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Reading for Pleasure Campaign

Last updated: 3 July 2013

Sign this petition to make school libraries statutory

We are campaigning with other organisations to encourage reading for pleasure in schools, and we need your support and feedback. We are particularly interested in contributions which detail the impact of author visits and the value of presentations to teacher training colleges and/or teacher conferences.

Our Chief Executive, Nicola Solomon (pictured), wrote to Nick Gibb making recommendations regarding school libraries, teacher training and author visits, and to request a meeting to discuss practical strategies to further the Government response to the Henley Review and Ofsted’s Moving English Forward.

Nick Gibb has made a number of supportive public statements regarding the value of school libraries, literacy and reading for pleasure. We welcome his press notice of 7 February 2012 which asserts that ‘…all children [should] develop a real love of books and of reading for pleasure’ and outlines research which identifies the link between reading and attainment. We are also much encouraged by a recent statement in which he said: ‘I passionately believe that every school should have a school library’ (ATL Conference, 3 April).

In our letter to Nick Gibb, we make the following three recommendations:

1. Primary and secondary schools should be required by law to have a school library and a trained librarian/teacher. (While we think dedicated librarians should be compulsory in secondary schools and all but the smallest primary schools, we recognise that librarians are an expensive resource and at the very least a designated teacher should be given specialist training in such schools.)

2. Teachers, in all stages of their careers, should be supported through a range of initiatives (detailed in the letter) to inspire a love of reading for pleasure in their pupils. 

3. Schools’ use of author visits and longer residencies should be accredited by Ofsted.

Click here to read the letter in full.

Nick Gibb has responded by inviting us to discuss the points raised at a meeting in October. Please continue to leave your comments so that we can submit these to Nick Gibb at this meeting.

Sarah Waters says:

"How many times does this point have to be made to ministers? Books matter. They inspire, they inform, they delight; they encourage independent thought, invention and empathy. At a time when public libraries are being closed down, and when hard-pressed families have ever less money to spend on books, it is absolutely vital that school libraries are made a priority, and that teachers are given every support in fostering literacy. Nicola Solomon's letter gets it absolutely right. The only way in which we will encourage our children to value reading is by demonstrably valuing it ourselves."

 

Helena Pielichaty, Chair of our Children's Writers and Illustrators Group, says:

"Study after study has shown how children who read for pleasure achieve significantly more, regardless of background, than those who don't. Those achievements are not just in terms of academic success but include social and emotional behaviour too. It makes sense then, to find as many ways of promoting reading for pleasure as possible. Let's have a library at the heart of every school and books at the heart of every library. Let's nurture generations of story-loving, fact-discovering, poetry-guzzling pupils and let's give teachers the tools and time to do it. I truly believe that if we do, educational standards in the UK will rocket."

We encourage you to circulate details of this letter to interested parties and leave a short comment below if you would like to offer support for this or any future campaign regarding children’s literacy.

We also encourage you to tweet about the campaign using the #readingforpleasure hash tag.

Illustration by Nicola Smee


 

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Please note this page is now closed for comments. If you're a member of the Society, please email Jo McCrum if you have any points you'd like to add.

Comments

Profile picture of comment
Tracey Iceton says:
December 16, 2012, 1:10 pm

The link between reading and writing

In my ten years of teaching in both secondary schools and sixth form colleges I have seen the steady erosion of reading for pleasure by students.  Every year I begin my literature classes by having students write a list of all the books they have ever read.  This more and more frequently consists of the texts they have studied at school and some, if I'm lucky, rather unchallenging (but at least it is still reading) YA fiction.  Very rarely do I encounter a classic text on the list that a student has read for pleasure, not merely been taught.  And these are students who are choosing to study lit because, they say, they like reading!  When I reached sixth form college I had already read Dickens, Hardy, the Brontees, Wilde, Mary Shelly, George Elliot, HG Wells and countless others for pleasure.  So there is proof, as far as I see it that students no longer read extensively for pleasure.

The real problem then arises when those same students, whether studying literature or English language, have to produce a piece of writing.  They are so unfamiliar with the range of texts out there that they have limted options, particularly for the Creating Texts unit of AQA's Eng Lang course.  I will be getting a stream of magazine articles and little else because they just don't know what else there is and, with time constraints, there is only so much I can do to introduce them to a variety of texts.

Next year AQA will be launching an A-level in Creative Writing.  I welcome this and hope to be teaching the course but I am afraid that students will struggle to cope because of the variety of writing required by the syllabus.  Some find it hard to even write just an appropriately academic essay let alone produce creative texts ranging from poetry and fiction to scripts, feature journalism, biography, travel writing, memoir etc.

Despite my saying time and again to students that they need to read widely in their own time they just don't do it.  Other things, like facebooking are just too tempting.  Until there is a proper place for pleasure reading in schools, and from a primary age, that gets students into the habit of reading, then this problem will only get worse.  There should be time set aside on the timetable for students to bring in any text they like and read it for perhaps thirty minutes twice a weeks (more if that's possible!).  Only then will students sit down with everything from a classic novel to a copy of the Guardian and read and from that reading learn how to write.

Maire McQueeney says:
October 15, 2012, 1:29 pm

Reading For Pleasure

Although totally supporting fees for writers' school visits I confess to having relied on friendships and the possibility of offering a reciprocal favour to encourage reading for pleasure when I worked as a pt school librarian.

During my first year at Varndean School in Brighton I started inviting  friends to be  guest of honour for a 30 minute  "Packed Lunch" event in the school library. Both  staff and students were welcome to bring their lunch. An audience of  20-30 students was typical.   Guests often stayed on for the start of the next lesson.

Although it's difficult to link cause and effect I offer the following two examples of  learning and enthusiasm. 

 Peter James'  visit in 2008  resulted in a tangible legacy for a Year 8 English lesson.  Their  assignment was to write a piece for a national competition. Having been introduced  as a local writer of both horror and crime novels, Peter fielded questions on writing techniques.  More than 10 students from that lesson had their work published.

Two years later we welcomed  Edie Spinks a Year 10 Varndean student  for a "Packed Lunch". Edie self-published her first novel "Introducing Lottie" using Blurb.   The novel was subsequently adapted for the stage and performed by at Varndean.   

 

Maire McQueeney

Profile picture of comment
Grant Solomon says:
October 8, 2012, 11:08 am

Reading for Pleasure Campaign - Author visits to schools

I'm a regular school visitor, with over 900 schools visited around UK in the seven years Oct 2005 to Oct 2012.

I write for children under the name, Jack Trelawny; six novels in the Kernowland in Erthwurld series have been published since September 2005.

At school, I present a lively 'edutainment' slideshow combining education with fun, with a view to encouraging pre- and post-visit activities related to reading and writing. In advance of the visit, the teachers will often encourage the children to read the first couple of chapters and then class work may be to imagine and draw who or what might be in the cave with the characters:

http://jacktrelawny.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/who-or-what-is-in-echo-cave.html

On the day, fancy dress, along the theme of 'pirates' or something else from the stories, makes the whole event memorable for the children:

http://jacktrelawny.blogspot.co.uk/2010/09/jack-trelawny-visits-treleigh-primary.html

Afterwards, class work can be related to the quizzes about the books or they carry on with related work, for example in geography or history, using the author visit event and themes from the books as a starting point. One of my themes is mutants. The children often have great fun creating and drawing their own mutants:

http://jacktrelawny.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/jack-trelawnys-story-house-ideas-for.html

Afterwards, the teachers also help the children send letters and artwork related to the visit:

http://jacktrelawny.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/jack-trelawny-kids-art-and-letters.html

Teacher, pupil, and parent feedback has been very encouraging and the visits seem to be highly valued:

http://www.jacktrelawny.co.uk/feedback-from-schools

It's not just my visits of course; I get lots of reports that other author visits have had a similar effect.

Feedback from the school staff highlights the main block to organising author visits: cost. Our solution to date has been to offer free visits. To cover the costs of travel (sometimes 300 miles each way), accomodation, and time, we have offered books for sale to the parents. It has worked for seven years but, in a highly competitive environment, the price of the books has remained the same, whilst the visit costs are escalating. I sign an average of 60 books per visit but it is becoming increasingly difficult to make this work financially. My suggestion is that the only way to make it viable in the long term is if the schools have a specific author visit budget.

If the Schools Minister were to contact a random selection of the schools who have had an author visit, I am convinced that most would confirm that such visits make a valuable contribution to the encouragement of reading for both learning and pleasure.

http://www.jacktrelawny.com

Tony Lee says:
October 7, 2012, 10:45 pm

Change The Channel

Over the last year or so I have been running a campaign entitled 'Change The Channel', where I speak to 'reluctant readers', explaining that when I was their age, I was exactly the same, using comparisons to TV, film and music to show the variety in types of book out there.

I don't believe in the term 'reluctant reader', as I was simply impatient and choosy, not reluctant to read at all, yet by the levels and tickboxes used by todays numbercrunchers I would be within that demographic - so I treat all students not as reluctant, but as choosy. As readers who have not yet found what to read. 

Whereas I cannot show with figures how succesful this campaign has been, I have had great feedback from schools I've been to where students, often for the first time have entered the libraries to pick up a 'new channel' of book.

That said, I've been to schools both state and private, and there is no fixed level of 'library' in these places, with one school, a school that charged thousands of pounds a term in fees to attend having to have the headmaster's own personal library on the shelves to fill it out.

Non-member comment:
Jenny Vaughan
says:
October 3, 2012, 2:17 pm

More on non-fiction

The following letter and related article appeared in the Guardian on Saturday 29 September – the article, sadly, on-line only.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/sep/28/children-nonfiction-books-li...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/sep/28/decline-childrens-non-fictio...

Non-member comment:
Jenny Vaughan
says:
October 3, 2012, 2:07 pm

Children's nonfiction

Children, like everyone else, love stories. But they also have a thirst for knowledge – to find out more about the extraordinary world we live in. How sad it is, then, that publishers no longer feel able to produce the wonderful range of non-fiction books that they once did – the restrictions imposed by the National Curriculum and the reluctance of bookshops to display non-fiction have conspired to drive this genre almost to extinction. It's time someone had the courage to revisit non-fiction and make it exciting, original, and challenging – to let it hold its head up (and its prices down) so that those young people who do not want always to be reading novels can enjoy the excitement of finding things out. That, or course, is where libraries come in, too. They can provide an Aladdin's cave of information and discovery – not all of it presented on the internet in an accessible form for young readers.

Heather Bateman says:
July 11, 2012, 10:40 am

I am author of over 30

I am author of over 30 children's books and regularly visit schools in Hammersmith, where I have been Author in Residence at two Primary Schools for several years. I work once a week with groups of six children, each group creating a story over a period of six to eight weeks. They illustrate the story and make it into a book, which they then read to the class and sometimes to the whole school. I work with KS2 children of all abilities: Gifted and Talented, children with learning difficulties and EAL. In many of the schools, the children speak around 27 languages and over 75% are on free school meals. The children enjoy being part of the group. The teachers claim that the participating children gain confidence and self-awareness; they have an outlet for their creativity and, at the same time, their use of English and grammar markedly improves, as does their behaviour and pride in their work, and they begin to read more; their enthusiasm and enjoyment is obvious, especially when they read the completed stories to their peers. Children often run up to me, asking when it will be their turn to be in a group.

Recently, an 18 year old girl stopped me in the street to tell me she had won a coveted place on a Cambridge University writing scheme, and that it had been the sessions with me long ago in Primary school that had inspired her to want to write.

Heather Maisner

 

Graham Gardner says:
July 7, 2012, 10:32 am

Reading for pleasure campaign

The enormous variation in school library provision across the UK points to the need for it to be made a statutory requirement .It's not enough for Nick Gibb to say warm words about every school needing a library and in the next breath say that it's up to individual schools whether to provide one; this was the tone of his department's letter to me when I wrote directly to him encouraging him to think about legislation to help make his (apparent) vision a reality.

The situation with school libraries is similar to the situation of public libraries; while the senior management of some schools properly recognise the value that school libraries can provide in both of supporting education in both its narrow and wide sense (supporting lessons and helping to feed imaginations), others see them as an expensive luxury that is first in the firing line when budgets are cut. Freedom of choice is not enough when it includes the freedom to deprive young people of the resources they need to realise their potential both as thinking and feeling human beings and as citizens of tommorow who will need all the help they can get to deal with the social, economic and cultural challenges currently gathering pace.

The answer to the question of whether schools should habe required ve to provide a 'trained' librarian is more complex; it depends on the size of the school, whether a primary school or a secondary school, and what we mean by 'trained'. As other commentators have pointed out, it's simply not realistic to expect a small primary school to provide a full-time paid chartered librarian, although it does need someone with knoweldge of and enthusiasm for children's books who is given the time to guide children towards them and help them to use them. Equally, a secondary school needs and should be required to employ at least one full-time member of staff whose sole responsibility is the library, with knowledge of and passion for books and the skill to guide young people towards them.

However, knowledge, passon and skill do not necessarily have to come from chartered status or other 'official' library qualifications bestowed by professional bodies. Other qualifications, including those gained from experience, can be equally valuable. I speak as the library resouces manager of two thriving libraries at a secondary school in London. Neither myself nor my colleague are 'officially' qualified, but enthusiastic feedback from teachers and students tells us that we are providing the resources and the service they need.

Our 'unoffical' qualifications include PhD and post-doctoral academic research,  a degree in English literature, bookselling, employment in a university library, being author of a bestselling book for teenagers, energy, passion, empathy with the needs and interests of students and staff, the will to learn, and substantial and ever expanding knowledge of books and other (jargon alert) 'learning resources'.

We are aware of many other librarians who are in the eyes of some people 'untrained' or 'unqualified' and yet who do a fine job in promoting and supporting a love of reading and learning . Ths is where freedom of choice should come in. Schools should be able to appoint library staff on the basis of their suitablity for the job, not acccording to whether they are 'qualified' or 'trained' according to unhelpfully narrow and rigid criteria.

Moyra Bremner says:
June 28, 2012, 11:54 am

As a former teacher I applaud

As a former teacher I applaud the SoA's initiative to encourage school libraries. However, for several reasons, I doubt the need for a 'trained librarian'. First it could deter under-funded schools from having a library. And surely a library without a librarian is better than a school without a library.

I understand that the SoA recognises that all primary schools may not be able to afford a dedicated librarian and has suggested that 'at the very least a designated teacher must be given specialist training in such schools.' Initially I thought that a wise position. However, on reflection, I  think it is so vital that children learn to love books as early as possible that nothing - except issues of children's physical or emotional wellbeing and safety - should stand in the way of that overarching objective. So I would prefer the SoA statement to read: "Ideally, a designated teacher who has had special training, should be in charge of the library." For, in a small or understaffed school, the difference between 'ideally....should' and 'must' could be the difference between a school library being open every week of every term or being closed when the trained teacher was:
- off sick
- on maternity leave
- overwhelmed by other demands on his/her time
- or had  left the school and no other teacher had yet trained as a librarian  - which could  be months.

Yet, at critical periods in the kindling of a child's passion for books even a week without access to one, or without access to the next in an exciting series of books, can allow the spark of excitement with words to die.

Of course, ideally, the DoE would create very short courses at which keen teachers or parents could learn how best to obtain and maintain books and foster joy in reading. However, I doubt whether training in any other aspects of librarianship is desirable, still less necessary. What matters is that whoever runs the library loves both books and children enough to arrange love matches between them. And that they never, for an instant, imply that a book is too difficult  to read  or a subject too hard. To suppose children's brains cannot seek what they need is to think them inferior to a plant's roots. Which is, surely, absurd. At 5 my father's anatomy books fascinated me and laid the foundations for writing and broadcasting on medicine and science. Yet what trained librarian would have thought them suitable for a 5 year old?

Moreover, once trained in 'proper library systems' a school librarian may feel that books have to be organised according to the classic system. Yet that may not be ideal for schools. For example, in a primary school it might make sense to have  both very large picture  books and big encyclopaedias on a strong bottom shelf. While  books containing references to  sex, drugs or violence (as some children's books do) might be best  on the top shelf.  Such practical and developmental factors may play no part in 'proper' library systems. Yet once someone has learnt that there is a 'right' way to organise books it may take more courage than many people possess to rebel and organise them to suit  children's  needs.         

As writers, we all know that learning to read is not just the process of learning which black shapes represent which  spoken words. That part is to reading  what walking into the sea is to swimming. Real reading is a process  in which the reader allows the writer and illustrator to fire their imagination, stimulate their brain and touch their heart. At its best it ranks beside really good love making  as one of the most intimate and magical processes any human being can experience. For reading allows another human brain to enter yours. It  enables even a child to travel to the farthest reaches of the universe, and to realms of the intellect and imagination unreachable by any other means.           

As with love making, timing is crucial. The next book must be there when it is wanted, not when the one designated  teacher has "finished training' or  'recovered from flu', For, to adapt Shakespeare, "There is a tide in the affairs of children which taken at the flood goes on  to joyful reading; disrupted, all the voyage of their life. Is bound in web sites and in television."    

Therefore, what is most important of all is that, from its first day in school, every child is read to and learns to associate books with pleasure. The surest way to achieve this would be for someone who can read vividly - and create a warm atmosphere - to read to children, in the school hall, at lunch time or after school for 20-30 minutes.            

There must lots of grandmothers, mothers and authors, who would love to read to young children once a week (or more) -  and excel at it. However, the readers should all be women, as some male paedophiles could use this to identify potential victims. Of course, excluding men may violate sex discrimination laws. However politicians and judges must, surely, ask themselves this - and amend the law accordingly: which does more harm, the violation of a principle or of  a child?

Non-member comment:
Guest visitor
says:
June 29, 2012, 4:27 pm

*sigh*

Moyra. While I agree with what you say about having a library in every school, I strongly detest the notion that a trained librarian is not necessary. I don't know what you think school librarians do, but I personally don't spend all day getting hung up on classification systems. I aim to promote a friendly and interesting environment in which to nurture an interest and love of reading. I organise up to six author visits a year to enthuse and capture the imaginations of the students. Every day I am promoting the library to teachers, reminding them what resources are available to support curriculum subjects and teaching information skills lessons. I manage the budget for the library. I create development plans for the library and attend heads of department meetings to make sure what I do is integral within the school community. I love my job that I worked hard to qualify for and to hear someone say that what I do isn't necessary is frankly offensive.

How many teachers do you know who would have the additional time to put into a library that would be as successful as a library run by a trained librarian? It makes me sick. And to be honest, we're not exactly paid that well, certainly not as much as a teacher. Would a teacher take a pay cut to act as librarian? I dont think so!

Non-member comment:
Don Buckland
says:
June 27, 2012, 10:14 am

I used to teach reading

I used to teach reading english to children at a primary schools via booktrack, and think it is so important that children learn to read well.

Non-member comment:
A Morton
says:
June 19, 2012, 1:25 pm

I just wanted to voice my

I just wanted to voice my support for this and hope your campaign moves forward.

I am a rare breed in that I am a primary school librarian. I am currently completing my chartership. I have no formal degree which is proving to be an obstacle as I came to librarianship later in life. There needs to be a structured recognised qualification for all librarians (not necessarily a degree as I feel this is not needed) which shows what qualities we can bring to the educational sector. I am passionate about children’s reading and information literacy and consider our school to be a great example of what can be achieved across reading levels.There are a lot of excellent librarians out there who do not have degree qualifications but do, however, have a wealth of knowledge that they can use to educate our children to read better which will, in turn, encourage them in all other aspects of their learning. I will keep an eye out for future improvements

Non-member comment:
Anthony Pedley
says:
June 18, 2012, 10:22 am

I’ve visited more than 700

I’ve visited more than 700 schools over these past years spreading the gospel according to Roald Dahl with my one-man show, directed by David Wood, ‘A Taste of Dahl’. I’ve found that when schools have a decent driving force behind them, be it the Head, Literacy Co-ordinator or Librarian (titled Book Worker in one school recently!), then they will do their hardest to attract an author visit in order to encourage their children to get involved with more reading and writing. Even then though I’ve discovered that cost is of the essence, and no matter how much they may want somebody to visit, the cost may be prohibitive. I believe that I am continuing to be employed in my capacity as an actor playing the role because my fees are somewhat lower, and more affordable. Now, I’m not suggesting that authors should lower their fees, far from it because school visiting is secondary to their main occupation, unlike me who earns a living through it. No, authors should be allowed to charge their fees according to their status, but schools should be able to have the funds to cover them – they must be made accessible to all.

An author visit is an exciting time for a school, and I’ve found that many, many schools use it as a launch pad for their Book Week and, with my visit in particular, they’ll be dressing up as characters from the Dahl books. Mind you, there have been many occasions when I’ve visited and the school is full of characters that I’ve never heard of – snuck in from other stories! With luck this enthusiasm will lead on to brighter and better things later, but this is where the school library should come in – the children, once enthused, ought to be able to go straight away and grab a book. Funnily enough, it actually happened in South Wales after one of my performances that a child did exactly that, and walked off with one of my Dahl first editions! I did get it back, but I was delighted to think that I’d had such an effect!

As I mentioned earlier it is very important for a school to have a driving force behind it, and this where it doesn’t come down to just the finances, but the actual teaching staff themselves. I really do feel that it is vital for schools to have good, or even any, Literacy Co-ordinators, and not just them but the whole teaching staff should be made aware of how valuable reading is to those children that they’re nurturing. Get the staff to appreciate the value of an author visit, and they in turn can put pressure on the appropriate authority.

In ‘A Taste of Dahl’ I use only Dahl’s own words, and there is a section where he says that he is ‘not trying to indoctrinate, but to entertain. If I can get a young person into the habit of reading, then with any luck that habit will continue through life’. He goes on to say ‘the habit of reading teaches them to become literate, it teaches them vocabulary, and it teaches them that there can be other things to do rather than watching the television!’ Not everybody is that keen on Roald Dahl, but I do believe that he said the right thing as far as children were concerned, and to this end I’d like to finish with this little review that I received from a school that I visited a couple of years ago…..

‘A Taste of Dahl is an experience that condenses a lifetime of fabulous story writing into a fun sized hour. Every word is taken from the great man's hand and construed and moulded into it's own fascinating tale.There was some concern that the Year 3s' attention would waver but
with drama, intrigue, huge energy and props of the most ingenious relevance, such anxieties melted away like a Wonka Bar under a pilot's hat!
Anthony Pedley demonstrates how those strange, and sometimes bothersome, squiggles and symbols on a page can be conjured into awe inspiring tales and wonderful characters…… a shot in the arm for reluctant readers and a joyful reminder to those of experience.’
Owen Lucas, All Hallows School, Somerset

www.anthonypedley.co.uk

Profile picture of comment
Diney Costeloe says:
June 14, 2012, 9:50 pm

Workshops in School

 I am  retired  primary school teacher, and I always used to read to my class at the end of the school day. Children can listen with great pleasure to books read aloud to them, that they might not tackle on their own. My father, a London publisher, always said that reading was a habit, that it didn't matter what you read (you would become more discerning as you grew up), the important thing was to enjoy reading, to think books were fun, to be able to lose yourself in a book. How sad that many today's children don't have the opportunities we had, particularly if there is little or no literature at home.

Though I don't write for that age group myself, I would happily go into schools if asked and talk about books. Last summer  I, along with several other authors, took part in a sixth form writers' workshop at a school in Bristol, working with several different groups of students. It was very worthwhile, and I thoroughly enjoyed the day. It would be great if more schools organised such 'author' days to encourage both reading and writing.

Val Biro says:
June 12, 2012, 1:46 pm

Arts Council support needed

As a writer/illustrator of children’s picture books, I have done many hundreds of primary school visits. I the course of a visit, I gave 2/3 illustrated presentations of 1 hour each, according to age, and apart from introductory remarks, would give story-tellings from my numerous books. The response of my young audiences was invariably enthusiastic, especially as the principal character of my ‘Gumdrop’ stories is a vintage car, and it would be parked in their playground and inspected by them after the session. Best of all, at the end of the school day I used to sell and inscribe paperback copies to their parents, in serious quantities.

From the many reactions I have received after such visits, I was assured how it had engendered children’s love of listening to, and then READING stories for themselves. And now, in my old age, it is most satisfactory to hear from, or meet, those children in their present grown-up form and be told what a strong influence those visits had been to encourage their reading habits for life.

Many of those visits used to be promoted and, often, funded by the Arts Council, but I believe that in today’s austerities this is no longer the case, and many schools, often in deprived areas, cannot afford our fees or expenses. Which is not only a shame, but a disgrace.

Steven Hartley says:
June 11, 2012, 10:45 am

Let's hope Nick Gibb listens, and actually does something.

If I can paraphrase the old Cyndi Lauper song: "Boys just wanna have fun!”  and with my school-visits I try and make reading just that. It seems to me that so much of the way reading and writing is taught is so rigid and prescriptive, that fun doesn't get much of a look in. I'm with Roald Dahl - reading should be a subversive activity for children, something that grown-ups mildly disapprove of. Unfortunately, that means handing over control, and too many schools these days get very nervous about that.

Here are some recent email comments I've had following 4 school visits:

The children were and still are buzzing about your visit. Five people in book club the next day were reading one of your books, and we had more boys! Success! Parents have mentioned that their boys have been glued to your books! 

Thank you for the work you did at St Peters. The children all enjoyed it and are talking about it out of lessons by comparing the work that you did with each class. When would you hear that from a literacy framework lesson!

The children were so enthusiastic about the whole 'experience'!  At an evening meeting on the same day, many parents said that their children had been 'inspired' by his visit.  In my class alone, I had boys settle down to write a story happily and two of them even took their stories home to finish!

What have you done to Class 5? I can't get some of my boys out into the playground at breaktime - they want to sit reading in the Quiet Corner! Thank you! 

I'm not blowing my own trumpet, because I know from talking to schools that authors can all have the same effect. We are able to bring stories and storytelling to life in a way that many teachers aren't able to do. We are a fresh face, the people who actually "do it", and we aren't constrained by the dreaded National Curriculum.

Non-member comment:
Paul Doyle
says:
June 11, 2012, 10:12 am

I have been taking authors

I have been taking authors into schools for about 4 years. Most of my work up to then had focused on adults. Since 2008 there have been quite a number of visits to children from KS1 up to A-Level and from Special Needs grouping to More able and Talented. Visits have varied between 2-4 day workshops producing a proper finished product, oftentimes a book though I have done audio as well, performances or one day talks and workshops.
What I have seen for myself is that children respond immensely well to the writer. They don't associate the visit with the grind of school but rather with pleasure therefore associating reading with pleasure and something that is enjoyable to do. The social aspect can be fascinating too as the groups lose the sense of hierarchy I often find in the classroom and all pitch in together and help one another, this is especially true of the longer visits. I have witnessed teachers fill up with emotion as they see children 'grow' within a group as they come on leaps and bounds. I have to say that in some cases, while the writing is fine this side of things represents a much greater achievement. Take the 11 year old hat had spent the first three months of secondary school almost mute, only speaking to 2-3 people. After working with the author she is talking and contributing in a group setting, albeit quietly but the staff were taken aback by her progress during the two day visit.
Children sometimes want to impress when the author visits. They see the 'real life' author as being someone significant. Teachers likewise. And in wanting to impress they read. they pick up books, they explore libraries they talk and share their reading. An author visit makes the act of picking up a book and reading special, cool. A teacher told me recently that author visits were very reaffirming to children, gave them confidence and motivation.
There are some children who spring to mind. Padair in the school library reading, what he told me was only his second book, ever. He decided to start on the back of an author visit. He said something along the lines of "books are really good, I love reading". Or the mother of another boy whose name escapes me, comes into school after a day with a writer/illustrator commenting on how the boy was at home; how he buzzed with excitement about stories, words, picture and books and how this is a new thing for him to have done. Or the dyslexic child who battled hard to read out what he had written to an author. Or the 11 year boy who had written practically next to nothing in two months of school, writes three stories over three nights during a three day author visit. There are countless examples, these are some that stand out. I should mention too how the author visits impacts on the more able and talented category. Here it is motivating, it stretches them and inspires them. For all children across all levels confidence is such big thing. The author visits helps bridge the confidence issue and with that the children do free themselves up to express themselves.
As you mention Ofsted I should say too that teachers often learn a lot from the visiting author. I know of one who, following a poet visit, changed her approach to poetry. And this is by no means a one off. I have plenty of teacher feedback on how they have learnt from visits and have put something in place as a result.

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Andy Seed says:
June 8, 2012, 4:01 pm

I heartily endorse this

I heartily endorse this campaign and, from one project, can offer evidence of the value of author visits (see the following graphs). I was asked in 2008 by North Yorks LEA (working in conjunction with the County Library Service) to help deliver 'Catterick Boys into Books' - a special project aimed at 40 10-11 yr old boys who were reluctant readers in 6 primary schools serving Catterick Garrison.

The boys came from a variety of backgrounds, with the majority from Army families who had moved around a lot and often had fathers serving overseas. I took a wide range of children's books from the SLS - mainly non-fiction and books with strong visual appeal covering football, cars, sport, films, technology, adventure and including jokes books, puzzle books, graphic novels, funny poems, biographies, some 'cool' fiction and 'how to' books. The day was centred around two parts:
1) Giving the boys enjoyable excerpts, tasters, interactive poems, stories and other fun input relating to books/reading.
2) Showing the books I had brought along (mainly brand new) and enthusing about them.
  After part two the boys were given the books and allowed to look at them, share them and talk about them with their friends. They then chose their favourites and said why. Finally, I talked briefly about the importance of being a reader for future success and opportunity.

The LEA adviser in charge of the project carried out some research before and after the event to assess the impact of authors working with the boys. The results were that the majority of boys now had an extremely positive attitude towards reading and went on to read more than they did prior to the visit.

D Edwards says:
June 8, 2012, 1:22 pm

Reading for pleasure Campaign

In this era of 'two-dimensional'  activity, when a proportion of children appear to have little interest in anything outside the confines of the screen (mobile, computer, television), we are seeing a diminution of social ability (personal interaction, conversation, 'manners' ) and this must be a worrying trend.   The 'book' was - should still be - a significant part in lives of most mature adults and we would wish to pass on the richness of our experiences to the next generation.   Reading 'Swallows & Amazons'' under the bedclothes by the light of a torch (accepted it wasn't ideal!) started my interest in literature across the spectrum which I would seek to encourage in any youngster.    Reading - and preferably not on a screen, for this eliminates so much of the enjoyment and aesthetics - can only be for the betterment of an all-round education.   Recently I visited a school (an author involvement) where the (extensive and enviable) library was regarded by pupils and staff alike as the most used and valued school resource with a libarian whose enthusiasm knew no bounds.  Perhaps it is no surprise that the school ranks highly in the league tables with a greater than usual proporion of candidates for university places.    So, Ofsted inspections should look in depth at: Author visits, school library provision and usage, pupils' reading ability and spread of genre, potential in terms of writing ability and - meaningfully - their powers of conversation. 

The Society of Authors should do all within its powers to support and encourage schools to take more authors into the school forum and, Ofsted willing, use the opportunity for the benefit of all.

Non-member comment:
Katharine McMahon
says:
June 8, 2012, 1:04 pm

readers become excellent writers

I worked for a while as a Royal Literary Fund fellow in universities, supporting students with their essay writing. We surveyed the students and asked them questions about their early reading experiences, and there was a great correlation between those who had the experience of browsing in libraries from an early age, and those who wrote well. No surprise, but free access to books, being familiar with words and pictures, freedom to browse and make connections is clearly an experience that has far reaching consequences well beyond a love of reading.

Non-member comment:
Louise
says:
June 8, 2012, 6:56 am

As a child, my reading

As a child, my reading started with comic books, not like the ones you find today with toys and tv show characters but the bunty and my dads old eagles, real stories and real excitement. I was recently delighted to discover something called the phoenix (www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk) - it's a comic book for children which is such a great bridge between picture books and novels. Every child i've seen with it totally loves it and sits quietly reading it for hours. I just wanted to mention it as I think it could be a great tool in promoting literacy in children as surely if they want to read something, and their friends want to read it then, well, they're all reading! It's reading for pleasure in a more approachable format.

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Sam Smith says:
June 6, 2012, 4:13 pm

school visits

Back in the '90s I started what became known as the Brewhouse Bash in Taunton. What I did was send local poets into schools round about, both secondary and primary, to get pupils to write poems. The children then had to convert some of those poems into 5 minute cabaret acts, which got performed in the Brewhouse theatre, judged the final afternoon of the festival with the winner performing that evening with the guest star poet. Who that first year happened to be Carol Anne Duffy. In co-operation with the local council I also had other children designing posters based on poems and these posters put up all over town and on display in the theatre.

Various of the children's acts got on the radio and on the local television and the whole venture was considered highly rewarding by the teachers.

I ran that for two years. And then literacy hour was brought in and the schools could no longer fit visiting poets into the school timetable and the children's contribution died along with most other extra-curricula activities. The next year I was reduced to running an adult-only slam, and the festival lost its heart. And I subsequently went off to do other things.

What had been so good had been the involvement of parents and grandparents, of people coming to the theatre who wouldn't normally come, of even adult poets having the experience of performing on an actual stage.... And what I've found to be the real loss of authors going into schools - I also went every year on behalf of the Pushkin prize - was that the child who often performed well for the visiting author came as a surprise to their teacher, changing their expectations of that pupil.

I was also once invited into an art college where the students based an exhibition on my work, which was mutually rewarding. Indeed there are no losers from having visiting authors, whether as volunteers or paid. Any such visit has to enliven school and college life.

 

James Jauncey says:
June 6, 2012, 2:42 pm

A Few Kind Words

Anyone who finds themselves with the task of reading enough children’s books to start a small library will inevitably end up asking themselves one very basic question: why is this important?

The answer is simply this. A child’s imagination is the most precious thing it possesses. You can take away almost everything else, but so long as a child has a healthy imagination, it stands a good chance of surviving, of becoming a reasonably well balanced, thinking individual that will make its way in the adult world.

And there is nothing – absolutely nothing – that feeds a child’s imagination like good writing.

You can read my full blog at http://afewkindwords.me/

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Joyce Dunbar says:
June 5, 2012, 9:29 pm

Reading for Pleasure

I have already made a contribution to this issue in my manifesto LOVE A PICTURE BOOK, published by BOOKTRUST, illustrated by Katie Cleminson and sent to every primary school in the UK. It sets out, in picture book form, all the pleasures of picture books and the contribution they can make to the well being and happiness of a child - not to mention the literacy.  I haven't had a single response from schools so i wonder how many of them were actually read.

I always find school visits a huge pleasure. In writing and drawing - and making mistakes - the children are delighted to find an adult in the same business. It gives a boost both ways.

I am amazed that libraries and books have become such a low priority in the educational budget - almost a sideline. Recession seems to have brought about regression. If the teachers and the schools don't respect and enjoy books, how can the children be expected to? And how can we deprive children of such an accessible and rewarding resource? It bodes ill for our cultural future.

 

 

Michael Taylor says:
June 5, 2012, 10:35 am

LIbraries & Education

The closure of libraries is only part of a greater scheme. The source of all knowledge is books. Governments don't want your children educated to any great degreee because that would unltimately enable them to think too coherently and thus challenge them and their power. Why else would the Left wish to destroy grammar schools, and why has there been no movement from the Right to encourage them? 

I passed my 11-Plus and attended a grammar school. My parents were poor, working class, but they relished the notion that a decent education might lift me out of their poverty at a time when it was considered all right to "better yourself". It was very competitive there, on learning, sport and other activities. I was no academic, and never competitive in sporting activities, but I wished to excel in those things I was good at - still do. A grammar school education enabled me to become self-reliant, and to think clearly. Almost all of my contemporaries went on to make something of themselves, in busienss, medicine, surgery, architecture, science, literature, etc. Big business, it seems to me, is being run nowadays by ex-grammar school lads. I suppose we became the "elite", and eliteness is anathema to the "Left" - unless, hypocritically, you you are in government. 

Equality is the buzz-word these days, but equality only leads to mediocrity, especially in education. Governments know this, but this is what they are aiming for. This is why they are perfectly content to close libraries. 

Michael Taylor

Non-member comment:
Guest visitor
says:
June 3, 2012, 12:38 pm

Reading for Pleasure Campaign

I'm thrilled to read the contributions you have already received about the vital campaign you are promoting.
I run a voluntary campaign in some Essex schools called Keep on Reading which encourages parents or other family members to read to children in Years 3 and 4 (8 and 9 years old). Each child in a class takes a copy of the same book home that we lend to the school and in a year they hopefully have five different books read to them. In the last term I've worked with over two thousand children and given away to every child a badge showing the front cover of the book they have recently had read to them. The children use stickers on the badge to give their opinion of the book. I don't meet with 100% success but feedback to schools is positive and because the children and their parents share the same book, it promotes discussion between children and between parents at the school gate. Failure is usually linked to my poor organistaion or changes of staff in the participating schools.
My best wishes to your campaign but please don't link it to Ofsted.
Les Kemp

Non-member comment:
Antony Lishak
says:
June 1, 2012, 7:18 pm

Reading for Pleasure Campaign

…where to begin?!
I’ve been averaging over 100 author visits a year since I left the classroom 16 years ago – that’s more than 2000, mostly, primary schools. I’ve watched many much-loved libraries replaced with sterile ICT rooms, their precious contents broken up into “topic boxes” and “genre collections” to be dispersed about the school and left to languish in resource rooms or on seldom visited shelves. I’ve heard countless teachers lament the dismantling of their borough’s schools library service (SLS) because too few head teachers considered it important enough to buy-in to, when given the option of opting out. (Such short-sighted cost saving not only killed off a wonderful resource; it deprived over-burdened teachers of the invaluable expertise of the enthusiasts who ran it). I have met hoards of “literacy” coordinators, whose knowledge of children’s literature rarely extends beyond Dahl or Rowling and too many children who have only been fed stories in meagre bite-sized “extracts” for analysis – as if was far too dangerous to expose them to the wonders of a full story in case their enthusiasm for books was fired too high. And I have heard too many education policy makers pay lip-service to the importance of literature and do nothing about it.
All strength to the SoA for spearheading this campaign – children, schools and the wider world would benefit if it only half succeeds. But those of us who spend their lives visiting schools know how high and harsh the barriers are.
One more observation – we need to realise that schools DO NOT necessarily invite authors in to foster a love of reading in their school; more often than not their main focus is on writing. Teachers want us to draw parallels between what we do as a job and what children do in class. I see it as my role to celebrate the marvellous messiness of the creative process – to encourage teachers and children to realise that our “worlds of words” are not constructed in the linear, clean-cut, step-by-step, over-compartmentalised way that children are trained to do for SATs, but as a result of trial, error and risk taking. That, yes, of course we plan – but we are constantly revising and improving because we want to get it right. That wonderful literature is not created in a given time period and that “mistakes” are not crimes but merely opportunities to make things better. Sorry – I get a bit passionate about all this…
But I think this has implications for what we as authors do in schools. For many of us school visits are a brilliant way of promoting our books – and I’m not knocking that! But if we really want our work in schools to be valued highly we must present ourselves to children as “writers just like you” rather than merely “authors that create what teachers ask you to read”.

Non-member comment:
Kristin Gleeson
says:
June 1, 2012, 4:27 pm

libraries and author events

I'm an author who is a former children's librarian who has been coordinating a teen book club for 8 years. In the past I've hosted very many author events. The value of such events is almost inestimable but the immediate effects are apparent in the real enthusiasm it inspires in children. They are able to see that 'real people' create stories they read. The author invariably shows them aspects of putting the book together that leaves them fascinated, whether it's how they were inspired to write the story, discussing key figures in the story. It's also an opportunity for children to think about a story in a different way when they have an opportunity to ask the author questions. I've seen picture book creators help children create stories out of images and then put words to the image story, a very creative and effective method to engage children.

Literacy is a key aspect of a child's future economic success. Keeping libraries in schools, getting authors to inspire children to use those libraries is an important part of that process.

Kristin Gleeson www.kristingleeson.com

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Ronald Turnbull says:
June 1, 2012, 12:13 pm

What about Scotland?

Nick Gibb is the Schools Minister for England. This is just as much a concern in Scotland, where our Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning is Michael Russell MSP. Scotland prides itself on education, but school librarians are disappearing here as well.

Ronald Turnbull (I am a member. I am not a nonmember called 39548.)

Paul Beardmore says:
June 1, 2012, 11:11 am

Nothing succeeds like self-interest

We should correlate the practice of reading for pleasure in childhood with proven upward social mobility in adulthood. My guess is that, although many a well-read author will prove not to be upwardly socially mobile, a convincing proportion of those with proven upward social mobility will prove to have read for pleasure extensively in their childhoods.

Is there a publisher or a bookshop who would commission this research? With the distinct possibility that the result would trigger the headline ‘Reading Makes You Rich’, it would seem to be a very cheap way of promoting our cause. Of course, in the ensuing debate, we shall make very clear that not all of those riches are pecuniary.

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Julia Jarman says:
June 1, 2012, 9:04 am

The link between reading for

The link between reading for pleasure and success in life is clear. We must keep up the pressure to put a library at the heart of every school with a librarian who has the time to build up relationships with children and find the right book at the right time for the would-be reader. Finding the right book at the right time - and then another! - begins a lifetime love of books. Librarians also help teachers - so few of whom have an extensive knowledge of books - to deliver the curriculum and more importantly inspire their pupils.

Non-member comment:
Guest visitor
says:
June 1, 2012, 8:25 am

Author visits to schools

I'm both published author and school librarian. Even at an independent school I find author visits hard to afford. Although, where possible, we involve other local schools there is always a problem with taking students off-timetable (we are a secondary school). I am committed to authors getting paid for what they do and I also want my students to benefit from talking to a 'real' writer but it is not as straightforward as authors think - and people like Malorie Blackman need to be booked years ahead (or did last time I tried) which school budgets seldom allow.
I know this all sound negative but I wish there were some way to make the process easier - schools are necessarily bureacratic. Local authors need to be proactive - you don't have to be a best-seller to find a welcome: if you can come for an hour rather than us having to fund/organise half a day you will find librarians eager to involve you. And one short visit might lead to much more.

Penny Deacon

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Stewart Ross says:
May 31, 2012, 6:44 pm

Author visits

 

In my opinion, the problem that dare not speak its name is that too many teachers are themselves desperately undereducated. It may well not be their fault, but as their profession is essentially about passing on enthusiasms, and as too many – with glorious exceptions, of course - don’t have an enthusiasm for reading, it is hardly surprising that they find it next to impossible to inspire children to read. Your introductory remark, therefore, may be abridged thus: “Many teachers struggle to identify contemporary fiction …let alone read it. Of course, we’re not allowed to say this. (As for TAs – don’t get me started!)

First point, therefore, is that a school visit by an author is of as much value to the staff as to the children, although this is insufficiently recognised, especially by the sit-marking-at-the-back brigade.

That said, I get lots of lovely feedback. The Adopt and Author scheme in Basildon, for example, raised the literacy of children in a number of schools by several measurable points (although I’m pretty sceptical about such measurements as advances seem to evaporate like pond water during the long summer holidays).

Here are a few random and unsolicited comments after school visits. They may or may not constitute evidence:

There was a buzz around the school on Friday because of your remarks, so that is a nice positive message to send back.” (Secondary)

“The children were so enthused and engaged throughout your visit. I now have many children informing me that they want to be an author when they are older which is great.” (Primary)

“Thank you so much for visiting us yesterday. I have had lots of lovely feedback from staff saying how impressed they were with your talk/workshops. In fact one member of staff has a child in Year 4 who apparently talked about nothing except the titanic all evening! (Indep. prep)

“Thank you again for a great day, the staff and children were still full of it today. You managed to pitch everything at just the right level.” (Primary)

And on. Anyway, you get the idea. The message seems to be that schools bringing in authors get a great deal out of it.

Non-member comment:
Guest visitor
says:
May 31, 2012, 5:32 pm

Reading for meaning and pleasure - Think2Read

The purpose for contacting you is quite simple. I feel passionate that campaigning for change in the way we teach reading in schools and teacher training colleges could be pivotal for education right now. I believe the emphasis on teaching phonics without balancing this with teaching reading for meaning and understanding in the early years has been responsible for literacy standards ‘stubbornly falling short’ in primary schools for many years now.
I am an educational author, researcher and the founder of Think2Read – a comprehension and reciprocal learning project that is committed to helping teachers fulfil the reading comprehension, transferable thinking and group learning potential of children of all abilities.
I strongly believe that explicit teaching of comprehension strategies and inference skills is central to promoting children’s love of reading and personal learning from the early years upwards. When young children are shown how to ‘understand’ and make personal meaning of language and concepts for themselves – it provides them with a real purpose for reading and the life-long tools for learning.
I began researching into effective ways of developing early comprehension skills and child-led enquiry in 2001. The Think2Read approach to reading for meaning and pleasure has grown organically out of this research and been successfully trialled and evaluated in Devon schools over the last five years.
We are currently approaching Head Teachers and Literacy Co-ordinators across the country to raise awareness and support for this teaching approach in schools.
This drive for more teaching of reading for meaning and pleasure in schools is supported by author campaigners Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, former Head teacher of the Year Richard Gerver, Literacy experts Judy Clark, National Literacy Trust Primary Adviser, Professor Ros Fisher, Exeter University and Educational Psychologist Rob Long amongst many others. Donna Thomson,Think2Read Project (www.think2read,co.uk).

Non-member comment:
Member Ronald M Bullock
says:
May 31, 2012, 5:18 pm

books

I too support the idea of schools having a library and a trained librarian but the trouble with children today they need supportive parents right from when they are very young,children these days right from birth grow up very quickly and the need to get them interested in books should be made the most important part of learning in the home
But that is where the problems start ,the parents after they arrive home if they are working all day and the children are in play school or with their grandparents, are too tired or are just plain too idle to help the two to three year olds get out a little book and teach them.A family I know,their daughter is 3 years old but oh she is forward for her age,Mia a lovely girl but very old headed for her age,she was raised from birth almost by her grandparents and it was they who made sure that Mia learned to read and now at three years old can read very well ,books specially for her age group and now her grandparents spend time when she goes to stay overnight teaching her to write as well and she really loves books and writing she leaves little written messages for her grandparents on little pages from a notepad stuck all over the place and the grandparents have to reply with another message or she nags them to answer her messages But she also can hold a full blown conversation with any adult and the subjects she chooses well,they really are amazing for a child that age ,good luck with your quest
The sad fact is that Mia is going to be streets ahead of other children and her education will suffer through being held back by those children who's parents have neglected that most important issue of reading and writing both are of the utmost importance.These days young people are leaving school and cannot even write properly so what chances of a job have they got,very little I think.In a world of high technology employees or young people seeking work will have to have both reading and writing because even though most children have computors,Ipads and Wii gadgets and Kindle there is still a large percentage of young people unemployed because of their poor education,how do you get it into parents heads that those two important subjects are a real must for their offsprings.If parents don't care its the children who suffer

J.A. Bosworth says:
May 31, 2012, 5:16 pm

Encouraging Reading

    The ideal situation is when at least one of the parents either tells stories, or reads a book, to a child and suggestss what books would be 'good reads'. If parents are not interested in reading, however, a child needs to be self-motivated to read.

     Reading is closely allied to writing. Those who  don't read much usually have difficulty in writing intelligibly.  Hence, children need to be encouraged to write because, if they don't it is almost axiomatic that they won't want to read much. When they write reasonably well, however, they can better appreciate the value of books. If one isn't comfortable writing, one won't be very keen to read.

     I find it almost impossible to believe that some schools don't have even a small library. Such schools are failing in one of their primary tasks and should be ordered to remedy the situation or the Head risk being dismissed.

    These are tasks for teachers in schools which, I think, have been generally neglected. No wonder so many young people are functionally illiterate when they leave school. Children need to be taught that reading and writing are two of the keys to future success in life, irrespective of the career that any individual child might imagine for hemself.

    Encouragenment to read should start in pre-school (kindergarten) and continue throughout primary and secondary education. It is not a 'once.only-and-it'-done' operation, but a perpetual activity. Teachers should be aware of which of their puplis are not, or seem not to be reading. A couple of simple questions -- every month or so -- asking which book is currently being read and what it is about is all that's needed, plus one or two suitable recommendations and the suggestion that a visit to the school library could be interesting. The whole thing needs only take a couple of minutes at most.

     The Department of Education should also run a series of TV adverts shewing short, imaginative excerpts taken from books and suggesting that the viewer(s) should read the volume(s) quoted to find out what happens in the rest of the account. The series -- suitably updated where necessary -- could be repated every six months or year

David Wood says:
May 31, 2012, 5:15 pm

‘BOOKS ARE FUN’

‘BOOKS ARE FUN’ is what I call the sessions I do in schools, trying to make children see books as sources of pleasure rather than as instruments of torture. It is noticeable that the children in schools with libraries are often more comfortable with books than children in schools with no libraries. I like to be able to recommend books – but ‘go and find it in the school library’ is something I am regularly unable to say. A school library shouldn’t be an optional extra. It should be the heart of the school. Children – and parents – should have to walk through it at least once every day on their way to classrooms. The school librarian should be the children’s special friend, promoting the usefulness of books in learning about things and also, more importantly, triggering their imaginations by being the link to the wonderful world of story. It’s so yawningly obvious that it’s pathetic we have to organise a campaign.

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Sara Sheridan says:
May 31, 2012, 4:46 pm

Thank you so much for taking

Thank you so much for taking up this vital issue. It's not only as a writer that I say that, but also as a mother.

Non-member comment:
Guest visitor
says:
May 31, 2012, 4:44 pm

Whilst I agree with almost

Whilst I agree with almost everything said here about libraries, I would caution against giving away free books to 'all children'. You only have to go into any charity shop to see stacks of World Book Day/Night books mouldering on shelves. Children are just like us - they want to choose their books, and if a book is forced upon them, they won't read it.

I think it is also important to consider the problems that libraries face in affluent areas. I used to live in a very comfortable part of a major Scottish city, and I think I was one of very few parents regularly taking my children to the library. Other parents would say 'oh, the library - oh we just go and buy them books from Waterstones'. There was almost a kind of stigma attached to using the library (though it was deemed OK for school projects in those pre-internet days), people seemed to think either that it marked them down as not being able to afford to by books, or that the books 'weren't clean' because they were shared. This kind of short-sighted behaviour just gives local authorities more reasons to say that libraries are not being used so might as well be closed. Libraries are about so much more than 'free' books - they give children the freedom to explore, to browse, to find things that they will never come across if they are just presented with some shiny new bestseller from a bookshop. (I am not saying that bookshops should not be supported, just that libraries also have special advantages.) Libraries also send our children the important message that access to knowledge and ideas should be available to everyone, not just those who can afford to pay for it. Closing libraries is yet another nail in the coffin of any idea that this country is egalitarian, or even trying to be.

School libraries are a slightly different issue. My children's primary school library took each class for a short 'library lesson' once a week, but it was made clear that the class teachers - no doubt under pressure from the demands of the national curriculum - viewed this as an unnecessary disruption. The library time was seen by many children as a chance to run riot, throw books around, etc - somebody even posted the squashed tomatoes from their packed lunch inside a book once. These children were not disadvantaged in any way. I think it's a much better idea to incorporate the public libraries into schools, so that they are properly staffed and organised. I think children would behave better and use them properly if they saw the general public doing just that.

When my children were small I would very happily have volunteered to read to/with classes, but the school was dead set against this. The then head was even quoted as saying that she couldn't think of anything more terrible than 'allowing mothers into classrooms'. Similarly, I have never seen the local libraries ask for volunteers to do anything, although I know that US libraries make great use of volunteers. I think it's a brilliant idea to get more authors into schools and children's libraries, and always remember the wonderful scene from Jane Gardam's ?autobiographical? novel, A Long Way to Verona, in which an elderly writer comes to speak at the heroine's school - as he leaves, she thrusts her pages of short stories into his hands, and later she receives a note from him telling her that she is indeed a writer 'beyond all possible doubt.'

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Kate O'Hearn says:
May 31, 2012, 4:35 pm

We can’t waste a generation of students

When I stand before a group of students and start to read aloud extracts from my books, an enchanting hush falls over the room (often filled with more than 100 students) and we all share in this magical experience of story loving. After the talk, the amount of hugs I am given, and the wild excitement in the student’s eyes is just amazing.  And for weeks and sometimes months after a visit, I receive emails from students who tell me that they have read my books and how they love them.
  I think it’s the school visits that I enjoy most about being published. After all, THEY are the ones I write for. Not the editors and not the book sellers, but the readers.
  However, all of that said, I am still astounded and disheartened by the amount of schools that do not welcome author visits.  As an example, as we discussed, I was scheduled to do a book signing at Waterstones Finchley Road (O2) this coming weekend. Weeks prior to that event, I was supplied a list of local schools (by the store manager). I then proceeded to email each of the schools, offering a free, full school visit – of all the emails I sent, which also included an author leaflet produced by my publisher, Hodder, I only received 2 replies.  That being to say no.
  Now, I did write to each school twice, just to be sure my messages were getting through. But have yet heard nothing more. 
  I just don’t understand this. This doesn’t so much wound my ego, as make me sad for the kids who will never meet an author.  With schools budgets being constantly cut, and with literacy levels struggling, I thought schools would be interested in such an event. But in some cases, I was wrong.
  Sadly, I have done other schools where the teachers were seeing my being there as more of a break for them, rather than a literary experience. I often become a baby sitter with the students left to run riot. I hate raising my voice and don’t feel it should be down to me, the visitor, to control the student’s behaviour.  But there are several schools I have done where this is exactly what happened. I will never return to those schools.
  It is my opinion if we are to stand a chance of increasing student’s love of reading and literature – and thus increasing literacy levels, teachers must be as involved in this as authors.  Teachers must continue to feed their students interest in reading, and not see an author visit as an opportunity to sit back and let someone else talk or a period or two.
  I will continue with my school visits as I love them, but would welcome anything that would get teachers as involved as authors are. We can’t waste a generation of students who may never experience the love of a great book!
 

Non-member comment:
Sally Kindberg
says:
May 31, 2012, 4:28 pm

Books are treasures that should be shared

I'm an author and illustrator who runs workshops in schools and libraries. It's vital that children have access to books in the latter, especially if there are no books at home. How is the future generation going to access vital information without being able to develop a reading habit in the supportive and encouraging environment of school or library?

Non-member comment:
Meg Peacocke
says:
May 31, 2012, 4:12 pm

This is so important! I'd

This is so important! I'd like to add two points. First: parents who don't read to their children are often parents who can't. How can they be helped? Second: I'm long retired as a teacher and visiting poet in schools, but I can still read aloud well, and enjoy it. There must be others like me - grandmothers - grandfathers too - who love stories and who would be very happy to come into schools as volunteer readers-aloud. Incidentally, It's often the least academic pupils who are starved for stories and feel threatened by books, and this would be a way to help them and those who may be finding it a struggle to teach them.

Non-member comment:
Emma Barnes
says:
May 31, 2012, 3:43 pm

Children Need Books!

I visit schools regularly as a writer, and always talk to the kids about what they are reading. It is very plain that whereas once kids might have taken themselves to the local library, and discovered books that way, this no longer happens unless they have supportive parents. Schools are a vital route to bring children from non-bookish backgrounds to books - and all the wonders that opens up, in terms of discovering new worlds and empathy for different points of view. Many children finish primary school without fluency in reading - getting them to read for fun is an easy and essential first step to achieving that - indeed it may do more than any number of literacy lessons.

Libraries have been squeezed in primaries - they often have little stock, choice or space. I've seen at first hand what a difference a specialist school librarian can make to young children, in finding the right book for them, following their interests and guiding them to new titles. It would make such a huge difference if librarians were widely available in primary schools.

Susan Ramsaran says:
May 31, 2012, 3:17 pm

Reading for pleasure

Please encourage ERIC (Everyone Reading In Class) in primary schools, where a time is set aside daily when all members of the school (every single adult and child) read quietly at the same time books of their own choice.

Non-member comment:
Anne Redmon
says:
May 31, 2012, 2:28 pm

School libraries

For many years I was Writer in Residence for a large prison. It was there that I saw first-hand the grim results of the sort of negligence that seems typified by schools without libraries. Many prisoners were illiterate. Those who had managed to cobble together some sort of education were starved for books and haunted the prison library whenever they could. One man I knew even discovered Middlemarch inside! Others discovered poetry and wrote reams of it. These people had had no anchor for their imaginations that the habit of reading in childhood provides. And so they imagined crime. A simplification I know, but please do think about it and support the Society of Authors in this appeal.

I am actually a member of the Society of Authors!

Non-member comment:
Peter Buckman
says:
May 31, 2012, 2:19 pm

Encouraging a love of reading

In addition to the proposals put forward by the Society (of which I am a member), I'd like to add that parents of primary school pupils should be encouraged to come in and read to children, from the youngest to the oldest. Some parents don't have the confidence to read aloud, let alone read an unfamiliar book to their children, and nursery and primary schools could address this problem simply and cheaply by showing them how easy and rewarding the process is.

Peter Buckman
Writer and LIterary Agent

Non-member comment:
Elizabeth Gates
says:
May 31, 2012, 2:03 pm

Reading for Pleasure Campaign

We love books. Every room in our very small home has a bookcase which spills over onto every available surface. Piles and piles of books are everywhere. And, after 10,000 books, we stopped counting. But the saddest thing we have noted recently about modern civilisation is: even in the UK, there are schools which possess far fewer books than we do.

Non-member comment:
Tish Farrell
says:
May 31, 2012, 2:00 pm

libraries in school

So: instead of closing public libraries and cutting their hours of opening - why not put them in the schools. A trained librarian would come with the library and volunteers could then be guided by a professional, even if that professional can only be available on a part-time basis. Volunteers could include parents, writers, storytellers, the retired, older children. In my secondary school the library was manned by the kids after some basic training had been given by the history teacher who was in charge of it. Also much of my childhood reading was inspired by what my peers were reading, not by parental or teacher guidance, or by my own discoveries along the library shelves. Of course the biggest stumbling block to such a proposition is that some schools are increasingly limiting access by the general public - this on the grounds that the community is rife with criminals and paedophiles. What a dismal future we are creating for our children in the name of security, cost cutting and 'value for money' - false constructs all if we want to nurture strong, creative minds.

Non-member comment:
Marion Dante
says:
May 31, 2012, 1:59 pm

Premoting reading in schools

It is my experience that it is precisely the very children who could benefit from reading that no longer have access to books. Children in houses that have no books often have expensive mobile phones, I pods and pads and their ill lit main room is filled with a huge television screen which is on all day. Instead while I hailed from a very average home we valued books and visited the library.
Although I am a teacher I have not visited a school since I retired with cancer in 1995. I am in favour and willing to do my part in promoting the readership of books by children should the SOA succeed in getting authors to visit local schools for this purpose.

Non-member comment:
Robert Muchamore
says:
May 31, 2012, 1:55 pm

Put books into kids hands & think radical thoughts!

The library model is based on a time when a book cost more than a day's wages. In many places, it now costs more to take an adult and child on a return bus journey to a library than it costs to purchase and deliver a book online.

Whenever I see a book club catalogue drop out of a newspaper offering 15 books for £10, I find myself wondering why the Education Department can't use it's purchasing power to put books into children's hands for a simliar price?

When I visit schools, I often find shabby, poorly-stocked libraries, staffed by wonderful enthuiastic staff, who complain that their budgets are less than £3 per-pupil per-year.

Maybe we need to think the unthinkable. Close the libraries, redeploy staff as reading mentors and tutors so that they're working with kids instead of filing books. Then offer every school child in the UK a pick of two or three free books per year, chosen from a carefully curated list.

We need radical solutions that are based on the economics of modern publishing, not rooms full of tatty books that get checked out once every three years...

 

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