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SLA Blog » August 2007RSS Feed RSS

The SLA blog contains news about the SLA and topical information of general interest to our members. The blog has been running since 2004. An RSS 2.0 feed and information about how to subscribe to the blog are available.

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Siobhan Dowd 1960 – 2007

photo of SiobhanSiobhan Dowd, winner of the Branford Boase Award for A Swift Pure Cry, has died of cancer aged 47.  

She was enjoying spectacular success: shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, winner of the Eilis Dillon prize in Ireland, and named as one of the Waterstone's 25 authors of the future.  Her second novel, The London Eye Mystery, for younger readers, appeared in June and was already being widely and enthusiastically reviewed.   David Fickling Books will be publishing two more teenage novels, the first of which, Bog Child, will appear in February 2008.

Everyone who met Siobhan was touched by her warmth, generosity and joie-de-vivre.  As recently as July, she attended the Kids' Lit Quiz dinner in Oxford, and the sixth birthday party of David Fickling Books.   A relative newcomer to the children's book world, she quickly attracted many friends and admirers.

She had a varied and impressive career.  Born in Ireland, she studied Classics at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University.  She worked for the writers' organization PEN, at first as researcher for its Writers in Prison Committee, later becoming Program Director of PEN American Center's Freedom-to-Write Committee in New York, where she founded the Rushdie Defense Committee USA.   She was named one of the top 100 Irish-Americans for her global anti-censorship work.

The Carnegie judges said of A Swift Pure Cry:  "This is beautiful, dramatic writing that deals sensitively with a tough subject. Set in Ireland, the story follows the characters as they stumble through life's challenges, making the best of tough circumstances. The language is simple, lyrical, and evocative; the storytelling humorous but never sentimental. The take on religion is not predictable and the outcome extraordinarily life affirming."

At the Branford Boase ceremony in June, David Fickling (Siobhan's editor, together with Bella Pearson) said:  "Siobhan's first book is an amazing novel. It deserves every single bit of praise it is garnering. Siobhan Dowd is a special writing talent and she is right in the middle of the hottest streak of any author we have ever published."

Siobhan herself said, "I'm moved beyond words ... This is an award that taps you on the shoulder and whispers ‘Hurry up and earn me.'  I promise to do my level best." 

It seemed typical of Siobhan that she didn't think she'd earned it already.

Linda Newbery


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New Children’s Laureate to chair judges of children’s poetry bookshelf competition

The new Children's Laureate, Michael Rosen, is to chair the judging of a nationwide poetry competition for 7-11 year olds. The Competition is organised by the Children's Poetry Bookshelf, a poetry book club for young people run by the Poetry Book Society. To link with National Poetry Day on Thursday 4 October, children will be asked to write a poem no longer than 25 lines on the theme of ‘Dreams'.

Now in its second year, the Children's Poetry Bookshelf Competition is open to both individuals and schools, with prizes being awarded in two age groups, 7- 8 year olds and 9 -11 year olds. Entries will be accepted from Thursday 13 September, up until the closing date of Monday 15 October. The winners will be announced at an award ceremony in December, where they will be presented with cash prizes and poetry books for their school. Last year's inaugural competition attracted nearly 5,000 entries from across the UK and overseas.  

 The National Write-a-Poem Competition will encourage children to play with poetry, by providing an outlet for their creativity with language and encouraging teachers to bring poetry alive in the classroom. A teacher's guide to accompany the competition will be available to download from the Children's Poetry Bookshelf website from the beginning of September, along with further information about the competition.

Michael Rosen is joined on the judging committee by children's poet and Children's Poetry Bookshelf patron, Valerie Bloom; award-winning poet and educationalist, Mandy Coe; children's books expert and founder of Bookstart, Wendy Cooling; lecturer in literacy and children's books at the University of Reading, Prue Goodwin; children's poet, Wes Magee; and Morag Styles, Reader in Children's Literature and Education at the University of Cambridge.

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Reading and writing skills are important for children’s overall attainment

The third report in a major series of practical progress reports for teachers and pupils was published today by Young People's Minister Kevin Brennan.

Getting back on track - pupils who make slow progress in English, mathematics and science in Key Stage 3 looks at the experiences and behaviour of pupils aged between 11 and 14. This group of children ended Key Stage 2 doing well in English, maths and science, achieving the right level for their age; but as they moved through Key Stage 3, the rate at which they progressed slowed down or stalled. At the time of investigation, they risked not reaching Level 5 (the expected level) by the end of the key stage.

This report is based on interviews with hundreds of teachers and pupils in 46 schools. It identifies common characteristics of children who are making slow progress at Key Stage 3. The report paints a detailed picture of these pupils and offers practical steps that teachers and pupils can take to speed up their progress.

The report also confirms the importance of confident reading and writing to a child's overall attainment. You can download the report or order copies online at http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/publications. Search using ref: 00654-2007BKT-EN

In English, pupils who were making slow progress did not see themselves as readers, though many of them said they had enjoyed particular books or authors. They saw the magazines, newspapers, non-fiction or ‘lightweight' fiction that they often read at home as different from the texts they read in class. Some were not sure how to choose books that would interest or stretch them and would benefit from more advice on this.

Kevin Brennan, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Young People and Families said:

"Fostering a young person's passion for reading can help them on many levels. Amongst other conclusions, this report brings out the links between reading for pleasure and academic performance. It highlights the fact that boys tend to make slower progress, and read less, than girls. That is why we are funding every secondary school library to acquire new books targeted at teenage boys, exactly the age group covered in this report.

"Of course, encouraging reading is not a task for schools alone. We are helping reading at home by providing a free book for every 5 and 11 year old this autumn. And next year we will launch a National Year of Reading to promote reading for pleasure in the family and beyond. This national campaign to encourage more reading will help provide the impetus to put reading at the top of everyone's agenda.

Key findings from the report are:

Pupils whose progress was slow in English at Key Stage 3

  • were mostly boys (around three fifths of the sample group)
  • were easily distracted and could be disorganised
  • did not regard themselves as readers
  • did not see the magazines, newspapers, ‘lightweight' or non-fiction that they often read at home as reading
  • saw punctuation as a chore or an afterthought
  • some said that they wrote letters, diaries and stories at home but saw this as personal and not to be shared
  • often said they did not want their parents to help them
  • were embarrassed about making mistakes or asking for help in front of their peers

Strategies to help the groups of pupils described in this report include:

  • work to give pupils transferable practical skills (such as reading long questions and planning their writing) which they can deploy across different subjects
  • encouraging reading for pleasure - e.g. opportunities to discuss reading habits in class, an awareness that all reading ‘counts', and opportunities to read regularly in a comfortable environment
  • giving pupils easy access to a range of up-to-date, interesting texts, e.g. with book trolleys in classrooms
  • ways of organising books in the library that encourage children to move on to more difficult texts e.g. organising books by genre and linking recommendations (‘if you liked this, why not try this?')
  • early intervention - providing catch up or booster classes as soon as children start to fall behind, particularly offering more support in Year 8 (age 12 - 13) rather than waiting until Year 9.

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