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Recommended Reads: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

July 16, 2014

midnightschildren1As you can imagine, we’re a veritable bunch of bookworms here at The Reader Organisation and in any one week you’ll find that members of our staff are reading everything from Austen to Markus Zusak, Hardy to Kazuo Ishiguro. Here on The Reader Online we’re always keen to provide you with great reads that you might not thought to have picked up before, and who better to ask than our well-versed staff?

You can peruse our archive of Recommended Reads by clicking here, and our latest comes from Rebecca Pollard, our current Arts Administration Intern who has a passion for the modern classic Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie.

It’s hard to describe Midnight’s Children without gushing about the colours, the emotions, the puns, the twists, the religions, the chutneys, the nose and knees, the knees and nose, or the bizarre, enchanting characters – but I’m going to try.

Midnight’s Children was on the reading list for one of my university modules, and we were told to start reading it straight away (even though we were beginning seminars about the book two months later). A feeling of dread rose through my body: I’d heard of Salman Rushdie – he was an ‘important’ author, and this novel had won the Booker Prize, the Booker of Bookers, and the Best of the Booker. Reading this novel was going to be hell: it was going to be the most difficult novel in the history of fiction (especially as, at this point, I had never read anything that could be even be loosely described as ‘postcolonial’). It obviously wasn’t hell… it was brilliant.

The novel itself is split into three books which are all narrated by the protagonist Saleem Sinai, who was born at the stroke of midnight on August 15th, 1947 – the moment India and Pakistan became independent nations. The first book focuses on Saleem’s family, and how Saleem came into being (because, after all, he states that he is the ‘the sum total of everything that went before me’). The second book follows Saleem’s childhood and his family’s relocation to Pakistan, and the third follows Saleem after he loses his memory and becomes ‘the Buddha’.

As he gets older, Saleem discovers he has telepathic powers, which he associates with his large, constantly dripping nose. His telepathy allows him not only to hear the thoughts of people close to him, but to create a space for the 1,000 other children who were born between 12am and 1am on the same night, and who too have powers. His story becomes intertwined with India’s story – as India develops, Saleem develops, when India is in crisis, Saleem too is in crisis.

Saleem’s narration might at first seem arduous and unnecessary, but his digressions and faulty memory are what makes the story absorbing, funny, and most of all human. It is through this warm narration that Rushdie is able to write about the harsh reality of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh during the 20th Century – the Indo-Pakistani wars, the State of Emergency, the bulldozing of the Jama Masjid slums, forced sterilization, and Bangladesh’s messy birth.

Finishing the book was a difficult process, it was as though the 1,001 stories in my head had suddenly gone silent, but as Saleem writes, ‘…silence, too, has an echo, hollower and longer-lasting than the reverberations of any sound.’

What I mean to say is: read this book, and if you’ve read this book, read it again. Read it for the rich language and imagery, read it for the magic and excitement, read it for the political storylines. Just read it.

Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie, Vintage (25th anniversary edition; 2005)

Featured Poem: Tell all the truth but tell it slant— by Emily Dickinson

July 14, 2014

I hope you enjoy this week’s Featured Poem – ‘Tell all the truth but tell it slant’ by Emily Dickinson.

She argues that on certain occasions the truth may be too much and that people are too sensitive to the ‘dazzling’ and ‘bright’ ‘superb surprise’. I absolutely love the comparison of truth to a blinding light. She says the best way to tell the truth therefore is with a ‘slant’ – is this in order to let the listener down gently? To prevent a reaction with too much emotion – perhaps sadness or anger?


This poem is a taster of what you can expect to see at our shared reading groups running this weekend at Latitude Festival – see our bio on the Latitude website here. We look forward to seeing some of you there!



Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth’s superb surprise


As Lightening to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind-


Emily Dickinson

The Reader South West Update: More Library Memory Groups underway

July 11, 2014


Project Worker for Wiltshire Josephine in one of her groups (Credit: Wiltshire Times)

Project Worker for Wiltshire Josephine in one of her groups (Credit: Wiltshire Times)

The Reader Organisation’s work sharing reading across South West England is expanding – not only does our South West team have their very own Twitter page which has over 130 followers, but we’re delighted to announce that TRO now has its first Project Worker operating in Gloucestershire, new territory for shared reading in the South West. Claire Pickard joined us at the beginning of June and will be running Library Memory Groups across the area which start this month.

Our Library Memory Groups, especially for people with memory loss and their carers, have been running in Devon since 2012 and Wiltshire since the start of this year. The groups are designed to be relaxed and informal, sharing a wide range of poetry read aloud which allow memories to be stimulated. As well as generating reading experiences, we’ve also been involving volunteers with a view to continuing the groups in the future.

Josephine Corcoran, Project Worker for Wiltshire, shares her experiences of the first six months of the Library Memory Groups in Wiltshire:

Aside from recruiting to the groups, the shared reading sessions themselves are developing well and are often moving, joyful, interesting and enjoyable occasions for everyone involved.  I’ve shifted towards reading more poetry and less prose with most groups – although each setting is different and I try to choose literature which appeals to the interests and tastes of different people.  Poetry has the advantage of being short, so that reading it aloud, several times and by different groups members, is more manageable.

Recently popular with all of my groups were the eight sonnets which make up ‘Clearances’ by Seamus Heaney, written in memory of his mother.  The poems recall stories and anecdotes from the poet’s life, detailing family histories passed down from his mother and his memories of being with her as a boy and young adult and later as a grown man as she lay on her death bed and in the moments after her death.

Reading these poems provoked much discussion.  Although Heaney was writing about Ireland, many group members, ranging in age from in their sixties to in their early ninties, recalled their own feelings about Catholicism and Protestantism in England when they were growing up.  One man remembered walking past a Catholic Church every day as a child and “knowing that there was something strange there.”  Other members recalled rifts in families when people from different religions married.

There was a lot of discussion about the way that acquired knowledge can provoke division in a family and that although parents might aspire for their children to be more educated than they were, the ensuing differences don’t always make family matters straight forward: “With more challenge than pride, she’d tell me, ‘You / Know all them things.’.

I suppose this sequence of poems was universally popular with my groups because the sonnets deal with subject matter familiar to many people.  We spent one whole session discussing Sonnet 3 which relates the moments when the poet’s mother dies.  Not every person responds verbally as we’re reading and discussing the poems.  Everyone has varying degrees of dementia and some people are not able, or choose not to, speak.  There is no pressure or expectation of anyone to do so.  I try to keep good eye contact while I’m reading aloud so that I can gauge people’s engagement and interest.  Sometimes smiles, nods, sighs (of pleasure or of irritation!) help me understand if people are connecting to the text.

To read the original post in full, visit Josephine’s blog:

Library Memory Groups will be starting this month in Gloucestershire, in Tewkesbury Library on Wednesdays from 11am-12pm and Newent Library on Wednesdays from 3-4pm. For further information, please follow The Reader South West on Twitter @TheReaderSW and visit our website where you will find new pages for Gloucestershire and all the other areas of the South West we are currently working in:


Book It! Summer School Volunteers and Summer School Assistants

July 9, 2014

city of readersThis summer, City of Readers is holding Book It!, an exciting summer school encouraging primary school leavers to read for pleasure in the holidays and are looking for four Assistants and various volunteers to help deliver the two-week literary holiday camp.

This is an opportunity to further develop your experience and practice in working with other young people in a safe, friendly and exciting environment at Calderstones Mansion House. Centred on our shared reading model, you will be supporting delivery each day, spending face to face contact time with the children from 10am-4pm and supporting a wide range of events. Your role and actions will be integral in making the summer break truly memorable and cherished for children who might otherwise have few positive experiences to take with them into secondary school.

Key responsibilities will include:

  • Attending two days of preparation, at Calderstones, the week prior to delivery.
  • Running and, in the case of volunteers supporting daily shared reading groups of stories, poems and plays helping to engender a love of reading amongst the children.
  • Organising, supervising, leading and in the case of volunteers taking part in drama games, outdoor summer games and all other non-reading events throughout the fortnight.
  • Looking after the wellbeing and welfare of all the children present.
  • Being friendly, kind and cheerful with everybody involved in the project.

These roles are perfect for you if you have a passion for reading with and encouraging young people, have excellent patience and understanding of others, are motivated by the desire to promote reading as a way of having fun and can be flexible, creative and energetic.

Summer School Assistants

  • When: Delivery: Monday to Friday,July 28th to August 8th, with two days training w/b 21st July.
  • Based at: Calderstones Mansion House, Calderstones Park, Liverpool
  • Reporting to: ‘’Book It!’’ Co-ordinator
  • Salary: £100 per day

A full current DBS form must be produced at interview.

How to apply:

Visit and click to Job Opportunities under the ‘Working With Us’ tab where you will be able to download a full job description.

Please apply in writing by email to Emma Melling, City of Readers Project Manager:

Please explain your reasons for wanting the role, your relevant experience and why you would be good at it. (Please limit this to no more than 2 sides of A4.)

Break down how you would structure a typical day of the summer school, listing the most serious risks. (Please also limit this exercise to more than 2 sides of A4.)

Please also include at least one reference. (No more than 1 side of A4.)

Deadline for applications: 10.00am Friday 11 July. No applications will be accepted after 10.00am.

Interviews:  TBA week beginning Monday 14 July.

Role begins: Week beginning 21st July

Summer School Volunteers

  • When: Delivery: Monday to Friday,July 28th to August 8th, with two days training w/b 21st July.
  • Based at: Calderstones Mansion House, Calderstones Park, Liverpool
  • Reporting to: ‘’Book It!’’ Co-ordinator, The Reader Organisation
  • Expenses: A fixed out of pocket expenses payment of £15 per day will be made towards travel and subsistence costs.
  • When: Delivery: Monday to Friday,July 28th to August 8th, with two days training w/b 21st July.
  • Based at: Calderstones Mansion House, Calderstones Park, Liverpool
  • Reporting to: ‘’Book It!’’ Co-ordinator, The Reader Organisation. (Please note this a partnership project funded by Liverpool Learning Partnership and the mayoral fund at Liverpool City Council, managed by City of Readers and delivered by The Reader Organisation.)
  • Expenses: A fixed out of pocket expenses payment of £15 per day will be made towards travel and subsistence costs.

- See more at:!-summer-school-volunteers.aspx#sthash.Hw6cyzW0.dpuf

How to apply:

Visit and click to Volunteering under the ‘Working With Us’ tab where you will be able to download a full role description.

If this opportunity is of interest please contact Emma Melling, City of Readers Project Manager by 10am, Friday 11th July:

To find out more about the City of Readers project, visit the website and follow on Twitter: @LivCityReaders

If this is of interest please contact Emma Melling, City of Readers Project Manager by 10am, Friday 11th July:

Featured Poem: Idyll by Siegfried Sassoon

July 7, 2014

The start of July means that the summer months are officially here, and as we sit in the Mansion House office surrounded by gorgeous greenery in Calderstones Park, the first line of this poem by Siegfried Sassoon seems incredibly appropriate at the moment we type as the gardens are indeed currently grey and teeming with rain. Well, it wouldn’t be an authentic British summer without it, and at least it should keep the grass green in the long run…

We usually associate Siegfried Sassoon with less serene verse as he was of course one of the leading poets – and participants – in the First World War. Hundred years on from the start of the time that history will never forget, we still remember the tragedies that were faced through the poetry of Sassoon and others, and though we couldn’t possibly conceive the unimaginable horrors that were faced, the verse that is left behind helps us to connect and ensure that the efforts of the brave men are forever remembered.

You can explore the poetry and some of the prose that emerged from the terrible conflict of World War One in its centenary year at our special Short Course for Serious Readers: The Bitter Truth on Saturday 19th July at Calderstones Mansion House. Join Angela Macmillan, editor of The Reader magazine and A Little, Aloud anthologies for a morning discovering more about the momentous and memorable poetry that came from this time – bound to be fascinating and moving in equal measure. Places cost £15 (£10 concessions) and more information can be found on our website:


In the grey summer garden I shall find you
With day-break and the morning hills behind you.
There will be rain-wet roses; stir of wings;
And down the wood a thrush that wakes and sings.
Not from the past you’ll come, but from that deep
Where beauty murmurs to the soul asleep:
And I shall know the sense of life re-born
From dreams into the mystery of morn
Where gloom and brightness meet. And standing there
Till that calm song is done, at last we’ll share
The league-spread, quiring symphonies that are
Joy in the world, and peace, and dawn’s one star.

Siegfried Sassoon

Whizz through the Wonderful World of Children’s Literature

July 4, 2014

IMAG1102Children’s Book Week may be coming to a close but there’s always time to dive into the world of children’s literature. Here at The Reader Organisation, we think that you’re never too old to enjoy a classic piece of children’s literature, and with titles including The Hunger Games trilogy and The Fault in our Stars breaking out of the young adult section into the bestsellers charts overall, age really is no barrier to finding a good book to get stuck into.

The world of literature aimed at children is an ever burgeoning one, with e-readers and the ability to download reading apps onto mobile phones and tablets meaning that young people have more opportunity to read however and wherever they want. However the latest figures from Publisher’s Weekly (February 2014) show that the majority of teenagers generally prefer to read in the classic print format, which is great news for book sales and libraries. In the US, young adult and picture books make up the two bestselling categories for 2013 – demonstrating the wide appeal and range of books coming under the category of children’s literature – and in fact the group that bought the most young adult titles were 18-29 year olds, with data showing that even as book buyers get older they still buy young adult titles for themselves to read as opposed to giving them as gifts for children or grandchildren.

Did you know…that a fifth of the £2.2billion spent on books each year in the UK is spent on children’s books, and around 10,000 new titles aimed at children are published in the UK every year?

Though unsurprisingly the Harry Potter series are thought to be the biggest selling children’s books of all time, the figures are hard to pin down – by 2011, 450 million copies had been sold worldwide but hundreds of other copies sell by the second – the official numbers put The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien at the top of the pile, with 100 million copies sold. The classic tale of Bilbo Baggins’ quest for a share of treasure guarded by a dragon has enchanted kids and adults alike, and was awarded the prize of ‘Best Juvenile Fiction’ by the New York Herald Tribune. The next two most popular on the list are The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis and Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, which shows the enduring power of classic books.

Some more fascinating facts about children’s literature…

  • The Mr Men books – a staple of childhood reading for many people – came to life when the son of author Roger Hargreaves asked him what a tickle looked like. Mr Tickle was the first book to be written, with another 48 titles following. The series has been translated into Mandarin, French, Spanish and Dutch amongst other languages.

  • Dr Seuss originally planned to spend a week or so writing The Cat in the Hat - it actually took a year and a half to complete.

  • Amongst the titles that have been banned in parts of America are Winnie the Pooh, Where The Wild Things Are and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the latter of which was said to portray a ‘poor philosophy of life’ to young people.

Michael_and_Lewis_reading_onlineIf you’d like to discover more about the world of children’s literature with expert knowledge from TRO, why not come along to our latest Short Course for Serious Readers which will take you on a Whizz-tour on the wonders that are to be found. Join us on Saturday 12th July at Calderstones Mansion House where we can point you in the direction of some of the best books to read with children just for the fun of it, ranging from brand new treasures to old favourites to rediscover.

Places on the course cost £30/£15 concessions, and we can offer a special 10% discount if you bring a friend who is new to our Short Courses. It’s the perfect way to get ready for The Secret Garden of Stories, our first Children’s Literature Festival this coming August.

To book your place, contact Literary Learning Coordinator Jenny Kelly on or call 0151 207 7207, or see our website for more information:

Children’s Book Week: The Reader Organisation recommends

July 2, 2014

We’re in the middle of Children’s Book Week 2014, an annual celebration of reading for pleasure that has been running for over 80 years. Children’s Book Week is all about encouraging children to find the fun in reading, stimulating them to discover new books and extend their reading choices, share and discuss books with their friends and find new, exciting ways to enjoy literature.

All of the groups we run throughout the UK for children and young people are focused entirely upon reading for pleasure, and our Project Workers read a wide variety of books and stories with our young readers of all ages with a list that is growing by the week. For more information about our work with young people and in education settings, see our website:

To celebrate Children’s Book Week this week, we’ve asked some of our Project Workers who work with children and young people to recommend some of their favourite reads. For a bunch that read so much, it was a tough choice but we managed to narrow it down…

For younger children:

The-Dinosaur-That-Pooped-a-Planet-844x1024The Dinosaur That Pooped a Planet - Tom Fletcher, Dougie Poynter and Garry Parsons
A younger kids read but one that everybody can enjoy. It’s especially great for reading with boys, as Danny and Dino’s tale of space, poop and planets is laugh-out-loud ridiculous, with great rhymes and alliteration, and who doesn’t like a bit of space-themed silliness?

What The Ladybird Heard – Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
A perfect choice to read aloud with all of its various animal sounds, with a good dose of silly slapstick that is sure to amuse adults reading along with little ones. Especially popular at one of our recent Half Term Hijinks sessions.

Green Eggs and HamDr.Seuss
A great story to read aloud with little ones and adults able to enjoy the humour within. A brilliant choice to open up the door to other read aloud stories – and Dr. Seuss books – and delve into more!

The Meg & Mog series of books – Helen Nichol and Jan Pienkowski
Timeless classics guaranteed to raise a smile, as well as including some lessons always worth learning.

Two classics that can be enjoyed by a wide age range are The Witches by Roald Dahl and The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman, which have been read in our bilingual children’s groups in North Wales. In particular, our young readers loved the suggestion that their teachers might be witches, and could relate to the language barriers between Mary and the Mufela. Pullman is a master of description and his creatures can be imagined perfectly.

Enid Blyton is another classic author that is always worth revisiting or exploring for the first time, particularly The Magic Faraway Tree and The Famous Five series.

Short story collections are always good options to engage children who don’t read regularly, and along with our very own read-aloud anthology A Little, Aloud for Children which is chock full of extracts to inspire and fuel the imagination, another option that has gone down well in our groups is Unbelievable by Australian author Paul Jennings. A story that is especially popular is one called ‘One Shot Toothpaste’.

For older children and young people:

tumblr_ldujw4BkYh1qe9etiSkellig – David Almond
A beautiful story dealing with sensitive issues but told with humour and warmth.

Wonder – RJ Palacio
The story of August Pullman, a 12-year old boy with facial deformities, but one that deals with the universal themes of growing up and finding your place in the world.

Horowitz Horror – Anthony Horowitz
Brilliantly gruesome short stories which are great for bookworms and book haters alike. Suitable for teenagers due to some of the more stomach-lurching content, these stories always leave you wanting more.

Don’t forget that you can also find lots more great recommendations to keep kids reading in our Recommended Reads for Children feature right here on The Reader Online.

There’s also many more titles and lists on the City of Readers blog, inspiring children and young people across Liverpool to become readers. Looking for books to read with babies, for boys or even ones to read before a certain age? Then there’s no other place to be:


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