It only takes a spark to ignite a passion for reading, but how can you fan the flames and provide the fuel to create a proper inferno? (And let’s see how long I can keep this metaphor burning…).
This is my third year of participating in the Spark! School Book Awards as a school librarian. As a librarian, I don’t have as much one-on-one time with pupils as teachers do, but I do get that big picture perspective of the school involvement. Here are some ideas about how to get the whole school talking about the Spark! shortlisted books and, hopefully, excited about reading them.
We launched the Spark! School Book Awards during World Book Week. An assembly would have been an ideal way to launch the awards, but this was a tricky week as the teachers were on strike on the Thursday and the PSA had their annual Bounce for Books on the Friday, which meant the hall was full of bouncy castles with no space for an assembly.
But the reading focus of World Book Day was too good an opportunity to squander, so we launched the awards during the school day in each classroom.
I had bought one set of shortlisted books for each class, and piled them all on the staff room table for the teachers to collect, along with a little letter of introduction to the Spark! School Book Awards. This created a buzz of excitement - everyone likes getting new books!
As I wouldn’t be able to visit each classroom individually on the day, I recorded a short video for each category, introducing the shortlisted books. I also created a ‘Reading Booklet’ for each category so pupils could keep track of their reading.
On the day, I asked the teachers to show the video, read the opening page of each book, and then ask pupils to write a few lines about their first impressions. All of the books were immediately snapped up by enthusiastic readers, and waiting lists were created.
I had extra copies of the books in the library as well, and I had a rush of eager children coming to the library at break to see if there was another copy of the book they particularly had their eye on.
2. Get the teachers engaged
As a school librarian I have the advantage of a little more focused time to devote to initiatives like the Spark! School Book Awards, but I only get to see each class for twenty minutes every second week, which is not really enough time to generate excitement and momentum around the shortlisted books.
So I have to rely on teacher engagement and goodwill. I am very aware that teachers are busy and have many calls on their time and attention, so I need to make participation as easy as possible.
Firstly, I put a poster up of the shortlisted books in the staffroom, to raise awareness. (Ideally, it would be great to have some additional copies of the shortlisted books available for staff to borrow and read as well.)
I also created a folder on Google Drive with all of the Spark! resources the teachers could use, as well as information about the online author visits. For the poetry competition, I created an entry form plus certificates that teachers could use to reward their pupils for participation.
And I tried to make some personal connections with the book recommendations. One of our Year 5 teachers had already read and loved ‘Be More Hedgehog’ and had been recommending it to her class, so I mentioned that in the introductory video and her class were very excited about it. One of our Reception teachers has a pet hedgehog which has become a class mascot, and once she heard about ‘Be More Hedgehog’ she went out of her way to buy it for herself, even though it wasn’t in her age category.
There’s a fine line between spamming teachers with emails and keeping them informed - but people always need more reminders than you think they do.
An aside: As a librarian, I am neither a teacher or a TA or a member of the admin staff, which means I am not really part of anyone’s team. This can be quite a lonely position in a school. But our half-termly Staff Book Club meetings have been a fantastic way for me to connect with the teachers, and have inspired many book-focused conversations in the staffroom.
3. Get the pupils excited
A Year 4 pupil walked in the library with his class the other day and announced ‘who wants the Underpants of Chaos’ and, like magic, chaos erupted! (Having a title like ‘The Underpants of Chaos’ does dramatically increase the popularity of a book - authors take note.)
Even though I don’t have much face-to-face time with pupils, I can keep the Spark! books visible with posters and displays around the school. We have a Spark! display in the library and a selection of books in the entrance foyer of the school as well.
We didn’t allocate the poetry shortlist to any particular year group and so my lunchtime library visitors and Year 6 reading ambassadors have become an informal Poetry Book Club and I’ve had a lot of passionate feedback about these books already. The Spark! pupil competitions will be my big focus after the holidays.
4. Keep the parents informed
I have also put up some posters outside of school to keep the parents informed about the Spark! School Book Awards. We also have a regular ‘Book of the Week’ slot in the Friday Newsletter, so I have been using these to recommend one of the Spark! books each week.
We do give a Spark! shortlisted book to each pupil with Pupil Premium Grant funding, but unfortunately we can’t give a book to every child in the school. We try to make books as accessible as possible through classroom collections and the library, but parents are often looking for book recommendations and are happy to buy books for their children - particularly books endorsed by teachers or librarians.
5. Interact with the authors
Authors love to hear about children who have enjoyed their books, and though the children don’t engage with social media directly, we can report back to them that an author has replied to their review or creative response. And pupils are often thrilled with this direct connection with the author.
The primary school that I work at doesn’t use social media at all, so I can’t post about the Spark! School Book Awards directly from school, but I have a personal Twitter account that is mostly children’s book focused, so I use that to promote the awards and make connections with authors and publishers.
Now I’ve written it down, this all seems very obvious, but I hope that it has sparked some ideas about how to engage with the Spark! School Book Awards in your school.
When it comes to reading for pleasure, one of the most important things we can do as adults, apart from making sure children have access to books, is to model and demonstrate reading for pleasure ourselves. I often observe that the teachers who are the most enthusiastic and passionate about reading, have the classes who are the most enthusiastic and passionate about reading.
So this is my final suggestion: Read the Spark! books, get excited about the Spark! books and the inferno will spread.