Thursday, 30 July 2015

Guest Post: UKYA Community Shares the Magic of Books

Today I am sharing with you something a little bit different and special. Over the last few weeks I've been working on a project with my friend and English teacher Kate Hamer to raise book donations for the pupils at her school. What started off as the idea of handing a few books out turned into a major event when hundreds of books came flooding in thanks to the generosity of the UKYA community. I've invited Kate to share a post today about the event that gave her students the chance to read.

UKYA: Making a difference by Kate Hamer 

Something magical happened to me last Thursday thanks to the UKYA community - I got to watch 130 of my students fall in love with books.

I should probably introduce myself briefly - I'm Kate, I'm 23 and I'm a long suffering bibliophile. In January 2015, I started working as a English Graduate Academic Mentor at an inner-city secondary school. Fancy title, huh? It basically means that I am not only responsible for teaching classes, but also for conducting intense literacy intervention. I soon realised that many of my students didn't own a single book of their own - books are a luxury which for many of my students are not possible. As an avid reader, it became my mission to change this. Books had been instrumental to my survival during my challenging, lonely teenage years - they helped me not only lose myself for a little while, but to find myself too. I wanted to give my students the same opportunity.

Luckily for me, I have been quite involved in the UKYA community for years, through my English degree where I specialised in young adult fiction, to my internship with a New York literary agent, and through attending author events and signings. I knew that the UKYA community was extremely passionate about encouraging young people to read and hoped that they would be interested in getting onboard.

The amazing Jess of JessHeartsBooks (HI JESS!!) grabbed hold of the initiative when I approached her and promoted it to her thousands of followers. Overnight, my Twitter blew up, with hundreds of bloggers, authors and publishing professionals contacting me to make donations. Going into work the next day and telling the school's super-hero librarian is something that will stick with me forever.

I'd initially hoped for around 50 books. When we passed the two hundred book milestone, I suddenly realised that this had become much bigger than I had ever dreamed - it meant that over a hundred students would go home with books of their own this summer. Suddenly, the school's PR was all over the story, as were the local press. As I began to plan an Alice in Wonderland themed event to distribute the books, deliveries kept arriving. Boxes, packets, envelopes and crates filled to the brim with books began to stock up in reception. For that month, I spent more time in reception signing for packages than in my classroom!

With the event drawing closer, Willy Wonka style Golden Tickets were created to invite students to the top secret event. Excitement quickly built amongst students and staff - students who were lucky enough to receive a ticket were seen (and heard!) skipping down the corridors singing 'I've got a golden ticket.' The only staff members fully informed about the event was Elaine the librarian, and Paul the Principal (who had been sworn to secrecy with the threat of “off with his head").

The day before the event, impatient staff and students crowded around the library, hoping to catch a glimpse of what was happening behind closed doors. Reams of bunting, character silhouettes and balloons helped transform the library into Wonderland. Mountains of homemade cakes and delicious fizzy drinks awaited the students. The three hundred books donated were scattered on the tables – hidden amongst them were signed copies, first editions and proof copies of books not yet released!

 At 10.10AM, the first group of students arrived, animatedly discussing what might be behind the doors. As they entered en-masse, there were audible gasps and their faces were full of wonder. I spoke to the students for a few minutes about my previous work experience, the incredible UKYA community and the power of social media. Students were then welcome to browse the books and select a number. As they were reading , cupcakes, jam tarts and fizzy drinks with flamingo straws were brought around for them to enjoy. After enjoying half an hour of reading, students then wrote a short thank you note to all who donated, whilst proudly clutching their new books. For the rest of the day, I had teachers reporting back to me that students had returned to lessons and sat at the back of the room reading their books instead of enjoying the traditional end of term film.

It was a day I will never forget for the rest of my life - my students are not from privileged backgrounds, but they are characters, full of imagination, sass and potential. I have no doubt the gifts which bloggers, authors and publishing professions gave them will change their lives. In the words of Dahl, 'We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams' ... Today, UKYA, you are the music makers, you are the dreamers of dreams.

Quotes from students:
"Thank you for my new book. It will be great! I will take lots of care of it.' - Christine, aged 12 

 "I chose The Baby because it's fascinating. Unlike a lot of books I read, this one really interested me' - Viktoria, aged 15

 "Thank you for my book, Vendetta by Catherine Doyle, I can relate to it' - Shakirah, aged 15 

 "Thank you so much for my copy of Louis Sachar's new books. I cant wait to read it in my caravan!' - Jak, aged 12 

 For more information about the event you can follow Kate on Twitter @kate2606
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