to do so, but I need your support. So here it is- Michael Gove has stolen our local primary school’s books. He has essentially taken away our book budget. He is destroying our education system one policy, free school and academy at a time and I need more book donations to stop him from squashing the future of the children at our school.

My daughter’s school has been put into Special Measures and treated appallingly and unfairly by the Local Authority and the Department for Education. Now we are Fighting Back. I want to support the school as best I can and the best way I know is through books. I want to help them get out of Special Measures by supporting their reading improvement, and to instill an ongoing culture of reading. I would love to flood the school with new reading books and books with messages of encouragement for the children. I want to show Gove that he can steal our books but he can’t steal our enthusiasm or our children’s future.

Special Measures was not a surprise to us, we knew that we needed to improve. We were, and still are, improving quickly and effectively despite the relentless changes in education policy making teaching an uphill battle. The current climate is not an easy one to teach in and staff turnover is high. It is impossibly hard to achieve consistently outstanding teaching when the budgets are continuously slashed, the rules keep changing and the teachers are burning out. But here’s the thing… We are so nearly there! Our school has fantastic teachers and support staff that are driven and passionate and capable and caring. They are working so very hard and they are making a huge difference to the lives of the children in the school. They understood and accepted the Special Measures Ofsted outcome, took it on the chin and carried on. Because they are teachers and they care more about the children they teach than labels. But Gove wasn’t finished yet.

At this point the Local Authority usually steps in to support the school’s improvement. They also usually provide the school with a much needed budget to support the improvement plan. In our case they thought the best way to do this would be to get rid of the school governors and to bring in their own team to oversee the school, as well as a team of advisors to help raise standards, rather than giving us the improvement budget we so desperately need. They couldn’t give us any reason for this, other than that it was the decision they had made. The cynical among us may look at the fact that the LA were criticised by Ofsted for not supporting the school enough and think that they are attempting to save face by Doing Something, whether it is the right Something or not. Michael Rosen’s recent revelation that Gove is pushing hard for schools in Special Measures to be turned into academies so that he can sell the land to his rich business friends has also aroused suspicion. Whatever their reasons, the Local Authority didn’t listen to what the school wanted or needed. We have been fighting them for months and now Gove has approved their plans.

So now the Local Authority is financially overseeing the school. But there is no additional budget for improvement because the LA has run out of money. Gove has spent it all. In fact, we have to pay them for the privilege of this unwanted team of advisors and, despite our Special Measures status, they require us to build a new classroom and take an extra reception class in September. We are in Special Measures with more need, more children, and less money. How can that possibly be fair? We are outraged and disappointed and let down by the system. But we are also looking forward. This whole process has galvanised the school and the parents. We are determined to come out of Special Measures quickly, with our heads held high and our children happy and learning.

And this is where you come in. The school staff are working incredibly hard to ensure every child achieves their potential. The parents are supporting them by setting up a parents’ volunteer team to help children across the school with their reading. Reading is the basic tool that everything else follows from. It is The Most Important Thing. We will be the crack team of helpers who go in to read stories to the children and enthuse them with the joy of reading, we will run book groups and support the school library. And we will provide reading support to the kids that need it most. Yes it would be better if we could employ a trained teacher to do this but hey, Gove took all our money and gave it to his mates, so we’ll have to do it ourselves. And we will – for free and with passion and care.

So I am being cheeky and asking for more books. Thanks to Gove, we now don’t have any money for new books, but we desperately need them to support these children. I will be throwing review copies at the school and expanding the Rainbow Library into the new reception classroom to support them, but we need quality reading scheme books, and books and messages to inspire and encourage the children and give the staff a morale boost.

We’ve started replacing all our old Biff and Chip books with quality, diverse and fun reading scheme books, like the Usborne Reading Programme, the Franklin Watts books, the Orchard Colour Crunchies, the Collins Big Cat scheme and the new Oxford Reading Tree books. The children really respond to these books and their reading is already improving. We can see it working but we need more of these books, particularly to support the older children in the school. We have a lot of children from deprived areas and a lot of children who don’t get support with learning from home, for a whole host of reasons. But with the right resources we can catch these kids, inspire them and help them succeed. We will work together to lift the school out of Special Measures- and it will be despite the LA and DfE, not thanks to them.

Michael Gove is a despicable human being. I’m sure most readers of this blog are passionate about the same things as me – the power and importance of books, education and equality. But I get the feeling that Gove doesn’t hold the same opinion. Let’s show him that he can steal the state’s property and money, he can take books and teachers away from children, he can destroy the national curriculum and impose tests on 4 year olds, but he can’t win against integrity and passion and honesty and a group of people who believe in the power of books.

The Easter holidays start tomorrow. I’m going to spend a little less money on chocolate this Easter, and buy the school some books instead. When the school opens again in two weeks, I will be delivering a box of books to the Head of Literacy. I’m hoping that you guys can help me make it a really big box.

If you can help, please give me a shout at or on twitter @carmenhaselup . Or pop a book in the post to
Carmen Haselup
19 Headland Way
East Sussex
BN10 8TF

Perhaps you have some reading scheme books at home that your child has outgrown. Or you are an author/illustrator/publisher of reading scheme books and could donate some our way? We particularly need the upper band colours, white and lime (2a/3c texts) -then the easier free readers in level 3. But any band/level would be gratefully received.

A morale boost would be gratefully received too. A book signed by the author/illustrator with a message of support is a hugely powerful thing. Imagine the children’s faces when the HeadTeacher stands in front of them all in assembly and says ‘this author knows who you are and has heard that you are trying really hard. This writer believes in you and your reading skills. This illustrator says Keep up the Good Work. This book is a gift from them to say Keep Going.’ A book for their classroom or library that will remind them that they can do it and that there are people out there who want to support and give rather than squash and steal- what a powerful, encouraging message for a young person.

I know I ask a lot, but I’ll pay you back – by supporting the school in educating a generation of children that will care about books and education and integrity, and who will never make the same mistakes that Gove is forcing upon us. That’s worth giving up an Easter egg for, surely!

Huge thanks to Clara Vulliamy, Caryl Hart and Anne Booth who have already donated their books and time to the school. You are AMAZING!