In the beginning
My teaching career began in a seaside, rural school miles from my home. Children between 5 and 13 years of age attended; it was a local, community school. I drove a speedy Honda Civic to and from home morning and night, along gravel, winding roads, that even today, defy belief.
The children were diverse, naïve, tender, troubled, inspired and wonderful. We’d begin our day with full school P.E, had daily swimming in the big school pool and knew to avoid the field should it be soggy and whiffy. (That meant the septic tank needed attention.)
We ran a tight ship. The learning was thorough, ambitiously planned and monitored, within a creative curriculum. Reading was at the heart of the learning. Building readers for life was our priority.
During my training, I created a booklist of children’s titles I wanted to share with my pupils. I brought my own copies into the classroom. The children would record their names in a notebook when they borrowed these titles. They became battered, especially if they were passed on to the next reader, but building readers for life was at the forefront of my actions. I loved it when the children suggested additions. I brought more titles in based on recommendations from the public library, press, and the South Auckland Children’s Literature Association, which I joined keenly.
Once a term, I travelled into the city to collect a crate of books from the central school library service. These books were like gold dust. More than once, a title would disappear…. However, repayment was a small price to pay for the growing reading habit.
The school library
The school library housed school journals. Their poetry, non-fiction articles and stories fed our reading programme. Whole class books, including big books, offered opportunities to build understanding and teach literacy skills. Guided reading was a core component. An individualised reading programme was resourced by real books. Progress was monitored through home-school diary communication, anecdotal teacher assessment, discussion, and reading, one-to-one, with every child at least twice a week.
We taught grammar and dictionary skills, that the children could write and research confidently. We created differentiated vocabulary lists to extend the children’s word skills and interest. Children employed comprehension cards, at the beginning of a school day, individually or peer assessed.
The school sought to extend its reading resourcefulness and range through building a library. We were charged with building readers for life.
The beating heart of building readers for life
Every day, there was silent reading. We called it ERAB- Everybody Reads A Book. Teachers would read a book at this time too. Each person was captive within our reading world. We recovered through taking time during the week to talk about the books we were reading.
Every day, teachers read aloud to our classes. It was a set time, most often after lunch, when the playground needed offsetting, and children’s energy levels had naturally dipped. These remain amongst my most cherished times of teaching. We were building readers for life.
A blackberry pie sized silence
On one occasion, I had to leave school promptly during the mid-afternoon for an appointment in the central city. I returned home late in the evening. It was only as I prepared for bed that I realised I’d a huge blackberry pie splodge across the right buttock of my white and polka dot trousers. I’d been wearing this stain for some six or seven hours. The following day, I enquired with my class. ‘Oh yes, we saw,’ I was told. ‘We worried that if we told you, you’d rush off to get rid of the mark without finishing the chapter…’
World Book Day Week 2019 has been a whippy cream frenzy of delight. Bookwagon travelled from Brighton to North London to Oxfordshire. Writers and illustrators with whom we worked have travelled to Lancashire, Cambridgeshire, Somerset, Wiltshire, Leicestershire and Hertfordshire. Busy itineraries continue throughout the month.
We relish opportunities to meet teachers, librarians and parents. We’ve seen Great Book Off competitions and extreme reading. One school had a Caryl Hart Focus Day to celebrate World Book Day. We heard of art installations to encourage a love of picture books. Everywhere we’ve seen dressing up, extreme reading, guest readers, author/ illustrators’ visits and a wholehearted celebration of books and reading.
Yet…. why a day? Isn’t building readers for life something to reckon upon every day? Any day?
From one extreme
Bookwagon has been deluged by enquiries from schools seeking writers and illustrators for World Book Day. Some of these were requests for visits with only days to spare before the nominated day. I’ve taken enquiries about writers who are no longer breathing, let alone writing. Too many have come with the double- edge of seeking a free visit, or a Crufts’ style assault course schedule for the guest- sometimes both. One enquiry was for a writer/ illustrator who would stay overnight at a teacher’s home, before running eight sessions across a day with children between Years 3- 11. There would be a packed lunch.
To the other
Many schools call at the beginning of an autumn term, well ahead of a nominated World Book Day. ( Some book a year ahead!) These schools have preferences as to their visitor; their school will know their books. More specifically, the teacher/ librarian calling will love their chosen guest’s books.
These teachers and librarians realise writers and illustrators deserve payment for their work, including travel costs.They understand the need for a reasonable number of sessions/ workshops within a day. They appreciate their guest needs to prepare. This is a day absent from the story board or light box of a writer’s/ illustrator’s profession. These callers appreciate this opportunity for a writer/ illustrator to meet their readers, so sales and book signing are built into the schedule.
These teachers/ librarians demonstrate a commitment to children’s books. They are building readers for life.
The librarian and the teachers
Bookwagon selects its books to sell at popup book fairs specific to each venue. We aim to support the school’s efforts in building readers for life. To ‘hook a child’ onto the right book is akin to Paul Hollywood finding the perfect pie crust.
In recent popups, we have been aided by staff demonstrating a huge commitment to reading. They know and love children’s books. These adults talk about books, know what their pupils are reading, and what they like and do not like. They offer opinions and demonstrate their enthusiasm for children’s books. Students visiting our popup fairs in such establishments almost palpate with an attachment to reading books. They are curious and engaged, keen to make informed, confident decisions. These interactions are my most cherished moments of being an independent children’s bookseller.
World Book Day
From my start, to where I am now, a change of country and career, building readers for life has required a devotion to children’s books. Adults who love children’s books and reading, parent, teacher, librarian and independent bookseller, are fundamental to real reading development. Parents must be enabled to read and love reading. Schools and communities have the right to fully resourced and staffed libraries. Teachers must have the opportunity to read and love and share children’s books. Building readers for life remains the priority.