How a pop-up bookshop got this primary school reading

Published on: 10 November 2017 Author: Liberty Venn

Research consultant and Start The Story speaker Liberty Venn explains how she managed to get even reluctant readers at one primary school excited about books - all by setting up a pop-up shop.

Little Library

I first stumbled on the idea of informal book sharing when conducting research for BookTrust. Little Free Libraries had sprung up across the United States and were quickly gaining pavement appeal throughout the UK. I loved the democratic model of community-wide free sharing of good quality second-hand books, and the opportunity for children to choose any title they liked, free of adult oversight.

We launched a Little Free Library just inside the gates at Barlby Primary in West London to complement the school's excellent literacy provision, put free books into children's hands, and help engage parents in their children's book choices. Families without the time or resources to access the library or local charity shops can take books to enjoy at home, and children have become regular users of the little green shed, not knowing what they will find each time but knowing that the contents are theirs to take without any strings attached.

But there will always be children who, for whatever reason, choose not to take these books.

We explored alternative ways of engaging children with our free books. A Barlby Pop Up Bookshop with every child invited to 'buy' a free book seemed to have a magical ingredient that might capture the imagination of even the most disengaged child: an immersive environment in which each child could browse for the book of their choice and be inspired to discuss the experience with friends or family.

Barlby Primary's pop-up bookshop

So we created an immersive bookshop in a small resource room inside the school. Decorated with publisher posters, it was designed to resemble a proper bookshop in every way. Books were curated by type and reading stage and a 'shopkeeper' - a willing parent - helped children to explore the full range of books available.

Barlby Primary's pop-up bookshop

The bookshop remained open for four days and the response was fascinating and rewarding. Each child was given a token to 'spend' in the shop and, after making their purchase, was given a sticker on which they wrote their choice of book. An informal chart outside the front of the school invited pupils to tick to say whether they had chosen a 'funny book', an 'adventure book' and so on. Children of all ages could take part in this, building up an intriguing picture of participation.

Barlby Primary's pop-up bookshop

Children were limited to just one book which increased its perceived value to them, with many pupils able to explain their choice in depth. Younger children prized the role play opportunity and their teachers commented on their subsequent conversation about the experience in the classroom. Older children valued the autonomy of independent choice. Parents commented on their children's desire to talk about the bookshop experience and to present their purchase.

Barlby Primary is an exceptional school that has always sought to create immersive experiences to support pupils' creative writing and language skills. What was seen over the course of their Pop Up Bookshop was the potential for creative book sharing to engage the widest audience, to empower and enthuse every child, and to put relevant, good quality books into every child's home.

London Children's Book ProjectLiberty Venn is a research consultant and additionally runs the London Children's Book Project which donates new and gently used children's books to primary schools for teachers to gift to children and their families. It aims to empower children through book selection and ownership and want to close the book gap that exists across London.

Schools are welcome to contact Liberty at [email protected] to find out more, visit the website here, or follow the London Children's Book Project on Twitter. You can also follow Barlby Primary School on Twitter here.

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