Daily Express Christmas campaign: Children benefit from books so make sure they get them

The library at Larkspur Primary Academy used to be an unloved space filled with worn-looking books and battered shelving dating back to the Sixties. Drab and uninviting, more often than not, pupils ran past without stopping. 

Kerry McEwan, the headmistress of the school in Ware, Herts, takes up the story: “We’re in an area of high deprivation. The school is a horseshoe shape with the library in the centre and four classrooms off that. “It was dark, a bit of a thoroughfare for everybody.

“It certainly wasn’t a place for stopping and reading. It didn’t serve its purpose in any way.”

In a bid to revamp the library and get kids – many of whom do not have books at home – reading, the old furniture was taken away and the new carpet put down. Then, as lockdown started in March 2020, Kerry had a brainwave. She asked Daily xpress Christmas charity Give A Book if they could help inspire young minds with a thirst for knowledge and having fun.

The charity arrived with funding, expertise… and lots of books. “They came along for a site inspection and had a long chat with myself and the deputy headteacher,” she continues. “They listened to what we wanted for our pupils: to encourage reading for pleasure and the love of reading – that was our vision. They put me in touch with a company which came in and designed the library with me.” 

Kerry, who arrived at the school in 2018, felt a burden lifted off her shoulders as like-minded people came together to help her pupils, aged from five to 11, get a better start in life. “The plans were amazing,” she smiles.

“We couldn’t wait to see how it would all take shape.”

Arriving back after lockdown, it was a space transformed.

“Now we have a light, airy space that all children can really enjoy sitting in,” Kerry continues. “The furniture is modern and white and everything is easily movable. We’ve restocked with brand new books. We have an area for tables and chairs and lovely mats where we can join together.

“Now it’s a really nice space all the children enjoy. Before there was no engagement, no draw to the library at all, but now they all want to spend time with the new books. You can see they are enjoying them – which is what we wanted. Lockdown was difficult for the children, they missed months of school so it felt more important than ever to reconnect children with books and the pleasure of learning.”

The addition of one of the school’s interactive whiteboards allows pupils to meet some of the country’s top authors remotely.

Author Maz Evans made the first virtual visit to talk about her book, Who Let the Gods Out, a thrilling adventure yarn. Children sat enraptured as she explained how a boy’s life changed forever when a god crashes to earth into a dung heap on a family farm.

Other virtual visitors have included author Emma Perry, who told them all about her new book, This Book has Alpacas and Bears, and illustrator Rikin Parekh.

As well as Give A Book, the school is now connected to the School Libraries Service and was introduced to the Foyle Foundation to which they have made an application for further funding for books over the coming year.

“We cannot thank Give A Book enough,” adds Kerry. “We want to say a huge thank you for bringing a love of books back into our school. They have given us a new adventure in reading.” Staff hope there will be long-term benefits ahead. And Larkspur has formed a lasting partnership with Give A Book, including packages of new books that help support whole-class reading sessions.