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Reading Rocks! Using Illustration to Encourage a Love of Reading.

I am lucky to be the School Librarian at Steyning C of E Primary School in West Sussex. As part of my role, I am frequently tasked with the challenge of engaging our most reluctant readers and helping them to develop a love of books.

Over the last year I have noticed that, for many of these readers, picture books and illustrations provide a way into the wonderful world of books. It has been fantastic to see so many of these children 'light up' when they find a certain picture book that they love, and how the quality of their discussion and understanding of a story can be transformed, just by giving them a different type of text to explore. Equally, when we have given children the opportunity to come to the library to take part in a library 'hunt' or trail, the library is always packed, particularly with children that do not regularly frequent the library.

Pebble discovery

A few months ago, I was out walking with my own children in our town centre, when one of my boys exclaimed 'Look Mummy, what's that?' On further exploration, I realised that they had found a painted pebble hidden in our local churchyard. When we got home, we followed the instructions on the back of the pebble and found that somebody had started a group on Facebook, which was encouraging members of the community to decorate a pebble and hide it in the local community. When found, the idea is to take a photograph of you with the rock and re-hide it in a new location. This idea really caught my children's imagination and very soon, we were painting our own pebbles. Our walks around the town got a lot more exciting as they were constantly on the lookout for new pebbles!

All of this got me thinking and I wondered if I could harness the pebble hunting enthusiasm into an idea to encourage and promote reading for pleasure with the children in my school, particularly my reluctant readers. We therefore decided to start a new initiative which we named 'Reading Rocks'. Initially I approached some of our pupil's favourite illustrators and asked them if they would be willing to decorate a pebble with a book character from one of their books and donate it to the library. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of these illustrators and was thrilled when the first set of pebbles arrived by post.

Hiding pebbles

Our plan was to then hide these pebbles around the school. When the children found one, they would bring it to the library and receive a recommendation for a book from the illustrator who had donated the pebble. We were fortunate enough to have an author visit from Chris Riddell who, as well as illustrating a number of pebbles for us, very kindly designed a logo of a 'Reading Rock' for us to use to promote the idea. My brother, who is a graphic designer, used the image to make bookmarks for the children to get stamped when they found a pebble. The first week that we launched 'Reading Rocks' the interest and enthusiasm in the pebbles from the children was fantastic. The library was inundated with children and it was wonderful to hear them huddled in corridors, discussing the illustrators and their books with their peers. Going forward, we want to further tap into their interest so have decided to involve them more with the creation of the pebbles. As a whole school, we are having a focus on illustration and I am fortunate enough to have a very enthusiastic group of pupil librarians who were keen to start decorating their own pebbles. These students have started 'pebble workshops' that run in the library at lunchtimes.

They have selected their own illustrators and researched 'How to draw' tips from them. Each week, they choose an illustrator to focus on and encourage the younger children to come to the library to learn to draw a book character. They then use their designs to decorate their own pebble. We are now hiding these pebbles around the school and when found the children not only get a book recommendation and a stamp on their bookmark, but they also get a chance to see and hold the 'real' pebble from the illustrator.

Supporting #picturesmeanbusiness

We are over the moon with the beautiful pebbles we have received. Huge thanks to Chris Riddell, Liz Pichon, Elys Dolan, Danny Noble, Emily Gravett, Steve Anthony, Lydia Monks, Nick Sharratt, Jim Smith, Camille Whitcher and Guy Parker-Rees for their support and taking the time to paint and draw us beautiful pebbles for our Reading Rocks trail. Our work on illustration supports Sarah McIntyre's #picturesmeanbusiness campaign so we are using the hashtag as much as possible in social media to promote this. Sarah's campaign highlights the benefits of crediting illustrators for their work. She talks about the importance of raising the profile of illustrators in school through talking about illustrations and inviting illustrators into school to meet the children. We have found that through doing this our children are more inspired to draw, create and write stories, and more interested in reading a wider range of different books. This has helped us to further develop a culture of Reading for Pleasure in our school. For more information about the #picturesmeanbusiness campaign, please visit the website

Whole School Initiative

As a whole school we are continuing to use illustration as a powerful and important way to promote reading for pleasure. The wonderful creator of children's books, Elys Dolan, has recently agreed to become our Patron of Illustration. She is working with us over a year to promote a love of reading and books through illustration. She recently visited us and ran workshops across the school encouraging the children to enter her first competition to 'design a book character'. Over the year, Elys will be setting further illustration challenges to the school and the hope is that the children will engage in all of them. They will then be able to create their own book by the end of the year. We are in discussions with our local independent book shop about the possibility of them 'selling' the books for us.

Alongside this we have been paired with Camille Whitcher, author/illustrator of Luna and the Moon Rabbit via Kate's Scott's @Bookpenpal scheme on Twitter. This is a fantastic arrangement, where schools are paired with an author/illustrator who recommends books for the children to read. Every month, the Pupil Librarians look forward to receiving a picture book recommendation from Camille. They then share the recommended book with the younger children in the school before replying to Camille, sharing their thoughts about the books and the illustrations within them.

We are also trying to introduce our pupils to illustrators and new books through our Badges for Books scheme. After discussion with some of our Pupil Librarians about ways to raise funds for much needed new book stock, we came up with this idea. The Pupil Librarians have written to some children's book illustrators asking them if they would be willing to provide us with a small image that we could make into pin badges. We sell these badges in the school library and all profit goes towards books for the library. I am hugely grateful to the illustrators/authors Emily Gravett, Viviane Schwarz, Becky Cameron, Camille Whitcher and Rikin Parekh for providing us with illustrations to be used to make pin badges with. It has been fantastic to see the children so excited by these and become increasingly interested in new books and illustrators.

Please feel free to follow us on Twitter where we will provide 'pebble updates' and information about all of the exciting developments in our school library. We are SPSLibrary@SPS_lovetoread.

And if there are any other illustrators who would be willing to donate a pebble or badge design to us, we would be incredibly grateful as we want to keep the children's interest and enthusiasm sustained for as long as possible by providing them with the opportunity to discover new illustrators' books.

by Leia Sands

* Leia Sands is School Librarian at Steyning Primary School in Sussex.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Sands, Leia
Publication:School Librarian
Date:Jun 22, 2019
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