Monday, October 24, 2016

The Sheffield Children's Book Award

Did you know that Sheffield Libraries has a book award? Can you believe that it's been running and growing since 1989? For context, this is the year films Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Batman and The Little Mermaid were released. For over 25 years we have been selecting, voting for and celebrating our favourite book releases.

So how does it work? Every year, around January, a stack of Sheffield Library staff come together, and fuelled by tea and biscuits, look through a long-list of the previous year's book releases, selecting only the very best to make the shortlist. These books are then sent out to schools and libraries throughout Sheffield, where children read and vote for their favourite books. That's what is special about the Sheffield Children's Book Award, it's children, well known for being the harshest of critics, who decide on the winners.

The Book Awards have been hosted in various locations over the years  but most recently the Award's home has been back at Sheffield's wonderful Crucible Theatre where the vibe has been electric.

2016 sees a new shortlist of dazzling titles, for which the votes are now in, and frantic preparations have begun for the award ceremony which will take place on Tuesday 15th November. School classes from around Sheffield will be invited to come along, make a lot of noise and meet some of their favourite authors and illustrators. It all makes for a very exciting day.

I bet you're keen to see this year's shortlisted titles? Make yourself comfortable and prepare to behold a list of marvellous books, all of which are available to borrow now from Sheffield Libraries.

Picture Books: 

The Bear and the Piano (David Litchfield), The Prince and the Porker (Peter Bently & David Roberts), There's a Bear in my Chair (Ross Collins), The Zoomer's Handbook Ana & Thiago De Moraes), The Girl with the Parrot on her Head (Daisy Hirst), I Will Love you Anyway (Mick & Chloe Inkpen).
Top: The Bear and the Piano, The Prince and the Porker and There's a Bear on my Chair. Bottom: The Zoomers' Handbook, The Girl with the Parrot on her Head and I Will Love you Anyway.

Shorter Novels:

Mango and Bambang The Not-a-Pig (Polly Faber & Clara Vulliamy), Uncle Gobb and the Dread Shed (Michael Rosen & Neal Layton), The Royal Bake Off (Clémentine Beauvais & Becka Moor).
Mango and Bambang, Uncle Gobb and the Dread Shed and The Royal Bake Off.

Longer Novels:

A Boy Called Christmas (Matt Haig & Chris Mould), The Boy who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair (Lara Williamson), The Wolf Wilder (Katherine Rundell).
A Boy Called Christmas, The Boy who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair and The Wolf Wilder

Young Adult:

Joe All Alone (Joanna Nadin), Silence is Goldfish (Annabel Pitcher), Liquidator (Andy Milligan), Fire Colour One (Jenny Valentine), Panther (David Owen), One (Sarah Crossan).
Top: Joe All Alone, Silence is Goldfish and Liquidator. Bottom: Fire Colour One, Panther and One

Special Category:

Amazon Summer (Amy Wild), The Bolds (Julian Clary & David Roberts), The Person Controller (David Baddiel).
Amazon Summer, The Bolds and The Person Controller

The Baby Book Awards:

Night Night (Ladybird Books), Babies Don't Walk, They Ride! (Kathy Henderson & Lauren Tobia), The Wheels on the Bus (Yu-Hsuan Huang), I'll Catch you if you Fall (Mark Sperring & Layn Marlow), Things That Go (Simon Abbott), Box (Rosalind Beardshaw).
Top: Night Night, Babies Don't Walk They Ride, and The Wheels on the Bus. Bottom: I'll catch you if you Fall, Things That Go and Box.

Schools Library Officer, Jennie Wilson, leads the planning of the Book Awards and spends much of October and November spinning plates, in order to bring us a fantastically fun ceremony which will excite children about reading for pleasure, books and libraries. That's what it is all about!

RSVPs are coming in from authors and illustrators as we speak and so far we have a lovely list of people attending the ceremony, and more still to confirm.

Currently due to attend the ceremony are:
  • Clementine Beauvais (author - The Royal Bake Off)
  • Becka Moor (illustrator - The Royal Bake Off)
  • Peter Bentley (author - The Prince and the Porker
  • Sarah Crossan (author - One)
  • Thiago De Moraes (illustrator - The Zoomers' Handbook)
  • Polly Faber (author - Mango and Bambang)
  • Daisy Hirst (author & illustrator - The Girl with the Parrot on her Head)
  • David Litchfield (author & illustrator - The Bear and the Piano)
  • Chris Mould (illustrator - A Boy Called Christmas)
  • David Owen (author - Panther)
  • Michael Rosen (author - Uncle Gobb and the Dread Shed)
  • Rosalind Beardshaw (illustrator - Box)
  • Layn Marlow (illustrator - I'll Catch you if you Fall)
  • Sarah Hastelow (illustrator - Night Night)
  • Lauren Tobia (illustrator - Babies Don't Walk, They Ride)

Watch this space after November 15th, for the lowdown on the award ceremony day, and to find out who won what!

- Written by Alexis Filby (Library and Information Assistant)

Friday, October 21, 2016

Review: The Silver Dark Sea by Susan Fletcher

Cover image for The Silver Dark Sea by Susan Fletcher
The sea has always fascinated me, which is why I picked up this book. The prose is so very rich that I had to ration the amount I read in one go, so as not to overdose, the way one might only have a small slice of lavish chocolate cake per sitting. 

Fletcher’s pace glides, bounces, and slips between points of view, at times even for the same character, and it was sometimes difficult to keep track of everybody, which is where the inclusion of a family tree was helpful. Most of the characters are related to one another in some way, whether by blood or marriage, and it is important to know what these relationships are in order to understand their reactions.

The novel seeks to examine the nature of loss, and the fragmentation in its wake that is felt by those who are left behind. In this way, the sense of confusion and disjointedness I experienced were appropriate. The changing points of view and the wide cast of characters serve to reinforce their turbulent lives and the influence of the sea. Reading it, I experienced a wide range of emotions, from sadness and melancholy to sympathy, understanding and elation. This is a book that catches hold and doesn't let go.

If you like the sound of this, you might also like:

Written by Ann Brook (Library and Information Assistant)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Review: Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks is possibly best known for ‘The man who mistook his wife for a hat’, but this was the first book of his that I've read. 

Sacks starts from the idea that the vast majority of us are inherently musical and he discusses various disorders which have influenced an individual's musical abilities or how they perceive music. He outlines case studies and anecdotes without trivialising each individual's experience. The stories frequently moved me greatly and I developed a great sympathy for the people involved, as well as a better understanding of the patience and care that is needed to cope in many cases. I was also grateful that the patients, relatives, carers and doctors had decided to share their experiences as a lot of them are deeply personal. I hadn't heard of most of the disorders, and had no idea that people's musical ability would be affected at all by these, let alone how. Sacks' prose reads like an accessible textbook. He does not dumb down the scientific language, but he does take the trouble to explain the concepts in more detail to enable a layperson to grasp his meaning.

The most moving chapter for me was the final one on dementia. It eloquently describes how music is often the only way that people who are frozen can become animated, agitated people can become calm, and silent people can find their voice. Music seems inherent to us as a species, and allows people to be united and set free, even if it is only for a short time. This is its greatest power, and we mustn't take it for granted.

If you like the sound of this (excuse the pun!), you might also like:

Written by Ann Brook (Library and Information Assistant)

Thursday, October 6, 2016

A Chatterbooks Celebration

Chatterbooks reading groups have been running successfully across many Sheffield Libraries for quite some time now. These groups aim to encourage children to gain a love of reading for pleasure, books and the library all while creating new friendships and building confidence!

1st - 8th of October 2016 is Chatterbooks week, where this fantastic book group is celebrated nationwide! We chose to join in with this, by running a junior writers' workshop hosted by author Nik Perring.

As 2016 also marks 100 years of Roald Dahl, children were invited to the writers' workshop by way of surprise, edible golden tickets Charlie and the Chocolate Factory style (created by our very own, talented staff member Jennifer Wilson). These were given out at all of our Chatterbooks sessions.

On the 5th October at 5.30pm, children from across the city gathered in the Central Children's Library and took part in 2 hours of their favourite book chat, story plotting and finally writing, all enthusiastically led by Nik.

It was a fun filled two hours full of noisy chatter and laughter making this event really feel like a celebration of these long standing and brilliant book groups.

23 children, worked together to create three imaginative stories (including themes such as time travelling biscuits, explosive cupcakes, angry Ghostbusters and vengeful cheesey wotsits!). There is no denying that children write the greatest stories, and these will be compiled together into an actual book by Nik, which the children will receive soon.

Felix Akers said he had a brilliant time at the event and he wanted to share with us his favourite books: - "My favourite books are Animals Ark books by Lucy Daniels and I like the Mr Men books by Roger Hargreaves."

Tina Barber, Library and Information Officer at Schools and Young People's Library Service said:- "Sheffield Libraries' celebration of Chatterbooks Week was a fantastic event hosted by the author Nik Perring.  Children from Chatterbooks groups across the city came along to Central Children's Library and had lots of quick thinking fun making up verbal stories in a story chain.  They all had the opportunity to meet new friends and discuss what they liked to read."

Nik Perring said:- "It was a genuine pleasure working with such a brilliant group of young writers and readers, and seeing how utterly excited they were about books and reading and stories is absolutely terrific and a testament to the amazing Chatterbooks book groups the library service run."

This was a great event which created a buzz and excitable atmosphere in the Children's library, and that's what we are all about! Encouraging a love of reading while making the library a fun, friendly and welcoming place to visit.

We would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who attended this Chatterbooks celebration and took part so enthusiastically, and also to Nik Perring for hosting another fun and inspiring workshop.

We will be launching a new Chatterbooks group in the Central Children's Library very soon. If you are interested in attending this, please contact us via e-mail or phone listed on the following link:

Information regarding Chatterbooks can be found on the Reading Agency website:

You can find out more about Nik Perring on his website:

Written by Alexis Filby (Library and Information Assistant).

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

In a Dark Wood: Words and Images of Mental Distress Across a Century

Sheffield’s third Festival of the Mind (15-25 Sep 2016) will be kicking off this week with a full programme of varied events across the city.  Included in the programme is a project called In a Dark Wood: Words and Images of Mental Distress Across a Century.

This collaboration between Archive Sheffield, Sheffield City Archives, and Professor Brendan Stone (University of Sheffield) will explore changing perceptions of mental distress/illness by drawing both on contemporary accounts and on the photographic archive of South Yorkshire Lunatic Asylum (later Middlewood Hospital) in Sheffield.  A collection of large-plate glass negatives, kept in the Sheffield City Archives, and almost certainly unseen in the last hundred years, offer a powerful window into a different era of medical care.
The history of photography in mental hospitals is a long one, dating back to the work of Hugh Diamond in the mid-19th century. Diamond was a doctor, photographer, and the Superintendent of Surrey County Asylum. The practice soon became widespread, and was based on the idea that the photographic image could provide an accurate and scientific insight into ‘insanity’. In Diamond’s influential 1856 paper ‘On the Application of Photography to the Physiognomic and Mental Phenomena of Insanity’ he claimed that the use of photography negated the need “to use the vague terms which denote a difference in the degree of mental suffering”, and that photographic images indicated “the exact point which has been reached in the scale of unhappiness”.
The photographing of patients was predicated on a desire to ameliorate suffering. Nevertheless, what may strike us now is the inadequacy of an approach which focused on surface appearance. As we look at these almost 100 year-old images from the old Middlewood Hospital, we might reflect on the stories and voices of those we witness, and wonder how many were untold, unheard. There is no identifying information included with the images, nor any explanation as to why they were taken.
These anonymised images will be presented alongside contemporary audio reflections on the nature of illness/distress and care from people currently living with mental health problems. The combination of images and sound will represent a kind of dialogue across time which will generate insight and provoke thought about differing perceptions of mental health, as well as drawing out resonances. Visitors to the exhibition will be invited to leave their own thoughts and reflections in response to the exhibits.
The exhibition In a Dark Wood will be showing at Bank Street Arts from 15-25 Sep 2016 as part of the Festival of the Mind.

Date: Thu 15 - Sun 25 September 2016

Time: 11am-4pm, except 11am-9pm on Wednesday 21 September
Location: Bank Street Arts, 32-40 Bank Street. Sheffield, S1 2DS
Entry: Free

© Glass negative images from the collections at Sheffield City Archives (Sheffield Libraries), [early 20th cent.], reference: NHS3/5/26.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The story of Peter Raeney, the ‘Maniac of Woodseats’

A few years ago, we uncovered the sad story of Peter Raeney of Woodseats who lost both his love and his mind in the early years of the 19th century.  The story unfolds in a detailed account from 1828, held at Sheffield Archives, which was published in local magazine, Active8.  Four years later, a local band, who read the article, have written and recorded a song called ‘Peter Raeney’ inspired by the sad life story of the tragic character who hid himself away and ‘died for love’.

Raeney, a fine-looking 20-year old, had courted Mary Jones, the daughter of a local landowner.  The couple were due to be married at Dronfield Church but Raeney’s bride-to-be left him standing at the altar, instead marrying another Sheffield man in a different part of the country on the same day.  Raeney returned to the Woodseats hovel which was his family home, tore a hole into the loft, climbed into it and vowed never to leave.  His family took him food but he refused to speak to them.  They left the door open for him each night and, after a while, he would creep down from his hiding place when it was dark and either cover himself with earth or roll in any pool he could find.  According the account from 1828 ‘at last he refused to go out any more and pulled his bed all to pieces; everything which has since been given him for bedding or clothing, he destroys’.

After 14 years, two people travelling from Sheffield to Derby heard about his existence through talking to people at the Freemasons' Arms (now The Big Tree) and they learned where to find ‘the maniac’s dwelling’.  Heading towards Chesterfield, just 200 yards from the inn, they discovered a small croft: ‘A miserable abode of the creature whose wrongs or miseries we sought to enquire’.  They were allowed into the tumble-down building by a widow, but she was reluctant to let them see her son.  At that moment the two visitors noticed something in the loft above: ‘a moan we knew to be human was heard’.  Offering the old woman a few shillings, they were pointed in the direction of a few stone steps which led to a hole in the ceiling.  In the darkness they discovered Peter Raeney, bent double in the loft space wrapped in a ‘foul discoloured sheet’ and covered in a mass of hair.
The visitors describe in great detail the physical and mental state of the man: ‘the lower part of his face was buried in hair… the whole body was in the attitude of an ape sitting..’ The narrator goes on to say: ‘I looked around the miserable loft which contained nothing but the naked body of the poor maniac, the dirty sheet I have spoken of, myself, my friend and the woman who conducted us.  In spite of my appetite for information, I grew physically as well as mentally sick, when, to my surprise and almost horror, the poor wretch who had kept his wild looks almost continually upon us, turned his face to the floor, and said in a tone which smote the heart “I am bound to sleep”.’

The 2,000 word account concludes that ‘Mentally he has died for love.  It cannot be doubted that the falsehood of Mary Jones broke the heart of Peter Raeney’.  Raeney died two years later and was buried at Norton Church in December 1830.

Some years later, after reading this account in Active8 magazine, local songwriter Andy Whitehouse, realised that the Raeney family home must have been very close to his own house at Woodseats.  Taking some of the narrative word for word from the original account he put ‘Peter Raeney’ together.  Now his band, The Silver Darlings, are to release ‘Peter Raeney’ as a single on 17 Sep with a launch party at Shakespeare’s, Gibraltar Street, Sheffield.  Doors 8pm, admission free.  Listen to the song here:

To find out more about this dramatic story as retold by Andy Whitehouse and Tim Knebel, listen to Rony Robinson’s show on BBC Radio Sheffield (8:00 to 24:00).

The original article can be viewed at Sheffield Archives (reference number: JC/29/21) and a copy can be seen on Picture Sheffield


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Chartism: a Sheffield Uprising

James Throup, a student from the School of English at the University of Sheffield, has been spending time in the archives uncovering some of the fascinating documents which tell the history of Sheffield.  His final blog post discusses Chartism: a Sheffield Uprising...

Near midnight, Saturday the 11th of January 1840: police officers Atcherly and Wilde, accompanied by others, gained admission to a house on Eyre Lane by asking for a man named Hartley. Their real target was the owner of the house, a man called Samuel Holberry. Resting in bed, Holberry heard the approach of the thick-booted officers, surprise mixed with a feeling of resignation, a sense of inevitability. The officers burst into the candlelit room to find Holberry propped up on his elbow in bed, fully dressed except for his shoes, the bedside candlelight fluttering briefly about the scene. Wilde stepped forward and ‘caught hold of a dagger from a side pocket in his coat, which was in a red leather case’.


“Are you one of the people called the Chartists?” said Wilde.

“Yes.” replied Holberry.

“This dagger is a deadly weapon – you surely would not take life with it?” said Atcherly.

“Yes; but I would in defence of the Charter, and to obtain liberty” replied Holberry.

So runs the report on the ‘Trial of the Sheffield Chartists’ in the Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser, March 21st 1840. Holberry was subsequently arrested and tried for conspiracy and sedition, and sentenced to four years imprisonment. He later denied ever making the remarks alleged by Wilde and Atcherly, and some have speculated how culpable he actually was (Lewis 2009). At the same time, the police did find a substantial arsenal of weapons in the Eyre Lane house, so it is hard to deny that some form of Chartist agitation was at hand. Delving into the history of the Chartist uprising in Sheffield, I found this to be one of many suspicious elements.

Chartism was a political movement which campaigned for increased worker’s rights in England in the nineteenth century. Betrayed by the Reform Act of 1832, which extended voting rights to middle class men, workers adopted a People’s Charter aimed towards an extension of suffrage. Their aims included: the vote for men over 21; a secret ballot; a wage for politicians; a rebuttal of the stipulation that politicians had to own property; equal electoral districts; and yearly parliament elections. By the end of the century all but the last of these were implemented.

In 1839, an armed uprising in Newport by Chartist sympathisers was violently suppressed by the police. In the wake of this, several other uprisings were planned across the country. The one in Sheffield was spearheaded by Samuel Holberry, and aimed to seize the town hall by armed force. However, on the night of the planned insurrection, the police pre-emptively put a halt to any mass action thanks to information from James Allen, himself a Chartist.


After the Chartist leaders had been arrested, Allen was placed under police protection:

Employment was found for him at his own trade in the South of England where he remained for some time under an assumed name. At length he was recognised by a man who had known him at Rotherham, and his removal became necessary

(Taylor and Otley)

Oddly, Allen’s fate was not revealed until 1864, when John Taylor recounted the events at a meeting for the Young Men’s Book Society, an account reprinted in the Sheffield Telegraph. In reply to this article, Richard Otley, another former Chartist, wrote in decrying Allen as an agent provocateur, intent on inciting others to take up arms in a plot which he planned to derail.

Another suspicious factor was that Allen’s evidence was not submitted to the court when Holberry was tried. In addition, Holberry was not permitted to speak throughout the trial (Lewis 2009). Instead the prosecution relied on other Chartists members turning ‘Queen’s Witness’. It was later revealed that the main ‘witness’, Samuel Thompson, acted under duress: the police had arrested his father without reason, and threatened both with imprisonment if Thompson failed to co-operate. 

Holberry was sentenced to four years in prison at Northallerton. Whilst incarcerated he received a number of letters, a collection of which are preserved at Sheffield Archives. One of these is a petition challenging the unjust treatment of Holberry:

the said Samuel Holberry when sentenced to imprisonment for the above term [four years imprisonment for conspiracy and sedition], was not sentenced to hard labour, yet, at the commencement of his confinement, he was placed on the tread mill; a punishment (in the opinion of your petitioners) – when the sentence of the judge is considered – clearly illegal   


Holberry was moved to York due to poor health, but died in 1842 as a result of the enervating hard labour he had endured. While it seems clear that the authorities wanted to make an example of Holberry as a warning to other Chartists, it is also evident that no depth was too low for them to stoop to: hidden informants, pressured witnesses, and illegal punishment. 

Samuel Holberry is quite rightly commemorated today in Sheffield Peace gardens, a plaque bearing his name acting as a proud reminder of Sheffield’s contribution to a momentous period in history. Over my time working for the Archives and Local Studies Library I have come to understand how involved Sheffield has been with some of the major movements and events of the past few hundred years. But more than this I have learnt how, more often than not, the history of Sheffield is one which tells of a people willing to stand up against oppression, and willing to fight, campaign, and unite for ideals of freedom and greater equality.

James Throup, University of Sheffield


‘The Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser, 21st March 1840’ accessed through Local Studies Library

Catherine Lewis ‘Samuel Holberry: Chartist conspirator or victim of state conspiracy’ (2009) Local Studies Library: MP 211 M

John Taylor and Richard Otley ‘How the Sheffield Chartists were betrayed’ (Holberry Society Publication) Local Studies Library: 942.08 S

‘Letters sent to Samuel Holberry while in jail, 1841-1842’ Sheffield Archives: HS/1/1-15