Article: Five lessons for libraries looking to innovate in the 21st century



Links at the bottom of the article to related material.


What’s up?


Well, it’s been a fair while since I’ve posted here, or in fact on any of my multiple blogs. To paraphrase Kastigir in Highlander, time did indeed catch me. However, it’s letting go a little bit, and allowing me a little bit of thinking time so here are the current questions racing through the synapses.

  • Best ways to share a wordless picture book with a whole class.
  • Adding Library involvement to wholly class-based interdisciplinary projects.
  • The various connotations of ‘messages’
  • How to find time to do everything (this one never goes away).


Open Culture


Open Culture provides links to a whole load of free material including films, audiobooks, textbooks, ebooks, MOOCs, course notes, language lessons, audio and video clips and thousands of images. The focus is on educational and cultural materials.

All of the material is collated from other sites but it makes for a brilliant place to find things you never knew existed. For example:

Try exploring on a spare summer afternoon while you’ve got time to while away the hours.

Times 100 children’s books


List compiled by The Sunday Times and broadcast on Channel 4, Christmas 2015.  I’ve not discovered how the list was created though, or whose opinions we’re sharing, but I assume that books in brackets were the most voted for out of particular series.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, for lists of this type, the illustrations are not deemed as important. It appears that the Sunday Times has nominated its preferred illustrator each time e.g. the original Tenniel for Alice and Shepherd for Pooh-Bear, but later illustrator Blake for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In those instances where the author is also the illustrator e.g. Maurice Sendak, Dr Seuss, Judith Kerr, their artistic contributions are ignored. Even for picture books like We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,  illustrator Helen Oxenbury is relegated to brackets, while Michael Rosen gets all the glory.

Equal rights for illustrators!

  1. Winnie the Pooh / The House at Pooh Corner – A.A. Milne (E H Shepard illustrations)
  2. The Chronicles of Narnia (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) – C.S. Lewis
  3. Harry Potter (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) – J.K. Rowling
  4. Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak
  5. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
  6. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
  7. The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle
  8. A Bear Called Paddington – Michael Bond
  9. The Gruffalo – Julia Donaldson (illustrated Axel Scheffler)
  10. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
  11. Cat in the Hat – Dr Seuss
  12. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
  13. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt – Michael Rosen (illustrated Helen Oxenbury)
  14. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
  15. Alfie and Annie Rose (Dogger) – Shirley Hughes
  16. Pippi Longstocking – Astrid Lingren (illustrated by Lauren Child)
  17. The Tiger Who Came to Tea – Judith Kerr
  18. Finn Family Moomintroll – Tove Jansson
  19. The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter (The Tale of Peter Rabbit)  Beatrix Potter
  20. Journey to the River Sea – Eva Ibbotson
  21. The Story of Tracy Beaker – Jacqueline Wilson (illustrated by Nick Sharratt)
  22. Kensuke’s Kingdom – Michael Morpurgo
  23. Goodnight Mr Tom – Michelle Magorian
  24. Rooftoppers – Katherine Rundell
  25. A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness (illustrated by Jim Kay)
  26. The Railway Children – E. Nesbitt
  27. Millions – Frank Cottrell Boyce
  28. The Snowman – Raymond Briggs
  29. The Arrival – Shaun Tan
  30. The Snow Queen – Hans Christian Andersen
  31. Black Beauty – Anna Sewell
  32. Famous Five (Five on a Treasure Island) – Enid Blyton
  33. Just William (Just William) – Richmal Crompton
  34. Holes – Louis Sachar
  35. Stig of the Dump – Clive King
  36. The Boy in the Dress – David Walliams (illustrated by Quentin Blake)
  37. Charlie and Lola (I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato) Lauren Child
  38. The Jolly Postman – Allan and Janet Ahlberg
  39. Horrid Henry (Horrid Henry Strikes it Rich) – Francesca Simon (illustrated by Tony Ross)
  40. How to Train your Dragon – Cressida Cowell
  41. The Wee Free Men – Terry Pratchett
  42. Alex Rider (Stormbreaker) – Anthony Horowitz
  43. Mortal Engines (Mortal Engines) – Philip Reeve
  44. The Secret Garden – Francis Hodgson Burnett (illustrated by Inga Moore)
  45. Just So Stories – Rudyard Kipling
  46. This is Not my Hat – Jon Klassen
  47. Fortunately, the Milk – Neil Gaiman (illustrated by Chris Riddell)
  48. Charlotte’s Web E B White (illustrated by Garth Williams)
  49. Diary of a Wimpy Kid Jeff Kinney
  50. Treasure Island Robert Louis Stevenson
  51. The Borrowers Mary Norton
  52. Gorilla Anthony Browne
  53. The Poems of Edward Lear (Owl and the Pussycat) Edward Lear
  54. Pig-Heart Boy Malorie Blackman
  55. Orlando the Marmalade Cat Kathleen Hale
  56. The Silver Sword – Ian Serraillier
  57. Elmer (Elmer the Patchwork Elephant) David McKee
  58. Anne of Green Gables – L.M. Montgomery
  59. Guess How Much I Love You – Sam McBratney (illustrated by Anita Jeram)
  60. The Little White Horse – Elizabeth GoodgE
  61. Tom’s Midnight Garden – Philippa Pearce (illustrated by Susan Einzig)
  62. The Phantom Tolbooth – Norton Juster (illustrated by Jules Feiffer)
  63. Flour Babies – Anne Fine
  64. Centrally Heated Knickers – Michael Rosen (illustrated by Harry Horse)
  65. The Way Home – Oliver Jeffers
  66. Peter Pan – J. M. Barrie
  67. Asterix – Uderzo and Goscinny
  68. The Family from One End Street – Eve Garnett
  69. Mr Gum – Andy Stanton (illustrated by David Tazzyman)
  70. Fairy Tales – Berlie Doherty (illustrated by Jane Ray)
  71. Wolves – Emily Gravett
  72. The Worst Witch – Jill Murphy
  73. The Blue Kangaroo (I Love You, Blue Kangaroo) Emma Chichester Clark
  74. The Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams (illustrated by William Nicholson)
  75. Ballet Shoes – Noel Streatfeild
  76. The London Eye Mystery – Siobhan Dowd
  77. The Sheep-Pig – Dick King-Smith
  78. Chrestomanci (The Lives of Christopher Chant) Diana Wynne Jones
  79. The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  80. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats – T S Eliot (illustrated by Nicholas Bentley)
  81. 101 Dalmations – Dodie Smith
  82. Emil and the Detectives – Erich Kästner
  83. A Series of Unfortunate Events – Lemony Snicket
  84. Handa’s Surprise – Eileen Browne
  85. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase – Joan Aiken
  86. Babar – Jean de Brunhoff
  87. Carrie’s War – Nina Bawden
  88. Captain Underpants – Dav Pilkey
  89. Mary Poppins – P.L. Travers
  90. The Tom Gates (The Brilliant World of Tom Gates) Liz Pichon
  91. The Casson family (Saffy’s Angel)Hilary McKay
  92. The Percy Jackson (Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief) Rick Riordan
  93. Thomas the Tank Engine – Rev W Awdry (illustrated by Peter Sam)
  94. The Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula Le Guin
  95. The Inkworld (Inkheart) – Cornelia Funke
  96. War Boy – Michael Foreman
  97. The Wizard of Oz – L Frank Baum
  98. Goosebumps – R L Stine
  99. Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
  100. Tintin – Hergé (Georges Remi)

Reading Log: Five on a Treasure Island


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The Famous Five were not my favourite Blyton series but I read them when I was younger anyway. It’s intriguing to return to this book after such a long time (especially as the series has been spoofed and Blyton’s life has been picked apart). Is it possible to read Blyton as an adult?


This 1997 edition has been published using the original dust jacket illustration partly covered by Blyton’s signature at the top and THE FAMOUS FIVE in large capitals taking up almost a third of the page; the actual title is almost an afterthought at the bottom. Are the titles really so interchangeable?

No information about editorial revisions has been included; without that information, the reader has no idea how much is Blyton, and how much is her modern editors. Censorship of Blyton appears to be acceptable – even mandatory? When banning or censoring literature causes such an outcry, e.g. Harry Potter, why are Blyton originals modernised without objection?


The Five are created when Julian, Dick and Anne meet their cousin, George, and her dog, Timmy, on holiday with their aunt and uncle in Cornwall. After some initial misunderstandings, they become friends and go exploring, leading to the discovery of lost family gold, capture and escape.

Highly unlikely, but it doesn’t matter because the Famous Five live in a fantasy world. How many families have their own islands? How often do shipwrecks rise up from the ocean floor to casually sit on some handy rocks? The plot is sheer escapism and that is an enduring charm.

VOICE AND language

The narrative style is clunky and over explanatory, and despite a myriad of exclamation marks, the dialogue is often stilted. The constant explanation becomes irritating very quickly. Nothing is left for the reader to discover for themselves, and information is often repeated e.g.

“Rich enough to give you and your mother all the things I’ve longed to give you.”¹

They were rich now..and his wife could have all the things he had so much wanted her to have²

Blyton was famous for writing a book a week. Maybe this is a symptom of that speed, but then why wouldn’t it have been caught by her editors? And why has this aspect not been deemed worthy of removal?

Were thesauruses rationed in 1942? Eyes are forever ‘softening’, tempers are ‘furious’; I was quite amused when even George got frustrated with the constant references to the ‘funny little island’³


Who lets eleven year old children row off to explore an island by themselves? In WARTIME? Except of course, the real world doesn’t interfere with the Famous Five.

Parents are excited about being away from their children though:

“Daddy wants me to go to Scotland with him,” said Mother. “All by ourselves!4

I always wondered about the names: ‘Mother’ is rather formal, while ‘Daddy’ is warmer. A reflection of Blyton’s relationships with her own parents? Is the lack of parental supervision wish fulfilment or simply a plot device?

So I’m torn. My suspension of disbelief was almost snapped, the text is cumbersome, and left me alternately laughing aloud or gaping in horror, but I read it straight through. There is still a magic in Enid Blyton that speaks to my younger self: its very peculiarities and incongruities make it bewitching.


1Blyton, Enid (1997). Five on a Treasure Island. London: Hodder and Stoughton, p177

2Blyton, Enid (1997). Five on a Treasure Island. London: Hodder and Stoughton, p180

3Blyton, Enid (1997). Five on a Treasure Island. London: Hodder and Stoughton, p19

4Blyton, Enid (1997). Five on a Treasure  Island. London: Hodder and Stoughton, p1



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The Morall Fabillis of Esope the Phrygian from National Library of Scotland [Licence: CC-BY-NC-SA]

Aesop’s fables, supposedly written by a slave in the 6th century BCE, have remained popular. There are 725 fables in total, although some are better known than others e.g. tortoise and the hare. Given the nature of the fables, their simplicity, brevity and the animals behaving like humans, it’s perhaps not surprising that they came to be associated with children, but there is evidence that they were also used as subversive tales against the government of the time.

The fables can be traced back to Sumerian proverbs with animal protagonists and advice for a moral life.

The Morall Fabillis of Esope the Phrygian: a 1571 edition of Robert Henryson’s translation of ‘Aesop’s fables’ into Scots.



Chapbooks, hornbooks and battledore


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these little works were likely intended for any poor reader whose skills were rudimentary”

Ruth Richardson, Chapbooks, British Library

In circulation 17th-19th centuries. Main source of reading for general public – better education by this point – or read out to them. They were sold by chapmen, travelling peddlars, along with a variety of other items. Cheap to produce and buy.

Contents include:

  • sermons, prophecies, hymns, and other religious matter
  • crime stories and murderers’ final words before executions
  • ‘urban myths’ and sensational stories
  • abridged fiction
  • songs, ballads and poems (Robert Burns, Allan Ramsay etc)
  • biographies of famous people past and present
  • romances, legends, fairy tales, ghost stories
  • alphabets, nursery rhymes
  • instruction manuals and almanacs.

Appearance: folded single sheet of coarse paper, woodcut illustrations (not always related to text), very flimsy and ephemeral (easily falling apart after a few uses)

Chapbooks not often specifically published for children although there are exceptions e.g. James Lumsden, Glasgow

Approximately 15,000 chapbooks published in Scotland, with 200,000 printed annually in Scotland in the 18th century (V&A).

Chapbooks evolved over time and could be seen as the ancestor of comics.

Hornbooks and Battledore

Hornbooks and a battledore [Public domain]

Hornbooks and a battledore [Public domain]

Hornbooks were sheets of paper covered with alphabet, numbers and prayers or other religious material pasted on to wood (often with a handle for easy holding) and protected with a veneer of horn. Simple primers. Known to be produced in Scotland from 1588.

Battledores are associated in my mind with ‘and shuttlecock’ which is an early game of badminton, and the primer was probably named after the game’s racquet which is a similar shape. They were made of cardboard or paper and were similar in content to hornbooks, but with more space they could also contain pictures and stories i.e. entertainment and not just instruction.


National Library of Scotland. Chapbooks  Accessed 8th November 2015Chapbooks

National Library of Scotland. Children’s books in the national Library of Scotland. Accessed 9th November

Richardson, Ruth. Chapbooks. Accessed 8th November 2015

Scottish chapbooks. Accessed 30th November 2015

The Thomas Fisher Chapbook Collection. Accessed 8th November 2015

University of Glasgow Special Collections. Scottish Chapbooks Catalogue Information Accessed 30th November 2015

University of Glasgow Special Collections. Children’s chapbooks Accessed 30th November 2015

John Newbery


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A pretty little pocket-book was published in 1744 by John Newbery in London, one of over thirty books for children eventually created by his publishing business. The American Library Association’s Newbery Medal is awarded to “the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”

Title page from US edition of A Pretty Little Pocket-book (1787) [Public domain]

Title page from US edition of A Pretty Little Pocket-book (1787) [Public domain]

The full title is A Little pretty pocket book, intended for the instruction and amusement of little master Tommy and pretty Miss Polly: with two letters from Jack the Giant-killer: as also a ball and pincushion; the use of which will infallibly make Tommy a good boy, and Polly a good girl.

They were attractive books, small with decorated covers. The original measured 4″ x 2.5″, and came with the free gifts mentioned above:  a ball for boys and a pin-cushion for girls (sexism being alive and well in 18th century London).

Illustrated with woodcuts, the book included an alphabet, verses about children’s games (first published use of the word ‘baseball’), fables, letters from Jack the Giant Killer and lists of rules for behaving properly. It was still instructional, but was also entertaining.

John Newbery also published The history of Goody Two-shoes (1765), which subtlely managed to advertise Dr James’ Fever Powders (another of Newbery’s businesses). Goody is an unright and moral person who is eventually rewarded for her behaviour by marrying a rich man, a common outcome in 18th century literature.


A pretty little pocket-book, Accessed 8th November 2015

A pretty little pocket-book, Accessed 8th November 2015


Did John Newbery publish the very first Mother Goose? Published 1780?

History of children’s literature


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Early books for children tend to be educational and moralising, but it’s important to bear in mind,

just because a book seems dull or disciplinary to us today, this doesn’t mean that children at the time didn’t enjoy it.

Grenby, M.O. The origins of children’s literature

I find it difficult to believe that many children would have been excited by James Janeway’s A token for children: an exact account of the conversion, holy and exemplary lives and joyful deaths of several young children . According to the Oxford Companion, Janeway believed in “a doctrine of original sin that damned all children“. Charming.  Having said that, children at the time would have been far more familiar with death, especially of young brothers and sisters, so perhaps it was a comfort. Grenby points to evidence of “young readers’ genuine enjoyment of these descriptions of heroic and confident, if doomed, children“.

Not every moralistic book was dry. Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) uses allegory to describe Christian’s journey from his hometown to the Celestial City and has never been out of print. I got an abridged copy in modern English for Christmas when I was ten, and I loved it (wonder where it is?) It was a journey, an adventure, and while the allegory was blindingly obvious, it didn’t get in the way of the story (although I remember puzzling over how to pronounce slough).  Apologies, Mr Bunyan. I appreciate that wasn’t necessarily the effect you were hoping for.

Isaac Watts, Divine songs attempted in easy language for the use of children (1715) “endeavoured to sink the language to the level of a child’s understanding”. Possibly one of the first books ever written for children.

I didn’t realise Robinson Crusoe was published so early (1719). Like many ‘classics’ the story is familiar, not through the book, but through endless retellings on television, film and references in popular culture. Children’s versions were made available soon after publication.

A Little pretty pocket book, intended for the instruction and amusement of little master Tommy and pretty Miss Polly was first published in 1744 by John Newbury (see separate blog). It was small, attractive and illustrated to appeal to children.

Maria Edgeworth was not a name I would have included as a children’s author, associating her with more Austen-like novels. However, she had strong principles about education and wrote several volumes of Tales for young people, heavy on the moral content, and argued against adventures.

the taste for adventure is absolutely incompatible with the sober perseverance necessary to success

Maria Edgeworth, Essays on Practical Education, Volume 1


Carpenter, Humphrey and Prichard, Mari. Oxford companion to children’s literature (Oxford, 1984)

Farrell, Maureen. The History of Children’s Literature. Powerpoint delivered Tuesday 29th September 2015.

Grenby, M.O. The origins of children’s literature, Accessed 8th November 2015

University of Delaware Library. World of the child: early works Accessed 8th November 2015

Comenius: Orbis Sensualis Pictus or The Visible World in Pictures


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Considered one of the first picture books, if not the very first, Orbis Sensualis Pictus appears in Latin and German in 1658, and in English the following year.

Air from Orbis sensualis pictus [Public Domain]

Air from Orbis sensualis pictus [Public Domain]

Given the intellectual, political and religious world it appears in, I think it’s rather wonderful and I love the woodcut illustrations and diagrams.

Consider what’s happened over the previous thirty years:

  • Galileo’s theories about the universe are published and banned by the Church (1630s) and Galileo ends up under house arrest after appearing at the Inquisition in Rome.
  • Civil War erupts in the British Isles, Charles I is beheaded and Cromwell settles in as Lord Protector. The Puritans are in charge and fun is cancelled (1640s/1650s)

So it seems quite anachronistic for a Czech bishop to be encouraging practical, lifelong education for all – even women – and publishing educational tracts with illustrations.

Previous to Comenius, children’s books focus firmly on moral education , designed to save the little savages from eternal damnation, but Comenius believed that education was the route to a better society.

According to the Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature,

[Comenius] found the pupils so ignorant that he began to devise this picture book , which even the most unlettered child could read and learn from. .. He argued that a pupil must observe a thing with his senses before he can grasp it by means of words.

Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature,  1984, p125

A very simple idea, but a brilliant one.



Texts for children from the printing press to virtual reality


I was delighted to be granted a place on this course, part of the MEd in Children’s Literature and Literacies at the University of Glasgow (and incidentally, getting my old matric number back was a wonderful surprise) through the Scottish Government’s West Partnership.

Unfortunately, I then damaged my back and then there were unavoidable issues with registration (still ongoing) but I finally got access to some materials at the start of November.

And look how much fun it is!: classic texts, innocence vs death of childhood, close reading of Peter Pan, picturebooks, graphic novels, comics, fairy tales, young adult literature, myths and legends, children’s poetry, and a required reading list of fabulous children’s books.

I’m in heaven! This is going to be some of the best Professional Development ever.

Part of the course demands a reading log and analysis of articles, both of which will appear here, along with commentary on seminar notes, and anything else that jumps out at me.

Save Scotland’s School Libraries


From the Save Scotland’s School Libraries online petition.

Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to set out a new national strategy for school libraries which recognises the vital role of high quality school libraries in supporting pupils’ literacy and research skills.

We firmly believe that school libraries are unique in their ability to support teaching and learning and should be the central resource of every school, open every day and staffed by a professionally trained librarian. We believe that all learners should have equal access to a qualified school librarian.

Currently in Scotland this is not the case and the situation is deteriorating rapidly. We firmly believe that this needs to be addressed.  Please show your support be signing this petition and if appropriate highlighting how your school library helped you.

The online petition to the Scottish  Save Scotland’s School Libraries remains open until 16th October.

Not PC?



An interesting situation arose the other day when helping pupils to make posters using Word and text boxes: they were no longer familiar with basic Word or PC commands. Copying and pasting was new to many of them (hurray!), and the majority didn’t know how to change a document name, save to the desktop or find their document again once it had been closed.

At one point I even wondered if this was some elaborate hoax at my expense but in fact, it’s all down to iPads. So many primaries are using tablets that pupils have far less experience of using PCs.

Understandable, but it means that we have to rethink how to teach lessons without taking PC skills for granted.

CILIPS Statement – School Librarians


CILIP in Scotland has released the following statement:

We support the Government’s ambition for Scotland to be the best place to grow up and learn and contend that professional school librarians are integral to its realisation. High quality learning opportunities should include access for all school pupils to a professionally trained librarian and information expert with a knowledge of learning styles who is:

  • located within the school and available throughout and beyond the school day;

  • managing a safe, secure and supportive environment for formal and informal learning;

  • responsible for curating resources to support the curriculum;

  • partnering teachers in supporting delivery of the Curriculum for Excellence;

  • engaging pupils in information seeking and discussion;

  • promoting information literacy across the curriculum; and

  • developing critical thinkers, enthusiastic readers and ethical users of information.

CILIPS continues to advocate for the retention of school libraries and school librarians in every secondary school in Scotland.

Reading the ‘classics’

Give low cost classics to schools, says Nicky Morgan

Here we go again. I am so sick of people shouting about ‘classics’ as if nothing worth reading was published after a given date. I have to wonder whether the people who harp on about them have actually read these classic books, or have just heard of them. Maybe they’ve seen the film or television adaptations.

It’s interesting that Ms Morgan is requesting copies of ‘the classics’, specifying Austen, Dickens and Bronte, while standing alongside David Williams and quoting Roald Dahl. See, I would class Roald Dahl as a classic children’s author, whereas I woud not include Austen, Dickens or Bronte. Masters they are, undoubtedly, but I wouldn’t be pushing them on pupils; I certainly wouldn’t be insisting on them as class readers.

One of my favourite books is Pride and Prejudice, which I first read, aged 12, after watching the BBC adaptation. Knowing the story carried me through a whole range of vocabulary and manners that I hadn’t a clue about. It took several more readings and a good few years before I realised Austen was being sarcastic. I grew up alongside the book and my understanding grew, and continues to grow, with it.

A book I cannot stand is Catcher in the Rye, a book acclaimed as a ‘modern classic’. I read it aged 25 or so, by which point the endless adolescent ramblings of Holden Caulfield left me cold. Was I too old by that point? (although to be fair, I don’t know whether I would ever have enjoyed his constant girning).

The point is that everyone has to find their own story, and the only way to do that is to have thousands of stories available for them to read, and it doesn’t matter which characters drag them in, be it Matilda, Oliver Twist, Aslan or Mr Darcy.

However, what you do need is someone who knows the stories, someone to collect and keep the stories ready for when they’re required, and keep the shelves stocked with the best of all types of literature, not just ‘classics’.

Wonder who that someone could be?