Banks’ swindles = kids’ Kindles?

Anthony Horowitz wants every child in the UK to be given a Kindle for free, using money from fines imposed on banks.

And as much as I am a fan of the paper and hardback, with ebooks outselling print on Amazon for the first time this year (100 to 114 as of August), it’s clear. E-reading technology is the future.

Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether our government agrees. According to Horowitz, when presented with the plan, Nick Gibb, then schools minister, did not bother to acknowledge it with so much as a “two line ‘thank you, go away’ note afterwards.”

In his proposal, among other things, Horowitz calls for silent reading in classrooms. As a classroom teacher of English, I remember only too well a couple of years ago being tasked with enforcing this at the start of each lesson: a sorry challenge, usually met by most with a muted groan because it was another book they’d had to lug around and always with the handful of surly year 8s who misplaced/never had books and so ended up with torn copies of year 11 texts to flick through for ten minutes. Hardly a way of inspiring children to read.

Free Kindles would change this. Choice for readers would be, arguably, limitless (for argument’s sake, I am assuming bankers’ errors could stretch to a library of ebooks).

Feedback from readers on community sites such as Goodreads is instantaneous, passionate and more importantly, two-way with authors. There is a new class of readers and they are young. They want to be enthused and inspired by books. There are amazing things happening to encourage reading in schools RIGHT NOW – and Horowitz’s wheeze is another one. The Evening Standard’s Get Reading Campaign has raised almost half a million pounds for volunteer readers to go into schools and help children who may struggle with the basics.

The London Festival of Education on November 17th will see Horowitz talk about his proposals and I hope the DfE might have had time to do some silent reading of their own by then.


Stop all the … of pillows and clocks

‘Don’t pressure women into having children’. Thank you, Rosamund Urwin.

Her lovely semi-rant on the societal pressure faced by women to have offspring when they might not mind all that much if they don’t actually, was a breath of fresh air on my sweaty sardine tin commute this evening.

Personally, I find the pressure to have children subtle, like a tension headache that grows as days go by. In my workplace I have reached the dizzy heights of the ‘top of the pile’. By that, I don’t mean all eyes are on me, the leader of the pack. I mean I am ‘next in line’: as one by one, women in my age group become impregnated, all eyes are open to see if I, too will become the leader of my own ‘pack’.

I am 34. Married, with no children. Will I get pregnant soon? Do I want to have children? Am I ‘trying’? These questions are asked at least weekly, relentlessly; questions like ticking clocks themselves. I can practically feel the eyes on my stomach as I make another coffee (is it decaf?)

Facebook doesn’t help. Every time I hop on, another bundle of joy appears. And the truth is, I don’t know how I feel any more. I thought for a while I felt envy. I always feel happy for my friends of course, but now it is best described as ambivalence. I have gone through racking feelings of inadequacy and panic, aware of the ‘ticking clock’ but baffled as to my true feelings about having children, knowing I was also in no position, relationship wise, to do anything about it. I have gone through despair. I have gone through relief.

I have gone through the defiance; the ‘it’ll happen if it’s meant to’.

I am, now, just rather confused by it all.

And so I have decided: if I can’t quieten other people’s questions and the looks and the clocks, I shall put a metaphorical pillow over everything: I am tired of all this ticking.

I am very lucky. I haven’t – yet – had the overwhelming urge to procreate so until I do; really do, I am resigned to sitting on the pillow and writing. I have a dog and a husband and am more than happy being with my pack.

Let the clocks tick all they want … but they’ll have to work hard to do it under pressure from me, a bouncy canine, a husband and my pillow, not the other way around.


Why poetry venture seems a little bit app-hazard

“Kelly’s heroes” heralds the title of the full page feature in last night’s Evening Standard . The story is that Rachel Kelly, beloved of the highbrow NottHillbillies (Sebastian Faulks is mentioned twice in the article and indeed the first column is littered with names of such as Joely Richardson, Helena Bonham Carter, “Natasha Law, sister of Jude” and George O & David C, who are welcomed annually by Kelly for a Christmas shindig) has developed a poetry app for children, which is now also available as a book for adults.

Which is all wonderful. Apps can, of course, be great. At best, they’re educational, fun and stimulating and, as Kelly’s iF Poems: The App for children has, can been used to download ‘tens of thousands of poems in 29 countries’. This is a sensational prospect. And now it’s been made into a book, ‘iF: A Treasury of Poems for Almost Every Possibility‘.

That Kelly has run poetry workshops at Wormwood Scrubs is also, obviously incredibly laudable. Good for her, and heartstrings are also tugged by the personal angle which runs like an iron rod through the article: Kelly developed the children’s app having found poetry ‘particularly therapeutic’ after she suffered post-natal depression after the births of 3 of her 5 children. “Poetry was really important as well as prayer … a lot of the Bible is wonderful poetry.” Highly commendable.

But that Sebastian Shakespeare highlights the army of A listers who helped turn the app and the book into reality does not do what a good poem should and that is paint a particularly good picture. As an English teacher at a state school, I would have dearly loved to incorporate the poetry app into lessons – I can see the year 7s squealing at the thought of it now – but am somewhat turned off by the fact that Michael Gove, a man who, in the words of one of my teacher colleagues, ” … every single Monday since i started back at work … has brightened my day with another splendid idea” composed clerihews in Kelly’s honour at one of her two book launches, when neither Apple nor Gove offers any discounts to schools for iPads currently – and the cost of an iPad is still around £300 each.

The iF Poetry app is a very good idea. I hope this post gets Kelly a few more sales. Ten percent of the app’s sales go to Save the Children but until the other 90% is considered for redirection so that the poorest children in this country can actually make use of the app at school, I’m not wholly convinced. Presumably the remainder is being spent on the Christmas party fund for Kelly’s neighbours. Maybe they can mull over wine and possibilities then.