March 13, 2017 - Comments Off on “Humans needs stories” and other words of wisdom from the recent CLPE Reflecting Realities conference

“Humans needs stories” and other words of wisdom from the recent CLPE Reflecting Realities conference

Our friends at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education recently held a conference on the subject of Reflecting Realities: British Values in Children’s Literature. Read on for their inspiring account of a truly special day of discussion…

At the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education we’ve just held a conference. Curated by our very own Farrah Serroukh and coming from the perspectives she has set out in her article about the importance of seeing oneself in literature we planned a day to discuss how ‘British Values’ can be explored through children’s literature and how we can ensure that we are truly reflecting the realities of all the children in our classrooms.

There were a range of people in the audience: teachers and leaders from schools across England, academics, librarians, publishers, charities, authors and poets. Speakers and workshop leaders were drawn from a range of disciplines and age groups and included thinkers like Miranda McKearney from Empathy Lab and Verna Wilkins from Firetree Books. The day covered a range of topics from neuroscience and psychology to personal stories, writing processes and research. We looked at the importance of story and literature to identity and reading and talked about book stock in schools and how transformational texts can change the way in which children think and feel about themselves. There was so much to be positive about, not least a rousing performance from the much-loved Floella Benjamin whose own story is told in her important book Coming to England and who eloquently describes the importance of story, self-belief and confidence to her success. And yet we did have an anxiety about the day. More than ten years ago CLPE and the Arts Council hosted a conference with almost identical themes. Fenn Coles and Kerry Mason from Letterbox Library posed this very question in their session with Verna – Why are we still here?

We know humans need stories. They have made them up since language first developed, to make sense of the world, to explain the unexplainable, to describe faith and belief, to teach lessons and illustrate morals. The significance of understanding viewpoint and perspective, becoming a discerning reader and being able to differentiate fact from fiction is currently one of the most important skills we can encourage.

So the books in our classrooms, particularly for those children who don’t have access to books at home, and particularly in a climate where children are less likely to have access to the facilities of a public library, become extremely important indeed. Children need to see themselves in stories – representation makes children believe they are included, it says this world of reading and books is for you and you are part of it. And this is also why we need to make sure we have authors, poets, illustrators from a range of backgrounds and perspectives – it is both about seeing yourself in a book but also seeing yourself as a creator – both worlds are open to everyone.

We also need to reflect the realities of those who may not be part of our immediate sphere. Reading fiction about those that are different, have different life experiences and journeys to our own helps us to understand those perspectives. It can make us see things in a different light, it can give us a different point of view, it can open a whole area of history, or geo-political theory we never knew we were interested in.

We are further forward than ten years ago but the challenge now is to make sure that we are ensuring the literature that our children encounter is truly reflective, not just tokenistic. We talked a lot on the day about the publishing industry, about how it is necessarily an industry driven by market forces and by the economics of big retailers and celebrity authors. In schools we could create the demand. If all 20,000 plus primary schools are asking for things other than the Tesco or Amazon Best Sellers then we would surely create a market.

When reviewing book stock in your classroom or school you can ask yourself the following questions:

• In this collection are there stories that the children in my class can see themselves in?
• Does everybody have a point of reference somewhere in this collection?
• As well as mirrors for the children in our school, do the books in our collections provide windows on the rest of world?
• Are there books here that enable us to understand others in an authentic and genuine way (both in terms of stories, and also in terms of voices)?
• Are there different viewpoints represented – from other places in the world or other perspectives of history?

In all our work at CLPE we believe that the books that our children have access to need to reflect the reality of our world, and that world is complex. So the books need to reflect the complexity rather than diluting it. Candy Gourlay spoke at the conference and wrote about it afterwards: “Authors creating story may dress their characters up in hijabs and what have you, but it’s the soul of the character that matters. In a well-written book, you can hear the character’s heart beating.” And this surely, is the point. If you hear a beating heart – be that in a historical context, a sci-fi novel or a picture book – you will identify with it as a real character, a being with whom you have something in common. You go so much further than merely ‘tolerating’ difference.

March 7, 2017 - Comments Off on The Power of Picture Books

The Power of Picture Books

Today’s post about the enduring scope and power of picture books comes courtesy of our friends at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education. Huge thanks to them for sharing these enlightening and inspirational insights:

At the CLPE we have spent the last three years researching the use of picture books in primary schools. Not just with the youngest children in the school but right the way through the whole age group.

We engaged 10 brilliant author-illustrators to teach a two day course for 20 teachers with one of our teaching team. They helped the teachers to understand what goes into the creation of a picture book, how the story and the characters develop, how to look closely at the pictures in the books and how they interplayed with the text.

During the three years we discovered some very interesting and sometimes unexpected things:

Picture books are not just for young or less able readers.

Traditionally picture books are used in schools with younger children. Older children are less likely to come across picture book texts unless they are used as individual reading books for ‘less able’ readers. The teachers who took part in this research discovered the richness of picture books for all ages and were much less dismissive of them. They came to realise that picture books were as important as those without pictures when it came to reading for pleasure. Interestingly, older children often needed to learn how to spend time on the pages and not just skim through.

Giving children the time to draw or express themselves creatively helps them to write.
Children need time to think in advance of and alongside writing. Drawing, sketching or sequencing pictures helps children to generate imaginative ideas. These kinds of activities help children generate, select and develop ideas and to create characters, settings, themes and plot before they actually write - and to talk about their ideas before committing them to paper. The teachers found that children, particularly reluctant writers, have become more enthusiastic about writing and they saw the direct benefits of this in the children’s willingness to write and the quality of what they wrote.

Hearing the author-illustrators describe how they developed their ideas really developed teachers’ own understanding of the writing process.
They were able to make connections between the authors' writing processes and helping children to develop their writing authentically. Many of the authors talked about their relationships with their editors and how they benefit from having feedback and discussion about the story, the characters and the themes. Teachers could see how this related to classrooms where much of the feedback on creative writing tends to focus on the more technical aspects of writing such as punctuation and spelling

Engaging children with the construction of picture books shows them how much of the story is conveyed in the pictures.
After working with the author-illustrators, the teachers were more confident to spend longer reading books to children; discussing the pictures and the way they combine with the text to tell the story. This helped them to help the children develop inference and critical thinking skills. These are all ‘high level’ reading skills.

We’ve made all this work available on our free Power of Pictures web resource. You can see the full evaluation report, watch videos of all our author-illustrators talking about their work and reading their books and download teaching sequences showing you how to use the books with children of all ages.

February 13, 2017 - Comments Off on Best Books for Children about Love and Friendship

Best Books for Children about Love and Friendship

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, here are some of our recommended reads on the subject of love and friendship, from perfectly formed picture books with a whole lot of heart, to fiction infused with the most wonderfully uplifting representations of friendship.

Guess How Much I Love You has to be the ultimate 'love' picture book and it’s perfect as a gift from a parent (aunt, uncle, grandparent) to a child or of course from an adult to an adult.  It says it all really.  The unlimited size of love.

The entire Harry Potter series is ultimately about love and what people will do to protect their loved ones. It is about love for lost parents and children, love for friends, love for what is right.  The scene in the book where Harry sees his parents in the Mirror of Erised and hears them talking to him about their love for him is heartbreaking and wonderful.

Sarah Odedina

I love the reluctant friendship in Oliver Jeffers' Lost and Found. The penguin just arrives in the boy's life and sticks to him; the boy thinks he is doing the penguin a favour by returning him to the South Pole but of course it's not until the penguin has gone that he realises what he has lost. That during their long adventure on the sea they truly became friends.

Jenny Jacoby

For me, Charlotte’s Web is a truly timeless classic about the very essence of friendship. The kindness Fern shows Wilbur - the sweet runt pig she nurtures in his early days - is gorgeously cheering. And then there’s the friendship between Wilbur and Charlotte, the small, wise spider who protects and uplifts Wilbur when he feels lonely and snubbed after being moved to Fern’s uncle’s farm. Charlotte expects nothing in return for her many acts of kindness and love; she and Wilbur are friends, and that is everything.

Joanne Owen

February 9, 2017 - Comments Off on A Brazilian book bus and the inspirational Projeto Axe

A Brazilian book bus and the inspirational Projeto Axe

Salvador is a city in the north-east of Brazil. Built on the Bahia de Todos os Santos (Bay of All Saints) it is one of Brazil's oldest colonial cities and is famed for its wonderful architecture as well as its enormous cultural contribution to Brazil and the world through the music and art created here. With a population of over two and a half million it is also a city with a lot of poverty, and one organisation working in the city since 1990 is Projeto-Axe, whose mission is to protect and defend children's right to education, culture and participation in family and community. Projeto-Axe’s aim is to work with the young people living on the street in Salvador and to help them 'construct a life-project' with the long-term goal of getting them off the streets and into safer, more nurturing and settled lives.

Most days of the week Projeto-Axe’s bus is sitting on the main square of the historical Pelourinho district but organisation’s first contact with the street children is via the street-educators, who engage with them, learning about the specifics of their lives, where they live, who they live with, how they find food, and the 'business' strategies they develop in order to make money. This first contact with the children establishes bonds of familiarity and trust and from here the children are offered a series of activities to take part in – this is where the Axe-Bus comes in.

The bus was transformed into a mobile educational space in which they children can start reading books, watch educational videos, take part in art projects, join a dance, theatre or capoeira group and at the same time be in a safe and nurturing place that provides that experience of an educational environment that is at the same time 'on the street' and therefore accessible and approachable.

Much of the work of Projeto Axe is to help the children reflect on their lives on the street and to help them build a 'life-project'. Part of the misconception held about street children is that they have no family and are orphaned, but this is very often far from the truth. Children find themselves living on the street and separated from their families for a host of reasons and Projeto Axe focuses on trying to rebuild the family unit, supporting the (often single) parents and offering strategies and training to help the (mainly) young women cope with the demands and difficulties of living in poverty. Projeto Axe is develops understanding and establishes dialogue between the child and their estranged family.

The Axe-Bus is full of books. All sorts of books, from picture books to fiction. The stories are used as tools to help the children think about their situations and to help them build a story of themselves of how they would like their lives to be, to help them find strategies and to seek solutions. Projeto Axe is about transforming lives, and the use of literature in their mission is a wonderful affirmation of the power of stories, those that we hear and read as well as those that we tell.

If you want to find out more about Projeto Axe visit:

And ‘Axe’ is not meant as in a tool used to chop wood. It is a Yoruba word brought to Brazil with slaves from West Africa. Axe is pronounced 'ashaye' and it means ‘life force’. Axe is the invisible force that is life both divine and human. 'Axe' is also used as greeting of good will and suggests that the greeter is recognising and celebrating the recipient’s 'axe'. Without it we are impoverished. With it we are more powerful, able and capable.

January 19, 2017 - Comments Off on Another scoop for Scoop! – an interview with awesome illustrator Nick Sharratt

Another scoop for Scoop! – an interview with awesome illustrator Nick Sharratt

We’re delighted to present this fascinating interview with much-loved illustrator Nick Sharratt ahead of his Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour. The tour will see Nick visit schools in Liverpool from 30 January to 3 February, sharing his top tips for illustration and writing with more than 900 pupils. Perhaps best known for his work with Jacqueline Wilson and Julia Donaldson, Nick has won many awards for his collaborations, and his individual creations, including Pants! and Shark in the Park on a Windy Day!, which recently won the inaugural Bookbug Picture Book Prize. The book was chosen by 19,000 Scottish children aged between three and seven who were asked to pick their favourite picture book from a shortlist of three titles.

Huge thanks to Nick and Scottish Booktrust for making this happen.

1) Illustrations from the picture books we encounter and love in our formative years often remain with us for the rest of our lives. Did any particular illustrations, or illustrators, have this kind of effect on you at a young age? And, considering the lifelong power of picture books, do you think they really have an age limit?

I completely agree that the picture books that engage us as little children will always have a significance in our lives and the illustrations will remain with us forever. That’s absolutely the case for me with The General, illustrated by Michael Foreman. I must have been about four or five when I was given the book and it was lost in a house move not long afterwards, but I can still see the pictures with complete clarity – the dazzling red, purple and orange colours, the glorious scenes of flower-filled fields and the extraordinary figure of the general himself, his huge chest covered in medals. The images haunt me to this day and the sense of joy that I experienced looking at them made me want to draw pictures too.

Picture books don’t have an age limit at all and older readers are really missing out if they abandon them altogether. I think, however, adults interpret picture books in a different way to children. I envy the magical way children can look at a drawn character or scene on a page and make it utterly real. 

2) Your illustrative style is immediately recognisable, and utterly distinctive. Did it come to you instinctually, or was it refined over a longer period?

My style is just my just natural way of drawing: it’s pretty much the same way I drew as a young boy. I’ve always liked to use a strong black line and bright colours and I love to involve humour in my work. My approach to drawing people or animals hasn’t altered greatly either. Having said that, I did experiment with different ways of image-making at art college, when I also did a considerable amount of drawing from life. Those sketches are quite different from my book illustrations.

3) What’s the most important lesson you learned when you were starting out as an illustrator?

Getting the job done is crucial for a professional artist. You have to discipline yourself to complete your work and do it within a certain time, even if what you’re trying to draw is causing you a real headache and you want to give up. It’s something that comes with practice but I remember at school that one of the things that made me stand out in Art lessons was my determination to finish my picture by the end of the session.

4) Who, or what, is your biggest inspiration?

I grew up in the sixties and seventies and the bright colours, bold patterns and eye-catching images that I saw in books, magazines and posters at the time were, and continue to be, a huge influence.

5) Are there any children’s classics you’d love to illustrate?

I was a big Roald Dahl fan as a boy and it would be fascinating to have a go at illustrating one of his stories – though they’ve already been illustrated beautifully, of course.

6) What’s the proudest moment of your career?

Being given a gold Blue Peter badge for my illustration work was definitely a highlight. I absolutely loved Blue Peter when I was a boy, as did all my friends.

7) What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve got lots of projects on the go, one of which is a follow-up to my first chapter book, The Cat and the King. Writing longer stories is very new and exciting for me.

8) You’re about to embark on the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour. What can the lucky attendees expect from your events?

I’m looking forward to going into schools, meeting the pupils and having loads of fun sharing books, acting out stories, playing games and writing and drawing together. We'll be stretching our imaginations, inventing new characters and I'm sure we'll be coming up with brilliant ideas for lots more books!

Pirates, Pants and Wellyphants is a touring exhibition all about my work. For details go to


January 15, 2017 - Comments Off on A double laureate scoop for Scoop!

A double laureate scoop for Scoop!

We’re delighted to announce that our forthcoming fourth issue will feature a unique creation by two laureates: Caleb Femi, the Young People’s Laureate for London, and Chris Riddell, the Waterstones' Children’s Laureate, in the form of an illustrated poem.

The poem is an energetic piece about children’s lives in contemporary urban Britain. Our Editor-in-Chief, Sarah Odedina, said: ‘It is such a delight to be publishing this wonderful and thought-provoking poem by Caleb Femi, so wonderfully visually brought to life by Chris Riddell. In Scoop we strive to be original, challenging and entertaining and with this piece we have achieved all our goals.’

Issue Four will be published on 25 January, and also includes incredible contributions from none other than Raymond Briggs, Celia Rees, Gareth P. Jones and Derek Landy, along with original graphic fiction, fascinating non-fiction features and lots of fun activities.

To ensure you get your hands on this super issue, head to our subscription page, or check out our stockists.



January 9, 2017 - Comments Off on The enduring joy of the diary format

The enduring joy of the diary format

I have just read the wonderfully worthy Booker-shortlisted book His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnett, a brilliant telling of the story of a brutal triple murder in a small crofting community in the Highlands of Scotland. The multiple interweaving perspectives reveal some uncomfortable truths and untruths in the narratives people choose to tell about themselves and those around them. All our lives are stories. Stories that we tell ourselves, leaving out bits that don’t quite fit with how we want to see ourselves, or the events we have taken part in. Stories of our days at work or at school, travelling, being with friends and families. And it is how we weave these stories to become the bigger story of our life that is the meaning of our lives.

So, here we are at the start of a new year, and it is thinking about the story that I would like for the next year that makes me think about recording the everyday events of life – so my new year’s resolution is to be more conscientious in keeping a diary. Not writing a day a month, a rushed resume of past events but to try and record, in detail, that which has been and what I have seen. And I realise that in my enjoyment of His Bloody Project that I rather love the diary/memoir format in books.

Witch Child by Celia Rees is the perfect peek into the life of a person through her diary. Mary, we are told in the opening lines of the book, is a witch. Like Roddy Macrae in Graeme Macrae Burnet’s book, she tells us the truth of what and who she is from the very start of the book and it is through reading the book that we get to find out why. As the story develops and we start to see the impact of those characters on the lives of others around them we see all is not as simple as it might appear. Mary is a girl who is forced by circumstances and prejudice to confront the acceptable and to find her own way, and it is in the hidden diary entries that we find out just how heroic she is.

Then there is the absolutely sparkling, brilliantly funny The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 and ¾. What a delightful and witty insight into the mind of a teenage boy with more than a little sense of his own importance. Adrian Mole is someone we can all identify with and laugh with as well as at because he is so human, so real and so perfectly, identifiably flawed.

While these are works of fiction written with such empathy that we might feel that the characters are real, there is also the extraordinary Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank – a diary written by a teenage girl caught up in some of the most traumatic events of the twentieth century and yet at the same time, still just a girl with concerns about her family and a boy she has a crush on. It is this domesticity and the normalcy of her emotional life and concerns that somehow hammer home the brutality of the regime she was hiding from and which so sadly finally caught her.

The retelling of a story in diary format puts us very close to the central character, and in fiction it takes great skill to create a real person rather than a saintly hero and certainly Celia Rees and Sue Townsend do pull off that feat, as indeed does Graeme Macrae Burnet who writes about a teenage boy with such kindness and delicate care – even when he is himself a very conflicted and damaged person.

Sarah Odedina

January 3, 2017 - Comments Off on Why we read, and why we work to share a love of stories

Why we read, and why we work to share a love of stories

It is January, the start of a new year and a time to remember what we have been doing and think about what we want to do. Thinking about the new year and the end of the old in terms of work, working with writers and enjoying reading stories, I find myself reflecting on words, writing, why we read and why we work to share a love of stories.

As someone who loves to read it is great to let other people do the speaking, and I have gathered together a few quotes from some pretty amazing writers that might help me focus my work for the coming year and offer me encouragement along the way. I hope that you enjoy them too!

Toni Morrison said: ‘Word-work is sublime … because it is generative; it makes meaning that secures our difference, our human difference – the way in which we are like no other life. We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.’

The poet Elizabeth Alexander wrote: ‘You have to tell your own story simultaneously as you hear and respond to the stories of others.’

Ursula K. Le Guin celebrated words as able to ‘transform both speaker and hearer, [to] feed understanding or emotion back and forth and amplify it’.

 E. B. White believed ‘a writer should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.’

Chinua Achebe said: [My idealism is] still alive and well because without it the business of the writer would be meaningless. I don’t think the world needs to be told stories of despair; there is enough despair as it is without anyone adding to it. If we have any role at all, I think it’s the role of optimism, not blind or stupid optimism, but the kind which is meaningful, one that is rather close to that notion of the world which is not perfect, but which can be improved. In other words, we don’t just sit and hope that things will work out; we have a role to play to make that come about. That seems to me to be the reason for the existence of the writer.’

And finally Susan Sontag: To write is to know something. What a pleasure to read a writer who knows a great deal … Literature, I would argue, is knowledge – albeit, even at its greatest, imperfect knowledge. Like all knowledge. Still, even now, even now, literature remains one of our principal modes of understanding.’

So let’s read and write and publish and share and listen and question and start again! Happy New Year.

Sarah Odedina, Editor-in-Chief