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England’s Bookstart Stops

Boy reading a book

No book gifting anymore...

It is with immense disappointment that many of us all logged online to that stream of consciousness that is twitter to learn that the Department for Education, the body responsible for broadening the minds of our young and inspiring them to success has cut its funding to the English book gifting programmes (Bookstart, Booktime and Booked Up) by 100%. Which is a novel way of saying, they’ve scrapped the programme. Oh, and it only applies.. you guessed it.. to England.

Bookstart was established by the Booktrust in 1992 and has gifted an untold number of books to schools and parents over the last eighteen years. It was almost ritual to receive a token at school once a year and head on either to the school library to trade it in or to the local bookstore depending on its organization that year. I am not amongst the crowd crying out that this is the sign of the end days, as I believe the majority of parents can and should be investing in their own child’s future – charity stores often have cheap books and the library is both free and tends to have a collection of books they are disposing of.

However the fact that some parents are bone idle enough not to do this meant programmes such as Bookstart and its ilk were a way to encourage book reading in groups who weren’t surrounded at home by a general love of reading. Why do I think reading is important? Well because it is the reading of ideas. I believe strongly that the most important faculty of a child to nurture and encourage is their imagination. What this imagination, fueled at a young age, can turn itself towards as the child grows up is limitless. Ideas have no boundaries and a life totally of their own. For the considered cost of this programme I cannot see any justification for it being axed when our biggest performing companies are dodging billions in tax, and council services are wasting needless millions on branding. Where is the David Cameron’s fair society in that? I forgot, that was just a silly idea. And ideas have a price.

At least 1,000,000 adults who would not have normally picked up a book shall have the opportunity in 2011 on World Book Night as previously mentioned on here.

Shame about their kids.

Feel free to share your thoughts on the cancellation of the programme and the general state of book reading in the UK and abroad. If you live in America or Europe, do you have similar schemes? Have they been affected in the downturn?

Perhaps this is just not a big deal and it’s been blown out of proportion. Share your thoughts below.

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Posted by on December 22, 2010 in Reading Initiatives

 

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“The Wild West” By Henry Brook (Review)

Native American Chief by Elwood W. McKay IIIThe area of the United States west of the Appalachian Mountains – beyond the original colonies on the eastern seaboard – has always held a mystique and wonder, both for the people who lived it and the people who look back to a place and time unrecognizable in the modern world.

The Wild West earned its name in history on the back of stories about cattle and pony rustlers, marauding Indians, bank robbing gangs, saloon shootouts and whooping prospectors striking it rich in the various mining towns of the west. It earned its reputation fast with stories traversing the infant United States by rail and telegraph new technologies that cemented and helped exaggerate the reputations of real people.

Henry Brook takes on the mission of distilling the modern legends of the 19th and early 20th Century in as easily accessible a fashion for Usborne Publishings True Stories line. It is certainly not an original topic to approach but one which this western obsessed reviewer enthusiastically approaches. The task is always clear – make it readable, make it interesting, make it educational.

The old favorites are in attendance as the book comes with ten stories including such western luminaries as: Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, the Daltons, Buffalo Bill, Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, my old favorite Wild Bill Hickok and one story I hadn’t read about before on mountain man Hugh Glass, which is an extraordinary tale.

Brook accomplishes his task with three approaches. He introduces each new story with a narrative passage that throws you into the setting like a fictionalized novel and then pulls out to give a sufficiently fleshed out historical account of the story in question. Added to this the book is dotted with interesting sketches in much the similar fashion of the ‘Dime Novels’ that first gave these legends legs. Brook regularly gives definitions of words readers might not be familiar with allowing them to expand their vocabulary.

At 150 something pages, the ten chapters do not stretch the readers interest allowing short quick reads each night or day (if in school) and whilst not going into detail the book does what all good young readers books should – it leaves the reader wanting to know more.

My only reservation is that whilst a map is included at the front of the book it is symbolic of the scope of the book rather than of any particular use. It can become very easy reading the stories to lose track of any sense of locality and as the American west is probably unfamiliar to a British student, maybe a small sketch of the narrative area at the start of some of the stories would have been illustrative of events. The story on Butch Cassidy is an example – a sketch of the two Americas highlighting the distances traveled would have been impressive on the reader and helped them track the people involved.

The cover price is £4.99, good value for something which can keep a kid occupied for a week or two and who knows – like an old book on the west did for me when I was a kid, Brooks book might spark a wider interest in history for the young reader.

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2010 in Non-Fiction, Reviews

 

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Yeehaw! “Cowboys” by Catriona Clarke (Review)

Last weekend a couple of non-fiction books landed in the post in double quick fashion from the children’s book publishers Usborne. They had been hoping to have a lovely rush of book reviews to coincide with National Non-Fiction Book Day. Fabulous idea, alas I accidentally refused to play ball by not noticing this desire and getting all caught up in preparations for a job interview and well, feeling sorry for myself after said job interview.

To make up for it I am sat typing this review out on my blackberry at work in the hopes of posting it before Non-Fiction Day passes. The book, “Cowboys” by Catriona Clarke is part of those set of books aimed at new readers but caught the attentions of everybody in my household – parents, fiancé, and myself.

The presentation itself is clean and tidy with a mixture of paintings, cartoons and photographs to illustrate succinct points made in the text. I teach American West at GCSE level, and even I learned something useful which is a great credit to the scope of the book. It covers a simple definition of a cowboy, what they do and how they dress to the rise and decline of the Cattle Drives of the mid 19th Century, the prominence of the West in pop culture like movies and books, and lastly how the cowboy survives today (part extreme sportsman, part tourist attraction, part farmer).

The book was a little difficult for a young Czech boy who was still developing his English but it still provided a great talking point for the child and his support teacher and part of what we look for is ways to get children from different backgrounds talking and participating.

For children and teachers looking for inspiration and a talking point I highly recommend this book as the pictures are certainly a pleasure to look at. It’s the kind of book I would have snatched off the shelf during a wet break time and read again and again as my imagination carried me off into the pictures. Anything which stimulates conversation or imagination in young children gets my thumbs up.

Another book from the True Stories collection called “The Wild West” by Henry Brook will be reviewed as soon as possible. Keep an eye on the twitter feed or register for updates on this site for an alert when its done.

You can browse the Usborne catalogue here.

Can you recommend any non-fiction books for primary school readers? Post them in the comments below.

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2010 in Non-Fiction, Reviews

 

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