Our interdisciplinary research team have a wonderful combination of research expertise, experience and enthusiasm!
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Sarah McGeown has fond memories of reading as a child. One of the first books she remembers owning was the Tooth Fairy by Audrey Wood. She remembers lying in bed with a wobbly tooth ‘reading’ the book – actually looking at the beautiful bright illustrations inside. As she got older, she spent many happy summers at her grandparents house in Forres, reading well-loved copies of Oor Wullie and The Broons. At home, she’d stay up at night reading about the adventures of the Famous Five and Secret Seven (the Famous Five were better!) As a teenager she discovered the Point Horror series, with a book called The Hitchhiker being particularly memorable/scary! Before ‘getting a proper job’ and starting a family, Sarah loved to travel and her bookcase is still full of well used travel books which have been all around the world with her. These days Sarah reads blogs, Twitter or research papers for pleasure. She also loves reading books on her kindle during her daily commute to work – mostly crime fiction. Sarah’s research focuses on supporting children’s early reading acquisition and development and promoting reading motivation and engagement in the classroom. She works at Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh. You can learn more about her research here: www.readresearch.education.ed.ac.uk
Shari Sabeti considers herself a ‘reader’. In fact, not a day goes by without her reading something: her emails, road signs, the news, fascinating academic articles, her children’s homework tasks and sometimes, if she’s lucky, even a story before she goes to bed. Sometimes she reads three different stories at night time: one (aloud) to each of her children and one (silently) to herself. She thinks this all started because her mother loved reading and took her and her brother to the public library every two weeks to choose and borrow piles of books. She still loves the look and feel of books and enjoys curling up with one in a chair. She particularly enjoys what people might call ‘literature’ and this, she thinks, really began when she was fourteen and sick in bed with a terrible cold. She picked up a book she had to read for homework and could not stop until she had finished it. The book was Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy but she also had a secret love of Batman and spent much of her teenage years reading comics. She went on to study English at University but she felt that wasn’t enough reading for her, and carried on to do a PhD all about a lesser known American poet. She then decided it was time to spread the word about how great reading was by becoming a secondary school English teacher. Now she spends a lot of time thinking and writing about why, what, where and how young people read. She works at Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh.
Katherine Wilkinson has always enjoyed getting lost in a book. One of her earliest memories of reading is being so scared by The Witches(read to her at an impressionable age by her mum) that she felt compelled to share her fears with her classmates, spreading a wave of terror through Wybers Wood Infant School. She soon bounced back, spending most Saturdays in WHSmith vying with other Enid Blyton devotees for lesser-spotted instalments of The Famous Five. A loyal subscriber to The Beano and The Dandy for many years, at some point around age 12 she visited the local paper shop to ask them to save NME and Melody Maker for her instead. Growing up in a small English town in the 90s where the internet had yet to reach, there were not many opportunities to get hold of ‘literature’; it was through school, sixth form college and the Manic Street Preachers that Katherine was introduced to authors like Margaret Atwood, Philip Larkin, the Brontë sisters, and JD Salinger. Liking what she read, Katherine went on to study English at the University of Liverpool and then became a publisher, working at Wiley-Blackwell and HarperCollins. In 2017 she starting working at Scottish Book Trust, where she heads up their research and evaluation work. She continues to buy, borrow and blag many more books than she could ever possibly read.
Jane Bonsall was raised in a home full of books in California, though she spent as much time as possible in Neverland, Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest, Narnia and later Middle Earth. Impatience initially spurred Jane to learn to read, when, frustrated with her parents’ one-chapter-a-night rule, and desperate to know what happened next, she began to trying to puzzle her way through C.S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian (with mixed results). Her love of stories eventually led to a degree in English Literature, and later to a MSc in Medieval Literatures and Cultures from the University of Edinburgh. She is now completing her PhD at the University of Edinburgh, which explores the representations of magical women in medieval literature and the interconnected nature of literature and history. Her work focuses on texts that are the precursors to folk and fairy tales; this means she continues to read some of the stories that first enchanted her as a child, supplemented by an ecclectic assortment of research papers, modern takes on old tales, and the poetry and novels she uses for teaching the English Literature course at the University.
Danielle Howarth cannot remember a time when she did not love books. From her early childhood in England, through a move to Australia at age eight, and throughout the rest of her life, books have been a way of learning, relaxing, and coping for her. In times of stress, she still returns to books like The Secret Garden and Harry Potter to let their familiar words and worlds soothe her. This love of books inspired her to complete a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Sydney, after which she moved to Edinburgh to undertake an MSc in Medieval Literatures and Cultures. She has stayed at the University of Edinburgh and is now working on a PhD in Medieval Studies, focussing on tree imagery in Middle English romance literature. Alongside her research, she is also involved with SELCIE (Scotland’s Early Literature for Children Initiative), which is how she came to the Growing Up a Reader project.
Valentina Andries was surrounded by books as a young child in Romania, having a mother who is an avid reader. Having to spend a lot of time indoors as a child due to a breathing condition, she discovered new worlds and learned about their secrets in stories described by Hans Christian Andersen. Her mother would read such stories to her daily, and then her curiosity would push her to try and learn writing the alphabet by using the books as support. Such connections between written text and stories would spark an interest in other languages, cultures and environments. This lead her to pursue an undergraduate degree at the University of Edinburgh in Languages, Literatures and Cultures, with a particular interest in Spanish Medieval literature and 20th-Century Latin-American literature which plays with perception, our understanding of the collective and the other, as well as encouraging reflection on political beliefs. With a particular focus on stories of the voiceless, she carried on studying ways in which vulnerable individuals can potentially make their voices heard. She is now working on a PhD project at the University of Edinburgh, researching ways in which children’s wellbeing can be improved while in a hospital setting, by designing an interactive narrative game.
Charlotte Webber was surrounded by books from a young age. She remembers carting home ambitious stacks of Jacqueline Wilson books from the library to see her through the summer holidays and sending her mum out to queue for the latest Harry Potter novel on the day of its release. As a teenager she fell in love with The Catcher in the Rye and was later inspired by her eccentric A-Level English Literature teacher to delve into the likes of Samuel Beckett, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf (thanks, Martin!). Her curiosity for the cerebral led her to study Psychology at the University of Birmingham, but she couldn’t leave the books alone and studied an additional English Literature module in her first year as the ‘to-read’ pile by the side of her bed grew ever taller. After completing her Masters in psychology, she worked as a primary school teaching assistant and realised that she could bring her love of research and reading together by pursuing a path within educational psychology. She subsequently worked as a research assistant on a number of literacy projects at Aston University, leading a project to support struggling beginner readers. Now working as a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, she is reading more voraciously than ever and is passionate about helping others to find a love for books. She is working alongside the Scottish Book Trust on her PhD project which seeks to explore young people’s perspectives of reading and aims to work alongside teenagers to understand the reasons for the drop-off in reading motivation at this age.