Maz Evans’s best-selling debut novel Who Let the Gods Out was published in 2017, and since then has had more than 20 award nominations, including the Carnegie Award, Branford Boase and Waterstone’s Children’s Book of the Year. Follow-ups Simply the Quest and Beyond the Odyssey are out now, with book four due out in 2019. She is also a well-known radio broadcaster, songwriter and scriptwriter. We caught up with her to find out why she believes school libraries are important for every pupil.
You are a great supporter of and champion of school libraries. Why do you think school libraries are so important for children and young people?
I’m very proud to be considered a champion of school libraries, thank you. School libraries aren’t just important: they are absolutely vital. Having well-stocked, relevant, current libraries with a knowledgeable librarian shouldn’t be a luxury in schools, it should be a given. A guiding hand to point children towards “that” book is invaluable to match them with the book that will unlock the Kingdom of Literature for them.
You spend lots of time in primary schools – what differences do you see in schools that have a dedicated school library/librarian?
I cannot overestimate the difference. The children are awash with imagination, the library is always at the heart of school life and the librarian is a much-loved and trusted guide for what an individual will enjoy reading. A librarian can coax the reluctant reader and feed the hungry one. They know what children like and might yet enjoy. They are wonderful humans and I admire each and every one.
What are the obstacles to children reading for pleasure, and how can schools help overcome these?
Sadly, I think home time is so stretched (speaking as one who knows) that often reading gets squeezed out. We as parents have a massive responsibility to protect it. Schools have similar issues of course, but dedicated reading time is really important. My heart always soars when I visit schools where kids have reading books on the tables and are encouraged to pick them up at any spare moment. A few minutes a day makes a vast difference.
What tips would you give primary school teachers to make the most of even a small library space?
I think children read with more senses than one. A comfortable, inviting space is key – somewhere to cuddle up with a book. Making the books accessible is so important – shelves and shelves of spines are not appealing. Maybe display books that relate to class topics? Or have a different genre per fortnight? Encouraging a pride and ownership of a library is really important too – dedicated library time or library cards can be very successful. Educators are endlessly creative – a bit of imagination goes a very long way.
You also talk a lot about the importance of diversity in children’s writing, and libraries can provide children with as wide a range of reading material as possible. What was your experience of libraries when growing up?
Absolutely – it’s long overdue, but I’m glad to see positive steps towards greater diversity and inclusion. However we all have a long way to go. The current conversations have really made me examine my own defaults. I grew up in my local library – like Matilda I read all the books! But I’m conscious that I grew up in an Eighties white, middle-class bubble and much children’s literature reflected that back at me. It’s obviously far, far more important than this, but I hope that soon, every child can find a character like them to dress up as for World Book Day. When that happens, we’re heading in the right direction.