Transport of delight

22nd December 2000 at 00:00
Eddie Burnett (below, seated centre) has inspired a passion for reading in thousands of children. Geraldine Brennan talks to the co-founder of Jubilee Books - and some of the customers who have visited his book bus - to discover this year's top page-turners.

In the words of children's author Vivian French: "Everything Jubilee Books does is geared towards the celebration of words, both written and spoken."

There is plenty to rejoice about this Christmas. In the summer, the book supplier was relaunched in a converted gym at Eltham Green school in south-east London. It was cheered on by Dan from EastEnders, performance poet Adisa and a hall full of parents and children.

Its website (www. jubileebooks. has been expanded and a programme of online and classroom-based creative writing projects will be added to the existing book-related services Jubilee offers to schools. These include author visits, art workshops, book fairs, in-service training and morale-boosting.

The yellow Jubilee book bus, which carries children's fiction on the bottom deck and picture books on top, is a familiar and cheering sight throughout the London boroughs of Lewisham and Greenwich. (It also ventures beyond the M25. Customers for other services come from as far away as Scotland.) Eddie Burnett, co-founder of Jubilee, is usually at the wheel. Eddie is the sort of person the National Reading Campaign had in mind when it started looking for Reading Champions this year.

"I started off working in a warehouse for a book distributor. I wanted to be a sales rep, but I didn't get the chance. I kept finding out more about the book trade; asking people for advice; getting more interested. Later I took over a bookstall in Jubilee Market, in Covent Garden and worked seven days a week."

Five years ago, Eddie and his wife, Sally, acquired their first roving book centre. "We began with an old library bus. After a year going into schools and kids saying: 'That isn't a bus', I went out and bought the double-decker."

Jubilee will soon have seven staff, including two part-time school librarians. Sally is the administrator and Eddie remains frontman, spreading the word about the joys and the importance of reading with his story sessions on wheels.

He grew up in Kidbrooke, near his Eltham Green base, and wants to put something back into his community. He is especially committed to easing access to books for families and teachers in under-resourced neighbourhoods. This does not always increase his sales and he is likely to end a session by saying: "tell your mum or your dad to take you to the library."

He says:"Out of school children can encounter a bit of what I call 'the Millwall attitude' among adults: 'no one likes us, we don't care', and books are one way for children to see there's an alternative to that."

He is a business partner in the South Greenwich Education Action Zone, which covers 10 primaries and four secondaries, including Eltham Green, and knits access to quality books into school improvement. Last summer all the primaries in the EAZ had a visit from the book bus, and every pupil took home a dictionary and a new novel.

As an enthusiastic professional who isn't a teacher, he is especially well placed to offer children information about books. Some of his favourite customers in Greenwich and Lewisham joined him on the bus this week to share with The TES their best reads of this year.

* FACE. By Benjamin Zephaniah. Bloomsbury Children's Books. Chosen by Eddie Burnett of Jubilee Books

I like books about real people and I read as much teenage fiction as I can so that I can recommend books to teachers and young people.

This story is about a boy whose face is disfigured in an accident, and what happens to him. It's about image, identity, peer-group pressure; about how people react to you, and the ups and downs of being a teenager.

It's set on the street and covers the pressures young people are under and the consequences of making the wrong decisions. When drugs or house music are discussed it's in the language kids would use.

The main character is white, which shows children that you can write outside your experience, and you can tell there's a cultural exchange going on.

I'm looking forward to Malorie Blackman's new book, Noughts and Crosses (Doubleday). I enjoyed David Almond's Skellig, and The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (Macmillan) is the best book I've found this year for reading aloud with younger children.

* The Silver Sword By Ian Serraillier Puffin. Chosen by Ella Moore, a Year 7 pupil at John Roan upper school, Greenwich

The Silver Sword is based on a true story about a family trying to reunite after the Second World War. My mum said it was really good, when I was looking for something to read, and I've read it twice. I can't put a book down once I get into it. I read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in two days. I've read The Lord of the Rings so it didn't seem too long.

This year I've also enjoyed Adeline Yen Mah's A Chinese Cinderella (Puffin) - that's based on a true story too.

* The 900 Days: the siege of Leningrad. By Harrison E Salisbury. Pan Macmillan. Chosen by Steve Bailey, head of English at John Roan upper school, Greenwich

I usually read fiction, and with two young children, plus school work, I get to read for pleasure less than I would like.

On the way to France this summer I picked up this big paperback - it was published in 1969 by an American journalist - and I had my nose in it for the fortnight. I'd brought a lot of worthy books along, which I still need to read, but this one just gripped me.

It was fascinating to realise what people had gone through - the suffering as well as the survival of so many. You know what happens in war, but you don't know the individual stories. That's what this book gives us.

Ian McEwan's Amsterdam was more of a fun read, and very incisive.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone By JK Rowling Bloomsbury Children's Books Chosen by Josephine Thomson, a Year 3 pupil at Brooklands primary school, Blackheath It's funny and a little bit scary. My favourite part is when they're in the forest - that's scary and exciting.

I'm reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets now. Professor McGonagle is my favourite teacher at Hogwarts.

* Gift of the Gab. By Morris Gleitzman. Puffin. Chosen by Henry Baker, a Year 6 pupil at Brooklands primary school, Blackheath

It's got a lot of humour in it, but it's a very serious story: Rowena's mum is murdered and she has to find out who the murderer is.

I've read other books by him - The Other Facts of Life, Two Weeks With the Queen, Toad Rage and some others. I've read all the Harry Potters, too. When Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was published I went to the bookshop at 8am.

I'm going to get Philip Pullman's Northern Lights to read in the holidays - I've heard he's really, really good.

* Third and Indiana. By Steve Lopez. Penguin Books (US). Chosen by Andrea Garrard, literacy co-ordinator at Brooklands primary school, Blackheath

This is the beautifully written story of a young boy growing up in the Philadelphia badlands, who gets sucked into the drugs scene, and his mother, who cycles off into the night looking for him.

I read a lot of US fiction. I like James Ellroy (I was thinking about Black Dahlia for weeks).

After the hustle and bustle of the classroom I need to be utterly silent and escape. I read two or three novels a week, after the kids have gone to bed. I did an English degree so I'm a very fast reader. I'd like to slow down.

This week I'm reading Isabelle Allende's The House of the Spirits, because I loved Daughter of Fortune and this is the one that everyone talks about.

My next book will be Chocolat by Joanne Harris. I don't know anything about it, but I like the sound of the title. Then I've got an Ian Rankin, which I picked up at the supermarket.

* Precious Lives. By Margaret Forster. Vintage. Chosen by Marilyn Joyce, primary literacy consultant for the London borough of Greenwich

Margaret Forster has used her family as source material in several books and this one is about the decline and death of her father.

My own father died this year and for me this is an example of how books can help you understand things. It's going to be my choice for my reading group in January. We've read books by Margaret Forster before - probably chosen by me. I would read her shopping lists.

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman might have been my book of the year - I've been looking forward to it in a big way, but I'm saving it for the Christmas holidays. And I've just started Zadie Smith's White Teeth.

In the reading group we've recently read The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields, which must have one of the best beginnings and best endings of any novel.

* Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. By JK Rowling. Bloomsbury Children's Books. Chosen by Chloe Ranger-Snell and Elliot King, Year 6 pupils at Lee Manor school, Hither Green.

Chloe: I read the other ones before they were famous, so I really wanted to read this one. It's really good at the end when Harry has to fight Voldemort. My favourite is the second one, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Elliot: It's so action-packed - you're just on the edge of your seat the whole time. I read it in the summer holidays. I didn't queue up for it, though, I waited until it had been out a while.

Chloe: I love the words she makes up, and the games and spells. I think Dumbledore might be sacked in the next book, and because Voldemort's only afraid of Dumbledore, he might come to the school and get power.

Elliot: I don't think Dumbledore's going to get sacked, but I reckon Voldemort will come back. I like Malorie Blackman's Pig-Heart Boy and Thief - we've just started reading that in class. And I like Gillian Cross's Wolf.

Chloe: Kit's Wilderness, by David Almond was really good and I'm just starting to read another one by him - Heaven Eyes.

* Dump It! By "Cy B Space". Element Books. Chosen by Alex Pusey, a Year 6 pupil at Lee Manor school, Hither Green

This is great - it's about things you can find on the Internet; how to look for information; how to build your own website and stuff like that.

I use the Internet for homework and for playing games. It's also got riddles and logical puzzles, and I like those. I like the Mystery Kids books too. I've just read number 12.

* The Last Polar Bears. By Harry Horse Puffin. Chosen by Amy Downes, a Year 6 pupil, Lee Manor school, Hither Green

I love dogs and it's got a dog in it called Roo. I read it a few weeks ago and it inspired me and made me feel that I really like books.

I've read a lot of Jacqueline Wilson books: Bad Girls, Double Act and her new book, Vicky Angel. That's about a girl whose friend dies and comes back as a ghost and really annoys her.

The God of Small Things By Arundhati Roy * Flamingo. Chosen by Sue McGonigle, deputy head at Lee Manor school, Hither Green.

I'm amazed that this is a first book. The descriptions are sheer poetry and the characters are cleverly drawn with a real understanding of children and elderly people.

Interwoven with this is a story that's sad, with a bit of a mystery and a lot of humour. I read it quickly and I need to read it again. I don't manage to read in term time and once I start in the holidays it's hard to stop.

My daughter's got me Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for Christmas - pure escapism. I've read the other three and, of course, some of the children at school call me Professor McGonagle.

* Skellig. By David Almond. Hodder Children's Books. Chosen by Clare Tayton, primary literacy consultant for the London borough of Lewisham

I was impressed by the growing maturity of Michael - the main character - as he moved away from his two male friends, because of family pressures and towards friendship with Mina.

The character, called Skellig, isn't the main focus, despite the title; he's there on the periphery of Michael's story.

I loved Storm by Suzanne Fisher Staples - another children's book. At the end, the boy Bucky knows he should stick his neck out for his friend, but he doesn't. It's very powerful.

Man and Boy by Tony Parsons was not at all as I expected from the style of his newspaper columns. It's a thoroughly good read about a father adjusting to his relationship with his son after his wife leaves, and his relationship with his own father. I made a fool of myself crying when I was reading it on the beach in Greece.

I have to read at least a chapter every night - whatever time I go to bed. Sometimes in term time that's all I can manage, but in the holidays I can read a book a day.

I like thrillers and crime, and I've just started the new Ian Rankin, Set in Darkness. I'm desperate to get The Amber Spyglass for Christmas. I've dropped lots of hints.

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