Thursday, 31 May 2018


There are four major factors involved in creating readers. Actually I should really say there are five because the home environment has a huge impact, usually before any of the other four participants appear on the scene. But I’m focusing on creating readers in a school setting here. I’m also aware that many schools do have children who read but, unfortunately, many don’t! 



·         Many have no in-depth knowledge of children’s/teen/YA books so they are unable to recommend an appropriate book to a student. They often have no knowledge about new authors, who writes like, what to read next, award winners, popular authors or genres.

·         Many consider themselves to be “non-readers” so are not visibly seen as a reading role model by students. Most people read – newspapers, magazines, websites, fiction, non-fiction (it all counts) – yet do not share this with students regularly.

·         Even if they are avid readers they are often only familiar with the type of books and authors they like, or non-fiction connected with their subjects.

·         Some don’t see reading as being “their” responsibility.

·         Most are too busy, overworked, under pressure and stressed to take time out of a busy curriculum to explore books and reading with the students.


·         So many have not had any “good” reading experiences. All their previous reading experiences have been with books they were forced to read that they did not enjoy or understand. This reinforces the idea that “reading is not for them”.

·         They have no family background of reading; there are no books at home, they were not read to as a child or taken to the library thus they have no reading role models in the home.

·         If they never see an adult reading they will make the assumption that “not reading” is adult behaviour which they will emulate.

·         They don’t know what sort of reader they are or what sort of books they enjoy. They have not been given the opportunity to browse and explore a varied collection of books, to make mistakes in what they choose, to discuss their reading likes and dislikes with somebody knowledgeable who can make suggestions. Thus they will find it difficult to select a suitable book. And if they always choose a book that they find boring or too hard it will reinforce the idea that they don’t like reading or that they can’t do it.


·         If the librarian is not given any status within the school, and their skills and expertise are not recognised by the staff, they are often not used to support and engender reading.

·         Many librarians are solo workers with no dedicated time to spend with students discussing books and reading, guiding them in their choice of reading material. If students aren’t given allocated lessons in the library and the only time it is available to them is during breaks, those who do not like books or reading will not be anywhere near it then!

·         Often librarians are relegated to a “babysitting” role, much of their time is taken up with administrative tasks or they have additional jobs within the school such as photocopying or covering the reception desk. This prevents them from fully engaging with the students and building up relationships so they can give advice and support, and make recommendations.

·         The school does not have a librarian so there is nobody with the necessary skills, knowledge and expertise.


·         If there is not a whole school reading ethos and reading is not valued it is likely that students’ attitudes will mirror this.

·         Often there is no SLT support for reading for pleasure with the focus being on reading for attainment and reaching target levels rather than creating readers. This focus is unlikely to create lifelong readers who challenge themselves, read outside their comfort zone and question what they read.

·         No time is given for reading in the curriculum. Library lessons, browsing and silent reading are all seen as a “waste of time” because the impact of these activities is difficult to measure.

·         There is no SLT support for the library or librarian. They are not seen as a professional or adding any value so they receive little or no budget. If the library is not supported financially it can’t buy new books or run activities to encourage and sustain reading.

·         This lack of recognition often means the librarian is not included in relevant meetings or initiatives, nor are they given the information needed to do their jobs properly.

Creating readers is a long-term mission; there isn’t a simple formula that can be applied and it will not happen overnight. Ideally it needs everyone on board, from the SLT through to the staff, and the librarian should be recognised as a valued professional colleague with specific skills and expertise.

It can be done without all four aspects being involved – I’ve worked in schools where I wasn’t really supported yet managed to create readers (although it pains me to think of how much more I could have done if I’d had that support) – but the one factor you really do need is a librarian.

Books are the tools of our trade and most of us are slightly obsessed with them. So it’s no surprise that we know Patrick Ness has another book nominated for the Carnegie Award, that Jim Kay who illustrated “A Monster Calls” is also illustrating the Harry Potter books (number four due out later this year – fingers crossed) and that Chris Riddell has a new poetry book out in September!
If I want advice on my boiler I talk to a plumber. Likewise if you need advice on books and reading, talk to a librarian.

Monday, 9 April 2018


It always amazes me how many people write about school libraries and don’t involve school librarians in the conversation. They collect evidence, state “facts” and make suppositions – many of which are untrue – and then seem surprised when said school librarians point out they’re wrong. I’m not sure why as school librarians are in the “information business” – constantly telling our students to check their facts and verify the authority of their sources - and if somebody’s got the wrong idea about what we do then we need to put the record straight; there’s already too much misinformation floating around about school libraries as it is.

An article recently appeared in the TES Online titled “How many LGBT books do you have in your school library?” The author was shocked when a friend discovered there were no LGBT books in her school library, did some sleuthing herself (asking teachers in other schools) and, based on their responses, came to the conclusion that the majority of schools have either a limited selection of LGBT fiction or none at all. They went on to speculate – without any research or evidence - that this was because:

·         LGBT fiction was absent from many stockists and bookshops

·         School Library Services (SLSs) that supply school libraries provide filtered books

·         The bulk of LGBT fiction comes from smaller publishers which SLSs do not stock

·         Librarians cherry-pick their stock and favour celebrity authors

I cannot believe that school library did not have a single book featuring LGBT characters. Surely at the very least it would have some Patrick Ness on the shelves considering he is a Carnegie winner? Or John Green, following the popularity of the film “A Fault in our Stars”? The fact a catalogue search did not bring up any LGBT fiction doesn’t mean there wasn’t any … the success of any search depends on the keywords used in cataloguing stock. If neither of the authors mentioned above were catalogued as LGBT, they wouldn’t feature in a search.

The majority of school libraries DO stock LGBT fiction – both books containing LGBT characters and books written by LGBT authors. How they are promoted and displayed depends very much on the ethos of the school and the support of the SMT. In my workshop “Diversity and Inclusion in Libraries” most of the questions raised about challenges to these books are from teachers and other staff, not from the librarians. We do not censor books. Yes, we select our stock. We have neither the budgets nor space to be able to buy everything we’d like to so we have to make choices. Sometimes that means going for the more popular books, those that we know students will pick up and read but a look at the comments from librarians around the recent “celebrity-heavy” WBD books will give you an indication of how we feel about these. If we’re guilty of “cherry-picking” then it’s probably in favour of more diverse authors rather than the popular ones!

The same is true of School Library Services. They don’t provide “filtered” books but, rather, use qualified, experienced librarians to evaluate and assess them. This is a service for busy school librarians enabling us to select stock from SLSs knowing it is appropriate; it merely takes a step out of a process we all do whenever we buy a book for the shelves. It also means that teachers choosing library stock, who do not have the book knowledge or time to investigate every resource, can be assured that the books are aimed at the intended user.

There is a huge amount of LGBT fiction available – both from mainstream and smaller publishers. Book suppliers, as well as SLSs, use a range of publishers, not just the larger companies - it is one of the benefits of using them – and LGBT fiction is not absent from their stock. Besides, if you require a book they do not feature you can request it and you can always ask for a selection covering a specific topic or genre; it is worth remembering that book suppliers employ professional librarians to aid in stock selection and review.

Of course, the problem with all of this is that a school librarian needs to be aware of LGBT fiction in the first place. Most professional librarians are; they are conversant about LGBT authors, books with LGBT characters, how suitable they are for different ages and so on. And if not, they have the skills and contacts to obtain any information they require. They can discuss any challenged titles demonstrating both the legal requirement and well-being needs to stock LGBT fiction. The issues arise when schools appoint a “librarian” who isn’t … just putting somebody in charge of a library doesn’t make them a librarian and too many schools are trying to cut costs by doing this, appointing people who have no experience or knowledge (and thus don’t have to be paid as much), and really aren’t sure how to provide a well-balanced and inclusive collection.  And if the librarian isn’t selecting books for the library then it’s more likely that whoever else is doing it is “cherry-picking” rather than looking at gaps and how they can be filled. A professional librarian who is a member of CILIP (the Library and Information Association) also has a code of professional practice that covers equity of resources and services. Furthermore, the CILIP School Libraries Group (SLG) has produced an LGBTQ reading pack, available to all.

Of course, selecting books is only the first step. It is essential they are displayed and/or signposted so they can easily be found, and the library needs to make it obvious that it is a safe space for LGBT students. One of the ways we can do this is with posters highlighting trusted websites where students can get useful information. It’s no good expecting students to turn to a book instead of going online; for many the latter is a more natural environment plus accessing information on their phones or computers gives them privacy.

I’m not saying that every school librarian is perfect, knows every LGBT book that’s ever been published and has them all in their libraries. They don’t and there’s still a lot of work to be done. But far more DO have LGBT fiction that would be suggested by the original article. If you think a school library is lacking in these resources then perhaps the first step would be to look at how LGBT students are supported throughout the rest of the school, particularly in view of the fact that the Stonewall School Report 2017 found that “40% of LGBT students are never taught about LGBT issues” and that only “only 29% of LGBT students said that teachers intervened when they were present during homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying”.

And if you’re looking for some book suggestions, these links might be useful:

Books featuring LGBT characters (including picture books, primary and secondary), School of Education, Brighton University

Thursday, 25 January 2018


School libraries need to be well-stocked with a wide range of resources for all ages and abilities. Not just fiction books but also non-fiction to support the curriculum, provide inspiration for students’ interests and exploration of whatever piques their curiosity. School libraries cater for very specific needs, some of these will be the same in every school but each with have its own peculiarities: the curriculum, the interests of students which can vary wildly – a town with a local ice hockey team is likely to have a large proportion of the student body interested in the sport and I’ve worked in schools where there was a huge interest in fishing yet none of my local colleagues reported the same  – and every school librarian will have a wish list of specific titles; the next book in a series, a new publication by a popular author, something they’ve seen in a bookshop that will fit in well with the collection.

In a time of budget constraints stocking a school library that fits all these parameters can be hard to achieve so donations can be useful. However, I would often find that the donations turned out to be inappropriate, nevertheless I still said “yes” every time somebody said “I’m clearing out some books, would you like them”?

Why? Because you never know what gems you might find – after all, one day there may be a Harry Potter first edition that you could sell for vast sums (I wish!). But alongside that yes would be the caveat that the library had a stock selection policy* and that anything that wasn’t suitable would be offered to departments first and then given to charity. I never had a single person say they weren’t happy with that.

So how did I decide what to keep?

  • The first assessment would be on the condition of the book or magazine. Was it in a reasonable state with no sticky substances or pages falling out? Was it damaged or defaced?

  • Fiction – if it was a popular book then I would keep it for additional copies. If it was something that I didn’t think would be borrowed (for example, where I already had the book with a more up-to-date cover or it was by an author who was no longer read) then I would use it for the “reading boxes” that I stocked in every tutor group or put it in my regular book sale to raise funds for new stock. If the book was recent and “as new” I would consider it for a library competition prize.

  • Non-fiction – these were assessed for relevance to the curriculum, accuracy and whether they were up-to-date. School librarians struggle to get others to understand that we constantly need to weed our stock. As librarians, our task is to help students find the information they need, to guide them to a book they may enjoy, and the ultimate aim is for students to become readers for pleasure and independent learners, finding what they want without our intervention.  We cannot stand over every student and check what they have taken off the shelves – if a student does their homework using an out-of-date library book and gets it wrong, who is at fault? Facts change over time – we no longer have nine planets – and even recipe books have to be treated with caution. Older ones would not give guidance regarding unpasteurised products and pregnancy.

  • Basically any book I added to the shelves from donations had to supplement or enhance what I already had. After that, any surplus fiction that I didn’t want I would pass to the English department for their classroom libraries although rather than dump piles of books on them, I’d catch staff when in the library and ask them to look through them.

  • Likewise, if there were any books that I felt would be useful to the SEN department (fiction and non-fiction) then I would pass on these too.

  • Non-fiction books would be distributed to relevant departments – again, I would remove anything that was horrendously out-of-date or in poor condition. Departmental libraries are different from the school library. Teachers are able to direct students towards particular chapters where the information is still relevant, for example, the section on gravity in a science encyclopaedia is unlikely to date whereas information about space travel would need to be checked.

  • Some books, whilst not suitable for any of the above, could still be used – for papercrafts in the library, as backing paper for quotes, I’ve even used falling-apart graphic novels to create bookmarks (the Simpson’s ones were very popular!). 

  • The (hopefully) diminishing pile left would be taken to a charity shop – I know my local one collects books not suitable for sale and sells them for pulp so I feel that not only am I helping the charity but also the environment. However, there were always some books which wouldn’t even be suitable for this so those would be put directly into the recycle bin.

School libraries have limited space and each book needs to “earn its keep” on the shelves; keeping old and tatty books in case somebody might want to borrow them means no space for the new books. I’ve weeded sections before and been asked by students and staff whether I’ve bought more books – the old stuff hides the new! School libraries also rarely have store rooms so books that are removed usually have to be disposed of and we can’t stock a book on every single possible thing we may be asked for. Do continue to think about your school library when donating books but please don’t expect them to keep everything and maybe have a sort out of them first to save the librarian that trip to the charity shop?

* A stock selection policy should give the rationale for why stock is selected or rejected. A statement such as: “Resources are selected to ensure stock is of a high quality, current and appropriate. They form part of a balanced collection, providing cultural diversity, differing perspectives and viewpoints, without bias and stereotyping. Resources include a range of formats to support each subject as well as individual learning styles. Any donations will be considered in the same way.”

Thursday, 21 December 2017


One of the (many) things I love about being a school librarian is working with small groups of students on a variety of projects - it’s a real chance to get to know them better. This often took the format of reading groups and I would run several of these throughout the year, and I also set up and managed an HPQ project with Year 9 students, so when the teacher with responsibility for the more-able programme asked me if I could “do something” with a group of twelve year 7s (11 year olds) to run on a longer timescale, I jumped at the chance. But the question was … what? I didn’t want to run a basic reading group and knew that if I was going to do this over the whole year I would have to come up with an interesting and challenging programme for them.

I then discovered that the book “Varjak Paw” by S F Said was being performed as an opera at a local theatre and this became my starting point. Although the book was, perhaps, slightly young for the students, it had a lot of themes I could explore and, as I started creating lessons around it, I realised I could extend the activities to make this a cross-curricular project bringing in lots of skills and learning experiences.

This is what I did:

  • All students had a copy of the book to read, we then discussed it using the Carnegie Award criteria looking at the style, plot and characterisation.
  • Visit to the opera (I should add here that I’m qualified to drive a minibus so taking students out on trips was never a problem for me). I was offered a pre-show talk by the artistic team and was the only school to take this up; the students were also asked to provide feedback to the director as this was the first performance. I asked the Head of Drama for input so we could analyse the performance and used similar criteria to that of GCSE students when looking at lighting, sounds, movement, costumes and props.
  • We then compared the book and the production, discussing what had been changed or left out and why.
  • I provided the students with a selection of books that had animals as characters to extend their reading. They all chose something different and discussed their choice with the rest of the group.
  • Each student was given an animal to research using range of books – and I ran a session on research skills. The aim was for students to investigate their animal, find out how they lived, what they ate, etc. I chose slightly unusual animals and ensured I had appropriate resources in the library. Students were also able to research online.
  • Students produced an information poster about their animal using IT skills.
  • The posters together with the books were used for display in the library.
  • Next was a creative writing exercise – students had to write a story (aimed at 9 - 10 year olds) with their animal as the main character using the information they had gathered in their research. There is a lot of information available online about how to write a story plus I had some books in the library on this topic so we had a look at these and discussed our findings. We also looked at different starts to ascertain what makes you want to carry on reading a book.
  • The ensuing session involved a visit by the year 5 class from our feeder school (this was part of a regular programme of visits to the “big” library) – the year 7 students read their stories about animals to them and they made animal masks together. This was also an opportunity for the younger students to explore the library with a year 7 “guide”.
  • We discussed the illustrations by Dave McKean – how they fitted into the story and what they added – using the Greenaway criteria.
  • The illustrations are quite graphic and almost silhouette in style so we undertook an investigation of silhouettes and how they were first used in photography. The next activity was creating posters using a silhouette of their animal against an appropriate landscape-related background using mixed media. Students could also create a silhouette of themselves if they wanted to!
  • Photography is a hobby of mine (I also have an A level in it) so I delivered a workshop on photography, concentrating on architectural structures.
  • We then used this passage from the book - “Stretched out under the open sky, shining like silver in the pre-dawn light, the city was a huge, mad jumble of shapes and sizes. It had tall towers, gleaming steel and glass – but also squat brick houses, dark with chimney smoke. Wide open gardens jostled with narrow alleys; sharp pointy spires topped soft, curved domes; concrete blocks loomed over bright painted billboards. They were all in there together, side by side, each one part of the whole …” – and I got the students to create a personal response to this by taking photos of buildings and making montage to represent this scene.
  • Another library display … using the passage and the resulting montages. It created a lot of interest and comments.
  • We looked at other Dave McKean books and discussed them – and I used them for a library display alongside the students’ comments.
  • I wanted to introduce poetry to the programme so we had a lesson where the students looked in the poetry section of the library for animal poems. They had to choose one that appealed to them – which they read out – and explain why they had chosen it.
  • The cats in “Varjak Paw” are Mesopotamian Blues (a made-up breed) but Mesopotamia was a real place so we investigated where this was and how the history of the area had changed over time … more research skills – this time linking with history!
  • The opera had used a range of original instruments from Mesopotamia and this was our next investigation. What sort of instruments were used, how were they played, what did they sound like? It’s surprising what you can find on YouTube
  • Finally, at the end of the year, we watched Mirrormask – and discussed the film in relation to the plot, themes, audience, lighting, set, etc.

I ran out of time before I ran out of ideas … I could have explored the geography, religion and customs of Mesopotamia; looked at the more mystical side of the book where Varjak was learning about “The Way” and investigated various martial arts and meditation techniques; examined other gothic forms of art; there are also lots of themes in the book around family, friendship and acceptance that we touched on but could have developed further.

All-in-all we had a great time on this project. Students were able to pick up lots of useful skills and enjoyed having something different to explore outside the curriculum. It also made me think about expanding other reading activities – most books lend themselves to something similar, for example, “Mister Creecher” by Chris Priestley is great for exploring medical history and then moving into the science and ethics of organ transplants, and “Fallen Grace” by Mary Hooper allows you to explore Victorian death customs!

You just need to start thinking outside the box.

Thursday, 2 November 2017


As a librarian, I consider “reading” to cover anything that involves the printed word and in any format; I also think “visual literacy” is quite important, especially in the world we live in, so picture books (with or without words) count too. But I talk to quite a lot of students about reading and it’s interesting how many of them assume I’m just referring to fiction books.

There also hasn’t been a single Open Evening where I’ve not had a parent come into the library with their child and announce “he’s not a reader” (sadly it tends to be boys) – what the parent usually means is that they don't read fiction. And I've worked with teachers who hold this viewpoint. Yet when I think about my own reading it definitely includes non-fiction, books that I will pick up and browse, either because they tie in with my interests, intrigue me or I’m drawn to the illustrations.
The importance of reading for pleasure has been well documented with academic, social and health benefits, and reading non-fiction feeds into all of these.
·        It helps you learn about the world, history, other cultures; reading non-fiction will give you an insight into how the world works and increase your general knowledge. Children leap from one interest to another and we never know which is going to be influential in steering their future, impacting on their career and life choices. It is imperative that we enable this exploration to happen. Children need to be able to explore and investigate the random topics that pique their curiosity.  

·        Non-fiction exposes you to new words and information. So many stories are embedded in facts, especially historical novels, with references to people and events. Without this background knowledge, you can lose the context and essence of the story. Imagine reading “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” by John Boyne without any awareness of the Holocaust? I recently read “The Miniaturist” by Jessie Burton in my book group, and investigated the period and place in which it was set (1680s Amsterdam). I knew absolutely nothing about this time in history and the knowledge enriched the book for me, adding depth to the characters.

·        Non-fiction helps develop the information literacy skills of locating, evaluating and using information, supporting comprehension and offering increased engagement with texts through personal interests. If you understand how information is organised and presented, it will help you to find and organise information yourself.

·        Non-fiction exposes you to different styles of writing – text, captions, annotations, explanations. Reading non-fiction sets you up for the more complex texts you are likely to meet, not only in further and higher education, but also in many workplaces. Writing non-fiction also requires recognition of the building blocks of language – how to introduce and conclude, argue and compare – exposure to these techniques will inform your non-fiction writing the way exposure to fiction informs creative work.
·        Non-fiction is often more appealing to visual learners as well as EAL and SEN students. It is also important in helping to lure boys into books. Research indicates that boys read non-fiction, autobiographies and newspapers; we need to send the message that reading these texts is just as valued as reading fiction.  

·        Non-fiction engages the mind and allows you to become “lost” in the text the same way that fiction does – I have seen this many times in school libraries with students totally absorbed in information books.

So, make sure you promote non-fiction in your libraries. Some easy ways of doing this include:
·         Having lots of choice – magazines, newspapers, atlases, information books on popular topics, etc.

·         Value all sorts of reading – different books require different reading skills and they are all needed.

·         Mix fiction and non-fiction in displays.

·         Link fiction with relevant non-fiction. For example, “The Bubble Wrap Boy” by Phil Earle with books on skateboarding and graffiti art.

·         Add the relevant Dewey numbers to genre book lists so students can find appropriate non-fiction titles that link with the stories.

·         Use titles and covers to hook them in – toilet humour works well, such as “Why Eating Bogeys is Good for You” by Mitchell Symons.

·         Promote books about things they can relate to, something that is happening in the world or that ties in with recent events, or utilise a local interest – one of my schools had a large contingent of ice-hockey fans due to the local team.

·         Have a non-fiction book of the week – displayed and promoted.
Later this month, on 22nd November, the School Library Association Information Book Award winners will be announced. Have a look at the shortlists (and those of previous years) for some great non-fiction suggestions for all ages.

I know the Holy Grail is to have every child reading fiction for pleasure and we should not abandon this ideal or stop encouraging students to read stories but it is important that we do not diminish or downgrade non-fiction whilst aiming for this. One of my pleasures is to spend an afternoon browsing the shelves of my local library – as well as fiction, I always come home with a very esoteric pile of non-fiction books too!

Monday, 18 September 2017


There’s been a lot of talk recently about the decision by John Lewis to stop labelling children’s clothes as “boys or girls” – I never realised quite how divided things were until I became a grandparent and discovered that even baby wipes are marketed in both blue and pink packaging (despite the contents being identical)!

I’m not sure why some people are up in arms about children’s clothes being labelled with just an age range. If you look at boys and girls clothes, the differences are ridiculous, especially considering all children like to do the same sort of things ie: be a child. Clothes need to be adequate for the task in hand which means coats should keep them warm, shoes should be tough enough to withstand kicking balls whilst keeping toes safe, and trousers  thick enough to protect knees when they fall. A glance at the girls’ ranges in almost every shop will show you that the majority are totally unsuitable for any of these activities … they are thin and skimpy in pale pastel colours that get dirty the minute you put them on.
I have nothing against pink or sparkly - my 3 year old granddaughter loves sparkly things and I’m rather fond of a bit of glitter myself (though prefer it with black or red) but it’s the messages we are sending with different styles of clothes that I object to – “just sit and look pretty little girl, you’re not meant to get dirty or play and explore the world because your clothes aren’t suitable for doing that”. And it’s not just the implied message via the types of clothes; the actual messages on them are appalling. Go and look at ANY range of clothes and you’ll see what I mean – girls just want to have fun, girls are pretty and lovely whilst boys are clever and strong and adventurous (and don’t get me started on “suggestive” messages on T-shirts for 5 year olds)!

The argument that you can buy from any section is fine except that parents are taking on board this message about boys v girls and will say “you can’t have that because it’s in the boy’s section (believe me, I’ve heard them). They also seem to be concerned about the social stigma of having somebody ask why their daughter is wearing a boy’s top or is mistaken for a boy. Of more concern is a child being bullied for the same reason (and yes, this happens too). I’ve also been in a situation where a girl has turned up wearing a boy’s t-shirt that a boy in the same group also happens to be wearing … and the boy has been teased over this! If they were wearing “just” a children’s t-shirt, this wouldn’t happen.
Let’s move on to toys and books.
The majority of shop displays have a definite split between the type of activities considered suitable for girls and boys - you can probably guess what it is but if you aren’t sure then take a look at the fantastic “Let Toys Be Toys” campaign! All children need a wide range of play to develop different skills. The reality is that 51% of the population is female and if we don’t encourage girls to look at science and technology as being valid to them, to stop sending the message that playing with construction toys or science kits is for boys and that craft activities are for girls, then we are losing out on a huge source of creativity and inspiration that is important for our future economy.
Not all of our future scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs and business leaders are going to be men! There’s a saying “You can’t be what you can’t see” and this applies to both boys and girls, though particularly to the latter.
And what about books?

Fortunately, the majority of librarians I know are pro-active in supporting diversity and inclusion within their stock (and this is one of my most popular workshop topics) – they have books with strong female characters, stories about boys who are emotional and cry, tales with both boys and girls fighting evil and saving the world. Unfortunately though, many publishers still seem to market books aimed at one or the other sex … either via the cover design or using gender-labelling in the title or blurb. The latter is, happily, becoming less common but any glimpse in a book shop will show you a plethora of pink and glittery covers that are obviously aimed at the “girlie” market.
I will be the first to admit that I’ve used these covers to lure students into picking up (and then hopefully reading) a book. Anything that gets them reading is my motto, and I will unashamedly be manipulative and use any means to achieve this. But it is a sad fact that, whilst girls are frequently happy to read a wide range of books with varying covers, boys will rarely pick up a book that they think looks “girlie” which is a shame as the covers often hide a fantastic story (the secret is to wrap it in brown paper and run a lucky dip in the library!).

You would imagine that my granddaughter, having a rather outspoken grandmother, a mother working in the emergency services and an aunt who is an adventurer, would be immune to any of this. But no … a few months ago she announced that “girls don’t play football”(much to our horror)! This was soon corrected with the use of a rather wonderful book (“What Are You Playing At?” by Marie-Sabine Roger) but goodness knows where she got this message from – at the age of three.

I do find the statement “boys are boys and girls are girls” rather odd because what’s the definition of a boy or girl within the context we’re talking about … ie: the colours they like, the games they play, the toys they enjoy or the books they read? There isn't one. There’s nothing wrong with girls liking pink or boys playing with cars. Nor is there anything wrong with girls liking rugby or boys being interested in art.
But pink shouldn’t be the only choice available to girls (or cream if you’re lucky) and by sending the message via their clothes that “girl’s stuff” is pink, they automatically veer towards pink toys, which we’ve already ascertained are restricting their play and thus their development.

Also by constantly focusing on appearances we are creating generations who value what they look like above everything else. This applies to boys too - we expect them to be strong, brave and fit into a specific mould. Any child that doesn’t conform to these “norms” struggles and that’s where the problems start.

Girls and boys who are different, who do not imitate what society expects of them - girls who don’t like pink and pretty or boys who don’t like football and rough stuff - are often targets for bullying. Bullying reduces self-esteem and self-confidence as does feeling that you are not accepted. This results in an increase in mental health issues including self-harm, depression and suicide.
One of the most important (yet often undervalued) roles of the school librarian is the pastoral aspect and I’ve spoken about this before in a previous blog. I know from experience that this role has increased over the years and statistics reflect this yet there’s only so much we can do and so much support we can give; to truly combat this issue we need a healthier approach to letting children develop naturally and not trying to label them or put them into boxes.

You might think children’s genderisation isn’t important, that it doesn’t really matter. If you get a chance try and see the BBC TV programme “No More Boys And Girls: Can Our Kids Go Gender Free?”  - in which a class of seven year olds state that “boys are cleverer and have better jobs” and that “girls are pretty and look after children” - these perceptions were actually affecting the children's belief in their capabilities within the classroom as well as their self-worth and self-confidence. At seven years old!
Now imagine they are receiving the same signals time and time again via their clothes, their toys, their books, not to mention media and society for the rest of the time they are growing up? Do we really want to programme our children’s brains – and thus their futures – in this way?

I was recently in a high street shop where the girls t-shirts had the message “Fun All Day” and “Funtastic” whilst the boys said “I want to see the World” and “Create the Future”!!! Come on parents (and grandparents and aunts and uncles ...) … don’t you want your daughters to see the world or your sons to have fun? They’re not mutually exclusive …

Tuesday, 5 September 2017


It’s back to school time (although my colleagues in Scotland went back a few weeks ago) and I’ve noticed a few “top ten books for teachers” lists doing the rounds so thought I’d come up with my own one for school librarians. This is NOT a definitive list! I have at least a couple of bookshelves full of library/education-related books, all of which I could have included – although that would make this a bit of a tedious post so … a short but sweet selection! These are all books that deal with reading or managing a school library but as we work in the education sector, many books aimed at the teaching profession are also invaluable to us in our roles.
In alphabetical order by author (because I’m a librarian), these are books that I find myself recommending and talking about at workshops I run, and going to for ideas and advice.
·         The Reading Environment – Aidan Chambers
First published in 1991 but still relevant today, this gem of a book looks at the reading process and environment, as well as considering ways to engage students with books. There is a companion volume “Tell Me” that deals with the discussion of books.

·         Reading by Right – Joy Court (Editor)
A collection of chapters, written by expert practitioners, that looks at successful strategies for overcoming reading barriers, from birth to teens, to ensure that every child can “read to succeed”. Case studies are backed up with international research, and the book has excellent references and appendices that enable you to explore this issue further.

·         Unlocking the Reader in Every Child – Susan Elkin
This book is jam-packed with ideas for creating and sustaining readers, from young children through to older teens. It covers learning to read and looks at reading in different situations as well as the use of various formats.

·         Free Voluntary Reading – Stephen Krashen
A series of articles that were originally published in a variety of journals, Krashen has supported his arguments with extensive references. If you are unsure whether FVR has any value, this book will give you food for thought.

·         Innovative School Librarian Second Edition – Sharon Markless (Editor)
Considers various models of library practice and explores the wide range of issues that librarians face in their differing roles within schools. Adopts a strategic approach with examples from “real-life” situations.

·         The Book Whisperer – Donalyn Miller
No idea where I discovered this book but I’m so glad I did! The by-line is “awakening the inner reader in every child” and it’s full of clear, practical advice about getting and keeping students reading. Whatever your situation, you’ll find something to inspire you. US-biased but relevant to librarians everywhere!

·         The Rights of the Reader – Daniel Pennac
There can’t be many who haven’t seen the poster illustrated by Quentin Blake (and I would hazard a guess that many school libraries have this on display) – this book discusses those rights and covers all sorts of ideas around reading. It’s an absorbing and fascinating book that gets you thinking.

·         The CILIP Guidelines for Secondary School Libraries – Sue Shaper (Editor)
This covers every area of school librarianship from staffing and policies through to information literacy and promotion. It provides guidance and support regardless of your situation, and has recommendations, suggestions for further reading and examples of best practice. One to give to your senior management team!

·         Stop What You’re Doing and Read This! – Vintage (various)
My last book isn’t so much about the practicalities of running a school library or suggestions for reading-related activities but a collection of ten essays by authors and people in the publishing industry talking about why they consider reading is important. Every reader will find something of themselves in these chapters.
I’ve stuck to printed books for this list but there are many superb blogs and online resources that I also go to regularly for ideas and inspiration. And there are also several excellent books that I’ve left off … probably everyone who reads this blog will have a favourite that I’ve not included. If that’s the case then please do add details in the comments … I love getting book recommendations!
NB. I realised after I'd written this blog that I had missed off a source of information on school libraries that I use constantly ... and that's the fantastic School Library Association publications (probably because they're kept in my study rather than in the bookcase). These publications cover every aspect of managing a school library and are suitable for all types of schools. They are written by experienced practitioners, full of good advice and excellent value-for-money. You don't have to be a member to buy them (although if you are you'll get a discount).