The School Librarian - Closing the Poverty-Driven Literacy Gap

According to National Literacy Trust figures released in 2011, of the 3.8 million children in the UK, one in three does not own a book. This is a significant increase from the figure of one in ten, estimated seven years ago. The recent Henley report notes a decline in provision of libraries and trained librarians, highlighting the important role that these valuable resources have to play in promoting literacy for children. The majority of schools that I have been invited to on author visits demonstrate a strong reading and creative writing culture throughout. Not only on world book day but on-going during term, schools with a reading ethos prioritize investment in a well-stocked library, library staff and where possible, support for author visits. Unfortunately, it is those schools where the literacy level of entering students is lowest that often have the most pressure on resources, and as a result prioritize funding away from literacy activities and resources that are perceived as being a luxury. This can include library resources and non-curriculum literary activities such as author visits or workshops. Alas, these schools least able to appropriate resources for extra literacy activities due to competing pressures for funds are those schools that would most benefit from such activities.

Reading not only teaches language skills but more importantly, social skills. There is a definite correlation between better reading and more tolerance and understanding between different cultures and religions. Children attending resource-pressured schools do not have the same exposure to external creative input; offering alternative viewpoints and values. Those in education in higher income areas often benefit from extra financial input from parents and additional support from community governors or the community more generally. This can give schools more flexibility in the use of financial resources, allowing them to engage creative, external influences to open discussion and encourage students to debate and question topics from different viewpoints. In poorer catchments where schools may have more pressure on financial resources, children already grow up facing greater financial and social hardship and yet have less access to these additional educational resources that may be considered ‘discretionary’.

Also, often if children in struggling areas are not enjoying the benefits of reading for pleasure at school then there is little chance of them obtaining books at home.

What is apparent and of concern to me is the lack of understanding right across the board of the impact of books on children’s social development. I have always been aware of the vital role creative writing plays in allowing children expression through their work to develop self-awareness and compassion for others. But books are frequently seen purely as data instruments, where chunks are bitten off and digested as required to fit in with the national curriculum; or are perhaps viewed as superfluous or even frivolous, and unimportant to development. Literature is not viewed as an experience in its own right, a potential means of mutual discussion and support for mental and social health. Books are a window to the world; they challenge and teach, guide and can help children understand what is happening around them, often easing isolation during times of personal crisis.

Teachers barely have time to sit and read with the class, let alone work on a full week’s project, pulling out every aspect of a story in fun activities that encourage insight and discussion.

Teachers are hard pushed to take on the task of school librarian, reviewer, reader and creative tutor with all the other subjects they have to deal with. But if each school had one dedicated librarian, that professional could recommend books for teachers underpinning the variety of subjects taught and broadening the scope for imaginative use of texts available. A dedicated school librarian could spend one hour, once a week in the library to read to each year group which would bring the wonders of a story to all children from all denominations in a relaxed, informal format. A librarian could instil a love of books outside of the rigours of the classroom.

My experience of a good school librarian is of one who connects the writer to the children, encourages their questions; helps children to be good communicators and aspiring writers/ illustrators.

It also goes without saying that by familiarizing children in school with a library, librarian and the systems used, those children leave school confident in using the public library service which is at the heart of a community and enhances their adult learning.

Surely, the presence of one extra member of staff in school, one dedicated librarian, would bring such social and educational benefits to pupils and ultimately ease the strain on teaching staff that the investment would reap significant human reward. Yet the perceived lowly children’s librarian is not only undervalued but now being cut out of our public library services for good. A school librarian would not only help to improve general literacy standards but more relevantly raise social awareness encouraging tolerance, freedom of imagination and speech through a broad range of books. I also believe that a school librarian should be specially trained, and paid in line with that qualification, ensuring that all schools employ top quality staff. I am appalled that good reading practice should still at this time, exist primarily in well-funded, wealthy areas and those schools most in need have the least access to valuable cultural resources required to develop this practice.

At the heart of every healthy community stands a public library and I believe that the first step to a potentially thriving, diverse school should be a well-stocked library overseen by a committed, experienced and enthusiastic librarian. That is where the seed of a successful multi-cultural society begins and tolerance and integrity are encouraged in future generations.

Kathryn White

The Cathedra 900 project

As soon as I saw the powerful and dynamic artwork of Mark Ware, produced for his Cathedra 900 project displayed in the historic Exeter Cathedral, I realised inspiration was there for the taking. The imaginative, lively students on the workshop proved me right.

With the invaluable support of Literature Works which enabled me to hold the writing workshops, I watched the children create exciting characters, soak up the atmosphere and map out their original tales; they drew from the breathtaking sculptures, relics, light and sounds inside and outside Exeter Cathedral.

It is an experience that I, and I’m sure the children, felt privileged to be a part of and I’m looking forward to hearing their intriguing tales later in the year.

Photography by Mark Ware.

A quick baby update

I thought all my readers would like a picture and update on the beautiful new arrivals to the household. Ivy, Seth and Jasper are all behaving themselves; off the bottle and learning the delights of blended cabbage and mashed banana, not together of course. They are growing at a phenomenal rate (must be the cabbage) and love making oodles of noise, plenty of pongy smells and loads of laughs.

Keep watching this space for more news.

Beast Hunter available to download soon!

Good news, BEAST HUNTER is soon to be downloadable for my older readers and classroom resources. It’s been great fun using it in schools over Book Week and I’m really happy it’s going to be accessible on line with the click of a button, or maybe two.

(ISBN 10: 1408142651 / ISBN 13: 9781408142653)

Keep watching this space for the links.

Happy Reading.


My next big thing

This is the next BIG thing! We authors pass on our thoughts and news about what we’re up to. I thought, well this sounds interesting! So I’m another link in the blog chain, clunk, clunk.

I was asked to get involved by the Two Steves, the dynamic duo of children’s books who were in turn asked by Chris D’Lacey, author of the brilliant Last Dragon Chronicles.

So, as in the Ghost of Christmas Past, I’m rattling the chain!

What is the title of your next book?

Ruby’s Baby Brother.

What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Has Ruby really had a baby brother or could he be a little monster from another world?

Where did the idea for the book come from?

From my publisher Barefoot, I must confess. I had written two Ruby books in the series (Ruby’s School Walk and Ruby’s Sleepover) when Tessa Strickland the co-founder of Barefoot books said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have another book about Ruby having a baby brother?” and I agreed, absolutely!

What genre does your book fall under?

Picture book fun and fantasy.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Will Smith has to be Ruby’s dad and Whoopi Goldberg for mum but Ruby can be played by any feisty, sweet, adorable little girl looking to break into the business.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I have an agent.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The first book was written in a couple of months, the second was over a few months so in all the series of three would be just under the year.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

That’s a tough one. My story’s different but I would say my character is imaginative but very much home based like Charlie and Lola.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Tessa Strickland at Barefoot; the encouragement Tessa has given me to keep writing about Ruby has been wonderful.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Miriam Lattimer’s amazing illustrations are full of fantastic, magical, weird creatures and are inspiring. There’s also bound to be lots of fun activities on the Barefoot website for kids to do to go along with the book . Another bonus is a link onto the following site where you’ll get lots more questions answered in interview on my new book hosted by Iain Broome, author of A is for Angelica.

So now I tag my next authors/illustrators who will continue blogging on the theme of THE NEXT BIG THING and pass them into your care!

Look out on the 19th December for:

The very talented Cathy Maclennan. Cathy’s stunning illustrations and wonderful lyrical texts have been noticed not only by publishers but Bunny Bunny Catkins was shortlisted for the V&A illustrator awards 2012; a rarity in children’s illustration. Pop over to her website and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

On the 26th we have the talented Karen King:

Karen King started writing for the well-known teenage magazine Jackie and has since produced over one hundred books including fiction and non-fiction. Her books range from bright, bold younger series to older, dark, exciting fiction such as her ebook due out 2013 titled, PERFECT SUMMER. Karen’s short stories have been featured on BBC Playdays.


Thanks for taking the time to read about what we’re up to!

Having fun with Ivy

So here we are in Denmark with our brand new granddaughter, Ivy. Every morning, we tip-toe across the terrace rooftop of the multi storey hotel from our 6th floor room and visit Ivy, Donna and Morten in their apartment opposite. It’s great fun and so lovely to see the family settling into their new routine.

Ivy is thriving. At night, back we go across the terrace with the starry sky above us. We stand and look out across Copenhagen’s city lights and watch the aircraft flying back and forth, quite magical.

Here are some great pics of the beautiful new arrival, with mum, grandma and granddad.


Our beautiful granddaughter, Ivy, arrived on the 26th October 2012. Here she is looking as innocent and angelic as, well actually, as an angel. But I’m not going to be fooled; I think a little imp hides behind those bright eyes. Trouble afoot!

Meet Seth and Jasper

Seth and Jasper our grandsons arrived on 27th September 2012. They are absolutely beautiful, not that I’m biased, but actually, they are beautiful. So David and I travelled up to Sheffield where we walked in the beautiful peak district then visited our wonderful new arrivals as often as we could manage to sneak past the hospital staff without notice.

Although identical, I was quite proud that I managed to tell one from the other, or were they fooling me by switching cots? So here they are and I know we’ve got some wacky, fun times ahead.

Ruby's Sleepover Video

I came across this interseting take on how Ruby's Sleepover can help reassure little ones facing the prospect of their first night under canvas.

Check it out!

The Wilderness Festival

Well, what a time we had at the Wilderness Festival in beautiful Oxford. Barefoot’s bright tent was waiting ready with books galore and we kicked off with a reading of Ruby’s Sleepover. Hubby, David, bravely marched along with our wheelbarrow full of activities, projector, computer and all so that we could put the fab illustrations of Ruby’s Sleepover on the big screen for all to see. The festival children made lots of bright masks and pirate swords with glue and glitter flying through the air and then we followed on with a reading of Ruby’s School Walk.

But I then had to bravely travel all the way to the Arctic to save the planet and the odd polar bear. I took my axe and carved a path for the bears to follow across the frozen wastes so that they could reach the sea and have a Saturday afternoon swim.

Then I flew back and had a chat with a pretty bumble bee wandering around the festival site making sure that everyone discovered how important the bee population is to our planet and the wonderful plants that we can all put in our gardens to encourage them. Have a look on the bumble bee website, there’re lots of things you can do to help. The sun shone all day and out on the festival lake we saw swimmers, sailors and even mermaids mucking about on the river.

We ended the day by watching Mohamed Farah win the last race - hurray!!!

A big thank you to Fi and Verity, the Barefoot team for the warm welcome and a great time.

Babies, books and being a writer

Well, lots of news to impart about all sorts of things in this latest blog. Firstly there is the wonderful fact that I am about to become a grandmother. My granddaughter is due to arrive in October, far off in Copenhagen. So I will be winging my way over to meet her and introduce her to the joy of reading. Yes, I intend reading to my granddaughter as soon as she makes an appearance.

But before taking off to meet my granddaughter I will be zooming up the motorway to meet my twin grandsons, identical twins just for good measure, double trouble. I can’t wait. In preparation for the grand arrivals I spent last week with my twin expectant daughter, Suzy, and we packed her hospital bags ready with identical baby outfits, what fun. Then we went for a leisurely meander around the beautiful stately home of Chatsworth. Here is a picture of us in the gardens; the flowers and Suzy blooming in the late summer.

On our way to the house we happened on a pretty lily covered pond and up paddled mother duck with her new six ducklings. The gardener had thoughtfully placed a plank of wood from the pond up onto the bank and all but one little duckling padded up the log behind mother duck. Duckling six, was obviously thinking about far more exciting things, like chasing frogs and fish and consequently overlooked the plank of wood. When duckling six realised it was alone, it flapped in a flurry and fright trying to get up the high bank to its mother. Finally it made a desperate leap, stretched its wings and scrambled out. How clever of the little duckling to find its own special path to mother duck.

Once inside the majestic halls of Chatsworth house I wandered down the dimly lit corridors looking at the heavy oil paintings of Devonshire ancestors. Soon I found myself in the reading room where a table was neatly set with children’s books and I was thrilled to find my title, The Nutty Nut Chase available for children to enjoy. So could I resist a picture of me with book in hand in the stylish reading chair? Of course not, so here I am.

On book news, look out for a new edition of HERE COMES THE CROCODILE in My Little Box of Animal Stories. It’s a fab collection in a carry case containing 5 great animal tales full of crocodiles, crazy chameleons and zany zebras from Little Tiger Press.

I will also be whizzing down to The Wilderness Festival in Oxford on August 11th to hold fun events in the children’s area on RUBY’S SCHOOL WALK and RUBY’S SLEEPOVER in the wind flapping, sun warming, Barefoot tent.

Later, on October 2nd, I’m going back to my favourite city, Bath, to hold a public event for the Bath Festival in the main library reading CLICK CLACK, CROCODILE’S BACK and keeping event goers busy making lots of animal masks and noises to match. Hope to see you there.

Lastly, for all parents visiting this site, A IS FOR ANGELICA a debut novel by Iain Broome (my son-in-law) is available for download and out in paperback this September. If you’re looking for an exciting new voice in literature - here it is. Iain provides a vivid and moving account of the life of Gordon Kingdom, a man struggling to come to terms with a devastating event in his life. Published by Legend Press. Highly recommended.

Thanks for visiting and look out for more news on babies, books and being a writer.

Nick Clegg reads Ruby's Sleepover at Cutteslowe Primary School

Last week I joined my publisher, Barefoot Books, at a fundraising event for Cutteslowe Primary School in Oxford. What's more, we were visited by Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, who read Ruby's Sleepover to the children. It was a great occasion and fantastic to see him spend time with everyone. And he did a brilliant job of reading Ruby!

You can read more about the day over at the Barefoot Books blog. Or you can watch Nick Clegg in action in the video below...

Celebrating 20 years of Bookstart

Celebrating 20 years of Bookstart I travelled to Bath library and read Ruby's School Walk with a local nursery school and had the pleasure of being joined by some children visiting the library for books. After reading Ruby's School Walk, we coloured in some fab masks then Catherine Burrows our local Reading & Literacy Manager did some fun songs including crocodiles and other creatures.

Congratulations Bookstart on giving our new generations the best booky start ever.

My visit to Stonar to work with pupils on WW1 project

Here's what Stonar school had to say after my recent visit: 'In her fourth visit to Stonar children’s author, Kathryn White, came into school to work with all of Year 7 and 8 pupils on a joint English/History project. After having shown postcards and historical documentation from the First World War

'Kathryn asked the pupils to write their own versions attempting to create a real sense of historical realism. The pupils produced some excellent work in a stimulating and fun-packed morning.'

Getting into character at Blandford St Mary's Primary

Youngsters at Blandford St Mary's Primary dressed as their favourite storybook characters to give me a warm, enthusiastic welcome when I launched their new school library. The children designed some fab character masks from my books and we kicked off with a wonderful assembly filled with book quizzes, followed by a sneak preview of my new book, Ruby's Sleepover, which is due out on May 1st.

Thank you all for a wonderful day.

Picture by: by Jane Norman.  Blackmore Vale Magazine.