National Teen Book Club set up to boost Covid-generation's reading

News - Children Thursday, 25th March 2021

HarperCollins involved in charity initiative to jumpstart virtual book clubs for young people who have missed group reading during the pandemic

Educational equality charity Speakers for Schools is teaming up with Book Clubs in Schools and HarperCollins to found virtual book clubs for young people.

According to Speakers for Schools: 'Since March 2020, libraries, schools and book clubs have had to adjust to operating in a pandemic. This has widened the attainment gap for reluctant young readers, and has cut off access to much loved stories for keen readers.

'Speakers for Schools, Book Clubs in Schools and HarperCollins have teamed up to pilot a National Teen Book Club with over 150 schools and 1500 young people reading the same book I Have No Secrets by Penny Joelson (published by Farshore, a division of HarperCollins) over the last six weeks. The full National Teen Book Club launches in June 2021.

'The pilot includes readers that are usually harder-to-reach. 55% are boys, a third of the participants are from ethnic minorities and just under half are on free school meals. This shows the appetite for extra-curricular learning outside of the classroom and that young people are keen to discover the world of literature and talk about it with their peers.

'On Wednesday 24th March, the schools came together online to celebrate the finale of the The National Teen Book Club with a Q&A with Penny Joelson to discuss her book, I Have No Secrets. The book’s publisher, Farshore, aims to make every child a proud reader through a broad and diverse portfolio of books that offers multiple ways into the joy of reading.

'I Have No Secrets tells the fictional tale of fourteen-year-old Jemma who has severe cerebral palsy. Unable to communicate or move, she relies on her family and carer for everything. She has a sharp brain and inquisitive nature and knows all sorts of things about everyone. But when she is confronted with a terrible secret, she is utterly powerless to do anything.'

'Cameron, aged 13 from Kennington, London, said: "I really enjoyed the book it was very moving. I didn't choose the book so was so pleased to enjoy it as much as I did. It was a different experience taking part in the Book Club and mixing with students from other classes. I would like to read more books written by Penny Joelson as this made an impression on me." And Joshua, aged 12 from Colchester, Essex said: "I have enjoyed book club because I enjoyed the time at the end of the day to talk about a book. I would love for it to continue so that I can continue to read and talk about a book every Thursday after school."'

Joelson (pictured) said: "It has been great to see so many young minds excited about Jemma’s story and I look forward to answering their questions about her. I also look forward to sharing my story with them and hopefully inspiring the next generation to consider a career in writing."

Alison Palmer and Beth Ginsburg, directors of Book Clubs in Schools, said: "With regular school closed, we have sorely missed the opportunity to spark children’s imagination through reading and discussing books. We are excited to partner with Speakers for Schools to extend our clubs virtually and to introduce exciting writers and creative leaders through the National Teen Book Club events."

Cally Poplak, executive publisher at Farshore (the publisher formerly known as Egmont) said: "Farshore’s latest research shows that the decline in children’s reading for pleasure accelerated during lockdown, with only 23% of children (aged 0-17) reading daily or nearly every day. We are committed to reversing this trend, so that all children have access to the benefits that come with being a reader for pleasure – from wellbeing to educational attainment. This is why we are delighted to work with partners like Speakers for Schools in support of their goal to reach teenagers, who have missed out on reading for pleasure during the pandemic."

Speakers for Schools was founded in 2010 by ITV’s Political Editor Robert Peston, and supported by the Law Family Charitable Foundation, 'with a mission to help level the playing field for young people of all backgrounds. The charity’s aim is to end educational inequality by giving all young people access to the same prestigious networks available to the top fee-paying schools in the UK. It provides talks from influential figures as well as work experiences linking state school students to hundreds of the UK’s leading employers. The charity has since expanded its services to include the Youth Card, a personalised app that brings the world of curated discounts and life-preparing opportunities to the fingertips of young people across the UK.

'Book Clubs in Schools (BCiS) delivers interactive, weekly book clubs, over the course of three school  terms. The clubs are facilitated by older secondary pupils, as the Book Club Leaders, for an entire  Year 7 cohort. Book Clubs in Schools provides all resources, support and training for teachers and  older pupils and free books to schools which qualify. The clubs can be run virtually or in person.  Pupils develop character, communication, social and leadership skills whilst discovering the joy of  reading for pleasure. BCiS promotes diversity through its book choices for the book clubs so that  young people can relate to the characters and stories they read.'