Updated 29th May 2012
One of the interesting things about the age of the internet is that it evolves. I have discovered that the best way for me to pass on latest news to adults is via facebook, twitter and a blog. So, if you're interested you can find me in these three places chatting away most days. Please note again: 'for adults'!
Quite a few people recently have asked me where they can find the words of 'Chocolate Cake'. As you probably know there is a video of me performing 'Chocolate Cake' right here, along with 91 other poems filmed by my son Joe plus some other videos of me in performance from BBC Learning in Scotland and the like.
The words of 'Chocolate Cake' are in my book of poems: 'Quick Let's Get Out of Here'. It's in print and published by Puffin Books.
As a reminder, my books of my own poems in print are:
(for younger readers)
Mustard,Custard, Grumble Belly and Gravy (Bloomsbury)
Something's Drastic (HarperCollins Education)
Even My Ears are Smiling (Bloomsbury)
Bananas in my Ears (Walker)
Michael Rosen's Book of Nonsense (Hodder)
Even More Nonsense (Hodder)
No Breathing in Class (Puffin)
(for older readers)
Quick Let's Get Out of Here (Puffin)
You Wait Till I'm Older Than You (Puffin)
Centrally Heated Knickers (Puffin) (these are poems that have link to ideas of science)
Michael Rosen's Big Book of Bad Things
Fighters for Life (Bookmarks)
Selected Poems (Penguin) (this incorporates 3 earlier books I wrote: 'Carrying the Elephant' 'This is not my Nose' and 'In the Colonie')
WARNING: YouTube is a 'free-for-all' site. Quite a few people have fun taking my videos and making new versions of them, known as 'poops' or 'YTPs' Many of these are not suitable for young children. I am not responsible for either the words or pictures of these. If you want to be sure that you're looking at videos that I made, please only go through this site. Or, if you look closely on YouTube you'll see the tag 'artificedesign' . Click on that and you'll see a 'room' of all 92 videos that I filmed specially for this site.
The Hypnotiser (out of print) - nearly all the poems from this book are here as videos on this site.
Michael Rosen Live - a video of me in performance in a theatre available from firstname.lastname@example.org
There are several audio versions of my work:
Mustard, Custard, Grumble Belly and Gravy (Bloomsbury) includes a CD of the book
Even My Ears are Smiling (Bloomsbury) includes a CD of the book.
A firm called Abbey Media put out audio versions (performed by me) of:
Quick Let's Get Out of Here
Hairy Tales and Nursery Crimes
Sonsense Nongs (me singing silly songs accompanied by Peter Gosling who once played 'Captain Keyboards' on TV - great fun for car journeys!)
I am reading quite a few poems at the Poetry Archive.
I’m starting a blogspot. My long term aim is to put my articles from newspapers and journals, along with my thoughts and ideas on the blogspot and make this website more school - and child - friendly.
Here’s the URL for the blogspot: http://michaelrosenblog.blogspot.com/
Before 2011 comes to an end, here’s some news of what I’ve been doing and what’s coming up.
1/. I’ve been working with the Homemade Orchestra (Tim Whitehead, Colin Riley and Liam Noble) on a jazz, poetry, film and science collaboration based on my book ‘Centrally Heated Knickers’. We’re workshopping it at the moment. www.homemademusic.org/
2/. I’m working at the Oxford Story Museum as a Curator, researching stories so that the Museum can have a store of stories to draw on, a group of stories to show in the museum and some ‘talk’ around stories so that the Museum has got ideas about how best to present stories to the public. The Museum will open in 2014. www.storymuseum.org.uk/
3/. The MA in Children’s Literature and/or Children’s Literature and Writing at Birkbeck, University of London is coming along great. We are on our second year now so in all there are nearly 30 students going through. If you think this interests you, take a look and apply!
4/. My two most recent books are books of poems: ‘Even My Ears Are Smiling’ illustrated by Babette Cole published by Bloomsbury and a reprint of my ‘Scrapbooks’ under the title now of ‘Bananas in my Ears’ illustrated by Quentin Blake published by Walker.
5/. Books coming out this year are ‘Bob the Bursting Bear’ illustrated by Tony Ross, published by Andersen Press.
I have a chapter in this book, ‘Stop What You’re Doing and Read This!’
And I think (not sure!) that a book I’ve done called ‘Happy Harry’s Cafe’ illustrated by Richard Holland is coming out later in 2012 published by Walker in the UK and Candlewick in the US.
6/. The National Union of Teachers has a campaign going on ‘Reading for Pleasure’ which includes its website, a booklet, and a rolling conference season. Alan Gibbons, author and organiser of the Campaign for the Book is behind most of this and I’m delighted to be part of it. www.teachers.org.uk/node/12394
7/. Please also see the Reading Revolution site where there is a 20-point plan for you to use and adapt if you want to make your school a book-loving school: www.readingrevolution.co.uk/
8/. I hope to be supporting Translation Nation, a great project where children tell stories in whatever language they speak (assuming it’s not English) and then translate them together into English.
9/. Please don’t forget the Perform-a-Poem website that I helped set up with the London Grid for Learning: performapoem.lgfl.org.uk/
10/. I’m carrying on with teachers’ poetry workshops at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education. If you’re a teacher and this sounds like something you’d like to do, here are the details.
11/. Finally a word about synthetic phonics and what’s happening in schools in relation to reading. Just to be very clear, so that I’m not misquoted or misunderstood on this: what I say and will go on saying is that synthetic phonics (SP) is one system for teaching children to read. It may well be a necessary part of teaching to read but it is not ‘sufficient’. That’s to say, it’s not enough. Recently, I have been in arguments with people about two things: a) the SP packs that schools use include a category of words which they call ‘tricky words’. These are NOT taught by SP. They are taught by ‘look and say’. That’s to say, the children are asked to just learn these words as ‘in toto’, as whole words; b) there are some schools which teach initial reading using SP and consider that the work they do with poems, rhyming words, stories, library use is not ‘teaching to read’. What I and people like me think is that this is also ‘teaching to read’. Why? Because the written language as a whole – its sound, its structure, its rhythms, its particular use of words and phrases all have to be learnt so that one can read with confidence, fluency and understanding – as well as giving motivation to learners to want to read.
12/. This month’s poetry hint for your classroom: why not get rid of your ‘Word Wall’ or ‘Wow Words’? In its place get the children to collect words, phrases, sounds, lines from poems, songs and plays that catch their attention? So just as we ask children to be curious about the environment around them, so let’s ask them to be curious about the language they hear and read. Anything that they spot, they can bring in and pin up on a space in the classroom. This then is a resource for children and teachers to use as starting points for writing poems and stories. This is what poets and writers of stories do. We collect this sort of thing and gives us language and ideas to think about to get writing and as we write. Use the words and phrases that teachers and children collect as ‘first lines’ or as ‘titles’ to see where it leads you.
13/. This month’s hint for writing stories. Scrap those ‘structure’ schemes as starting points. They are only useful after not before you start writing. To start writing you need something ‘itchy’ that needs to be ‘scratched’...a problem, a dilemma, a conflict, a lack of something or somebody and the story will be how this problem is solved or resolved or satisfied. That’s where ideas about structure come in. Not before you’ve found the problem.
14/. If you want to play the structure game, then do it with a story that is already in existence. It will always be a richer and more exciting place to start than boring structures. So, for example, if say, the children have read a story like ‘Matilda’ (Roald Dahl), get them to think about how this is structured around places – home,school etc; who is the central character – one girl; what her problem or problems are: horrible parents, horrible teacher; who’s going to help her – Miss Honey. Then say, what if you changed all those characters into animals, or people in Victorian times...and you can change the girl into a boy, the parents into a single parent, the school into a workhouse...and so on. Or again, what if it was all set in the future? Use one story as the springboard for another by changing things.
15/. Please use this link for ideas for all sorts of activities, like how to create a poetry-friendly classroom.
I have just released a new series of videos titled 'Poems And Stories About My Family'. The poems are all taken from my books and this series of performances was produced by my son Joe. You can watch them now here!
Please please please play or download my videos from this site only. These are the only videos officially sanctioned by me as being suitable for children. If you go to YouTube to download or play videos, I can take no responsibility for the material you or the children in your care watch. Please be warned: just because my face and/or voice is on a YouTube page, it does not follow that it has anything to do with me.
YouTube is an ‘open’ site, which means that the videos belong to anyone and everyone. Anyone can take them and do what they want with them.
Please take note of this.
We’ve reached a massively important moment in education and this cannot be underestimated. With the Academies and ‘Free’ schools programme, the government is going to dismantle what remains of comprehensive education from 5-16.
The idea behind this comprehensive system arose out of the inequalities and unfairness in what had been on offer from 1944. That was the education system I was brought up in and it embedded unfairness into its methods at the age of 11. This was the point at which we were tested with an Intelligence Test, an English test and two kinds of Maths tests, ‘practical’ and ‘mental’. The aggregate of these scores was the main deciding factor on whether you went to a ‘Grammar School’ , a ‘Secondary Modern’ (or a ‘sec mod’) or a Technical School. Those that passed went to a Grammar, those that failed went to a Secondary Modern. Where the Technical Schools were built, you needed to both pass and opt for that kind of school.
This system failed not because left-wing, egalitarians wished them away. The system failed because what it did was found to be unfair to almost everyone in the following ways – and others:
The percentage of children allowed to pass the tests varied from region to region. This variation had nothing to do with variations in their abilities. The variation was entirely due to the provision of the numbers of places available at Grammar and Technical Schools. This variation could run to hundreds of places. Whichever way you look at it, this meant a form of postcode lottery that was even more pernicious than the one which some claim distort the success rates of comprehensives today.
There was a bias in favour of boys. The ‘pass’ schools were required to admit 50% girls, 50% boys. However, the tests pass rate was approximately 55% girls, 45% boys. In other words, 5% of girls were cheated out of their right to go to the ‘pass’ schools.
The principle of having an exam at 11 was based on a theory that this was the moment when it was possible to use tests to predict children’s academic outcome ie what they would be capable of at 14, 16 and 18. The longer the system was in place, the less reliable the tests became. There were several reasons for this: a) some schools became very good at coaching for the tests. This meant that some children who found it hard to cope with the Grammar School system were getting into those schools. This tended to knock them back rather than enable them to succeed. They were often put in a bottom stream which usually meant that they left school with very few or no qualifications. b) some Secondary Modern schools became very good at ‘bringing on’ the pupils they identified as their most able. These pupils went about ‘proving’ that the 11plus exam had been a wrong predictor of what they were capable of. They passed exams at 16 and many went on to more education between 16 and 18 either at Grammar Schools or in the various forms of further education colleges that were emerging at this time.
The funding of the two main branches of secondary education was found to be discriminatory. One piece of research claimed that spending per pupil in the Grammar Schools ended up being about twice that of what was spent on pupils at Secondary Modern Schools. It was also shown that the qualifications of teachers in Grammar Schools (percentage of Honours Degrees, MAs, Ph.Ds, high grades for those degrees etc) was much higher than teachers at Secondary Moderns. This didn’t prove of itself that the quality of teaching was better, but did point to a level of academic experience that the Grammar schools could draw on which the Secondary Moderns could not.
Though much attention has been given to the fact that the Sec Mods education was in many cases poor, the level of corporal punishment was very high, the number of unqualified teachers was very high, the Grammar Schools were not without problems too. What was offered, was in many cases very narrow, the regime was based on a watered down private school system with rewards, punishments and ethos devoted to the very similar ideals. At the time, it was rarely questioned as to whether this was appropriate, useful or successful.
During this time, primary schools were of course ‘comprehensive’, and no one questioned that. Quite why children aged between 5 and 11 should be thought to benefit from local comprehensive education but those between 11 and 16 or 18 would suffer has never been clear from those who favour specialisation. Perhaps there is some kind of developmental syndrome which the theorists of selection and segregation know about but haven’t as yet told us about.
So, comprehensive secondary schools were introduced from the late 50s onwards. Let it be said straightaway, this was done in a piecemeal, uneven way. At no stage were private schools abolished. At no stage were a range of other state-funded secondary schools which enabled some parents in most areas to slot their children into selective schools. At one time these were called ‘Direct Grant’ schools, later some were known as ‘Foundation’ schools. Some have transformed themselves into Academies. Right from the start of comprehensivisation, these schools were able to withdraw from local authority control and select who they wanted and who they didn’t want. In some areas, this led to what was really a de facto Grammar School/Sec Mod system. It just so happened that there was no ‘11plus’, only an entrance exam and interview to get into this local specialised school.
Throughout the period of maximum comprehensive education, the system was under attack – and in retrospect, it is still being attacked. It’s not possible here to answer all the criticisms but I’ll try with some of them.
They were ‘bog-standard’. This is a lie. The schools were different from each other and offered very different options for the pupils.
They caused bright children to fail. There is no evidence for this. Education research has to try to do the impossible: which is compare like with like. It is virtually impossible to compare a child, or a group of children from, say, 1970 and compare that group with a group from, say, 1955, or 1995. One method is to use ‘economic indicators’ ie whether they were poor or rich. Another method is to use the tests.
There are big problems with both these. The economic indicators don’t include cultural ones. The cultural composition of children in many areas has changed. Simply identifying children by their parents’ income doesn’t tell us about how children are affected by how late into the system they came, if they spoke a language other than English, the effect of major disruption on their lives due to migration, whether mitigating effects were put in place to help such children deal with the disruption, their language situation or indeed any explicit or implicit discrimination directed towards them.
The tests have changed too and within the tests there are many examples of what is known as ‘cultural’ bias. Asking inner city children what the difference is between a spade and a shovel, or asking non-Christian children what a candle is lit for at ceremonies, would be examples of this.
Even so, one rough and ready guide to whether the comprehensive system worked is to do with qualifications. During the reign of the 11-plus, many pupils (most Sec Mod pupils and some Grammar Schoolers) left school with no qualifications at all. This marked such people for life. They were deemed to be people who ‘could not’.
Meanwhile, the comprehensive system produced plenty of high fliers. There is some evidence to show that being a high flyer in a comprehensive did you no harm at all but being someone who struggled with education, the system was better for you than if you had gone to a Sec Mod (in those areas where Sec Mods have survived).
The persistent myth about comprehensives is that were full of what Lord Adonis calls ‘the excuse culture’. This he and others claim makes excuses for failure. This is a cheap trick. The teachers and educationalists who were committed to the comprehensive system sought to find explanations for why children failed not in order to explain it away but in order to demand greater support, greater help and the chance to explore new methods of teaching and assessment. In fact the GCSE exam came out of precisely those kinds of discussion! It is an insult and a lie to suggest otherwise.
What the present government is introducing is essentially a system to break local authority control over schools. It’s very easy to present this control as pernicious because many of us can point to occasions when local authorities have behaved in high-handed and negligent ways towards our children.
I wouldn’t want to defend that. However, there is one principle that local authority control worked on: the ‘cohort principle’. That’s to say, its responsibilities were for a whole locality of children going through the system. For all its weaknesses, this is what they did. People live ‘in localities’. That’s to say, realistically, a child can only go to a range of schools within walking, bus or short train distance from their homes.
It is only right that this cohort, determined by those distance criteria are treated fairly and equally.
This is what the government has changed. It is introducing a system that asks schools to deal with their own cohort, not the locality’s as a whole. This creates a system that does not take equal responsibility for every child, for every family.
This takes into new territory. Since the early education acts in the nineteenth century, which gave responsibility to ‘school boards’ to run ‘elementary’ education, we have lived with the idea that officers chosen by our local elected representatives and in conjunction with them, ran education with equal responsibility for all children.
To repeat, this is no longer the case.
To play at prophet for the moment, I predict that this will produce a great divergence in the quality of schools – which has often been the case of course. But this time, the ability to alter this quickly and fairly will be extremely difficult as it is only central government that has control over schools not doing well. There are limits to what central government can do across a whole country.
Within that there will be the problem of how children are chosen, not chosen and excluded from the various kinds of schools. Again to play at prophet, it rather looks as if we’re moving into a system where ordinary schools (ie those ones available for anyone to go to) will in fact be schools that can either not choose or exclude all kinds of children who are deemed to be not appropriate for that particular kind of school. I suspect that this will produce a whole structure of ‘sub-schools’ , ‘units’, ‘sin-bins’ , ‘special schools’ where anyone marked out as ‘disabled’, ‘special needs’ , ‘behavioural difficulty’, ‘persistent truant’ etc etc can be put.
The comprehensive system asked for special help for all these kinds of young people. It asked for help ‘on-site’ so that such children might benefit from contact with everyone and, just as importantly, everyone could benefit from contact with them. We are one human race and we have to solve problems for all of us and none of us knows when we or our dependents might need that kind of help. Better it be something we all deal with, rather than something we tuck away in special units.
There is no evidence that these special schools will get the same funding, the same quality of education, the same level of support that the new, part privately funded schools will get. Quite the opposite. I suspect that these will turn into a whole class of sub-school or sump school which the new system will pass back to the local authority. Local authorities are under massive pressure to trim and cut - why will they try to match the funding that the new schools attract? Once you’ve segregated children off as disabled, ‘special’ and, in a variety of ways, ‘delinquent’ (to use and old-fashioned term), it becomes that much easier to suggest that such people are difficult or less deserving.
These, I think, are some of the challenges facing us.
Notice to teachers, librarians, editors, writers – or anyone with a keen interest in children’s literature.
We are now recruiting for the MA in Children’s Literature and the MA in Children’s Literature and Writing, that I co-designed with the Birkbeck team. This is for starting in October 2011.
Please take a look at the website here and here.
If you have any queries, do feel free to get in touch at email@example.com and I will be happy to try to answer.
Here is a ‘post’ I put up on a Guardian blog about libraries:
Books have become optional extras in schools. They’ve been sidelined by ITC and worksheets. There is now a generation of young teachers who have been through teacher training with no more than a few minutes of training in children’s literature and little or no work on why it’s important for all children to read widely and often and for pleasure.
So, what we have is the notion that there isn’t time to read whole books, there isn’t time to help all children browse and read and keep reading – but there is time to do worksheets on different aspects of ‘literacy’. And yet, the people running education know full well that children who read widely and often and for pleasure find it much easier to grasp the curriculum as a whole. There is an international study showing this.
What does this have to do with libraries? If the government (or the last one) had felt willing, all they needed to do was formalise the link between schools and libraries.
They could have required every school and every library to lay down some fixed, timetabled sharing of time and resources, which would involve turning the present voluntary arrangements into certain ones. In one fell swoop it would guarantee library-use and massively enhance the children’s progress.
I put all this in a document in Margaret Hodge’s library review where it was immediately ignored. I sent it to Ed Vaizey (because he asked me to), and he too has promptly ignored it.
Ed Balls and Vernon Coaker both refused to ask schools to develop their own policies on the provision and reading of books. Neither Ofsted nor schools’ ‘Self Assessment forms’ require schools to make the provision and reading of whole books something that they monitor.
In short, education and library ministers aren’t really very interested in the idea of everyone reading whole books, and they’re certainly not very interested in the idea of every child reading whole books. I even gave them a 20-point blueprint or outline on how to turn every school into what I called a ‘book-loving school’ (based largely on the TV programme I did ‘Just Read’. And that’ blueprint is now available on various websites. The ministers I met weren’t interested in sending it out, either as it is, or in any adapted form.
It’s clear that they think ‘reading’ is about ‘doing literacy’ ie learning how to ‘decode’ print. What they don’t seem to understand is that literature is one of the main ways in which we can engage with difficult and important ideas in an accessible way. It offers children a ladder between their own personal experience, the apparently ‘personal’ experience of the protagonists in any given text, and the ideas that are thrown up during the adventures, scenes and feelings that the protagonists go through. So, the reader encounters the protagonists’ feelings of, say, pity, anger, fear, guilt, envy and the like but in a school context (or indeed many social contexts) those feelings become talk about those feelings as ideas…eg what is ‘pity’? what is ‘guilt’? ie through reading, the young reader starts to generalise the particular or put another way, discover abstract thought.
Children who read widely, often and for pleasure are the ones who can make the transition between particular experience to abstract thought that all education asks of children between the ages of 8 and 13. The more you read, the easier that transition is. The kids who fall behind don’t fall behind because they haven’t done enough worksheets. It’s because the education curricula haven’t helped them discover a wide range of texts through being regular readers.
Here’s a write-up of an important new booklet on initial reading, which seeks to counteract the government line on the exclusive use of synthetic phonics.
Here I am meeting the American Childen’s Laureate, Katherine Patterson. She had just delivered a brilliant, thoughtful and funny speech about her role and about books for children.
Here is my Guardian review of Daniel Pennac’s book ‘School Blues’.
Here’s the online ad for the MA course running at Birkbeck right now. This is the MA in Children’s Literature and the MA in Children’s Literature and Writing. We are recruiting next year’s students now and you can apply online.
This is Hackney Citizen newspaper writing up my comments on the cuts.
Article about Michael Gove’s speech at Conservative Party Conference.
A Guardian blog thread about Michael Gove, that I contributed to.
Article about Ted Hughes’s ‘last’ poem for the New Statesman magazine.
Wandsworth teachers at a workshop with me on hooking up with Perform-a-poem.
A series of poetry workshops for teachers is running at CLPE again next year. Teachers work along side Michael Rosen Children's Laureate to develop their confidence in teaching, as well as their personal understanding and enjoyment of poetry.
Click here to find out about the project.
Click here to apply.
Here’s me doing a poetry workshop in Lambeth, London:
Over 30 Lambeth teachers had an inspiring day at the CLC on 17 September working with Michael Rosen to explore “How to make our classrooms places where poetry can live.” Michael moved seamlessly from stimulating a group poem about squashed peas to discussions about Vygotsky, feelings and images, poetry detectives, ellipsis, secret strings and poetry shows. Teachers then performed and recorded poems learning about camera shots, audio, editing and uploading to the LGFL Perform a Poem site. Loads of learning and great ideas to take back to class.
Here’s an ad for a Dickens conference that I’m taking part in:
Hard Expectations or Great Times: Making sense out of Dickens
British Library in partnership with The Charles Dickens Museum and The English Association
British Library Conference Centre
22 November 2010
9.30 - 17:00
Do your students find it a challenge to engage with Dickens’ work? Are you interested in finding out about new ways to engage with his novels?
Actress Miriam Margolyes and poet Michael Rosen are two of the experts from the worlds of theatre, film and academia who will be sharing their knowledge and experience of Dickens at this conference.
In partnership with the Charles Dickens Museum and the English Association, this British Library teachers’ conference aims to deliver a programme that immerses teachers in 19th century English Literature and attempts to help secondary school teachers overcome some of the challenges faced when teaching Dickens. Discussions will question a variety of ways to interpret Dickens’ work, while workshops will explore innovative techniques that can be taken back to the classroom. Sessions will include Dickens and Film, Teaching Great Expectations, Dickens Journal Online and British Library workshops on English Language and Literature.
There will be a drinks reception at The Charles Dickens Museum following the day’s programme.
Tickets are £45. To find out more and to book please visit the English Association website.
Here’s a Comment by me on Guardian Books blog re Early reading and synthetic phonics
MichaelRosen - 1 October 2010 12:22AM
"Don't confuse learning to read with learning to enjoy books." said someone above. In fact it's a brilliant idea to confuse learning to read with learning to enjoy books, because children who enjoy books will want to learn to read, go on reading, will understand books, will love books, will do unbelievably well at school. The government knows this. They have national and international stats to prove it, but they have refused on several occasions to do anything about it. They refused to send out a simple request (not a demand or a directive) to schools to ask them to form what I called 'books policies' ie a policy on how the school would provide and use books. Read more...
People who can write for children don’t come with a same-format personality or a made-to-measure range of skills. We aren’t people who can be easily categorised or lumped together. In part, this is because the world of children’s books is constantly changing, starting out from a very diverse base in the first place. This derives from the fact that the world the children inhabit is changing and indeed that there is a recognition within the children’s books milieu that books are for everyone, not just one small section of the population.
In a way, this means that this is a great time to be writing or illustrating children’s books. But that comes with a warning: diverse and changing – yes - but within a set of conventions (I won’t say ‘rules’), and formats. So, quite often I hear of people who say that they have written some stories or poems for children and would I please take a look at them. Sometimes, the first problem that I can see with what they’ve written is that it doesn’t ‘fit in’. Or, another way of putting it, the writer hasn’t taken a look at what’s out there in the bookshops and schools and thought: how can I write something that could go alongside that book, or fit the same niche that that particular book occupies? Read more...
1. We shouldn’t be talking about ‘Literacy’ as if there is just one ‘literacy’ and it’s our job to teach this single thing. In fact, everyone has a literacy. From the moment each one of us is born, we are bombarded with literacy – to start off with it’s present in the things that people are saying and singing to us, quoting things that have been written – even if it’s a lullaby. So, really we should be talking about ‘Literacies’.
I think that when we teach ‘Literacy’, then, one of our jobs is not just to ‘teach’ it in the orthodox sense, but to release the children’s literacies. Let’s find out what they are literate in and find ways of getting it out, sharing it, publishing it, filming it or whatever. Read more...
For teachers in London, please take a look at the Perform-a-poem web-pages on the London Grid for Learning site. This is where you can upload your pupils’ poetry performances in an ‘esafe’ environment. Take a look here.
These are the details of the MA in Children’s Literature and the MA in Children’s Literature and Writing at Birkbeck, University of London, that I’ve co-devised, I’ll be co-directing and co-teaching, starting in October.
I’m doing a class on children’s writing at the Edinburgh University International Summer School this year. See August 18 here.
There was a conference called ‘Education for Liberation’
These are the notes of my talk.
Here’s a recent lunchtime lecture I gave at Birkbeck, University of London (November 11, 2009) on why and how Children’s Literature is for adults too.
Taxonomy of adult responses to children’s literature:
'No children's literature is an island, entire of itself: how and why adults read, re-read and remember children's books.'
I will look at the many different ways in which adults are part of the audience for children's books whether that's in the same continuum as children or in terms of people's memory. This arcs back to how and why this literature is written: as part of the conversation going on about childhood. The customary tendency to deny, conceal or diminish these connections is ideological and serves dominant ideas about children and their subservient role. The more we can acknowledge it and change our practice accordingly, the more we can challenge those dominant ideas. Read the full lecture...
Here’s a letter to the Guardian in response to the recent Cambridge Review of Primary Education.
The Cambridge review is absolutely right about calling for the abolition of Sats (Too much too young: start school at six says key report, 16 October), and I support this summer's boycott. Sats have turned the primary curriculum into a desert of work sheets, short extracts and a fear of failure.
In the English Sats, examiners have unleashed an abuse of the empirical method by making the reading of literature into a tedious and stunting exercise in fact-spotting, even as children themselves have been reduced to percentages and scores. I have been a school parent continuously for 30 years and visited hundreds of schools. In all that time it has never been any use to me that any child, mine included, be talked of as a number or a level.
The government's education policies were devised without a public debate about how children and teachers learn. You can only do this through the four processes of observation, investigation, discovery and discussion. In fact, finding out about learning has to be at the heart of every teacher's and every school's practice. Children's work itself should be built upon the four processes, with imagination and play as part of the mix.
In the very first key stage 2 Sats paper, the candidates were asked to say what was in a matchbox in a story by Jan Mark. The only correct answer was "nothing", and yet the fun of the story is that the children "fill" the matchbox with their fantasies and ideas. "The children's imagination" would have been a wrong answer. Sats have turned many classrooms into places where children's imagination is always the wrong answer
Article about me from Big Issue, Scotland
Here’s an obituary letter in ‘The Times’ I wrote for my old English teacher, Barry Brown
This is a political obituary I wrote for Chris Harman, an editor of ‘Socialist Worker’ who I knew from the early sixties
The fight for every school and every child to be reading whole books.
This is going on in several ways at the same time.
Friend, fellow-author and activist, Alan Gibbons is leading the Campaign for the Book here.
His website – always a great read – includes a link to my broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s PM about the importance of reading whole stories.
There’s a new group called ‘Just Read’ that is pulling together a set of proposals to make up a campaigning pamphlet to take to government on why they should be putting something in place to turn every school into a book-loving school. Here’s a news item about it.
I’m supporting and helping Pearson Limited put together a massive book-reading project going into schools called ‘Literacy Evolve’ and ‘Reading Revolution’. You can find out more here and here.
Here’s the text of a lecture I gave. It was the Philippa Pearce Memorial Lecture, which I gave at Homerton College, Cambridge on September 10 2009. ‘What’s Children’s Poetry For? Towards a new child-specific ‘Apologie for Poetrie’ (Philip Sidney 1579)
Photograph from left to right:Morag Styles, Reader in Children's Literature and Education at Homerton College, Cambridge/ Michael Rosen / Philippa's Pearce's daughter - Sally Christie and her son. Outside Homerton College. Photo courtesy of Carousel
‘Guernica’ at the Whitechapel Gallery.
This is the introduction I gave at the Symposium I organised for the Whitechapel Gallery on September 10 2009.
Here are my last two Laureate Logs:
Laureate Log 10
I get the impression that a head of steam is building, putting pressure on the government to carry on loosening up the curriculum and to make more space for reading for pleasure. What’s odd, is that it seems to be happening in a rather low key, almost covert way. As I’ve said before, I think we need a bold, clear statement from government that asks every local authority and every school to develop practical policies on how to make their respective patches into book-loving places for all. ‘Just Read’, the TV programme I did for BBC 4, showed that it’s possible. If we don’t get going on this, we will lose school libraries, local libraries and end up seriously discriminating against all children who come from homes where there are very few or no books. These are the children who find school so hard. Reading widely and often opens doors, and one of those doors takes you into formal education. It should be a priority to get every child reading many books and many different kinds of books. It’s the most pleasurable way we know of getting hold of complex and abstract ideas.
The first months of 2009 have kept me busy. On BBC Radio 4, two programmes I presented about children’s books went out – one about the 200 year history of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ and the other on the Russian ‘Winnie the Pooh’, who is known to Russians as ‘Vinni Pukh’. I’ve also appeared on BBC 4’s ‘We Need Answers’ (a joyously nutty quiz show), ‘Bookaboo’, ITV’s book show for children, Sky TV’s book show, ‘The Daily Politics’ and ‘The Wright Stuff’. I’ve also been a judge on BBC’s ‘Off by Heart’, a show about children performing poems. It was down to me to choose the overall winner for the London area and I chose a seven year old boy who performed a poem by Grace Nichols as if it was a rock gospel number. Stunning!
Meanwhile I’ve been round and about doing shows, workshops or talks in Orpington, Southampton, Sheffield, Beaconsfield, Upminster, City and Islington College (for a conference on Gaza), Barbican Centre, Wavendon nr. Milton Keynes (for a poetry and jazz workshop with Tim Whitehead from the Homemade Orchestra), Edinburgh (Scottish Booktrust conference), Booktrust Conference in London, Newham, Norwich, The Stables in Milton Keynes, Coram Fields, Haverstock School in Camden, Solihull, a conference of Paediatric Anaesthetists in Brighton and the Bernie Grant Centre in Haringey. Meanwhile, my courses at Birkbeck and CLPE run on and I’m working with Hackney teachers on a Year 5 Writing Project.
On the progress of my Laureate projects: by the time you read this, ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat’ the exhibition on the history of poetry for children that Morag Styles and I have curated will have opened at the British Library. Do take a look at it – it’s in the foyer and free! The conference on children’s poetry is a sell-out but there should be a book of the papers and talks to follow. The ‘A-Z’ of children’s poets (from Agard to Zephaniah) will be published by Puffin in August. My idea of a poetry YouTube for children will happen with the London Grid for Learning and we’re just gearing up for the second Roald Dahl Funny Prize for the funniest books for children. As a result of last year’s prize, my 8-year old daughter has become an Andy Stanton addict!
Last Laureate Log 11
After two years of this laureateship, I think I can see that schools are divided between each other, divided between classes within individual schools and even divided within single classrooms. This division is between the children who live in what I’ll call Worksheet Hell, and those who live in Bookland. The last ten years or so has put state primary schools into a state of anxiety: how will we look when the league tables are published in the local newspaper? The route that many schools have taken to deal with this worry, is to spend hours and hours with the children who are seen as ‘slower’ doing what are, in effect, rehearsal papers for the SATs. So where a school thinks most of the children are ‘slower’, then this is what most of the children will be doing. Where a teacher sees a ‘slow’ group, this is what those children will be doing.
And what are these worksheets? They are imitations of reading. They are extracts of stories, they are (I quote from one of them) ‘part of a myth’. And the questions that the worksheets ask are about the supposed ‘facts’ of a story, its logic and its chronology. This distorts and wrecks the purpose of reading. It deprives the children of a chance to use their own language to engage with the feelings and ideas that lie in literature.
This is going on quite knowingly. I was quoted in my local newspaper for saying these things. This was the reply from a spokesman at the local education authority: ‘…if a class of mixed ability studied lengthy stories in full, many of the children would lose concentration. There is a strong logic to the national curriculum.’ Indeed, there is a ‘strong logic’ and it’s consigning ‘many of the children’ to a life of extracts of stories and worksheets full of dull, pointless questions. And that ‘strong logic’ says that ‘many’ children just aren’t good enough for whole stories. Is this where we’ve got to? Is this the level of understanding that people who run education have reached? In the name of ‘entitlement’ they’ve created a regime of segregation and discrimination. And it is discrimination, because if you deprive children of a chance to learn to love reading and books, you deprive them of access to the easiest and most pleasurable way of getting hold of complex ideas.
I think being the Laureate has brought all this into much sharper focus for me, whether that’s been through the school visits, meeting Ed Balls and Jim Knight, attending conferences on reading or making a TV programme on trying to create a book-loving school.
In terms of ideas, I wanted to follow in the footsteps of the four previous Laureates and leave some things that could help more and more children find their way to enjoying books. I did a series of performances around the country with other poets and out of that has come an anthology ‘A-Z of poetry – from Agard to Zephaniah’ which will be launched at the Edinburgh Festival in August. Most of the poets who perform their poems in schools are in there. Alongside that, it’s been a treat to create with Morag Styles an exhibition at the British Library – ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat’ – that celebrates the history of children’s poetry. As part of the exhibition there’s been a conference on Poetry and Childhood (a book to follow!) and a series of performances and workshops for the public.
On another front, we’ve got the Roald Dahl Funny Prize up and running so that parents, librarians, teachers and children can find their way to the 12 comic books on the shortlist including the two winners.
The last bits of the jigsaw are the things I am trying to put in place to encourage teachers to help children enjoy poetry. There’s the ‘Poetry Friendly Classroom’ webpage at Booktrust’s website, which is for teachers to exchange ideas and after the summer there’ll be a website hosted by the London Grid For Learning where children will be able to post their poetry performances.
I think the Children’s Laureateship is working. We’ve all brought to it something different. We’ve each found ways to stimulate different parts of the children’s literature process and I’m sure this will go on. It seems to me that we’re in a new phase in the history of literacy. The artefact of the book and all the different ways of putting things into a book are in a state of flux. Each time a school closes a library to make room for an ITC suite, it represents a moment of change in this history. Each time an education spokesperson says that there are children who can’t cope with whole stories, that too represents a moment of change. If we believe in the value and power of books, stories, poems and plays, we also have to remember that it will never be enough simply to publish good stuff. We have to be committed, ingenious, flexible and experimental in coming up with ways of making all that literature come alive for every single child – no exceptions allowed.
Thanks for having me!
This is the article that the Guardian published on the day of the handover.
This is an article that the Independent published about teaching Children’s Literature at University. Tiny corrections in the article: When I say: “The poems get taken up by the Eng Lit world. Suddenly, I find myself in the Eng Lit world…” that should read: ‘Children’s Lit world’ – both times! And UNL merged with London Guildhall University to form LMU. At the time of writing, University of East London is a separate institution.
Here’s a lecture I gave at the Poetry Conference at the British Library on April 20 2009:
Every artistic endeavour has a theory hovering around it. What I mean by this is that when human beings do things, we are not only capable of having ideas about what we’re doing, but that the very act of doing and the product of that doing springs from a world of talk, ideas and, yes, theory. There are several routes to unravelling this world: let’s take Shakespeare as an obvious example. Textual scholars are able to reveal from the intrinsic evidence of the texts themselves, the likely sources and secondary texts that Shakespeare was grappling with: the Bible, Ovid, Aristotle and so on. Meanwhile, a more historical approach looks at extrinsic evidence asking such questions as: What was in the school curriculum of Shakespeare’s time? What were the debates circulating the Court, the Church, Parliament and the Privy Council? Read the whole lecture...
This is the lecture I gave as my Visiting Professorial Inaugural Lecture at Birkbeck, University of London on May 12 2009:
Here’s a poem I wrote triggered off by the NHS asking me to write something that would celebrate the sixtieth birthday of the NHS. I thought that I was writing a poem for adults. It turns out that they thought I was writing a poem for children. It now turns out that it’s going to go up on every surgery wall in England and Wales. Read the whole lecture...
It’s always hard to discern patterns and trends, but I fear that we are in a time when libraries are more under threat than they have ever been. In this phase of the laureateship, I’ve been approached by several local campaigns to support librarians’ struggle to keep libraries open. For one of these, on the Wirral, I wrote this in early January:
‘Libraries have played an important part in the cultural and democratic life of this country. We talk of the 'republic of letters' meaning that we have created a world in which we share books as equals. This was only possible when books became free, which, thanks to a mix of philanthropy and municipal goodwill, was achieved through the invention and provision of libraries.
Now, more than ever, we need this 'republic of letters'. We live in a time when the main organs of information, entertainment and education (outside of schools) are owned by very few giant multinational corporations. However, within the world of books, there is still more diversity than in any other form of media. In part, this is because of the very process of reading books. Books are portable, durable packages where we can read slowly, toing and froing across the pages at a tempo that suits ourselves. Libraries are the treasure-houses that store these 'packages' and it's here that we can browse for free, to find the books that we want or need to support our lives and interests.
It is vital for the lives of us all that these places are supported, expanded, enriched and diversified. If we let them close, we are in effect consigning huge sections of the population to a world either without books, or a world with only the books that the giant corporations want us to read. This is an appalling prospect and I urge the councillors of the Wirral to fight every attempt to destroy your local library service and I will support any action taken by librarians to defend that service.’
I’ve come to think that a key to the survival of libraries is to be found in the links that they should have with schools. In many but not all places, this is casual, informal and patchy. If schools really put books at the centre of the curriculum, the local library becomes an essential part of that process and would prove to those who have the power to slash the library system that libraries are an essential part of our lives.
I’ve been doing poetry performances in Winchester, on the Isle of Wight, Bookmarks Bookshop in London, Seven Stories Museum in Newcastle, Southport, the Little Angel Puppet Theatre and St Albans and the poetry and jazz Nonsense project reached the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank. I also had the experience of turning up at a school with my voice gone. I did wonder for a few hours what I’d do with my life if it became permanent!
I’ve finished making a one-hour programme for BBC Four about helping a school become a book-loving place for everyone. It’s called ‘Just Read’ and it’ll be going out sometime in early February. The NHS filmed me along with several celebs performing a poem they commissioned me to write and I introduced a discussion on the French film, ‘Le Ballon Rouge’ at the London Socialist Film Festival. In the latest run of ‘Word of Mouth’ for Radio 4, I had the fascinating experience of going to Newbury Park Primary School in east London where they have a language of the month and a child who speaks that language is recorded talking. This goes up on the school website and the whole school gets involved in activities around that language.
I get the impression that a head of steam is building, putting pressure on the government to carry on loosening up the curriculum and to make more space for reading for pleasure. What’s odd, is that it seems to be happening in a rather low key, almost covert way. As I’ve said before, I think we need a bold, clear statement from government that asks every local authority and every school to develop practical policies on how to make their respective patches into book-loving places for all. ‘Just Read’, the TV programme I did for BBC Four, showed that it’s possible. If we don’t get going on this, we will lose school libraries, local libraries and end up seriously discriminating against all children who come from homes where there are very few or no books. These are the children who find school so hard. Reading widely and often opens doors, and one of those doors takes you into formal education. It should be a priority to get every child reading many books and many different kinds of books. It’s the most pleasurable way we know of getting hold of complex and abstract ideas.
The first months of 2009 have kept me busy. On BBC Radio 4, two programmes I presented about children’s books went out – one about the 200 year history of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ and the other on the Russian ‘Winnie the Pooh’, who is known to Russians as ‘Vinni Pukh’. I’ve also appeared on BBC Four’s We Need Answers’ (a joyously nutty quiz show), ‘Bookaboo’, ITV’s book show for children, Sky TV’s Book Show, ‘The Daily Politics’ and ‘The Wright Stuff’. I’ve also been a judge on BBC’s ‘Off by Heart’, a show about children performing poems. It was down to me to choose the overall winner for the London area and I chose a seven year old boy who performed a poem by Grace Nichols as if it was a rock gospel number. Stunning!
Meanwhile I’ve been round and about doing shows, workshops or talks in Orpington, Southampton, Sheffield, Beaconsfield, Upminster, City and Islington College (for a conference on Gaza), Barbican Centre, Wavendon near Milton Keynes (for a poetry and jazz workshop with Tim Whitehead from the Homemade Orchestra), Edinburgh (Scottish Book Trust conference), the Booktrust Conference in London, Newham, Norwich, The Stables in Milton Keynes, Coram Fields, Haverstock School in Camden, Solihull, a conference of Paediatric Anaesthetists in Brighton and the Bernie Grant Centre in Haringey. Meanwhile, my courses at Birkbeck and CLPE run on and I’m working with Hackney teachers on a Year 5 writing project.
On the progress of my Laureate projects: ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat’, the exhibition on the history of poetry for children that Morag Styles and I have curated will open at the British Library on 1 April. Do take a look at it – it’s in the foyer and it’s free! The conference on children’s poetry is a sell-out but there should be a book of the papers and talks to follow. The ‘A-Z’ anthology of children’s poets (from Agard to Zephaniah) will be published by Puffin in August. Perform-a-poem, my idea of a poetry YouTube for children will happen with the London Grid for Learning and we’re just gearing up for the second Roald Dahl Funny Prize for the funniest books for children. As a result of last year’s prize, my 8-year old daughter has become an Andy Stanton addict!
Here are some recent interviews and articles:
Interview for Brighton SPACE
Newcastle ‘Journal’ writing me up.
Letter to guardian re: ‘whom’ and ‘who’.
My obituary of Adrian Mitchell in The Times.
My obituary of Adrian Mitchell in Socialist Worker and on the Guardian website.
A Redbridge school I visited.
A note on Robert Burns.
BBC website interview.
Audio interview on the Scottish Book Trust site.
Several people have asked me to put this up on my website again:
How to make a book-loving school
1. Does the school have in place any kind of home-school liaison where someone talks with individual parents about specific books, libraries, book departments, magazines, book clubs, book shows, that might interest this specific child and his or her carers? Interestingly, the great synthetic phonics research example, cited by government and everyone else – the Clackmannanshire experiment, did have one such home school liaison scheme in place, generously funded.
2. Does the school hold book events all year round with writers, illustrators, story-tellers, librarians, book enthusiasts coming in and talking and performing for the children and parents?
3. Does the school not only invite in a syndicated book fair but also invites in local bookshops, specialist bookshops and has books available for borrowing or buying to support the visiting writers, speakers, performers and story-tellers?
4. Is there someone in the school trained and interested in running the school library and who is on hand to give advice to every teacher to help them with their class libraries?
5. Does the school run book clubs for teachers, parents and children?
6. Does the school give every parent information – perhaps in the form of an attractive pack – on the local library, the local bookshop? Does the school take children and parents to these venues?
7. Do the school and individual classes adopt an author or illustrator for the week, or month or term and investigate, explore and do creative work around that author and illustrator?
8. Do the children make books of their own? Are these readily available for everyone in the school and parents too? Does the school encourage parents to come in and make books with the children? Does the school celebrate and cherish these books as much as it celebrates its most important activities?
9. Does the school encourage children to pass books between each other by means of book swaps, prominently displayed reviews, assembly presentation of ‘this week’s good read’, book posters and the like?
10. Does the school seize every possible moment - eg visits to museums, visits from specialists of any kind, school trips – to support these events and activities with books, eliciting from all and sundry what their favourite books are or were when they were children?
11. Are there regular whole school projects (like, say Black History Month, or ‘The Sea’) where a topic or theme can be supported by books of all kinds, all genres and all ages? Is the school on these occasions inundated with books?
12. Are assemblies and classrooms frequently a place when children are encouraged to become fascinated by something – anything! – to do with a book or what’s in a book?
13. Are the head’s study and teachers’ desks places where special, intriguing, exciting, ever-changing, odd, old, weird books lurk?
14. Does the school keep and use book reviews of children’s books from Books for Keeps, Carousel, Times Educational Supplement, Child and Junior Education, The School Librarian, the broadsheet review pages and the internet?
15. Is there at least one time every week where children will have nothing else to do with a book other than to read it, listen to it, and chat about it in an open-ended way?
16. I don’t think any meeting held by teachers to help parents understand what literacy is, should ever be without the presence in the room and the time to look at them, of such books as Trish Cooke’s and Helen Oxenbury’s ‘So Much’, Tony Ross’s ‘I Want My Potty’, Shirley Hughes’s ‘Dogger’, books by Anthony Browne, Penny Dunbar, Michael Foreman, Mick Inkpen, Lauren Child, Quentin Blake, Colin MacNaughton, Emma Chichester Clark and many, many more – apologies to those I’ve not mentioned.
17. There should be Beano annuals and football programmes open at the Junior Supporters pages, there should be books that tie in with TV shows and films.
18. Teachers could and should wrap up a meeting with parents with a read-aloud session, say, of a Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler masterpiece, with compulsory joining in!
19. Parents and grandparents should be encouraged to bring in and show off the books and magazines, no matter how humble, that they’ve kept since their childhoods.
20. The re-introduction of children’s literature courses on teacher and assistant teacher training courses.
One of the most inspiring occasions I've been to in this period was the prize-giving of the Sheffield Children's Book Award. The City Hall was packed to the rafters with children from schools all over Sheffield, waiting to see which of the books they had read and voted on had won. It was the twentieth anniversary of the Award and Martin Waddell, the first ever winner, was there along with many of the shortlisted authors, illustrators and their publishers. There were wonderful film sequences of the children talking about the books and then afterwards, hundreds of children queued to get their books signed. Halfway through this, my lightbulb went on again: every locality in the country could do their version of the award, with every school and child getting engaged in choosing which are their best books. It would mean cooperation between libraries, the local education authority, schools, parents, bookshops and the Children's Book Group. Is this possible? What's needed to make it happen? Anything I can do to help?
Meanwhile, I've been doing my usual visits. By the way, they are organised by the amazing Jan and Kate Powling at firstname.lastname@example.org or, when it's a Children's Laureate event, by the equally amazing Sasha Hoare at Booktrust at Sasha.Hoare@booktrust.org.uk. It was Sasha who set up an incredible launch for Children's Book Week at the London Eye, where we had some 200 children up in the capsules and then writing a huge poem at Southbank Centre in which the Eye talks to the Thames. You can read it on the Booktrust website.
The National Year of Reading held a conference where I read my NYR poem (find the poem on the NYR website). I've begun a scary cooperation with scintillating jazz musicians from the Homemade Orchestra who took my nonsense poems and turned them into a jazz oratorio. We've played Newbury, Guildford and the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre. I've performed in Rye, at the Bath Festival of Children's Literature; did three picture book shows with a wonderful Indian writer, Anushka Ravishankar, in Bexhill, Oxford and the Queen Elizabeth Hall for the Children's Book Show. I've performed my own shows for children in schools or theatres in Dartford, Telford, the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon, the American School in St John's Wood, the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Canterbury and Swindon.
I took part in a seminar at Birkbeck College on social realism in children's literature with Kimberley Reynolds and Julia Bell. I was very pleasantly grilled at 'Connecting Conversations' at the Institute of Psychoanalysis and at SPACE in Brighton. I read at an event for local writers at Stamford Hill Library; spoke on bereavement in Berkshire, read to students at York St John's University.
My yearlong poetry course for teachers at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education has begun. I took part in a fantastic four days of poetry workshops at the Barbican ('Can I Have a Word?') based on an exhibition of photographs from the Spanish Civil War.
Laureate projects progress with the British Library exhibition (April-June 2009) and conference (April 20 & 21: enrol now!). The first Roald Dahl Funny Prizes were awarded; the schools' performance poetry website - 'Perform-a-poem' - is being designed at Booktrust and the A-Z of Poetry Tour will become a book with Puffin.
A 'play for voices' I wrote about my locality, 'Hackney Streets', was performed at the Rosemary Branch Theatre and my version of 'Pinocchio' is running at the Polka Theatre, Wimbledon. The University of Worcester awarded me an Honorary MA, Birkbeck College made me a Visiting Professor, France made me a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. In between, 'The Wright Stuff' (Five) have had me on regularly to do a 'reading clinic' - advice for parents on their children's reading.