This week, the children came back to a different library.
They noticed it as soon as they came in. ‘Oooh, it’s looks different,‘ they said as they looked around, not quite able to put a finger on what exactly wasn’t the same.
They realised that the books in the fiction section were displayed with the covers facing out, rather than the spines. ‘Oh, I like the way the books look,’ said one Year 6. ‘They’re much better this way.’
But when I told them what I’d done, I had shrieks of protest.
For you see, dear reader, I had removed all the popular books from the library.
The whole purpose of St Michael’s library, apart from supporting the school curriculum, is to encourage children to read for pleasure. I devoutly follow Daniel Pennac’s Rights of the Reader, and I will happily have a conversation about why it’s OK for children not to finish a book and to read whatever they want.
It was becoming very obvious that, while we are lucky to have a huge range of books for the children to choose from, they were going back to the same books over and over and over ad nauseum. They weren’t giving the other books a chance, which meant that around 70% (at least) of the stock wasn’t being read.
So I decided to try a little experiment.
On the last day of term before the Christmas holidays, I stayed behind late to remove all the most popular books and authors from the shelves. You know, all the:
- Diary of a Wimpy Kids
- Tom Gates
- Dork Diaries
- Beast Quest
- Daisy Meadows Flower Fairies
- cute animal books
- Harry Potters
- David Walliams
- Roald Dahl
- Disney books
When each class came in, I explained what I had done and, the older the children, the more indignant they became.
“Where have the books gone?”
“They’re having a holiday… they’re very tired.”
“Books can’t go on holiday. Or be tired.”
“These ones were literally worn out. They needed a break.”
There was a degree of mutiny amongst some children. I heard one declare, “Well, I’ve not seen anything I like among these new books,” before he marched out of the library, bookless.
Another boy came up to me with a book and said, “I can’t believe I’d never seen this one before. It looks great.”
When I asked him how he’d arrived at that conclusion, he told me the blurb on the back made him excited to read it.
This was what I had hoped would happen and most of the children found an alternative book to what they had read.
I admit to a level of interference too – I designated a bookcase for each year group and handpicked titles that I thought were appropriate for their age group, level and interests. I have been keen to emphasise, though, that they can borrow from the bookcases on either side – I don’t want them to feel too pigeon-holed. But actually I have observed them being keen on the idea of having specific books recommended for specific years.
I didn’t want the children to think that any of us adults in the school frown upon their reading choices. I told them that it was fabulous to have a favourite author or book but that sometimes it’s nice to try something new. The changes I’d implemented were only going to last a term or so, then the books I had removed would be back again.
My hope is that, by then, they will have broadened their horizons and become more interested in the other gorgeous books we have in our lovely library. After all, a new year is a chance for a new beginning, a different approach, and if we can help them achieve this in school with their reading, that would be very rewarding for all of us.
And just before I go…
I am also broadening my own reading choices too, in a similar vein to the children. I have just received a copy of Veronica Decides to Die, by Paul Coelho, to read – which my daughter wants me to share with her. I’ve always felt scared of Coelho, worrying that he might be too intellectual for me, but if I’m asking the children to take risks, I should be doing so too.
I’ll keep you updated on the progress in the library. I hope our experiment brings even more happiness to the children! (Or at least a broader mindset!)