Having spent some time over the past few weeks planning for the World Book Day author visits I'm doing for various schools, I've been reminded of how much I love working with children and sharing the joy of reading with them. I'm SO looking forward to seeing lots of eager young faces (albeit over Zoom) ready to talk about how magical it is to read books and for me to be able to share my excitement at having been able to write books as well. I feel all fizzy and fireworks because I just can't WAIT to chat to them and to hear their ideas!
All this planning has got me thinking about how special it is to be able to have regular contact with children and to show them how they could become a bookworm themselves. It's wonderful to be able to make one-off author visits (it still doesn't even feel real that I can say that) but I'm also yearning for the opportunity to be able to build books and reading into the everyday lives of children and help reading for pleasure become an integral part of their lives, both at school and beyond.
Prior to the first lockdown, I was able to go into my children's primary school and run a book club (with another book-loving parent) and even since schools have had to impose more restrictions, we were able to continue the book club online – it was heartening to see the same faces every week, keen as mustard to chat about all their bookish adventures. I'd plan a theme or an activity for each session but often they just wanted to see their friends' faces pop up on screen and then spend the whole time giving each other book recommendations and asking us what they should read next. It was a highlight of my week!
All this has led me to ponder about what a shame it is that primary schools often don't have dedicated librarians any more. I know there are so many teachers out there doing amazing work to keep things going in their school libraries, but it's so much to ask of people who are already expected to do the impossible. I also know that funding cuts mean that a primary school librarian is often, sadly, a luxury that many schools can't afford. It was the case even when I was teaching and the situation is even more acute now.
I can't help dreaming...
I can't help dreaming about what a huge difference it would make to have someone in school whose sole purpose was to help children love reading. To create inclusive bookshelves where everyone could see themselves in a book. To run book clubs and book awards shadowing sessions and competitions. To help children develop information literacy skills so that they knew how to interpret the news and the other media with which they're constantly bombarded. To invite authors and illustrators and other publishing industry professionals in so that the children could imagine they could one day consider a career in this world. To create displays themed around the children's interests and classroom topics and to refresh the books all around the school regularly so that there was always something new to catch their eye. To show them how to use a library so that they could lose themselves for hours, just browsing. To run sessions for parents and staff and pupil librarians, as well as each class in the school, so that it became a community hub for everyone. To be a safe place, a happy place, and a magical wonderland of a place for anyone and everyone who needed it. To provide passports for those who needed to escape and comfort blankets for those who wanted to make it their home. To show everyone who came through the door that a love of books and reading would make their lives a little bit better, a little bit easier, a little bit more special. Forever and always, even after their days at primary school were a distant memory.
That's my dream. Maybe I should hold back, knowing that I've already been so lucky to achieve my lifelong goal of taking my first steps on the path of being an author. But the librarian dream isn't just for me. It's for all the children I know (and the many more that I don't) because I want to try my hardest to help reading become a vital part of who they are, just as it has been for me. Books have changed my life so I know they can do the same for everyone else as well and I won't stop trying to make that dream become a reality.
Please feel free to share any thoughts and ideas you have with me – talking and sharing it with others makes the dream feel more real!