My Life: Josie Whitehead

Josie Whitehead
Josie Whitehead
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WHEN retired teacher, Josie Whitehead from Ilkley volunteered to help out in her local primary school she never imagined that it would end up with her poetry being read in more than 100 countries.

“I’d been volunteering to hear the children read for about six months, when one day I asked what they’d been doing and they said poetry,” recalls Josie, 71.

What they enjoyed the most was rhythm, rhyme and story poems which made them laugh and they asked Josie if she could write them one. Despite never having written any kind of poetry before, the children absolutely loved the poem she wrote for them.

“I wrote it about a little boy who was invisible and so could get up to all sorts of mischief without anyone seeing him. The children were so taken with it that they didn’t even want to go out to play when the bell rang. In fact they only way the teacher could get them to go out was by telling them that I’d write them another one for the next week.”

She continued to write poems each week for the three years that she helped at All Saints Primary School.

“Each week they would come with a different subject for me to write a poem about.”

Her biggest challenge was when one little boy asked her to write about a donkey.

“I love donkeys but I just couldn’t think what to write. I kept avoiding this little boy but he kept asking. In the end I said a prayer that I would get some inspiration.”

Within 10 minutes, Josie had written what was to be one of her most popular poems, about an old donkey chosen by God to take Mary to Bethlehem.

“I do think sometimes I have an angel sitting on my shoulder as quite a lot of my poetry ends up having messages in such as ‘don’t give up’ and ‘be kind to one another’ without me ever starting out with that intention.”

To date, Josie has written more than 1,000 poems for children, older children and adults. She created her own website after a group of children asked her to do so.

“I suppose when I was a child I would have been asked to put them in a book, but these children wanted a website so that they could read them at home.”

Eventually Josie did as she was asked and was born, and she couldn’t believe the response.

“I didn’t know anything about making a website but in the end I made a simple one and just put my poems on it. The response has been amazing from all over the world. More than 3/4 million people have looked at it which is astonishing.”

Teachers in particular are clamouring for Josie’s work as the Government has now woken up to the fact that rhyming, rhythmic poetry is a very good way to help children to read phonically.

“I was a secretarial teacher and any one who does shorthand will know that it helps you think phonically.”

She now has 30 books of poems and through Skype reads her poems and has them read back to her by children across the world.

“It is amazing to see children in Texas reciting my poems and they also get to see Yorkshire.

“Quite a lot of my poems are about Yorkshire so I hope some of them might visit the county.”

A group of students from Bradford University has animated some of her poems and it is now Josie’s hope that the BBC or some other TV company will pick them up and create jobs for a whole new generation of people.

Making the most of networking

Josie Whitehead was voted one of social networking site LinkedIn’s most powerful women out of 11,000,000 people. She uses LinkedIn to allow teachers to get in touch with her and find her poems to use in their classes and thinks it is a wonderful tool for networking.

“I couldn’t believe it. I put up my profile and then next morning I had teachers from all over the world contacting me. They come from Italy, Poland, America – everywhere.”