Writer Tahereh Mafi said: "I love walking into a bookstore. It's like all my friends are sitting on shelves, waving their pages at me."
The idea of books being well-loved friends you can't wait to introduce to others, is the cornerstone of a new pupil-led book recommendation project at Waterstones, East Kilbride. Claire Gemson, English teacher at St Andrew's and St Bride's High School in East Kilbride, tells us more.
Waterstones, East Kilbride, has been working with four local secondary schools - St Andrew's and St Bride's High School; Calderglen High School; Duncanrig Secondary School and Strathaven Academy - on creating book recommendations for its store.
Waterstones' Student Recommendations (Photograph by Amy McKell)
Handwritten reviews 'take centre stage'
Every month, three different pupils from each of the four schools write a recommendation for a book they have fallen in love with. The handwritten reviews take centre stage in a special instore book display. Chosen by pupils of all secondary ages and stages, the selection covers an eclectic range of well-loved titles, new releases, off the beaten track choices and hidden gems. The common thread is that each review is a heartfelt one - something which has been striking a chord with other school pupils and the local community as a whole.
Have you ever lost yourself in a book so good that you reach the final signpost of the words 'the end' with an involuntary sigh? Passing on a beloved book in the hope somebody else will love it just as much is the consolation prize? Fifth year pupil Pip from Calderglen High explains: "I feel like it's a joy I get to share a book I am so passionate about with my local community. It was so much fun to go to the bookshop with friends and see my own review on the shelf."
Students' reviews help boost book sales
The reviews have proven popular with reviewed titles being snapped up by shoppers and pupils making bookshop visits to check out the latest titles. The 2023 What Kids Are Reading? report shows that social media initiatives which capture the imagination of pupils are very successful in driving interest and engagement in books. In a world where BookTok has eclipsed more traditional ways of recommending books, it might be surprising that this thoughtful and more slow-paced review process of filling in a review postcard by hand is something the young reviewers cherish.
"I really enjoyed writing a review for Waterstones, it was amazing seeing my words in my favourite shop next to one of my favourite books!" explains St Andrew's and St Bride's S2 pupil, Orla Coulter. Orla reviewed Racquel Marie's Ophelia After All, which tells the story of archetypical romantic Ophelia Rojas who turns out to be not quite as archetypical as she once thought. Introducing fresh and thought-provoking titles such as this helps encourage readers to explore books they might not have come across otherwise.
It's a point which Duncanrig S3 pupil Amy Low also makes: "I think doing the Waterstones' display is such a good idea as it shows that a young person can also have a good perspective of a book. The comments can encourage people to buy the books or even recommend them to a friend."
"It is great to see the enthusiasm with which the students write about their favourite books
and how much they enjoy reading each other's reviews."
Gordon Alexander, the book store manager of Waterstones EK, thinks that the project has wide-ranging benefits: "We are very pleased to be asked to work alongside the schools involved in this project. It is great to see the enthusiasm with which the students write about their favourite books and how much they enjoy reading each other's reviews. We are always happy to promote the love of books and literacy within our community."
Students' reviews, displayed on books, have helped encourage sales (Photography by Amber Muirhead)
The sheer joy of walking into a bookshop and seeing your name and your words, is another thing which the reviewers have benefited from. Florence Rodway, an S2 pupil from Strathaven Academy, explains how it feels to see your writing in your local bookshop: "This was a fun project to be involved in, it was very exciting to see my quote in Waterstones in real life. It would be great to be invited to do this again."
Emily Fisher, S3 pupil in Duncanrig Secondary, agrees. "I think this initiative is important and beneficial as it is a way for teenagers to see what other teenagers are reading. Also I, as a reader, can find it difficult to pick a book so this is a great way to give me ideas!" Their reviews can also help non-readers find a book that is enjoyed by other people their age, she adds. "Knowing that could really encourage them to start reading!"
Scottish Book Trust's 'Reading Schools' accreditation programme
Fostering a love of reading in pupils is a clear focus with South Lanarkshire schools. Each of the secondary schools is at various stages with the Scottish Book Trust's Reading Schools accreditation programme. This scheme recognises schools which are committed to creating a culture of reading in their schools and their wider communities. Research shows that reading for pleasure offers positive impacts on attainment across the curriculum and also supporting wellbeing, critical thinking, empathy, creativity and resilience.
Adam Russell, S3 in Duncanrig, underlines this point: "Reading benefits teenagers as it exposes them to new language and it allows them to indulge in new worlds without having to worry about real life problems. It also brings all the high schools in our area together to talk about the books they enjoy."
Collaboration and frequent new reviews are key
The collaborative effect and the fact that each month brings a fresh new "top of the book pops" to be unveiled in store, seems to have been key to the project's success. Local teenagers make a beeline for the display and the store reports a clear increase in demand for showcased books. Perhaps the most important point though lies in Adam Russell's words. For young people, stories provide an invaluable escape in a world with relentlessly bad news. We might not be able to wrap our teens up against every problem but we can surely encourage them to be wrapped up in books.