Posted 328 weeks ago

Ice Cream Or A Story, Given The Choice Which One Would Kids Choose?

Do We Really Know What Kids Want?

Being a storyteller I know that children and adults love stories.  But I wasn’t prepared for what I found out today.


I’ve just taken part in the Play Day at Somerford Grove, Tottenham, London, UK.  A great day of fun in the sun.  This was part of my time delivering drama and storytelling workshops with Northumberland Park Community School on their Summer Transition Programme.  

The best thing about this storytelling day was that I had now acquired a troupe of little helper to help out.  A loyal band of great little storytellers all face-painted in the character from the Anansi story we’d been working on.   We’d also managed to pick up a very talented drummer who helped support the narrative with his improvised percussion.

Part way through the day a group of children and their guardians appeared at my tent.  Keen little faces eager to hear some Caribbean and African tales.  They sit and I tell them of Shamba and his magical control of  the weather.  When I finish the story the children are asked, “Do you want another story or do you want to get some ice cream?”

Like you, probably, I’m expecting a tent full of tumbleweed faster than you can say, “Do you want a flake with that?”  But no.  The kids want another story.  And then another.  If it wasn’t for the fact that other children wanted in and there was plenty more to do and see I suspect they would have sat there soaking in stories for the rest of the afternoon.

So, when thinking of treats for kids rather than going directly to sweets or computer games.  Think again.  Perhaps all they need is some family storytelling time.

Posted 329 weeks ago

The ‘Hackney Heroine’, who shouted down rioters three years ago, says gentrification and ‘£5 cappuccinos’ are fuelling a new resentment on her streets.

My local borough, Haringey, is getting quite excited about the regeneration money which has come to the area. But will they heed the warning from other areas?

Hackney, like Tottenham, has seen a change in fortune since the 2011 riots. But this Telegraph article questions whether the current gentrification plans for the area will benefit all local people?

Posted 329 weeks ago

The Greatest Scientists Are Artists As Well

That’s not my quote, although I’ve said it many times, it’s by noted physicist and all-round big brain,  Albert Einstein.

If you think science is all about test tubes and proven facts and that creativity is about weird arty ideas maybe you should take a closer look.

Schrödinger’s Cat is one of the most loved ‘thought experiments’.  I won’t go into all the ins and outs of it now, but it’s safe to safe that Einstein’s theories on special relativity owes just as much to his creative thinking as it does to his slide rule.  Quite often his approach to scientific and complex math problems was more like that of an artist trying to express emotions through music or paint.  

Einstein once told a colleague, Max Wertheimer, that he never thought in logical symbols or mathematical equations, but in images, feelings, and even music.  The words apparently came later.  Images, feeling, music, are we talking about science?

Einstein On Creative Thinking: Music and the Intuitive Art of Scientific Imagination, posted in Psychology Today, goes into greater detail.  They also send out a little plea for educators to get with the program when it comes to pushing the scientific boundaries and the art of learning.  

Anyway, back to the cat.  Schrödinger’s Cat and thought experiments are the darlings of quantum mechanical thought processes.  If you can get your head around this concept you enter the realm of some of the world’s greatest thinkers.  This will make it possible for you to achieve everything you can dream of for yourself and others.

Not a bad prospect really.

Posted 329 weeks ago

Schrödinger’s Cat

Posted 330 weeks ago

7 Proven Ways To Get Boys To Love Reading

How many time have you thrown your hands up and said, “I give up”?    

For many people, those who care about positive child development, giving up isn’t an option.  

Think about how your life would be if you had no access to the written word.  This is a reality for many people. For some it’s a physiological issue, for others it’s psychological.  There are also those who by not understanding the importance of reading never bother to develop the skill sufficiently.

So what does it take to get a young man to put down his Playstaion and pick up a book?   There will be those who say that maybe it’s best not to buy one in the first place.  But that isn’t always as easy as it sounds.  Some parents bribe their kids with games times as a trade off against time spent reading books.  The danger of this is that reading then becomes the opposite of things that are fun, which, amongst other thing, will set the ‘Reading for Pleasure’ movement back a bit.

So what do you do?  I know teachers, parents and carers who have come up with some clever little ways of getting boys to see reading as a positive force in their lives.  Whether it’s as a pleasurable distraction or as a way to gather a wealth of useful information that they can use to enhance their lives.    These are some of the insights I’ve gathered.  I’ve also thrown in a few that have worked for me over the years.

So here they are, in no particular order.

7 Tips for getting boys into reading:

1.   Tell them a story

If it’s a short story, tell  it to them.  And I mean tell them rather than read.  There are a number of reasons why I say this, but I’ll expand on that another time.  Telling a child a  story might sound obvious to some but there are people who are little reluctant.  People often think that if you tell a child a story they won’t read it for themselves.  But you wouldn’t think that if you knew how much the book sales of the Hunger Games went up after movies came out. 

2. Tell them about a story

If it’s a long story, tell them about the story.  Be a kind of trailer and get them excited about finding out more.  Ok, this might take a bit of practice.  But watch TV and movies trailers and have some fun with it.

3. Let them see you reading books.  

You sitting and enjoying a good read will often entice a child into reading more than you reading a book to them.   It gets their curiosity going.  One parent told me that they liked to pretend that they were hiding the book.   If, like her, your son wants things they think they’re not allowed to have, this will work a treat.

4. Don’t lean too much on fiction. 

Boys get bored easily and often skip to the end of a book to see if the ending of the story is worth the journey. If they don’t think it is they won’t bother. (This behaviour isn’t limited to boys.)   That doesn’t work with reference books.   Every pages is packed with useful information.  So they will at least skim though the whole book to see what’s on offer.  

During school library visits, when I tell boys to go get a book to read, most of them come back with reference books of some kind.  Books that tell them about dinosaurs or their favourite sporting hero for instance.  Remember that boys like to show off.  So when they have a sweet piece of knowledge that they can share to impress others they love it.

5. Give them what they want

Leading on from that, a good tip is to find out what they’re into.  The son of a friend of mine is into cars so he’ll devour anything to do with that subject.   Sometimes we can get into thinking we need to steer kids in a certain direction and away from certain types of material.  This is fair enough but if you want your young man to master and enjoy reading it’s easier to do when he’s genuinely interested.  If a child is struggling with reading, coping with that and a subject he finds boring is a sure way to put him off reading for life. 

I know many parents aren’t keen on comics.   But let him indulge his passion.   It’ll will make it easier to tackle less interesting but potentially more beneficial subject matter later on.  Personally I think comics are beneficial and so does the British Library.  Their Comics Unmasked exhibition runs until 19 August 2014

6. Add a little magic. 

 I do a couple of magic tricks during my storytelling sessions.  I can only think of one instance where during the Q&A someone didn’t ask me how I do them.  I always say I get them from books and that they should get hold of one.  This goes back to the 'boys like showing off knowledge thing’.  I’m surprised that school libraries don’t stock more of them.  I know one of my local libraries does, and it’s hardly ever on the shelf.

7. Get them into telling stories.  

Storytelling is fun and it brings people together.  Back to tip 1.  When you tell a story get your young man to tell you one.  It could be the episode of Horrid Henry he saw earlier, the book you gave him last week or even the story you just told him.  That way you can gauge just how well he understood it.  Just get him into the habit of digesting and sharing stories.

If only one of these tips work for you then I’m happy.  If they all work, then I know you’ll be happy.   

Before I go.   Chances are it’s a young girl in your life that’s a reluctant reader.  If so I’m sure some, if not all, of these tips will work just as well on her.  Give it a go and let me know how you get on.

Posted 331 weeks ago
Posted 332 weeks ago


Do you hold any of these views about libraries?

Here’s an interesting blogs post from Matt over at  It’s a list of some of the common, and not so common, myths about libraries and librarians.  One of my favourites is:

  • Libraries are used only by those who cannot afford to buy their own books.

See if any of yours are on there.  If not let me know and I’ll add them.

Library Mythbusters

This is an idea I have been working on that can be run with a Reading Group and also for breaking the ice for new users in the Library:

This event can be run by following the Myth Busters format of having small teams investigating various Library Myths and then presenting their findings to the entire Reading Group. If permission can be obtained for filming, a short DVD could be made of the proceedings. This could tie into a larger media and film-making programme that can be run over half-term or summer holidays. It is fun and educational – teenagers learn how the library works and what the staff do all day as well as debunking misconceptions they may have on what goes on in libraries.

Here’s a list of library myths that can either be debunked or confirmed:

  • Librarians have lots of time to read on the job
  • All librarians are fast readers
  • Public libraries are only busy during the school year
  • Public libraries are only busy during summer holidays
  • Libraries are used only by those who cannot afford to buy their own books.
  • Librarians have no stress
  • Librarians have read every book in the library
  • Librarians know the answer to everything
  • Everyone who works in the library is a librarian
  • Libraries are just about getting books
  • Libraries aren’t necessary because everything’s available on the internet
  • Libraries have plenty of money because they get so many donated books and charge so much in fines
  • The librarian can be held responsible for everything that kids check out because they work for the government and must protect young people from bad things
  • School libraries aren’t needed because kids can get everything they want at the public library or online
  • Librarians wear their hair in buns, have wire-rimmed glasses, and say shhhhh! all the time
  • Librarians only issue books
  • Everything in the library is free
  • You have to know Dewey to use the library
  • Libraries are serious and quiet all the time
  • It is difficult to get a library card
  • Libraries are for English readers only

The list is by no means complete and if anyone would like to add library myths in the comments you are most welcome.

Courtesy of my friends at

Posted 332 weeks ago
Posted 332 weeks ago

National Theatre Wins Court Battle


Being a theatre director I will be following, with interest, the recent developments on the National Theatre’s London production of War Horse.

Five musicians have failed to win a High Court order against the National Theatre (NT) after being made redundant from the West End production and replaced by a prerecorded soundtrack.

The NT said the decision to cut live music from the show was made for artistic and financial reasons.  Very interesting!  War Horse is one of the National’s most successful productions in recent years, having been seen by more than 2.5 million people worldwide.  But could it be feeling the pinch at a time when many other West End productions are experiencing a boom in ticket sales?  

On the Artistic front they believe that as War Horse is a play with music rather than a musical production it doesn’t warrant a real orchestra. 

So should musicians be worried about this latest development?  

Until these sackings the London production of War Horse, Currently running at The New London Theatre, was the only version worldwide to make use of real musicians.   This latest move puts War Horse London in line with other ‘play with music’ productions that have opted for backing tracks.  However, This might be one of the first to decide, after a 5 year run, that it’s better off without live music.

Theatre - a tough old business

As a theatre director myself I know tough decisions have to be made.  The Last play I put on, Where’s Norman Beaton Gone?, was also a play with music.  On that occasion I used prerecorded music.  This was the first run of a new play by a new writer.  So finding musicians who would play Ska, Reggae and Soca music on the budget we had was going to be a stretch.  Plus, one of the Off-West End venues it played, the Lion and Unicorn Theatre, wouldn’t have been big enough of house a band and the 10-strong cast.  Strangely it was a potential backer who suggested that taking it forward we should use live music - they’re usually looking to the pennies and keeping the costs down. 

The play I’m currently working on is also a 'with music’ production.  It’s set in the1950s against the backdrop of the New York, Jazz and Blues scene.  The question is; Will producers out there think, as the National do, that retaining artists is an unnecessary expense? Only time will tell.

The War Horse Musicians Fight on

The musicians, in the case of War Horse, took legal action last week following the theatre’s decision to call an end their contribution. 

Neyire Ashworth, Andrew Callard, Jonathan Eddie, David Holt and Colin Rae - who had been with the hit show since it’s opening in 2009 - had their roles cut back in March 2013 to just a few minutes per performance. Their contracts were terminated last month when live orchestrated music was cut from the production. The five had continued to show up for nightly performances but were turned away.

David Reade QC said the theatre was entitled to terminate their contracts as there was no longer an orchestra in the production, saying War Horse was a play that featured music - rather than a musical production.  He added, “The orchestra was not an integral part of the play”. The Theatre is said to be delighted with the High Court’s decision.

The NT felt it necessary to emphasise that War Horse has always been, and will continue to be, a play in which music plays an integral part, with a recorded orchestral under-score and central roles for folk musicians who perform live folk songs and choral numbers.

The musicians’ Union,  which is providing legal support to the five performers said it was “disappointed”  by the outcome.  Horace Trubridge, MU assistant general secretary, said “The fight was far from over” and added, “Had we won the interim injunction, we would have established a new legal precedent and this was possibly our best chance of ensuring our members’ contracts were honoured.“

Is This The End of The West End Feel good Era?

Surprisingly West End Shows have been having a right old time thanks to the economic downturn.  People in search of some relief in this time of woe have been seeking solace in live theatre.  And West End Theatres have seen their coffers swelling.  According to Society of London Theatres figures (SOLT) gross box office returns rose to more than £585 million, up 11% on 2012.  Attendances also increased, by 4%, up to 14.6 million. Could it be that that War Horse is feeling the pinch when other West End production are benefitting from a boom?

Maybe the musicians’ £1,200 - £1,500 a week salary was taking too big a bite out of War Horse’s £1 million budget.  Well, they seem to think so and I couldn’t possibly comment.  However, less understandable are the artistic reason’s.  An NT spokesperson, states that the producers and directors of War Horse did not believe that the musicians could contribute positively to the play and that it was "better off without them”.  They’ve obviously had a big change of heart since they first mounted the production, which originally sported a full orchestra 

They added: “The National Theatre’s artistic judgement, made by those with the expertise to assess such matters, is that a live band does not provide the same quality and impact of performance as can be produced through the use of recorded music and professional actors.”

What’s The Future For Live Music In Theatre?

The question is, will the NT and others continue to use live music or take to the current trend of using backing tracks?

I’ve seen a few productions recently that have featured live music.  A couple were at the National.  One being Elmina’s Kitchen, directed by artistic director Nicholas Hytner and, more recently, the James Baldwin Classic The Amen Corner directed by his soon to be successor Rufus Norriss.  In the case of The Amen Corner, which has often been mistakenly categorised as a musical,  the live music was a key element of the piece.  But as I sit and think about it now, I’m sure that had the production transferred the same financial and artistic dilemmas would have reared their heads.

For me, it’s sad that, in the performing arts, performing artist are always the ones who suffer in these matters.  Jobs in the industry are hard to come by so anything that cuts down on the possibility of a creative individual earning a crush will always hit hard. 

Before I go - I thoroughly enjoyed War Horse when I saw it a few months ago.  If you haven’t seen it yet I’d encourage you to get along to see it before they decide they don’t need puppets or actors.

Posted 345 weeks ago

About Me

Browsing Archive: September, 2015

3 Simple Ways to instantly Create an Inclusive Classroom Enviroment

Posted by Norman Bailey on Sunday, September 6, 2015, In : Storytelling 

Inclusion is not about getting children to fit in, it's about helping each child feel that they belong.  Creating an inclusive climate in the classroom helps refugee children to settle and feel welcome and valued. 

1. Bring other cultures into the classroom
It’s good idea to ensure your pupils learn something about the countries and the cultural background their classmates come from.  This encourages discussion about moving home, cultural diversity and sees all children as resources for le...

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