How one school librarian helped her children fall in love with books – Joy Court talks to Nicki Cleveland


Don’t let lack of funds stop you!

One librarian who knows all about building a society of readers is Nicki Cleveland, celebrated on the Honour List for the 2018 SLA School Librarian of the Year. Joy Court talks to Nicki below.

Her citation tells us: ‘Despite having only 3.5 dedicated hours in the library and a limited budget, Nicki has supported and revolutionised the way the teaching staff at Cannon Park Primary think about Reading for Pleasure; the school has become a genuine reading school with her at its heart.’ I was delighted that she is willing to share her top tips with you below!

My mantra to all adults, whether staff or parents, is: if you want children to fall in love with books, don’t just tell them to read, show them why they should. So, to have a job that involves doing just that is a dream.

I’m an HLTA and School Librarian in a one form entry primary school in Coventry. The biggest impact has come through me reading the books for myself. I need to know the books available for children, beyond the supermarket best sellers, whether picture books, middle grade or non-fiction. This has made a huge difference to conversations with children, moving them from adult/child to reader/reader, having shared an adventure. The benefit from this is that they are far more willing to try new authors and genres, whether recommended by me or their friends, especially as they are allowed to say, ‘I tried it, but don’t like it.’ They recognise that it’s not reading or books that they don’t like, just that particular style.

With school budgets becoming ever tighter, funding new books isn’t always easy. I started my school bookshelf off with books that I had read and loved with my son, and realised quickly that if I wasn’t going to bankrupt myself, I needed to find a way other than my bank account to fund it. And so my blog was born:

Books came from Twitter giveaways and Toppsta to begin with, and now come from publishers. Book post has a habit of interrupting lessons as I’ve been known to get rather excited opening packages. What began as a few books is now a huge bookcase with every genre, picture books, non-fiction, graphic novels and comics, all of which I have read. During Key Stage 2 library afternoon, as many books will be borrowed from my shelves as the school library.

Another simple, quick way to engage and inspire readers is connecting them with authors. Being a small school, I’m really lucky that children can seek me out easily, to let me know how they’re getting on with their latest book, and to give me book reviews. With their (and their parent’s permission) I tweet reviews to authors, because as much as adults reading and reviewing can raise a book’s profile, authors care about what children think, and the vast majority will reply, which never fails to inspire children further. Our Tweetdeck display in the library, and sharing of responses in our celebration assemblies, has raised the profile of reading further, and inspired children to write for pleasure too when they’ve loved a book.

My absolute budget and time saving tip would have to be use your School Library Service if you still have one. They provide a vital service, without which we wouldn’t be able to keep our library stock up to date. Between our annual loan, topic boxes, artefact loans and story sacks, we can ensure that we have relevant, age-appropriate books available for every child and every topic at all times. We are also extremely lucky that Coventry SLS run the annual Coventry Inspiration Book Awards. At the moment, three of my bookclubs are judging the primary age groups. This is such an easy way of introducing a range of authors and genres, and the vote-offs mean children spend time convincing their friends to vote too, so their favourites don’t go out.

For more ideas, get involved with reading chats on Twitter. #ReadingRocks, #OURfP, #PrimaryPicBookClub and #PrimarySchoolBookClub are packed with school staff who are passionate about reading and inspiring a new generation of lifelong readers, with a wealth of ideas to inspire a love of reading across school.

Nicki would be delighted to make contact with anybody who would like more information, contact her on:

Twitter: @MissNCleveland   
Email: [email protected]