This blog entry is part of a series of four posts about my two week work placement at University College School’s Enav Library.
The Entry Reading Challenge
The Entry Reading Challenge is a scheme run by the Library to encourage Year 7 boys to read more widely. Each boy has to complete a chart which looks like this:
Each boy must agree with the Library staff which books he is going to read, and then once he has read them he must come back and tell the Library staff what he thought and whether he enjoyed them. Each book is worth a certain number of points, and once a boy earns seven points he is given a commendation. Once he earns a certain number of commendations, he is eligible to receive a new school tie which bears a different design to the standard tie which is worn with the school uniform. The Library staff explained to me that the new tie symbolises the fact that the boy has accomplished a high amount of reading. I thought that this was a really fun idea, and the fact that the boys can ‘level-up’ their ties in this way must add a certain element of competition to the reading scheme, which hopefully improves their motivation to read!
I was able to sit in one of the Reading Challenge sessions during my placement and it was very rewarding to have discussions with the boys about which books they had enjoyed reading. One particular favourite for many of the boys was Stephen King’s The Shining, which was interesting given the conversation that I’d had earlier in the week with the Librarian about age-appropriate reading material for children. The Librarian had explained that the Library had a policy of not lending any material to Year 7 boys which was deemed to be disturbing or which contained adult themes which the boys might not be ready to cope with. Stephen King’s The Shining was an example of one such text, and indeed at one point while I was there a boy came to the issue desk to request the book and was told that he would be unable to borrow it.
I have to admit that I struggled with the idea that a child should ever be refused a book if they ask for one, because I believe that children’s reading should always be strongly encouraged and supported. However, I do understand that the school stands in loco parentis and that it is the responsibility of the Library staff to make sure that children aren’t loaned reading material which they might find upsetting. The fact that so many of the Year 7 boys in the reading group had already read and enjoyed The Shining was interesting though, and it suggests that age alone isn’t enough to determine whether a child is emotionally mature enough to read something. However, it is clearly a challenge for the Library staff to be aware of each individual child’s level of emotional development, and therefore it is obviously safer, easier (and probably fairer overall) to enforce a blanket restriction on the basis of age.
At one point during my two week placement I had the opportunity to sit in on a visit from one of the Library’s book suppliers. It was very interesting to observe how the Library staff selected suitable fiction and non-fiction for the Library’s collection. As it happened, much of the material which the supplier had brought with him was unsuitable for the boys at UCS, despite the fact that the books were targeted towards secondary school pupils. The Librarian explained that the boys at UCS had been encouraged to attain a much higher reading level than was average for most secondary school pupils, and so much of the material was not challenging enough for them.
There was a further difficulty in picking out suitable fiction for the boys, because most of the books on offer were clearly intended specifically for either boys or girls. Boys were likely to be put off by any books which had pink or sparkly covers and which featured female protagonists. The book supplier explained that publishers often marketed books at either boys or girls because the aim was to sell as many books as possible. However, this severely restricted the choice of fiction on offer and it also meant that a lot of the fiction aimed at boys was overtly masculine, which encouraged the idea of gender stereotypes. It was quite frustrating that there wasn’t much fiction to choose from which wasn’t gendered in this way, but I found the session very useful nonetheless and it raised some interesting issues about children’s literature.