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Reading for Pleasure and Mental Wellness

10th August 2020

Reading for pleasure and mental wellness should be such an important part of young people's lives. It's easy for reading at school to be all about the curriculum, but it's important for teenagers to be able to take the time to switch off from set texts and relax and unwind with a book with no other purpose than that of complete enjoyment. 

Independent Usborne Organiser, Clare Johnson, is passionate about the importance of reading for mental wellness and was eager to work with her local high school to support their students in finding books to support positive mental health. Here's how she worked with Bramhall High School:

"Last year, I met with the new literacy co-ordinator for Bramhall High School in Stockport, to discuss how we could support them in raising the profile of reading for pleasure. A couple of years earlier, I'd run an extremely successful RSR and book fair for the small primary school her son attends, and she was intrigued to know whether I felt it could work for a secondary school as well.

As soon as I met with Mrs Dranfield and her colleagues, I felt confident that we could run a successful event. It was clear that the department were really passionate about developing a culture of reading, and keen to do as much as they could to continue to boost it. We decided to start by running a sponsored reading event for years seven and eight, with a focus on reading for pleasure and mental wellness. Between us and their fantastic librarian, we decided on a few different ideas to get the students behind the challenge.

They had a competition between tutor groups to see who could raise the most money and used their existing student reward system to recognise participation. Mrs Dranfield worked hard to raise the profile of the event within the school and engage the different staff members, ensuring they understood what was in it for the school to be successful. I also loaned them a borrow box of fiction titles to display in the library, so that for the duration of the event, the students could go and browse them, and be involved in choosing the titles that the money raised would be spent on.

I created a PowerPoint presentation and a video that was used in assemblies to introduce the challenge. I found the video more difficult to put together than the ones I'd used for other schools! Teen mental health is a subject extremely close to my heart, and to be able to make even the tiniest bit of difference to one student felt like an opportunity to be taken. Developing healthy habits including reading for empathy and reading for escapism can have a real impact not just as they navigate the challenges and pressures of secondary school, but as they journey through life. When I joined Usborne five years ago, I had no idea that as well as gorgeous Early Years books, I'd be proudly championing the works of Holly Bourne, Tamsin Winter, Lara Williamson and so many incredible voices writing the books I so wish had been written twenty years ago! So with that in mind, I wanted to get them excited about the challenge, and also share a little of my own experiences of how reading for pleasure provided sanctuary during difficult times.

I could never have known that so soon after the reading challenge finished, these students would have everything put on hold while the world faced COVID-19. The thought that just a handful more students might have escaped into a book during these difficult times, as a result of the sponsored read, makes me feel really proud of all we can do.

The school raised a fantastic £950, meaing they are receiving over £1500 of fiction, PSHE and high interest non-fiction books for their library. We're all absolutely thrilled with the result, and I'm looking forward to working with them in different ways in years to come."

English teacher and Literacy Co-ordinator for Bramhall High School, Emily Dranfield, told us more: "At first I was unsure how the Sponsored Read would work in a secondary school. But we made it into a competition and the students loved it. There was a real buzz around school and it was great seeing how many students took part. It really promoted reading for pleasure and it was a great way to highlight how important reading is for their health and well-being. We are lucky to have an amazing school library run by a fantastic librarian. Thanks to Usborne Books at Home, we now have lots of new books heading to our school library - and books that have been chosen by our students too."

Interested in how an Usborne event might benefit your school's reading culture? Why not get in touch with your local Independent Usborne Organiser to find out more.