My Experience as a Summer Reading Challenge Volunteer At Hayes End Library



My name is Kosalan and I have been volunteering at Hayes End Library for the last month. I became a volunteer at the library to help me accomplish my DofE (Duke Of Edinburgh  Award) volunteering section. These past weeks have made me feel very secure and happy. The staff I work alongside are very helpful and very understanding.

I was given the role of managing and creating the mini challenges for the Big Friendly Read. I am given all the necessary stuff needed and I try my best to make the challenge as fun and as interesting as it can possibly be. I also try my best to make sure I can give the best customer service I can. I help out with the Summer Reading Challenge by stocking the rewards and also by organising them so that they are ready when a child comes in. I also sign them up to the challenge itself and explain it in a way so the child is engaged and also so the child and the parent understand the challenge thoroughly.

Overall my time at the Hayes End Library has been very helpful to me as I have experience in the real world of working and also because I got to meet new people and work alongside amazing colleagues.



Our experience as Summer Reading Challenge Volunteers

YI VolunteersBoth in our second year of volunteering for the summer reading challenge, we knew that this year would be just as exciting as last year because of the fact that this year we were marking 100 years since the birth of Roald Dahl, who is known as the world’s number one storyteller!

Here at Yiewsley Library, both of us feel very welcome by members of staff who have helped us become really involved with the Summer Reading Challenge by familiarising us with the prizes for each visit and allowing us to participate in the wide range of events taking place over the course of the summer.

We feel that The Big Friendly Read encourages young children to do something interesting over the summer holidays and also prepares them for when they go back to school. Reading is an amazing way to allow people of all ages to let their imagination run wild, whether you’re reading a gloriumptious book such as The BFG or a page-turner like Harry Potter!

So far we’ve relished running the mini challenges and seeing the sheer delight on children’s faces as they are so eager to take part and perhaps see whether they can gain the best time, specifically in Charlie’s Rolling Gobstopper Challenge; our favourite mini challenge of the summer.

We would strongly encourage children to take part in the Summer Reading Challenge if they haven’t signed up already, it’s an excellent way to explore all genres of books and there’s no harm in some competitiveness between siblings and friends!


By Britney Lawrence and Amy Krishnarajah (SRC Volunteers)

Literary Challenge #7 A Book with BAD Reviews

Hillingdon Libraries staff challenge for July was to seek out a book that had been set upon with bad reviews and see if they agreed.


Surprisingly, a lot of books that we consider classics have terrible reviews from contemporary critics. Books such as To Kill A Mockingbird, Slaughterhouse-Five and Catcher in the Rye got some really awful reviews when they first came out but despite this have become  great institutions in the literary canon. Here is what our library staff think of Lolita, Moby Dick, The Handmaid’s Tale, Gone with the Wind, The Great Gatsby & Grey.


1. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

lolita (1)Lolita takes an unpromising idea- i.e. the infatuation of a middle-aged man with a twelve year old girl, aka paedophilia-, & attempts to construct a ‘sympathy for the devil’ scenario around this. The book’s initial bad reviews, whatever they were & by whom, probably presumed that Nabokov ‘approved of’ or at least did not sufficiently condemn what is nowadays demonized & damned as a sin beyond the pale of redemption. However, Nabokov is cleverer & more teasing than that, of course. As a writer, he has obviously set himself the task of writing entertainingly, at length, & with much wit, maybe with the intention of inveigling the unsuspecting reader into his/Humbert’s sleazy web?

Conventional elements such as a revenge-murder/pursuit plot & satire of contemporary 50’s American vulgarities are worked in alongside this, as well as a ‘spurious’ editorial foreword which is part of the fiction rather than outside of its world. The novel thus works on multi-levels of narrative & form, with ‘something for everyone’, low/middle/high brow alike. To me, too, Nabokov is also a Dickensian stylist in some of his work, & Lolita indeed displays traits which echo the C19 master. Character names such as ‘Humbert Humbert’, ‘Dolores Haze’ & ‘Quilty’ all hint with psychological onomatopoeia at qualities not quite definable, yet immediately recognisable, perhaps. And what do we make of such lines as ‘You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.’? (1.i.11-12) Is this a paradox, a plain truth, a non sequitur, a nonsense, or bits of these all in one? It makes you think, & has nothing to do with (fictional) child abuse or crime at all!

Most likely, it is the author messing with phrases to bemuse & divert the reader, whilst furthering character development with such idiosyncratic utterances. Anyhow, classics, post-Modern or otherwise, do not become so because of bad reviews, but despite them! Superior writers like Nabokov will always rise above negative press, which is time, place & context-specific in ways that the longevity of universality can never be.

3 out of 5 stars

Len – Harefield Library


2. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Of allmoby_dick_book_cover_by_mario0357-d6rt002 the books labelled the Great American Novel, Moby-Dick is generally considered to be the Greatest among them. And it did attract some good reviews at the time, but the damning ones outweighed them and were more forceful, so strongly worded that Melville told Nathaniel Hawthorne, “I have pretty much made up my mind to be annihilated”.

The negativity from British reviewers is partly attributable to the missing epilogue in original UK editions, which if included would have revealed that the narrator survives the ordeal on the boat, the Pequod. (As the reviewers reasonably believed Ishmael dead, how can he possibly be telling the story?) It was called “sad stuff, dull and dreary, or ridiculous” in an 1852 review. Poor sales also contributed to a weakening of Melville’s standing in literary society and other, now almost forgotten works of his were held in higher regard.

Some 20 years after his death, Moby-Dick was re-evaluated and it is now spoken of as a work of almost unparalleled genius. It is, without doubt, a tough read. But it is a lot more fascinating and playful (not to say a bit madder) than its foreboding reputation would suggest. Consider the very first, very famous line. ‘Call me Ishmael.’ Not ‘My name is Ishmael’. We’re immediately in uncertain territory, and there are some chapters where the narrator cannot possibly be Ishmael – some amazing philosophical stuff about hunting, the sea, the whiteness of the whale, sanity and brotherhood. It’s an unhinged, sprawling, dense work that the author is either just about in control or has just about lost a grip of. It is quintessentially American, capturing an industry and a period like no other novel has. It is a huge and intimidating challenge, but the bad press of the time has been firmly shown as wrong. It’s a book that is part of wider public consciousness, but that doesn’t prepare the reader for what actually awaits them.

5 out of 5 stars

Darren – Uxbridge Library


3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

margaret_atwood_the_handmaids_taleAmong the criticisms of The Handmaid’s Tale were that as dystopias go it wasn’t very imaginative, that the protagonist was ambiguous and the ending inconclusive. Mary McCarthy in the New York Times complained that the author, Margaret Atwood, hadn’t created a new language to rival that of A Clockwork Orange or 1984. I was prepared to agree with all of this and more, having found another of Atwood’s novels, Oryx and Crake, pretty hard going, but I was pleasantly surprised at how gripped I was by this one and how little I cared about the supposed problems with it.

Serious it is, a vision of a less fertile future where women capable of childbearing are assigned to powerful men and completely subjugated by them and their appalling wives. I liked the fact that the heroine’s attitude to all this never seemed clear, allowing the reader to project, and surely an ambiguous ending is appropriate. While there are no linguistic innovations to rival Orwell’s Newspeak, the laconic, bitter punning on horrific subjects creates an atmosphere all its own. The novel’s issues of control and freedom are no less thought-provoking today than in the 1980s when the novel was published. Recommended.

5 out of 5 stars

Mike – Eastcote Library


4. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gone_with_the_Wind_coverThere have been bad reviews about this book published in 1936 but set during the American civil war. The criticism comes from the long length of the book, the racism and the fact that the lead character Scarlett O’Hara is not a feminist but someone who flirts to get what she wants from men. Scarlett O’Hara is certainly not a perfect person but a flawed character with strengths and weaknesses. I must admit I admire her determination to work and achieve success during a time when women were not usually able to do so. She continues working even throughout her pregnancy which was frowned upon. She is so driven because she never wants to go hungry again. I think most people would feel compelled to work as hard as possible to try to ensure they wouldn’t experience hard times again.

When Scarlett is having a difficult time she says “After all, tomorrow is another day!” I find this to be the most inspirational quote in the novel. The novel is very long but that didn’t personally bother me as I enjoyed reading it. The popular film cuts out quite a lot of the novel as I suppose it would make the running time too long.

There are certainly racist terms used in this novel and the Ku Klux Klan is portrayed in a positive light, which is quite disturbing to read. I presume it was written using the terminology that would have been used by white people at the time and with the type of thoughts and views that would have been typical for the time.

4 out of 5 stars

Siobhan – Uxbridge Library


5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

TheGreatGatsby_1925jacketThe Great Gatsby opens with a consideration of criticism and privilege. It’s appropriate then that such a novel has received bad reviews. Even in seemingly positive reviews, such as H. L. Mencken’s 1925 review for the Chicago Tribune, there’s criticism amongst the praise. Mencken argues that the story is “obviously unimportant”.

We might think that time has been kind to The Great Gatsby. It’s been appropriated into the canon of great American literature, which naturally means movie adaptations and a desire to teach it as part of a school syllabus. This hasn’t necessarily gone down well with the students reading it. As one Amazon reviewer wrote: “I was forced to read The Great Gatsby at school. I hated every page of this book. It was boring and had no point.”

Now seems a suitable time for a small confession. When I first read The Great Gatsby I felt disappointed. It felt shallow. The language was undeniably beautiful but there didn’t seem to be much underneath, but what I saw as the novel’s shortcomings are in fact its attributes. Often when I think back on The Great Gatsby I remember feeling a haunting sense of something lacking. But that was by design, it’s right there in the novel. Jay Gatsby longs after a light that signifies a symbolic love for Daisy, but not a real love. When they reunite there’s an overwhelming sense of disappointment. And then suddenly, and at incredible speed, we reach the crescendo of the book where death strikes and shakes up that sense of loneliness and emptiness. The novel suddenly introduces its stakes. Do we truly care about Jay Gatsby’s melancholic love, or the other affairs that riddle the novel? I rarely did. But I cared for poor Myrtle, run over by Daisy Buchanan driving fast, just as all the prominent characters of West Egg society live fast and live hard. But I didn’t initially get that.

Thinking about bad reviews always makes me think of William S. Burrough’s lecture on ‘Creative Reading’. Something Burrough’s said has stuck with me ever since I heard it. “A book that may mean nothing to you at one time may mean a great deal to you at another time.” That is true of my relationship with The Great Gatsby. I have changed and so has my appreciation of it.

5 out of 5

Mark – Uxbridge Library


6. Grey by E.L. James

rs_634x979-150601085302-634-grey-front-coverIt has become relatively fashionable to ridicule and completely tear apart the “Fifty Shades of Grey” series, and to be honest I used to think a lot of it was well deserved, but reading this in the context of books with other “bad reviews” I’m not sure it’s really justified.

Ultimately this is just erotic fiction, not the best erotic fiction, but definitely not the worst. Innocent virginal girl, meets rich experienced controlling man and all sorts of fun ensues. I think it’s been so ridiculously popular because it’s been packaged as general fiction, so it’s more socially acceptable for commuters to read on the train to work or on a beach. A lot of the audience that read this would never touch an erotic fiction novel and I think that’s why it’s been so popular. You can get your kicks all while slating it for it’s terrible narrative and awful characters, all very acceptable and even encouraged. This is a book that is so easy to slate, too easy to slate.

This particular book in the series is the original novel from Christian Grey’s POV. It’s completely unnecessary, as it’s clear that he’s a self-obsessed control freak but it sold over a million copies in the UK alone, so not everyone think’s it awful, or maybe they say they do but secretly love it? Personally it’s not my cup of tea, if I wanted to read erotic fiction I would read Story of O or pick up a book published by Black Lace.

2 out of 5, as it’s not as bad as everyone says it is.

Lara – Harefield Library


So what do you think about our reviews? Are they deserved? Let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading.

Max at Night Review


Max at Night, by Ed Vere, is a picture book designed to get the little ones off to sleep. It tells the story of Max, a sleepy black cat with enormous yellow eyes. He has his milk and brushes his teeth and says goodnight to all his friends…but wait! Where is the moon? Max sets off to find the moon and say his good-nights.

Max leaves the comfort of home to climb big dogs and tall, tall trees to find his lunar friend. The plot is comfortingly repetitive, building up a soft relaxing rhythm despite the adventure. That is until Max cries out “MOOOOON! Where are you Moon?” It’s a wonderful line that’s sure to raise a few laughs. Its also forms wonderfully in the mouth, the elongated “-oo” sound being fun to say and hear.

Max at Night is a gorgeous book. The illustrations are simple and charming and the colour palette subdued to suit the theme of settling down to sleep. The latter point was the only complaint I had with the book, the writing is sometimes a little difficult to distinguish from some of the darker backgrounds.

The story concludes with a touching moment. Max finally finds the moon who lets our sleepy friend know that he could have said goodnight anywhere because the moon will always hear him. It’s a heartwarming message that could mean different things to different readers.

Max at Night is a lovely story. The parents will surely enjoy reading it as much as the children will enjoy hearing it.

Max at Night is available to borrow from Hillingdon Libraries. To search the Hillingdon Libraries catalogue visit: or download the BookMyne App. More information about the BookMyne app can be found at


By Mark Ulrich




Summer Reading Challenge Volunteers

SCR16LogoHayes end library is our local library on the Uxbridge road in Hillingdon and both of us wanted to volunteer there. We specifically chose a library in the Hillingdon borough as is promotes the Summer Reading Challenge in the best way, focusing on children’s reading skills, so that they are able to develop in areas that challenge them.

The Big Friendly Read encourages children over the age of four to revisit the library and this is promoted by a variety of gifts, medals, certificates, etc. As young volunteers we feel like the library is often accused by children and adults of being boring. However, there is an array of different things going on. For example, we often have very vivid summertime story times that last up to an hour usually from 10:30am-11am. Today we participated in one of the mini challenges which consisted of rolling a dice to draw out a bug and although it is simple, it is exciting and these challenges stimulate young children, exciting them to revisit the library. Additionally, young children will learn to avoid the portrayed image of the library being “boring”, but see it as exciting and fun.

Often small games or little challenges put a smile of their face which as a volunteer is rewarding and satisfying. Seeing what the library has to offer on my first day of volunteering amazes us, especially knowing that all these challenges and clubs and events are free!

Sunaina Rana and Prescilla Mukenge

Hayes End Library SRC Volunteers

Talking to the Summer Reading Challenge Volunteers



The Big Friendly Read is a very exciting time for libraries. Here at Uxbridge Library we’re hosting 7 large events, 6 weekly challenges and 4 exclusive Big Friendly Game mornings! We couldn’t get all this done without the help of our Summer Reading Challenge volunteers. This year we have Georgie, Maddie and Izzy helping us out.


This is Georgie’s second year helping out with the Summer Reading Challenge. She first helped out last year with the hugely successful Record Breakers challenge. This helped her complete her Duke of Edinburgh award. Another positive from volunteering was that her “confidence grew.” As I interview her Georgie is helping out with the Doodle Bug Challenge, a dice race to draw a bug. “This year”, Georgie points out, “it’s all different mini games and challenges.” That’s because this year the theme is the Big Friendly Read, a celebration of Roald Dahl. Georgie is well suited to this year’s theme as she is a big Roald Dahl fan. I asked her if she had any favourites but she’s such a big fan that she can’t choose between them, “they’re all equally my favourites – I read them over and over again!”

Joining Georgie this year are Maddie and Izzy. These two friends volunteered together and will be regulars over the Summer helping Uxbridge Library with the Summer Reading Challenge events. Both Izzy and Maddie remember doing the Summer Reading Challenge when they were younger, with Izzy having fond memories of doing the challenge in Ruislip and getting bookmarks and stamps. There weren’t any Starborg cards then! Maddie is also a fan of Roald Dahl but doesn’t struggle to pick out The Fantastic Mr. Fox as her favourite. 
We thank our volunteers for all their help during the Big Friendly Read. For more information about the Summer Reading Challenge visit:


By Mark Ulrich

Judging Books by their Covers

This weeks cover of the week starts with an apology for the missing cover of the week blogs. Sorry!

The cover art this week was suggested by Darren at Uxbridge Library and is The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber, cover art by Yehrin Tong.

strange new things hardback

The book has undergone a few redesigns as each edition came out. First of all was the golden teardrop illustration on the hardback. Tong uses circular patterns based around the simple teardrop shape to create a design that paradoxically simple and detailed. It creates a beautiful rich feel the book and it becomes an object of importance. The paperback editions built on the positive reception of the first book, as explained by Canongate’s art director Rafaela Romaya in this article.

Version 2


The entire set earned Tong the top prize for book cover illustration at the V&A awards last year. And it is easy to see why. The way she crafted the pattern around the teardrop shape to create images to the two central characters is masterful.

Tong’s website is full of beautifully intricate patterns that create some truly wonderful images. I love the attention to detail in these images, even if some of the GIFs make my eyes blur!

In addition to the beautiful covers designed by Tong I have found two other cover designs for this book. Unfortunately I do not know who they were designed by. The second of the two designs below bares some similarity to Tong’s paperback designs as the profiles of the man and woman gaze at each other from either side of the book. The difference of course being that you need both of Tong’s designs to achieve this effect. I do like both of the below designs, particularly the hands reaching through space, but neither of these covers carries the other worldliness of Tong’s designs. Neither makes the book feel special or elevates it above the hundreds of other titles out there. Tong’s designs work well with the title of the book, creating an object, a book of strange new things.

You can read reviews of Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things here.