I’m Jo. I love books, and have been reading since the day I was born (so it seems). I do remember tackling Jo’s Boys by Louisa M. Alcott aged four, just because I thought it was named after me (I’m not sure how much I actually understood, to be honest!). I remember having Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat (by Ursula Moray Williams) confiscated by my teacher in infant school, because she didn’t believe I could read at that level; and being forced to read the Janet and John primers at school, when at home I was happily reading Worzel Gummidge (by Barbara Euphan Todd). This is all thanks to my Mum, who read to me from a very early age, and my Dad, who took me to the public library every week. No surprise then that despite my early negative experiences at school, English became my favourite subject and I went to study English Language and Literature at Sheffield Hallam University, winning the 1995 SHU / Virago Prize for feminist literary criticism and having my fifteen minutes’ worth of fame on the local creative writing circuit as a poet, and then went on to study for an MA in Information and Library Studies.
It was in my first professional librarianship post that I found myself becoming a children’s specialist. In the glory days of the schools’ library service, I was being paid to read. My dream job! Our team of six librarians read all of the 10,000+ children’s books that are published in the UK each year. We would read them, write reviews, and promote the books to teachers, young people and other library staff. My record for reading Young Adult fiction was 40 novels in one week, for a promotional event; unfortunately never matched since! I also discovered the joy of booktalking – going into schools and talking about books to teenagers (you know, that group of people that everyone laments doesn’t read). I would read out the funny bits, the rude bits, the scary bits from my favourite books, and I would actually get them reading. Even the scary kids. Because everyone loves a story, and no matter how old you are, there is a real thrill in sitting down and listening to a story being read to you.
I then left the schools’ library service and took the plunge into the scary world of a secondary school, where as Librarian I threw out the entire fiction stock of the library I’d inherited and replaced it with stuff I liked instead, and succeeded in raising book loans by a whopping 500%. I started a reading group and a creative writing group for the students and had a great time talking about books every day. (And one day, at least one of “my kids” is going to be a famous author. They are a very talented bunch of intelligent, articulate lunatics. Will it be a story of intergalactic lemmings, a cyberpunk dystopia, a manga epic, a zombie apocalypse at lunchtime… I am in awe of their imaginations, humour and passion for words. )
And now, this blog. Rather than my desk being surrounded by teenagers at lunchtime, or me “doing the voices” as I read out a thrilling scene to a class of bemused students, I am stepping out into virtual space and expanding my range.
I continue to review books for the schools’ library service, and I’m also a reviewer for the School Librarian, the journal of the School Library Association in which I’ve also had several articles published, and The Self Publishing Magazine. And some of my booklists are still available on Amazon or direct from the publisher, e.g. Riveting Reads 8-12 (published by the School Library Association).