I’ve just got in from a lovely evening of two events with Burford School, at which I am Patron of Reading. The first was a prize-giving thingy for their annual short story competition, which I judged last November. It was held in Burford public library, which is a beautiful little cosy nook of a place, tucked down a snicket (I love that word) and you’d walk right past it if you didn’t know it was there. Which is a BIT of a drawback for a library – as is the fact that they’ve lost some of their funding…*sobs for libraries in this country*
Anyway, it was a lovely occasion, with the mayor and a press photographer and the winner and two runners-up of the competition and their families, and the Burford librarian Carol and the school librarian Lynne – and me! I made a short speech saying how we all need to support our libraries and how much I enjoyed reading the shortlist for the story competition, and then I gave out the prizes to James, Lucy and Phoebe (the winner). By complete coincidence, Phoebe was also the winner of an auction months ago when her mum bid for her to win the chance to name a character in one of my books. I think at the time I offered the prize, I didn’t actually have a book contract(!) but shortly afterwards I agreed to write GLEE CLUB for Barrington Stoke (which is out next month) and so Phoebe chose the name Melody Gold which I used as the main character’s name. Two weeks ago I got a single advance copy through the post, so I handed it over to Phoebe tonight and showed her the dedication, which was also to her. She and her mum were both delighted and a little emotional! And Phoebe gives the best hugs 🙂
After the mini-ceremony, I whizzed up the road to Burford School where a Parents’ Forum was due to take place in the school library. They’re launching the Accelerated Reader scheme, which is designed to get kids reading more words – by identifying their reading level and offering them books within their range to choose from. I have mixed feelings about the scheme itself, and you can read two other authors’ opinions here (Cecilia Busby) and here (Katherine Langrish). I was keen to impress on the parents and students who attended this evening that reading can’t be reduced to a ‘level’ selected purely on the basis of complexity of language. When a book is graded for the AR scheme, the computer makes no judgement or assessment of the content, the concepts or the emotional resonance of the book, which means that a book about violent abuse, written in ‘accessible’ language, could be rated as suitable for a year 7 when the emotional content may not be at all appropriate.
Having said that, I do think Burford is approaching the scheme in a very sensible way: kids are invited to take part, not steamrollered into it. They are given guidance within their reading range options (which is why EVERY school should have a qualified librarian!) and chocolate whenever they finish a book! The AR scheme offers quizzes too, so when you finish a book you answer questions on it to see if you’ve understood it. I have mixed feelings about that too, but can see that for some kids it might be a useful incentive.
Then I blathered on about books and gave out a recommended reading list of books that have been published for young people in the past five years only. Most of the books on my list I’ve read myself, and I was keen to recommend all kinds of books from comics (The Pirates of Pangaea, which I’m reading and enjoying very much right now!) to highly illustrated books (Oliver and the Seawigs) to action books (Young Bond: Shoot To Kill) to horror (Silent Saturday, a book which scared me so much I’m too chicken to read the sequel) to adventure (The Girl Who Walked On Air) and loads more. I also railed against dividing books into ‘girls’ books and ‘boys’ books. I had to stop myself talking in the end because I could have gone on all night.
Thank you to the English Dept at Burford (and Lynne the Librarian especially) for inviting me along, and good luck to the mum and dyslexic son who listens avidly to audiobooks and is going to try some of my recommendations, and thank you to the nice dad who told me I was very funny 🙂 (and good luck to his daughter who wants to be a writer, hurrah!)
Evenings like this are a welcome reminder of why I do what I do and what I love about WORDS. Words are brilliant, aren’t they?