School librarian of the year: how I brought books to life with my Gruffalo tea party

The Guardian has an interview with an award-winning school librarian who increased library visits with a bit of imagination…

As a child, Tracey Needham’s favourite book was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the library she now runs at a small Cumbrian primary school offers the same sense of entry into a magical world where anything is possible.

Push through the furs in the wardrobe – or perhaps the coats on pegs in the cloakroom – and children can be found enjoying a Gruffalo tea party (complete with Gruffalo piñata), decorating hot chocolate mugs at a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory celebration or creating their own Spiderman comic strips.

Amid a constant buzz of craft activities, which are especially wonderful at pulling in less confident readers, Needham is encouraging pupils in a lifelong love of reading: running book groups, organising young library helpers, setting much-anticipated competitions based around books, literary anniversaries or current events such as the World Cup.

The whole school – Sacred Heart RC Primary in Barrow-in-Furness – is involved: Needham, a higher-level teaching assistant who has responsibility for the library, herself makes sure the children see her reading, and wall posters show reading choices of every member of staff from teachers to lunchtime helpers allowing inquisitive pupils to check just how often everyone changes their books.

It’s this joyful, school-wide immersion in the world of books, driven from the ever-busy library, that has won Needham wider recognition with a School Librarian of the Year Award 2014, presented by the School Library Association (SLA). The association noted how loans from the library at Sacred Heart, where 35% of pupils receive free school meals and many don’t have easy access to books at home, rose 75% in the last school year, having rocketed 111% in 2012-13.

Last term, Ofsted inspectors praised “the well-stocked and exciting library” and students’ enthusiasm for reading, quoting one pupil’s comment: “Reading a good book is like dreaming. It takes you into new and fantastic worlds.”

It wasn’t always like this, however. Until the library was given its own designated space two and a half years ago, the shabby and outdated book collection – much of the non-fiction dated back to the 1970s and 80s – jostled for space with computers, musical instruments and “anything else dumped in there”, says Needham.

Granted a clear room at last, she set about updating and expanding the stock to almost 5,000 books, organised using the Junior Librarian computerised system. There are clear sections divided by age and topic, and cushions, a rug and a small sofa to encourage curling up with a book…

More at: Librarian of the year: how I brought books to life with my Gruffalo tea party


Just imagine the impact on reading standards if we could clone Tracey Needham and her library into every primary school? What activities or initiatives have you seen or been involved in that have most inspired children to read more? Please share in the comments or via Twitter…


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