A successful school library is at the centre of a school learning community. School libraries can provide a flexible place for learning where project work, individual study and group research can all take place.
Many schools have specified periods for each class to work in the library, and to give children the opportunity to learn research skills. These periods may be with the class teacher, or with the School Librarian if your school is lucky enough to have one.
Right from Reception class, children should be given the chance to visit the library regularly, and if possible, be allowed to take books home. Classes will, of course, have their own class fiction libraries but these can be somewhat limited. School libraries should always have a fiction section, to ensure children have access to as wide a range of story books as possible. Children can gain so much from re-reading old favourites – for example, reading Winnie-the-Pooh at different ages can open up a whole new world of understanding and enjoyment.
Younger children will love browsing in a ‘Kinderbox’, where they can see the books ‘face on’ – a row of spines can be very bewildering for a young child. Picture books are commonly displayed in this way, but it can also work well for non-fiction and early story books for infant children. Books for younger children are often very thin, and conventional shelving makes it hard to read the title on the spine – and can lead to some very untidy shelves when the children pull the books out! A box of ‘‘big books’ is also a great asset in the library – children love to share these, especially if there is a reading corner with colourful rugs and bean bags. Story sacks are another great way to get children involved in books.
Although there is a wide variation in reading ages and interests, it can be helpful to split the fiction books into infant and junior sections – as long as children always realise that they are completely free to choose from either section.
It is useful to guide children by providing age-appropriate reading lists. These can be used in school and it is valuable to send them home, either to stimulate ideas for holiday reading, or to give parents and grandparents present-buying ideas. There are reading lists for all age groups on Parents in Touch.
Here are some examples of the dozens of reading lists on the site.
Of course, children should be encouraged to visit their local public library. Libraries welcome pre-arranged visits from school groups and will arrange for an introduction to the library and all its facilities.
It’s great to have a huge selection of books, but children need to know how to find what they want. Fiction books will almost always be arranged in alphabetical order of the author’s surname. The best way to help children understand this is to relate it to the way their names appear in the class register. It helps if the shelves are clearly labelled with the letters of the alphabet in the appropriate places. Practice in looking for books by a specific author is a good start to library skills lessons. Children can find the layout of the shelves confusing. Commonly, books are arranged in tiers, as below:
It is important to teach children to find the ‘A’ category as the start of the ‘Treasure Hunt.’ Once here children should read from the top shelf in the first section starting with ‘A’ and look down to the bottom shelf. If their author’s first letter of his surname is not there the hunt continues! They have to start at the top of the next section of books and work their way down all the shelves again!
If they are looking for a name such as ‘Williamson’ they may have to search on!
This is a difficult concept for young children but one worth pursuing as it helps with many skills used in life i.e. Looking at train timetables or even looking for crisps on a supermarket shelf!
It is of course very helpful if the shelves are very clearly labelled ‘alphabetically’ with the ‘A to ...’ label distinctive and large at the top of the shelves. The chart above is an example of good labelling and a helpful idea is to teach dictionary skills in the classroom.
It is important to keep to this convention, to help children when they use the public library, or move on to their senior school.
Most school libraries will have their books catalogued on the computer. Show the children how to use this, so they can find the book they want, either by author or by title. Let them experiment – it’s there for them to use and to become familiar with. They need to learn that they should be careful with their spelling to get the result they want.
Encourage children to branch out in their reading. A great way of doing this is to share their favourite reading with their peers. If children are confident enough, right from a young age they can talk to their class, or a small group, about the books they have enjoyed. Why not have a book recommendations board in the library? Children can complete a pre-printed card to tell their friends what they have enjoyed. They can just complete author and title, and their name, or they can write a short summary of the book – but please don’t insist on this!
For older children, this can be extended into a project on their favourite author. Get them to do research about the author – find out why s/he writes the books. They can choose a favourite book and talk to the rest of the class about this; maybe choose a favourite character too.
The library is the ideal place to teach children a range of study skills - these will stand them in good stead throughout their education.
Encourage children to widen out in their reading – there are plenty of ideas on our reading pages. One way to introduce children to a range of different books is through the use of short stories. These fit in well with library periods and a wide range of different genres can be covered in a term. We have a list of recommended short stories on the site.
Above all, remember that the most important thing is to ensure children enjoy reading, so make the library lessons fun so children can share and make a real contribution, and go away really wanting to read the book they have chosen.
We have a selection of worksheets on some popular children’s fiction books – these contain activities that are a great resource to use in library lessons.
Over 5 million copies of Dear Zoo have been sold since it was published in 1982 (roughly one in five households in the UK have, or have had, copy of Dear Zoo in them). To celebrate Macmillan are publishing Dear Zoo in Touch and Feel format for the first time (Dear Zoo Touch and Feel will be published on 30th August). It joins an extensive Dear Zoo range. They also released a Dear Zoo app at the end of last year which was recently been Highly Commended at the Junior Awards and described as ‘A truly delightful addition to a well-loved format that has delighted a generation of babies and toddlers (and now has a nostalgic resonance for today's newest parents who may have read the original version when it was first published in 1982!).’ Dear Zoo is now a book that is being passed down from generation to generation and here is a video of three generations of Dear Zoo fans put together to celebrate the 30th anniversary http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRZNJoo_GYo
Q&A with Rod Campbell
What inspired you to write Dear Zoo?
Seeing a flap book (rare 30 years ago) made me realise how judicious use of flaps could draw in pre-readers to books and the reading process, and it stimulated me to use flaps in a simple story with repetitive elements. Young children love animals, flaps suggested boxes or crates for them, and quite honestly, the idea formed almost spontaneously in my mind!
What do you think makes a classic children’s book?
A classic children’s book is one that speaks in the same way to succeeding generations, and perhaps it is the combination of storyline, illustrations and ‘idea’ that give an integrity and wholeness to what is going on between the covers of the book, making it a real experience for the reader.
Why do you think Dear Zoo has stood the test of time?
Well, children love lifting the flaps (even when they know what lies beneath!), they soon catch on to the repetitive text and reacting to the different animals, and of course the story ends on an up - to the child, a logical and satisfactory conclusion!
If you could have any animal sent home to you in box what would it be and why?
I think children soon realise that having an animal sent from the zoo to you at home has certain disadvantages! I think a cat or dog would suit me very well. Perhaps a nice lively Jack Russell! Failing that, a nice plump tabby cat that sits on your lap the minute you sit down and purrs with pleasure!
Do you think it’s important to get babies into the book habit before their first birthday? And if so, how do you do this?
Yes I do. Interactive books have become widely available and relatively inexpensive now, and they are a good way of getting babies involved. Choose books with simple images and text – remember you’re buying the book for the baby not for you!
What do you think about Dear Zoo reaching its 30th anniversary?
On this 30th anniversary what pleases and moves me is the realisation that DEAR ZOO is enjoyed by young children as much today as by their parents all those years ago! Who would have known!