Waterstones Children's Laureate Cressida Cowell launches flagship Life-changing Libraries project

Published on: 13 April 2021

Cressida Cowell will help to transform six primary school libraries to showcase the power of these spaces - and she's calling on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ring-fence funding for school libraries.

The Life-changing Libraries logo

Waterstones Children's Laureate Cressida Cowell has launched her flagship Life-changing Libraries project to showcase the power of library spaces in primary schools.

Over the next year, six very different primary schools across England - all of which have at least 25% of pupils eligible for free school meals - will be helped to develop a reading for pleasure culture.

Each of the six schools taking part will receive a bespoke library space, stocked with a specially curated booklist of approximately 1,000 titles chosen by BookTrust's expert team with guidance from the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education.

Staff at the schools will also receive professional training and mentoring from specialists at the School Library Association as part of a two-year membership, and will also have access to the CLPE's Power of Reading Training and Membership.

Highlighting 'gold standard' school libraries

Life-changing Libraries is inspired by Cressida's 20 years of experience visiting schools and is backed by research into the benefits of reading for pleasure and the challenging financial reality facing primary school libraries.

It will highlight the four pillars of a 'gold standard' school library - space, book provision, expertise and whole-school and parent involvement.

The project is being supported by Reading Cloud, who are providing a library management system subscription for each school; FG Library and Learning, who are helping refresh spaces with furniture and display products; Promote Your School, who are creating bespoke wall art; Rising Stars Reading Planet, who are donating online eBook subscriptions to each school; Jobtrain; Tonies, who are providing each school a Toniebox; leading UK publishers, who are donating books to stock the new library spaces; and CLPE, who are providing access to their Power of Reading resources.

Building is due to begin on the libraries this month before they officially open in June, while the project will monitor the impact on pupils' engagement, attitudes and reading behaviour over the course of a year.

Saviour CE Primary's current library space

Saviour CE Primary's current library space

The six schools taking part are:

  • Benwick Primary School (Cambridgeshire)
  • Dinnington Community Primary School (Rotherham)
  • Griffin Primary School (Wandsworth)
  • Saviour CE Primary (Manchester)
  • Skerne Park Primary School (Darlington)
  • Woodchurch C of E Primary School (Wirral)

Kate Chisholm, headteacher at Skerne Park Primary School, said: 'Many children do not have access to books at home.

'Parents, when living in poverty, often have to choose between essential food and luxuries such as books, toys, or clothes.

'The children at Skerne Park Primary School have some access to books at school, but with declining budgets these are old and well used, and not very enticing for children to pick them up and read at home.

'Reading is a gateway to an excellent education and also an enabler for social mobility. Without the right literacy skills children often fall behind and disengage from education.

'Our school does its level best to encourage firm foundations, however this is sometimes challenging with very little in the way of resource. As our children and their families are amongst some of the least engaged with realising their aspirations, having new, glossy books presented in a lovely library space would be such an enticement to enabling excellent love and positive associations with books and reading.

'After what has been a hugely difficult year, we are thrilled to be part of Cressida's Life-changing Libraries project, and very much looking forward to building work beginning!'

Woodchurch C of E Primary School's current library space

Woodchurch C of E Primary School's current library space

Meanwhile, BookTrust's CEO Diana Gerald said: 'It is impossible to overstate the life-changing impact that books and reading have on a child's life prospects, their mental health, wellbeing, self-esteem, educational achievement and so much more.

'Reading opens up a world of new possibilities for children and develops aspiration, with research showing that it can drive social mobility and mitigate the effect of social inequality.

'As custodians of the prestigious Waterstones Children's Laureate role, BookTrust is delighted to be supporting Cressida's Life-changing Libraries initiative, and helping develop new library spaces that inspire a long-standing reading for pleasure culture within these six selected schools.'

'Help children whose future now lies in the balance'

Today, Cressida has also written an open letter - backed by former Laureates, literacy organisations, and publishing industry leaders - in which she calls on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ring-fence funding for primary school library spaces.

The letter highlights the underfunding of England's primary school libraries, with research showing that one in eight primary schools has no library space at all - a statistic that doubles in schools with a higher proportion of children on free school meals.

Cressida explains how this lack of provision means millions of children are missing out on the vital benefits of reading for pleasure, with decades of research showing it has a huge impact on a child's educational development, health and wellbeing, personal growth and future prospects.

Calling for a ring-fenced, yearly investment of £100m, Cressida asks: 'How is it fair that some children are being given this immeasurable advantage in life, but stark book poverty means many more are denied this same chance to change their future?'

Find out more about Life-changing Libraries

Read Cressida's full open letter

Download the full press release

Waterstones Children's Laureate: Cressida Cowell

Author-illustrator Cressida Cowell is the Waterstones Children's Laureate for 2019-22. 

The role of Children's Laureate is awarded once every two years to an eminent writer or illustrator of children's books to celebrate outstanding achievement in their field. Find out what Cressida's been up to.

Find out more