Friday, 25 October 2013

Rugby Union autumn internationals

The autumn international season starts in a week, with all the great rugby union nations of the southern hemisphere touring Europe. It's a great chance to see how the teams are developing two years short of the Rugby Union World Cup.

If you have children at home or school that are interested in rugby union and need some help getting into reading, please have a look at the free resources on my website that aim to use that passion for rugby to get children reading more broadly and with more passion.

Free rugby reading resources.

You'll find reviews of children's rugby books I did for the 2011 World Cup, along with ideas for activities and the first chapter of my own rugby novel, Scrum.

If you work in a school and would like me to come and play my Rugby Reading Game with your pupils, then I have six dates left in February, during Six Nations 2014.  Please email me on if you'd like to know more.

Also, keep an eye on this blog over the next few days. I'm heading to Toulon soon to check out their training set up: research for my new rugby union series for children.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Writing on Adrenaline

Today we wanted to get boys writing competitively. For them to go at writing in the same way they go at sport. With adrenaline and urgency.

We blended three sports challenges with three writing challenges. Sport, writing, sport, writing, sport, writing. The idea was to get the children fired up about the sporting challenge and ride that competitiveness into writing too.

Five schools sent a team of five boys each.

They were awarded points for success in three sporting activities. Indoor versions of rugby penalty kicking, baseball and basketball. This involved a ball and classroom objects like boxes and chairs. whatever we could find.

They were also award points for three writing challenges.

One, creating a villain based on someone they hate. They chose Luis Suarez, Simon Cowell and the teachers chose Michael Gove. They defined two actual things they didn't like about their villain. Then they added an extra crime. Such as being a murderer, kidnapper, etc.

Two, making a story using their villain as a starting point. They asked the following questions about their villain. Who is he? What did he do? Where? When? Why? How? This list of six points gave them a basic story.

Three, they wrote and performed an opening paragraph.

A panel of teachers gave the children points. A scoreboard was updated every round. The winners were presented with a trophy.

It worked well. The sport sessions got them on their feet, moving around. And they went at the writing sessions with real passion.

Thanks to Haworth Primary for hosting a great day.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

How to use the World Cup to get kids reading more

Now that England have qualified for World Cup 2014 in Brazil, I am very happy to be announce that I will be working with the National Literacy Trust to use the interest in the tournament to promote reading in schools and libraries.

Our plans include :

 * a daily five-minute classroom-read episodic story based around the events of the tournament, written at the end of play each weekday of the tournament and published the next morning

*  daily writing challenges based on each day's talking points and controversies

* a toolkit of reading activities for the classroom, library and home

It will all be free.

This work will build on the huge successes of our 2010 World Cup Reading activities, where we did all the above.

In 2010 our World Cup materials were downloaded 119,199 times. The toolkit –  Love Football Love Reading – was used by at least 2433 schools and libraries. Over 2000 schools read all 28 episodes of The World Cup Mystery and, with most schools using it in more than one classroom, at least 100,000 children will have been read all 28 episodes.
More information on the National Literacy Trust website, here.

Let children read about football... if they like football

Neil Gaiman gave a very important lecture on Monday night. He was speaking about books and reading. One of the things he said was that we should let children read the books they love.


He said: "I don't think there is such a thing as a bad book for children... There was a fashion for saying that Enid Blyton or RL Stine was a bad author or that comics fostered illiteracy. It's tosh. It's snobbery and it's foolishness."


I wouldn't read when I was a child: but I loved football. My mum got me books on football: so I started to read.

Most adults get this. You give a child a book about something they want to read.

But some don't. That's where Gaiman's reference to snobbery comes in. I witnessed this once.

I was in a school talking about my football books. The event had gone well. I had convinced the children that reading and writing about football was just as good as reading about anything else. I had done my job.

Then, during the questions, the teacher asked "When are you going to write books about proper subjects?"

Friday, 11 October 2013

Dyslexia Awareness Week

It happened when a teacher was talking to me in a sports hall in Bridgend, south Wales. She was asking about the stickers on my three Barrington Stoke books. Stickers that said dyslexia friendly.

What makes them friendly? she asked.

I told her. Barrington Stoke design and edit their books with a view to breaking down some of the barriers that conventional books put up for dyslexics.

Like what? she pressed.

The colour of the page. The font. The way the letters and words are spaced on the page. The editing of the book. The author taking into consideration what those barriers are for dyslexics.

Then she spotted that one of my books was about rugby. Scrum!

There's a boy here, she said. He loves rugby. He's dyslexic. Can we show him?

I nodded. She called him over. He was eleven, tall, dark-haired.

Look at this, she said to him.

The boy looked at the book. First he turned it over in his hands. Then he opened it. He said nothing. I thought I saw him frown.

Then he looked at the teacher said: I can read this! like he couldn't really believe it.

His face lit up. Really. I'm not exaggerating. His face lit up like something really good had happened.

I am happy to say that I have four more books coming out with Barrington Stoke in the next two years. Not just because it is good for my career: but because I will get to tell more teachers about their books.

Find out more about dyslexia specialist publishers, Barrington Stoke.

Find out more about Dyslexia Awareness Week and the British Dyslexia Association.s

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Useful literacy ideas for World Cup week

It's a big week for football fans. The question among England fans is: Can England qualify for the 2014 World Cup?

If you like football or you don't, football is a great way to engage some children with reading. Lots of children will enthuse about football. Lots of them will read about it, even if they aren't that into reading.

We can use the football interest this week to get more children reading for pleasure.

Here are a few resources that might be useful this week.

A toolkit of ideas for activities and challenges using football to improve literacy in your classroom and library.

A free five-part story about international football. Five x five minute reads.

A letter to go home to parents about how they can use the increased interest in football to help their children read for pleasure.

Articles by myself and teachers about using sport to engage children with reading.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Bismark is On Side

In 2009 I visited Ghana to find out more about the trafficking of young footballers from African countries to Europe. It was research for my children's crime thriller set in the world of football, Off Side.

I was very lucky that Tom Vernon of the excellent football academy in Ghana, Right to Dream, let me interview some of his student players. I wanted to know more about good things that were happening to young footballers in Africa too. One boy was particularly helpful. His name was Bismark Boateng. He answered all my questions and I based my character, Kofi Danquah, on Bismark.

I was thrilled to hear recently that Bismark is now on the books of Manchester City, on loan in Norway at that moment. It's ironic that my character, Kofi, ended up playing in the UK for a team called City.

In fact, Kofi goes on to score the winner in the Champions' League semi final. I hope the same happens to Bismark.

Here is a picture of Bismark collecting a copy of Off Side.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Free literacy and sport posters and postcards

I have a range of posters and postcards that are free for schools and libraries. Free postage too.

You can see them on this picture. They include:

A LOVE FOOTBALL: LOVE BOOKS poster with tips on reading about football in newspapers, magazines and books.

A poster of all Barrington Stoke's excellent sports books.

Sets of ten postcards featuring three of my dyslexia friendly novels for children.

Sets of 25 red and yellow referee cards with information about my 13 Puffin football books.

If you would like to order some, please contact me on and let me know your postal address and the quantities you would like of each item.
There are also lots of free resources that you can use on my website too: Ideas for sports literacy sessions in schools.

Thank you!