I mentioned in a recent post that as part of our drive to increase the boys’ reading, we were planning a few events. This turned into a (fairly loose) Book Festival which is lasting for about a month, starting with an author visit for KS2 and ending on World Book Day (which will also only be KS2). The bits I’ve organised so far have been whole-school things including a Blind Date With A Book and a ‘We Are Writers’ book. I wrote about our first Blind Date With A Book here so I thought I’d take the opportunity to briefly explain and write about how it was different this time round.
The idea behind going on a blind date with a book is that you pick a book without knowing what it is and you give it a go. Events tend to happen in schools, book shops or libraries around Valentine’s Day, for obvious reasons, but it’s also useful as the closest Friday is normally the last week of half term so it’s a nice way to finish things off before the holidays. Some people add descriptions of the books, some have a display of wrapped books to borrow, we use it as a way to give each pupil in school a book to keep.
Last time I did all this I categorised each pupil into rough reading-ages, made them fill out a fake dating profile and then the ‘results’ of that told them which colour wrapping they were best suited to. It’s been two years since I did that and the school has grown quite a bit which made grouping each pupil a tricky one. So, for 2016 I went through the whole process of buying 100s of books to suit all size of pupil and then instead of categorising them myself, I got each class teacher to pick a book for their pupils before I wrapped them and added a Valentine’s card.
I bought a lot of books from Scholastic again – free postage to schools, earning money off books and some great January sale offers meant that I could get a lot for my money. They also have a great range of books for lower level readers based on poplar tv shows and films. This meant that I could give a Year 11 a copy of ‘127 Hours’ rather than yet another Brinsford Books classic that he’s probably already read. I did use Amazon for a few extras that I thought they might not usually pick like some Tolkien and Gaiman, plus a few books that featured in the TES lists of books pupils should read before leaving Primary and Secondary school, and I threw in a few from the box of free Book Trust ones I have. I had to be fairly realistic though, it doesn’t matter how well I wrapped it or whether they got to keep it, there are a lot of books that they wouldn’t even give a chance to, so the options weren’t a million miles away from things I thought they’d normally pick (shocking number of books with farting or bums in the title).
The art room had some awful pink paper buried in a corner so I stole that (with permission), and I decided that instead of simply writing each pupil’s name on the front of the packages, I would give them all a Valentine’s card from their book. They had poems. As we’ve only got a maximum of 8 in a class, I wrote 8 poems and put them in 8 different cards using my all my best TA skillz. Wrote ’em, glued ’em, stacked ’em. I was pleased with myself.
Class teachers were given their pile of books and able to choose when they gave them out and how they followed it up in class etc. I only saw a few children throughout the day but the ones I did see seemed fairly chuffed with their books and I get the feeling it was a success! We also used that day to display the entries for our We Are Writers front cover design and have a vote, and it was the last day for pupils to submit their stories for the book too. I’ll write more about that further along in the process.
If you are interested in holding your own Blind Date With A Book and want some little cards with awesome poems in, you can find mine here:
I wrote about the Blind Date With A Book day I organised at school last year, and briefly that we also did the same for staff. Over the past year I have read several books from the staff list – some of which I would have chosen to or were already on my pile waiting to be read, and some that I don’t think I would’ve gone near. No point in telling the kids to broaden their reading horizons if we don’t give it a go ourselves eh?!
The basic set up for this was everyone suggesting a book and everyone picking one blindly. We’ve created a small library in the staffroom and we’ve continued to exchange and read them. I’m not sure how many people take part now, but there’s an obvious coming and going of books so I know it’s not just me.
These are ones I’d already read and I would recommend them all if you fancy giving them a go:
- The Men Who Stare At Goats by Jon Ronson
- Kill Your Friends by John Niven
- To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night by Mark Haddon
- Foreskin’s Lament by Shalom Auslander
- Faceless Killers: An Inspector Wallander Mystery by Henning Mankell
- American Gods by Neil Gaiman
- Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
- Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
- Stuart A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters
I suggested a couple of the books on the list as some staff couldn’t think of one. I’ve mentioned The Rivers of London series in previous posts. We like those. Foreskin’s Lament is one I read as part of the Jonathan Ross twitter book club years ago, which I enjoyed at the time and have lent to people as something they might not pick up normally and thought it was a good addition to the staff list.
The one that was my first choice suggestion was Stuart – A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters. This was lent to me by the DT teacher at work about 5 years ago. They weren’t a big reader but they’d seen half of the film by accident on tv and been so taken by the story that they bought the book. He came up to me one day and asked if I’d like to borrow it because he thought I’d like it and he really wasn’t wrong. Please, please give this one a go. Don’t judge it by the cover. The new cover looks like one of those ‘Why did you leave me Mummy’ books that run in swathes down supermarket book aisles, and whilst we’re not in the zone of judging here, I know you will and Stuart really isn’t a book like this. Really. It is a biography. It, as the title would suggest, tells Stuart’s story backwards, starting with his death and working back to his childhood. You could read Wikipedia and get the whole story, but I think it’s worth reading it and letting the story unfold. Whether it’s because Stuart reminds me of quite a few of the boys I work with, or whether it’s because of the way I came across it, I love this book and I want other people to love it too.
Books I have read from the list since 14th February 2014:
- Perfume by Patrick Suskind
- Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
- Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver*
- Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
- The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
- The Blackhouse by Peter May
- Bitten by Kelley Armstrong*
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
- Headhunters by Jo Nesbo
When it came to picking my book I chose ‘Me Before You’ by Jojo Moyes. Now this is something I would never pick up to read. I would very much judge by the cover and this one is pink and frilly to sit beautifully in the chic-lit section and be ignored by cover-judging people like me. I read it in 24 hours. Not at all the story I expected. I fell for the characters, I didn’t want it to end, I happily recommend it. Ok. So I still don’t think I would head to the pink frilly section but I’m willing to give a recommendation a shot.
I’ve enjoyed pretty much all of the ones I’ve gone for so far* but the two I’ve really loved have been Perfume and The Blackhouse. Perfume’s been on my to-read list since I read Daniel Pennac’s ‘The Rights of The Reader’. It was great. Read that one if you haven’t. The Blackhouse was recommended by our Deputy Head. Part of a trilogy and set on the Isle of Lewis it starts with a murder and the return of an islander tasked with solving it. The book isn’t so much about solving the crime, but that the crime is the catalyst for a return to the island and reconnecting with the past. It’s brilliant. I’ve read the whole trilogy and other Peter May books since. If you don’t at least fall in love with the landscape then I don’t know what else I could suggest.
*I really tried to give these a good bash but couldn’t for the life of me get into them so I gave up (which of course is my right as a reader).
Blind dating books has turned out to be fun and has introduced me to some books I might not have chosen and hopefully done the same for some other staff too. I’ll keep ploughing through the list as they work their way back to the library and see what I can find. I heartily recommend having a go yourself. Next time you’re in a book shop or supermarket, go to the book charts and pick a book. Use the day of the month, your age, shoe size, whatever you like. Pick something up and give it a go.
I’ve mentioned the Blind Date With A Book event at our school a few times but I’ve put off writing about it until now because I thought if anyone was tempted to have a go themselves, it was silly to be thinking about it too far away from the sort of time you’d want to be organising it. Anyway, it’s about a year since I started planning ours properly so now’s probably the time for other people to start.
Quick background first. We were in the fortunate position that Ofsted told us we’d got too much money left in our budget and needed to get some spent (I appreciate the money aspect might be the sticking point for most people but you can still do it in some ways). Staff were asked to put in bids for specific items and having recently seen some images of Blind Date With A Book events and wondering if we could do something similar at school, I thought it would be a good opportunity to give each of the boys a book to take home. So I typed up a very official looking bid and was told to go for it.
The premise of Blind Date With A Book is that people get to pick a book without knowing what it is and get the chance to read something they might not normally go for (generally speaking I’m a believer in judging a book by its cover but I understand that we’re not supposed to do that). I’ve seen pictures of schools, bookshops and libraries going about it in a variety of ways – plain wrapping, fancy wrapping, brief descriptions on the front, clues to the book, only the scannable barcode revealed, small and big displays – all around Valentine’s Day*. I’d originally thought about just wrapping up some books in the library, but given the sudden injection of a bit of cash I went for buying an awful lot of books instead. *I also saw a Halloween one with a whole ‘Dare To Read’ theme.
I knew that I’d need more books than boys – they’d need something to choose from. I knew I’d need a wide variety of levels of book – we’ve got pupils from 7-16 and within that, reading ages that stretch in every direction. I wasn’t too concerned with excess books as everything left over has gone in the library or classrooms, but other than that I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to work out.
I started by being completely indulgent and buying books I thought they might enjoy; books I like and recommendations from colleagues and best-seller lists. Then I moved on to bulk buying and making up the numbers like a loon. I got quite a lot of books from Scholastic. They have a good selection of all sorts – you can filter by price and age quite nicely plus there’s the bonus of earning money to spend on books for school as you’re buying. I managed to get quite a lot this way, including lots of free ones. Quite a few of our pupils are into things like Robert Muchamore’s CHERUB series and Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates books. I love these books and I’m perfectly happy that if they’re reading anything, they’re reading and this is a good thing. I did include some of these books in my haul, but I also took the opportunity to introduce things like The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, some Terry Pratchett and a bit of George Orwell.
This was about getting them to read something new, but also about getting them to actually give it a go. The most difficult books to get were ones for the kids with a much higher chronological age than reading age. They need books pitched at their interests but often they’re completely beyond them reading-wise. Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ feature is good for helping to gauge the words, and I found some books published by Dorling Kindersley that have proved quite successful. The DK Readers books have levels (some more subtly than others) from ‘Beginning to read’ to ‘Reading alone’ and include a variety of non-fiction and brands like Lego, Star Wars and Angry Birds. One of our Year 7s with a reading age of about 5y 6m has really taken to these books now so at least something good has come from it all!
In our Key Stage Two group we have one pupil who is working at very low levels. During our whole-school 10 minutes of reading after lunch, he reads picture books with his TA. I decided that a picture book was the best option for this pupil so I got a handful and fell in love with all of them. These were my favourites:
I have genuinely dragged people into Waterstones to show them how brilliant they are.
So. I had boxes of books suitable for 7-16 year olds with reading ages of ‘not’ to ‘adult’. I had the morning of Valentine’s Day to fill and I needed a logical way for 50+ boys to pick something that was at least pitched at roughly the right level.
I decided the best way to make sure they got a suitable book was to divide both the pupils (within Key Stages) and books into similar level groups and get the pupils to select books from the right group. I needed to do this in a way that wouldn’t embarrass the lower level readers and make them stand out so I decided to stick with the ‘Blind Date’ theme and get the whole school to fill in an online dating questionnaire. I didn’t sign them up to anything dodgy, I created my own simple WordPress questionnaire. I didn’t need to know what the actual results were, I’d already grouped them, but I was able to give each class a list of the pupils’ ‘results’ with which corresponded to the colour of heart I’d stuck to the front of the wrapped books. The kids happily thought their result was down to their choice of car or ice cream and none of them were singled out as low readers.
Valentine’s Day was upon us and our very enthusiastic Deputy Head decided that was needed to start the day off was a whole-school assembly, in which we would explain what was happening and also the concept of ‘Blind Date’ the TV show to the pupils. This turned into members of staff acting out a game of Blind Date as book characters and Sherlock Holmes going on a date with Miss Dixon (she turned down the Wicked Queen from Snow White and The Gruffalo). Throughout the morning each class took it in turns to visit the (beautifully decorated) library and each child picked their book. I think most of them were happy with what they’d picked. I had a couple of subtle swaps as children were upset with their choice – I wasn’t going to swap everyone’s but I did want it to be a nice event rather than a miserable one, and they asked nicely. I’m not sure if any of them did get their ‘Dream Date’, but I know at least some of them have been read and now if they’re asked by one of those national surveys if they own any books, at least they can all say yes…
I know something like this isn’t going to be possible for everyone. We’ve got a manageable number of pupils and I had the money to do it. I do think it would be something more schools could introduce to their libraries or for individual classes/ year group to do perhaps. I left it up to class teachers as to whether they followed it up with book reviews or class blogging and gave them some rewiew pro-formas, but as we broke up for half term that day, I think they all left it there. It was a lot of fun to do with the boys, especially as it fell as an end-of-half-term event and we did our own version as a staff team. My reading of 2014 was swamped with those books, but I’ll leave that one for another post.