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More resources to support reading at home

May 6th, 2020 By Jo Buchan

Like our first blog post Help to support reading at home, this post features a mix of New Zealand and international online reading resources and experiences, ranging from online stories in reo Māori to writing and reading festival sessions.

Student reading book entitled 'Guess How Much I Love You' on the sofa at home
Reading at home by Annie Spratt. Unsplash. License to use.

A world of virtual wonders...

On Sunday, I took a tour of the Sistine Chapel. My interest had been piqued while watching 'The Two Popes', for which they built an elaborate and very large reconstruction of the chapel. From the Sistine Chapel, I took a deep dive into the world of the blue whale via the British Natural History Museum and watched extraordinary footage of a blue whale feeding.

I found these journeys via Google Art & Culture, which offers virtual tours of cultural institutions from around the world. It includes a family fun and books section, where you can experience bedtime stories, the illustrations of Harry Potter, a rehearsal of Shakespeare’s Henry V, or follow in the footsteps of characters with virtual tours.

These online experiences are opening up the world in a way that would have seemed completely within the domain of science fiction not long ago. And so, I make no apologies for this rather eclectic round-up. Along with reading suggestions for children, older teens, and adults, it also aims simply to inspire wonderings.

Books and readings

The beautiful The Book of Hopes edited by Katherine Rundell has 110 contributions from children's authors and illustrators and is available to read for free.

The School Library Journal (SLJ) has suggestions for 19 webcomics to keep kids and teens engaged.

Soak up daily readings of Coleridge's epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, voiced by the likes of Tilda Swinton, Lemm Sissay, and Samuel West.

Offerings from Aoteaora NZ

He Paki Taonga i a Māu is a series of short films for children aged 7 to 11 years that tell stories about taonga in Te Papa’s collection in te reo Māori. English subtitles are available.

Kauwhata Reo, an online hub for te reo Māori resources, includes stories for children in eBook format that can be read online.

Paula Green is currently running Bubble Time on her website Poetry Box, where she sets challenges and shares poems and readings. Check out her recent post: Poetry Box bubble time: Sacha Cotter reads from The Bomb, makes a splash, and sings a cool song with Josh Morgan.

ToiToi has launched ToiToi TV — 'Our first series is Toitoi Together – videos of kids reading kids’ stories and poems. We want to actively engage our young writers and artists to participate in their own learning and encourage them to submit their work for publication. If someone in your class or family would like to share a video, then follow the guidelines below and send it to me at editor@toitoi.nz.' Charlotte Gibbs.

Books on COVID-19

Here are a few to read with children to help them understand and cope with emotions around COVID-19.

Aroha's Way — A Children's Guide Through Emotions is a free reading of Craig Wilder's book from Wilding Books.

Coronavirus: A Book for Children (pdf, 1.9MB) is written by Elizabeth Jenner, Kate Wilson, and Nia Roberts, and illustrated by Axel Scheffler.

You can find a wide range of free eBooks about coronavirus / COVID-19 in multiple languages from the New York City School Library System.

My Hero is You, Storybook for Children on COVID-19 was developed by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Reference Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings (IASC MHPSS RG). The book is available to download in multiple languages. It was developed with the support of over 1,700 children, parents, caregivers, and teachers from around the world, who shared how they were coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

And you’ll find some good suggestions from the School Library Journal for free comics, and resources on COVID-19, in graphic form.

For children’s books, visit the Literati kids book clubs, where you can find children’s books by age and genre.

NPR’s Book Concierge suggests more than 2,000 titles, hand-picked by NPR staff and trusted critics. Filters help you find just the right book for your current frame of mind and mood!

For sci-fi fans, there is the recorded webcast of Neil Gaiman in conversation with N. K. Jemisin, author of the brilliant Broken Earth trilogy and the newly released The City We Became.

'The Atlantic' recently published The exquisite pain of reading in quarantine, which looks at why books might be the best antidote for the psychological toll of a socially distanced life.


Public libraries around New Zealand are busy developing online offerings and read-alouds. For example, Christchurch City Council is presenting a collection of stories via their website.

A number of public libraries are offering temporary online memberships to allow access to eBooks, eMagazines, and eResources. Check your local library website for details as these vary from council to council.

While on the topic of libraries, AnyQuestions is currently open to New Zealand students between 10am and 6pm weekdays to help with inquiries.

Festivals online

Although many festivals in New Zealand and overseas have been cancelled, there is still plenty to enjoy from home.

The Everywhere Book Fest took place at the beginning of May, and its two-day line up of keynotes and workshops is now online.

For adults and older teen readers, the Auckland Writers Festival kicked off their Online 2020 Winter Series on Sunday 3 May. You can join the live stream at 9am Sunday mornings via Facebook or YouTube, or watch later on the Festival website. Hosted by Paula Morris, the line-up features Bernardine Evaristo, Ann Patchett, Neil Gaiman, Barbara Ewing, Richard Ford, Elizabeth Knox, Robert Macfarlane, Philippe Sands, Lisa Taddeo, Ian Wedde, Alan Bollard, Chanel Miller, Freya Daly Sadgrove, Simon Armitage, Maggie O’Farrell, Deborah Eisenberg, Wallace Shawn, Caroline Barron, Amy McDaid, Anthony Byrt, and more.

Digital and media literacy in a time of information overwhelm

With such an avalanche of information online, it’s a good time to be focusing student’s attention on digital and media literacy.

A 2017 report by Common Sense Media found that 39% of kids between ages 10 and 18 years get their news from online sources, most often Facebook and YouTube. A report by the Stanford History Education Group looked into the online reasoning skills of 3,446 high school students aged 12 to 17 years between June 2018 and May 2019. They described the results as 'troubling'.

How to raise media-savvy kids in the digital age on the Wired website gives a good overview of what it means for kids to be media literate and tips for helping kids to think critically.

The BBC fact or fake section on their Bitesize website has a selection of articles for students on fake news, filter bubbles, and tips for checking news stories.

You might also consider registering for the upcoming webcast from the School Library Journal on 14 May, which you can access on demand after the event if need be:

  • Critical thinking in the age of fake news — 'students need nimble critical thinking skills to decipher the ever-evolving landscape of fabricated and biased news reporting across platforms and apps. Media and news literacy experts weigh in with the latest teaching tools and strategies'.
    Panellists: Peter Adams (Senior Vice President of Education, News Literacy Project), Renee DiResta (Research Manager, Stanford University Internet Observatory), Jennifer LaGarde (Educator, Co-author 'Fact VS Fiction: Critical Thinking Skills in the Age of Fake News').

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