In September 1980 the school was eleven years old and had a new headmaster who was looking around, for something to signal the start of a new age with a bang. One of the teachers had wanted to try putting on a Book Week ever since he heard about one on an ILEA course. The head was enthusiastic, the staff agreed to support the idea and on 18th May 1981 Wingfield found itself at the start of a week-long Book Fair.
David Lewis, Susan Jones and headmaster, Edward Hayter, the organising committee, pass on what they learned from the experience.
This isn’t the sort of thing one person can ‘impose’ on a school. There must be consultation with all the staff and the parents. We couldn’t have done it without everyone’s support and help.
There’s a lot of help and advice available. We didn’t know anything to start with. We contacted Abbey Wood Comprehensive School where they’d had a Book Bang and they plugged us into the network. The NBL. the SBA, the Publishers Association all gave us ideas for what to do. who to invite, how to organise.
When we announced in assembly well before Christmas that we were going to have a Book Fair, it was clear that the children had absolutely no idea what it was all about. So we decided to start our build-up then and there.
1. We organised a ‘Design a Book Fair logo’ competition. In January when the children came back to school we had Book Fair badges of the winning entry and from then on the Green Octopus popped up all over the school on our own silk screen posters.
2. We involved the children as much as possible. When we knew which `book people’ were coming, individual pupils wrote official invitations and the replies were read out in assembly.
3. Once a week, or once a fortnight during the Spring term, we had news in assembly about how things were going.
4. When we knew Bernard Ashley was coming, we arranged for the children to watch the TV serial of Break in the Sun and they also saw some of our visitors’ books featured on Read On.
5. Teachers organised and encouraged reading and talking about the work of people who were coming – Ian Serraillier, Leon Garfield, Nicholas Fisk, Michael Rosen, Grace Hallworth and Caroline Holden.
6. In the Easter holiday David Lewis went to the Puffin Show and got lots of ideas for competitions. We had seven competitions, all in the weeks before the Book Fair. We thought, correctly as it turned out, that the children would be too busy to enter in the week itself. It also proved to be good publicity.
7. The older children put on a play of Alice in Wonderland as part of the week. Rehearsals and preparations all added to the excitement.
We wanted to make it a community event as well so
1. for two hours a day the school was open to the general public
2. we organised a Family Film Show on one evening with Watership Down
3. we invited local playgroups and a group of handicapped children to join us for events specially planned for their interest.
This worked very well.
To involve the staff as ‘celebrities’ we included an `Interest Afternoon’. Each teacher offered an activity and the whole school had a free choice of which to go to. We ended up with groups of all ages working together. It was such a success the children keep asking us to do it again.
During the week we had only one competition – Fancy Dress. On one morning the children could come to morning assembly dressed as a book character. The response was amazing.
Also during the week a group of top junior children worked as a team to produce a Book Fair Magazine which was published on the last day. They collected contributions, interviewed authors, teachers, children, reported on events. The original intention was that Michael Rosen would help in the final editing when he visited us on the Friday. In fact he was ill and unable to come. But the magazine still came out. We’d like to develop this activity if we repeat the Fair.
What about Money? At the beginning we really had no idea what it would cost but the head and the PTA backed us so we went ahead. We learned that to get a Greater London Arts Association grant you have to apply in advance. We were very lucky to be allowed a ‘posthumous’ application. We organised raffles and other fund-raising activities. People who came to the film made a donation.
A local bookseller stocked and for some of the time staffed our Book Fair Bookshop. A huge amount of books was sold.
Next time we’ll make more constructive use of the massive support from parents. Schools shouldn’t assume that they’ll just make the tea.
Was it all worth it?
No doubt at all. By the time it was over the kids knew some books inside out. The enthusiasm was enormous: we had non-stop talk about books. In fact we probably didn’t capitalise on it as much as we might. Maybe we were all too exhausted! But we could have made the spin-off last all year. As it is we are setting up our own bookshop.
In a press release the headmaster said
`At a time when the printed word, which is the cornerstone of a good education, is under attack through commercial and economic pressures we intend to involve our children in the wonderful world of books and to demonstrate to our parents – and we hope the local community – just how important books are to their children’s education.’
We think we succeeded. And everyone had a lot of fun doing it.