GUAR guests

Through our Growing Up A Reader project we hope to connect people through reading, whatever their reading choices. Here we invite people with a passion for reading to share their own personal memories of the texts they read as a child and their reading choices as adults.  We’ll continue adding to this page throughout the project.  We hope you enjoy getting to know these people, as they share with us what they read and what reading means to them.  Enjoy!

Emma Vardy. As a child Emma remembers reading being something that was a challenge, yet really enjoyed. It would take her a long time to read a book, but she loved being taken on an adventure and that is what kept her motivated to read. Emma has fond memories as a child being taken to the local library on a Saturday with her sister by their Dad while Mom did the shopping; it was the best hour of the day, deliberating what adventures to go on the following week.

As a teen Emma remembers really wanting to read the whole Fearless Collection by Francine Pascal, and now as an adult she has the whole collection, so finally has. Emma loves reading, and reads all day, from journal articles, to e-mails to a good book at the end of a day. With over 500 books at home Emma is not short of reading material, and still loves to visit the local library. Her favourite author will always be Roald Dahl, nobody tells a story like he does, the magic, the adventure, and just the way he guides your imagination to all sorts of places. She has found other authors such as Holly Bourne, Patrick Ness and David Almond. From one book you can learn so much about different cultures, experiences, topics, all from the comfort of your sofa snuggled up with a dog (or maybe that is just Emma!)

Emma mainly reads children’s or young adult books for pleasure so that she can recommend books to children or teachers. The favourite part of her job is talking to children about what they have read or if a child says “I don’t like reading” finding out why and discussing why perhaps they don’t actually dislike reading. Reading gives everyone that time to escape and forget about their lives for a few moments or a whole day, and that is what is so magical about reading. This is the reason why Emma does the job she does. Emma is a researcher in children’s literacy development focusing on affective factors and reading. She hopes her research can help children see that reading is fun, and even though it may be hard it is worth keep persevering with. If Emma isn’t out running or walking her dog at the weekend, she is normally at an author event as shown in her picture!

Dr Emma Vardy is a Research Fellow in the Faculty Research Centre for Advances in Behavioural Science, Coventry University. Her research focuses on increasing reading for pleasure in primary and secondary school contexts and understanding the reading attitudes and motivation of children and adolescents.

Mathew Tobin.  I have very mixed memories about my relationship with reading at an early age. I can recall huddling in the town library alone every week from the age of seven pouring over Quentin Blake’s images in the poetry of Michael Rosen and being bought the odd Mr. Men book at Asda if I behaved whilst mum shopped. The only reading I enjoyed was the Beano which I got every Wednesday when my Taid came over. I have a vivid memory of Mum reading the Ahlberg’s Cops and Robbers to me and being haunted, yet deeply fascinated, by the frightening images in my dad’s copy of Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain, published by Reader’s Digest.

Reading was not something I was interested in until I was about twelve. Every year the family had either gone to Butlins or Haven for the summer holiday and by the time I was twelve, although my three younger siblings loved it, I was despairing. One day, whilst the family were all playing/sunning on one of the Devonshire beaches, I took myself off into the town to try and find something to entertain me. I remember clearly walking into WHSmiths and being inexplicably drawn to The BFG. I bought it, read it in one sitting on the beach, went back and bought The Witches and that was it: the reading bug had me, hook, line and sinker. Much to the consternation of my father but the joy of my mother, the next two holidays involved me taking as many books as I could carry to the caravan and just reading. Seeing me read voraciously affected my mum deeply and her own (pre-children) love of reading was rekindled. She now reads even more than me. My childhood was a fortunate one in that I was surrounded by incredible natural landscapes yet it was also traumatic. I was systematically bullied by a group of boys from a very early age and through to early teens and I think that this is why, after reading those two Dahls, I was drawn into the world of high fantasy.

My teenage years saw me read books in which great demons ravaged lands and only a sharp sword or a broken charm could save it. My inner dwellings became endless forests and cloud-capped spires and my friends were wood elves, barbarians and sagely mystics. These stories gave me a chance to escape my world and live a different life. When I came to Oxford Brookes (then Westminster College) as a training teacher, I was told by my lecturer that fantasy was a waste of time and she placed in my hands A Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. Begrudgingly, I read it and my adoration and admiration of children’s literature began. That particular lecturer, Mary Sutcliffe, ended up becoming a life-long friend and guide. She showed me that children’s books were far greater than I had ever given them credit for and that they too, as with all literature, have the power to change lives.

Mathew Tobin is a Senior Lecturer in Education: Primary English with Children’s Literature, at Oxford Brookes University. Mathew joined Oxford Brookes after 16 years of primary teaching in Oxfordshire. His teaching and research interests include reading for pleasure, children’s literature and engaging pupils in reading and writing.

Isobel Gibbon.  Isobel grew up in a home where (almost) every room contained bookshelves, allowing her to explore her mum’s treasured children’s classics, textbooks from her dad’s classroom, the Pear’s Cylopaedia, and gold-embossed Shakespearean plays.

She remembers the thrill of climbing steep steps to the yellow mobile library that would magically appear parked near school. A room, on wheels, full of books – how fantastic! Later, the grand town library meant access to authors such as Austen and the Brontës – very few books with a Young Adult genre identity back then.

A degree in English Literature introduced intriguing folk traditions of Middle English Romances, their enchanted events mirrored in a fondness for contemporary magical realism in Angela Carter, Allende and Atwood.

Tube-train work commutes provided a great reading opportunity, but parenthood brought a switch from novels to picture books on those journeys. A weekly library visit provided both travelling and bedtime stories covering glorious rhymes, fantastic characters, adventure and happy endings.

Isobel now works as Membership Officer at the National Literacy Trust. Modern life entails lots of reading for purpose: proofreading, emails, magazines, etc. Time dedicated to reading for pleasure is harder to carve out, but her adult home – like her childhood one – also has bookshelves in (almost) every room.

Greg McCafferty.  Greg has always been fascinated with language and some of his earliest memories revolve around stories, songs and other media. Family road trips to visit relatives at the weekend were usually dominated by the melodies of a Disney soundtrack, audiobook cassettes (ahh the 90s!) or even his Mum reading from the front seat. However, she could often get so engrossed she’d forget to read aloud! His avid love of language extends to the wider family as Greg recalls the many poems and short stories written by his Pop. One of his most treasured possessions is an anthology of these which was gifted to him.

Greg always knew he wanted to teach and graduated as a primary teacher from the University of Edinburgh in 2009. In the years since, he admits that reading with a class to be his favourite time of the day. From their anticipation and excitement as details are slowly revealed, to them yearning for more as a chapter ends with an abrupt cliffhanger, Greg believes there is a truly special connection that develops between a class, their teacher and a good book.

Now a member of the Fife Pedagogy Team, who lead high quality professional learning for teachers and support staff in schools throughout the authority, Greg is passionate about improving outcomes for all children and promoting motivation and engagement for literacy in the classroom. He is currently Principal Teacher for Literacy with the Fife Pedagogy Team.

James Clements. Although I’m reliably informed that I always loved being read to as a small child (with whole afternoons spent poring over the tiny details in Richard Scarry books), the first book I remember falling in love with was Uncle by JP Martin. It was bought for me one Christmas (appropriately, by an uncle) and it was like a light bulb clicking on- it was the first time that a book I could read myself made me laugh out loud. That was it- I was hooked. After that, I always had a book on the go- Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree books, then Willard Price animal adventure stories, and then the Fighting Fantasy choose your own adventure books (with my fingers wedged in different pages so I could go back if I died), then anything from the library by Jan Mark, Alan Garner and Kevin Crossley-Holland.

At secondary school, like many teenagers, my interest in reading dipped as other interests took over. Luckily, it was revived by a science teacher called Mr Manley, who had a collection of popular science books in his classroom. He leant me books by Richard Dawkins, Richard Feynman, Carl Sagan and others that ignited a life-long love of non-fiction. I owe Mr Manley a tremendous debt.

As an adult, I read lots for work. This means books about education, but it’s also an excuse to read lots of children’s fiction (recently, I loved The Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius and Going to the Volcano by Andy Stanton and Miguel Ordonez). I spend a lot of time travelling on trains these days, so there’s plenty of time to read for pleasure, both non-fiction (The Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Casper Henderson is wonderful) and fiction (I always drop whatever I’m currently reading when a new David Mitchell book comes out and I’m a late-comer to Celeste Ng’s writing and am now positively evangelical about her books).

As the parent of two small children, I also read to them endlessly. The biggest one is nearly old enough for Uncle, so the circle of life is almost complete!

James Clements is an education writer and researcher. He is the author of Teaching English by the Book: Putting Literature at the Heart of the Primary Curriculum

Anne Teravainen-Goff.  Anne grew up with books like the Moomins in the Finnish countryside. Some of her favourite childhood memories include spending time with friends exploring the forests and reading series like Harry Potter together, although her mother used to say that she would happily read anything from novels to comics and encyclopaedias. She still loves those titles from her childhood as well as authors such as Khaled Hosseini and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie she has discovered in adulthood.

After completing her Master’s degree in English Applied Linguistics in Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, she moved to London and discovered the joys of dedicating commutes to reading. She loves reading stories from all around the world and discovering new cultures and countries through books but also enjoys reading non-fiction and learning new things about topics such as history, philosophy and psychology.

Anne works as a Research Manager at the National Literacy Trust, conducting research on variety of literacy related topics, including the importance of reading for pleasure and the impact of school libraries, as well as linking literacy to wider life outcomes such as the financial capability.  You can find out more about the National Literacy Trust here:

James Cook. James Cook’s earliest memories of ‘reading’ were of sitting on his granny’s knee, captured by the snappy rhythmic rhymes of the likes of Hey Diddle Diddle and Jack Be Nimble. Growing up, James’ parents spent many a night telling the tales of their own childhood favourites. Well after James could lift the words off of the page, he still enjoyed his Mum and Dad being the storytellers of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five. Living close to a library as a child, James’s library card gained many stamps, such as Roald Dahl’s Danny, the Champion of the World – James’ most prized book possession, having read it over 100 times. Whilst primary school was a place that promoted reading, the hype of den building and 90s children’s television meant that it was not always a top priority for James’ peer group. As a teenager, secondary school often dictated the types of reading material deemed as appropriate, driven by course choice and content. Now as an adult, James is passionate about ensuring that children have the best possible start as a ‘reader’ and a ‘writer’. Allowing children to find their ‘best fit texts’ is crucial… for James that is currently crime fiction and research papers on child development, equalities and leadership. He knows his interests might change in the future… and that is okay!

James Cook (Highland Council), a primary teacher, is currently Quality Improvement Officer for the Northern Alliance. His work focuses on quality improvement to raise attainment in literacy, language and communication.

Teresa Cremin. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t love reading –books, comics, magazines – whatever, I devoured them! Surprisingly perhaps my parents never read to me (I checked), but I still came to love reading – stories in particular. They opened intriguing doors on other people’s lives and I enjoyed inhabiting and exploring these alongside them; living through texts. An early favourite was The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett; I’ve still got my precious copy with crayoned members of the Ruggles family to boot! I was a keen library member and swapped books and Jackie comics avidly with friends too.
At university my passion for narrative waned rather, but as PGCE student at Cambridge I was lucky to have Morag Styles as my tutor and in the primary classroom, developing readers became my passion and I read children’s literature again with delight. So as an academic later in life it was probably inevitable I would research teachers’ literate identities and the potential influence of these on pedagogy and students’ identities as readers and writers. Recently I launched a reading for pleasure website which shares findings from my research:
It’s been fabulous working with teachers on it, establishing 80 OU/UKLA Teachers’ Reading Groups across the country and contributing to the reading for pleasure movement. Every child deserves to experience the deep satisfaction of being a reader.

Professor Teresa Cremin is a Professor of Education (Literacy) at The Open University in the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies. Her socio-cultural research focuses mainly on teachers’ literate identities and practices and the pedagogies associated with children’s volitional reading and writing.

Marc Lambert. Books have always been a big part of my life because my parents were great readers and had a huge library. Being an only child also helps you become a reader. My mother has dementia now, but she still reads avidly. My father passed away a few years ago, but on a recent visit to my mother’s she said to me: “I am never alone because I have books.” That’s the power of reading right there for you.
My father was away a lot when I was a child, so he recorded himself reading the Peter Rabbit books by Beatrix Potter for me. This, and my mother reading child-friendly adaptations of the Odyssey and the Aeneid aloud, are the first experiences of books and stories I can remember, as well as stories that our family friend Eloise told. She was a superb storyteller, keeping myself and her son spellbound with the adventures of the Magic Toothbrush, which travelled to distant planets, discovering the cosmos and the wonderful beings in it. Perhaps this is why I grew to love science fiction as an adult.
Another favourite in our house was Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, written in the 1920s by May Gibb, who had emigrated from England to Australia. This strange and wonderful book, set in the Australia bush, was beautifully illustrated, and to this young child endlessly weird and fascinating. Monkey, the Chinese classic by Wu Ch’eng-en, was also a great favourite in our house.
Later, when I had learned to read myself, I rampaged my way through my parent’s library, devouring all they had. The library held a strange mix of high literature, history and culture, and absolute (but rather wonderful) trash. One toggled between Herodotus and Modesty Blaise, Vanity Fair and Robert Ludlum. I have been an omnivorous and catholic reader ever since.
As a teenager the books that made the greatest impression on me where those involving George Smiley, John le Carré’s master spy. Not only did they teach me about the cold war, they introduced me to an adult world of full of opposing forces – of cynicism and treachery – but also of honour, an important lesson for a young adult.
As an adult, I continue to read widely and adventurously – because of my belief that literature as such is simply a field of play that anyone can play in. Many authors have become sacred to me, but I have developed a special affection for the Russians. Is there anything better or more humane than Chekhov in the world? Or Bunin, or Grossman? Can “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” ever be bettered? Is there a more vivid character than Benya Krik, Isaac Babel’s Jewish gangster? I don’t think so, but if you do, please get in touch!
Marc Lambert is CEO of the Scottish Book Trust, a charity committed to changing lives through reading and writing. You can find out about the work of the Scottish Book Trust here: