Once upon a time, back in the 1990s, British schools asked pupils to donate their old books to the schoolchildren of Albania. Under the communist regime of Enver Hoxha, children had not been allowed to have books or toys, so there was unimaginable delight from Albanian children when more than 60,000 books were donated.
The government set up a library, which quickly became incredibly popular. But over the years, amid confusion caused by numerous changes of government, many of the books were dispersed, stored poorly or lost.
So it was with some trepidation that I awaited the arrival of 12,000 mouldy books that had been bought for less than five pence each by the international school where I work in Tirana, the capital of Albania.
But if cleaning them was a potential nightmare (I bought surgical gloves, floor disinfectant, sponges and cotton dish towels and spent an hour carefully "bathing the books" after school each day), the boost they offered to my young pupils' English language learning was fantastic.
My Early Years Foundation Stage and key stage 1 pupils wanted to know what I was doing after school every day, and when I explained about the books they wanted to help. They worked in a separate airy room so as not to be near too much mould.
While we worked, we had conversations about the books we were cleaning. Many of them had greetings lovingly inscribed inside by the schoolchildren of the UK who had donated them. I read the messages to my pupils, most of whom were learning English for the first time.
We are writing to some of these children to thank them for the books and tell them about our life here in Albania. I realise that most will be much older than when they donated their books, but it would be so much fun to contact them and perhaps, one day, we could meet.
My pupils and I have now cleaned almost all the 12,000 books, and the art teacher and I have catalogued all authors and titles. Typing up the lists ready for printing was like scaling a mountain and finally reaching the top. After spending so much time with the books, I feel as if I know the authors personally. I can convey a real love of reading and books to my pupils.
Barbara Meinel is a primary teacher at the Albanian International School in Tirana. She is also a freelance illustrator, scientific researcher and children's author
Rene Talliard has shared an activity book to help pupils show they understand the stories they read. bit.lytesReadingResponse
Teachers share their great ideas on how to encourage pupils to read in this Teachers TV video. bit.lyExciteToRead.