I had a brain wave. About a month ago, 3am to be exact, I was laying in bed staring at the cobweb in the corner of my room, imagining I could see a dragon shape formed in its strands, when I decided we needed to do something over summer in the library. The next morning, I created a survey for people to sign up to the Evans Summer Reading Challenge, without really knowing what it would look like, and I’ve pretty much been winging it since then! Posters went up, I spruiked at assembly, and staff muster, and did random drop-ins to English classes. I bullied … ahem, encouraged … everyone to get involved, not really expecting a lot of uptake, and the registrations slowly and steadily climbed. It made me happy in my heart.
Prep work was really minimal. I emailed a few publishers, and the wonderful people at Penguin Books Australia and Allen and Unwin got involved, sending me some great books and bookmarks. A few years ago, I’d found some awesome little notebook packs on clearance at KMart for 1cent (not a typo) which I’d been hoarding for an occasion such as this. And I splurged on $1 packets of lollies from KMart, and the smaller pringles packets, which were half price (yay for Coles’ sales!) All in all, this venture cost me about $40 out of my own pocket (end of year = no budget left) and a lot of time. Totally worth it.
This week, the real fun began. We printed out the registration forms, and started scouring the shelves, sometimes consulting borrower records to make sure we weren’t giving a participant something they’d already read. I wanted to give everyone about 6 books, one per week of the holidays, and include a graphic novel and a non fiction title in the mix. Some people were easy to pick for, and we had a fabulous time putting together packs that we know they’ll love. Others were a bit harder, and the process has helped me refine my text recommendation skills, as well as to recognise some areas in our fiction collection that may need a bit of work next year! I spent more time on the staff selections that the students, generally, because I wanted to make sure that they were getting texts that would meet their interests, as well as give them an understanding of the lay of the land in YA fiction. I particularly wanted to challenge their assumptions about graphics, so put a lot of thought into what they got for that selection!
These are the finished packs, all ready to go today. A break down of contents, for those interested:
- 5-6 books total, chosen to engage participants with their interests, and to provide them with opportunities to explore something different
- 3-4 fiction titles per bag
- 1 non fiction title
- 1 graphic novel/ comic
- a snack item (either a bag of lollies or a packet of pringles)
- an activity book, compiled with thanks to the awesome resources available at http://www.summerreadingclub.org.au/
- a selection of bookmarks, including one custom made one with our logo, and some info printed on the back about sharing on instagram, writing reviews, etc
- a notebook pack and pen
- a free book for participants to keep! Some of these are full length novels, brand new and donated from our wonderful publisher friends, and some are sample/ extract copies, or books we’ve removed from our collection for various reasons but still think they’d be great for the person receiving them.
I’ll definitely make some changes to our challenge for next year. Remove the second “romance” option in the genre preference list for starters (one of the kids asked me if I was just double checking – “are you sure you like romance? Do you want to change your answer?”), and remove the “fruit” option for the snack (what am I going to do, put a banana in the pack? That’s NOT going to end well!) The bags we used for the challenge packs were found tucked away in our filing room, and they are a perfect size – one of our tasks next year is going to involve a design comp for an “Evans Reads” fabric bag, and we’ll get a heap of them printed, so we can use them for this, as well as to pack up our thank you gifts for our visiting authors throughout the year. But ultimately, I think it’s been a great first run for the Summer Reading Challenge at Evans.
The Challenge has been a great way to end the year in Library Life, and it’s provided me with many opportunities for reflection. I realised just how prone I am to recommending books I love to people. There is no Neil Gaiman left on our shelves: ditto Alan Baxter and Judy Blume. I was wishing I had about 37 more copies of Illuminae than we have, so I could give it to everyone. (If you haven’t read this yet, get onto it. Now. I’ll wait – go order it straight away, or check if your local library has it in. You’ll thank me later.)
This collection of books, heading home to find their way into the imagination of 40 lucky Evans readers, represents a little more than the total of books that were borrowed from our library the year before I took over. I’m blown away by that, and it makes me really proud of the change we’ve been able to bring about in the reading culture of our school. The time spent browsing the shelves so thoroughly has given me great pride in the state of our collection, as well as ideas for future directions. And the ability to spend a week tailoring reading packs for staff and students, based on reading passions, subject interest, and extension opportunities has reminded me of the many reasons I love this job.
Connecting people with the stories that will move them, finding the information they need, providing opportunities for them to fall in love with words, and stories, and ideas … I get paid for this. I feel so lucky to have such an amazing job, in an incredibly diverse and wonderful school community. If you’re in a school library, I’d highly recommend running a similar challenge next year, it’s been a fantastic experience. I can’t wait to see what books I get in my challenge pack!