All hands on deck

Elaine Williams

Picture books can appeal as much to adolescents as to younger primary pupils. The scheme that encourages schools to shadow the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway judges has shown school librarian Anne Smallwood (right)that reluctant teenage readers can rediscover the joys of reading by looking at illustrated stories.

Ms Smallwood - herself on this year's official judging panel - has been librarian at Withins high school, an 11-16 comprehensive in Bolton, for five years. In her first job after graduating, she has kick-started a range of initiatives to promote reading in the school, including shadowing the Carnegie Medal. For the first time this year she decided to concentrate on the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration, with a group of 18 Year 7 pupils. All have behavioural problems and one in three has a statement of special educational need.

The pupils, among more than 20,000 young judges taking part this year, started work on Ms Smallwood's judging longlist early this year (shadowing usually starts in late May) and were particularly proud to pick out five of the eight books the official panel selected for the shortlist. They read the books to each other, made judgments about the pictures and approached the exercise with energy and enthusiasm. "They particularly enjoyed Fix-it Duck (Jez Alborough's story of a DIY duck of little brain, highly commended by the Kate Greenaway judges) shouting out the refrains, having a laugh, giving reasons why they liked the pictures," Ms Smallwood said. "It made them feel important and that their opinions really counted. Special needs groups like this are rarely asked to give their opinions." They chose Fix-it Duck as their winner.

"I told them I needed their help with the judging. I thought they would say 'these are books for babies', but they seemed to relish an opportunity they might not have had when they were younger."

Withins high school is in the middle of a housing estate with a high level of social deprivation. Ms Smallwood, 28, took over the library shortly after an arson attack on the school, and started her first job in a burnt-out room at the end of the school furthest from the 10 computers. Now she commands a new learning resource centre with 50 computers, created by refurbishing a central school hall. She runs book weeks, invites authors and illustrators to work with pupils and runs an after-school homework club in the library.

Her main concern, she says, is to show pupils that reading is pleasurable. "The books they chose are good books and it made them feel great that they were looking at them as grown-up people do. They began to articulate how pictures worked with text, how the book draws you in, the use of colour and composition. They gained a great deal from it."

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Elaine Williams

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