How to Spark! a love of reading in Your school

by Sian Hardy, Literacy Hive

22 June 2023

Waiting lists in the library; book chat amongst children and teachers popping up in the playground; a general feeling of excitement and purpose around reading… If this is something that you would like to see in your school, then getting involved with the Spark! School Book Awards could be the answer.

Launched in 2020, the Spark! School Book Awards were set up by a group of teachers and literacy leads in Southwest London. The aim of the awards was to help local primary schools create a buzz around books and reading. Such was the success of the first Spark! School Book Awards, that the team decided to widen its reach and now, after only three years, there are 40,000 pupils from schools as far afield as Newcastle and Cornwall taking part.  

The success of the awards can be attributed to two key factors. As teachers themselves, the Spark! team understand the constraints and pressures of the primary curriculum. They recognised that keeping costs to a minimum and ensuring that the awards were easy to adapt to the needs of individual settings were crucial. The second key factor is the project’s foundation on the latest reading for pleasure research. Schools that sign up to the Spark! School Book Awards are building on tried and tested principles that will help pupils to become life-long readers.

Tempting Texts

At the heart of the awards are the books themselves. The aim is to encourage young readers – and their teachers – to try new books, discover new authors and broaden their reading horizons. The shortlists are carefully chosen by teams of teachers and children’s book experts who are looking for well-crafted books that reflect the diversity of school communities. Books that are accessible but that will also challenge their readers and provide new perspectives on the world. Above all, books that will make the judging process exciting and rewarding for young readers.

"Thank you Sparky people for being a voice for new books in schools. We need you." Jamie Allen, Trafalgar Junior School

A Shared Reading Experience

But there is more to the Spark! School Book Awards than access to high-quality books. What makes the awards so powerful is the shared reading experience that they provide and the opportunity to create a community around reading. The four shortlisted titles in each award category provide a set of ‘books in common’ that everyone can read and talk about. These book-related social interactions play a crucial role in developing a strong reading for pleasure culture. What is more, as these are books that sit outside the normal literacy curriculum, they provide an opportunity for pupils and teachers to interact on an equal footing, simply as ‘readers’. This can be immensely powerful, as Barnes Primary has found:

"… if teachers read the books children are reading - namely the Spark! finalists - and create moments within the school day to engage in conversations around these shared texts, whether in passing in the school corridor or planned within a lesson, then children will - and do - read more." Scott Griffin, Barnes Primary


My Vote Counts

No one can make a child read for pleasure. However, by creating a community centred around books and reading, it is possible to entice and engage even the more reluctant reader. Knowing that your opinion matters and will have a wider impact is also hugely empowering. Promoting choice and reader agency has been shown to be a key element in helping young people on their reading for pleasure journey and the Spark! School Book Awards provide a perfect opportunity to do just that. Having an official role as a judge creates real engagement.

"Children took their decision making seriously and there was lots of chat about their choices.  Then there was the anticipation of finding out what had won in their own class and lots of cheering if they’d matched the overall winner." Deborah Hollingdale, St Richard’s CE Primary School

From Readers to Creators

To support the awards, the Spark team put together a range of resources each year. Top of the list are the online events with each of the shortlisted authors. These provide the young judges with an opportunity to put their own questions to the writers and to listen to them talk about their creative process. The award competitions then give children the chance to become creators in their own right, encouraging them to respond to their favourite shortlisted book in whatever way they choose - through art, a piece of writing, film, a musical composition, or by using their IT skills. The range of entries on display at this year’s Award Ceremony was inspiring.

Light the Spark!

The proof of a pudding is always in the eating. Once schools have signed up for the Spark! School Book Awards they tend to come back, and many incorporate elements of the awards into other areas of their school reading life. 

"My school has taken part in the Spark! School Book Awards since its inception and I can say, wholeheartedly, that it’s the most effective initiative I’ve ever been involved in." Scott Griffin, Barnes Primary

"It’s our third year of Spark! School Book Awards here and it’s a much anticipated part of our reading life." Deborah Hollingdale, St Richard’s CE Primary School

"After the success of the first Spark! Book Awards, we have continued to use the Voting Station to generate excitement, book talk and a love of books and reading…" Sue Jakob, Coombe Hill Infants’ School

As you think about your literacy curriculum for the next academic year, why not sign up to receive details of the 2023-24 Spark! School Book Awards in September. There are exciting developments planned!