Monday, 28 November 2011

Using Euro 2012 to Promote Reading in Schools

It's the draw for the Euro 2012 finals this week. On Friday 2nd December, to be precise. Then we will know who England will be pitched against in Poland and Ukraine.

The tournament takes place from 8th June to 1st July.

During the World Cup in 2010 I worked with the National Literacy Trust, using the tournament to promote reading in schools and libraries. We had over 100,000 downloads of our materials.

As a result, we are doing the same for Euro 2012. This is what we have planned.

By the way, it's all free.

(1) a free downloadable episodic story based around the tournament, written by me the evening before publication every week day of Euro 2012;

(2) a free daily writing exercise based on the events and controversies of the tournament;

(3) regular blog and tweeting of the best reading in all formats about Euro 2012;

(4) more free toolkits of ideas and activities to inspire reading and writing using football tournaments.

In addition, I will be on tour for ten weeks in May, June and July 2012, offering my Football Reading Game in schools. Schools can book me by emailing

Finally, my new series, The Squad, launches kicks off just before the tournament. The first book - Black Op - is based at the Euro 2012 tournament in Poland.

This log sounds more like an advert. I'm sorry. But it's all good stuff and I wanted to give everyone a good early warning.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Premier League Reading Stars

Man U's Cliff Training Ground
You end up in some right places in my line of work.

I spent most of the week touring schools in Pembrokeshire, the bit of Wales directly above Cornwall.

Lovely people, the Welsh.

I had a glorious time. The library put me up in a brilliant wooden chalet by the sea. After I'd worked in the (wonderful) schools, I went running on the coastal path and wrote 7000 words (in 3 days) of The Squad 2.

I missed home, yes... but I got a lot done.

Today - from the sublime to the whatever - I ended up at Man U.

Sometimes you have to compromise.

I was there to deliver the second of ten training days for libraries and schools who are running a Premier League Reading Stars scheme in 2012.

More info about PLRS, a scheme run by the National Literacy Trust, here: PLRS.

It was a great day. Just like the training day we did on Monday in Newcastle. The funny thing was the place was packed with Leeds fans.

Speaking of Leeds United, at one of the schools in Wales a teacher brought me a cup of tea in a Man United mug.

I declined, of course.

One of his lovely colleagues saw what had happened and went away to create this for me.

Like I said: lovely people, the Welsh.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Year Six Spy Ring

I worked with my year six spy ring again today.

This is me and a teacher's attempt to work out ways we can get a class of children acting like spies, while also getting them into writing.

Today was about creating a narrative...

... and interpreting the raw material provided by a set of photos taken of a murder.

Part one. The children and I worked through a page from The Simpson's magazine (with the words whited out) to try and work out what was hapenning in the story. This went well. They were all familiar - and therefore comfortable - with The Simpsons and wanted to understand what Bart, Lisa and Santa's Little Helper were up to.

This was a warm up for the real spy work.

Part two. We gave the children six photos (see three of them above) of a scene involving four people.

1. A man and a woman have a drink together.
2. While the man is distracted, the woman slips a poison into his drink.
3. The man drinks.
4. The man collapses.
5. The man falls on the floor - dead.
6. The woman pours the remaining drink out of the glass.

The children had to work out the order of the pictures, working out the whats, whens and hows, then write a two-sentence narrative to explain what was going on. They wrote it in the form of a spy's report. Just the same as writing a story.

This worked well too. Linking the pictures and working out the questions arising gave them  good idea of how I put my stories together - expect they did a better job than me.

Part three. This is unrelated to the story, but still about spying.

We took the children outside and they practiced 'live drops', where one person passes a bag or newspaper onto another person, swapping an identical item.

This, of course, is how spies around the world pass information to each other...

The plan is to do spy/writing exercises. To see what works. And what doesn't. Then to produce a toolkit of how to form your own Year Six Spy Ring.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

England in Krakow

I've been lucky.

In March I went to Krakow to research my forthcoming football spy book, Squad: Black Op.

The idea is that a group of five children - using the cover of being part of an England youth football team - are sent to spy on and stop a former KGB agent from attacking the England team.

In Krakow.

I chose Krakow as a guess. It might be the kind of place England would base themselves for EURO 2012, as it is quite near the border of the two host countries, Poland and Ukraine.

It has just been announced that England are basing themselves in...

... Krakow!

If you're heading to Poland for EURO 2012, I can recommend the city. It is beautiful and friendly.

Listen out for the trumpeter who plays every fifteen minutes from the church above. That trumpet call is central to the plot of my story - and has a great story of its own.

Squad: Black Op is out in May 2012, published by Puffin Books.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Federation of Children's Book Groups

This is the Pick of the Year 2012 list published by the Federation of Children's Book Groups (FCBG).

I'm really pleased to say that my book - Own Goal - is on the Highly Recommended list. Things like that make me feel like I'm doing a decent job as a writer.

I'm also pleased because I think a lot of anything to do with the FCBG.

I've spent a lot of time doing events with the FCBG. All over the UK. Last week I was in Norfolk and Suffolk with teachers, librarians and booksellers from the FCBG.

In the spring I went to their conference and met other authors, parents and general childrens' book lovers too.

I learned loads just by talking to all these people about their passion for books and ways of encouraging children to read books.

Anthony Horowitz said 'The Federation of Children's Book Groups, has, in its own quiet, single-minded way, done more for reading than almost anyone else.' That's a hell of a recommendation.

If you want to know more about the FCBG:

And the award: Red House Book Award

Wednesday, 9 November 2011


50 Cent's new book, Playground
 I opened a playground in Aldborough, Norfolk, today.

In the past I have opened two school libraries, but never a playground.

The best bit about opening the playground was watching the children playing there. Before and after I opened it.

I love taking my daughter to playgrounds. She climbs, spins, swings, jumps and - sometimes - falls. I watch on, trying not to tell her to be careful too many times.

Conicidentally, I am reading a book called Playground. It's by 50 Cent. Yes him.

It's about a boy who commits an act of pretty unplesant violence in the playground. The story is told through a series of sessions he has with a counseller following the attack. Great start.

I'm not finished yet, but I am slowly forming an opinion on the book. And also on the issue of whether it is really good or annoying that celebrities in other fields write children's books.

More to follow...

Friday, 4 November 2011

Fairtrade Fortnight Events

Me in Ghana, meeting school kids.
I taught them several Leeds United songs.
I am doing a fortnight of events to mark 2012's Fairtrade Fortnight.

The tour runs from 27th February to March 10th.

I'll be working with Divine Chocolate, who very kindly helped me visit Ghanaian cocoa bean farms in 2009.

The trip helped me to write my book, Off Side, which is about a Ghanaian boy called Kofi, who has a chance to play football in Europe and whose family runs a cocoa bean farm.

I'll be talking about my trip during the events and about how I have seen that our buying of fairtrade products makes a huge difference in farmers' lives. I'll also be handing out free Dubble Bars!

There is more information about the tour here. Please do get in touch if you want more information.

Rugby Union Six Nations 2012

I'm planning to do more Rugby Reading Games in 2012.

I had a great time running the events during the Rugby World Cup, trying to encourage children to read through their love of Rugby Union.

The Six Nations takes place from February 4th to March 17th, so I'll be offering events then.

There is more information on my website here. You can also read quotes from the schools where I've run the game already.

These are the 2.3 metre high rugby posts that I use when I do the event.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Dyslexia Awareness Week

I was in Edinburgh earlier this week, touring schools and libraries with the wonderful Barrington Stoke publishing house, who publish books that are accessible to dyslexic readers.

Barrington Stoke publish my book, Scrum!

I am really proud to be published by them, because I have met so many teachers and librarians and children who think the world of them and their books.

It's Dyslexia Awareness Week this week and - as if by magic - I got my first email from a reader telling me what they thought about Scrum!

Dear Tom
I have read up to page 15 of your book scrum and I am totally loving it right now. I got this book at 6.30 tonight and I've only put it down to email you.
S, age 9

Getting emails from readers is one of the best things about being a writer. To know that, at this moment, someone is sitting there, somewhere, reading one of my books and liking it, is a great feeling.

This week we are more aware than ever that some children struggle to read. But we should also be aware that, because of publishers like Barrington Stoke, if these children find the right books, they can start to build the confidence and ability to become readers.

There's a great round up of Barrington Stoke's latest books here, published by the Daily Telegraph today.