Book Reviews

Hideous Beauty by William Hussey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fascinating love story, all mixed up with a thriller. Heart wrenching, with beautifully drawn characters. Highly recommended.

A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Addie is a wonderful heroine – espousing what appears to be a lost cause. Lovely story about friendship, courage and what it means to be different.

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Survey open – make sure you comment

Great School Libraries, have commissioned BMG Research to conduct research into the provision of learning resources within primary and secondary schools. The survey looks at provision and staffing of resources, both within a school library and school wide.

Every school in England, Wales and Northern Ireland should have received an email from BMG Research, but don’t worry if you haven’t received your just email Jamie Lawson at and he’ll send your school’s unique link. Every school that takes part will be entered into a prize draw to win a substantial book bundle – huge thanks to the publishers who have given so generously. The campaign working group wish to thank all the organisations that make up the School Library Data Group for helping to make this happen.
The survey closes on 29th March. 

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Great School Libraries

GSL-supporter-logo-webI seem to have spent the majority of my career caring about, and campaigning for, school libraries.  So I am delighted both to be involved with this campaign and to support it – a full 3 year campaign can only be a good thing!

The campaign is spearheaded by SLA, CILIP SLG and CILIP. The campaign has three aims: to secure school library funding; to produce a national framework for school libraries and recognition of school libraries within the Ofsted framework. 

The Campaign working group will be aiming to engage all potential stakeholders – whether that’s school library staff, parents, and school leadership or decision makers in government. All children deserve a great school library because adequately funded, staffed school libraries deliver enhanced and independent learning as well as reading and curriculum support. School libraries contribute to building lifelong readers and support whole school initiatives promoting reading for pleasure.

Evidence also suggests school libraries:

  • Lead to higher qualifications/attainment
  • Promote a better quality of life
  • Generate improved results 
  • Alleviate pressure on health and mental health services
  • Alleviate teacher workload
  • Increase efficiency for schools
  • Contribute to the delivery of a well-rounded education
  • Deliver and teach essential Information/critical literacy skills to combat fake news and engender independent learning 

Throughout the course of the campaign the School Library Data Group will be collecting evidence in order to show the huge variety of ways that UK based school libraries contribute to better outcomes for every child. 

We all have a role to play in supporting our Great School Libraries. To find out more go to:

The campaign are delighted to release the first batch of resources:

  • A set of two posters highlighting why school libraries are important designed by Carel Press.
  • A Photoboard – either print it off and write in it why school libraries are important, or cut out the middle and take a picture of you supporting the campaign. Tweet with the reason why #greatschoollibraries deserve support. School staff could use it as the basis of a display in the library and get pupils and parents to contribute
  • A case study template and example – show the impact a school library can have by contributing a case study. It could be you, or it could be someone you know. There’s an example to give you an idea of how it’ll work – and as you’ll see – it needn’t be perfect! 

The campaign would also like to invite school staff to take part in discussions that will contribute to building the national framework and defining what a ‘Great School Library’ actually is. Get involved by Tweeting (#greatschoollibraries; @cilipslg; @uksla), Facebooking (search for School Library Association (UK)) or commenting on the website. 

 Here are some of the questions the campaign is discussing at the moment:

  1. What makes a great school library?
  2. What elements of school librarianship do you think should be in a national framework?
  3. What topic do you think would be of interest to you/your school library staff member?

Our colleagues in Scotland have created a framework for showing impact: – check it out!

Get involved!  Sign up for updates and generally make a commitment to a better future of all our children.

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This is something of a travel log and really rather late as we came back from the USA on September 10th!  We had had a three week stay and had been planning this for some considerable time – almost since the time in my teens when I was a big John Steinbeck fan (still am, come to that!) I had always wanted to emulate his ‘Travels with Charley’ but times and finances impact, so we decided upon this exploration – but using a train as neither of us is experienced in driving on the right!  So here goes – 

We flew from Heathrow to Seattle and stayed in the Edgewater Hotel – famous for the Beatles staying there in the 60’s!  It was delightful – and at only one night by no means long enough to get more than just a glimpse of Seattle.  


A San Fransisco Cable Car

Twenty-three hours on the Amtrak Coast Starlight train in a small sleeping carriage were all part of the adventure! Arrived in Emeryville and straight into San Francisco – we were staying at the Westin St Francis – renowned as the hotel in which silent film star Fatty Arbuckle was accused of rape, and at which novelist Dashiel Hammett was the agent for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.  A delightful place to stay, and right on Union Square so in the midst of the city, shops and restaurants. We had a fantastic stay here and really loved the city enjoying tours of the bay and the city.  It was great to walk in – even with the famous hills, and the cable cars were a fun, if bouncy, experience. The area of Haight and Ashbury, where the 60’s Summer of Love started, was an interesting area, if a little tawdry in places, and the echoes of Jimmy Hendrix and Otis Redding followed us around.  I loved the Palace of Fine Arts – a series of originally temporary buildings that allegedly inspired George Lucas to create R2D2!


Muir Woods

From San Francisco we also had a day tour to see the Coastal Sequoia at Muir Wood and also visit 3 different wineries in the Sonoma (2) and Napa Valleys (1).  I have always loved the idea of sequoia as they are so huge and so ancient in the same way as the English Oak links you back into history – so do the sequoia, but they are also so magnificently tall. We missed a tour to Alcatraz – to actually go onto the island, but we did see it on our boat trip, and also San Quentin (both very grim!) on one of our coach trips.

Then back to the train and on to Salinas – the Steinbeck connection again.  The National Steinbeck Center is a wonderful experience – and we stayed for a long time enjoying all the film and readings included from and about each book.  We also got to see Rocinante (named after Don Quixote’s horse) – in this case a small camper van on the back of a small truck.  His birthplace was also there – now a cafe – but we were unlucky enough to be there on a day it was closed.  Took photos from the outside though…


One of the Grand Rooms in Hearst Castle

After that we went on to near San Simeon so that we could visit the amazing Hearst Castle – built by William Randolph Hearst, the American media mogul, between 1865 and 1947 and full of the most amazing art and artefacts.  It needs more than one visit to see it properly.  We stayed at a coastal resort hotel and really enjoyed the walks along the beaches on the Pacific Coast and even saw dolphins frolicking in the ocean!  

Then back to San Luis Obispo for the train and with some time to kill wandered to the mission, with a take out deli lunch in a park.  This was a super little city and it would have been good to have spent a little more time there.  It was at this point that we discovered the trains did not always arrive on time!  It was an hour late but, amazingly, it arrived in LA on time!


Some of Warner Bros Awards

We were staying in Beverly Hills (pleasant, if rather exclusive). A tour of the city followed but we were no where nearer getting a sense of the geography of LA as it is just so huge!  Eating at the farmers market was an interesting experience – so much choice, more nationalities of food than one could ever imagine in one place. The Warner Bros tour, in Burbank, was great fun, with Will even taking part in a small scene from Friends on the original set! He played Ross!! So many lovely things to see, I even got to hold and be photographed with a real Oscar (they’re very heavy) and the tour of the backlot gave us the opportunity to see the Big Bang set! Having seen that we decided we really must eat again at the Cheesecake Factory in honour of Penny from the Big Bang.  

We visited the Paley Centre for Media where I could quite happily have stayed watching my way through a few exhibits from their permanent media collection which contains over 160,000 television and radio programs and advertisements. They are catalogued online too! An amazing place. Whilst we were there they also had a collection of Marilyn Monroe  outfits on show. 

As we were in Beverly Hills we felt we should at least walk down Rodeo Drive – only window shopping of course.  We may have passed famous people, but we really had no idea!  It was like Bond Street (London) with bling, then more added bling! On our final day we decided to explore some of the museums LA had to offer – the Petersen Motor Museum and the LA County Museum of Art (where we also saw a Sunday night concert).  All worth the visiting if you are in LA!  We ran out of time before we could visit the Tar Pits Museum – but we did see the actual tar pit bubbling away!  Very strange to think of such an ancient thing there in the midst of such a modern city. 


Part of the Desert Garden

After LA we went to visit some of Will’s distant relations (7th cousins) – living in Upland – a sort of LA suburb about an hours drive from Beverly Hills.  Here we were entertained right royally and had a superb time.  Great that we got on with them so well (we had never met before). We visited Mount Baldy and the ranger station there, as well as the Nixon Library and Huntington Gardens.  The Nixon Library is an archive of the Presidency and life of Richard Nixon, although I was perhaps too young to remember much about his Presidency other than the headlines, it was a fascinating experience and I learned a great deal.  There was also the home he was born in – a wooden catalogue home delivered as a flat pack and built on site, as well as his Presidential helicopter – I’d recommend a visit.  The Huntington is in Pasadena and is too big to see in one visit.  I did a quick look into the Art Gallery as they had a Hopper painting I had never seen before, plus the library has some amazing treasures which I had to see but, possibly the highlight for us, was the desert garden.  This must have been one of the most amazing collections of cacti, succulents and other strange and wonderful desert plants.  Again – this merits more than one day of visits as it is over 120 acres – without ever going into any of the buildings. 

Then it was back onto a different train – the Pacific Surfliner – to head off to San Diego.  Here we were again staying at a beach coastal resort – rather fun!  We had a lovely day with friends who live in Little Italy and they showed us around the city and out to Point Loma.  Again, a fascinating city with a huge influence from all the military services based in and around it.  We explored the USS Midway – now a huge museum, and also went into the Old Town – definitely a tourist trap, but fascinating to see the origins of the city and it’s Mexican influences. 

Then it was back, via air, to Heathrow. I knew we might get jet-lag but hadn’t realised how oddly it affects you!  After about a week we were back to whatever we usually associate as our usual sleep patterns! It was an fantastic trip and we were very lucky to be able to do it!  Not sure we’ll get to the West Coast again but we really enjoyed the experience!

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Young Walter Scott Prize

If you’re aged between 11 and 19 and interested in history and writing, the Young Walter Scott Prize is ready to take you on an adventure! This is the UK’s only creative writing prize specifically for budding historical writers. 

The Prize runs a series of Imagining History workshops in amazing historical sites throughout the UK, where experts guide you in active historical research, and show you how to start putting your ideas down on paper. Find out how to take part in a workshop near you, or even how to host one, on our website! 

If you have a story of between 800 and 2000 words, set in a time before you were born, you can enter the Young Walter Scott Prize – now open for entries, and the closing date is 31st October 2018. Entries are judged in two age groups – 11 to 15 years and 16 to 19 years. Any kind of fiction is accepted – prose, poetry, drama, fictional letters or reportage.

You could win a £500 travel grant, an invitation to one of the UK’s best book festivals to meet published authors, and a chance to see your own work in print. Full terms and conditions, tips for writing and research, and details of the Imagining History workshops are all on the website. 

people coffee meeting team

Photo by Startup Stock Photos on

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Honorary Life Member…

…that’s me – and the School Library Association surprised me with a generous Hon Life Membership which rather took the wind out of my sails when I recently attended the SLA Conference in Glasgow.  For a start it was quite odd being ‘just a delegate’ at the conference I had a hand in putting together (that was inevitable due to the time of year that I left SLA) but it was delightful too.  I got to see and chat with lots of friends, and didn’t have to dash off to be somewhere else!  I managed an off the cuff thank you speech – as well as (I hope) adding my voice to the call for the Great School Libraries Campaign.  Plus, the Ceilidh band that evening turned out to be a great success too – just right – with lots of help in the dances!


Copyright Minh Nguyen

Seriously though, if you can do back the Great School Libraries Campaign – it is vitally important, especially in these times of closing or de-professionalised public library services, that children have access through their schools to a great library.  Their literacy, ambition, health and well-being will all suffer if they have no access to good quality reading and information resources when they need them.

Since then it has been a bit of a flurry of activity which has included writing an article, completing a series of reviews, attending our first Youth Libraries Group Virtual meeting plus a few days away.  Will was working taking taking photographs for his new book but I was really just enjoying the scenery, catching up with local friends and enjoying Stratford Upon Avon.  We were anxious our newly laid lawn and the patio plants would survive in the heat – but all was well.

This week has been a glorious mix of work and and publisher events – including a sneak preview of the work of Chris Riddell in illustrating The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J K Rowling.  We are in for a real treat there (publishing Bloomsbury, October 2018).  Then off to the Branford Boase event – a celebration of the best in new writing for children and young people, but that also recognises the important role of the editor in the process.  It was won this year by Mitch Johnson for Kick with his editors Rebecca Hill and Becky Walker – published by Usborne – their third important book award win this year!

Last night was a fascinating discussion event hosted by Alice Curry at Lantana Publishers called ‘Inspired by India’ an evening of picture books and conversation from Chitra Soundar, Poonam Mistry, Ranjit Singh and Mehrdokht Amini at the Nehru Centre.  I had never been to the Nehru Centre before but check it out as it has a programme of events and exhibitions that are varied and interesting. IMG_0237

After 3 late nights in London – and Saturday there for my first FCBG National Executive meeting I am having a quiet day at home – a little light housework, followed by some reading and then a welcome catch up with friends from the village in the pub tonight!



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Early Summer activity

FCBG 50th

Anne Wood, FCBG Founder, at the Golden Party by David Bartlett

What a lot has happened in what seems like a short space of time.  As I am now an Executive member for the Federation of Children’s Book Groups I was delighted to be involved with the latest of FCBGs celebrations.  The first was a celebration of 50 Golden Years with the founder Anne Wood in the space at Foyles Charing Cross Road – a lovely friendly meet with lots of support from publishers, authors, illustrators and members of the FCBG across the ages.


Steve Cole, photo by TA

This was followed very quickly by the Children’s Book Award – celebrated in London with book group members from around the country.  It was fantastic to see so many book loving kids in one room – all chatting nineteen to the dozen with the authors sitting on their tables!  Results are here – with the overall winner  Katherine Rundell with The Explorer. A very popular win with everyone in the room.  Steve Cole served as master of ceremonies keeping everyone amused with his jokes and ukulele playing!

The panel discussion on Empathy Day, 12th June – featuring Lauren Child (UK Children’s Laureate), Benji Davies (illustrator) and Professor Robin Banerjee (Univ Sussex) made for fascinating listening – arranged and hosted by Empathy Lab. The whole event was an exploration of how books help children understand other people better – held at Waterstone’s flagship store in Piccadilly – there was an interesting mix of stakeholders and partners in the hall.  Discussion touched on how feeling, understanding and caring (all parts of empathy) are encouraged by reading and that the follow up to that – of book talking – promotes empathy too.

From other news!  It was an absolute delight to visit the Royal Albert Hall recently to see Art Garfunkel.  He sang a mix of old (lots) and new songs, as well as sharing some of his poetry with us.  Loved the evening!  Daughter Sarah has been busy too – she was all over the media as she conducts the Manchester Survivors Choir and they sang at the One Voice commemoration to mark one year on from the bombing – a very emotional experience for everyone.  Then she has a big gig coming up this weekend with her band Canter Semper – really looking forward to seeing them.  Will has been busy helping elder daughter Becky as an extra (with a couple of friends from DTs) in the final few scenes that needed filming for ScreenNorthants first feature film – Macbeth.  Watch out for the release at the end of the year.

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Every Child deserves a Great School Library

The School Library Association and CILIP’s School Libraries Group have launched a three-year school library campaign.

Supported by CILIP, the campaign will focus on the importance of school libraries and librarians and the benefits they bring to children, staff and schools. Aside from raising the profile of school libraries, the campaign will have three specific objectives:

*The recognition of School Libraries/Librarians in Ofsted Inspection Framework.
*The creation of a School Library Strategy for England.
*Specific investment into School Library development.

The campaign will look to Scotland and its success in creating a National Strategy for School Libraries. The Government-backed initiative will be implemented in Scotland this August as schools in the country return from the summer break.

The Great School Libraries campaign will build on lessons learned from Scotland helping to unite stakeholders in a common goal of improving school library provision across all four nations in the UK. The campaign will look to engage with school librarians, supporters and school library champions and other allies to help push the message that: “Every child deserves a Great School Library.”

The aim is to create strong evidence-based advocacy messages tailored to various stakeholders including politicians, the Department for Education, Ofsted, schools – including teachers, parents, leadership teams and governors. There will also be media and public focussed awareness campaigns, helping to build an understanding of the importance of school libraries in supporting the curriculum and achievements amongst pupils.

CILIP Chief Executive Nick Poole said: ““This is a truly important campaign and one that has the potential to transform lives. Great school librarians not only support students, but also teachers – helping to raise standards and results across the board. They inspire people, improve literacy through a love of reading, and help teach lifelong skills like information and digital literacy. Teachers can call on them to help find information and resources when they are planning lessons.

“Through this campaign we will provide evidence that clearly shows the value of school libraries – not just to pupils, but also for teachers, schools and wider society. That is why we are saying Every Child deserves a Great School Library.”

Alison Tarrant, Managing Director of the SLA, said: “This campaign is an opportunity to celebrate and discuss school libraries and librarians, and to promote understanding and engagement with the profession. We will be working tirelessly to achieve the aims set out.”

Caroline Roche, Chair of CILIP’s SLG, warned that school libraries were being undervalued and often faced cuts as head teachers felt increasing budget pressures, saying that the campaign is a “chance for school librarians to stand up and show the value of a good school library, professionally run by a school librarian.”

She added: “ We believe that the impact that a school library has in a school, not only on literacy and reading for pleasure, but also on mental and emotional health, providing a safe haven for vulnerable children, a place for study, a place where students can find books to enlarge their world view or to find they are not alone, is inestimable.  Such value cannot be measured in terms of money or figures – a good school library, professionally run, is the gift a school can give to every one of their children, for very little cost.”

Sign up to keep informed about the campaign and find out how you can get involved at


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Klaus Fugge Bursary to attend the Youth Libraries Group Annual Conference

The Youth Libraries Group are delighted to announce, thanks to the generosity of honorary member and champion of the group, Klaus Flugge from Andersen Press, we will be offering a bursary to attend the annual Youth Libraries Group conference. The 2018 conference will be held in Manchester, newly named UNESCO City of Literature. It will run from 21 to 23 September and is titled Reading the Future. Keynote speakers include Philip Pullman and Jackie Morris, 2018 winners of the British Book Awards. The conference is sponsored by Enid Blyton Entertainment.

To apply for this bursary, please e-mail providing your name, profession and also outlining a short statement not exceeding 300 words of how you would benefit from attending conference and the ways you intend to use and share the learning.

Applicants should be a member of the Youth Libraries Group. The successful applicant will be expected to write a blog article for the group on their conference experiences and learning. Applicants are able to include their Twitter handles or Instagram usernames when applying and posts about conference using the hashtag #YLGConference will be viewed favourably in support of applications.

The bursary will cover the cost for a residential place at the #YLGConference 2018, and will also cover travel booked standard class travel booked at least 4 weeks in advance in the UK mainland.

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Empathy Day 2018

image001Children’s Laureate Lauren Child and a host of award winning children’s authors and illustrators will be flying the flag for Empathy Day on Tuesday 12 June.

Charlie and Lola creator Lauren Child will appear at Waterstone’s Piccadilly, along with psychology expert Professor Robin Banarjee and Oscar’s First Book Prize-winner, author-illustrator Benji Davies, between 7 and 8pm on Tuesday 12 June – while other authors will be promoting the day on social media and through blog tours.

Empathy Day first launched in 2017 as part of not-for-profit organisation EmpathyLab, created by ex-Reading Agency founder Miranda McKearney – as a response to troubling statistics on hate crime around the world and concerns over how we teach empathy to our children.  Empathy is one of the most crucial of the social and emotional skills children need to thrive. Neuroscientific research shows that the brain can develop empathy through reading; it is this intersection of literacy and empathy that is at the heart of EmpathyLab’s work.

A hotlist of children’s fiction has been compiled for use in schools, libraries and the community, to help teach children gain an understanding of the world as seen from other perspectives. And scores of children’s authors have got behind the campaign. Miranda McKearney comments: “Books are a hugely important way of allowing young minds to imagine lives beyond their own; how they would cope in a crisis; if they were a refugee, an orphan, or had just lost someone they loved. They are scientifically proven to help children and adults to develop empathy and grow up to be concerned and caring adults.”

‘Empathy through Stories’ event at the Hay Festival on Saturday 2 June 2018.  Ahead of Empathy Day, Miranda McKearney will appear at the Hay Festival on Saturday 2 June 2018, 4pm alongside 3000 Chairs-unaccompanied child refugee campaigner and author of The Day the War Came, Nicola Davies and Nigerian storyteller Atinuke in an ‘Empathy Through Stories’ event.

What’s happening on Empathy Day 2018

  • Massive social media #ReadForEmpathy campaign
  • Empathy Lab pioneer schools, from Carlisle to the New Forest. Bringing the children’s work during the year to a head
  • Empathy Awards. Range of authors involved: Morag Hood, Ross Montgomery, Sue Hendra , Shoo Rayner, Robin Stevens, Joseph Coelho, Jo Cotterill, Sita Brahmachari, Alan MacDonald
  • 4 special projects designed with the community in St Helens, Sheffield, Essex and Devon. Community has highlighted issues where more empathy is needed – two key themes, loneliness and inter-generational contact. Empathy Café sessions in the run up, families will work with librarians and authors (Bali Rai, Sita Brahmachari, Helen Moss, Gillian Cross) to run activities exploring and addressing these issues
  • 37 library services doing activities and displays. Manchester doing special rhyme times and x across all 22 city libraries
  • Experimental Swap Your Reading Life pilots: psychology/literacy academics; prison staff/prisoners
  • Bookshops taking part for the first time, in partnership with BA
  • Lots of other schools taking part

I was delighted to have had a very small part in this for 2018 – by helping in the selection of books for the Read for Empathy guide linked above – a very inspiring process and one which I hope may be repeated.

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