If you want a class of enthusiastic readers, then a well-maintained book corner is a must. Michael Thorn offers advice for spring-cleaning the shelves
All teachers would say that all classrooms should have them. So why do some colleagues allow theirs to become moribund and derelict? There's no sorrier sight in a classroom than a neglected book corner, with a motley collection of ancient paperbacks stuffed any old how into a single three-shelf bookcase, which has lost some of its fittings so that the books themselves are the only things propping up the shelves. If anyone should be brazen enough to take a title, the whole "class library" collapses, with both books and shelves tumbling out across the floor.
Conversely, nothing could speak more eloquently of a lively, literate classroom than a collection of books that is clearly well-cared-for and arranged in such a way as to catch the eye. I have seen splendid themed book corners decked out with a window-dresser's skill. But the measure of a good one is always the selection of books and other reading material, and the way those resources are managed.
Ambience is a factor, certainly, but it only takes a little effort, imagination and organisation to turn that broken three-shelf bookcase into a thriving class library once again. If shelves need mending, get them mended. Make it top priority. Few headteachers will refuse funds for such essentials as suitable storage of and display of books. Spend a half hour after school surveying your kingdom (the classroom). The best spot for a book corner may not be where it is now. It may not be a "corner". One of the things I miss most, now that I don't have sole responsibility for a class, is being able to make decisions about the floorplan, and moving furniture around accordingly.
You don't need a vast stock. It isn't, or shouldn't be, a substitute for the school library. Better a few fairly new, brightly jacketed, age-and-interest-appropriate titles than scores of yellowed and dog-eared rejects with dated cover designs. If your own school library cannot provide you with a temporary book collection, approach your schools library service - assuming your school buys in to it. The majority of schools hold occasional book fairs and earn commission in kind from total sales. Stake a claim on the commission from the next one.
Failing that, the children themselves will probably respond well to an appeal for books. If each child donates or lends one or two, you're up-and-running.
Any book corner, even if it is just a browsing area, is a mini-library and requires a simple management system. It is the lack of such a system which normally leads to decline and decrepitude. Children of all ages love to play librarian. So whether you have a key stage 1 or 2 class, involve the children as far as possible in the following decisions: lHow shall we display the books? What ways are there in which they could be sorted? Who's going to be responsible for keeping the display tidy?
lWill we have booksauthorsthemes of the month - a week is too short a time, except for special events - and who will select them?
lApart from books, what else should we have in our mini-library?
lWhat should people do when they borrow or return a title?
A borrowingreturn ritual encourages respect for books. What's more, children enjoy it. With most school libraries now computerised, you may prefer to go the low-tech route with your book corner. A simple check-incheck-out titledate chart will do, although there are lots of advantages, particularly for older children, in having one of the classroom PCs or laptops positioned near the book corner. If you can swing that, the borrowing system could be set up in Excel or on a database.
So, you've got your books, adequate display storage units, a group of children keen to act as librarians and, ideally, an online computer, which you can link to your bookauthor of the month by displaying an appropriate website. No computer in the classroom? Provide a print-out from the website. Include general author background in the book corner. The four separate issues of Authorzone come highly recommended for KS2 classes. The magazine Carousel has colourful features on authors and illustrators. Get your school to subscribe so that classes can take turns displaying the latest issue. Keep a weather eye open for reviews and features in the national press: The Funday Times, The Guardian, The TES. If you have audiotape-and-book combination sets, provide a personal cassette player and headphones. You can also have a comicmagazine rack.
Above all, make sure that the book corner strikes any casual visitor as a well-used, well-maintained, integral area of your classroom. The more effort you invest in it, the more likely it will be that those who control the school's coffers will allocate some budget for new acquisitions.
Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm primary school Hailsham, East Sussex