"What a special day - I felt privileged to be part of it"

" This was a deep and inspiring conference with thought provoking content on the children we are growing and the world we are shaping"

Reflecting Realities. British Values in Children’s Literature

This important conference on 1 March 2017 was attended by over 60 teachers and people working in education, authors and poets all exploring the key question: what is the role that children’s literature has to play in helping us make sense of the world around us and our place within it?

To celebrate the power of books to create empathy, understanding and respect CLPE are giving away 13 free teaching sequences to support the teaching of 13 wonderful books. Only available until Monday 6 March, download them from Core Books here

CLPE's Farrah Serroukh opened the conference highlighting the work CLPE does to support the development of children’s literacy and how important children’s identity is to their literacy. She reinforced the need for us to ensure that children are both reflected in the literature they come across and how literature can support children to experience realities beyond those that are their own. Farrah showed how the guidelines around teaching British Values can be interpreted, enhanced and understood through the use of quality children’s literature. 

Tolerance is the starting line, to truly win the race we must aspire towards mutual respect - Farrah Serroukh

Miranda McKearney OBE from The Empathy Lab shared her thinking and journey that led to her setting up The Empathy Lab, which creates an empathy, literature and social action programme for 4-11 year olds. She shared her view that we need to raise children with the values they need to be empathetic citizens and that empathy through stories has a key role to play. Delegates heard fascinating insights from neuroscience research that showed how our brains react to fictional worlds as if they are real; how reading has the power to build insights. Read the report for stage 1 of this work with schools and find out more about The Empathy Lab on their website

Reading can change us. The awesome power of a page can move us and expand our horizons - Miranda McKearney

Elizabeth Laird, award winning author gave a fascinating insight into how she draws on her extensive experiences when writing for children. Born in New Zealand, Elizabeth went on to live in Malaysia, Ethiopia, Baghdad and Beirut and spent much time in Palestine. These countries form the settings for many of her books. She explained how her characters are so far removed from who she is so the only way she can write about them and their lives is to immerse herself in the people she meets. Giving us an insight into her writing process for her latest book Welcome to Nowhere, she spoke about how she journeyed to Jordan and listened to the real stories of Syrian people in order to create her narrative.  Find out more about Elizabeth Laird and the Mandala Trust here.

Everywhere I go in the world I come across stories that are screaming to be told, and need to be told - Elizabeth Laird

Baroness Floella Benjamin, an icon to so many of our delegates who grew up watching Play School, gave a truly moving account of her experiences as a young child moving from Trinidad to England. Beautifully described in her newly re-issued book, Coming to England, she transported us to an idyllic existence with a wonderful father who used to tell amazing stories and a loving mother who gave them the confidence to go out into the world to explore the worlds poured into them by their father. She described how her experiences, positive and negative, made her what she is today and how important the adults in children’s lives are.  She is passionate that children know what it feels like to be different and to belong and captures all of this through her writing. Find out more about her here

Childhood lasts a lifetime - Baroness Floella Benjamin

After lunch, delegates participated in interactive workshops with authors Atinuke, Catherine Johnson, Candy Gourlay and poet Anthony Anaxagorou, all passionate and talented writers who shared their own experiences and techniques.

These words exist and you have a right to them – Anthony Anaxagorou

An in-conversation followed between Dr Verna Wilkins, author, publisher and founder of Firetree Books and Kerry Mason, co-director of Letterbox Library, leading supplier of multicultural, gender equality and special issue books for children. Fen Coles, chairing the discussion, asked Kerry what educators need to do to ensure children have access to books that reflect their realities. Kerry responded that sometimes it's just about looking at the most simple story. What we may think of as diverse or unusual is just normal for someone else as everyone else’s experiences are different. In the last 10 years she had witnessed changes in children’s books in terms of inclusion currently listing a few hundred titles on the Letterbox Library rather than the handful from in the early days but there is still long way to go to ensure these books reflect readers’ realities. Find out more about Firetree Books here and visit Letterbox Library here.

Books are powerful. Powerful enough to include, exclude, create heroes - Dr Verna Wilkins

Books are a fantastic and safe way to explore things that are new to you; to build reading for pleasure - Kerry Mason

The day ended with powerful poetry performances from the talented Anthony Anaxagorou. Find put more about Anthony and his book, Heterogeneous here

Watch the conference on Storify here

Find out more about CLPE conferences here

Articles and blogs about the conference

Read articles about the conference on Bookbrunch, Achuka and on Candy Gourlay's blog.

Also Blog on Scoop

Article from the Bookseller

Guest blog on the Federation of Children's Book Group


Photos credit: Michael Thorn

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