Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Tales from a school librarian

Well it's that lovely time of year when the leaves turn rusty and drop from their trees and make us feel the need to stock up on pencils, polish our leather boots and turn to a fresh page on a new notebook. As children step into the next school year, I am proud to present my dear friend Claire Nichols, who is an all round super, creative lady as well as a School Librarian. 

Claire dressed as Slinki Malinki for a reading
of said book at Culmstock Primary school. 

Having met and begun our friendship in a library, Claire and I share a lot of loves. A love of books, of creativity, of epic tea-drinking, cats, knitting, jam-making, and oh, so much lovely stuff.

We definitely share a love of encouraging young people to become happy readers and I wanted to hear more about that from the perspective of someone working within a school, in contrast to my work within a town library and community. 

It's so fascinating to hear about such
 brilliant work that going on, unbeknownst to many, but valued by a host of little people. 

Claire, can you give us an insight to your role in local primary school libraries?

At the moment I am lucky enough to work in three small rural village school libraries in Devon. I am also helping a new free school in London start a brand new school library. As well as creating displays, looking after the stock and helping children choose new books, I am a super enthusiastic reader so I tend to try and read as many books as I can so I can recommend them. There is nothing quite like someone talking about a book they have read!

I am particularly passionate about dyslexia friendly resources, encouraging and nurturing reluctant readers, particularly but not exclusively boys. We have developed a really good selection of hi-low books ( lots of engaging pictures and less challenging text), dyslexia friendly texts ( cream paper and double spaced) graphic novels and non fiction resources. 

Claire and hew two boys dressed as
Pippi Longstocking, a Wizard and Tintin.
Reading should be fun so I encourage reading for pleasure and provide a good selection of puzzle books, mazes, comics, Where's Wally and picture books suitable for children just starting school up to those just ready to leave! Plus we are building up audio book libraries and a listening station so that children can borrow CDs of stories and listen to them even if they find reading hard.

During the day I work with small groups of children, reading a couple of chapters of an appropriate, and often funny or exciting story. We then talk about the book, discuss the characters and what we liked about them, what might happen next, whether we like the illustrations and the style. For the younger ages this can also have a spin off activity so for example this week we were reading "Fantastic Mr Fox" which is a funny story by Roald Dahl, the activity was to design a wanted poster for the thieving Mr Fox.  Older groups have read "The wreck of the Zanzibar" by Michael Morpurgo and then found out about the Isles of Scilly, sea life and limpets!

I also work closely with the teachers, helping to suggest books that might tie in with topics and helping to locate those books. And liaise with the library service to add to the stock and exchange the books three times a term.

I suppose in essence I am trying to share my love of reading, the magic of loosing yourself in a book and being transported somewhere else. I love it!

What were some of your favourite books as a child?

As a child, I absolutely loved Enid Blyton's Famous Five. One holiday in Wales, when I was poorly and in bed for a week I was allowed to read my Mum's red clothbound hardback copy of "Five go to Billycock Hill". I wanted to be out there solving mysteries, building camps, but particularly I wanted to be Anne, boiling the kettle and keeping house! I also loved the "Milly Molly Mandy books" and as a little girl, at bedtime, I used to be read the Blackberry farm series. "Lucy Mouse keeps a secret" by Jane Pilgrim was my absolute favourite!

It is wonderful to be able to share these books with my own children. I think the illustrations in each of those books were a particular attraction. I was very disappointed to have been given a 1980s reprint of the Famous Five to find that they had all been updated into contemporary clothing. I know they have been reissued with the original illustrations again which made me happy indeed.

I've always adored Milly Molly Mandy too. What's the most interesting book you've read in the last year?

Hmm... Well as an adult book I recently read "The Help" as part of book club and absolutely loved it. It was a really engaging story, written about a recent time when attitudes and experiences of middle class America were so very different to now. It tells the story of the civil rights movement and changing attitudes to colour from the viewpoint of "the help" the black women who bring up white children but are not allowed to share toilets with their employers. The book is told with a number of voices, challenging and fascinating. 

In terms of children's books I think it would be "Varjak Paw" by S F Said. A fast paced story about a Mesopotamian Blue kitten who has always lived in a house on the hill. After being told about "The Way" ( a secret martial art movement for cats) by his grandfather, he has to survive in the city using The Way while dodging cat gangs, dogs and trying to find out about the vanishings... Super stuff :) 

How do you enthuse kids about reading if they are reluctant or struggling?

Generally children who don't like reading haven't found the right book yet! I tend to chat to them about what they like, what they don't, what they last read and what their perfect book would look like. If they are struggling to read then I would point them in the direction of some excellent graphic novels like "Boffin Boy" by David Orme. If reading is all too much then we might take the pressure off a bit and try something silly and funny like "Shampoozel" by Lawrence Anholt, or a good bit of "Viking Vik" by Shoo Rayner or a some non-fiction on a subject that interests them. I remind them that actually it should be fun to read and that if you've tried to slog through two chapters and are still not enjoying the book, come back and we'll try something else.

What do you feel public libraries could do to encourage their local schools with literacy and spurring kids on to enjoy reading more?

Ooh well, I know a really super librarian who comes into local schools and works with the children to raise awareness of the summer reading schemes, more like that would be fantastic! I think advertising the public library would be really good, via social media and also through building links with the schools. Most have a newsletter and putting in information about services available to younger readers could only help. Making reading fun is the key really, and having knowledgeable, friendly, approachable librarians, who take time to talk to the young borrowers is invaluable. Remembering the children's names and saying "hello" could make a much bigger difference than you would believe!

I am passionate about libraries, school libraries, public libraries, big small, urban or rural. I have fond memories of being taken to libraries, buying badges and sitting among the stacks of books and just reading. They were quiet stuffy places, with stern shhushing librarians. But they contained a wonderful resource, free access to knowledge and I think that as a society we loose that at our peril. Regardless of the rise of ipads, electronic media and social networking, there is something very special about curling up with a real, actual, good book. Learning how to share books with our children and giving them the opportunity to borrow books from all genres helps us all in the longer term. I would be deeply saddened if the libraries in our primary and secondary schools, the public libraries at the centre of our villages and towns, and the book corners in nurseries are forfeited due to money saving, because that really is a false economy in the long term.

Thank you Claire, it's lovely to hear all about your work and your thoughts. And of course, to share evidence of your excellent talent in dressing -up. A fab way to bring books to life for kids!

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