Find out what Brighton & Hove Libraries have been up to with local schools and pupils to collate the ultimate 'Mood Boosting Book' list for children. And with your help, discover what steps they want to take next to enable these books to fulfil their wellbeing potential. Vicky Tremain updates Our Future City...
Reading for Wellbeing
A recent article in the newspaper that began 'Libraries are dying...' obviously caught my attention for all the wrong reasons, but transpired to be an excellent summary of the ideas that librarians of 2017 hold dear in the face of continued budget cuts. I, and many of my colleagues, feel hopeful about libraries' ability to exploit what the writer calls the 'age of live', in which customers of this 'post-digital' age are once again seeking out and reveling in face-to-face experiences. It may sound obvious, but in defiance of debate around the relevance of libraries today, the writer asserts that a library's 'strength lies not in books as such, but in its readers, in their desire to congregate, share with each other… and experience books in the context of their community.' (i)
This desire to share reading is particularly innate in children and young people and is often evidenced across our libraries – from the pupils that take part in the Young City Reads 'big read' together each year, to the thousands of children that take part in the Summer Reading Challenge with their local libraries to read, review and recommend titles to one another. Like all of the activity that happens in our spaces, books and stories are at the centre but shared experience is at its heart.
Mood Boosting Books
The ‘connectedness’ that libraries offer – their shared public ownership as well as the sharing of stories – can undoubtedly support improved emotional wellbeing. When we teamed up with the Public Health Schools Programme in 2016 to begin working on a Reading for Wellbeing project we knew that we wanted to create more than just a happy book list, but something that brings children together to talk about emotions and encourage empathy. Teaching colleagues had reported a need for early interventions connected to mental health more uniformly offered in secondary school, but the specific issues from school to school differed, so we set up focus groups of children in three primary schools in very different areas of the city. With these children (all of whom were in Years 4 and 5 with mixed reading abilities) we established what some of these wellbeing issues centred on, using questions prepared by CAMHS colleagues. The children then interviewed each other about mood, emotions, and their reading habits and preferences.
A recent study into reading for pleasure amongst primary aged children showed, as summarised in The Reading Agency’s literature review on the subject, that ‘the main outcomes reported were enjoyment, knowledge of the self and other people, social interaction, social and cultural capital, imagination, focus and flow, relaxation and mood regulation.’ (ii) There is a wealth of national research that supports these findings, and it was certainly very clear from our own research that the pupils we worked with had a strong sense that stories boost their mood, or 'cheer them up'. Some even referenced very nuanced examples of this - computer games that involve them following a story (often with friends) that they 'get lost in', or the comfort they find in reading books to younger siblings that they remember having been read to them by a parent or teacher.
Over the course of three sessions with each group, using their own recommendations and those collected from their peers, the children formulated a book list which has come to be known as Mood Boosting Books. We had the list printed and circulated to all schools in the city, and we offered a linked class visit for schools to any library of their choice. But there is more congregational potential to be tapped into here, and the list is a catalyst for something much bigger than the sum of its parts.
Books on Prescription
Next term we'll be bringing together colleagues from Public Health, SENCOs, teachers, and children, to begin a new phase of the initiative. Based on the Books on Prescription model used by The Reading Agency for their Reading Well (iii) work with adults and young people, we want to create a shorter list of recommended fiction for primary aged children with a variety of reading levels – each book on a different wellbeing theme coming complete with accompanying resources that can be used with small groups or whole classes. As a complete resource this will help facilitate a space in which children can, as the article I referenced above suggests, experience a book and its themes in the context of their life and community, encouraging them to respond creatively and critically to the stories.
A book is not a quick fix, but the right book in the hands of a child or young person can be a tool for resilience, a compass for empathy or a vital conversation starter. The entirely creative act of reading a story can of course be inspiration for further creativity as well.
We'd love to hear from teachers who are keen to be involved in the project in some way, particularly those who would be interested in trialling the new resources with their pupils. Contact me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
To find out more about Mood Boosting Books for children and download the list visit our website: www.brighton-hove.gov.uk/libraries.
You can also watch the project video below or on our Vimeo page: www.vimeo.com/bhlibraries
(ii) Literature Review: The impact of reading for pleasure and empowerment, The Reading Agency, June 2015.