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Marlow Church of England School visit

Here is the latest article about the Share Some Secrets children's book, encouraging children to reach out and speak out. #ShareSomeSecrets 

Read The Article Here

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Share Some Secrets featured on the BBC online

Here is the latest article about the Share Some Secrets animation, encouraging children to reach out and speak out. #ShareSomeSecrets 

Read The BBC Article Here


Share Some Secrets featured in The Guardian online

Here is the latest article about the Share Some Secrets children's book, encouraging children to reach out and speak out. #ShareSomeSecrets 

Read The Guardian Article Here


Animation Launch Sheffield - York Press Artice

Here is the latest article about the Share Some Secrets children's book, encouraging children to reach out and speak out. #ShareSomeSecrets 

Read The Article Here

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Christina in the Lancashire Telegraph

Here is the latest article about the books by Christina Gabbitas 

Read The Article Here


Gigi Gebhard received her trophy for the best poem in this years anniversary edition of Children's Poems

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Safeguarding to be given the platform it deserves

Last week I enjoyed a much anticipated holiday in France.  My family, good weather and food, and of course a book to read led to a relaxing week.  I particularly enjoyed watching my daughter discover the pleasure of being able to enjoy a good book on a sun lounger in between swimming sessions now that she can read. I didn’t totally switch off from work, but I would be lying if I said that I thought about it a lot.  Whilst I was sunning myself and making the most of the pool though, Christina was busy as ever and not just managing everything going on at Poems and Pictures, she was setting up a whole new company, Eliziam Events.

In addition to her writing Christina has a background in events organisation and management, and has organised a diverse range of events from our own Children’s Reading Festivals here at Poems and Pictures, to a diverse music festival at the Opera House, Newcastle, to a Railway Children Walk in Haworth with Jenny Agutter.  Her many testimonials show how successful these events have been.  So is this an end to her Poems and Pictures work I hear you ask?  Absolutely not!  Eliziam Events has been set up to host conferences and events, predominantly in the education sector, something Christina is passionate about with her work to improve literacy and give all children an equal chance in this area.

The first event that Eliziam will be hosting is on 1 February next year at the Royal Armouries in Leeds and concerns another area that is important in education and close to Christina’s heart, and that is safeguarding.  The conference, entitled Creative Resources Safeguarding Primary Children, is set to highlight the importance and effectiveness of utilising resources that are currently available in the field of safeguarding. When conducting research before writing her book Share Some Secrets, it became apparent to Christina that there is a need to concentrate on resources to help our young, vulnerable children. There appears to be more resources available to help ‘pick up the pieces’, but not enough preventative measures available and in place. The conferences aims to help highlight, educate and inform public sector organisations, charities and private organisations, where resources can be found.  Whilst Christina will talk about her book, she has also assembled an excellent group of speakers from a broad range of professional spheres including charities, legal, social work, the arts and health, and more speakers and panellists are being added to the event.  Each speaker will seek to highlight the range of resources and their effectiveness in trying to prevent abuse of the youngest in our society.  David Niven, Chair of Bradford and Tameside Safeguarding Children’s Boards is advising Christina for this particular event.

We are really looking forward to welcoming as many people as possible to the event in February and bookings are now open via the Eliziam Events website, with early bird tickets available until 10 October.  There are no other events currently focussing on resources and we hope that a successful event will allow us to bring it to other areas of the country perhaps later in 2018.  We also have another exciting event to look forward to before this year is out and that is the launch of the animation of Share Some Secrets at Sheffield Hallam University on 19 October.  I will cover this in a future blog, but wanted to share the fact that this important resource will be freely available online after its launch, adding to the important resources that will be talked about in February.

Before I finish this week’s blog I want to give you the penultimate instalment of our book themed ideas to do with children over the summer.  This week I want to again encourage you to get outdoors, but in a more rural spot than in my last blog.  Many Forestry Commission sites across England have Gruffalo spotter trails.  Whilst the book itself is aimed at young children, there aren’t many children, parents and even grandparents today who will not have read the book since it was published in 1999.  The trails are available at 26 sites across England and there is now a Gruffalo spotter app, which brings the characters to life as you find each special marker on the trail.  There are also life-sized Gruffalo sculptures in many forests and six sites have Gruffalo orienteering courses.  Trails help turn a walk into something really exciting and Forestry Commission sites usually offer great value for money as a family day out.

As always have a great week, particularly if you are heading outdoors, and if you have an interest in safeguarding, whether it is through work in the public, private or charity sector, do check out the Eliziam Events website and book your place for what promises to be an informative and important conference.

Rebecca Thomas, Editor


Lancashire and poetry

I really enjoy working with Christina, although you could argue that we shouldn’t get on based on where we were born.  Whilst I was born in Yorkshire on the eastern side of the Pennines, she was born in Lancashire to the west of the backbone-forming hills and mountains.  However such prejudices aren’t in our nature, and here at Poems and Pictures we enjoy working with anyone who is passionate about improving literacy and opportunities for children.  It is more than a year since I started working with Christina and one of her latest projects has given me cause to look back on some work that has been a recurring theme for both the blog posts and throughout our time working together.  I am talking about the eight line rhyme competition.

Christina’s friends at BBC Radio Lancashire, where she is a frequent guest on John Gillmore’s show, have kindly agreed to host a poetry exhibition, which showcases some of the best poems from the 17,000 entries received for the eight line rhyme competition over the last five years.  It also features poems not only penned by children here in the UK, but also children from the United Arab Emirates, such as last year’s winner Fidha Labeeb with her poem entitled ‘Music’.  Behind the simple title lies a very lyrical poem, which shows great writing promise.  Whilst Fidha at age twelve is one of the older children who has won the competition, some winners have been as young as eight, such as Rosie Kerven who wrote about an earthworm in the 2014 competition, which was themed around creatures and food.  I will let you decide which of the two themes Rosie had chosen to write about!  Both of these poems along with other winners and top entries about themes including seasons, climate change, exercise, healthy food, fears, teamwork, music and artists can be seen in the exhibition at BBC Radio Lancashire’s building in Blackburn, Christina’s home town.  The exhibition is free to visit and is open from 10:00 until 16:00.  It was important when Christina created the writing initiative that children of all abilities could take part in it and have fun, and we really hope that lots of children will visit over the summer and be inspired by what they see and read.

Some of the poems were displayed last year at the historic Samlesbury Hall and also at the University of Central Lancashire both in Preston. Next year Christina is taking the exhibition on the road to visit where one of our valued competition judges works, the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green East London.  Talking about the museum , which I mentioned in a little more detail as part of a blog entitled Spring into poetry a few months ago, brings me back to my promise to give you some book themed and child friendly ideas for the summer in my blogs over the course of the holidays.  Before I get on to my main theme of getting out and about this week, I would encourage you if you are in London to check out what the Museum of Childhood has to offer this summer.  From an exhibition about Michael Morpurgo, to family days celebrating children’s literature and storytelling, to outdoor summer games, there really is something for everyone if you are in the East End of the capital.

This week I want to focus on an idea that has only just come to my attention, but that seems to have been around for a few years, and that is book benches.  Various cities in the UK have hosted book bench trails over the last few years for a variety of reasons, and this summer it is, fittingly for this blogs west of the Pennines focus, Manchester that is hosting a book bench trail.    The BookBench project is part of the Read Manchester campaign from Manchester City Council and the National Literacy Trust.  The BookBenches have been designed by local children and community groups who have been inspired by books and reading to create benches, each on a theme, in partnership with Wild in Art.  There is a trail between the 58 benches and fun activities for children to do along the way.  It is a great way to get outdoors with your children, be inspired by books and discover the city.  Details can be found on the Literacy Trust website.  If you have slightly older children who may enjoy older classic literature, there is also a BookBench trail in Basingstoke to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death.  For more details visit the website

Hopefully we have given you lots of inspiration for things to do in the North West this week and all of them are free.  We hope you enjoy the poetry exhibition at BBC Radio Lancashire and would love to hear what your favourite BookBench is on either of the trails.  Have a good week getting out and about.

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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Felicity Fly and friends plus summer theatre fun

Well I have been bombarded yet again this week with library news, from statistics on the most borrowed authors to a library’s place in promoting social mobility.  However you will be pleased to know that there is no ‘Libraries inspire part 3’, after all I don’t want you to get bored.  I would encourage you to support your local library though in order to cement its place in the community and allow it to continue to carry out all the important work it does, often unnoticed.

With Christina taking a break this week (or as much of a break as is possible whilst running your own business), I thought it would be a good time to take a look back at some of Christina’s books that we haven’t talked about in the blog since we launched it back in February.   One of my daughter’s current favourite things is to get out in the garden and hunt for bugs.  She has a full bug hunting kit, with a magnifying glass and a box in which to put her finds and study them before releasing them later.  She has a great interest in nature and this is just one way of furthering it.  We have also recently looked after some caterpillars, watching them grow, turn into chrysalides and then butterflies, which we had the pleasure of seeing fly away to start the lifecycle all over again one sunny day last week.  There are many reasons why my daughter likes bugs and insects, but one of them is that she doesn’t feel threatened by them because they are small.  As a child she is very petite for her age and has always been wary of larger animals.  Whilst this is something that is reducing with time, she is still much happier looking after a Charlotte (the name for spiders in our house after the book Charlotte’s Web) which has taken up residence in our bathroom, than playing with a friend’s labrador.  

You might be wondering by now what all this has to do with books.  Christina’s first published book back in 2012 was Welcome to the World of Felicity Fly.  The inspiration for the book came from her own experiences as a child and those of her children. Christina describes herself as a child as having been scared of anything that moved.  She wanted to help other children cope with their childhood fears and the character of Felicity Fly was born, along with her friends such as Sissy Silverfish and William Washing Machine.  The book is aimed at trying to make children feel that they are not alone when they fear something, that it is ok and acceptable to have fears, and that we all have different ways of dealing with this.  The series now contains four books all tackling different topics.  Felicity Fly meets Veronica Vac introduces children to the word ‘nocturnal’, as well as looking at teamwork.  My daughter’s favourite is Felicity Fly in the Garden (I wonder why!) and this explains pollination.  The latest instalment published in 2015 is Felicity Fly Meets the Dragon Fruit and Friends.  This looks at healthy eating whilst also introducing children to different characters with different accents from around the world.  All the books are wonderfully illustrated and, as with all Christina’s books, they are written in rhyme making them really engaging.  They are perfect for reading aloud with your child too and each comes with an audio CD, so you get the full benefit of Christina’s character accents.

As promised last week I have been looking around at what’s on for children this summer in order to bring you some ideas each week over the holiday period.  This week I am focussing on two arts brought together, books and theatre.  Many classic tales as well as more modern stories are being brought to the stage this summer, so I thought I would bring you just a taste of what’s out there to see.  Two books are being brought to the stage in London in musical format for a limited summer season.  The Wind in the Willows, the tale of Ratty, Mole, Badger and the impulsive Toad, is on at the Palladium, whilst Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox, which was brought to the stage for the centenary of Dahl’s birth last year, will, I am sure, be gloriumptious at the Lyric Hammersmith!  If like me you live a long way from London, you will perhaps be more interested in productions that are touring.  Last year my family enjoyed an open air production of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan by Chapterhouse Theatre Company and they are touring it again this year, along with The Wind in the Willows and other classics more suited to an adult audience such as Wuthering Heights.  The beauty of open air theatre is it is performed in some absolutely stunning locations, allowing you to take in a visit to a historic monument such as Corfe Castle in Dorset or Mount Grace Priory in North Yorkshire amongst many others, and also see a brilliant production of a well-loved story, perhaps with a picnic thrown in.  Whilst the English weather is not always seasonal, the show will only be cancelled in extreme weather, so don’t forget to take your brolly.  If your children prefer a more modern author, Heartbreak Productions are touring the show Billionaire Boy based on David Walliams’best-selling children’s book.  This is again an open air production at a range of locations nationwide.  One final suggestion if you have a little Beatrix Potter fan like myself, is to head to the World of Beatrix Potter Attraction in Bowness-on-Windermere to see Where is Peter Rabbit?  The show brings to life many of the well-known characters through the use of puppets and is a real treat for all Peter Rabbit fans.

I hope this blog has given you lots of suggestions for the week ahead, whether it be bug hunting in the garden, reading one of the Felicity Fly stories or looking what theatre productions are on local to you this summer.  Let’s face it, you don’t have to be a child to enjoy the latter either!

Rebecca Thomas, Editor


Libraries inspire part 2 – public libraries and community involvement

One week on from my blog about school libraries and this week I find myself writing about public libraries and community involvement.  The summer holiday season is nearly upon us, but Christina is as busy as ever and this week she was invited to be guest speaker at the Bradford Libraries Rhyme Challenge Awards.  The rhyme challenge, which ran from September of last year to March of this, sets children under five and their families the task of learning five rhymes.  They are rewarded with a certificate for completing the challenge.  It is run by Bradford Libraries and Bradford Early Childhood Services and according to their statistics over 3500 families completed it this year.  Even more exciting was an increase in uptake this year of 75%. (Statistics from  The Lord Mayor of Bradford Councillor Abid Hussain presented the awards and Christina spoke about the importance of rhyme in helping children to learn and increase their vocabulary, as well as the importance of libraries and community involvement.  The awards recognised those individuals and groups who had gone the extra mile in organising and running the challenge over last autumn and winter.  These included individual staff as well as libraries, playgroups, schools and children’s centres from across the Bradford area.  Christina had a wonderful time and also enjoyed meeting some of the young learners who were representing different groups.

Whilst visiting our local library last weekend my daughter and I noticed the posters advertising the Summer Reading Challenge.  Held annually the challenge is supported by a number of groups including The Reading Agency, Arts Council England, the Children’s University and local libraries across the country.  We immediately signed up and are looking forward to our first drop in session, where we can collect clues as part of the Animal Agents theme.  The challenge requires children to read six library books of their choice and there are rewards to collect along the way.  You even get packs for the weeks that you are unable to attend due to holidays.  It is also completely free.  There is a great website too where children can get tips on finding a good book and play games, amongst other things. For those of you with older children, such as teenagers or young adults up to the age of 24, they can volunteer to support the challenge at their local library by listening to younger children read through Reading Hack (  It is a great opportunity to get involved in your local community and meet new people.

Talking of community, here at Poems and Pictures we are very proud to announce that the Selby Children’s Reading Festival, which we organised for the first time in March, was nominated for a North Yorkshire County Council community award in the best community project award category.  Whilst the festival has not been shortlisted for the final award, we are extremely proud to have been nominated in only the first year of the festival.  It is recognition of the impact that the festival had on the community.  Only last month we put together an impact report for the festival and the statistics within it felt even more striking three months on from the event.  Over 3000 children received free books and over 3500 children attended across the three days.  Reading the testimonials from teachers was really encouraging, with one saying that he hoped it would become an annual event.  We will of course keep you posted here on the blog about all future festival events.

Finally, if you are a parent like me you are probably looking around at what’s on to keep the children entertained this summer.  Each week over the holidays I will endeavour to let you know about a book related event, trail or happening somewhere around the country that you might like to consider.  If you have any ideas or events that you would like to let me know about, then do get in touch via Twitter @rmlanguageserv and tell me the details.  This week make sure to sign your children up to the Summer Reading Challenge.  Enjoy doing some sleuthing with the animal agents, explore new books and make new friends doing the same thing as you, and it’s all for free – what could be better!

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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Libraries inspire

Several things that have happened to me in the last few weeks have led to me feeling that it was necessary to write this particular blog post.  The first of these was when I took my daughter’s library books back to renew them and noticed a sign saying that the library was reducing its opening hours.  The second was a governors’ meeting that I attended where we received an update from the English coordinator about the progress being made with teaching strategies for spelling in the school and how this links to reading.  The third event is a review that I read earlier this week by the Literacy Trust about the current situation concerning school libraries in the UK.  I think you can guess from these three events that my topic for this blog is libraries and more specifically school libraries.

I want to say that I will not be giving my opinion on the politics of the situation.  We are all aware that there have been cuts to various services that affect all areas of our lives and we will all no doubt have our opinions on this both positive and negative.  Last year in an open letter to the Education Secretary the then children’s laureate Chris Riddell called on the government to preserve school libraries.  The education secretary responded that libraries come out of the overall budget for any school and the schools have control over their own budgets.  We therefore find ourselves where we are and I want to focus on the current situation, why school libraries are important and what can be done.

The review published this week by the Literacy Trust gives a picture of the current situation but nothing definitive.  This is because there are no official figures or systematic monitoring of the number of schools with a library and what is defined as a library is vaguer than ever in our digital age.  I had not realised until very recently that it is not a statutory duty for schools to provide a library or library services.  This astounded me and has made me very grateful that all the schools I attended had libraries and indeed the primary school my daughter attends, despite being small (less than 100 pupils), also has a library.  The school library was always a fun place for me, and we were encouraged to go there and use it.  Two schools I attended were in wonderful, old, Victorian buildings and the libraries were equally wonderful rooms with books from floor to ceiling and huge long windows giving plenty of light to study the books.  My main secondary school had a rather more modern library, but it provided a great space for a slightly geeky teenager to while away break times and lunchtimes, as well as timetabled lessons.  It was also a great place for social interaction, as you came across others looking at the same types of books and you interacted with children from across the school.  The thought that this no longer happens in some schools just baffles me.

Other than the reasons I outlined in my own personal experience above, libraries are important as they provide access to books that children don’t get elsewhere.  Christina’s research into literature festivals lead to the idea of children’s reading festivals to give an equal opportunity to all to access a book centred event for their age.  It is worrying to think that some of the children who we want to reach with reading festivals may not even have access to books at school outside of the classroom context.  Like the statistics on the provision of school libraries, concrete data on the impact of school libraries on attainment and other factors is patchy.  However it has been shown that school libraries do impact on pupil attainment and, as the Literacy Trust review points out, this is at a time when fewer than half of children read outside the classroom.  Having a school library promotes reading and reading for fun, whether that be fiction or non-fiction, which is a vital skill for a child.

In my role as a school governor I recently had the privilege of visiting a local secondary school and found that the head is in the process of reinstating the library, which was removed by his predecessor.  This was great news, but more impressive was the ways in which the school is promoting reading.  Every member of staff, including non-teaching staff, has a poster on their door showing what book they are reading at the moment or what is their favourite book, some have both.  This has been found to promote conversations between staff and pupils about books, and helps identify those pupils who may not be reading outside of school and encourages them to join in by choosing their own book to read.  All pupils in key stage three also have a scheduled form time each week in the library where they are free to explore the books and read whatever takes their fancy.  A primary school I visited had their library in a very central location, such that all key stage two pupils have to walk through it in order to go for dinner.  Another way to boost and promote school libraries is through an author visit.  Many authors provide copies of their books for the school library as part of a visit and promote the use of libraries; if a child has not come across an author before the best and cheapest way to find out more is for them to visit the library and borrow a book by that author.  

It is clear that the retention and reopening of school libraries is something that requires a coordinated effort by various parties.  Boosting literacy rates and thus attainment is so important.  Whatever a child’s ambitions in life, being able to read is an important skill to help them achieve and a skill for life in general.  If like myself you are having a tidy up or a clear out this week, perhaps consider giving any suitable books you find to your nearest school library.  They do not have to be in pristine condition, books are designed to be read and hopefully that book you have donated will inspire a child.

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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The day before my birthday, back in April, I took my daughter shopping for some new clothes.  Whilst we were out I suddenly remembered that I needed to turn up a pair of trousers she required for a dance lesson later in the week.  I told her this, and asked her if she could try and remind me when we got home to pin the trousers, so they were ready to sew.  We enjoyed our shopping trip and duly went home to have tea followed by the usual bedtime routine. After my daughter had gone to bed I did some tidying up and was just about to sit down when I heard her bedroom door open.  This was highly unusual and, given she had school the next day, I quickly went upstairs to see what was wrong and if necessary warn her that she needed to sleep otherwise getting up in the morning would be difficult.  I found her at the top of the stairs.  “Mummy”, she said urgently, “I just remembered that you needed to pin my trousers!”  I couldn’t help smiling given I had totally forgotten, and she had felt obliged to come and remind me despite the late hour.  Settling her back into bed I thanked her for reminding me and reassured her that we could do the trousers in the morning.  “Go to sleep now”, I said “otherwise you will be tired in the morning”.  She lifted up her head, smiled at me and replied “I’m too excited to sleep because it’s your birthday tomorrow!”  It was one of those special parent moments and, after a quick discussion on the merits of sleep, I left her to drop off.

We have all felt emotions at one time or another that have made sleep more difficult.  Like us there are many reasons why children find it difficult to sleep.  These can range from worries and emotions, to too much light in the room, a lack of a bedtime routine, not being genuinely tired, being over stimulated shortly before bed or struggling to switch off from all they have done that day and relax.  At the end of April Book Trust held two events at the Trafford Centre in Manchester as part of their Bath Book Bed 2017 campaign.  The campaign aims to promote a good bedtime routine as this is one of the factors associated with young children sleeping better.  However what happens when a good routine doesn’t quite achieve the desired result of a restful night’s sleep for parent and child?

Whilst the Book Trust website gives suggestions of some books you can try for newborns up to toddlers, we have our own solution here at Poems and Pictures which works well for children who are a bit older too.  Written by the team at Aquamarine Holistic Health Sleeepy Storiezzz uses subtle hypnotherapy techniques to gently induce a deep, relaxing sleep.  Children journey through TheMagic Jungle where they become one of three creatures.  The three separate stories in the first edition are Exhausted Elephant, Chilled Chimp and Tired Tiger.  The stories transport the children into the world of the animal they choose, letting their imagination take them on a journey whilst also promoting sleep at the same time, and they are wonderfully illustrated by the brilliant Simon Cooper.  The book uses a simple system of bold and italicised words to show where you need to emphasise the words in a low tone to gain the maximum effect from them.  It comes with an audio too, to help you understand how best to deliver the stories and for those times when perhaps something prevents you being able to read to your child.  For slightly older children they can also use the audio themselves.  I can definitely remember falling asleep under the duvet with my Walkman when I was a bit older and I am sure this would have been a great way to do that!  The book also includes a breathing exercise and introduction through TheMagic Jungle that form part of the routine of the book.  Having edited the book and had a go at the breathing exercise, I definitely found it working and even did some of the editing in short bursts to stop me feeling sleepy!  

The consequences of a lack of sleep can be wide ranging.  Children who experience shorter periods of sleep generally demonstrate poorer academic performance, and suffer more behavioural issues than their well-rested peers, but there is also evidence that a lack of sleep can contribute to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and hyperactivity. Recent studies have shown that some children diagnosed with ADHD may actually be sleep deprived too.  As adults we can often recognise the signs of being tired in ourselves and also those that occur when we get overtired.  Children need help to recognise these and there is a useful section at the back of the book with tips to prepare your child for sleep, making the most of that bedtime story time.

Sleeepy Storiezzz is published on 8 July and I have already recommended it to some friends who have children who struggle to get to sleep.  Even if your child doesn’t struggle to get to sleep, the stories in the book are a great way to settle them down for sleep and the book would be a useful addition to any child’s collection.  I am off to bed now, so as each of the stories about our new animal friends ends by saying goodnight to them, I am going to say ‘goodnight readers’.

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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View from my window

We all learn to write at the same time as we learn to read.  Having a five year old who is approaching the end of her first full year at school, it has been a pleasure watching her get to grips with both reading and writing over the course of the last year, but an even greater pleasure watching her start to grasp that she can do both of these for fun.  However this joy is tainted by an important question, as a parent how do you encourage your child to do both of these for fun?  Anyone who has recruited for a position within a business will have seen ‘reading’ listed as an interest on many curriculum vitae, but is less likely to have seen ‘writing’ with such frequency.  As we get older less of us enjoy writing for pleasure than enjoy reading for pleasure.  The holiday bag that you swing over your shoulder this summer before you board the plane at the airport is more likely to contain a paperback book than a blank notebook.

I feel very privileged that I was encouraged to write both at school and at home as a young child.  I owned a typewriter that in 1988 was replaced by our first home computer.  My spare time was often spent producing angular, white script on its black, convex screen.  I am not sure that I ever finished my stories, fancying myself more as a lengthy novel writer than a short story writer.  Many children are not as fortunate as I was and this has been recognised by the charity First Story, who are behind the first ever National Writing Day, which is taking place today.  I like the fact that this coincides with the longest day of the year, giving as much daylight to complete the challenge they set for the day, which is to write about the view from your window.  First Story aim to change lives through writing by sending professional authors into challenging UK secondary schools to work with staff and pupils providing opportunities for writing activities that foster creativity and literacy, and build self-confidence.  Writing gives children in these schools an opportunity for self-expression increasing their confidence and raising their aspirations.

On this first National Writing Day, the National Literacy Trust, who are one of First Story’s partners for the day, have published some interesting research showing that children who enjoy writing and who write creatively outside school do significantly better in the classroom.  This may sound obvious, but more striking is the statistic that those who like writing outside class are seven times more likely to write above the expected level for their age.  The survey questioned more than 39,000 eight to eighteen year olds.  It was encouraging that a greater percentage of children write for fun than did in the previous survey conducted twelve months before, but about half still do not enjoy writing outside the classroom.

Last week I mentioned author visits and this is something that we are passionate about at Poems and Pictures.  I know Christina is often asked by children about how to become an author, as children often assume that to become an author you have to be at least university educated.  This is of course a myth and Christina ensures that the children understand this.  The research published by the National Literacy Trust also shows that about half of children find it difficult to decide what to write about.  Christina encourages them to just have a go.  I have seen lots of quotes in the last week from other authors on this subject to.  From just writing what you would say, to writing what you can see, to being inventive and letting your mind wander, to recognising that your story is your story, it isn’t anyone else’s, we each have a different way of getting started.  Your life is your story and no one else is living it except you.

Let me finish this week by encouraging you to just have a go at writing and encourage your children to do the same.  Start with the view from your window.  Whether it is of a huge silver birch tree and a garden containing a slide, swing, play house and various plants in pots like mine, or a beach, or the busiest street in a capital city, just have a go.  You may be sat in an office looking out at a view that lots of others in the same room can see, but the subtleties of what that view means to you and what draws your attention first will differ from everyone else in the room. Look out of the same window with your child and independently write about what you can see.  I am sure that there will be differences in what you both write.  Everyone has a story to tell.  We are all unique and so are our stories.

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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Happy anniversary

This week’s blog must start with an apology.  I want to apologise to the many children that entered this year’s Poems and Pictures eight line rhyme competition that I have not written a blog about the judging and the results sooner.  This is going to be rectified right now.

As I have mentioned in blogs a few times since the start of this year’s competition, I was really looking forward to judging the competition, as I know some of my fellow judges were too.  The topics of seasons and climate change seemed even more prophetic with the United States’ recent withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, which was signed barely a year ago.  Whether you agree with the American position or not, it was clear from the competition entries we received that many children have a very strong view on what climate change means.  The entries were also great at capturing the essence of the seasons, whether that be one or all four.  The competition closed on 5 May and yet again thousands of poems had to be sorted through by Christina to produce a shortlist for the judges.

Judging was both a pleasure and one of the most difficult tasks I have undertaken this year thus far.  I know many of the judges took a great deal of time deliberating over who to place where in the rankings and I was no exception.  The standard of writing from children ranging in age from seven to eleven was quite remarkable.  They had covered topics as diverse as glaciers melting, to hot food at an outdoor event on a cold winter’s night, from spring flowers, to a polar bear losing his home.  It proved so hard to separate the best poems and I know Christina had long conversations with several judges in an attempt to find an overall winner. It was impossible and just under three weeks ago Christina announced joint winners, Gigi Gebhard aged nine with The Polar Bear and Annabelle Butcher aged seven with The Seasons.  Both girls deserve huge congratulations as does Sophie Childs aged eleven who came in second place with her poem The Glacier.  Their poems have now been illustrated by the brilliant Ric Lumb and you can look forward to seeing them in print in the early autumn.  

This year’s book promises to be a real treat.  The national competition celebrated its fifth anniversary this year and as a result, this year’s best poems will appear alongside the best from the last four years in a special anniversary edition to be published on national poetry day, 28 September, here in the UK.  The book will showcase children’s poems on topics including fears and phobias, teamwork, creatures, music and climate change.  Proceeds from the book will go to Banardo’s, the UK’s largest children’s charity.  Do look out for it in the autumn and order your copy.

Over the last five years upwards of 17,000 children have taken part in the poetry initiative, which aims to inspire children of primary school age to have a go at writing.  During the competition Christina visited many schools and events all over the country, and it was clear how this had enthused the children from the poems which we received.  It shows the importance of author visits in helping children to engage with both writing and reading.  Christina visits schools all year round and is passionate about giving every child an equal opportunity to get involved with writing, as well as learning the lifelong skill of reading.  Author visits have proved to be inspirational to so many youngsters and teacher testimonials bear witness to this.

I hope you will join me in wishing the eight line rhyme competition happy fifth anniversary, especially on 28 September when the special edition is published, and in the meantime perhaps you know a school that would benefit from an author visit.  If you do, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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A whistle stop tour

Last week I enjoyed a lovely half term break in North Devon with my family, so hence there was no blog.  Whilst I was relaxing and making the most of family time, Christina has been busy as ever.

Two weeks ago Christina was at the People’s Book Prize Awards at Stationers’ Hall in London with Patron Frederick Forsyth, CBE, presiding.  Whilst Triangular Trev and the Shape Idols did not win on this occasion, Christina had the pleasure of sitting next to Mickey Bradley from Northern Irish punk rock/ new wave band The Undertones.  The band is best known for the track ‘Teenage Kicks’, which was BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel’s all-time favourite song.  Indeed despite this debut single only peaking at 31 in the charts, Peel’s promotion of the song, once famously playing it twice in succession on his show, has gained it cult status.  Mickey was at the awards with his aptly named book Teenage Kicks: My Life as an Undertone, which also failed to scoop an award.  Christina enjoyed learning some Irish words from Mickey, and with her talent for accents and the fact that all her books come with audio, I am sure we can look forward to hearing an Irish character somewhere in a future book.

Last week saw the start of June and many countries around the world celebrated International Children’s Day, a day to raise awareness of child rights and wellbeing.  The World Conference for the Wellbeing of Children in Geneva, Switzerland in 1925 decided on the date, although some countries, including the UK, have their own national days on a separate date too.  Whilst the day sees many events to celebrate childhood, which take a variety of formats in different countries around the world, the main aim of the day is to get people talking about the issues currently facing children with regard to rights and wellbeing.  Here at Poems and Pictures we take a keen interest in children’s issues including safeguarding, mental health and of course literacy.  

In the last week Christina has spoken to David Niven, who has over 30 years’ national and international experience in the field of social welfare, and is recognised as an independent expert on matters of child protection and parenting, about one of these issues.  In a podcast on David’s website Christina spoke about her safeguarding book Share Some Secrets and how to get it out to a wider audience.  Christina is keen to get help from the education sector to get the book into libraries, as well as promoting the message of the book worldwide.  As she said in her interview ‘Help me to help the young, vulnerable children of our world’.  The animation of the book will be available this autumn and the link will be available free for everyone.  She will also be working with David on a possible conference looking at the range of practical teaching resources on safeguarding.

As a final thought on another issue I mentioned above, literacy, the new Children’s Laureate has been announced just down the road in Hull as I am sitting writing this blog.  Lauren Child is the author and illustrator of amongst other things the Charlie and Lola series of books, which have also been made into a TV series aimed at two to five year olds.  She is quoted as saying that her aims as laureate are:

‘…to inspire children to believe in their own creative potential, to make their own stories and drawings and ignite in them the delight of reading for pleasure.’

These are great aims for her tenure in the role, and are just a few ways to help promote literacy and children believing in themselves.  We look forward to seeing how Lauren gets on in the role and any new initiatives she comes up with.

This has been rather a whistle stop tour of just some of the things happening here and in children’s literature in general in the last two weeks.  We will bring you more in the coming weeks on our current and future projects, but until then, to quote an episode of Charlie and Lola, we are ‘far too extremely busy’!

Rebecca Thomas, Editor


Social World Podcast with Christina Gabbitas

An interview with Christina Gabbitas about her book for 5 to 8 year olds on keeping themselves safe and how she is committed to safeguarding children..



Are words enough?

I started writing this week’s blog on Monday giving an overview of the education policies and any specifics on literacy in the manifestoes of the different political parties, but following Monday night’s events in Manchester and with election campaigning temporarily suspended it seemed inappropriate to complete and publish that blog post this week.  Instead this week I have decided to focus on words, our language and how we apply this in such a situation as Monday.

There are opinions both for and against whether English is the richest language in the world.  By that I mean the one that has the most ways of expressing things.  The Guinness World Records does not class English as the richest language, instead giving Greek this title I believe.  However, how you define richness is open to debate in itself.  As a translator I have often found that English lacks the capacity to express the idea or concept found in the native language of the source text.  Conversely there are occasions where the converse is true and a foreign language is not adequately able to express an English word or phrase.

When an event such as Monday happens we are often left unable to find the right words to sum up our feelings in particular.  Despite being someone who writes for part of their living, I do not consider myself very good at finding the right words to express my thoughts and feelings in times of tragedy in particular.  Another recent experience, the suicide of an elderly gentleman in his eighties who I had known for over twenty years, was another occasion where I struggled to find the right words to convey to his wife my condolences.  No matter how broad our language there are times when we are just lost for words and know that no words will change what has happened or suddenly make things better.

In an age of twenty four seven media we often hear the same words repeated over and over again in describing events and feelings.  The media, along with those in authority and other public positions, are required to say something and we often hear the things we have heard before.  That isn’t to say that they are any less sincere, but perhaps more a reflection of the way we are conditioned to go about tackling these situations in those positions in today’s culture of demanding immediate information.  Whether you agree or disagree with his politics, Donald Trump was characteristically blunt and open when he called the perpetrators of Monday’s attack and others like it ‘losers’.  This isn’t a word we are accustomed to hearing from those in authority, and possibly even less so in our more reserved English culture, so it really caught my attention.  Who knows whether history will remember that statement in the way it remembers great speeches, such as those of Martin Luther King in Washington or John F. Kennedy in Berlin, but it stood out as a different use of language to describe a difficult situation.

During previous blog posts I have talked about the power of poetry and the other arts in conveying feelings that we often struggle to capture in another way.  This has been evidenced again in the last forty eight hours since the Manchester bombing.  Many will have heard the emotional reading by Tony Walsh of his poem This Is The Place, which he originally wrote in 2013 to celebrate all that is Manchester.  On social media another poem has appeared, which was read by The Courteeners singer Liam Fray at a concert in Halifax the day after the Manchester attack.  It has been credited to Ryan Williams on Facebook.  This poem is a direct response to Monday’s events and sums up the idea that Manchester will get up, carry on and be united, its final line invoking the Manchester symbol of the bee:

“…and the bees still Buzz!”

Poetry is a great way of summing up so much and the rhythm of a poem is often key to giving real emphasis and magnitude to the words.  Both poems are a great way to express feelings and there are many more out there, whether you are from Manchester or not, that really capture the deep feelings we all have about Monday.

As you may be aware I often end my blog with a concluding statement on the whole subject I have discussed and sometimes an encouragement for the week ahead.  As I have said above I am not the best at finding words for situations as terrible as this, so it is probably best to say I have no great words of conclusion for this week other than my thoughts and prayers are with all those affected.

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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Inspiration and humility in equal measure

Last week Christina kindly invited me to attend the Sue Ryder Yorkshire Women of Achievement Awards at the Royal Armouries in Leeds.  The annual, daytime event honours the best women in Yorkshire in eight categories and then one is announced as the overall Woman of Achievement for that year.  In addition a Yorkshire Rose Award is presented to a woman or group of women chosen by the judging panel because they have represented Yorkshire to an exceptional level and their achievements are outstanding and worthy of recognition – more on this award later.

As I entered the building I was met by an array of women (and a very small handful of men), all dressed up for the occasion, milling around with a glass in hand waiting to enter the hall and sit down.  The variety of women of all shapes and sizes, from all sorts of backgrounds was a timely reminder that success is down to hard work and not where you come from and what you look like.  I located Christina who introduced me to some of the other ladies who would be sitting on our table.  They included the creator of a healthy eating brand for children, an architect and a ward sister at a Sue Ryder Hospice.  The event is organised by the Sue Ryder charity.  I was immediately struck by the amazing work that these women do and felt rather humble; being an editor and translator, working with other people’s words, hardly seemed to match up to the fantastic professions these ladies are in.  We chatted until we were invited to take our seats for lunch and I sat down feeling a little inspired from the conversations I had, had thus far.  I could not foresee how much this feeling would grow throughout the afternoon.

Before we ate, our host Liz Green from BBC Radio Leeds introduced the White Rose award.  As I said above this goes to someone outstanding and this year it was presented posthumously to the MP Jo Cox who represented Batley and Spen in West Yorkshire.  In addition to being an MP Jo championed diversity and had a strong belief in a better world.  As her family took to the stage, I can’t imagine that there was anyone in the room who didn’t have a lump in their throat.  In accepting the award on behalf of the family, Jo’s sister Kim spoke about both who Jo was and what she believed in.  I was in awe of how well Kim spoke in the circumstances, and the sense of inspiration and humility her speech left me with.  Political allegiances to one side, Jo was a human being who cared deeply about others and was willing to fight for what she believed in, a fairer, kinder and more tolerant world.  The experience of seeing this award presented left many of us reaching for tissues and hopefully inspired many to take part in the events which are being organised to commemorate the first anniversary of Jo passing.  For more information please visit the Jo Cox Foundation page.

The other awards were presented after lunch.  We had each been given a booklet detailing the shortlisted nominees for each award and a bit about them.  This booklet contained such inspiration and as the awards were presented, the humility of the recipients was overwhelming.  Each thanked so many people and some even suggested that those who supported them were more deserving of the award than themselves.  One thank you by one particular winner really struck me.  Dr Sarah Heath is a university lecturer in nuclear engineering as well as other aspects of chemistry.  Her research has greatly contributed to the UK’s current response planning for nuclear terrorism.  She thanked many people who were with her and one of those was her chemistry teacher from school, whom she had invited to attend.  It was wonderful to see someone at the age of 50 acknowledge where the roots of their achievement were first planted.  Such humility was fantastic to see.

I could write for a long time about each of the recipients, their achievements and the humble way in which they accepted their awards, but I am sure that no one would want to read to the end due to boredom.  I feel very privileged to have not just attended the awards, listened to and met some amazing women, but also to have been inspired by the event.  Whilst I don’t work in an industry where women are in a huge minority, the event leaves no doubt that gender is not a barrier to achievement, whatever field you work in.  Inspiration is all around us and we should be excited by what we can achieve through hard work and dedication.  I know I will be busy trying to implement some of the many ideas I have been left with and hopefully will be able to blog about them in the future.  Take time to look around you for inspiration this week, it is out there in abundance!

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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March 2017 - York Press

Success for inaugural reading festival...

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Feb 2017 - York Press

2000 children to take part in Selby reading festival...

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Jan 2017 - Lancahire Telegraph

‘Everybody deserves a chance to fall in love with reading’ - meet Blackburn author Christina Gabbitas...


Safeguarding – let’s get the message out there

Here’s a question: how do we teach young children about what secrets are good and what secrets are bad, give them the confidence to speak out about things that are troubling them, but not scare them?  As a parent, a school governor with responsibility for safeguarding and a former church safeguarding coordinator this is a question I have pondered often and I am sure I am not alone.  Too often children are groomed in an attempt by the perpetrator of the abuse to stop them speaking out and as a society I believe we are still not bold enough in talking about this topic with children in an appropriate manner in order to protect them.

I do not think anyone could claim to have the complete answer to my question above, but here at Poems and Pictures Christina’s passion for improving things in this area lead to her writing a book to go some way to doing that.  A year of research showed that there were no books for four to seven year olds that addressed this issue in a manner appropriate to their understanding.  Abusers target children of any age and we should not try to hide from this issue and pretend it doesn’t happen to younger children, it does.  Using public support from Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform for creative projects, and her own money Christina wrote and published Share Some Secrets.  Illustrator Ric Lumb provided the carefully crafted pictures which ensure the story is not at all graphic in tackling this sensitive subject.  Christina carefully worded the story to make it not only appropriate for the age range, but to allow those reading the book to the child to use everyday language that they themselves would also feel comfortable with.  The book received immediate recognition when it was entered in the spring collection 2016 of the People’s Book Prize in the children’s category.  It made it to the 2016 final.

To ensure that the book reached as wide an audience as possible and those that needed it most, Christina forged partnerships with both the NSPCC and Barnardo’s.  The NSPCC endorsed the book that reinforces the behaviour promoted by their Underwear Rule campaign and placed it in their library.  One hundred copies also went out through the charity’s Schools Service.  In a corporate partnership with Barnardo’s a special edition was produced for their 150thanniversary and a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book went to the charity.  Further endorsements followed from teachers, parents, children and safeguarding consultants, such as Ann Marie Christian.  Christina also had the privilege of being invited to meet Dame Esther Rantzen when she visited The NSPCC’s Leeds base as part of Childline’s 30th anniversary celebrations.

Christina’s passion for getting the message across to as many children as possible hasn’t stopped since the initial publication and partnerships.  Last summer I was asked by Christina to translate Share Some Secrets into Spanish.  This was an interesting project as the original book is written in rhyme, but it is often difficult to replicate rhyme in translation.  The most important part of the book is its message, so we decided that must take priority over more stylistic matters.  Compartamos Algunos Secretos, the Spanish title, is awaiting publication and we are looking forward to seeing how it fares in a new market for Poems and Pictures.

The translation isn’t the only exciting ongoing development with Share Some Secrets.  On 18 October last year Christina met a group of students studying animation at Sheffield Hallam University, who will be turning Share Some Secrets into an animation.  Headed by senior lecturer Melvyn Ternan as Creative Director the group of six students have been working hard since October.  Christina visited Sheffield to record the voices in March and we can’t wait to see the finished animation.

With arrests and trials still happening in the most high-profile child exploitation scandal in the UK, that of Rotherham, it is important that we do not rest in the mission to ensure that children, as well as their parents, carers and teachers, have the tools they need to prevent child abuse happening or stop it in its tracks at an early stage.  We have a long way to go to achieve this aim, but each step along the way is vital to improving outcomes for all children and preserving childhood as the special time it should be.

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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Finding the fun in poetry at school

With the end of our eight line rhyme competition here at Poems and Pictures only 48 hours away I couldn’t help but return to thinking about it this week.  After my blog a few weeks ago I am particularly heartened to see entries coming in about the seasons as well as climate change.  One poem about all four seasons particularly captured me in the last week, evoking so many memories of what each season means to a child.  Whether it makes the final book after judging remains to be seen, but it definitely made me smile.

As I have mentioned previously last month was national poetry month over in the United States and I particularly enjoyed last week as Poem in Your Pocket Day was celebrated.  For those of you not familiar with this idea it was instituted by the Academy of American Poets and is an annual day where participants are called upon to carry in their pocket a poem that means something to them and share it with someone else that day.  A quick search on Pinterest shows that this event is becoming increasingly popular and there are some great craft ideas to encourage children to get involved with pocket shaped envelopes and more being made to put poems in.  One idea that particularly captured me was a book published by the Academy some years ago containing 100 poems in a spiral-bound format, so that a young reader can rip one out each day or when they feel like, and put it in their pocket.  Some libraries also carry poem cards that people can take away for free, so that they can participate.

The whole idea behind Poem in Your Pocket Day is to inspire and our own competition is all about inspiring children to have a go.  The new National Curriculum makes poetry more important than its previous incarnation did and this is encouraging.  Children are now required to memorise and recite poetry from year one.  Some see this as a retrograde step, seeing the requirement to memorise and recite as draconian, but we shouldn’t forget that children start memorising and reciting poems much earlier than year one.  Nursery rhymes are simple poems that we learn from a young age.  There is such a breadth and depth of poetry out there from Christopher Marlowe to modern poets who are working today that the possibilities for children to find joy in poetry seem endless.  It should not be a formal disciplined thing, but something which is fun, engaging and even laugh out loud silly.  Requiring children to recite poetry should present so many opportunities.  Whether they have the confidence to read their own poem out loud or whether they take part in turning a poem into a play, learning to work as a team and gaining their confidence that way, they should be encouraged at every stage.  Whilst our competition at Poems and Pictures focuses on two themes, poetry really can be about anything and this is another reason that it should fit into anything that a class is studying.  There should be no excuses for poetry being pushed to the back of the queue in terms of lesson plans anymore.  Of course poets and authors are always more than willing to come into schools to give that extra inspiration to children too, as Christina has done on numerous occasions.  Many will provide a copy of some of their books as part of their visit, providing a lasting legacy for the school, which can go on inspiring future pupils through the school library.  

As a school governor literacy is one of my areas of responsibility and not surprisingly I am passionate about how this is taught.  Whether you are a teacher, a parent or anyone involved in helping children to learn, make it your mission this week to inspire a child with poetry.  It may be too late for your child to enter the eight line rhyme competition this year, but you can definitely make sure they are all ready for 2018!  

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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Size matters… or does it?

Whilst sitting here writing this blog I am watching snow trying to settle in my garden and I can’t help but feel a tinge of jealousy when I think about where Christina is.  She is currently in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  However, before you jump to conclusions and think I am jealous of not just the location and weather but that she must be on holiday, you would be wrong.  For the third year in a row Christina has been invited to be a guest author and workshop presenter at the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF).

Before I started this blog I decided to find out a bit more about the UAE, and Sharjah in particular, given it is somewhere I have never visited.  The country is a federation of seven emirates established in 1971, with an area approximately a third the size of the United Kingdom.  Sharjah is the third largest of the emirates both in terms of area and population, with a population according to Wikipedia of approximately 1.4 million people, making it smaller than some metropolitan areas of the UK, including Birmingham and Manchester.  A quick consideration of these statistics might lead you to think that an event held there would be on a similarly small scale, but you would be wrong.  Sharjah hosts one of the largest reading festivals in the world as well as the fourth largest book fair in the world, and it is the former that Christina is attending.

The impressive statistics don’t stop there though.  Sharjah has long invested in culture and cultural events and SCRF is no exception.  Under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, it runs for eleven days, making it as long as any of the longer established literary festivals we have here in the UK and don’t forget the SCRF is for children, not like many of our larger festivals which just have a children’s element.  One of the most striking elements looking at the SCRF website is the variety of countries represented by guest authors and workshop presenters at the festival.  Whilst Christina and Poems and Pictures friend Andy Seed are just some of the guests representing the UK, in addition to guests from the Middle East region itself, other guests come from countries as diverse as the Philippines, Spain, Egypt, Pakistan, the USA, Russia, Sweden, Brazil and Australia, meaning the only continent not represented is Antarctica, which is an impressive statistic in itself.

The heart of any event though is its vision and mission statements.  Both strike a real chord with us here at Poems and Pictures.  The vision statement on the SCRF website is as follows:

‘We strive to enrich children’s imaginations and provide them with friends for life through the gift of reading.’

This is a great vision. As I have written about before in the blog entitled ‘Pleasure and privilege’ letting your imagination run free whilst reading and encouraging children to do the same is so important.

The SCRF mission is also inspiring:

‘To become the premier reading festival for children in the region, and draw high attendance and trade participation, by creating an experience that is involving, entertaining, educational and most importantly that makes reading fun.’

Fun and a gift are two great ways to describe reading.  The festival is really living up to its vision and mission with over 110,000 visitors in the first four days.  We really hope that all the children who attend the festival have had fun, not just with Christina’s workshops involving Triangular Trev and friends, and encouraging children to have a go at the eight line rhyme initiative, but through all the experiences they will have at the festival meeting authors, poets, illustrators and a whole range of advocates for the arts.  

As the actress Marlene Dietrich was quoted as saying ‘You’re never lonely with a book’.  Enjoy getting stuck into a good book this week, encourage your children to do the same, accepting the gift of reading, having fun and making a friend for life, and perhaps we will see you at a festival closer to home very soon.

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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Chilled Children is currently in The People's Book Prize!

Let’s talk about children’s mental health

I thought long and hard before starting this week’s blog.  It is both a departure in some ways from previous blogs and also I am very conscious of being seen as just jumping on the current bandwagon for talking about mental health, although this in itself would not be a bad thing as removing the stigma around this conversation is very important.  However please stick with me, as this is a subject that really matters not just to me but to many people.  

This story starts last autumn… well actually it goes back some years before that.  A phone call I received whilst on a half term break with my family last October was a direct result of this.  I had been expecting the call and it was asking me to quote for some editing work on some school resources.  The quotation sent I then tucked into my fish and chips, a must, given we were staying at the seaside, and waited for confirmation that the work was going to go ahead.  Shortly after tea an email came in, but instead of being the go ahead for the work, I found that it required me to give some more information namely why I was the right person to be doing this work.  I spent the rest of the evening giving this due consideration and writing my response.

The project mattered to its authors who have personal experience in this area and it mattered to me.  At this point I should probably elaborate on the nature of the project.  Its authors are Stuart and Amanda Jewell.  Through their company Aquamarine Holistic Health they aim ‘to provide parents and teachers with the resources they need to support our children’s mental and emotional health, to enable our children to become balanced, positive and successful adults’.  Reading the Chilled Children resources that Stuart and Amanda had written it struck me how useful they would have been with my stepdaughter who struggled with her mental health alongside a learning difficulty.  She is now a young adult, but my husband and I spent a lot of time at CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) with her throughout her teenage years.  We also saw how the challenges she faced were dealt with at school, and whilst they were largely dealt with well, any additional help would always have been useful.  As a parent and a school governor too I continue to see the need for support for children and teachers today.

Whilst the prime minister’s speech at the Charity Commission in early January put the spotlight firmly on mental health, a quick search on the Office for National Statistics (ONS) website reveals that the last comprehensive survey on young people’s mental health was carried out in 2004.  Whilst a new survey is being carried out, it is not due to report until 2018.  As the ONS points out in a blog post on its website from 22 February ‘The world has changed a lot since the last comprehensive mental health survey. In 2004, Facebook had just launched, the iPhone was still 3 years from its launch and the first tweet was yet to be sent on Twitter.’  Data published by Ofcom in 2014 showed that 40% of five to fifteen year olds owned a mobile phone rising to 80% of twelve to fifteen year olds.  These statistics show how the instantaneous nature of social media must be permeating classrooms and putting teachers on the front line of fighting the effects of negative social media interactions amongst pupils whether they feel equipped to do this or not.  The current picture of mental health amongst children therefore remains something of a mystery in terms of cold, hard data until the survey is published next year, but it is undeniable that it is a problem that needs tackling through a variety of methods.  As I noted when reading an interview on with John Tomsett, headteacher at Huntington School in York and author of This Much I Know About Mind Over Matter… Improving Mental Health In Our Schools, he rightly points out that we have a physical health and a mental health, and the latter is often ignored in preference for dealing with the former.  Opinions on the current funding issues facing schools aside, we need to look after our children’s mental and emotional health as a first step to helping them transition successfully to adulthood equipped with more than just practical skills for the workplace.

The Chilled Children resources are a great place to start in supporting our children’s mental health and I am looking forward to working on new resources as Stuart and Amanda are able to expand the range.  The current resources have also earned a place in the People’s Book Prize spring collection and are available to vote for now.  A vote would be just one way of helping to continue raising the profile of children’s mental health and the role teachers are being asked to play in tackling the problem of mental health.  

On a Monday morning at work we often ask each other how the weekend was and the stock answer that most of us seem programmed to give is ‘fine’.  It can be easy to fall into the same trap when asking children about their school day.  Whilst children may not like being probed, keeping the conversation going throughout the evening rather than being accepting of a one word answer is a great place to start.  This week make time to keep talking and you never know how important that conversation may be in helping them to unpack what has really gone on with their day whether positive or negative.

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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Spring into poetry

Well the Easter bunny is approaching just around the corner, daffodils have been in full bloom for weeks now and the sun is shining, so we can definitely say spring has arrived.  As a season I love spring.  The promise of new life, lambs taking their first steps in the fields, flora and fauna alike waking up from winter, colours appearing everywhere as blossom covers trees , birthdays, well in our household anyway, it is a truly magical time that serves to really blow away any post-Christmas blues.  On a very personal note it also reminds me of my grandma who loved the daffodils and all the promise that they held for the months ahead.  Each year we used to try and find somewhere different to take her to see them en masse, although there is also something special about finding them as Wordsworth did in his poem by just coming across them clustered together.  With all these ideas about what spring means to me I feel I should be entering the eight line rhyme competition, this year taking as its topics the seasons and climate change.  However I am not sure I would under any circumstances pass as a seven to thirteen year old, the recommended age for the competition!

Like many of the judges the competition is now occupying my thoughts a little more as the deadline approaches in just over three weeks.  On the other side of the pond this month is national poetry month and we do not need any excuse to celebrate poetry here at Poems and Pictures.  It is exciting to see children’s entries to the competition coming in, in this important month for poetry.  There have been some excellent ones about climate change, the half of the topic that captures the zeitgeist a little more, but the nostalgic side of me is looking forward to seeing the seasons captured in eight line rhymes.  Looking back the seasons are something that inspire childhood memories without us even realising it.  As adults I am sure that we have all participated in conversations over recent years about how the seasons are less defined now and climate change is playing its part.  However in a world where the pace of life seems to quicken all the time, and instantaneous response and reaction is demanded by so many, it is good to take some time out and look for the signs of the seasons that are all around us.  My five year old daughter is great at pointing these out and I am looking forward to when she is a little older and able to put pen to paper to capture these childhood thoughts.

Returning to my role as a judge for the competition I am honoured to have been asked along with a great list of other people involved in the arts, education and promoting opportunities for children.  The list of judges includes award winning authors such as Andy Seed, a winner of the Blue Peter book award, former Apprentice candidate and runner up Claire Young, founder of the People’s Book Prize Tatiana Wilson, former ambassador and entrepreneur in residence at the British Library Dr Stephen Fear and representatives from the Young Poets Network, and the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood to name but a few.  The latter is somewhere I have to confess that I hadn’t heard of prior to working with Christina, but I will definitely be putting it on my list of must visits next time I am in the capital.  The history of how the museum came to be is fascinating in itself and its wide range of collections from dolls to clothing, teddies to construction toys, is sure to hold something to interest everyone.  I particularly like the idea that the plot of land was originally bought in 1690 to feed the people of east London and as ‘mid-Victorians anticipated, it is their minds that continue to be nourished’ to this day as the museum’s website says.

Poetry is just one way to nourish the mind, but such an important one to encourage children to have a go at and enjoy.  If you have children don’t forget during the Easter break to help them to not just enjoy all the sweet treats on offer, but to appreciate the changing world and seasons around them, and perhaps when they return to school they will just have time to enter the competition and maybe see their work in print, hopefully starting a lifelong love of poetry.

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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Lyrics and rhythm

This week has been somewhat quieter than previous weeks, but that doesn’t mean that Christina hasn’t been out and about. She visited Southey Green Community Primary School in Sheffield with her Felicity Fly books and year three had a great time getting involved in the eight-line rhyme initiative on this year’s topic of seasons and climate change. Entries to the competition continue to flood in and with only a month left to go I can’t wait to start reading some, as one of the guest judges this year.

During the last week I have listened to the radio rather a lot as editing and writing have had to dovetail neatly with a unusually high demand for cake in our house in the shape of an afternoon tea event, a school Easter fair and my daughter’s birthday. Listening to the lyrics perhaps more closely than I normally do, I have been struck by the amount of lyrics which rhyme and are in essence poetry. This made me think about the relationship between poetry and music. Are lyrics and poetry but one and the same thing?

Referring to one of the editor’s tools of choice The Oxford English Dictionary the definition for poetry does not mention lyrics, but interestingly does talk about the ’expression of feelings’ and ‘distinctive style and rhythm’, both things which we associate with song lyrics and their writers. The definition of lyric is more helpful. Whilst it lists as one definition the ‘words of a popular song’, the first definition is ‘a lyric poem or verse’, i.e. one expressing the writer’s emotions. So there is an intrinsic link.

Thinking back to the reading festival the link was there in front of me with two of the authors in particular. Christina writes all her books in rhyme and characters such as Daniella Dragon Fruit and friends, and Triangular Trev and friends all have their own rhyming songs, which come on CD with the books. Performance poet Rappaman Donovan Christopher had the children rapping rhyming lyrics about a whole host of subjects. Both girls and boys were equally engaged in enjoying poetry and making music with a great rhythm.

This got me thinking about the problem that we are often told about of boys trailing girls in results in literacy and writing, whether that be prose or poetry. Whilst I enjoyed poetry as a very young child, and it was often read to us in school, my first real experience of more grown up poetry was as a nine year old. On a Thursday afternoon our teacher would give us a poem, or a section of a poem, to copy out, and then we had to take it home and learn it that night. This introduced me to poems as varied as The Charge of the Light Brigade, On the Ning Nang Nong, The Owl and The Pussy-Cat and Meg Merrilees. Those who were brave enough were given the opportunity to recite what they had learned to the rest of the class on the Friday morning. I relished this opportunity, but on reflection I don’t recall any of the boys participating in this Friday ritual, or indeed some of the quieter girls. However I now wonder if they had been asked to recite the lyrics of the latest hit by a new romantic or new wave group or an early Stock Aitkin and Waterman act, would they not have done so with ease? Back then this was not seen as the right thing to do in education and I would question whether many teachers would be brave enough to do this now. Sure, the song would have to be carefully chosen, but rhyme can be found in the lyrics of many songs by artists and groups as diverse as One Direction, Alicia Keys and Adele, and rhythm can be found in all music as can often a depth of emotion that is not easily expressed in pure prose. I think it is worth consideration.

Enjoy listening to poetry when you get the chance this week and perhaps you might just find it in places that you hadn’t considered before.

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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Pleasure and privilege

For the third week in a row I am unashamed to be writing about the same thing, i.e. Selby District Children’s Reading Festival. However the difference this week is that it has now happened and I have the joy of being able to report back on how it all went. There are many words and phrases that I could use to describe the festival, fun, exciting, interesting and even hard work, but I think the two words in the title of this blog capture my feelings about the event on a number of levels.

For those of you who do not know much about the structure of the event and what it was trying to achieve a brief summary: a two day schools’ event where each child would enjoy a 45 minute read aloud session with an author appropriate to their age group, followed by a family day with a rolling programme of events by the same authors to encourage the community to come along. Each child who attended a school session received a voucher to bring to the family day to redeem for a free book by one of the authors. The idea behind the event was to give children from all backgrounds and abilities an equal opportunity to attend a book-centred event.

Right, now back to pleasure and privilege. During the two days of the schools’ event over 1700 children walked through the doors of Selby Abbey hopeful of being entertained by an author and they were. It was a pleasure to see them choosing the characters and colours for Liz Million’s illustrations, learning about the importance of different fruit and vegetable in a healthy diet with Christina and Daniella Dragon Fruit, rapping about houses made of sweets with performance poet Rappaman Donovan Christopher, laughing at Andy Seed’s side-splitting tongue twisters or being enthralled by Daniel Ingram-Brown’s description of a black skeleton emerging from a box in his latest book The Nemesis Charm. The pleasure was not just mine though it was evident in the faces of the children and staff who attended the event, and in the authors who enjoyed sharing their craft with the audience. My pleasure didn’t stop on Friday though as I had the opportunity to take my own daughter to the family day on Saturday, and she was equally excited and enthralled.

Moving on to privilege, it was a privilege to be involved in an event which brought reading aloud to such a large audience of children, seeing so many being inspired across a range of ages. However the event also put privilege to one side in the sense of background, status or money. None of these meant anything as each child came through the door and all were equally engaged and enthralled regardless of where they were from, and it was special to see this fundamental aim of the event being fulfilled. As I said in the blog two weeks ago, gone was the idea of a highbrow literature festival for the privileged who know about these things, and instead reading aloud to all who came regardless of background became the focus. This continued on the family day as both those who had visited with their schools and those who had not flocked to meet and listen to the authors, and claim their free books with the tokens they had received.

So what does all this tell us about reading and children in particular? Children should be encouraged to see reading as a pleasure, a time when they can let their imagination wander, whether learning about this world or one of the author’s creation, but moreover reading is not something which goes with privilege, it is for everyone and is to be shared. Books are to be shared whether you own them or borrow them from the greatest collection of books to be shared, a library.

This week share a book, share it with your child, your best friend, your spouse or just with your own imagination and take pleasure in the privilege that is being able to share a story. Let your imagination run free.

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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To rhyme, or not to rhyme, that is the question?

Well this last week has been very busy here at Poems and Pictures, but more on the specifics of that later.  The above title may seem somewhat confusing, but it allows me to wish you both Happy Shakespeare Week and Happy World Poetry Day, although the latter was celebrated yesterday.  

I am an unashamed fan of Shakespeare, both his plays and his poetry, and think it is great that we have a week to encourage primary school children to take an interest in a body of work, which can even to the most educated be divisive.  Which is the best of his plays?  Was all work attributed to him authored by him?  Is Hamlet’s soliloquy, misquoted in the title above, even a soliloquy as Ophelia is there in the background?  Whilst debate over these and many other points has continued for centuries, one thing I am certain of is that poetry is something else which can divide opinion: either you like it or you don’t.

World Poetry Day was adopted by UNESCO at its 30th session in Paris in 1999.  A quick search of UNESCO’s website reveals that one of the aims of the day is to ‘create an attractive image of poetry in the media, so that the art of poetry will no longer be considered an outdated form of art’.  Personally I don’t believe that poetry is outdated, but I do think it is something that we perhaps become more reluctant to use as we get older; if you have not developed a love for crafting poetry by the time you leave school there is a chance that you will never.  

My favourite poetry book as a child contained everything from Wordsworth to Spike Milligan, who is one of Christina’s inspirations.  All of Christina’s books are written in rhyme and the national poetry initiative that she founded is now in its fifth year.  The initiative was created to encourage children to have a go at writing poetry by producing an eight line rhyme on a theme.  Since its inception the competition has encouraged over 15,000 children to put pen to paper.  Christina’s inspiration came from her own son who has dyslexia and found short, rhyming stories more engaging.  Many children’s stories are written in rhyme and as a parent I know that some of the most memorable stories for my own daughter are those written in rhyme, where the rhythm helps her to remember the words and join in more readily.  Some of our earliest memories are often of nursery rhymes, simple rhyming songs that have endured for generations.

Whilst most of the entries to the competition are written using rhyming couplets, of course not all poetry needs to rhyme, something which generates the question posed in the title of this blog.  Poetry uses style and rhythm to express ideas and feelings.  A few weeks ago I mentioned Philip Larkin in the blog.  Not all of his poetry rhymed, but whether in rhyme or not it captured a level of melancholy that only poetry could accurately express.

Before ending this week’s blog I am aware that I said that this week has been very busy.  This is because we are looking forward to the Selby District Children’s Reading Festival which starts tomorrow.  If you are local then please take the opportunity to come to the family day on Saturday and meet Christina and the other authors.  Children will have the opportunity to enter the poetry competition and there will be a prize for the best poem on the day.  

As Wordsworth said of Shakespeare’s sonnets, ‘with this keyShakespeare unlocked his heart’.  Let poetry capture your heart this week.

Rebecca Thomas, Editor

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Literature… or should that be reading?

At the end of last week I met up with Christina at the lovely Selby Abbey to discuss an exciting event happening at the end of this month, Selby district’s first Children’s Reading Festival. The event has been organised following some research that Christina did last year. Out of 350 literature festivals in the UK less than 10% have children’s events during their programme. However why have a reading festival, not a literature festival, and why Selby?

On a personal note the word literature still makes me think of my worst GCSE result, English literature, and how the whole subject left me somewhat perplexed for a few years. Whilst in relative terms the grade I got, a B, was far from poor, I could never work out why someone who loved reading and writing, and had received a better grade in English language, was so poor at a subject which to the logic of a sixteen year old should suit me perfectly. All I knew was that I was, according to the teacher, ‘unable to draw the correct conclusions’ from the books and poems that we read. Not being a particularly rebellious teen I just accepted this analysis, but did test it out further in my first year at university and found I was similarly ungifted in the study of French literature! Fortunately neither of these two experiences dampened my enthusiasm for books and I feel privileged almost two decades later to be working in such a creative industry, where inspiration is everywhere.

My own story above goes some way to explaining Christina’s reasons for choosing the word ‘reading’ in the festival’s title. The word ‘literature’ has a connotation of highbrow knowledge and in some cases can even conjure up an idea of elitism. The definition of the word literature does nothing to dispel this sense of superiority, the Oxford English Dictionary defining it as:

‘written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.’

As a definition this is hardly something that leads us to immediately think of children’s books. However delve a little deeper into the word and we find that the sense of its origin is ‘knowledge of books’. I can’t help thinking that my four year old daughter’s ‘knowledge’ of certain children’s books is far greater than mine, but when it comes to her describing what she likes at school, she will simply say ‘I like reading’ and I totally agree with her, so do I.

The idea of a reading festival is therefore born out of the wish to create something that is accessible to all. Its location is partly born out of it being near to home for Christina, but moreover a great desire to give children from all backgrounds and abilities an equal opportunity to attend a book-centred event. Whilst Selby did not feature in the top 400 most vulnerable constituencies with regard to literacy in a recent survey by the Literacy Trust ( , like many communities across northern England it has suffered due to the decline in heavy industries such as coal mining. The Selby coalfield with its six pits built only 40 years ago is no longer visible on the local landscape and shipbuilding in the town ceased in the late 1990s. We really hope that the festival will be a success and can help with the development of festivals in similar areas across the country, each one hopefully contributing to raising literacy levels and aspirations in that area.

We will be reporting back on the festival in future blogs, but until then enjoy literature… or should that be reading?!

Rebecca Thomas, Editor


It’s awards season don’t you know!

Okay, so the Oscars and the BAFTAs may have come and gone, but here at Poems and Pictures we have had a few reasons to get excited and celebrate in the last week. Yesterday, on the eve of International Women’s Day, Christina attended the Northern Power Women Awards 2017 where she was nominated in the Person with a Purpose category. Whilst Christina didn’t come away with an award, she was delighted to have been shortlisted along with many other fantastic female role models, showing what can be achieved with determination and passion. Here on International Women’s Day, when so much work is still required to bring opportunities to girls and women the world over to create more equality, it seems particularly appropriate to celebrate the success of female role models here at home.

Last night’s awards ceremony has not been our only reason to get excited here this week though. You may recall that two weeks ago we asked you to get voting for Triangular Trev in the People’s Book Prize. Well we are now delighted to announce that Trev and the Shape Idols have made it through to the final! We now eagerly await the awards ceremony in May and will be sure to update you on how Triangular Trev gets on.

Our interest in the People’s Book Prize does not end with Triangular Trev though. Last autumn we worked on two mental and emotional wellbeing resources for primary schools with the lovely Stuart and Amanda at Aqua Holistics. These were published just before Christmas and we are really pleased that they have been shortlisted in the spring collection for the People’s Book Prize non-fiction. Please have a look and get voting once again to give them every opportunity of making the final.

By now you have probably had enough of our awards excitement, so we thought we would give you a quick update on what else is happening here at Poems and Pictures. Today Christina was out and about supporting the Hull Children’s University. She and Felicity Fly illustrator Julie Omond held a storytelling, song and illustrating workshop for over 400 children at the Wilberforce Theatre, and Christina also gifted 400 books at the event. The Children’s University is a charity which aims to raise aspirations amongst young people in Hull with unique learning experiences. Hull is the UK city of culture for 2017 and it is important to seize the opportunity to inspire children across the city. Less than fifteen years ago Hull was named as the worst place to live in the UK. However the city has most definitely invested in its retail quarter and many industrial projects over the last decade. This year sees many projects and events to celebrate being the city of culture with a view to building a legacy for the city. Hull will this year host the Turner Prize, the prestigious annual art prize. One of Hull’s most famous son’s is its MP from 1780-1784 William Wiberforce who campaigned for the abolition of slavery. He was an independent MP always voting with his conscience.

I searched for a quote from one of Hull’s more recent well known residents, the poet Philip Larkin, to end this blog, but his melancholy defeated me. Instead I think we can all take inspiration from Wilberforce and indeed the work of the Children’s University to raise children’s aspirations through hard work, determination and of course a love of books.

Rebecca Thomas, Editor


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Books, books, books!

As I sit and write this on the eve of the official World Book Day, I feel like I am somewhat lagging behind Christina in celebrating this event, as she has already been to two London schools this week and is visiting another one tomorrow. She has been to Betty Layward Primary School in Stoke Newington, St Anthony’s Catholic Primary School in Forest Gate and she is looking forward to visiting the Wetherby School in central London tomorrow. In addition to celebrating all things stories in the form of the Felicity Fly books and Triangular Trev, Christina has run poetry workshops and talked about being an author. By the end of the week she will have celebrated with over a thousand pupils and staff, which is quite a party!

I know like me many parents will have spent the last week or so trying to arrange costumes, or being creative or crafty on a book theme as schools across the country prepare to celebrate. My daughter’s school are focussing this year on the 30th anniversary of Where’s Wally?. Cue our local supermarket now being sold out of Wally costumes and frantic Facebook forum conversations about where else to find a costume at the eleventh hour! Whilst the costumes and crafts are fun, the greatest fun comes from the books themselves.

Our celebration of World Book Day stems from UNESCO’s World Book and Copyright Day held around the world on 23 April, the date being chosen as it is the date of birth or death of several significant authors including Shakespeare. Whilst the charity The Reading Agency organises World Book Night on 23 April, which is largely aimed at adults, World Book Day in the UK was moved to March to avoid the clash with St George’s Day and school Easter holidays.

Anyway history lesson over, World Book Day celebrates its 20th birthday this year. There are ten different books for which a child can redeem their £1 book token, which cover ages pre-school up to fourteen. However don’t forget that the token can also be exchanged for £1.00 off any book from participating booksellers, so you could choose to meet Pablo Pineapple from Caracas in Felicity Fly Meets the Dragon Fruit or find out what instrument Equilateral Eric plays in Triangular Trev and the Shape Idols. Whatever book a child chooses they should be encouraged to enjoy owning and reading that book. Some of our earliest memories of stories stick with us not just through our childhood, but well into our adult life. Whilst I may not read Paddington as often as I did as a child, I still love getting stuck into a good book. Children these days spend an increasing amount of time in front of a screen whether that be at home or at school, and spending time away from the screen with a book should be a pleasure. Getting lost down the rabbit hole with Alice, avoiding being eaten by the Gruffalo, exploring the Hundred Acre Wood or plotting with Matilda against the frightful Miss Trunchbull, the characters and their exploits live in the memory, and inspire us. Reading and the enjoyment of books really is a skill for life.

So whatever you are doing to celebrate World Book Day, at home, at nursery, at your local library, at school or indeed if you are lucky enough to be meeting a fantastic author like Christina, enjoy the day, and help your child to cherish their book. Enjoy the gift of reading!

Rebecca Thomas, Editor



The importance of reading aloud

Before we get to reading aloud, welcome to the first Poems and Pictures blog! Life at Poems and Pictures is very hectic at the moment, which means there are so many exciting things coming up, including book signings, school visits and reading festivals to name but a few.

Last week Christina visited The Olive Tree Primary School in Bolton to celebrate World Read Aloud Day 2017. The Olive Tree Primary School is proud to be Bolton’s first free school, and has the great slogan ‘Inspiring to Achieve’. Christina read two of her books aloud to a packed assembly hall containing over 400 pupils and staff before leading poetry workshops for pupils in key stage two. The children really were inspired to achieve and many have entered the national eight line rhyme initiative with this year’s theme of seasons and climate change. As one of the judges I can’t wait to read the entries. (More information on the initiative can be found on the website.)

Reading aloud to children is so important, as research has repeatedly shown, and the benefits are numerous. It introduces new vocabulary and helps children to improve their own literacy skills. Children who are read to are more likely to enjoy reading for fun and want to learn more about the world around them. Children learn how books are structured and are able to use this information when being creative and imaginative as they grow and learn. Talking about books helps develop both reading and writing skills. As a parent myself I love reading to my daughter at bedtime. We enjoy discussing the books and storylines, sometimes creating our own alternative endings. After all, who doesn’t enjoy putting on different accents for different characters whilst building an important bond with their child?

Talking of accents, this weekend at WHSmith, Meadowhall from 11:00 until 16:00, Christina is signing copies of her latest book Triangular Trev and the Shape Idols, which as always comes with a narrated audio CD also containing the Shape Idols song. Christina brings the characters to life with her great voiceover work. This rhyming book introduces mathematical shapes and terms in a fun way. The rhyming element makes it a fantastic read aloud book and gives plenty of things to discuss from Nonagon Norma’s funky hair to the definition of the word ‘isosceles’. The book is being showcased in the People’s Book Prize and voting ends on 28 February, so if you haven’t voted yet, what are you waiting for?!

That’s all for this week, but check back next week for lots of World Book Day news. In the meantime enjoy reading aloud and don’t forget to vote for Triangular Trev!

Rebecca Thomas, Editor



Selby Times - 5th May 2016

I had a wonderful time staging storytelling sessions and poetry workshops at Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival in the United Arab Emirates. There are some amazing poetry writers and illustrators who have entered into our initiative. The closing date is 5th May.

World Book Day:   I have visited many schools connected with World Book Day, here are some of the highlights:




11, 12 & 13th March
I had a wonderful time with storytelling sessions celebrating British Brands with Best of Britannia at the Old Historic Post Office in Preston, Lancashire. I met the fabulous team from University of Lancashire and will be working with them promoting healthy food with Felicity Fly Meets the Dragon Fruit at their Science Festival on 2nd July. We will also be exhibiting some of the children’s work from our national initiative, An Invitation Capturing Children’s Imagination.  All our products are produced and printed in the UK.

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Emma Hutchinson Poetry Book Presentation

Emma is one of forty children with her poem published in the Children's Poetry Volume 3. Now available on Amazon, Blackwell's and Waterstones online.

BBC Radio Humberside interview with Christina Gabbitas - Children's Author.

Here's the interview from July with Radio Humberside.

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BBC Radio Lancashire - John Gilmore interviews Christina Gabbitas.

Christina Gabbitas talks to John Gilmore at BBC Radio Lancashire about the history behind the Felicity Fly series of books and the children's poetry competition, now in it's third year.

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An Invitation That Captured The Primary School Nation - TPBP Dame Beryl Bainbridge First Time Author Award 2015

I began a writing initiative in 2013 to encourage children of all abilities to 'have a go' at writing.

The children are invited to write an eight line rhyme on topics chosen each year. For 2014 this was creatures and food. We had entries from all over the UK.

Wonderful news! I picked up the Dame Beryl Bainbridge Award for Children's Poetry Volume 2, as a result of the national initiative 

After researching children's books that were available for young children addressing child sexual abuse, I decided to pen a rhyming story.

Share Some Secrets, teaches children about the difference between good and troublesome secrets.

This publication, is suitable for a child to pick up and read without parental supervision. More details can be found on 

Share Some Secrets is now in the NSPCC Library.

Share Some Secrets Book listing on the NSPCC Website


Guest author at The British Library with Dr Stephen Fear, Ambassador and Entrepreneur in Residence, World Book Day.

I was invited to talk about the importance of encouraging children to use their imagination, as words are nothing without this!

Here is a link to the interview with Dr Stephen Fear, Entrepreneur and Ambassador in Residence at The British Library.

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I will be encouraging reading in WHSmith Trafford Centre, Manchester from 10.30 am Saturday 28th February. I will be signing books and have information on the national initiative, An Invitation To Capture The Primary School Nation. Take a peek at the initiative page via this website.

I will also be chatting to John Gillmore on BBC Radio Lancashire, Friday 27th at 1.00pm, about being guest author at the British Library with Dr Stephen Fear on World Book Day, my visit to Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, encouraging reading, and all things being an author, with the Felicity Fly series and other publications. 

Share Some Secrets has been featured on the NSPCC Website

Share Some Secrets Book listing on the NSPCC Website


An Invitation to Capture Imagination with Words and Illustration

Entry has now closed for this year's competition, next years competition will be announced later in the year.

Children (aged 7-11) are invited to write an eight line rhyme on the topics of Music and Artists, this can be anything from a musical instrument, to a painter or pop artist.

The initiative runs from 11th Jan until 5th May. The children also have an opportunity to illustrate too.

The words must be the children’s own work and handwritten.

A small selection of poems will be published in a national poetry book and exhibited at venues around the UK.


Poetry Initiative

A national initiative to help encourage and inspire children of primary school age to read and write.
Visit the page for more information about the competition.
 More info

Events & Signings


August 7th, 14th & 21st - Project with York Castle Museums

June 18th - 22nd - Blackburn Children's Literature Festival 

May 16th - King David School, Manchester

May 10th - Yorkshire Women Volunteer Awards , Leeds Marriot

May 8th - Stationers Hall, London - Book Prize

May 3rd - School, Asquith , Leeds

April 28th - London Marathon in aid NSPCC, Childline

March 26th - 30th - Selby District Children's Literature Festival

March 26th - An Evening with the Artists with Michael Bradley of The Undertones

March 21st - World Poetry Day - Blackburn Museum with Ribble Rivers Trust & 'Save Us'

March 14th - Reach Out, Speak Out, Leeds Town Hall

March 13th - Bradford, Dixons Music School

March 9th - WHSmith, Beverley, Book Signing 'Save Us'

March 4th - 8th School Visits

March 2nd - WHSmith, Manchester Trafford Centre - Book Signing  'Save Us'

Feb 28th - BBC Radio York with Michael Bradley

Feb27th - Blackburn Charity Pitch

Feb19th - NSPCC, Shoreditch

Feb 13th - Soroptimist, garforth

Feb 7th - BBC Lancashire

Feb 7th - Blackburn Museum

January 7th - Soroptimist Lancashire


December 8th - York WHSmith - Booksining

November 24th - Doncaster Frenchgate WHSmith - Booksigning

November 20th - Lancashire Police & Crime Commissioner Safeguarding Conference

November 10th - Booksigning & Storytelling Selby Library

November 3rd November - Speaking: Early Years Safeguarding Conference, 173 -177 Euston Road, London  

October 27th - Booklaunch, WHSmith Meadowhall - 'Save Us'

October 17th - Woodbridge School, Suffolk - Poetry Sessions

October 4th - NSPCC AGM

September 20th - Nat West GBEA Awards Preliminary 

July 6th - Danes Hill School, Oxshott, Speech Day

June 28-30th - University Central Lancashire Science Festival - Workshops

June 26th - Bradford Safeguarding Week - Speaking Session : Share Some Secrets

June - 19th-23rd Blackburn Children's Reading Festival - Blackburn Cathedral 

June Fulneck School Leeds 12th & 13th

April 25th - Kingfisher Primary, Doncaster

April 22nd - London Marathon - NSPCC ChildLine

21st March - Horton Grange Primary, World Poetry Day

20th March - Barnardo's Awareness Morning XSCAPE - Yorkshire 10.30-12.30

2nd March - World Book Day, Doncaster School

1st March - World Book Day - Harrogate, Outlands Primary School

24th Feb - Between the Lines Literature Festival, Sheffield

1st February - Creative Resources Safeguarding Primary Children - Royal Armouries, Leeds


19th January - Marlow Primary School 

16th December - John Lewis, Leeds, Storytelling & Book Signing

16th-26th Nov -  Pop Up Bookshop, Coppergate Centre, York

14th Nov - Great British Entrepreneur Awards, Manchester 

14th Nov - Wakefield Independent School

13th Nov - Pedal for Pudsey BBC Lancashire with John Gillmore & Graham Livery

11th Nov - Firecracker, Barnardo's

10th Nov - BBC 5 Live

10th Nov - Speaking - Safeguarding Conference, West Yorks Playhouse

25th Oct - Library Opening Bradford

19th October Animation Launch - Sheffield Hallam University & NSPCC 

12th October BBC Lancs

11th October - Great Brit Entrepeneur Preliminary Event

5th Oct - NSPCC

30 September - Waterstones, Ipswich

29th September - Ipswich Prep School

28th September - National Poetry Day Springbank Primary, Farsley, Leeds

11th July  - Bradford Rhyme Challenge Awards - Bradford City Council

23 June - Riverside Primary, Tadcaster

8th June - Platt Bridge Primary 

7th June - BBC Lancashire Interview

1st June - Podcast with David Niven

23rd May Peoples Book Prize Final - Triangular Trev and the Shape Idols

12th May - YWOA  - Sue Ryder Leeds Royal Armouries

11th May - Safeguarding Conference  - Manchester


24-30 April - United Arab Emirates, Sharjah Children's Reading Festival - Workshops

20th April - Sacred Heart School, Leeds - Poetry Workshops

28th March - Sheffield School - Storytelling & Poetry Workshops

23rd- 25th March - Selby District Children's Reading Festival 

8th March - Theatre event 400 Children - Children's University for Hull City Culture

7th March  - Northern Power Women Awards - Manchester Shotlisted 'Person with a Purpose'

2nd March - Wetherby School London 

1st March -  Storytelling St Antonys Catholic Primary School London

28th February - Betty Layward School London 

25th February - WHSmith Sheffied Meadowhall - Booksigning

16th February - World Read Aloud Day - The Olive Tree School, Bolton, Lancashire 

11th & 12th January - Poetry Workshops with Children's University  - Hull City of Culture

9th January - Poetry Initiative Launch -


3rd December - Selby WHSmith, Book signing

26th November - Doncaster WHSmith, Book signing

19th November - Beverley WHSmith, Book signing

30th October - Sheffield 10k for ChildLine NSPCC

29th October - WHSmith Halifax, Book signing

28th October - Waterstones Wakefield

27th October Waterstones York, Storytelling and Book signing Triangular Trev and the Shape Idols

26th October Selby Library, Storytelling & Book signing

25th October - Sherburn Library, Storytelling & Book signing

22nd October - WHSmith Sheffield Meadowhall - Book Launch. Triangular Trev and the Shape idols

6th October - World Poetry Day  - Fairburn School

21st September - Soroptomists Visit

26 August - Children's University

19th August - Storytelling & Book signing North Leeds Food Festival, Roundhay Park

1st August - Sheffield Hallam

14th July - Sheffield Hallam

12th July - Peoples Book Prize with

6th July - School Visit Worcester & BBC Hereford & Worcester

3rd July - Exhibition of Children's Poetry, Samlesbury Hall, Lancashire

2nd July - Guest of University College Lancashire - Science Festival

30 June - BBC Lancashire with John Gillmore

27 June - School Visit, Cleckheaton

28th May - Pop-up Shop, St Georges Centre, Preston, Lancashire - Storytelling & Poetry University College Lancashire

20th May - Yorkshire Women of Achievement Awards