The Books on my Desk / Floor / in my Bag #1

Ok, another foolhardy attempt to start a series I may not be completely consistent in pursuing. It is great, I think, for you to see that I and your teachers are reading and using books in a variety of ways. I am here to inspire you to read, and this is one of the most direct ways of doing so.

Today I will start with a book that might not have occurred to you as being of interest to me, although it is true that some of those students who spoke to yesterday while I was simultaneously customising two new iMacs might not be entirely surprised.

lrg

As a kid, I did quite a lot of programming (sometimes we say coding) on a computer that will look almost as ancient to many of you as the typewriter I have in the school library.

BBC_master

I grew out of this, as they say, and, though I would later play around with HTML and remained computer-literate, I did not, for years, get much more technical than using word processors, web browsers, and, occasionally, image manipulation programs. I was competent, and people would often ask for my help with computers, but I did not get involved with what goes on underneath the level of the windows, icons and menu systems of the operating system.

Sometime last summer, this changed, and I became once again borderline obsessed with fiddling with a programming language called Python. This book, above, is a great textbook for using with the language, and I have been dipping in and out of now since Christmas, when my brother ordered it for me.

That is one of the many books I am using, as opposed to simply reading, at the moment.

 

Crowd-funding Czech comics

I have written about both crowd-funding and Czech comics before, so I will keep this one relatively brief. When I first came back to Prague around 18 months ago, I took to reading every Czech comic I could get my hands on. I have since donated a few to the library. This habit of mine turned into something of an obsession following a visit to an exhibition on Czech comics at Dox in the summer of 2013. How this came about is perhaps interesting, and explains some of the reasons I have been keen to use Twitter at school.

One of my friends, somebody I know through Twitter and Flickr, tweeted me (ie. wrote a post on Twitter) to say that a comic artist she follows would be visiting Prague and hoped to meet some comic artists while she was here. She asked if I could recommend anywhere. A quick internet search threw up a handful of decent shops that stock comics, and the exhibition at Dox. We met up and went. The artist, Lizz Lunney, lives in Birmingham near where I am from, and some of the work she gave me is now hanging in the library (the long laminated strips were originally small booklets she uses to publicise her work).

Anyway, while I was looking into the various possibilities of meeting up with comics artists, I wrote to a few – again, through Twitter – and got into a Twitter, and then an e-mail exchange with a Czech comics artist called @Vhrsti (I am giving his name here as a Twitter handle ie. nickname, the convention for which is to write a “@” before the handle). Vhrsti was very helpful in writing to other artists and offering to meet up, and indeed, when it turned out few could make it in such short notice, went as far as to invite Lizz and myself to his house outside of Prague to look at his work.

Understandably, Lizz was a little wary of an invitation to meet two strange men in a small village outside of a city she didn’t know in a country whose language she didn’t speak (I am using ‘strange’ here in the sense of unknown, though I would be equally relaxed about self-applying the other sense of the word; far too few people are individual, let alone eccentric these days). We didn’t go, then, in the end, but I remembered how helpful Vhrsti had been and, when I saw his name come up on a crowd-funding site the other day, I had to click through and take a look.

Tak_uz_jsem_tady

A recap. Crowd-funding is a system of funding cultural projects and other things which might not otherwise get the financial backing they deserve. It is important, to my mind, to remember that just because something is worthwhile and would deserve our attention, doesn’t mean that it has a chance of first securing the attention of the people in the mainstream who are in a position to help it on its way to existence. Publishers, film studios, record companies, all have their own preferences, and often favour those artifacts which are likely to reach the widest possible audience. Too often, this means that books, films, records, and computer games or programs, to take the most obvious examples, are the cultural equivalents of a McDonalds Happy Meal – an easy fix for a given hunger or craving, but with little, even perhaps negative sustenance, that is, content that will benefit us in the long run.

Crowd-funding turns things around a little bit. It means, in essence, that we pre-order a given cultural item before it even exists; we pay for it to help it on its way to existence. Typically, we make a donation through a crowd-funding site, that will be refunded to us if the project does not reach the funding goal that will get it off the ground.

Too often, I am a rather passive supporter of crowd-funding projects. I tend to take a look, tweet about it, bookmark it, and wait until I have a little more money in the bank to support them. This time, I thought it would be nice to support the Czech publishing industry in whatever small way I could by making a donation. I clicked the button marked “Dvě knihy s obrázkem a věnováním” and gave some of my hard-earned.

I look forward to seeing the book I hope will reach its funding goal and make it into the shops, and I look forward to having played that small part. I hope some of you will consider doing the same in the future, taking a proactive role in shaping the culture around you rather than being what it is too easy to be, a passive consumer of cultural products other people have decided ought to be good enough for us.

A librarian reads the news: women in video games

There has been a real stink over the last few days over the subject of female characters in video games. How should this be of interest to us here on a library blog you may ask? Well, for more than one reason, as I hope to demonstrate. Firstly, I interpret the role of librarian quite broadly, and strongly believe that a library must work to improve its users’ critical skills. People who visit libraries regularly are, in my opinion, much better than those who do not, at understanding the different sides of a story (it is said there are two sides to a story, but in reality, there are usually many more). The news is, of course, nothing more or less than a collection of stories; stories which have been chosen in preference to others, and stories which have been told in one way rather than another, formed, as every story is, by a series of choices made by the author. Given this fact, I think that practically any big news story is fair game for being presented here so that you may practice upon it your skills of interpreting stories, asking how they are being told, why they are being told, and, in whose interest they are being told. Secondly, though, video games are very often now driven by narrative, that is, by stories plain and simple, and these stories shape people’s understanding of reality as powerfully as any other form of stories have throughout history.

So, why the stink? Well, it seems that though video games are as contemporary, as ‘now’, as twenty first century as anything you can probably think of, so too are they very last century in other ways. As science fiction writer William Gibson says, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” In this case, even within a single industry, two mind-states, one backwards-looking and the other forward-looking, can co-exist.

If you were to take an in-depth look at the books in the library, indeed, in any library, separating them into piles by publishing date, earlier at one side of the room, later at the other, you would find that women and girls feature less at the older end of the room. This would be clear from the titles, from the artwork, and certainly from inside the pages themselves. Not only this, but women’s roles in those older books would be smaller, less active, and girls and women would, increasingly as you go back in time, be there to support those more active boys and men, the heroes of the books. Often, in the older books, the women would be the ‘prize’ of the men fighting monsters real and metaphorical.

Now, to refer to Gibson’s words again, the future is not evenly distributed, and though you will find some great books with some great female heroes as you get to the most recent books in the library, so too would you find books with women given only supporting roles. This trend is still around. I am very much aware as a librarian that girls in my library read books about boys much more often than boys read books about girls (you really ought to try that sometimes by the way, boys, you might learn something).

Books do better than film, it has to be said. Women in film are too often still there to look pretty, and too often are there to be ‘won’ as the prize for the boys who literally fight for them.

This problem in film is so bad that author and cartoonist Alison Bechdel wrote a scene in a graphic novel that outlines what has come to be called the Bechdel test. A film passes the test if it has a scene where two named female characters have a conversation about something other than a man. A pretty simple test, you might think. But it is incredible how few successful films pass it.

But if films are bad, video games are much worse, and this is where it has turned ugly over the last few days.

You’ll hear the word feminist sometimes. Words, like stories, can be used, and they can be abused, and this is one that has sometimes be abused. A feminist is somebody (male or female), who believes that women are not shown the same respect, and do not have the same rights and freedoms as do men, and who believes that this is wrong and should be changed. One such feminist recently produced a series of videos about video games and demonstrated, using tens if not hundreds of examples, that video games barely ever have powerful female characters. Instead, women in video games are shown to be passive. They are fought over. Usually, they are shown to be in need of the help of powerful men. Very often, they are kidnapped.

The videos make for worrying viewing, but are entertaining and informative. The feminist in question is not ‘bashing’ (criticising) men. Neither is she ‘bashing’ video games. She loves video games and has played them since she was a kid. But she thinks it is very sad that she usually cannot play these games as a strong female character, and she thinks it is sad that computer games can be, at one and the same time, so cutting edge, and so backward.

Sadly, the reaction to her videos has been rude at best, threatening at worst. She has been forced to leave her home to stay safe. All for expressing her opinion in an intelligent and entertaining way.

Here, as I hope to do with any later pieces I may write about current affairs, I would like to ask what you think about some of this. Why are female characters so often forgotten, added in almost as a second thought, or given such rubbishy parts to play? Why should films be worse than books (if indeed you agree that they are)? Why should video games come in last place? Why should there be such a nasty reaction to this being pointed out? Finally, what are your own experiences?

Bookmooch

I started reading one of the books in the new order the other day. Called Johnny and the Bomb it is written by Terry Pratchett, best known for the Discworld fantasy novels, and involves time travel, though I haven’t got far enough into it to see much of that and I am doing my usual trick of reading several books at once so may not get much further.

The book is pretty funny, but will be pretty difficult for most of my students to read. It is not so much that it involves difficult grammar or difficult words in and of themselves. Most of the time it doesn’t. It is more that every now and again it contain a lot of British spoken language, and also a lot of British cultural references – things that we Brits will know and may find funny but which nobody else will understand quite so well. For these reasons it was one of those books that is hard to categorise using the system I have designed for the school to rate reading difficulty and target age. I started out with something like a ‘4e’, the ‘4’ being the youngest class I thought could understand the contents of the story, the motivations of the characters and the like, and the ‘e’ representing a level of difficulty rated, for the most part, from ‘a’ to ‘j’ (essentially 1 to 10, with letters used instead of numbers to keep the two levels clearly separate). After reading on, and finding one or two more of these difficult passages, I moved this up to a ‘5g’. I know from my own experience that a funny book is rarely funny if you have to look up a dictionary all the time and you are still sure you are missing half of it.

Screen Shot 2014-07-27 at 20.37.53At the same kind of time I was reading this book on and off, I happened to log in to Bookmooch, a book swapping service I use from time to time. Now, I have talked about swapping books before, and I have done that physically most recently, taking books from the community libraries that are dotted around Prague. I did it again yesterday, taking a few books including some travel writing by Eda Kriseová and the three volumes of Bratrstvo by Alois Jirásek, one of the Czech writers our lucky Czech students will certainly have to learn about for their Maturita exams. This time it was a different community library – I am currently at a colleague’s place looking after their cats – and it seems that this one attracts the attentions of lots of Antikvariát owners filling up large bags of all the decent books and leaving nothing in return, which reminds me, I must do another book deposit myself! Anyway, Bookmooch is the same kind of thing, but on-line. I first took a look to see if there were any Fighting Fantasy books. These are books I read as a kid, and in which, you can act out the role of your character making choices (and fighting monsters) as you go. These are great books in a lot of ways – good bad books at least – and I will try to track them down at some point. In fact, what I did find out, was that the books are making something of a comeback and that a second generation of these kind of books has been released which can be read, and played, on computer, something like the interactive fiction I have been writing about. Anyway, looking for these, I came across something else which was of interest. (It is funny how often you find that when you are making a little bit of effort looking into one thing, you find something else which is equally interesting, and equally useful.) Having found a couple of Fighting Fantasy Books, but none in countries close enough that people were willing to post them, I searched for books in the Czech Republic. What I found was Johnny a Bomba by Terry Pratchett, which even our non-Czech-speakers can probably work out is Johnny and the Bomb. And so it should be being posted to me sometime soon-ish, and Czech speakers who would be somewhat thrown by the English version will be able to read it in the library next year. I will try to take a look over it when I receive it and let you know how the translator tackled some of those tricky phrases etc.

A Wizard of Earthsea / Čaroděj Zeměmoří – Ursula K. Le Guin

The first book to be looked at by Park Lane Book Club. According to Wikipedia ‘In 1987, Locus ranked A Wizard of Earthsea number three among the 33 “All-Time Best Fantasy Novels”‘. The novel has won several awards including a Lewis Carrol Shelf Award.

I had heard a great deal about Ursula Le Guin both for her fiction, and the philosophy and political thought she expressed in it, but I had not read her work and I am not very familiar with either fantasy or science fiction, the two genres that best describe most of her writing.

I chose this novel, thinking it might be a good level for years five and six, and possibly even the better readers of year four. It was late in the term and setting up the library blog and the busy last few weeks of term meant that I was a little too late to get any of our students on board with the book club. This first will be a road test, then, with two passionate readers whose knowledge of fantasy will undoubtedly put mine to shame. Still, with Clara and Annegret both being German and reading the book in English, and with myself being English and reading it in Czech from the 3rd or 4th chapter when I got my hands on the Czech translation from the library, this remains an international book club in some ways at least.

I hope over the next couple of weeks that we might throw back and forth a few ideas about the book and work out a kind of shape for the book club that both those at Park Lane and outside of it can use and abuse in future virtual get-togethers.

I’ll be writing a few of my thoughts here, but this is not about me and what I think. I will not be coming here or suggesting books to be discussed to tell children or others how to read them or what meaning to take from them. Nor will I be leading the discussions. In fact, for that reason it is great that the first book we will be discussing is in a genre I am not familiar with and have tended to resist reading. I would like everybody to be able to throw around ideas, questions and interpretations, and I am looking forward to learning from Anne and Clara this time, and from, I hope, more people and some of Park Lane’s own children in future discussions.

But it’s time for me to go to work so I’ll leave it there for the moment and check back in later to see where the book, its hero Ged, and its author Le Guin, will take us.

* * *

I originally posted the above on LibraryThing.com hoping to have something called a forum, an on-line system for allowing people to have these kind of conversations, often sorted into different ‘threads’. For us these threads might be ‘plot’, ‘language’ and ‘characters’, for example. Unfortunately, LibraryThing only allows children over 13 to join. I should have thought of this, but I didn’t, so we are back here for now. Later (perhaps much later), I may be able to change this website, hosting it, meaning storing it, on the computers and the internet ‘server’ at work, instead of at the computers at WordPress. By doing this, I should be able to set up a Park Lane forum that is on the internet and visible to all, but safe.

Interactive Fiction – Escape from Byron Bay

Ok good people, this is going to be one of those short and excitable posts I write from time to time. It’s late on a Sunday night, I’ll be up early in the morning, and I’m still sweating from going out for a run in what remained the 30 degree heat of the late evening as I returned some time ago, but if I don’t tell you this who will?

When I was a kid many many many moons ago, as they say, computers were bigger and slower, and on the whole uglier than they are today. The was the internet. Kind of. But it was still new and it was clunky, and if it was excitingly unexplored it was slow and oddly noisy and, mainly, very very expensive. Computer games came on tapes which made funny noises for the ten minutes they took to load. Other programs you might write out into the computers copying line by line of code, indeed, letter by letter, number by number since it didn’t make as much sense as copying out words and sentences of written human language. If at the end of that it didn’t run, you would have to pick over it again line by line and letter by letter to find the single space you had added or missed out by mistake, or the name of the variable you had spelled with an initial capital letter by mistake.

Many of the games were, as you would expect, a little bit rubbish. Some of them, though, were utter genius, catchy, playable, full of wonderful puzzles and arcade action in a way that often has been forgotten in the multi-million dollar budget games of today.

Most of these games by the time I started using computers regularly, were based upon graphics, albeit not in the way we know today. Some though, were not. Some were text-based games, sometimes known as interactive fiction. These were usually written, like many of the other games of the day, not by big studios, but by normal people with normal day jobs who wrote them as a hobby. For this reason, their quality varied. Some were wonderful. Some were rubbish. But then too, as with many things made by non-professionals, some were weird and wonderful; not exactly perfect, but certainly creative and imaginative enough to be interesting.

These games were soon forgotten about as soon as computers got good enough, and the games industry professionalised enough, to create the games with the incredible graphics you all know today. But then, they never quite went away.

And indeed why would they? As I mention above (though I don’t expect many of you to believe me), the games made on relatively unsophisticated computers those years ago, computers that have barely a fraction of the computing power of that in your phones if you have them, were made interesting and playable despite those restrictions. That is, the designers had to think really hard to make them interesting, and to design clever puzzles, because they couldn’t make them look realistic. Now designers don’t have to think so hard, or rather, they put a lot of their thought into making the games look impressive and react quickly, and perhaps less into forcing the player to think and use their brain as well as their quick reactions. Interactive fiction takes the player a step back again.

Years ago one of my teachers quoted a child (who may or may not have existed, let’s be honest), who said that he preferred books to television, because “the pictures are better”. By that of course, he didn’t mean that he was reading picture books. No, we are meant to think of a child reading a book with no pictures, but making the pictures in his mind.

There is an essential truth here. However good the graphics in computer games get, they may never surpass, they may never get better than, the pictures you can make in your own head.

Now, let’s not get carried away. I am excited by the idea of interactive fiction. Very much so, and in more ways than I can get down here before the stroke of midnight turns my old and ailing Mac into a pumpkin. I do not, though, think that, because interaction fiction is fiction plus interactivity, it is better than a story written down and static, that is, staying still, always in the single form the author wrote it in. No. There will always be a call for fiction which more or less stays as it is (I phrase this cautiously, because the first forms of literature were not written but oral, spoken, and so changed a little every time they were told). The power of such fiction is in the choices the author makes, the way she guides you through the story, shows you one thing and not another, has you see things through one person’s viewpoint but not another. It is a powerful, and often a life-changing thing. But interactive fiction, in being different, has a different kind of power. You choose what happens, and by choosing, and by changing the story, you may feel that you are experiencing the action in a different manner. You may experience it differently than a friend who has played and recommended the same game/story/world. You may collaborate with a friend to try and make your way through the world, make choices together. If the game/story, whatever it is we may call it, is well designed, by playing, by making those choices, you might learn to see the world a little bit through somebody else’s eyes, by experiencing the world through their point of view, making their choices for them, seeing what happens to them.

Hm, well in the end that was more excitable than it was short. I do get carried away. And, I hope, so will you. I hope to set up some examples of interactive fiction on the computers I will be getting for the school library and set aside some times when you can play it, read it, experience it (I can see I am going to have to work on exactly what kind of words I should use with this stuff). I am very much looking forward to seeing what you will think of it.

In the meantime, and as a reward for getting through what turned out to be such a long and excitable post (or sensibly scrolling to the bottom of the same), here is an example of some interactive fiction that you can play on-line: Escape from Byron Bay.

Take a look and, as ever, let me know what you think.

Excitably yours,

Mr Rob

Levels & Categories – State of Play

Clara Roethe, who is will be helping with the design of some of the logos used in the library this year has asked for an overview of the categories I will be using to divide up the books. Currently, I have books piled up everywhere on all of the tables in the library itself, and also in those borrowed from other classrooms.

My experience of working in the library last year, and the conclusion I have come to from reading other library blogs and doing some research into the different ways schools divide up their books, is that it can often be very hard for children to find the books they want to read. In particular, I would say that many of the students in this school struggle to find books of fiction. This appears to be for the following reasons.

  1. They struggle to find books at the right level. Books which they know or have heard them draw them in, and this may be a Harry Potter book when they are still way too young, and their reading skills still way too low, for them to be able to read it. This is an international school and many students are not native speakers of English, so this issue with the levels of books is even more problematic than it might be at other schools.
  2. By and large, our children do not know authors’ names. Roald Dahl, yes. We do him to death (meaning that we go over and over every book he wrote as if there is no other writer in the world; and I say this as a great lover of Road Dahl): we start off at the very start of the school year with Roald Dahl Day, and then continuing to give him so much attention that one student last year would throw himself on the floor by the end of the year at the mere mention of his name. Some of the girls in year 5 were also very keen on Jacqueline Wilson last year*. Mostly, though, children seem to remember titles of series (Harry Potter, rather than J. K. Rowling, Diary of a Wimpy Kid rather than Jeff Kinney).
  3. Children would like to find books that are similar to other books they have enjoyed, but they don’t know how to go about doing this. A General Fiction section laid out from A – Z does not help them to do this.

Back in September or October I started looking into the different systems that were used to organise books in school libraries. A few stickers had been used by the people who had set up the library at my school here, but the school had now expanded into secondary, and the system had its problems even as far as primary was concerned. Adapting it would not be sufficient, it seemed to me. I would need to redesign it completely.

One of the first systems I came across was one designed by Tiffany Whitehead who maintains a blog of her experiences working in a school library in Louisiana at Mighty Little Librarian. Tiff wanted to replace, or “ditch” the Dewey system which is used in various forms in most libraries around the world. She felt strongly that changing the fiction shelves so they were divided up by genre would help children to find the kind of books they wanted to read. I suspected that she was right, but knew that it was a big job that could only be done while the school was closed for the holidays, and wanted to first see how children cope with the system we had so that I could tailor a system to best suit their needs. In this time, I looked over other systems such as Dewey itself, Junior Dewey, and Metis, which was designed by the Ethical Culture School in New York City.

What becomes obvious when you look at all of these alternatives is that, as with many things in life, there is no one choice that will please everybody and which would suit every single user in every single way. The best system would be one that was designed to fit the kind of books and the kind of users the library has now and would have in the future, meaning that the behaviours, interests and skills of these users are considered. Whatever weaknesses that remain after that should then be noted so that the librarian, me, can best fill them with advice and help and by being available for any kind of questions and requests.

So far, I have been mainly concerned with fiction. I have decided upon the following categories:

  • Fantasy and science fiction
  • Adventure
  • Realist fiction
  • Animal tales
  • Mystery and Suspense
  • Historical fiction
  • Humour
  • Poetry and Plays

Are there overlaps between some of these categories? Without a doubt. Could some books be categorised in more than one of these areas. Certainly. There are workarounds for this and I have considered the possibility of, for example, putting DVD cases with scans of book covers in the second of two categories a book could be placed in (rather like the “for Mahāyāna, see Buddhism” you might see in an encyclopedia), but even without this, I feel that this system will lead to a much greater proportion of the books being borrowed and read than was previously the case. I have put a book in one category rather than another because of my own feeling that the drive and the feeling of the book is more of one category than another. If you have rabbits that talk, but those animals are investigating the murder of a hedgehog, I’m probably going to put that book in Mystery and Suspense rather than Animal Tales. Humour was one category I thought I could not do without but which has proven to be one of the most problematic. Many books are fairly funny, but it is only those books I thought have been primarily written to be funny, that have ended up in the category.

Staff who disagree with me are probably going to be told they can come in and implement their preferred system in their own unpaid overtime or that it’s too late, they should have told me before I put the stickers on (which I haven’t yet, and I’m in something of a panic about that, but never mind). What I am hoping, though, is that students will disagree with me. As much as genres are a useful, even necessary idea, they are an approximation. If the students come to me with a book and tell me it should be in a different category, that’s wonderful. It means they have an idea about the book and a growing awareness of genre and the different styles of writing.

I might change the category of a book once in a while. I might even come to reshuffle a whole shelf or two. In the main, though, I think that the kids will have a better sense of what kind of books to find where.

The second major thing I am trying to do to address the problems outlined above is to develop a system for rating levels on the books. This is another BIG job.

I taught English for a few years, have been teaching a couple of my old business students over the summer, and doing this is very useful in terms of building up an awareness of the kind of difficulties a text can involve.

I started out with a design for labels that would involve a code giving the age by school year the book is aimed at, followed by a level in lower case Roman numerals. I wasn’t keen on using dashes, full stops, or other characters which might separate two numbers and cause confusion with the other use of these characters, such as for decimal points or subtraction, elsewhere. Of course, though we teach about the Romans from early on, Roman numerals might themselves be confusing, so I have changed this now to a number, for the class, followed by a letter expressing the level. The level is broadly designed to be one to ten for the range that might be experienced in books that may be encountered by the bulk of our students. Certain books stocked by the library such as Dickens’ Hard Times and Great Expectations, A Norton Critical Edition of Beowulf, and Chapman’s Homer** fall outside of this range, leaving, by my reckoning, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Complete Short Stories of Graham Greene, and Austen’s Sense and Sensibility at level 10, or j, and Richard Adams’ Watership Down, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and David McDuff’s translation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment at level 9, or i.

The level will represent all kinds of grammatical and lexical difficulty including sentence-length, register, use of dialect, slang, or technical vocabulary. The number that precedes the level will be chosen for the subject and content of the book, it’s emotional complexity, and for other such demands that are made upon the reader’s maturity and life experience.

Once again, these levels must necessarily be an approximation. I have tried to tether them to levels used by other systems, such as the Oxford Reading Tree we use for home readers, and to Penguin Readers, many of which I ordered recently for those pupils whose level of maturity is way ahead of their reading skills. If this system works, it may possibly deliver far greater gains in terms of the ability of students to access books, even than the system of categorisation. Many a time, a book may be boring not because its content is not full of exciting developments, but because it is too difficult for the children to really understand what is happening. But again and again I see a tendency for children to pick up books they will be unable to access on this level. I also know from my own experience of choosing Czech books, that it is not easy to choose books, matching their level to that of your own language abilities. The way I see it is that a woman who most often buys clothes in a size sixteen, may occasionally encounter a shop whose sizes are so consistently eccentric that she has to buy a size fourteen. She is unlikely to fit into a twelve. Though I may get the levels “wrong”, I don’t think I will have got they will be so far off that they will not be useful.

I will write about the Non-Fiction (if indeed I call it that) another day.

* There is no Jacqueline Wilson day, though perhaps there should be.

** Not the most approachable translation to be stocked for a school, I would say myself.