How Twitter changed my life

In November 2011 my wife Kerry attended the Stonewall Leadership Programme. A truly life changing course that taught her a huge amount about role models and what it meant to be a gay leader in the workplace. One of the things she brought home was how important it was to her and the others on the course to be in a room with their peers. As a gay woman it’s something she doesn’t have in her day to day job. She has a peer group at work but not a peer group that she can see herself mirrored in or observe obvious role models. Essentially, they are all straight. It was immensely powerful for her to be in a room of people who all had a shared core.

This came at a time when I was at home with our daughter, socialising with a small group of friends, mostly with children. I was missing the daily socialising of like-minded people I had had through work and looking to find something other than mums talking about their children. I wanted more than development milestones and cute stories. I wanted books and education and culture and politics and news. I wanted to find my peer group, my community.

And so I used Twitter. I followed journalists from the Guardian that I no longer managed to buy and read, I looked up authors that I loved and people that I looked up to. I followed their conversations and found more of the same. Suddenly I knew what was happening in the world again. I was following the news. I knew what books were coming out, even if I didn’t manage to read many of them. I found Stella Duffy and Caitlin Moran who re-politicised me. Shelley Harris who was immensely generous with her advice and encouragement to writers and readers. Isabel Costello and Zoe Toft who did all the hard work looking through all the newly published books and presented me with gem after gem on their reviewing sites. I was reading again, I was writing again, I was drawing again. I was thinking and learning and engaging with the world again.

That was when we all found out that Amazon weren’t paying their taxes. I needed to find somewhere new to buy my books, somewhere more ethical and real. I looked up local independent bookshops on Zoe’s site and found Bags of Books. A lovely children’s bookshop in Lewes, not that far up the road. It just so happened that there was an author event with Clara Vulliamy coming up that we could take our daughter to. We did just that and we had a lovely morning listening to stories, chatting with Clara and making tiny mouse houses out of match boxes. Afterwards, what better way to say thank you to Clara than to look her up on twitter? I looked her up that same weekend and we haven’t stopped chatting.

And now I feel like I have really found my peer group, that community of like-minded people that I fit with and can see myself in. I have started Rhino Reads and The Rainbow Library. I have role models and have become a role model to others. I have found friends and inspiration. I have found support and advice. I have found my place. So thank you to Stonewall for showing us the importance of peer groups and role models. Thank you to my lovely friendly twitter community, particularly those mentioned above and the Rainbow Library crew of children’s book authors, illustrators and bloggers. And thank you to my wife for sharing her Stonewall learnings so enthusiastically and honestly.

Rainbow Library week 1 update

Tomorrow the Rainbow library will reopen after half term week. I will be taking in a haul of new books for the children to explore and borrow and I’ll be organising my first reading session.
Look at the treasures that await them!

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I can’t wait to see their faces!

The library was only open for two days before the half term holidays but in those two days, seven children took home eleven books. Not bad! I also had my first mini-breakthrough. A wary mum admitted that she was worried about her child ruining or losing a library book and I was able to convince her to take a risk and take a book. It might not come back but thanks to all the generous donations received I could tell her it didn’t matter.

In the two days of library fun the children were straight in and exploring the books. They were immediately attracted to the TV tie-in books – Fireman Sam, Toy Story and Bob the Builder. They also chose books with animals on the cover – Sylvia and Bird, Ouch in the Pouch, Blue.

Grandparents seemed more interested and involved in the children’s choices than the parents were. Perhaps they have more time to spend playing with and reading to their grandchildren, more time to linger at nursery at drop off time or more respect for books and their value? It will be interesting to see how that develops.

There were quite a lot of parents that looked down their noses at the books, pushed their children past and were generally dismissive. Although it was disheartening, I was interested to notice that sometimes their children tried to pull back and look. It confirmed that the children are attracted to books despite their parents’ attitudes, that it’s never too late to interest them.

There are so many reasons that the parents might not be interested in books. Some of them might be uncomfortable with their own reading abilities, some may have been taught by their parents or peers to view books as elitist and ‘other’. The fact that the children show an innate interest and have a natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge gives me hope. I hope that I can use my volunteering time in the nursery to share books with them and show them the pleasure, fun and comfort that can be gained from books. I’ve bought some rainbow monster reward stickers to give to the children and I’ve got some specific books on order that I hope will attract, encourage and support the children who need it most.

Maybe the Rainbow library can convert a few children to the joys of books, words and pictures. Perhaps it might challenge or even change the attitude of some of the adults. We shall see.

I have been amazed and humbled by the response to my initial blog post about setting up the library. I have received books, donations, advice, inspiration, retweets and support and I am so grateful to all of you. The success of the Rainbow library will be down to all of you. Thank you.

Special thanks, and cake, are due to Team Rainbow:
Kerry Haselup for her enthusiasm and support, for her charity shopping prowess and for putting up with the piles of books taking over the house.
Clara Vulliamy for offering her long term support and for sending a wonderful selection of her books for the library. Also for creating my Rainbow Book Fairy rosette, of which I am ridiculously proud.
And ReaditDaddy for all his inspiration and support and for answering all my silly questions with kindness and patience.

On to week two. May it bring more books, smiles and breakthroughs! I’ll keep you all posted.

From now on the Rainbow Library posts will be over on my RhinoReads blog. You can find it here.

The Rainbow Library

ReaditDaddy’s wonderful campaign encouraging parents to read to their children has really caught the book blogging community’s imagination. The basic premise is to support and encourage people to read aloud to their children, and to work with other agencies to raise awareness. ReaditDaddy is busy blogging, reviewing and spreading the word and twitter seems full of positivity and commitment for the project.

I spent yesterday pondering how best to join in and support the campaign. I already read (a lot) to Mollie and we visit the library every week. I am passionate about the power of language and a strong believer in the importance of positive, quality books in childhood but I didn’t know what I could offer to the project other than a blog of support. I spent a lovely morning browsing blogs and reading around the project. I got learning and I got inspired.

Here are a few of the things that chimed with me when I read them.

The lovely Clara Vulliamy said:
“And if you hang onto only one thing:
of course they will love the books, they love the person reading them!”
And “Books aren’t ‘good for you’ like vegetables – they’re wild creatures you’re letting loose.”

I love that! ‘Wild creatures you’re letting loose.’ That really caught my imagination… and so began my cunning plan.

Catherine from Story Snug commented that
“My only New Year’s resolution (which I haven’t managed as much as I would have liked!) is also to read more in front of my daughter, I want to be a better role model so that she knows that I also enjoy reading and it is not something that I just do with her.”
Sold! Any excuse! I will read more in front of Mollie. That is something I can actively change.

And then I found this blog from Library Mice
“But I can’t help thinking that if each newborn had a book fairy, we wouldn’t face the dreadful reality of children not being able to read, and not being able to enjoy books.”

What a perfect point. So many children don’t have a bookcase of their own, don’t get read to every day, don’t get taken to the library, don’t have access to brilliant books that teach them about the world and their potential in it. What a better place the world would be if all children did have a book fairy who could perhaps resolve some of that. How could I set some books wild and become a book fairy???

So my pledge for readitdaddy’s campaign is to set up a book box library at the local nursery where children can borrow a book and take it home to read. It just so happens that tomorrow is International Book Giving Day and I’ve already bought a few Catherine Rayner books to give to the nursery. Yesterday I ran the idea past the nursery and today I raided the shops.

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The nursery has a catchment area that reaches into local deprived areas. The majority of children don’t have access to a wide range of books outside of the nursery. They don’t have great language skills and they don’t have great role models. This is where Readitdaddy’s campaign needs to be reaching. It also means there were a few things to think about when putting it all together.

• The books might not get returned.
Hey ho. I’m setting books loose into this library and if they don’t come back then a child has a book in their home that they wouldn’t otherwise have had access to. I’m all fine with that prospect.

• The books might make it home but there might not be someone there who is willing, or able, to read it to them.
To counter this I have tried to include lots of books with pictures that tell a story and board books that children can explore independently.

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• The children (or parents) might not be interested.
I’ve tried to include really great books that will give children and adults a taste of wonderful language and illustration.

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But I’m very aware that these will be far removed from the day to day experience of a lot of the children. I’ve included some tv tie-in books to appeal to what they know and encourage the children to have a look. They might not have books at home but they’ll certainly know who Fireman Sam is.

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I have labelled all the books to say they belong to the Rainbow library and added a little notebook where staff and parents can keep a record of the books they take home. And now, the Rainbow Library is ready to rock.

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I’ve made a long-term commitment to the nursery to supply books for the library and support the running and use of it. In addition, I plan to monitor the books and see which children aren’t using the library, then I will go in to the nursery for an hour a week and read with those children.

Mission on!

How can you help?
Perhaps you could donate a book? Are you a children’s author or illustrator? Maybe you could donate one of your books. A book blogger? Maybe you could donate a review book? A publisher? Maybe you could send some review books this way. I promise that all review copies will be donated to Rainbow Library. A parent? Maybe you could sort out some books your child has grown out of and donate them?
Or… Perhaps you could become a book fairy and start your own book box library?
Perhaps you’ve done something similar and can offer me any advice or words of wisdom?

Tomorrow I will take the books to the nursery and set them loose. I’ll keep you posted!

Update: To keep up with the Rainbow Library, hop over to my RhinoReads blog where I review big books for little people.