Our first year of Spark!

by Anna Wilson, Gosforth East Middle School

20 November 2023

Spark! entranceway
Book club

Last year was our first year of involvement in the Spark! Book Awards and what a year it was! From live author events, exciting competitions, book clubs, twitter interactions with authors and a whole host of incredible books to enjoy; the awards truly did create a buzz in school. We are desperate to see which books are shortlisted this year and cannot wait to get involved with all things Sparky once again! 

Why did we get involved?

Reading is at the heart of our school, the library is the first room you see as you enter our building and it is a much-loved space for many children and staff. However, we found that many children were picking up books by the same well-known authors or saying that they couldn’t find a book that interested them. While many of our staff are hugely knowledgeable when it comes to children’s literature, others don’t feel as confident to make recommendations. So, getting involved in the award seemed like a perfect solution – to inspire and excite our young readers as well as providing CPD to staff. 

Creating the Spark! 

Once we had signed up to take part, the next task was to decide how we would engage the pupils and staff. We took inspiration from previous blog posts and our Reading Champion, Miss McFall, was instrumental in generating and maintaining the students’ interest. We kept parents informed of the award, shared the shortlisted books with them and gave them an opportunity to order books through school at a discounted price. We ordered copies of the books for staff to use as class readers and kept a selection in the library, so all children had access regardless of their financial situation. A number of pupils were nominated by staff to receive free copies of the book through the Spark! Book Fund – this is such a fantastic initiative and an important part of the ethos of the awards. 

We began with a book club for any children who were interested in taking part, this started as a small but perfectly formed bunch! We focused on the first competition and the pupils did a fantastic job of creatively responding to the book covers and titles. Members read to each other and logged their thoughts in reading journals.

Book review
Children reading

From then on, it was full steam ahead! We created review spots in the library so pupils could share their opinions on each book, we then tweeted these to the authors and the children were so excited to get responses and likes! The interaction with authors generated much excitement, so when it came to live author events, we were inundated with questions from children across the school. They were so incredibly proud to have their questions chosen and loved the live interactions. To hear that the authors they were enjoying were also gamers and that writing was not always an easy process, even for professional authors, allowed them to see themselves as potential authors and be inspired to follow their dreams. 

Review tweet
Review tweet

It was at this point that we introduced the judging badges, children who came to the book club; took part in competitions; wrote reviews; asked questions to authors or took part in whole school assemblies received judging badges which they wore proudly, further promoting the awards. 

Competition time caused another frenzy of activity! We got parents involved by sharing the categories with them and gave children time and space in the library to create their masterpieces! We were impressed to see the wide variety of entries, and celebrated their achievements through displays and assemblies. 

Competition wall

Voting stations 

The library was the place to be for voting, we used a jar system which Miss McFall adapted from a blog post and this got the whole school involved when they visited the library during English lessons. There were many heated debates at book club about which books should be crowned winners; even the teachers in the staff room disagreed – it was clear that every book would have been a worthy winner. 

 Voting station

What’s next?

The awards truly did create a buzz in school, so much so that we were honoured to be named the Spark! School Book Awards School of the Year. Now as we enter our second year we are thinking up ways to make our involvement bigger and better. We are thrilled that two of our staff have been chosen to be part of the shortlisting panels, what better way for them to spend their half term than curled up at home making their way through a wonderful selection of 11+ fiction and graphic novels. Our team from the original book club in school are heading out to deliver assemblies and meet with head teachers across our trust to encourage them to take part. 

Here's what some of our pupils had to say about the book club and the awards in general:

Jumima: "We talked about the Spark! books, read out poems, talked about the competitions."

Ophelia: "I have enjoyed coming to Spark! Club because it has been nice to come together and communicate. I have met people and made new friends."

Ivy: "My favourite thing about the awards was doing the competitions and not knowing who will win"

Lily: "I liked the author talks because I really enjoy them. I liked reading the books and entering the competition."

Jumima: "I enjoyed the challenges they gave us and reading the shortlisted books. I am excited to see which books will be shortlisted for the next awards!"