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

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, www.worldbooknight.org.

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