The Arts Council of England's efforts on behalf of children's books are being channelled into initial teacher training (starting this term) and sponsorship of www.readingzone.com, launched this week by journalist Caroline Horn. The site is intended to be a one-stop shop for teachers, children and parents who want to find their way to the right children's books and authors, make the best use of them, and keep up with news and competitions.
The parents' and children's sections are free but subscription to the schools' bank of resources costs between pound;100 and pound;200 a year.
This includes access to substantial author profiles, curriculum-linked project ideas, and the "ask the expert" facility (which promises that an emergency small-hours plea for "a good book to read aloud to nine-year-olds" or similar will be answered "within 24 hours where possible").
While a lot of the free content is supplied by publishers, the recommendations for teachers come via consultants including Prue Goodwin (primary) and Wendy Cooling (secondary) and Roehampton University tutors who will supply four tried and tested "books of the month", for reception and key stages 1 to 3. With Andersen year in mind, the current key stage 1 choice is Thumbelina, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark.
This all bodes well for the future. The intention is to build the schools'
resources through the next half term, so bear in mind that you can have more than one two-week free trial. In the launch week, the "discussions and activities" option in the teachers' site carried notes on seven books, four of them published by Frances Lincoln, including the wonderful Rama and the Demon King by Jessica Souhami (pictured). For these, the notes from Frances Lincoln's big book editions are credited; for the other three books, neither the publisher (Walker) nor the source of the notes is given.
Inconsistency in declaring sources is the most obvious teething trouble, along with misspelt names (including Andersen) and missing apostrophes.
Send for Lynne Truss, whose Eats, Shoots and Leaves includes a "punctuation repair kit" with the paperback (Profile Books pound;6.99). But readingzone.com has already told me something I didn't know: that a Willy Wonka resource pack inspired almost 2,000 schools to hold sponsored Readathon events last month, 60 per cent up on last year. So log on and browse.