December has arrived and in the run-up to the festive season we’ll be giving each Monday’s Featured Poem a seasonal twist with some Christmas themed verse. Over the next four weeks you can expect an Advent calendar of sorts as we bring you some of the best and most classic poetry to enjoy as you make your Christmas preparations.
As yesterday was Advent Sunday, marking the beginning of the season of Advent, there seems no better way to start off with the following poem from Christina Rossetti. Having devout faith, Rossetti composed a great number of poems that celebrated the season including amongst others In The Bleak Midwinter, which we now know as a popular Christmas carol. This selection is one of several verses she wrote about the period of Advent. The themes of watching and waiting are revealed to have two meanings, as not only does it relate to the darkness of the long nights at this time of year, making things in the horizon difficult to be aware of, but also as Advent is viewed as a time to recognise the coming of Christ once more.
This Advent moon shines cold and clear,
These Advent nights are long;
Our lamps have burned year after year,
And still their flame is strong.
“Watchman, what of the night?” we cry,
Heart-sick with hope deferred:
“No speaking signs are in the sky,”
Is still the watchman’s word.
The Porter watches at the gate,
The servants watch within;
The watch is long betimes and late,
The prize is slow to win.
“Watchman, what of the night?” but still
His answer sounds the same:
“No daybreak tops the utmost hill,
Nor pale our lamps of flame.”
One to another hear them speak,
The patient virgins wise:
“Surely He is not far to seek,”—
“All night we watch and rise.”
“The days are evil looking back,
The coming days are dim;
Yet count we not His promise slack,
But watch and wait for Him.”
One with another, soul with soul,
They kindle fire from fire:
“Friends watch us who have touched the goal.”
“They urge us, come up higher.”
“With them shall rest our waysore feet,
With them is built our home,
With Christ.” “They sweet, but He most sweet,
Sweeter than honeycomb.”
There no more parting, no more pain,
The distant ones brought near,
The lost so long are found again,
Long lost but longer dear:
Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard,
Nor heart conceived that rest,
With them our good things long deferred,
With Jesus Christ our Best.
We weep because the night is long,
We laugh, for day shall rise,
We sing a slow contented song
And knock at Paradise.
Weeping we hold Him fast Who wept
For us,—we hold Him fast;
And will not let Him go except
He bless us first or last.
Weeping we hold Him fast to-night;
We will not let Him go
Till daybreak smite our wearied sight,
And summer smite the snow:
Then figs shall bud, and dove with dove
Shall coo the livelong day;
Then He shall say, “Arise, My love,
My fair one, come away.”
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the stresses and strains of the holiday season then our latest Short Course for Serious Readers is especially designed to provide you with some calm amongst the festive fray. ‘Stop The World I Want To Get Off!‘ is at Calderstones Mansion House this Friday 6th December, 10am-4pm and a final few places remain to allow you to read some great literature to escape from the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparation.
There’s not long to go until the biggest day of The Reader Organisation’s festive celebrations and as previously announced, this year will be more of an extravaganza than ever before as for the first time we’ll be holding a special seasonal Penny Readings Festival to accompany the ticketed events.
We’re having problems with our emails at the moment, so you still might hear if you’ve struck lucky and won tickets to the Penny or Ha’penny Readings, but whatever the case, you can still join in the fun by coming along to The Penny Readings Festival, running from 1.30pm on Sunday 15th December. Entry to the Festival is completely FREE, with no tickets required, and there will be tons of fun reading-related and Christmassy activities to take part in right through the afternoon.
The Penny Readings Festival will feature lots of reading activities, including story time for children and shared reading taster sessions for adults, as well as games and activities, a cafe, and a chance to get creative. Come along to the magnificent St George’s Hall to find out more about The Reader Organisation and Calderstones Mansion House, finish off your Christmas shopping, and enjoy an afternoon of free festive entertainment. You can also bring along any spare books you have lying around the house to donate to our outreach work, as well as pick up some new ones.
The Penny Readings Festival is free and open to the public – start your Christmas the Reader way!
Primary school teachers and teaching assistants can join The Reader Organisation for this special after-school session at Liverpool Hope University exploring the very best children’s fiction, contemporary and classic, and how to make the best use of them in reading for pleasure with pupils.
Reading for pleasure is now a top Ofsted requirement for Outstanding schools, and being immersed in great books, stories and poems is the best way for a child to acquire understanding and develop other skills such as writing and speaking confidently. A recent report from the Institute of Education (IoE) also found that reading for pleasure puts children ahead in the classroom in learning vocabulary, spelling and maths skills (IoE, 2013).
At The Reader Organisation, our work with children and young people is focused entirely on reading for pleasure, with over nine years of experience sharing reading in a range of diverse and challenging settings. Our Hope Readers project at Liverpool Hope University is developing a culture of reading for pleasure amongst education students who will become teachers of the future, passing on their love of reading to their pupils. Find out more about the project and our work in Hope on the Hope Readers blog: http://hopereaders.co.uk/
- Find new great books, stories and authors
- Read for pleasure by exploring the books in relaxed, shared reading groups
- Get ideas and strategies about how to use books and texts in the classroom
- Get ideas on making reading for pleasure a reality in your school
Places on this special Children’s Fiction CPD event cost £50 per person (including a free copy of The Reader Organisation’s anthology for children and young people, A Little, Aloud for Children).
For further information and/or to register please contact Fiona Gustard, CPD Projects Administrator at Liverpool Hope University on email@example.com or call 0151 291 3061
Last year, we featured the story of one of our shared reading group members in London, and how shared reading provided her with a ‘lifeboat’. Jane, a regular reader in Kensington and Chelsea, joined us for our National Conference 2012 to give her perspective on how being part of a group made a difference to her life. More than a year on, we follow up her story as she embarks on the next step in her journey – becoming a shared reading practitioner.
Jane spoke to Megg Hewlett, one of our London Project Workers, about how far she has come:
For the last two years Book Break shared reading group member Jane has been volunteering at Brompton Library delivering their Baby Rhyme Time sessions on a Monday afternoon to between 30 and 50 people. It’s impossible not to be astonished by the gathering of littlies and their caregivers – mums, dads, grandparents and nannies – who gather for the session. Even the adults join in, delighting in the singing and actions that make up the half hour programme and the library vibrates with the sound of adult and children’s singing voices and laughter.
Four years ago Jane joined Book Break at Brompton Library. At the time, health difficulties had made her life a struggle. She loved her profession and working with children especially but after more than 20 years in early childhood education, a combination of factors meant she was could not work and her sense of loss was great. “Books and children had always played a huge part in my life and my work and my belief in myself was crushed.”
Jane attended Book Break every week. After a couple of years I spoke to Jane about the idea of volunteering in the library to do Baby Rhyme Time. Initially she thought there would be no way she could do it, but eventually after thinking it over she thought that maybe it was a possibility, after all, and she has been running the sessions ever since, spurred on by the personal benefits she found through shared reading.
“The confidence I found in Book Break was the thing that made me feel I could do the Baby Rhyme Time in the library. Even though attending Book Break and reading aloud in the group had boosted my confidence I was still very anxious and worried. It was a big thing to say ‘yes’ as I was still not feeling good about myself.
Once I started doing Baby Rhyme Time in the library, giving something to others made me feel much better about myself. And now, even if I do feel rubbish, I still can do it; the music is a bridge from me to the children. At the beginning of the year I moved to the other side of London so it’s quite a long journey to get here but I don’t want to stop; I enjoy it so much and the parents tell me they really appreciate it, they often thank me and it gives me a boost knowing they enjoy it and that I’m making a real contribution to other peoples lives. If I had not come to Book Break I would not be doing this now.”
Jane also volunteers at a Salvation Army lunch club for older people and each week takes the poems from Book Break to read with those people at the club who are interested. ‘This made me think what would it take for me to run my own group for older people? They seem to get so much out of it too.’
Jane found out about Read To Lead and decided to apply to attend with a view to leading her own shared reading group.
‘It was scary applying as I thought maybe I might not be good enough or it might only be for people with a degree. I spoke to a few people who encouraged me and I applied. On the day I was very nervous but I soon felt ok. I felt there was a Jane sized space for me and I thought “this is it, I’m alright here”.
At the moment Jane is still running her Baby Rhyme Time group at Brompton Library every week as well as reading poems with older folk at the lunch club. However her latest big enterprise is a new group in Hoxton for children aged under five and their carers called Tots and Co. Needless to say this new group will involve lots of wonderful books and stories read aloud. Jane’s story is a testament to how the power of reading and being a part of a shared reading group can have far-reaching impacts and provide not only a way back in a life that may be lost but bring a whole new direction and sense of achievement too.
Jane’s remarkable story is just one example of many of how sharing reading can affect an individual’s life, in a small or significant way. Take a look at our collection of Reader Stories on our website to see the various stories that have emerged within our readers: http://www.thereader.org.uk/reader-stories.aspx
Interested in Reading With Us in London? You’ll find a full list of our open groups in the area, as well as across the UK on our group map: http://www.thereader.org.uk/reading-with-us.aspx
The weekend may be over but it’s our favourite time of week here at The Reader Online as we get to enjoy a new Featured Poem. Why not take ten minutes out of your day to sit back, relax and enjoy some classic poetry?
This week’s selection comes from English Romantic poet and novelist Charlotte Turner Smith. Overcoming hardship to be able to provide for her children from an unhappy marriage and gain legal protection as a woman in the late 18th century, Charlotte utilised her struggles as a major theme in her poetry, which was her preferred form of writing. Such difficulty can be evidently witnessed in this poem – if Emily Dickinson took an optimistic approach by claiming ‘Hope is the thing with feathers’ then Turner Smith takes a more complex approach on the subject.
Oh, Hope! thou soother sweet of human woes!
Oh, Hope! thou soother sweet of human woes!
How shall I lure thee to my haunts forlorn!
For me wilt thou renew the withered rose,
And clear my painful path of pointed thorn?
Ah come, sweet nymph! in smiles and softness drest,
Like the young hours that lead the tender year
Enchantress come! and charm my cares to rest:
Alas! the flatterer flies, and will not hear!
A prey to fear, anxiety, and pain,
Must I a sad existence still deplore?
Lo! the flowers fade, but all the thorns remain,
‘For me the vernal garland blooms no more.’
Come then, ‘pale Misery’s love!’ be thou my cure,
And I will bless thee, who though slow art sure.
Charlotte Turner Smith
We’re growing all the time at The Reader Organisation, with more people connecting with the Reading Revolution – including new members of staff who are helping us to deliver it. Josephine Corcoran has recently joined us as our Wiltshire Project Worker, and she will be working in partnership with Wiltshire Council to promote reading, wellbeing and improved mental health in the area by setting up and facilitating shared reading groups.
Here, she shares her experience of her first days working for TRO (originally posted on her blog):
It’s been ten days of highs and lows since I took a new, part-time job with The Reader Organisation. Probably the lowest hours were the five and a half spent travelling up to Liverpool on three, packed, over-heated trains, last Sunday afternoon and early evening. The purpose of the journey was so I could spend time at TRO’s Head Office, meet key personnel, observe some shared reading groups in action and pick up a new laptop and phone that I’ll need for my new role.
I’d forgotten how miserable public transport can be when you can’t find an empty seat, can’t keep hold of all your luggage, don’t have a friendly shoulder to lean your head against and don’t have enough space to simply fall asleep until the tannoy announces you’ve arrived at your destination. All the clichés of homesickness came at once when I lay awake in my rigidly ironed Travelodge sheets, yearning to be ensconced in the sleepy, small, Wiltshire town of Trowbridge where I live with my husband and our two children. I promise not to take anyone, or any place, for granted, ever again.
But, of course, all bad times must come to an end and blue skies shone out once I arrived in Bute Street, Liverpool, L5, not the prettiest of locations but the current Head Office of my new employer. Who cares about pretty when every face is a friendly face and an abundance of offers to make – strong, decent, proper – cups of tea are readily forthcoming?
Inevitably, as with any new job, there’s a lot to learn. For me, the most challenging aspect, so far, is getting to grips with a new laptop and new telephone. Technology seems to come naturally to some people but, for me, it’s a case of pressing every button until one miraculously works – rather time-consuming and I often sense the cringing taking place around me by those who are more techno-gifted!
It’s what many of you probably do already, but this is the first time that I’ve ever needed to carry two phones and work from two laptops so that I can more easily differentiate between Reader Org work and reader/writer/Mum/wife/tweeter/blogger/ ”work”. (I guess it is all “work”, isn’t it? it certainly isn’t all “play”; then again, it is all “life” but I think that’s for another blogpost).
So far, I seem to be coping although there was a point, near the end of what felt like a 48 hour Monday, after the dreadful train journey (sorry to go on, but it was abysmal!) and meeting so many truly lovely but totally new people – plus the battle with two new pieces of kit – when I suddenly thought, in terrible panic, how am I ever going to write anything every again? There seemed to be no space whatsoever left in my head for even the tiniest flicker of creative thought. However, one solid night’s sleep later (Travelodges are always more homely on the second night; besides, I was worn out and slept as deeply as the proverbial log) I was amazed to wake up to a glimmer of a new poem.
And I can only say that I experienced a feeling similar to the feeling I became aware of when my second child was born. Somehow, mysteriously and gloriously, I discovered that it is possible to love two children equally and it is possible to give care and attention to different areas of your life without one of them suffering. Of course, it’s still early days and I don’t want to jinx myself by spouting on about how straightforwardly marvellous this new life of mine is going to be. But I feel thoroughly optimistic.
And talking of optimism, I’d like to end by sharing what has been the absolute highlight of my new job, so far.
In fact, it was one of the highlights of my entire year. I was privileged enough to be allowed to join a regular, weekly, shared reading group, ‘Book at Breakfast’, at Toxteth Library, run by Bev Laroc, an experienced Project Worker for The Reader Organisation and a warm, intelligent and inspiring person, to boot. The ‘Book at Breakfast’ group meets weekly in a comfortable private room upstairs in the library. Bev ensures everyone has a seat and a cup of tea, coffee or squash and provides toast or crumpets as well. (My crumpet and cup of coffee were delicious and just what I needed to make me feel completely at home in this cosy setting). Once everyone is settled with refreshments, the reading starts. The ‘Book at Breakfast’ group had recently begun A Kestrel for A Knave by Barry Hines. Bev begins by reading aloud to the group and everyone is provided with their own copy of the book.
The book choice is decided by group discussion and I thought this one was brilliant. I’ve never read the book but I’m familiar with Kes, the Ken Loach film it inspired. After Bev has read for a while, and at a suitable point in the story, there’s a pause so that what’s been read can be discussed. Then the reading is taken up by someone else from the group, although nobody is forced to read if they don’t want to, and so the two-hour session progresses.
Barriers are quickly broken down when a book is at the centre of a conversation. I’d never met any of the eight members of the group but within minutes we were chatting about what had happened in the book, what we thought of the characters, why Billy (the main character) acted the way he did, how and if his behaviour was influenced by his background.Throughout all of this we were guided, gently, unobtrusively, encouragingly by Bev. Sometimes a group member shared a personal anecdote relating to subject matter from the reading, sometimes it was a recollection of another book or poem or other art form. But after each anecdote, the focus returned to the book, to what had happened and what would happen, to how characters were developing and to what route the action would take.
I loved being part of the ‘Book at Breakfast’ group. If I could, I’d gladly take part every day until we’d finished reading ‘Kes’ and sign up again for the next book on the list. I haven’t yet written to Bev Laroc – and I must – to thank her for inspiring me to aim to follow her example and facilitate my groups of shared reading as expertly and as compassionately as she does. If I come anywhere close to following her approach, I will be on the right tracks. And I want to pass on my very best regards to the members of the group. I feel that I made new friends in such a short space of time, over crumpets and a paperback book in an upstairs room in Toxteth Library.
I’ve ordered ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’ so I can finish reading the rest of the book and I’m tempted to share it with the rest of my family. All in all, it’s been an extremely positive start to my “new life” and long may this continue!