"When is it Spark! again and can I be in it?"
by Deborah Hollingdale, St Richard's CofE Primary School
07 June 2023
It’s our third year of Spark! School Book Awards here and it’s a much anticipated part of our reading life. While a few parents might be able to buy the books, our Spark! activities are very much based in school and like everyone else, we’re working hard to make not much money, reach as far as possible. In our three years of participating, two things have come out especially strongly:
The children really like to tell you what they think of the books – without there being any sense of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. Reading for Pleasure in a very fundamental sense.
They really like that they get to decide who wins.
So, we want to ensure everyone from the smallest Nursery child to the biggest Year 6, gets to encounter the books, express their opinions and vote. We do a lot of things that you’ve probably thought of doing too – read the books in & to classes, watch the author talks, chat about the books and, of course, vote. But there’s a couple of activities that have worked particularly well.
These are dedicated teams of readers who read all the books in a specific category. It’s super popular – hence "can I be in it?" We get together as panels and bookchat about what they’ve read. These discussions can be very perceptive: "that ending didn’t work, maybe the author didn’t know how to stop", "it’s a bit repetitive", "this is fantastic for anyone who feels a bit different". They also talk about the books to their classmates, to help with voting.
If there’s time we watch the author talks together. This year I’m enjoying doing this with the Poetry Panel. It’s brilliant that poetry is the guest category this year, as a lot of our children enjoy it. Joseph Coelho prompted a lot of giggling: "He should have called his book ‘Laugh Out Loud’" and they liked Coral Rumble’s ideas that poems can be about anything "I’ve never thought about it like that, so I could just go and find a leaf and just write."
Pictured above are just a few members of our 9-11 Fiction & Poetry panels. This year we’re also sharing their thoughts in our newsletter, to keep the momentum going ready for voting.
The 'Big Vote'
Being a smaller school means a lot of us can get together in one place, so last year with the guest Picture Book 6-11 category we tried this and it really created a buzz. Most children from Y2-6 had heard or read at least a couple of the books and we had our panel, who’d read all four.
We gathered in the hall, every child with a pencil and slip of paper. For each book, numbered 1-4, we watched the author’s intro clip, the panel shared some of their thoughts, we read an extract and of course showed the illustrations. At the end, every child wrote the number of their favourite on their slip and popped it into their class box. Afterwards we counted up the votes and I visited each class to announce which book they had chosen and the overall school winner.
It was all pretty simple, but the response was great. 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. We will do the same for the poetry category this year.
Another related tip is to have the results of class votes on any of the categories available when watching the awards ceremony, as the children like to support their choice and see if it won.
Being part of the Spark! School Book Awards is a definite highlight in our school year and it’s great to see it thriving and growing. Bring on next year’s guest category!