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5 Children’s Book Awards you can use to Make your School Library More Popular

Build a programme of events around the major children’s book awards and your library will become the beating heart of your school, says Nikki Gamble...

  • 5 Children’s Book Awards you can use to Make your School Library More Popular

It’s wonderful to see a renaissance taking place with school libraries.

Neglected reading spaces – often taken over by IT suites – are being reinstated and loved again.

Schools are investing in books, and teachers are devising creative plans to make the library an inviting space.

The reward is the visible delight on children’s faces when these inspiring spaces are opened to them. However, it is easy to be swept along by the initial excitement.

Development has to be ongoing – it’s not enough for the library to be visually attractive, it has to be a living, breathing space where stock is replaced and pupils are involved in caring for it.

After an initial outlay, funds may be tight, so replenishing stock needs to be strategic. One approach I have used successfully with several schools is to put in place an annual programme structured around the major book prizes.

There are three advantages to working in this way:

  • Prize shortlists are constructed after a rigorous process, which means you can be confident of purchasing high-quality books for your readers
  • Each prize affords opportunities to refresh the displays in your library, creating interest all year round. Many of the prize organisers produce resources that you can use for display
  • You can engage pupils from the announcement of the shortlist through to the final award ceremony, setting up shadowing groups, making space for peer-to-peer recommendations, contributing to the award websites, and having your own school vote

If you think you’d like to try this approach, I’ve put together a list my favourite awards that you can include in your plans.

Young People’s Book Prize

What’s it about?
Run by the Royal Society, this prize aims to inspire young people to read about science and promotes the writing of excellent, accessible science books for under 14s.

When is it?
Shortlisting takes place in May and the prize is awarded in November, making this a good prize to focus on at the beginning of the school year.

Something to try
Take the opportunity to spotlight the science section in the library. For instance, you could put up a display about famous women in science, or create some themed mobiles displaying your classification system to help develop research skills.

And check the science section to see if you have any gaps that need plugging.


Information Book Award

What’s it about?
Administered by the School Library Association, this prize celebrates the very best in non-fiction publishing across all subjects. It has both an under seven category and a 7–11 category.

When is it?
Shortlisting takes place in May and the awards are presented in November, so this is another good prize to feature in the first half of the autumn term.

Something to try
The announcement of this award coincides with Non-fiction November, so it’s the perfect opportunity to have a non-fiction focus in the library.

Encourage children to read a non-fiction book during this month and design and print some response sheets for them to complete in the library.

Questions might include – what made you choose this book? Did you learn anything new from reading it? Can you find books for the subjects that interest you? The response sheets can be used to inform your purchasing strategy.


The Lollies

What’s it about?
The Lollies (or Laugh Out Loud Awards) came about after Michael Rosen noticed a distinct lack of funny books on the shortlists for major book awards, and decided something had to be done about it.

After all, humour is consistently voted as a top reading preference for children in reading surveys.

When is it?
There’s a long lead in time from the announcement of the shortlist in June to the award ceremony in January, giving children ample opportunity to read and vote for their favourite books on the Lollies website. A focus on this prize fits nicely into the second half of the Autumn term.

Something to try
Have children conduct a survey about the books that make people laugh. Do we all laugh at the same things? Make a display of funny books with readers’ recommendations. Reproduce some funny quotations from the shortlisted books and display them.


The Kate Greenaway Medal

What’s it about?
One of the most prestigious awards and companion to the Carnegie Medal, The Kate Greenaway Medal recognises distinguished illustration in books for children. The winning book can be from any genre: picture book, fiction or non-fiction.

When is it?
The shortlists are published in March and the announcement of the winning book is made in June, so it’s a spring / early summer focus for this prize.

Something to try

  • Celebrate the importance of drawing as a means of nurturing creativity and developing the power of imagination
  • Invite local illustrators into school (and not just those who illustrate children’s books)
  • Set up a ‘doodle-a-day book’, display it in the library and invite visitors to draw on its pages
  • Start a new spread each day of the week
  • Read Anthony Browne’s Playing the Shape Game, then organise a lunchtime Shape Game session in the library



What’s it about?
This is the only award specifically for published poetry for children. There’s just one category, so you may find some of the books are not suitable for primary.

When is it?
This is another summer prize. The books are shortlisted in May and the awards are presented at the National Theatre in July.

Something to try
Poetry is often poorly served and displayed in the primary school library. Consider moving it to somewhere prominent. If poetry is put on show, children will pick it up and read it.

Have a Poetry Bookmark making session in the library, where pupils decorate plain bookmarks with favourite lines from the shortlisted collections, and organise a lunchtime poetry performance session.


How to create a buzz around book prizes

  1. Have multiple copies of the books available to encourage peer-to-peer recommendation and create a buzz around the school
  2. Feature shortlisted authors. Create author displays and include backlist titles alongside the shortlisted book
  3. Organise a book assembly. Introduce the shortlisted books and then display them prominently in the library. Watch them fly!
  4. Have a ballot box in the library so children can vote for their favourites on the shortlists
  5. Run a shadowing book group where the shortlisted books are read and discussed

Nikki Gamble is Director of Just Imagine, centre for excellence in reading, author of Exploring Children’s Literature (Sage:2013) and co-author of Guiding Readers: Layers of Meaning (UCL:2016).

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