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Saturday, January 07, 2012


This is the National Year of Reading in Australia. There are discussions going on all over the web and ideas thrown around for how to do stuff to encourage reading. I don’t think I can add to these discussions, but I can talk about what I’m hoping to do and make suggestions for things that can be done in a school library with a tiny budget and limited staffing.

A library like mine.

I’ve experimented with most of these suggestions and am planning to have a go at the others. My book club had better watch out, because I am going to ask them to give a hand – okay, Dylan and Thando? J (Students following this blog, and Thando has been a guest blogger)

There are the obvious ones, which any school can do if they have time and/or money. The Premier’s Reading Challenge, for example. Reader’s Cup. MS Readathon. But all those are team efforts. They need to be a school effort, not just that of the teacher-librarian. If you can arrange that, fine.

However, I’m going to make a few suggestions that you can do with limited staff help and funding, though they do rather rely on students co-operating. But hey, the students are what it’s about and who it’s for and if you can’t get student co-operation you might as well not bother!

These things all need effort. There’s no way you can get around that. But they work, as long as you’re prepared to be obnoxious and make a fuss till you get some support, however little. Here they are, in no special order – if you have some more you’ve tried out, why not add them here?

  1. Offer to do book launches for new writers. In this era of internet contact, it’s not hard to track down a new writer who might be willing and able to have a go. It’s win-win. It gives the author promotion and practice in speaking to young readers and they can bring books to sell. Students get to meet a writer at the start of their career You have to have some copies in the library and promote like mad for days before the visitor arrives for the launch. Call the local press. That’s good for everyone. When my book Starwalkers was being launched in a school library, I persuaded my publisher to give us some goodies and a few dollars towards the lollies and cordial. The TL called the local press and did a space-themed trivia quiz before I arrived and held the final round during the launch. I signed copies of the book for all four students. It was very successful. Since then, I’ve had a number of launches myself.

  1. Start a book or library blog, if you don’t have one already. You can review new books, which can then go to your library, and you can invite students to review books on it. If you’re planning on doing something for IYR, you probably have a blog of one kind or another anyway.

  1. Start a lunchtime book club. Yes, it can be exhausting and you need to work out what it will involve, with your students, but believe me when I say it’s well worth the effort. And these students can become “reading ambassadors” and help with activities you might plan and choose books for the library.

  1. Join YABBA (Young Australians Best Books Award). This is CHEAP! Even I was able to afford it last year. You get posters and stuff and the students can nominate and vote for Australian books they like. It helps to have the support of English staff for this one, but you can also get your reading ambassadors to encourage their fellow students to nominate and vote.

  1. Why not check out Banned Books Week? It’s amazing how many books in your library have been banned at one time or another. Last year I experimented, doing it myself and putting it up on Youtube, but how about encouraging students to do this? Even if it doesn’t go on Youtube, why not film it anyway and have a festival of readings in the library? Have a prize – it doesn’t have to be big and you’ll probably have some review books put aside anyway. There’s also Teachertube, which is less likely to be blocked!

  1. How about a book trailer competition? I haven’t had the opportunity to do it in the library yet, but last year I did it with my English class. I got the idea when Random House, my publishers, ran their annual teenage book trailer comp. Teachertube has a very good book trailer presentation that gives you information about Creative Commons web sites that will let you use the images, music, etc, free. Check it out. My English students were given the chance to prepare a book trailer as a creative response to their Literature Circles books. These were so very good that I put them together on DVD and will be showing them to other staff. I gave all my class members a copy to take away as a souvenir. Teenagers are better at this sort of thing than we are, being familiar with the software. The trailers can be shown in the library during Book Week, perhaps, or Banned Books Week. You do have to model this, though, and I prepared my own trailer for Wolfborn, which I expected them to laugh at, and go do a better job, but they liked it. You can also go on-line and find trailers made by students to show them. I used Teachertube. We had everything from Morris Gleitzman’s Once as a sort of PowerPoint with music to a performance of a scene from Wuthering Heights done as a modern American soap opera!

  1. How about a Book Week lunchtime trivia quiz? Prizes can be small. You can buy bags of fun-sized chocolate bars for $3 to $5 at the supermarket. I’ve done this many times and it always works, though last year I gave up on Book Week altogether when my book club helpers all went off to camp. Oh, well. The beauty of this is that you can create a quiz that can be varied a bit each year, but doesn’t have to be completely new each time. Sometimes, I grab students in the library and invite them to think up a question for the quiz. Only one each. That way they only know the answer to one in advance. ;-) You will need a barrel girl/boy to mark and record the scores of each group on the whiteboard, but there’s bound to be a staff member who is happy to give a hand.

  1. How about an on-line interview with a favourite writer?  Check out the ones I’ve published on The Great Raven. All but the interview with Miffy were done by my students. They have been among the most popular posts on the blog. I sat down with them and had a chat about their questions. I gave these questions a light edit before submitting them to the author, but otherwise the questions belong to the students who wrote them. Not all authors will be willing or able to help. Sometimes they’re just too busy writing and we do want them to get on with producing more for us to read. Sometimes they don’t include a contact email on their web sites. Sometimes you get a response from an agent who sees your request, not as an opportunity for promotion, but as a nuisance.

But most of the writers we queried were simply wonderful. Every one of the interviews we received was better than we could possibly have expected.

Some publishers will actually offer an interview. This is where I got the idea; Juliet Marillier’s publisher said she was doing interviews that month and as I’d only read one of her books at the time and I had a student who was a passionate Marillier fan, I asked if she could do it. “Sure!” said the publisher. The rest is history.

If you have any ideas of your own, do respond here. Library folk have to look after each other and why reinvent the wheel?

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