One letter spoke for them all, perhaps:
Thanks for your superb recent edition, expressing so well all the anxieties that so many of us in the English Dept, and other departments, are feeling about SATs, libraries, etc. Keep up the good work!
Our thanks in return to Margaret and to the many other readers who wrote, ‘phoned and in some cases called in to let us know how much our last issue, and Mike Rosen’s article in particular, was appreciated.
Especially gratifying was the fact that nobody – or, at any rate, nobody who contacted us – mistook our purpose. Far from promoting some alternative political agenda of our own, we were objecting to any approach to children’s reading that is test-led and Party-biased. We weren’t in the least surprised to be told by a radio producer last month that he couldn’t find a single independent expert on children’s books who was prepared to go on his programme and endorse the Government’s KS3 proposals.
One Way Forward…
For confirmation of just how feeble those KS3 proposals are, and how guaranteed to lower standards, we need look no further than a single sequence from a video-package which arrived recently at BfK for review. This shows a group of Year 5 children, in an East Sussex school, discussing Anthony Browne’s Gorilla:
Leigh: It seems like a gorilla is telling the story really. Like it might be a wish from a gorilla.
Marc: I think it may just have been someone who was watching.
Vigiter: When I read I don’t really think there’s a main person or a narrator. When I read, you know, when Miss Read reads to us, well I get used to it so whenever I read I just get Miss Read’s voice.
Amy: You think Miss Read is the narrator…
Such rich, ruminative talk, bringing genuine imaginative insight to a text encountered in a group situation, was one of the rewards of a year-long collaboration between two university teachers and two primary teachers working with children in otherwise routine state-school circumstances. Mind you, all four agreed on what they were about:
`We believe that reading is best learned not by individuals in isolation but in a social context… children need to belong to communities of readers for whom reading is seen as an important way of making sense of the world, as well as being an enjoyable activity in its own right.’
Both aspects are fully explored and documented in Creating a Community of Readers, a two-tape video-package produced by the University of Brighton. Aimed at students in initial-training and at primary and lower-secondary teachers keen to review and consolidate their practice, the ninety minutes of film (accompanied by a detailed commentary) offer convincing and entertaining evidence of the way in which good books can extend children as readers. How canny, for instance, to include discussion of Gorilla at both infant and junior age-levels… and how sobering to reflect that, if the Government refuses to modify its current plans, in three or four years’ time the most able of these same children will find themselves playing jigsaws with ill-drawn scenes from Romeo and Juliet.
… And Another
By the same post as the Brighton package, we also received a copy of Alive and Writing which must surely rate as The Ultimate Autograph Book of Children’s Literature. With a foreword by P D James and contributions from just about every children author and poet in the land, it’s the magazine that fronts Reading for Pleasure – a campaign by Mike Rouse, Manager of The Resource Centre at The Village College, Soham in Cambridgeshire. Other initiatives on stream include the extension of the Centre’s fiction and poetry sections, information files on all the writers studied by the youngsters and, when funds permit, a series of author-visits. Admirable at any time, such energy and flail in this ringbinder-bound era is particularly heartening… and matched, as well we know at BfK, by similar enterprises up and down the land. Congratulations to everyone at Soham. Who says the Good Guys can’t win?
No, not even my age anymore. Could it be… yes, you’ve guessed! For only the second time in our history, the first being a couple of magazines ago, we’ve extended BfK to forty pages. And this, in mid-recession, really is Something. Once again we must thank our advertisers for their support – especially those who’ve also helped us, through their sponsorship, to make this Picture Book Edition probably our most colourful ever. Even more, though, we must thank our subscribers and contributors without whom we would have nothing to extend.
Enjoy the issue.
Creating a Community of Readers – for further details and an order form, contact Media Services, Watts Building, University of Brighton, Moulsecomb, Brighton, BN2 4GJ (tel. 0273 642778, fax. 0273 606093).
To obtain details of Reading for Pleasure and a copy of Alive and Writing (price £1.00) send a self-addressed A4 envelope to Mike Rouse, The Resource Centre, The Village College, Soham, Cambridgeshire CB7 5AA.
Happy Birthday Dear Fed!
1993 marks the 25th birthday of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups which, judging by their recent Conference in Stratford-upon-Avon, is more lively and successful than ever in promoting literacy and the love of books.
To mark the occasion, the Federation sent its own birthday cards to assorted colleagues nationwide ‘in recognition of your contribution to children’s literature’. Well, if anyone deserves twenty-five bumps for the same reason – not to mention three more for luck over the next twenty-five – it’s the Federation.
Congratulations to all its members-past, present and future, for helping so magnificently to keep alive the rumour of reading pleasure.
For details of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups contact Marianne Adey at The Old Malt House, Aldbourne, Marlborough, Wiltshire 5NB 2DW.