Q&A with Jo Cummins on blogging, teaching, podcasting

Contributed by Jo Cummins

Teacher, blogger and podcast host

Fri 6 Nov 2020

Q: Hi Jo Cummins, how are you doing? How was your lockdown?

Hello there!  As I answer your questions about my blogging, we are on the brink of a second lockdown, so I shall be carrying lessons learnt the first-time round into this one.  The first lockdown was a pretty steep learning curve, juggling working full-time from home and homeschooling my two boys.  I quickly threw away the timetable I had prepared (the teacher in me couldn’t resist!). I took a more relaxed approach – completing tasks during gaps in my teaching and factoring in as much outside activity as possible.  This time around, the boys will still be attending school, making life a lot easier.  I will try and find new outdoor places for us to visit and new ways to exercise!

Q: You founded the blog Library Girl and Book Boy. Can you tell our readers a bit about it and why you started it?

I started blogging after becoming the English lead in a new school.  I was tasked with redeveloping the school library (which I did, and it looked amazing), but then there was the problem of obtaining updated stock for the children to enjoy.  There was no allocated budget for this, besides our School Library Service (SLS) subscription, so I had to get creative.  After hearing some inspirational speakers at the annual SLS conference, I decided to be brave and step into the children’s books Twittersphere.  My thinking was that if I started blogging to review children’s books, I may get sent some to review for free, which could then go onto the library shelves.  The added bonus was that I could direct teachers and parents to my blog to help them update their knowledge of current children’s literature.

Books2All Q&A - Jo Cummins blogging, teaching, podcasting
Librarygirlandbookboy.com is the children’s literary review blog founded by Jo Cummins

Q: What has been your most rewarding experience from starting your blog?

I have had a lot of wonderful experiences and opportunities as a result of my blogging.  I have been invited to present at various national conferences, attended some amazing book launches and met some lovely people, been a judge and shortlisted for national book awards (such as the Laugh Out Loud Book Awards and the Blue Peter Book Awards) and had the opportunity to work with reading experts, Just Imagine. The most rewarding experiences, though, have to be when you find the perfect book for that disengaged reader or when I donate books to local schools that would otherwise have no budget to purchase them.

Q: You are also now running the Library Girl and Book Boy podcast. Why did you decide to start one?

I decided to start podcasting and blogging because it occurred to me that lots of teachers are too busy to search out book recommendations, but that lots listened to podcasts while driving or doing the housework.  Having a podcast that interviewed top authors and illustrators and reviewed the newest children’s books could only be a time-saver for teachers under pressure.  It was also a great way to introduce school pupils to new authors by asking them to read and review books for my blog.

Q: On your podcast, you talk to some wonderful children’s authors and illustrators – is there one episode that has particularly stood out for you?

All of the authors and illustrators I have interviewed for my blogging and podcast have been so generous with their time and so fascinating to talk to that it would be impossible to pick a favourite.  I am constantly impressed by their creativity, passion and dedication.

Q: You also co-founded Mind Superheroes – can you tell us what is and why you started it?

I co-founded Mind Superheroes with a good friend who is an experienced healthcare professional and certified Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioner.  We did so because we had witnessed first-hand the desperate need for greater mental health provision for children.  Combining our experience and passions (mine for the power of books and my friend’s for coaching and NLP), we developed a series of workshops aimed at promoting good mental health in children by providing them with the tools to recognise and manage their emotions.  We are currently delivering these workshops online to children, parents and educators but hope to move to deliver in person once circumstances permit.

Books2All Q&A - Jo Cummins blogging, teaching, podcasting
Jo with co-founder Vafa Taleban of Mind Superheroes

Q: 1 in 8 schools across Britain do not have a library – have you yourself had experience of the educational inequality within the school system or met anyone who has?

It is utterly unacceptable for it not to be a legal requirement for schools to have a library when it is required in other institutions. The government should make provision for all children to have access to a library within their schools – very often this is the only access to books that some pupils have.  Although I have always been lucky enough to work in schools where there has been a library, I have worked with plenty of children who do not have access to books at home and relied solely on school for reading material.  That is also why I would always give my pupils books for Christmas, so I knew that they all had at least one book at home to enjoy.

Q: What book or books do you think all children in schools should be given to read?

I think that all children should be given THE book.  The book which makes them want to become a reader.  Not because they are being told to but because they have discovered the pure joy of reading for pleasure.  This book will be different for every child – a graphic novel, something funny or an information book – but I consider it my job as a teacher to try and find them that one.  And when I have, it has been amazing!

Q: Ok, so final question, Jo Cummins – if all the libraries in the world were on burning and you could only save three books, what would they be and why?

I am absolutely terrible at committing to a top three of anything, but if you’re going to press me, I’d save Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for selfish reasons (and because it’s the start of a truly magical series), an up-to-date encyclopaedia as a record of how things were, and Jane Eyre as that’s one of my favourite grown-up books.

You can listen to the Library Girl and Book Boy podcast on Apple podcasts and Spotify now.

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