Category Archives: Literacy

The Bookstart Bear and Tala the Storyteller

Who is The Bookstart Bear?

Matt temporarily an avatar of the Bookstart Bear

30 years ago The Bookstart Bear was introduced as the national mascot for the BookTrust’s Bookstart programme as part of their resources to encourage families to read and share stories with their children as early as possible.

As a result of brand refresh in 2020, BookTrust began phasing out the Bookstart Bear character and introduced a range of new characters to ensure their resources would continue to appeal to families today and in the future.

Many local authorities and libraries have continued to use the Bookstart Bear character in their own activities and we are happy for them to do so for as long as they find it a helpful tool to engage with their local families.

Other libraries and local authorities have started creating their own characters to engage with families and young readers.

This brings us to Tala the Storyteller.

Who is Tala?

Tala the Storyteller

Tala the Storyteller is a friendly alien who likes to go on journeys, seeking out stories and rhymes to share with children.

Tala was created by local artists Emma Phillips and Eva Povey using funds from an Arts Council National Lottery Project Grant for Hertfordshire County Council. They worked with families through interactive workshops to find out what appeals to young children and used these ideas in their design.

Tala is an alien child and as such is neither male or female (allowing children of any gender to identify with them).

Who is Maya Forstater?

Maya Forstater is a British business and international development researcher who is the claimant in Maya Forstater v Centre for Global Development.

On September 29th Maya Forstater tweeted:

The accusation that Tala was a trans bear set off a global firestorm on social media. Hitchin Library tried to answer the questions posed by Maya’s tweet

Even the official twitter account for the Hertfordshire County Council tried to intervene and calm things

but to no avail.

Over the next few days Maya doubled down and hammering at Hitchin Library and Tala the Storyteller, trying to foment an gender critical uprising against a reading mascot that was created with input from young people from the community it served.

Tala the Storyteller seems to be becoming the most recognized reading mascot around the world. With news organizations from Hitchin News Hub & Pink News to conservative outlets the New York Post, the Daily Mail and more covering the story.

Defenders of Herts Libraries and Tala include

Maureen Johnson

Billy Bragg

Danny Pearson

Joanne Harris

and a whole raft of believers in equality and equity of representation and access.

This attack on Tala the Storyteller is just another front in the culture war against libraries being welcoming and inclusive that has opened up.

Way back in 2010 I was honoured to serve as an avatar of the Bookstart Bear. Over the last 30 years, many of my colleagues have done the same, some female, some male (like me) and others whose genders I did not know. Did this make the Bookstart Bear genderfluid or trans? Who cares? If the question had been asked even a few years ago it would have been ridiculed as people making a fuss over Tala have been ridiculed and called out today.

When Gender Critters Attack

Once the dust of this overhyped non-controversy has settled and exclusionary gender critters have moved on to another target Hertfordshire Libraries will still be running family library events with Tala and BookTrust will still be offering support and resources to those who need them most. You can find out about some if these below.

Earlier this year BookTrust developed a new pilot, Bookstart Toddler and Bookstart Pre-schooler which are packs and resources specifically aimed at disadvantaged children and families and will be delivered through targeted approaches by a range of nurseries and children’s centres to ensure we reach children most in need. Last year they launched a new pilot library initiative BookTrust Storytime. Aimed at families with children aged 0-5, especially those who are disadvantaged, BookTrust Storytime is designed to support families to share stories together and make visiting the library a regular part of family life.

Every Child has the Right to… The Children’s Laureate Charter

By now you should have heard that Cressida “How to Train Your Dragon” Cowell has been appointed as the Waterstones Children’s Laureate for 2019-2021.

Not content to just take up the reins, she has hit the ground running, with the announcement of the Children’s Laureate Charter.

This ambitious list forms the blueprint for her two years as Laureate, and is one that sees her drawing from Pennac’s Rights of the Reader, the campaign to save libraries and from further afield – calling for creative subjects to be retained as well as fighting to save our increasingly imperilled planet.

Championing the rights of young people in literature and beyond is no small task and I am sure that like me you will be supporting and amplifying her efforts in encouraging young people to read and gain agency in their literaery choices and beyond!

Congratulations on becoming Children’s Laureate Cressida! I will support you in any way that I can!

Plagiarism for Executives: a Guide

Plagiarism is defined as:
The practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.
New Oxford Dictionary of English

These are all examples of plagiarism:

  • Copying text & images from a website, film or book and passing them off as your own work
  • Paraphrasing text and not citing the original source
  • Handing in a previously submitted piece of work from another subject
  • Copying the work of others
    Avoiding plagiarism
  • Plan your work
  • Use multiple sources
  • Take notes by paraphrasing & summarising
  • If you use exact words & phrases use “quotation marks”
  • Do not copy & paste from the internet – read and then make notes without looking at the screen
  • Do not copy work from anyone (but especially not well-known creators)
    Unconscious Plagiarism
    Cryptomnesia (hidden memory) occurs when a forgotten memory returns without it being recognized as such by the subject, who believes it is something new and original.

    Examples of Creative Plagiarism

  • Shia LaBoeuf copying almost word for word and scene by scene Daniel Clowes’ comic strip Justin M. Damiano and creating a short movie called Howard
  • Melania trump plagiarising Michelle Obama’s speech (
  • Beyonce has been accused of plagiarising lesser-known artists over the course of her career (
  • When George Harrison released My Sweet Lord in 1969 he (perhaps inadvertently) copied the melody for He’s So Fine by the Chiffons. While the judge ruled that the plagiarism was accidental George was still liable for half a million dollars in royalties.
  • How to Raise a Reader

    From the moment you’re expecting your first child, you are bombarded with messages about the importance of reading. For good reason: The benefits of reading at every stage of a child’s development are well documented. Happily, raising a reader is fun, rewarding and relatively easy.

    A guide from The New York Times by Pamela Paul and Maria Russo:

    How to Raise a Reader

    The FA Literacy Resources: Literacy with the Lionesses

    The England Women’s team look like they have a very good chance of taking home the trophy at the Women’s Euros this summer. To capitalise on the excitement around the tournament, we have teamed up with The FA to create a toolkit for teachers based around the Lionesses at the Women’s Euros.

    The free Literacy with the Lionesses toolkit is packed with fun football-themed activities for boys and girls in Years 5 to 8, using the excitement around the Lionesses’ progress in the Women’s Euros to develop boys’ and girls’ writing and reading skills.

    The toolkit is available for download now, along with several supporting resources and worksheets.

    For full details and more resources, visit:

    The Worshipful Company of Arbitrators Reading for Pleasure Offer to London Schools

    The Worshipful Company of Arbitrators is committed to promoting education in its widest sense and particularly in supporting children from disadvantaged backgrounds who have fewer opportunities than others. This is a commitment that has been encouraged by successive Lord Mayors.

    During 2017, the WCA Trust has decided to support literacy development and the encouragement of children’s reading for pleasure in London schools. The WCA Trust will sponsor a number of author/ illustrator / poet / storyteller visits for disadvantaged pupils in London schools, throughout 2017. The project will be organized by Sue Bastone, Mistress Arbritrator and Authors Aloud UK.

    To apply for visit funding download and fill in this application form:

    Download (DOCX, 204KB)

    The Children’s Literacy Charter & the UK

    Nal’ibali (isiXhosa for “here’s the story”) is a South African reading-for-enjoyment campaign to spark children’s potential through storytelling and reading.

    Last year during International World Book Day they released a Children’s Literacy Charter for South Africa.

    Download (PDF, 580KB)

    While at a glance the Literacy Charter does bear a slight resemblance to Pennac’s Right’s of the Reader it is specifically geared towards enabling children to develop a love of reading and learning.

    I had been entertaining some thoughts about adapting the charter for the UK but after playing around with it I have instead decided to push for it to be adopted over here as the wording is inclusive and only minor changes would be needed for a UL/European setting. This, of course is dependent on obtaining Nal’ibali’s blessing to do this.

    PRAESA wins the 2015 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

    The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA) has been around since 2003, and is the world’s biggest prize for children’s and young adult literature. It is given to authors, illustrators, story tellers and “reading promoters” around the world for their lifetime achievements.

    Based in Cape Town, theProject for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (PRAESA) is an organisation that has worked to promote reading and literature for children and young people in South Africa since 1992.

    For more than twenty years, PRAESA has made powerful, innovative moves to highlight literature as a key component of both personal and societal development, always grounded in the specific conditions of South African society and culture. Its work focuses on encouraging children to read for enjoyment, building their self-esteem, and helping them connect to their native language through reading and story.

    Literacy learning can take place in any language and it is the democratic right of all South African children to use their mother tongues not only to learn the formal school curriculum, but to also access the wonders, mysteries and satisfaction of stories – told and read. PRAESA strives to help enable conditions for learning, inside and outside of school, which motivate children and adults to want to read and write – and enable them to actually do so – in African languages and in English.

    To this end, PRAESA concentrates on:

      research and development programmes about bilingualism and biliteracy in early childhood education
      raising the status of the (official) African languages for oral and written language functions in society
      mentoring adults to deepen understandings and appreciation of the value of becoming reading and writing role models for children of all ages and supporting their growing understandings and strategies for achieving this
      initiating the development of materials for use with babies and children in multilingual situations, through original writing and translation.

    To find out more about PRAESA and the fantastic work they do, follow this link: PRAESA

    The Rather Amazing Race: Introducing Students to Finding Information Quickly

    Telling students that finding information in a book can be faster than using the internet is fun!

    I told a class of year nines this morning and I could see the naked disbelief in their faces. The moment the words left my mouth a sea of hands shot up and a clamour of voices stridently disagreeing with me filled the library.

    They shouted that the internet was faster, easier and had more accurate sources. I managed to quieten them down and then one lad stood up and said that he would show me that using the internet was faster. I asked him how he would accomplish this and he challenged me to a race.

    He said that he would use the internet and I would use the books in the library. The rest of the class cheered loudly at this.

    I was rather surprised, as I had been planning on running a books versus the internet lesson in October so I agreed. I suggested that we both stand in the centre of the library and said that the first person to take the information they found to their form tutor who was also in the library would win. I also gave him the choice of subject.

    He said one word: “Football!”

    He ran to the closest available computer while I walked over to World Book Encyclopedia, took Volume 7 (F) off the shelf and looked up Football. World Book is an American publication, so the information contained therein was about American Football, but it did reference Soccer (Association football). So I grabbed Volume 18 (So-Sz) found the entry on Soccer and took it to the teacher.

    By the time my worthy opponent had started shouting that the computer was too slow, so I called him back to the rest of the class who started accusing me of cheating. I disagreed with them but that only made their fury greater, they told me that it was not fair and that I knew where all the information books in the library were and could just walk to them and find the information I wanted.

    At this point I gave a silent thank you to whoever was listening and then agreed with the students.

    The point of the exercise I told them, was not to show off what I can do in the library, but rather to show them what they can learn to do. The point of library lessons for year nine is to continue helping them learn how to find relevant and reliable information for the work they are doing, both in print and online.

    I think that the lesson went well, the class was quieter by the end of the lesson than it has ever been before. They thought about what I was offering them over the course of the year ahead.

    The next lessons will focus on finding information online.

    A Zine adaptation of An Introduction to Using the Library

    A zine (an abbreviation of fanzine, or magazine) is most commonly a small circulation self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images usually reproduced via photocopier.

    In December I adapted a powerpoint presentation that I originally created to introduce students to the Dewey Decimal System into a general introduction to the Library. I did this as the original incarnation of the presentation was over-complicated and not very user-friendly.

    I preferred the library introduction as it was simpler, shorter and had a better flow but I have found that students don’t learn from powerpoint presentations alone so I adapted it further.

    Into a zine:

    I printed the A4 pages individually, then using a photocopier I copied them as an A5 booklet.

    If youa re interested in creating a copy of the zine for use in your own school or library then you may download the pages here:

    Introduction to the Library Zine download