Helping Reluctant Readers Take Part in a Scottish Teenage Book Prize Book Group

On the one hand, a schoolful of students, busy with homework and extracurricular activities, or doing all they can to avoid being made to borrow library books and read. On the other, a freshly released list of the three books making up the shortlist for the Scottish Teenage Book Prize. It is always exciting to see what is on the shortlist, and that is the point at which I start to publicise the event. I put paper notices up, advertise in the school information sheet and, in my desire to get students to form a book group to read the shortlisted books, I beg (there’s no other word for it) the first few students to put their names down. Once a few names are on the list, others are happy to be involved. Our library regulars are wonderfully enthusiastic. They know that books which reach the shortlist are going to be well worth reading.

Some reluctant readers have enjoyed their involvement so much that they have signed up in subsequent years

I don’t have any selection criteria other than a willingness on the part of the students to read the three books by the voting deadline. Some students who have not taken part before may be reluctant to join the group, assuming that more will be asked of them than they feel capable of, but it helps to explain that it is not obligatory to write book reviews, nor will they be tested about what they have read. A few students have not enjoyed the books, or not had time to finish them, but they are in the minority. Some reluctant readers who have put their names down or been asked to do so have enjoyed their involvement so much that they have signed up in subsequent years.

It is tremendously helpful to receive posters and flyers from Scottish Book Trust. I display these both in and outside the library, and when I speak to individuals or classes about signing up, having the posters means that either students already know a little about the Scottish Teenage Book Prize, or can be directed to the notice boards for information.

If it is not possible to organise group discussions, I speak to students individually about the titles

It can be challenging to find times to meet to have regular discussions about the books. Ideally, we would meet regularly at lunchtimes, but in practice it is often hard to find days when everyone can get together, and the alternative can be a hurried 10 minutes with the whole group, or a discussion with a few of the students from the group. I hope I’m not the only person with a “catch up with them when I can” approach, as there doesn’t seem to be a solution to that dilemma. If it is not possible to organise group discussions, I speak to students individually about the titles and ensure that their votes for their favourite book are received in time.

It definitely helps to have as many copies as possible of the three titles (local libraries can often help with this). Funds don’t allow for a copy of each title to be bought for each student, and as the deadline draws closer, I need to track down students who have kept their books for too long while others are waiting to read them. Some students will be slower readers than others and the last few books will be handed out mere days before the votes have to be in!

The online resources are excellent. The authors’ videos are popular and informative. I ensure that the book group sees them, but plan too to ask teachers to show them in class in order to promote the Prize and to tempt those who are not taking part this year to consider it next time. Now, off to think about whom to promote the competitions to… there is a teacher who has a graphic novel design club…

There's still time to sign your pupils up read the shortlisted books and vote in the Scottish Teenage Book Prize before the voting deadline on 8 February 2018. Find out more about the Prize, including the fabulous resources and competitions, on the home page.  

Ruth Fry

Ruth Fry is the librarian at Dunbar Grammar School