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Our story

Best Books for Schools relaunched - June 2021

Just Imagine is thrilled to announce the relaunch of Best Books for Schools from Just Imagine. We've experienced many changes this year including initiaitng some dynamic new projects. However, we have retained many of the things that are important to us such as our pride in our independent bookselling status. We continue to provide great value and curate collections of the best books available. These are selected by an expert team with decades of teaching and librarianship experience.

Best Books for Schools from Just Imagine offers you

  • Hand-picked titles to save you endless hours of searching for the right book (we do not list every title that we can find because we think you and your children deserve the best.)
  • A searchable and browsable interface - our shop is designed to enable you to locate specific books but also to browse our special collections.
  • Quick access to all the books in our reading resources: Take One Book™, The Reading Journey and Reading Gladiators™.
  • Flexibility and Choice - the best of both worlds: the option to select individual titles or choose our curated selections, ensuring you can efficiently fill gaps in your collection or tailor your purchasing to avoid duplication or to service specific needs.
  • Many of the titles for sale are reviewed by our expert review panel, and you will find podcasts and author information conveniently located on book pages.

Beginnings

But the story really goes back to the 1980s, formerly a teacher, teacher educator and independent consultant, Nikki had run children's literature courses for many years at Anglia Ruskin University and contributed to courses at UCL, Institute of Education and The University of Cambridge. The advent of the literacy strategy in the late 1980s and early 1990s led to pressure on course designers to replace children's literature studies for student teachers with a focus on the mechanics of learning to read. Although teachers and teacher educators knew that reading for pleasure was essential for learning to read this was not supported by the statuory requirements at that time. (How far things have moved on!)

Nikki and a colleague, Sally Yates from Bath Spa University, pushed back against the trend and wrote the first edition of Exploring Children's Literature to support colleagues in teacher education with a handbook for self-study that could supplement a reduced timetable for this essential aspect of literacy education.

When Nikki took the step to become independent it was in the belief that this afforded greater freedom to work in ways that ran counter to some prevailing trends. She maintained contact with colleagues in teacher education running Read to Inspire conferences for student teachers and an annual Write Away conference for in-service teachers at the London Institute of Education.

In 2010, Nikki fell in love with an available unit in Chelmsford. The building had an interesting provenance. It was a former servant exchange, and in the nineteenth century a bric-a-brac shop famously selling Nelson's seal. It had been a record shop with a basement coffee bar (that once hosted Jimi Hendrix!) Its latest use had been a television studio (Anglia News) and it still had the 'On Air' lights when we moved in. It offered an opportunity to set down some physical roots and begin to build a wider schools network.

 

Several of Nikki's former students found their way back for valued advice, to pick up recommended books for teaching, and many a cup of tea and slice of cake were consumed as relationships were re-established.  The grand opening presided over by Steve Cole and Sarah McIntyre (who designed the logo, originally a Christmas Card that Nikki had commissioned) was a great success.

The shop welcomed an array of visitors and was a vibrant space for anyone with an interest in children's books. Writers and illustrators groups for aspiring book creators ran alongside book-themed parties, manga sessions and book clubs for preschoolers to teens. The Just Imagine illustrators group continues today run by the wonderful Diana Mayo. It was an exciting time, with monthly meetings to discuss projects and an unforgettable group trip to the Bologna Children's Bookfair.

As the team expanded, school-based workshops, training and roadshows burgeoned. 

A growing team, with a broad range of experience in teaching, literacy advising, academic and children's librarianship, Just Imagine entered a new phase, expanding its consultancy and training services for schools and introducing programmes inspired by Nikki's continuing research projects.

While the team literally 'held the shop’. Nikki worked with Wayne Tennent, David Ready and Angela Hobsbaum to write the latest iteration of Guiding Readers, which went on to win the UKLA Academic Book of the Year Award.

Three years were spent working with schools in the London Borough of Richmond on the DfE funded project, 4XR, exploring with teacher researchers the best ways to develop excellence in the teaching of reading.

This work formed the base for further refinement and development and Just Imagine launched two resources that put children's books firmly at the heart of teaching reading.

The award-winning Reading Gladiators™ was launched in September 2014.

Just Imagine had outgrown the much-loved premises in Chelmsford. We knew it was time to move when members of the team were working on the doorstep because we had run out of space inside! We moved to a beautifully converted barn in the Essex countryside. Bookselling moved online and before long new services were created to support classroom teaching and independent reading in the form of Take One Book and The Reading Journey. Meanwhile, the well established Reading Gladiators™ achieved two finalist awards at BETT and ERA and won the Teach Primary Resource Award in the English and Literacy category in 2018.

The training portfolio expanded as new consultants and partners came on board. A former BBC Radio 4 producer, Alison Hughes, enabled the successful podcast series In the Reading Corner to provide an invaluable digital resource for educators and student teachers. Initially, a magazine-style format, programs with a host of expert voices including Bob Cox, James Clements and Teresa Cremin opened up discussions in a wide range of topics from readability and libraries to picturebooks and classic literature. In the Reading Corner remains a treasure trove of author interviews: well-known names, such as Michael Rosen and Benjamin Zephaniah and exciting debut writers including Dean Atta and Kirsty Applebaum.

The Barn Door Closes and Another One Opens

Like many others, we have been affected by the COVID pandemic. Premises closure for almost a year and the lack of access to schools for training pushed our activities online. We took an early decision to offer free CPD to support teachers during lockdown: reading and literacy training and a virtual teachers’ book group (in partnership with Cheltenham Literature Festival). We decided that to ensure a sustainable business and protect jobs through a difficult period we should relinquish our premises (people are more important than buildings).

As the entire world has adapted to purchasing online we have redesigned our virtual book supply for schools. Many hours have gone into the creation of this space, which we hope offers teachers and librarians a trusted place to buy books with confidence. We offer a curated collection of high-quality children's books, organised to enable busy professionals to efficiently source books to support classroom teaching and independent reading; to restock their school libraries and book corners with a range of well written, expertly illustrated, well designed and inclusive titles.

Teachers using Best Books For Schools will engage and enthuse the children in their care; pique their curiosity and ignite their wonder in the world; fuel their reading for pleasure and service their development as lifelong learners. The new user-friendly interface ensures you are always only a few clicks away from a basket full of special books that will recoup their worth tenfold.

Our virtual door is always open, 24/7. Come in and browse at your leisure. And we are just an email away for more specific enquiries assistant@justimagine.co.uk.