Posted in Reading, Writing

Back to School Books – My Reviews for Today’s Child Magazine

A post about my latest book review column in the parenting magazine Today’s Child

Header for Sept Oct issueEvery two months I have a great excuse for getting stuck into children’s books: the review pages that I write for the parenting magazine, Today’s Child. Available on free distribution in London, this colourful and lively magazine may also be read online via one of those cute widgets that lets you flip through the pages as if it’s a real magazine.

Why I Write for Today’s Child

I started writing for Today’s Child when I worked for the national charity Read for Good, which runs sponsored Readathons in schools all over the country, and which also sends free books and storytellers into children in hospital via its ReadWell programme. Approached by an advertising sales executive to place a paid ad for the charity, I countered with the offer of a piece of editorial as an alternative, and the editor liked what I’d written so much that the arrangement has morphed into a regular gig as their book reviewer, with occasional features on other issues thrown in as the opportunity arises. For the next issue, for example, I’ll be writing a feature on Type 1 Diabetes, to coincide with World Diabetes Day on 14th November, and promoting the new paperback edition of my family memoir Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes, to be launched on the eve of World Diabetes Day.

Today’s Child is run by a lively young team with big ideas and a great sense of colour and design. The magazine recently had a makeover, and its new look is bright, cheerful and upbeat. Each issue has a particular theme, as does my book reviews page. I include some new books, but I also often refer to classics and old favourites that remain in fashion, and I think that approach adds value to my feature – I’m clearly not just regurgitating the big publishers’ PR campaigns. I’m also happy to feature books from small independent presses and self-published authors, if I like their books and think they’ll be enjoyed by the magazine’s readers.

Photos of three of my old childhood diaries
Diaries – more durable than any blog

The September/October issue was, not surprisingly, all about Back to School, a theme that is front of mind for most parents at this time of year. Next issue I’ll be writing about diaries and journals, providing ideas for Christmas gifts and inspiration for children to start or keep a diary-writing habit when the new year kicks in. From childhood, I was an avid diarist, and I still have all my old diaries on a high shelf on the landing, much to my eleven-year-old daughter’s amusement – time to hide them, I think, now she can reach the shelf! My blog has now replaced my diaries, and as any regular reader here will know, I do love to blog! But I wouldn’t be without a paper diary too.

More Information about Today’s Child

Today’s Child has regular competitions and shares lots of fun stuff on its Facebook page and on Twitter, so if you’d like to follow them there, here are the links:

Click here to read the latest issue – and flip to pages 16-17 to see my latest reviews:

More About My Book Reviews

Today’s Child isn’t the only magazine that I review books for – I’m also a regular reviewer for Vine Leaves Literary Journal,  equally beautiful and valuable to a completely different audience.

I think all writers should not only be avid readers but review books too, whether or not they choose to share their reviews in public, in magazines or online. (I’m also a top reviewer for Amazon, by the way, steadily approaching the Top #1000 badge and aspiring to climb higher!)

I also try to include book reviews on this website, by way of recommended reading, but am way behind just now, due to other commitments. I’m now planning to allocate an hour every weekend to updating my site and elsewhere with book reviews, and hope to catch up eventually – though reading an average of 2-3 books a week, this will take a while! If you’d like to see the reviews I’ve currently got on this site, you’ll find them here: My Book Reviews.

Like to Review My Books?

Of course, I do have a vested interest in reviewing books – as an author myself, I know how rewarding it is to receive a review of one of my own books! So if you’ve read and enjoyed one of mine, I’d be very grateful if you could spare a moment to post a quick review somewhere – whether on Amazon, Goodreads, your own blog, or anywhere else.

And if you’re a book blogger or journalist who would like a free review copy of any of my books, just send me a message via the contact form, specifying which book you’d like and where you intend to review it. Thank you so much – and happy reading to one and all!

Posted in Writing

My Work as a Children’s Book Reviewer

Continuing the series of posts that describe what I do all day, here’s a post about my gig as children’s book reviewer for Today’s Child magazine.

Banner advertising Today's Child
With a little help from yours truly, the latest issue of Today’s Child hits the ether

For the Love of Children’s Books

Anyone who knows me will be aware that I love to read books. A few years ago I landed a super job with children’s reading charity Read for Good, which gave me a great excuse to embrace children’s books. Read for Good’s fabulous work, through its Readathon and ReadWell brands, also made me realise the importance of leisure reading in children’s lives:

  • being in the habit of reading for pleasure in childhood is a greater influence on your lifelong success and happiness than financial wealth and social class (which is why Readathon runs sponsors reads in schools to encourage children to read for fun)
  • having access to books in hospital makes seriously ill children and their carers feel better (which is why ReadWell provides free books and storytellers to children’s hospitals)
Sir Tony Robinson is the inspiring patron of Read for Good
Sir Tony Robinson is the inspiring patron of Read for Good

Read for Good and Today’s Child

My role at Read for Good included administrative, promotional and marketing tasks. One day I fielded a phone call from Today’s Child‘s advertising department, asking whether we’d be willing to place a paid advert in its pages. As a registered charity, we spent very little on advertising, but I did offer as an alternative some free editorial copy about Read for Good, which they were happy to accept.

They liked what I wrote so much that they invited me to write a regular column for them, not always about the charity’s work, but focusing on aspects of reading. This has evolved into a regular double-page spread of book reviews, and in each issue I look at a particular genre, such as books about art or sport or the current season, and I put it into a wider parenting context. That way the feature is much more than a series of book reviews but an interesting, longer read that hangs together.

When I left Read for Good last year to write full time from home, I continued to write for Today’s Child, which has rapidly evolved from a London-only freebie paper to an online magazine with global reach.

How I Compile the Review Features

I announce in each issue what the next feature’s theme will be, so that any publishers wishing to send me suitable free review copies may do so. I welcome submissions from self-publishing authors too that match the chosen theme, so if you have a book that you think would be suitable, please contact me with more details.

ReadWell logo
Going full circle

After use, I pass all review copies on to Read for Good to put to use for that fabulous charity, whether to give to schools running Readathon sponsored reads or to send into children in hospital via ReadWell.

The July/August issue has just been published, and this time I was looking at books about art. You can read the feature online here via the paper’s fab online reading app.

Next issue, I’ll be considering back-to-school books. But first, let the summer holidays begin!

Further Reading

Posted in Personal life, Reading

Why Reading Makes Life Better

Tony Robinson
A ReadWell mobile bookcase, destined for a UK children’s hospital, with the support (or in this case supporting!) Read for Good’s patron Sir Tony Robinson (Photo by Read for Good)

The internet (God bless it) is awash with pithy sayings about the power of books to change lives, so it’s good now and again to be allowed to say something online about the subject without the constraints of the 140 character Tweet or the space allowed for a status update before Facebook cuts you off with a “see more” link.

My latest article for the monthly online parenting magazine Kideeko talks about the power of books to make life better for poorly children. It draws on my experience of three years working for the children’s reading charity Read for Good – parent of Readathon (which runs Sponsored Reads in schools) and ReadWell (taking books and storytellers to children in hospital).

Whether or not you have children at home, I reckon it’s still worth reading my article, if you have a moment to spare, to remind yourself of the power of storytelling to distract you from life’s ups and downs. To read the article in full, please click this link: Make Life Better with a Book

And if you’d like some ideas of great reads to curl up with, take a trip to my Book Reviews directory.

 

Posted in Reading, Writing

How I Celebrated World Book Night 2014

A post about how I celebrated my fourth year as an official World Book Night book giver

Debbie Young holding up a copy of Nora Roberts' Black Hills
The book I’m giving away for World Book Night 2014

Yesterday I was delighted to take part in World Book Night 2014 – the fourth year of this laudable event aimed at encouraging adults to read for pleasure.

In some ways it’s like the better-known, longer-established World Book Day, which is so effective at persuading children around the world to love books and reading. After spending three years working for the British children’s reading charity Read for Good, I know how leisure reading can change children’s lives for the better.

Despite the excellent work done by both Read for Good and World Book Day, many children still leave school without a love of books and reading, likely to go through the rest of their lives without the ability to escape into a story or expand their experience through the pages of a book.

What Is World Book Night?

World Book Night picks up where these children’s charities leave off. In the UK, World Book Night spreads the joy of reading to adults by enlisting book-loving volunteers to give away free books to those who do not normally read for pleasure. There are lots of reasons why adults don’t read books: no time, no interest, no encouragement, reading difficulties, and no money to spend on books. The organisers produce special editions of a set range of books each year, carefully chosen to include something to appeal to all ages and tastes.

Photo of back cover of a World Book Night book including blurb about the scheme
The distinguishing blurb on the back of World Book Night books

The unexpected gift of a free book, pressed into their hand by an avid reader, can make a real difference to a reluctant adult reader. It often kickstarts a new reading habit, enabling them to reap the joys of reading for the rest of their lives.

I recognise my own good fortune in having been raised in a house full of books and eager readers, with easy access to an excellent public library and caring schools. When I first discovered World Book Night four years ago, while working for Readathon (part of Read for Good), I was pleased to have this ready-made opportunity to offer further chances to those who had not been so lucky.

My Chosen World Book Night Books

Each year, I’ve applied and been pleased to be approved as a designated book giver, choosing a different one each year to distribute:

  • 2011 The chef Nigel Slater’s excellent autobiography Toast
  • 2012 The wonderful coming-of-age story by Dodie Smith, I Capture The Castle – one of my all-time favourite books
  • 2013 Alexander McCall Smith’s first Mma Ramotswe story, The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency
  • 2014 Nora Roberts’ romantic thriller, Black Hills

I’ve given out my allocation of books in various places – in the village school playground, at a breakfast event in the village hall, at the shopping precinct – and always been met with an enthusiastic, if sometimes puzzled, response. Once people realise there’s no catch, they’re delighted to receive a free book – and for the giver, it’s rewarding to feel like Father Christmas for a day.

Some of my author friends staged special events on the night at bookshops and libraries. We held one two years ago in our village hall, but those who attended were already eager book-lovers, which, although very welcome, were not really our intended recipients of the book. Therefore this year I took a different stance: when invited to pick a Wednesday on which to appear on our local BBC Radio Gloucestershire’s discussion panel, I volunteered for April 23rd – World Book Night.

Taking to the Airwaves

Debbie Young at BBC Radio Glos studio
Photo credit: BBC Radio Glos receptionist!

The “Mid-week Mix” slot on Chris Baxter’s excellent morning show invites a panel of guests in to talk informally about interesting items in the news. Along with Hugh Worsnip, former chief reporter of the Gloucester Citizen, and Jenny May, a local journalist, we covered a wide range of set topics, from the cost of new cancer drugs to the forthcoming European elections.

The meaning of St George’s Day – also 23rd April – was also on the agenda. “What does St George’s Day mean to you?” was the question to which I was able to answer with complete honesty “World Book Night”, and to explain a little about it. I also made sure to give copies of my World Book Night 2014 book to the presenter, the panellists and the producer.

“Ooh, I was wondering how to get hold of one of those!” said a delighted Chris Baxter.

Now, it may seem at odds with the principle of the event to give books to those who are already eager readers, but I told them they had to promise to pass it on to someone who didn’t usually read, once they had enjoyed it themselves. Thus this was the perfect opportunity to enlist five new ambassadors who will now go out and tell their friends about World Book Night, and I hope they’ll be encouraged to volunteer as book givers themselves next year.

As I left the studio after our broadcast was over, I stopped to offer a book to the receptionist.

“Ooh, lovely, a grown-up book!” she said. “I never get the chance to read adult books – with a small child at home, I’m forever reading The Gruffalo. And I know a lot of other mums in the same boat. I’ll pass it on to them when I’ve finished, they’ll be really pleased.”

When I tweeted a 140-character version of this experience later, there was a gratifying reply from the organisers which certainly made my World Book Night:

 22h
What it’s all about ->MT : Gave a book to a mum who never reads adult books. Will pass it on to other mums 🙂

For More Information

 

Posted in Family, Personal life, Reading, Writing

Branching Out from Books

Kideeko logo   An update about one of my freelance writing projects   For the last year or so, I’ve been writing a regular column for a British online parenting magazine called Kideeko (www.kideeko.co.uk). I first became involved with Kideeko when I was still working part-time at the children’s reading charity Read for Good. At first, I was writing exclusively about children’s books and reading, fuelled by the knowledge and experience I’d gained through my work at Read for Good, and these articles provided a valuable opportunity to raise awareness before a family audience of Read for Good’s excellent work. For those of you who don’t already know, Read for Good is a UK national charity which exists to promote reading for pleasure among children. There are two distinct parts to the charity, which is funded entirely by donations (it’s easy to donate online via their websites):

  • Readathon, which provides schools with free materials to runs sponsored reading schemes in thousands of schools all over the country, at any time
  • ReadWell, which takes free books and storytellers into children’s hospitals to make life better for young patients, their families and their carers

In the three and a half years that I worked for Read for Good, I learned what I had already known instinctively: that books change lives for the better, in all kinds of ways.

Growing Up With Books

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

My own life experience endorses that view. I was a lucky child: I was brought up in a house full of books, taken on regular visits to the local public library and had my own bookshelves in my bedroom. Books were valued and reading always encouraged. Whether sharing books with other members of the family, listening to stories on the radio or on vinyl records (no CDs or iPods in those days!), or reading alone, I grew up loving books. It was no surprise to anyone when I chose English Literature for my degree, or when my career revolved around writing, at first under the guise of trade press hack and PR consultant, and latterly as a published author, journalist and blogger. Although Kideeko’s editor has now asked me to address broader parenting topics, the joys of children’s books and reading are never far from my mind whenever I’m writing about children. (I also write for Today’s Child Magazine, available in print and online.) For evidence, you have only to read my article about Mother’s Day in Kideeko‘s March issue, in which I hark back to treasured moments sharing books and stories with my mum. You can read that column here: Making Mother’s Day

My mum and my daughter together
An 80th birthday hug from her granddaughter in a Christmas onesie

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to sharing Mother’s Day with my child, as well as my mum, this Sunday, and I wish a happy Mother’s Day to mothers everywhere. If you’d like to read more about my lovely mum and daughter, here are some past posts about them: The Scent of a Mummy – remembering my grandmothers’ and mother’s perfumes The Only Certainties in Life: Birthdays and Taxescelebrating my mum’s 80th birthday Father’s Day To Followmy daughter’s take on such celebrations