Category Archives: Events

James Dawson's Opening Speech from Taking Stock – the YLG London Unconference

Thank you very much for inviting me to speak this morning and thank you for giving up your Sunday lie-in. Caroline asked me to speak about diversity in young adult fiction, something I’m talking about more and more, and something I’m very happy to talk about. But as I had an audience of librarians I wanted to say something I thought was OVERDUE. I just hope I don’t get fined. I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist.

I am going to speak about LGBT representation, but I’d also like to speak about the role libraries played in my life as someone from the LGBT community. Now, I am aware many, many authors have spoken out against library closures, and the removal of dedicated school libraries and I’m only going to add to that ‘whining lefty’ chorus, but it’s something I feel strongly about.

Maybe my colleague Mr Muchamore has a point. In the Internet age, non-fiction books are no longer a classroom essential. I have seen the future, and it is every child with a tablet or iPad on their desk. Many classrooms also have a ‘book corner’ where pupils have access to dog-eared copies of book 2 and 3 of a trilogy, book 1 having long since failed to emerge from under a pupil’s bed. It’s this kind of logic that has seen many schools dispose of the traditional library and librarian set up.

But, in my mind, this is WRONG. Wrong-diddly-wrong-wrong-wrong. First the basics. Number one: the Internet is a swamp of contradictory shit, advertising, and ‘ask anything’ forums with spectacularly misleading information. Much fiction is dressed up as fact. Teachers (remember I was one for eight years) spend half their time teaching pupils how to find reliable sources online (which, to be fair, is a vital life skill), but providing them with quality non-fiction books would have probably taught them more about the subject they were researching.

Number two: librarians are experts. I also know I was a freak in that I was a busy teacher who ALSO had a bang-up-to-date knowledge of YA fiction. This is rare – I think it would be fair to say most teachers aren’t. You ensure that your libraries have the latest, most important, most attractive and most relevant new books. You’re ahead of the game. You can also spend time ensuring books aren’t lost or damaged – something teachers do NOT have time for in their ‘book corners’. Librarians are also responsible for budgeting and ordering new books, another job teachers don’t need.

Perhaps more importantly, teachers will always push To Kill A Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men (because they HAVE to) and kids tend to stick to what they know (Wimpy Kid on repeat). Librarians are sooooooo vital to newish authors like me because you’re responsible for enticing pupils to new series or new authors. Thanks you guys! You are taste-makers and oh-so-important for gaining the holy grail of ‘word-of-mouth’. What’s more, regional and national awards, the biggest obviously being the Carnegie Medal can establish an author and bring them further success.

But there’s an even more important reason for schools to have a library, something that’s clear to me both as a former pupil, a former teacher and an author. Libraries are SANCTUARIES. Bear with me. As has been widely recorded elsewhere, I had a shitty time at school. Even in the late *mumble*, schools were waking up to how widespread bullying was, but my school did little to protect students at, what I call, ‘vulnerable times’: the shift change between lessons; break time; lunchtime and home time. As a teacher, I now know that this is because the poor frazzled staff needed to eat their ham sandwich or dash to their next lesson via the photocopier queue. At the time though, I dreaded these transition periods.

That was where my school library came in. We had a lovely librarian called Mrs Lythe and she provided a safe space – an island of calm. For a start, a school library is ALWAYS monitored by the librarian, meaning potential bullying is quashed. Nothing too awful could happen in that building under her watchful eye. Unlike the rest of the school, we were encouraged to sit on bean bags and lay around on the carpets. It was a veritable misfits’ paradise. Those who weren’t fast enough, cool enough, tough enough all had somewhere to call home. Although we weren’t strictly allowed to, Mrs Lythe turned a blind eye to us eating our sandwiches as long as we didn’t make a mess. We were safe. It was in that library that I made my friends for life – the people who went on to inspire the gang in Hollow Pike. The scene where Lis escapes from the school bully and heads for the safe haven of the library cushions was my tribute to that time.

Touring the books around dozens of schools and libraries has shown me that nothing much has changed. The outsider kids – the least confident, most vulnerable pupils STILL seek refuge in libraries. They often take on the role of ‘Student Librarian’, giving them a purpose and a reason to be away from the rest of the school. I have met dozens of nurturing librarians who are actively protecting such pupils. A quiet, safe place where nothing bad can happen. You don’t get that in a ‘book corner’.

This is especially concerns vulnerable pupils, and in this group I would include young LGBT pupils. By the time they have reached secondary school, some pupils, gay or straight will have been singled out as targets of homophobic bullying. It’s inevitable, I fear, even in schools with rigorous anti-bullying procedures. This is another way in which libraries can nurture young people. Representation of minority groups, as Malorie Blackman has spoken about many times, is vital. Every pupil deserves to recognise themselves in fiction. What’s difficult is that where young people of colour are often supported by their family and/or community, young LGBT people are often isolated, feeling their family or community are the LAST people they would speak to about their identity. That’s why I feel libraries have, perhaps, an even bigger responsibility to stock books with LGBT characters: young people may well be carrying this sense of ‘difference’ around like a shroud. I believe finding characters who also identify as gay – especially those who are happy and well-adjusted will do wonders for making young LGBT people feel safe, normal and secure.

This is also why I hope libraries will stock my non-fiction titles. I don’t know if many young questioning people will buy This Book Is Gay, but I like to think they might leaf through it in the corner of a library! For the illustrations or sexy bits if nothing else!

Lambeth Academy, where I am writer-in-residence even use their library for student counselling and intervention groups – recognising the dual role of that space. I know I’m singing to the choir but would urge all schools to ensure that libraries remain. It isn’t about a book budget or the English budget – it’s as much about pupil welfare. No student is going to willingly go to a ‘Nurture Room’, but they need a library… y’know – for books – *wink*.

Taking Stock the YLG London Unconference Twitter feed on Storify

Doctor Who: Starting a Library Club


Doctor Who (the television show) hits a half-century this Saturday. It was with with an eye to this that I started chatting to a group of students about the possibility of starting a Doctor Who Club. This was in late June of this year.

I knew that I was on to a winner immediately as I saw eyes light up, and you know that when people get so excited that they start talking so fast that words sometimes come out in the wrong order that something must be done! I knew that the person that should be doing something was me and so I did. I started speaking to more students about the Doctor, asking them if they were fans and what they thought about a Doctor Who club in the school. Most of the kids wanted one – and they wanted it to start immediately, I put them off until after the summer holiday and when school came back in September the first words out of a number of students mouths to me were not Hello or “How was your summer?” no they were questions on when the club was going to start.

Working together the students and I came up with a name for the club, a logo and a time to meet that would suit most members.
wholigans50Personally I have never beeen a fan of the term “Whovian”.

The club had a soft launch half way through the first half-term and will have a proper launch on the Tuesday after the 23rd November.

At present discussions have been limited to favourite Doctor (a toss-up between Tom Baker and Matt Smith so far) and what people think The Day of the Doctor will be about.

Once the club is firmly established I am hoping to use the club for cross-curricular purposes, from creative writing with the English Department, discussions on ageism (one of the recurring themes of conversation so far has been about how a lot of the students do not like the idea of a Peter Capaldi Doctor as he is too old), sexism (a female Doctor anyone?) and bullying (humans are roughly treated by a number of alien races and vice versa) for PSHE. In fact any subject can be made a great deal more interesting with the addition of the Doctor. Take History – the Doctor can visit any point in time, and space which ties in the Science Department (plus the TV show with Dr Brian Cox discussing how possible the science of Doctor Who is). Citizenship can encompass discussions on Fascism (Daleks), Socialism (Cybermen) and ruling by divine right (The Time Lords on Gallifrey), RE can look at ethics with the Doctor and the Master and their actions. I am also hoping to tie in the Design & Technology Department with building a life-size TARDIS.

I am not forgetting the Library as there are hundreds of the Doctor’s adventures in book form, not to mention Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures, as well as comic books and fan fiction.

Like all clubs it depends on the members and what they would like to do, I do not want to be too prescriptive but will guide discussions and activity ideas and let them make up their minds on what they would like to do.

Also it may give me the excuse to wear a fez at work – fezzes are cool!

Weirdos vs Quimboids Launch Event

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I am currently heading home after attending the launch party for Weirdos vs Quimboids by Natasha Desborough (on the left in the photo) on the right is Vicky Barker – the artist that designed the cover.

It was a brilliant evening Downstairs at The Square Pig and Pen in Holborn.  Pip at Bounce Marketing had invited me and as I had not seen her or Non from Catnip for absolute ages I thought I had better attend. I did also want to meet Natasha as I thought that the original title “Weirdos and Cameltoes” was one of the best titles ever (I remain at heart a teenager with the attendant sense of humour).

Natasha is brilliant, after Non’s introduction in which she described Weirdos… as one of the funniest books she had read while editing Natasha read the opening pages which had the audience in stitches.

I saw some familiar faces in the crowd including Laura of SisterSpooky fame, Bella from Cheezyfeet Books and Rhys from ThirstforFiction. I chatted to my fellow bloggers for a while as well as Non and Liz from Catnip Books and spent a good part of the evening speaking to Vicky and her husband Gareth who it turns out is Clive Barker’s nephew.  I do not think I geeked out too badly when I found out.

I chatted to Natasha and her husband about books and music before she signed my copy of Weirdos and Quimboids and I had to dash off to catch a train home.


Natasha reading from the Understanding Levels of Shame section at the beginning of Weirdos vs Quimboids

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Weirdos vs Quimboids title page, signed by the author and the artist.

Star Wars Reads Day 5th October

In 2012, there over 1200 events at schools, libraries and bookstores celebrating Star Wars Reads Dad across America. In 2013, the rules have changed!

This year you don’t have to sign up! In 2013, any bookstore, library or school around the world can hold a Star Wars Reads Day event. Put the date (Saturday, October 5th) on your calendar and start planning and promoting an out-of-the-world event. (Schools and school libraries are encouraged to hold their events on Friday, October 4th).

Activity packs are free to download in colour and in black & white.

Catch up with what others are doing on the official Star Wars Reads Day Facebook page.

World Book Night 2013

WorldBookNight2013
Yes! Today is World Book Night 2013. This year as in previous years I will be participating as a giver.
 
I was fortunate enough to be picked again and this year I will be giving copies of The Dark Judges – one of the greatest Dredd stories.
 
They came from Deadworld – twisted, ungodly versions of Judges with enough power to destroy the world! Led by the cadaverous super-fiend Judge Death, Judges Fear, Fire & Mortis share a chilling ethos – as only the living can break the law, all life is a crime!

The fearsome foursome are intent on bringing their brand of justice to Mega-City One. Only Judge Dredd and Psi-Division’s finest telepath Cassandra Anderson can stop them from committing a Mega-City massacre!
darkjudges
and I will be giving copies to 20 struggling & reluctant readers in my school.
 
I chose a graphic novel as I have found in working with reluctant readers that they do not equate comic books and graphic novels with reading and most of the kids are happy to give comics a read as opposed to books with just words.
 
World Book Night has (for the past two years) formed part of my getting kids reading in my school, I also utilise a collection of old proof copies of books and duplicate donations I have received to reach more than 20 potential readers.

Authors Live: Murderous Maths with Kjartan Poskitt

Date: Thursday 1st December

Time: 11am – 11.40am

Age group: P4-S2 (8 – 14 years)

Venue: Your classroom, library or home computer

http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/authors-live-with-kjartan-poskitt

If you miss the live event you can watch or download the video from 8th December 2011 using the same link.

Event info:

Kjartan Poskitt is a mathematician like no other: he will entertain pupils with maths tricks, crack them up with jokes about mathematical formula and engage pupils with complex algebra. This event will take place on Thursday 1st December 2011 at 11am.
The nationwide event is part of the Meet our Authors programme, run by Scottish Book Trust, Scotland’s leading agency for the promotion of literature, reading and writing and sponsored by Scottish Friendly Assurance, one of Scotland’s leading providers of tax-free family savings and investment solutions.
Meet our Authors includes an exclusive series of authors’ events streamed live over the internet to provide young people, parents and teachers with the chance to get up close and personal with some of the world’s leading children’s writers. The programme is the first of its kind in the UK. Anyone can watch by visiting: http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/authors-live-with-kjartan-poskitt
Kjartan Poskitt will be the 10th children’s author to take part in the Meet our Authors project which began in 2010. To date more than 400,000 children across the UK have taken part in the webcasts
Author biography:

Kjartan is a freelance everything. Since getting his engineering degree he worked on Saturday morning TV (including BBC’s Swap Shop!), presented science and maths programmes, warmed up thousands of studio audiences, toured his one man show, played a lot of pub pianos very loudly and has been Widow Twankey. In recent months he has been touring the country demonstrating mathematical tricks and oddities from his books.

His books have been translated in up to 20 languages and include the “Murderous Maths” series, “The Gobsmacking Galaxy”, “Isaac Newton and his Apple”, the “Warp Maze” with cartoonist Stephen Appleby, 4 books in his notorious “Killer Puzzles” series, handbooks on Practical Jokes and Secret Codes, 6 support books for the BBC Schools series “Megamaths” and a GCSE maths guide.

He has also written songs and scripts and worked as a games consultant for a wide range of children’s TV shows and his music for TV includes the original theme for the BBC’s “BRUM” and the long running “SMART” series.

Meet Our Authors on Facebook

We set up a Meet Our Authors Facebook page where you will find back ground information, interviews, video clips and weblinks all about the programme. We also feature a great competition for each of the events which you can enter (Facebook account needed).

 

T S Eliot Prize Shadowing Scheme Launches Today

The T S Eliot Prize Shadowing Scheme provides an excellent opportunity for students to engage with the best new poetry by shadowing the judges of the T S Eliot Prize for Poetry. Two poems from ten collections shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize will be available to download from www.poetrybooks.co.uk/projects/15 from 1 November.

The Shadowing Scheme is run by the Poetry Book Society in collaboration with the English and Media Centre. Students are encouraged to read the poems and to take part in a poll to vote for their choice of winner.There will also be a competition for individual ‘A’ level (or equivalent) students to write the best 500 word rationale for their choice of poet.

Prizes for the winning student include tickets to the T S Eliot Readings and the award ceremony in January 2012, with the chance to meet the winning poet, and a complete set of the 10 shortlisted titles.

For further details, please visit the Poetry Book Society website at www.poetrybooks.co.uk/projects/15. The Scheme will start on 1st November and a teachers’ guide will be available on the emagazine website at www.emagazine.org.uk.

Halloweek: Halloween Cosplay

For the manga and anime fans that use the library (and particularly if you have an established manga group) run a Halloween cosplay.

There are a number of gothicy, scary manga series including Rozen Maiden, Rosario Vampire, Hellsing, Reiko the Zombie Shop, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Cat-Eyed Boy, Hell Girl, Zombie Loan.

You can also encourage your manga fans to dress up as Sadako Yamamura the ghostly girl from The Ring movie. “within seven days of watching a normal videotape, you receive a phone call, saying you will die in a horrible and painful way” you could play pass the parcel with the “prize” being a video tape cassette.

Encourage the artistic members of the group to design and create their own manga horror characters. Almost anything that you can do during a standard manga meeting can be adapted for a Halloween special…

Halloweek: BOO!k Discussion

If your space and budget is limited you can fall back on a BOO!k discussion. You can put a Halloween theme on the proceedings by putting whatever snacks you provide for the group into trick or treat bags. You can also put a personalised joke into each of the bags, there are many websites that specialise in Halloween humour.
As a related-craft activity you could show off some Halloween origami skills.