Last week I met seven incredible teenagers. What they all had in common was a love of reading - and that love of reading had got them to the final of the first ever Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Award. Each had volunteered in his or her school library, making a real difference to literacy. I was proud to present one of the finalists - Jessica Ince from Heritage High School in Derbyshire - of whom her school librarian said: “she is a model student who has committed herself to supporting other students in the development of their reading and literacy skills.” All the students had amazing accolades - and I was so impressed by the dedication they showed to getting books and reading out there to all the kids in their schools.
The eventual winner was Abbie Craske from Aylsham High in Norfolk, who received her prizes from the inimitable Charlie Higson - including original artwork from Chris Riddell.
I'm telling you about this, because these kids are important. Supporting libraries is important. Reading is important. These seven teenagers represent the whole next generation of readers - the ones who realise that reading and books open doors, not only to other worlds, but also to knowledge, to education, to eventual jobs. A library can make a real and visible difference to a child - as Abbie said: “In the beginning the school library was my escape from life, now it enhances my life, and it is a privilege to give something back to the place I love.”
Unfortunately, school libraries are closing at a scary rate of knots - so why isn't that scandal and shame in the papers instead of the everlasting parade of celebrities and MPs fiddling money (and more)? I know here on ABBA we have not been backward in shouting about the trend towards closure and 'technology suites' instead of books. We need to shout more often and louder. As Barbara Band, chair of the judging panel, and past president of CILIP told us, school libraries are not statutory - and that is the problem. Nobody HAS to shout about closing them until it's too late.
All pupils in the UK deserve an onsite school library with a librarian in it. It should be a basic right - and in 2015 it is still a right which prisoners have, but school kids don't. I continue to think that that fact is a shame and a disgrace - so perhaps all of us who feel the same way should be making it clear to MPs seeking re-election next May that the statutory provision of school libraries needs to go firmly back on the political agenda.
PS: In other news, there's a VERY exciting thing going on in #UKYA today (19th March) from midday, with a HUGE prize to win. Do go over to my website blog and take a look after 12pm. It'll be worth your while, I promise!
Out now from Piccadilly Press UK & Grosset and Dunlap USA: Beast Keeper and Hound of Hades (Beasts of Olympus)
"rippingly funny…offers food for thought on everything from absentee parenting to the mistreatment of animals (even immortal ones)."
Publishers Weekly US starred review
Coming in May 2015 from Orchard, Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII)
'A gripping and exciting read' Armadillo magazine
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