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Encouraging Reading for Pleasure While the World is on Fire

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Lucas Maxwell


Lucas Maxwell has been working with youth in libraries for over fifteen years. Originally from Nova Scotia, Canada, he's been a high school librarian in London, UK for over a decade. In 2017 he won the UK's School Librarian of the Year award and in 2022 he was named the UK Literacy Association's Reading For Pleasure Teacher Champion. He loves Dungeons & Dragons and is the author of Let's Roll: A Guide for Setting up Tabletop Roleplaying Games in Your School or Public Library. You can follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

Reading for pleasure has never been more important. Yes, the world might seem slightly less on fire after November 7, but it’s still a pretty scary place. I recently spoke on a panel for the YA Studies Association for their “YA Studies Around the World” conference. The panel was called “Reading While the World is on Fire.”

My role was to discuss ways I promote reading for pleasure to the students I work with who are living in an unpredictable, scary place.

I’ve written before on the importance of reading for pleasure and empathy. We need these books more than ever.

Here are some of the ways I’m trying to create a safe, welcoming place in the library, and how I hope that they will forget some of their worries for a little while when they enter the doors within the school.

Reading Aloud

Reading aloud carries with it several benefits, and not just for those under ten. I read aloud to ages 11–13 on a daily basis. One of the fun ways I read aloud are using Choose Your Own Adventure stories. I read a few pages, or I get a student to read aloud a few, then the class votes on the direction the character can take. It generates a lot of debate, a lot of laughs, groans and students asking if we can start all over, which is great. Also, reading aloud a story that explores different emotions and situations provides a safe space for students to have those feelings and experiences alongside the characters.

Manga Club

Our manga club is more popular than ever. We are in our ninth year at Glenthorne High School, and we watch anime, do crafts, play games, have quizzes, and of course talk about manga. I purchase a lot of manga for the school, rely on the students for suggestions and have older students work with the younger ones to create art, enter competitions, and simply have a lot of fun. It’s an escape that’s important to them, which is evident in the large numbers of students who are coming in to take part after school.


Again, our makerspace is more popular than ever. Students come in to take part in LEGO tournaments, building challenges using Keva Planks, K’Nex and even Sphero and Makey Makey circuitry kits. Makerspaces are important because they teach students that failure is okay, failure is a way to learn. Of course, we are reading books to go along with our clubs, our LEGO building guides, robotics books, and because I’m always pushing books, I’m promoting sci-fi/robotic type books to the students when they come in to take part.

Book Award

Our book award, known as the Bookling, is a great way to get students reading and escaping the current climate. Six books make the shortlist. Once this is announced, we interact with the authors, run events around the books, get teachers involved, and announce the winner in early March. The winning author receives a trophy from us and letters from the students as to why the book means so much to them. I get over 800 students to vote on things like “favourite cover”, “favourite blurb”, and much more. Staff come into the library for brownies and coffee and to borrow the books to ensure they are also engaged in the conversation. It’s an amazing way to encourage reading for pleasure and to bring the whole school together.

Reading for pleasure while the world is on fire may seem like an impossible task. At the beginning of the first lockdown, I couldn’t concentrate on anything, but then I started reading graphic novels and it helped ease me back into a routine of reading every day, which I did before lockdown easily. It’s easy to forget that this lockdown, this virus, this world is weighing on our youth in ways we might not yet understand. I hope the library can provide some comfort to them, because it has for me.