One of five school assemblies at a local Primary School starts my day at 10am, 225 children in an assembly hall with a phalanx of teachers and TAs along the walls. It’s a weekly assembly where I promote the library services, encourage the kids to attend our after school clubs, or just read a book in general. “And what happens in the library on Thursdays?” I ask. “Table Tennis” they yell back.
They loudly answer every question but they save their enthusiasm for the ice-cream. I persuaded a local ice-cream company to donate vouchers to hand out to children who work hard on their literacy. The children only want to know who is winning this week’s Reading Star award. “Who wants free ice-cream?” I ask. “Me!” A cry followed by hundreds of waving hands. I read out two names selected by the teachers. Some squeals of excitement, plenty of groans of disappointment and suddenly two very happy children descend to me. I ask them what they’ve been reading (Jaqueline Wilson), what flavour ice-cream they’re going to eat (Cookie Dough), then send them back with a round of applause from their envious classmates.
My job title is very long, but it means outreach. I reach out to the community and take the library services to those who don’t currently use us. Advertising library clubs is one way. Reminding children and adults that reading can be fun is another. I spend more than three quarters of my time in a school, a care home or a day care centre.
Late morning is the quiet before the storm. I read a couple of chapters of A Boy Called Hope and think about possible questions. I find food. When I get to my next school I sign in and wait for my first Guided Group Reading session. The year 6 children get out of class and feel they’re having fun reading with the library man. The book is about a boy in his first year of secondary school, dealing with his parents’ divorce, a mean older sister and feeling alone at his new school. I play games to make it fun for them, but they earn this by answering questions and completing tasks. The second group concentrated more on the subject of parental divorce than the first. You never know which aspect of the story the children focus on. For some this is the first proper novel they have read. For others this is the first book that spoke to them, that summoned up their life experiences. For me, I’ve pre-loaded the conversation with inference questions. This is not about can the children read, this is about do they understand what they have just read, and the consequences that follow.
An after school book club next, so I find more food. Across the week I run eight school based book clubs, at full attendance that’s 45 children. In this club we are reading Grandpa’s Great Escape, my favourite Walliams book. We start with the coin game. On your feet, I flip a coin. If you predict heads, put your hands on your head. If you predict tails, hands on your bottom. I flip the coin until the eight are whittled down to a winner. A surprisingly popular game I play every week to drum home the message “reading is fun; a good book should entertain and surprise you. Just like this game, you don’t know who will win but you enjoy playing”.
We read a chapter then play the word game. This is where the children write down words from the book they don’t know. One point for being brave enough to admit you don’t know something. Another for being kind enough to explain what it means. Bonus two points if you can correctly use this new word in a sentence. One child decided that I trundle around the school. Sometimes teaching children new words is a bad idea. Next we play the drawing game. I task them to create an imaginary scene based on the chapter they’ve just read. An original piece of work that is judged by each other through a show and tell presentation. I’ve learnt never to suggest “create a fictional teacher”. Points are calculated, the winner celebrates, and then it’s time for home.
But not home for me. I have a governors meeting. 115 pages of policy documents were sent out last week, all to be discussed at the meeting. Many of the documents were in Welsh, which I can’t read. Translation slows the meeting down and I am home for 8 o’clock.