How to bring your school library to life with child-focused and creative ideas

Published on: 11 May 2021 Author: Andy Young

Assistant head Andy Young shares loads of fun and easy ways to bring reading to life and help children shape their school library – whether it’s creating incredible book-inspired artworks or having themed days in the library space.

As part of Cressida Cowell's Life-changing Libraries project, we're supporting six primary schools to transform their libraries into amazing spaces that encourage a lifelong love of reading. We also want to inspire every primary school around the country with blogs like this one from Andy Young. 

The library should be the focus of your school and should be created by your students. 
I firmly believe that a library for children should be a new world, like walking through the wardrobe doors of the Chronicles of Narnia. This promotes a wonder of books.

We’ve seen the results of doing this on our students’ attitude to reading and how they read for pleasure, so I’m a zealous advocate of creating wonderful libraries with lots of input from children.

The OFSTED report Good School Libraries: Making a difference to learning (2006a, PDF) states that some of the best libraries are ‘created gradually through imaginative use of space and resources’.

I would like to offer some artistic ideas for making your library look inviting, exciting and child-focused.

Fill your library with art

At Grafton Primary School, where I am assistant head, we place a lot of emphasis on the arts and so student creations are abundant in all the school spaces: from the classrooms to the corridors and, most importantly, the library!

The children’s classes have even taken some of their favourite books – Wild by Emily Hughes, Rainbow Bird by Eric Maddern and What is Climate Change? by Gail Herman – and created artwork based on these:

Library artwork inspired by Wild by Emily Hughes

Library artwork inspired by Rainbow Bird by Eric Maddern

Library artwork inspired by What is Climate Change? by Gail Herman

It may seem daunting to produce such large and wonderful creations, but this can be an exciting opportunity for your school and the children. We have used the skills we have at our school by choosing teachers and teaching assistants with the art skills to create the pieces. The work is always inspired by books; the ideas from the children; and the facilitation from staff who are knowledgeable and happy with this area of the curriculum.

For the large creations, you will need to use willow (which is material grown on farms and used for basket weaving) to create your main shape. This is child-friendly and malleable. Wire is then used to create the detailed shape within this, with simple masking tape to join your construction. This is then covered with papier-mâché to create the outside and colouring. This video shows how it is relatively straightforward to create your large frames with willowPapier mâché is a tried and tested method of creating sculpture art. Colour is added to your creations using tissue paper by ripping the tissue paper into small pieces and covering your work using PVA glue.

Your best ideas will come from the children

We are currently in the process of creating an exciting entrance to our library, so that the children feel like they are walking into a new world. The best way to start is doing some research and finding out what other schools have managed. At the planning stage, I have always found that the best ideas come from the children. One of the National Curriculum for art objectives is to ‘create sketch books to record their observations and use them to review and revisit ideas’ and so the planning session is as important as the creating.

I have asked children to choose pictures from books and imagine how they can be made into three-dimensional structures. I have then used the children’s ideas and adapted them. Just type 'School library artwork' into your search engine and all kinds of fabulous ideas will pop up – from making a gateway into Narnia to building the library entrance out of old books!

Since hand sanitisers are now a feature in every room in every school, we are also trying to make hand sanitisers more fun! 

Some ideas that the children in year 6 have had are: sanitisers as goblins, ‘spitting’ books and Harry Potter-themed sanitisers. To keep with the theme of dragons (with How to Train Your Dragon), you could perhaps have dragons breathing out sanitiser, rather than fire. Having made elephants out of milk bottles (see below), we feel this may be a fun and easy task! 

Milk cartons turned into fun elephant figures

Here are some (free) ideas to get your library up and running and make reading for pleasure an ethos in your school:

  • DEAR – Drop Everything and Read: This is a monthly event where EVERYONE (and I do mean everyone: pupils, teachers, head teacher, assistants, caretakers and admin staff) in the school stops to read for 20 minutes. This can be done in your library.
  • Reading is Fun Day: We combined this with Bring a Parent to School Day and used the library as a focus (although current restrictions don’t allow for parents coming into your school, this will hopefully change soon). Children can discuss their favourite books with their parents and teachers and create their own books (which could potentially have a place in your library).
  • Book Appeal: Rather than gathering dust on children’s shelves, books are brought in by children to ensure that our book corners are full. This inspires ‘non-readers’ as they know the books have been read by one of their friends.
  • Bedtime Stories: At the end of each term, the children bring in pyjamas and teddy bears. Children are read a story by different members of staff in your library. Join in with our Pyjamarama day and raise money for BookTrust

Good luck making your library an inviting space! Do get in touch if you would like any help with any of the above by emailing [email protected].

Andy Young is assistant head of Grafton Primary School in London. He is a member of the Life-changing Libraries steering group, which has been guiding and advising the project and campaign. 

You might also like: 'Ten tips for creating an unforgettable school library'

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