What We’re Reading Wednesday: First Book of Nature – Nicola Davies & Mark Hearld

The book that I’m reading at the moment has become a true classic in our house. Published back in 2012, Nicola Davies and Mark Hearld’s A First Book of Nature, has become a staple of our reading year. The forerunner of this year’s Greenaway longlisted First Book of Animals (illustrated by Petr Horacek), the book journeys through the four seasons in a mix of poetry and lyrical prose, offering scraps of recipes, facts, fragments and observations to remind us of the wonder and diversity of the natural world.


I’m blown away each time I return to it by the richness of the illustrations – colour simply floods the page (no white margins here) perfectly capturing the essence of each season. Mark Hearld’s collages are vibrant and evocative: a mixture of direct observation and characteristic nostalgia. I’m a fan anyway but they seem to me to perfectly capture the essence and experiences being related in Nicola Davies’ words.


The book deals with each season in turn but it is always ‘Spring’ which holds the greatest draw for me. I can’t see the buds opening on the cherry blossom without thinking of this book: ‘Last week the twigs were just twigs, Bare and black and boring, But now – blossom!’.


I think that this is essentially the root of its enduring appeal: no matter the time of year, no matter the location you will find an image or a phrase that totally encapsulates your experience of the natural world. The nature that it records is universal and recognisable for children everywhere. It takes us through urban landscapes, woodlands, back gardens fields and beaches so that in a single page turn we can jump from the garden pond to the rockpool.


The book excels by not simply describing the season but rather the experience of it. Davies tells us that Lamb’s tails wiggle when they’re happy…you’ll see it when a lamb is feeding. It butts its mum and starts to suck, Then watch the tail go!’ but she also tells us that we’ll see them and want to smile. How true! It’s this beguiling mix of the practical and the poetical that has ensured that we keep returning to it year after year.






Please join the Reading Challenge…my attempts at engaging post sixteens

College Librarian Lorna Thomson shares her experiences of designing and implementing a Reading Challenge to engage those hard to reach post sixteens…

ReadingChallenge! (1)

As everyone knows working with post sixteen students and encouraging them to pursue reading as a leisure activity is challenging to say the least. Following the success of other colleges we decided last year to launch a reading challenge. The college had never ran one before and to me it seemed like a no brainer, what better way to motivate our users to expand their reading? We sent out messages on all our bulletins, we advertised across college and we had good incentives and prizes, can you get better than an iPad for one overall winner?

You can imagine my disappointment then when only 130 students signed up. Despite the valiant efforts of the team and loads of enthusiasm, out of nearly 10,000 students only 30 completed! What did they want? I launched a survey to find out, and discovered that overwhelmingly the vast majority simply had no idea that the challenge was running.

So what to do next?

I had a good think about where we had gone wrong, I tried to really consider what we had wanted to achieve and I was determined not be deterred. On reflection I realised that the main aim had been to try and encourage the students who never use the library to step in so we could show them what we had to offer. Continue reading

World Book Day – how are you celebrating?

It’s that time of year again… World Book Day – the biggest worldwide celebration of authors, illustrators, books and reading – is upon us! Children (and parents) up and down the country will be putting the finishing touches to their costumes and librarians and teachers everywhere will be frantically going about their last-minute preparations (or is that just us?).

One of the things we’ll definitely be doing this year is talking about our favourite past Greenaway medal winners – the Youth Libraries Group are encouraging everyone to join them in recognising the CILIP Kate Greenaway medal and chatting about these wonderful illustrated works. You can follow the conversations on twitter by searching for #ckg18 #WoBoD #WorldBookDay and #BestChildrensBooks


Here is a snapshot of the many other ways in which we’ll be celebrating World Book Day in the North West – we’d love to hear what you’ll be doing too so please do send us your comments.


Librarian, Lostock College, Stretford A childs

I tell everyone that, in my world, every day is World Book Day.

At school some staff and students will be dressing up, we also have a couple of competitions.  One involves scanning a QR code on posters around the school, and the other involves staff members reading out a passage from their favourite book – students have to then match the staff member to the right book. Other English department activities include creating a book scene in a shoe box and baking a booky cake.

I am also going to arm myself with a big box of chocolates and ask questions all around the school about books – anyone who answers a question correctly gets to pick a chocolate!



Bolton Library and Museum Service  Em

I’ll be welcoming a local nursery to one of our community libraries for a special World Book Day visit in the morning. I’ve previously been into the nursery to introduce myself read a story to the children, and they’re all now registered for library cards, so they’ll be able to explore all our lovely books and start borrowing straight away. We’ll be gifting the Bookstart treasure pack to the children as part of the session so we’ll be reading Alan’s Big Scary Teeth and having lots of crocodile themed fun. bookstart-treasure-blue-pack-and-contents-alans-teeth-v3-webIn the afternoon I’ll be visiting some more nursery children for a story session. Nursery visits are one of my absolute favourite parts of my job and I can’t think of a more joyful way of spending World Book Day than with young children who are so excited about stories and all that the library can offer. It really is magical.

In the evening I’ll be frantically making sure everything is in order with my own children’s costumes. They’re celebrating on Friday at their school – my 6 year-old wants to go as Captain Underpants and my almost-5- year-old has opted for Winnie the Witch. Given that we haven’t made a start on either costume yet we could be in for an interesting couple of days!

At the end of all that, if I can keep my eyes open for long enough, I’ll celebrate the passing of another fun-filled World Book Day with a cool glass of wine and a few chapters of my current read, The Explorer by Katherine Rundell.


Lancashire County Council


I will have a busy World Book Day this year. We are revealing our Lancashire Book of the Year shortlist in the morning and have a special guest in Natalie Flynn, our winning author from last year. After that we will be taking Natalie to Garstang Academy for a reading before going to Longton Library and doing a workshop with Natalie and our”Great Minds” project team.



Lancashire Schools Library Service

Our book bus vehicles will be visiting 2 primary schools with staff telling stories to pupils at St John and St Michaels, Shawforth, Rochdale and Gillibrand, Chorley. Pupils will be entertained with readings from newly published titles and old favourites, audience participation is compulsory!

The Fantastic Book Awards is drawing to an exciting climax, with pupils now voting for their favourite fiction titles.  Thousands of Year 5/6 pupils in 130 schools across Lancashire have taken part in this year’s award and have enjoyed an excellent mix of titles. Designed to encourage children to read for pleasure the winners will be announced in May and you can view the list of nominated books here



St Bede’s College, Manchester P1060902

I am giving out tokens & £1 books to our pupils, hosting  a team book quiz at lunchtime and running a competition where pupils have to ask members of staff for the titles of their favourite books. I’m also leading a couple of Year 8 lessons during the day.  After school I am organising book themed activities for the youth club I help to run at Church – book character bingo and a bit of Harry Potter “transfiguration” with plasticine.  I think I might then go home and have a large glass of wine and read a book!



Bury Grammar School (Girls) Lizzie Ryder photo  

I’ll be celebrating in school with a house competition book quiz – it’s the first time we’ve tried it – there will be buzzers, balloons and everything! Love it or loathe it we’re also a dressy-up school so I’m currently deliberating whether to go dressed as the Lady of Shallot or Moaning Myrtle! I normally try to go dressed as a character from one of our book award shortlisted titles and did briefly consider the otherworldly queen from Patrick Ness’s Release but thought better of it! Whichever costume I decide on though I can guarantee that I’ll still be up at midnight on Wednesday trying to put a costume together!

In fairness, I wouldn’t have it any other way – it’s all part of the fun and I won’t be the only one in our house dressing up: My two girls are going to school dressed as Tiga from Sibeal Pounder’s Witch Wars and Angelina Ballerina (we’re very excited about the mouse ears!). It’s been genuinely lovely this year seeing them get excited about what they are going to wear – Certainly for my eldest, choosing and putting together a costume has been a true extension of the imaginative world of the book. I’ve been flabbergasted at the detail she’s recounted to make her Tiga outfit just right. It’s not just that she’s going to put on some fun clothes on Thursday, it’s an opportunity to make real something you’ve only had in your imagination and I reckon that must be a pretty powerful thing as a child. It certainly makes all the effort and general chaos of Thursday morning worthwhile!

Witch wars


Wherever you are and however you’ll be celebrating, we wish you a wonderful World Book Day!






Well, it’s that time of year again, the funny bit in between Christmas and New Year. 27th December is the day each year when my brain decides it’s time to stop simply playing Christmas songs on repeat and start to reflect on the past twelve months and look forward to the coming year. This year I’ve also been thinking a lot about the books that I’ve read and how much my mood impacts my reading choices, and wondering if this is the same for everyone.

2017 has been a time of great personal change for me, definitely a year I’ll look back on as a pivotal one. There have been times this year when I thought I’d never smile again and times when I’ve giggled like a teenager; times when I’ve felt completely stuck in a moment and times when I’ve felt almost giddy with the possibilities of the future.

Looking back at the books I’ve read, the year started with a lot of romance and comfort reads – I wanted to escape into a world where everything worked out exactly as you hoped it would from page one. As time went on, my year got tougher and I realised I had to make some changes, and so I sought out more challenges from books too. I couldn’t relax enough to enjoy a comfort read and this was reflected in the stories I chose as predictability gave way to uncertainty and I began to realise that sometimes you need to allow yourself to experience pain to get through it.

The one thing that’s pretty much constant in every book I’ve read this year though, is an underlying sense of hope. There’s adversity and sometimes despair – books such as After the Fire; The Hate U Give and The Bone Sparrow contain some challenging themes and people who do inexcusable things – but they also contain some of the best elements of humanity. Connections formed in the most difficult of circumstances; acts of kindness, big and small, that mean so much more to the recipient than the giver could ever realise; the joy of holding your loved ones close (THUG and Sweet Pizza contain two of my favourite fictional families ever) and the strength that knowing you are loved can bring.

I haven’t picked my first read of 2018 yet (I’m open to recommendations). But whatever I choose, there’ll be more hope than hurt, more optimism than despair and more smiles than sadness. Not so much a happy ending as a hopeful new beginning 🙂


Review: The White Fox – Jackie Morris

The White Fox by Jackie MorrisThis week I’ve been reading Jackie Morris’s Greenaway 2018 nominated The White Fox – given the weather we’ve had this week, I couldn’t have hoped for a better book!

The day the fox comes, things begin to change for Sol. He’s adrift too, lost in the big city with his father, longing for the wild and frozen north. The fox offers a way back, a chance to reconnect, to find his way home.

Blue grey wintry tones set against the thick cream paper stock that is Barrington Stoke’s trademark make this the perfect book to curl up with on a wintry evening. Jackie Morris once again weaves words and pictures into a pocket sized work of beauty.The White Fox - Jackie Morris

At only 84 pages long the story is deceptively deep. Sol, bullied at school and adrift in a big city, feels a natural affinity with the white fox which mysteriously turns up on Seattle’s docks. It offers him a way back home and a reconnection with both the wild landscape of Alaska and his family.

The whole book breathes: clutches of snowy birch trees offer punctuation to the text and a tiny fox rushes along the bottom corner whilst gloriously saturated double page spreads allow the reader a moment of quiet reflection to connect to the wider themes of the book.

Both Sol and the fox begin the story profoundly out of place – beautifully conveyed in the opening illustrations which show the fox lost among the dark and overwhelming man made structures. However, as Sol’s connection to the fox, and indeed his own family, develops the colour palette lightens and we progress through the shining snow of the forest and the emerald green backdrop of his grandmother’s house to culminate in the shimmering, gold spangled, blue of the night sky. There is a satisfying sense of a journey having taken place – both literal and emotional. A truly satisfying read.