It is New Year’s Eve 2020 and a time to reflect on the last twelve months. Others have written about their favourite books and I have compared lists of top tens, top twenties and even mammoth collections of one hundred titles. Despite the number of books I have read this year I know there are many excellent ones on my shelves and lists that I have not yet got to. So I am not collating a ‘best of 2020’ list. Instead I prefer to reflect on the highs and lows of being part of the children’s book community. In 2020 I think it has been overwhelmingly the highs that have made the difference.
My reading year began really just before the end of 2019. My birthday is at Christmas so my poor family have a double problem of what to buy me as a present. Unsurprisingly this often means books. Somehow, without me saying anything at all, my sister knew that The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy was a book I would love. However neither of us knew then what a solace the book would be as the new year progressed. It sits on my bedside table and I dip into it as needed, always finding something wise or kind that helps me to get up and face the day.
My new year’s resolution was to attempt to try and keep up with all the latest children’s book news so I decided that a weekly newsletter would be the prompt I needed to ensure this happened. I wrote the first Reading Matters partly for myself but the comments I received made me realise that others found it helpful too. So it became a weekly fixture much to my family’s bewilderment. There are times when it has been difficult to keep up with the news but the support and feedback I receive make it worthwhile and I still find it helpful to know where all the links are to articles I want to keep ‘just in case’.
In March real life changed for us all and it is no surprise that my most viewed post of the year is Reading for Pleasure: resources to help children enjoy books at home as education increasingly went online and school librarians, teachers and parents needed access to as many resources as possible. Despite the difficulties people were still trying to make their school libraries work for their communities and Creating a Primary School Library which I wrote at the beginning of 2019 has been visited by many this year. During the first lockdown both adults and children in particular read to escape or to be comforted and the numbers reading Why Do Adults Enjoy Reading Children’s Books? suggest many were rereading old favourites or sharing new books with their children.
The online children’s book community formed a kind corner in an increasingly strange world and teachers like Ben Harris @one_to_read and Andrew Rough @teacher_mr_r started weekly book chats where we not only compared book tastes but made new friendships too. In the summer I attended the online Exploring Children’s Literature Summer School run by Nikki Gamble of Just Imagine with some excellent guest speakers. I learned so much from this and found it a valuable and rewarding experience. I can wholeheartedly recommend next year’s school if you are interested in children’s literature. I also discovered podcasts this year and have enjoyed listening to Deeper Reading with Jake Hayes and In the Reading Corner with Nikki Gamble (again!)
Having said that I was not going to create a Best of 2020 list there are one or two books I do want to mention. After the War by Tom Palmer had a profound impact on me and I think it is a shining example of why children’s books matter. It is also my most viewed review of the year so others are discovering this wonderful book too. There are some stories that need to be told and this is one of them. I also loved The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay which although published last year I only read this autumn. I think it is beautiful and magical in the most believable and affecting way. There were lots of gorgeous picture books published this year and I enjoyed far too many to list here. However two that mean a lot to me because of the kindness they contain are Perdu by Richard Jones and Bloom by Anne Booth and Robyn Wilson-Owen. The world would be a happier place if some politicians read picture books, well I think so anyway!
So as the year progressed I adapted to Zoom School Library Association committee meetings and branch quizzes and online literature festivals, even virtual book launches and seminars became the ‘new normal.’ Through it all I chatted online with book chums, fellow bloggers and tweeters, school librarians, teachers and lecturers, authors, illustrators and publishers. Always they have managed to make me smile no matter how bleak the news. I am grateful to them all and am daring to hope that we may be able to meet up in real life before the end of 2021.
So the year comes full circle and for Christmas this year my sister gave me The Book of Hopes curated by Katherine Rundell. A book that so perfectly fits this year and our wishes for the future. Wishing everyone a healthy and I hope easier year ahead.