Posted in Reading

All Booked Up for World Book Day

Debbie Young celebrates World Book Day, sharing the love of children’s books

Laura reading inside a play tunnel
Poster girl for Read for Good – Laura and friend at a Readathon photoshoot

Having spent the last four years gainfully employed at the British children’s reading charity Read for Good, it felt odd this year to be counting down the days to March (as I always do) without having to consider my World Book Day workload.

How to Make Reading Cool for Kids

World Book Day logo 2014For those not familiar with World Book Day, it’s a UNESCO-led global celebration of reading which children take part in all over the, er, world.

Perversely, the UK celebrates it on a different day to the rest of the world, as the official day, April 23rd, usually clashes with British school holidays.

Most primary schools and many secondary schools celebrate World Book Day by staging all kinds of book-related events to make reading seem cool. (Incidentally I’m reliably informed by my 10-year-old daughter that it’s not cool for me to use the word “cool”.) This is because research shows that children who learn to love reading for pleasure grow up happier and more fulfilled in every respect. (Visit the Read for Good site for more information on that score.)

Read for Good LogoReadathon Gets Kids Reading for Good

Read for Good helps schools run a Readathon Sponsored Read by providing a colourful box of tricks free of charge. This enables teachers to get an easy tick on their World Book Day action list while actively enthusing their pupils to enjoy reading. The children choose what they want to be sponsored to read – much more motivating than reading what’s on their curriculum – and friends and family sponsor them. Most of the sponsorship money goes to help seriously ill children, partly through Read for Good’s fabulous ReadWell programme. The school also earns a book voucher to buy new school library books to the value of  20% of the total raised. What’s not to love about Readathon?

But unlike World Book Day, Readathon isn’t a once-a-year opportunity. Schools can run a Readathon any time of year that suits them – and they do. Some even set it as a school holiday challenge.

Helping Poorly Children Escape into a Book

Little boy taking book off ReadWell hospital bookshelf
ReadWell gives free books to children in hospital

Around 3,000 school Readathons take place every year, benefiting seriously ill children. These children are helped  partly through the charity’s ReadWell programme. ReadWell sends free books and storytellers to children in hospital all over the UK, making life better not only for the children but also their parents, carers and siblings. Getting lost in a good book is a great way to while away time in hospital and escape from pain, fear and anxiety surrounding hospital procedures.

Spreading the Word(s)

Page from Teddy Robinson book that has been coloured in by a young Debbie
An early indication of my love of books: enthusiastic colouring

Even though I left Readathon last autumn to concentrate full-time on my writing, I’m still flying the flag for recreational reading, for both children and adults.

Tomorrow I’ll be going into the village school that my daughter attends to get involved with their World Book Day celebrations. Hawkesbury Primary School has invited members of the community to come in to tell the children about their favourite books from their own childhood.

Mine was Teddy Robinson’s Omnibus by Joan G Robinson, whose central characters were a little girl called Deborah and a teddy bear that looks remarkably like my own. (Hmm, I wondered why I liked that book best?) I still have both the bear and the book, which displays evidence of my early hands-on approach to reading – some enthusiastic colouring of the line drawings in wax crayon. 

After the school book-sharing session, I’ll be setting up a second-hand book stall in the school hall enabling the children to buy books at pocket-money prices to foster their own love of reading. It’s wonderful to think that tomorrow some of them may also find treasures they’ll still remember when they’re grown ups.

My Love of Children’s Books

Cover of Today's Child March/April 2014I must admit I still adore children’s books, which is one reason that I write a regular review feature in Today’s Child Magazine. For this issue, I’ve also written an article called “Make Reading Fun”, as featured on the cover. To read it, click on this link and flick to pages 12-13. (My book reviews are on pages 20-21).

World Book Night logo 2014But I’m also glad that there’s an equivalent for adults coming up soon: World Book Night, which even in the UK will be celebrated on the official day of April 23rd. World Book Night is a completely different event from World Book Day (yes, it is confusing!) More about that event nearer the time – or you can check out its website,

ReadWell logoWondering how to celebrate World Book Day? Just share a good book with a child that you know. And to help other children throughout the UK, please consider making a donation to help ReadWell continue its good work, sharing the joy of books with children in hospital every day of the year. Donations may be made direct on ReadWell’s donations page here. No donation is too small.

But now, I’m off to find a comfy spot in which to read a good book…

Title page of Teddy Robinson's Omnibus
All aboard for some recreational reading
Posted in Family, Personal life

Golden Times

English: Trench watch (wristlet). The type of ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(This new post is about a great idea for encouraging good behaviour from children in school: Golden Time)

For many children at our village school, the highlight of the week is “Golden Time”. Doesn’t the name sound alluring even before you know what it is?

Golden Time is a brief period every Friday when the pupils are allowed to do what they like – from playing on the computers to drawing pictures to curlng up with a good book. It’s a treat they look forward to all week as an antidote to their hectic schedule. It’s also an effective motivator for good behaviour, as staff may dock minutes from each child for misdemeanours. To allow naughty children to reform, the slate is wiped clean each week, everyone starting with a full score of minutes every Monday morning.

Attending a parents’ meeting in the classroom when my daughter was a new Year 1, I spotted on the whiteboard a list headed “Golden Time” with a number of minutes against each child’s name. Several other mums were as aghast as I was to see there were no numbers next to our children. What on earth had they done to lose all their time? Hesitantly, I asked the class teacher who smiled and shook her head.

“Oh no, Mrs Young, the numbers there represent the minutes those children have been docked!”

Phew, my daughter was a good girl after all! My relief was palpable.

English: Sundial on Moot Hall, Aldeburgh, Suff...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One recent Friday, all the girls in her class emerged from Golden Time with their hair in beautiful fishtail plaits, courtesy of their kind teacher. Next week, they were wild-haired from a lovely session of crazy, headbanging dancing.

Either way, they were happy, contented and effectively rewarded for being good all week.

I just wish there was a Golden Time for grown-ups. Or maybe there is, and I’ve just lost all my minutes for bad behaviour.

Hmm, must try harder…


This post was originally published in the Hawkesbury Parish News, November 2012.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like this one that harks back to my own behaviour in school:

What Size Is Your Jersey?

or this one about my daughter’s approach to time management:

What A To-Do! The Tale of My Daughter’s Action List

Posted in Family, Personal life

2020 Vision – Predicting the Future for the Children of Hawkesbury Upton

My daughter (bottom right) at one of many sporting events in which she represented the school last year
Go Team Hawkesbury!

Since catching Olympic fever this summer, I’ve started to view the antics of our village children in a different way. 

I’ve always known that Hawkesbury turns out talented children, as anyone could see from the children’s entries section of the Village Show. Hawkesbury Primary School is renowned for producing great all-rounders, not least because it offers an impressive array of after-school clubs, from cooking and cross-country running to journalism and orchestra.

There is also an extraordinary choice of  children’s activities elsewhere in the village. Many are so popular that they are fully subscribed, even for the older age groups, who tend to drift away from such activities in urban communities.

These opportunities are only made possible by the dedication and hard work of the adults who run them. There are also clubs set up by the children themselves, encouraged by the  school to make good use of lunchtimes and enjoyed by children of all ages. Our children are lucky to have so much purposeful, fulfilling activity readily available to them, as well as our gorgeous rural setting – and they know it.

Hawkesbury boys on scooters in park
On their way to a new skate park (they hope!)

Since the London 2012 Olympics, I’ve become even more impressed by our children’s activities. Inadvertently, I’ve found myself transforming into an unofficial Team GB talent-spotter. Seeing a child cycling at speed down the high street, I fast-forward to the 2020 Olympics and picture them surging ahead in the Velodrome. Spotting a child swing with ease across the monkey bars in the playpark, I imagine them, eight years on, performing on the parallel bars in the Olympic Gymnastic Arena. Will the proposed village skate park, nearing completion of its fundraising appeal, generate members of the 2020 Team GB BMX team? I never knew BMX biking was an Olympic sport till London 2012, but it made impressive viewing.

Now there’s a good reason to help the HawksNest Skate Park appeal cross the finishing line this autumn! London 2012 may be over, but for the children of Hawkesbury Upton, the adventure may be only just beginning.

To find out more about the Hawkesbury Upton Skate Park appeal, you can find them on Facebook  or visit their website. Donations are always welcome!

This post was originally written for Hawkesbury Parish News (September 2012 edition).

Posted in Travel

Do Traffic Signs Drive You To Distraction?

Old-fashioned road sign from Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore
Road signs from the early days of motoring had so much more charm

The 380-mile drive home in our camper van from Stirling, Scotland, does nothing  to diminish my aversion to electronic motorway message boards. These huge signs have popped up alongside many British motorways lately. They must be costing the Ministry of Transport a fortune, as well as causing chaos through necessary lane closures and traffic disruption.

You know the sort I mean: ominous big black boards displaying a grid of light bulbs, selectively  illuminated to spell out the message of the moment. They’re sinister, unattractive and dull, a far cry from the carefully designed road signs from the early days of motoring. Those had a real charm about them; it must have been a pleasure to observe them and obey. Their messages were much more considered too. They had to be, given the long hours required to construct a sturdy metal sign.

Old fashioned road sign frequently seen in the Scottish Highlands
For ships in the night

I suppose I should be grateful that modern technology makes it possible for today’s driver to receive up-to-the-minute motoring news. But I seldom see any useful messages on these boards. The first one we pass today is a case in point: “Please drive safely.” Oh, and there was I planning to slalom all the way to Gretna with my eyes closed!

And, Ministry of Transport, please note: it doesn’t calm any driver’s road rage to be told “Queues Ahead” when you’re already stuck in the middle of one.

But as the nation has invested in these message boards, I suppose we must make the best of them. To this end, I’d like to suggest some more  constructive uses:

  • To convey calming, philosophical thoughts at times of peak traffic, such as rush hour: “This too will pass” or   “There’s a cup of tea/glass of wine/cold beer at home with your name on it”
  • To lift the weary driver’s spirits and take their mind off the traffic: “You’re looking well today”; “You look so much younger than your years”; “That colour really suits you”
  • To divert restless young passengers with travel game ideas: “Let’s play I-Spy!”, “I went to the market and I bought…”, “Who will spot the first yellow car?”; “And now it’s time for a keeping quiet competition!”
  • To answer the children’s repetitive question: “No, we are NOT nearly there yet!”
  • For a more subtle approach, a series of messages on that theme: “We’re nearer than we were the last time you asked” or “Not much further now” or “For every time you ask, it will add five minutes to the journey”

Alternatively, the boards could try to replicate pleasing road signs from the golden age of motoring – or those from other countries that have made you smile. (Any suggestions, anyone?) To end on a more cheerful note, here’s one that we spotted last week in Applecross, in the north west of Scotland. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.

Road sign seen in Applecross, Scotland, cautioning "Men In Kilts Walking"
You have been warned…

And if that rant wasn’t enough for you, here’s my post from last summer on the same theme:

Rage Against The Road Signs

Or on a lighter note, a mystery solved about French lay-bys:

A Layby By Any Other Name

Posted in Family

Don’t Leave Her Hanging on the Telephone

photo of old bakelite telephone
A little drawer pulled out at the bottom in which you could store your friends’ numbers

Against my better judgement, I’ve allowed my eight year old daughter her own mobile phone. Well, my old mobile phone, actually. In a moment of weakness I gave it to her when I upgraded to a smartphone. I don’t approve of mobiles for children – I don’t think they have the emotional maturity to manage them – but now that she’s having sleepovers, it gives us both peace of mind to know she can call me if she needs me, day or night. (Her type 1 diabetes can quickly escalate into a medical emergency.)

Of course, my own childhood provides no precedent to help me judge what an eight year old might do with a mobile phone. Not only were there no mobile phones when I was a child, there weren’t even landlines in many homes.

I remember well the telephone from the house I grew up in.  It was a classic, heavy, black bakelite number with a clicky, cold metal dial. By contrast, my grandmother’s new Trimphone, circa 1970, was considered revolutionary. Like her new bathroom, it was in fashionable avocado green. It didn’t last long, though. A bird in the garden learnt to mimic its shrill ringing so she never knew when a call was coming in.

Photo of a green trimphone
The revolutionary trimphone in avocado – ironically a popular colour in the 1970s when most British people would not have tasted avocado or be able to identify one on the greengrocer’s shelf

My other grandmother had a neighbour who subscribed to a party line. This arrangement allowed two households to share a single number across two hard-wired handsets when there weren’t enough lines available to go around. These days, the idea seems an unthinkable invasion of privacy – though it would have made phone-tapping a lot easier, saving certain journalists a lot of trouble.

Many people got by without a phone at all. There were alternative communications systems available. One university friend’s local MP was happy to relay urgent messages from his home phone to constituents. It must have been a great vote-catcher. (I don’t think “I’m on the train” would have counted.)

The fact of my husband’s birth was relayed to his father, just home from his shift down a Scottish coalmine, by a knock on the door from the local policeman. “Mr Young, you’ve got another laddie,” he announced.

Even so, I was astonished when my boyfriend at university would go home for weekends without heralding his arrival with an advance phone call. But he had no option. His parents weren’t connected to British Telecom (the only, nationalised service provider.) His father was holding out against installing a phone for as long as he could, fearful of the bill his garrulous wife would run up. A few years later, he gave in and his worst fears were realised. She used the phone during the day when he was at work so as not to incur his wrath about the bill, with the net result that the bills were even higher. She made up for years of being incommunicado with endless, pointless calls to her sister in Liverpool. “What are you having for your tea tonight, then? Oh? Will you have peas with it?” Ironically that boyfriend’s first job on leaving university was with British Telecom, about to be shaken out of the dark ages by privatisation.

Cover and 45rpm record of Blondie's single, Don't Leave Me Hanging on the Telephone
We didn’t have CDs either

I still don’t like making phone calls, always thinking of the phone bill as I dial. My fear is misplaced. All calls from home are now free after 7pm and my mobile package offers me more free calls in a month than I am likely to use in a lifetime.

Not so my daughter’s phone: she’s only allowed Pay As You Go, a small balance provided for emergencies only. I am therefore annoyed when in my study this evening, working just a room away from her, a text message from her pops up on my mobile.  I grab the phone crossly, rehearsing a diatribe against inappropriate use of her phone credit. But my wrath is shortlived when I read it: “I love you, lovely mummy, even though you work so hard.” A message like that is worth 10p any day.

If you enjoyed this piece of nostalgia, you might like this one about my childhood Christmases.

What’s your attitude to mobile phones for young children? Do leave a comment if you’d like to have your say!