Hopes, dreams and drawings go into primary pupils' book

Book launch and literacy festival aim to engage children and improve their reading and writing. Jean McLeish reports

Parents are impressed when they are invited to a book launch at school - particularly when the writers and illustrators are their children, most of them still in the primary classes. "It's really encouraging. I wouldn't think small kids would be doing books like this," said Reynaldo Sandos, whose nine-year-old daughter Julianne had done some of the illustrations.

Julianne, from P4 at Heathryburn Primary, had provided illustrations for her classmates' dreams of becoming pop princesses. Her dad had made a special effort to join the celebrations to mark the book launch, which was part of the first Northfield Literacy Festival at Northfield Academy.

Hopes and Dreams is a collaborative work by seven primary schools working alongside younger pupils from their local secondary school, Northfield Academy in Aberdeen. It was part of a broader initiative across the community, which is improving children's reading and writing after school inspectors identified problems.

Work on literacy has involved children of all ages from nursery, through primary school and up to S5 in the secondary school.

At the beginning of 2010, Mandy Wilson, the librarian at Northfield Academy, transformed the school's old-fashioned library with a new reading area, funded by the Lottery. Then leading trainer and storyteller Alec Williams was invited to the school to give teachers and librarians across the city a seminar, highlighting ways to encourage reluctant readers and to motivate boys to read more.

Children at the eight schools contributed to Hopes and Dreams, following workshops with visiting authors and poets. The parents then came to see their work at the literacy festival.

Michelle Clark came to encourage her 10-year-old daughter Kaitlyn Clark, who had written about her dreams for the collection. "I was really happy to know that they were being involved in a book and it's very good," said Mrs Clark.

Kaitlyn, who was in P6 at Westpark School, worked with performance poet Anita Govan and wrote a poem about her own determination to succeed as a gymnast.

"If I were a gymnast, I would .

Perform the most back somersaults in a row;

Train harder than everybody else to be the best I can be;

Swing high on the bars and follow the rules."

In the morning, individual schools were open to visiting parents for a mini book launch. In the afternoon, all the schools were at Northfield Academy to showcase their work and launch the book formally with keynote speaker Keith Charters, one of the writers involved in the project.

The children had been working on dance and drama performances and the audience was encouraged to join in the event's anthem "Gotta Keep Reading" and to show off some of their dance moves.

The book is a colourful production in which children reflect on their future and share their goals. One boy hopes he'll become a "sparky" like his dad, another dreams of meeting his dad for the first time. Some girls want to be fashion designers and pop stars and one or two want to come back to their schools one day as teachers.

"When we first thought about it, we thought we would just have one week where we would focus on literacy and how we are promoting and improving literacy in the Northfield area," said Lisa Williams, chair of the literacy festival and depute head at Quarryhill Primary. "But it's just grown so many arms and legs that we have really expanded on that, so it's much more than this mini literacy festival.

"It's our way of showcasing what's been happening in terms of literacy in all the schools in the associated schools group."


Reading champions from the world of football and politics visited Quarryhill Primary to read to pupils and share and encourage a love of books.

Children took home "curiosity kits" - story bags with reading material for children and adults, with activities to motivate reluctant readers among the P5 pupils.

"This was encouraging parents to work with children at home to do an activity related to the theme. They have been really good for our reluctant readers, who have been much more interested in reading because of these curiosity kits," said depute head Lisa Williams.

School inspectors had identified improvements were needed in literacy at the school in 2009, and in 2010 they reported that children were doing better. "Levels had improved that year because of what we had been doing," said Mrs Williams.

Other schools in the group began similar initiatives and embarked on their collaboration a year before the Northfield Literacy Festival.

Each school created animations in association with Aberdeen's literacy project, The Reading Bus, which focuses on regeneration areas in Aberdeen like Northfield, St Machar and Torry.

The Reading Bus, which published Hopes and Dreams, works to raise the achievement of children at risk of early failure and to encourage family learning outside school.

Quarryhill Primary developed an animation based on Olympic hopes and dreams which they're hoping will be used during the Olympics in 2012.

"Anne Begg, the MP, has taken the finished production and given it to Tessa Jowell, who is hoping they might be able to use it in the actual Olympics in 2012," said Ms Williams. The schools also hope to organise a "book cross" event to coincide with the Olympics next year.

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