The Teaching Realm: An interview with Anna Davies #13

The Reading Realm Blog Series: Educators doing extraordinary things

“Reading for Pleasure means the enjoyment of being involved in another story, that takes you on an adventure you wouldn’t normally get to go on, from the comfort of your own home….magic!”

anna d 1Name: Anna Davies

Twitter handle: @thebloomprojec3

Link to blog/website: https://bloomproject.co.uk/

What is your current position?

Wellbeing, Counsellor and Training Lead for The Bloom Project.

When, how and why did you get into education? What did/do you want to achieve?

I’ve been working in and around the education system for 17 years. I started off as a youth worker and was consistently drawn to disaffected or hard to reach young people. I started training as a counsellor and was led to work in education, as I believe it’s the frontline service for young people. So much learning happens in school, not just in the classroom but through peers, positive relationships with adults, reading, experiencing…..I wanted to be front and centre for that in  any way I could

How do you feel the education landscape has changed since you started in your role?

The demands on schools and teachers to be a multi-faceted support system has grown. Lack of funding for external agencies and mental health means teachers are being leaders, mental health workers, educators, mentors and much more. Schools are like the fourth emergency service nowadays! Increasingly, my work has meant offering training and CPD to teachers to help them manage the additional hats they have to wear!

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“Willy The Wimp was a stand out favourite; so much so that I gifted it to a friend recently for their ‘Baby Book Library’…”

What are your earliest memories of reading and writing?

I have always loved reading and writing. As an only child I found lots of time to build my imagination through storytelling and delving into different worlds to feed my natural creativity. I remember writing poems and short stories at a very young age…my spelling was atrocious, but no one needed to understand it but me and I loved that. My parents encouraged me to read all the time at home and I spent lots of my time tucked up in my bedroom reading about magical places

How do you try and foster a love of reading in children?

I don’t necessarily work the way a teacher does with young people, but when I’m doing face to face supportive work with young people, or therapeutic work, there are always books of poetry available in my working space. Children can’t always find the words to express themselves, but sometimes they cant find something similar in a picture or story or poem, that they can relate to and it helps them to explain their emotions to me. Teenagers, who have often forgotten the love of reading for pleasure, seem always quite drawn to poetry books and I’ve had lots of children find sanctuary in the safe space of a counselling room to explore these alongside me.

What has been your most successful reading or writing lesson or activity with children?

I often run support groups for young people. I always encourage creative writing in these groups. Writing for the fun of it, to feed their souls, to paint a picture, to explain a situation. During a recent body image workshop, we asked six 13 year old girls to just summarise using images and writing how they felt about the session they had encountered. Nothing was off limits; no words they couldn’t use and no need to worry about causing offence or being restricted by ‘correct’ language. We gave them ten minutes and asked them to work silently whilst we played some music in the background to keep them company. The girls produced some incredibly moving and intimate pieces of work. They used descriptive and emotional language to discuss how they felt about themselves. We didn’t ask them to share it with the group and we gave them the option as to whether or not they left it as part of their work book for the course, or ripped it up or took it home. In a discussion afterwards, they said they enjoyed knowing they had the choice of who, if anyone, saw what they had created after, and that gave them freedom to be honest in their work. It reminded me of the sense you get when writing a diary: it’s just for you, and you have liberty in those pages to be authentic.

What advice would you give to parents whose children say they don’t like reading?

I’m not an expert, and I’m not a teacher! But, my first thought would be to suggest that they haven’t enjoyed reading the things they’ve read yet, and that’s part of the adventure: to find the book, the magazine or the article that you do enjoy reading. They’ll really know it when they find the book that gets them going!

What books do you remember from your childhood? Do you have a favourite?

So many! The Magic Faraway Tree, anything by Roald Dahl (especially The Twits). I had  a penchant for the magical based books or stories where people were heroic. Willy The Wimp was a stand out favourite; so much so that I gifted it to a friend recently for their ‘Baby Book Library’ when they were expecting their first child. As I got older I fell in love with The Famous Five. As an only child, the excitement of reading about camaraderie and adventures with more than just one person was exciting and different. Terry Pratchett broke open my world of reading when his earlier books led me to read Good Omens, which he co-authored with Neil Gaiman. It was the first time I really had to concentrate on a book. I could devour books in a day, front to back. But with Good Omens, you couldn’t put it down for more than a few hours before you’d lost the thread of the storyline, due to its complicated nature. You had to dedicate time to it, this wasn’t a book to be rushed through in a day. I loved that. It was more than a book, it was an epic reading adventure.

What was the first book that made you cry?

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“I knew I wanted to do this for a living.”

Dibs, In Search of Self. It’s one of the first books you get handed when you’re training to be a children’s therapist. It’s a beautifully written book and not just for the therapist reader. It’s an intellectually well-woven tale of one therapist’s experience working with a young boy, called Dibs. It’s based on her real experience and it’s a transformative piece. Its not written like a therapy text book; its just a lovely story. There is a part in the book where a very young Dibs, who is clearly an isolated, frightened and ignored child, does something that seems out of the ordinary during a session with his counsellor. But you, the reader, know that this is actually extraordinary, and you’ve just been privy to the most warm and loving moment that you’ve been wishing for this child since the first page. It made me openly sob, and I knew I wanted to do this for a living.

What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?

That’s hard to answer! I think if its under appreciated by others, but loved by you, then it doesn’t matter! I did fall in love with a book that I recommended to other people and they didn’t like it. It made me question if I had the skill to appreciate a good read. But then I realised that it had filled my imagination for a good few days, and that was all that mattered! The book in question was The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan.

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The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan.

Have you ever experienced reader’s block? 

Absolutely. For me, its part of knowing yourself as a reader. If I’ve put a book down before the end of Chapter One and I cant find a way to push through it, then it’s not for me. Rather arrogantly, I blame the book, not me!

Are you drawn to a particular genre or type of book or do you read a variety of genres?

Not at all. It’s actually quite frustrating because if someone wants to recommend you a book and asks you what you’re into, the most frustrating reply has to be: “I don’t know, anything that’s good?!”But I give this answer frequently! I know that I don’t like fluffy romance and books that are written for twenty-something girls. It’s not my genre, it never has been. I like to try and have a go at things that I’m not automatically drawn to, because often trying something new leads you down a different reading path. Adventure, historical references, crime novels, children’s books, therapy reference book: I’m happy to read them all!

What book are you currently reading?

I’ve just started reading Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey. It’s hard to get through. She wasn’t necessarily an author, so whilst I really want to read the full story of her experiences, it’s difficult to wade through, due to the nature of the writing.

anna d 6
The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas.

Where’s your favourite place to read?

On the sofa, preferably with a snuggled cat, Radio 6 on, and a hot cup of tea……and some chocolate wouldn’t go amiss….or a glass of wine….

Which books do you think have tackled the issues of diversity and difference particularly well?

  • The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
  • You’re Welcome Universe by Whitney Gardner
  • That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim

All books targeted at young adults and all making a marked attempt to explore diversity and question cultural beliefs and approaches in a modern world.

Which three books would you recommend to primary/ secondary school aged children and why?

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Noah Cant Even by Simon James Green.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. It’s such a beautifully written book that deals with the issue or grief and loss with such a profound and honest thread woven through the story. My belief with grief and young people is that honesty is key. This book does that perfectly.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, because it’s just a fantastic story that smacks of early Feminism and I love it!

Noah Cant Even by Simon James Green because it has a great approach to discussing LGBT+ issues and its very funny.

Finally: in one sentence, what does reading for pleasure mean to you?

It means the enjoyment of being involved in another story, either fictional or true, that takes you on an adventure you wouldn’t normally get to go on, from the comfort of your own home….magic!

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