School Librarians Revealed: Part 4 – Best Books and Writing Sheds

This is the final part of School Librarians Revealed, a report on the joint SCBWI-BI Central East Region/Ipswich Children’s Book Group meeting with two Suffolk school librarians: Jayne Gould and Alison Baker.

Authors are Real People: The Secrets of School Visits

Children really love to have authors come into school and often feel that they are meeting “a famous person”. So it’s not surprise publishers are very keen to have authors come into school or go on tour. Pupils find writing workshops very good and are always interested in hearing how writers go about writing, for example, Jeremy Strong talks about his writing shed.

When writers come into school they need to be able to “hold” a class and talk to them. Often the best authors have some sort of show, do something special and sparkle. But authors don’t need to be all singing all dancing. Douglas Hill, for example, had a very quiet presence and delivery, but still held the children with the story he told.

“The 2 Steves” – Barlow and Skidmore ( – are cited as an example that all writers can learn from because of their skill at holding a class, learned from years of teaching drama. Jack Trelawney is also good.

School visits also help facilitate it the relationship between writers and readers. It’s good for children to recognise the writers are “real people”. Many students don’t realise that you can write to authors and children are delighted to meet them. Authors are encouraged to make use of any connection they already have with a school — especially if they had previously worked there or have children at that school.

Writer should have a plan and know what they are going to talk about or do. If the children are misbehaving author shouldn’t be afraid to make them pay attention rather than waiting for teachers or librarians to intervene. Anne Cassidy told off three girls at the back of an audience of 100 for talking and the students were far more shocked at being picked out by the author than they would have been being told off by a teacher.

Authors also need to be flexible and adaptable. “Don’t panic when things go off plan, just go with the flow,” suggest Allison, “and the children will respond.” Keep an eye on the audience – if you’re losing their interest, wind things up quickly.

Schools are also an excellent place to get feedback from young readers, if you’re brave enough! Children can be extremely honest about their opinion of books. Only the flip side, authors can end up leaving the school with lots of new ideas generated by the pupils.


Best Books of Last Year

As part of our discussion we talked about what everyone in the audience and on the panel thought were the best books published last year or once there are most excited about when they read them.

·        All three of the Charlie Fletcher books — about statues coming to life in London: Stoneheart, Ironhand and Silvertongue.

·        Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer – the third instalment is hotly anticipated!

·        The final book of the Noughts and Crosses Trilogy – Checkmate by Malorie Blackman

·        Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy. It was considered a big book to get into, but it was a nice story and a good adventure that attracted a wide range of readers in the school libraries. Interestingly, it genuinely crossed the gender divide because girls like Valkyrie Cain and boys like Skulduggery.

Favourite books

The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson is regarded as a modern classic. Many librarians felt they could constantly give it to any child who could read and that they know that there isn’t anything bad to take from it, but a good story.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsal ( is very highly thought of by Jayne, but had not had much success yet selling it to students.

The London Eye Mystery by the late Siobhan Dowd was very popular with year four onwards at Broke Hall School.

Alison felt he couldn’t go wrong Michael Morpurgo.

Mrs Marriage Project by Pauline Fisk — this book caught the imagination of one librarian, but she couldn’t sell it to most of the girls in her school.

One important consideration for book is its ability to be read out in class by a teacher.

Children don’t seem to be aware or snobbish of abridgements or adaptations. 50 page versions of Dickens are popular, and often the children will come back to the longer versions if they want to later on.

Boy Books and Girl Books

Authors that bridge the gender divide

·         Robert Muchamore

·         Roald Dahl

·         Michael Murporgo

·         JK Rowling

Books that bridge the gender divide

·         Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon and Tony Ross

·         Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

·         London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd

·         Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan (very popular with year six)

·         Vampirates by Justin Somper

·         The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickett

·         The Roman Mysteries by Caroline Laurence

·         Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi

There are obviously many books that would definitely are boy read or girl reads. One librarian had tried very hard to persuade boys to read “Not Quite a Mermaid”, but could not overcome the pink cover. During a session on choosing books, Not Quite a Mermaid was a definite no when judged by the cover, it became a probably not when the blurb was read out, but, after being read the beginning of the story the boys were interested in it, but would not borrowed because of the pink cover.

And, Finally….

Jayne had a very interesting exercise with some of her year six pupils to help them break away for what they normally read and to read something different. She selected books for each of the pupils and put them in an envelope which they were not allowed to open until they were back in the classroom. They were told to have a go at the book and to come back and talk about it. The pupils were excited by the exercise and it worked very well.


I’d like to thank Jayne Gould and Alison Baker as well as everyone who attended the discussion at Broke Hall School. I’m also very grateful to the school for allowing us to have our meeting their with the Ipswich Children’s Book Group. You can find out more about British SCBWI by visiting

School Librarians Revealed: Part 1 – Book Fairies and Golden Tamarins

On 21 January 2009, SCBWI Central East Region and the Ipswich Children’s Book Group held a joint meeting at Broke Hall School (Ipswich) to hear from two Suffolk schools librarians. Jayne Gould and Alison Baker were kind enough to come and talk about themselves and their libraries.

A Tale of Two Libraries: how different school libraries work

The Stoke High School Library operates from a single room, but is a school library and a public branch library. It has two sets of staff (one for each function) and two sets of stock, although the stamped school stock is interfiled. The library has set opening times for the public, outside school hours, although it is not unusual for the public to forget. The school benefits from access to the county library service (and can order from other libraries) as well as closer ties with the local community (who benefit from having a public library where it might not otherwise exist). It also embodies lifelong learning to pupils as many ex-students come back to use the library.

Alison Baker is the Stoke High School librarian and has worked there for over 10 years. She started as a branch librarian before moving to the school side when they needed a chartered librarian.

Broke Hall School Library is not shut away in a separate room, but part of a school thoroughfare so most children pass through it every day. It has grown alongside the expansion of the school (which now has over 600 children) and has had a librarian, Jayne Gould, since 2000 (she was previously a children’s bookseller at the Ancient House, Ipswich).

The library has over 15,000 books on its catalogue and is one of the largest school libraries in Suffolk. It is one of the few that has a dedicated librarian, a role that in many libraries often combined with another post (such as teacher or teaching assistant) or taken by a parent volunteer.

Book Fairies: How Books Appear on the Shelves

Both librarians listen to what students ask for – suggestion cards are also used for students to write down books, authors or topics they want stocked. Children need feel they have ownership of the library and are encouraged to talk about what they read. The librarians also target staff in order to encourage them to use the library more (and, of course, prioritise requests made by teachers).

Pupils talk to each other about the books they read, so that often filters through to requests for stock. Children are often influenced by the display in Waterstone’s or WH Smith, especially if they come from a family of keen readers. In the high school, Tesco is often cited in requests as the pupils see books while they are shopping with their families. Hobbies also influence the types of books that children ask for.

Authors’ visits have a very profound effect on borrowing which extends far beyond the few weeks after their visit, for example, even a year after her visit to Stoke High School, Anne Cassidy’s books continue to be in great demand (there is already a long waiting list for her new book).

Film and TV adaptations have a huge influence too. They often draw in new readers and encourage existing readers to challenge themselves with longer books. Adaptations are also a powerful motivation for a reader who is not used to reading longer books, for example, Eragon by Christopher Paolini was borrowed by many students who ordinarily wouldn’t have borrowed a book of that size. Stoke High School library was so overwhelmed by the demand for books in the Twilight series (by Stephenie Meyer) many students decided in the end to just buy the books. High School Musical books always sell in high numbers at the Scholastic Book Clubs.

The greatest challenge is keeping up-to-date with what is being published. A lot of decisions about stock are made on the basis of reviews and children’s books magazines (like Carousel – Jayne’s background as a bookseller and membership of the local Children’s Book Group has proved invaluable.

Gaps in stocks are always highlighted when students undertake individual or group projects on “what interests them.” Alison tries to suggest students pick their projects only after they’ve looked on the shelves. But students still challenge the libraries with eclectic or esoteric requests, for example, books on boxing, or slugs and snails. When projects are about exotic animals, reference works can be hard to source, for example, books on Golden Tamarins. Jayne also helps collate orders for the school library service, so is very aware of what topics are covered and where they might be a need for new stock.

Ultimately, librarians seem to work on gut instinct and knowing the children in their school. Budgets are obviously an issue and some creativity is needed in building up stocks, for example, feeding in commission from book fairs and adding the occasional review copy to the library.

Coming soon – Part 2: Keepers of Books. Watch this blog!