Library Insight -Postcards for pupils from authors and illustrators with Book Pen Pals

BookPenPals pairs UK authors and illustrators with UK schools to make book recommendations via postcards. Schools reply with a postcard of their own. The Pen Pals pairings last for one school year, and the joys of reading, writing and drawing multiply.


The project is a mighty group effort, and so the best way to write about it is to let the people volunteering speak about their own experience.


What is Book Pen Pals?

(from Kate Scott co-founder of Book Pen Pals)


The impetus for Book Pen Pals arose when I found myself thinking about how many children’s books I had read which I wished were better known. I decided to find a way to share some of my favourite books with more readers. The idea was simple: I would send postcards to a school with a book recommendation and occasional writing tip. I tweeted to see if there was a school who would like me to be their book-recommending pen pal for the year.


The answer was a resounding yes.

In days, my single tweet had led to hundreds of authors, illustrators and schools getting matched up to send postcards for the school year.


Everyone benefits. Children receive book recommendations from experts in the field. Authors and illustrators make a connection with a class, even a whole school, of readers. And because recommendations are selected from across children’s literature, the initiative can support campaigns such as #picturemeanbusiness and #diversebooks naturally and authentically.


However, the admin required to match schools to Pen Pals was considerable, and could not have been sustained had it not been for Sara O’Connor offering to build a website. The Book Pen Pals website allows for easy participant validation and for the Pen Pals to choose their schools by age groups or geographic location. Sara is also creating a digital postcard function which will enable thousands more children to enjoy reading recommendations from our ever-growing stable of authors and illustrators.


We have more ideas about how Book Pen Pals can help connect and support children’s publishing creators, teachers and readers so keep an eye on what we might post next...


Why do the Pen Pals do it?

(from author Savita Kalhan)

When I saw a tweet last year asking authors if they would be interested in being a Book Pen Pal to a school, I loved the idea and signed up immediately. I send my book recommendations and writing tips on six postcards over the academic year to the schools I am paired with, and in return I receive postcards, messages and even letters from the pupils with feedback on my book recommendations – and often with students’ book recommendations for me.


It’s a brilliant scheme and I have loved every minute of it! We share our love of reading and share our favourite books with each other. I run a teen reading group in my local library and I know from the teens who come along that they really appreciate book recommendations from an author who writes for their age group. As a BAME author now, I wish this scheme had been around when I was a child – I might have dreamt about being a writer and not thought that this was something that a little brown girl like me could never be.


I’ve been so lucky with the schools I’ve been paired with – they all have amazing librarians who work tirelessly to promote reading for pleasure. And then there are all the additional benefits for the author – the pupils in the schools often read my books and send messages to me, which I love receiving as I love to hear from my readers, it’s a very special connection. And on top of that, the school libraries create these amazing displays as in the photo below.


I’m really looking forward to continuing with the Book Pen Pals scheme. This year I am paired with the libraries in these schools: Addey and Stanhope School, Arden School, as well as St. Wilfrid’s School who asked me to be their Book Pen Pal for the second year running! The first postcards have been posted, and the magic has begun again.


What do the schools get out of it?

(from Emma Suffield, LRC Manager and SLA School Librarian of the Year 2018)


At Saint Wilfrid’s CofE Academy we have been taking part in the Book Pen Pals scheme. As I am not a teacher I have been using this scheme with my book clubs. I chose to take part in this scheme as I really want students to feel connected to an author.


Last year, Savita Kalhan was selected as our Book Pen Pals author and worked with my Year 10 book club. This year she is working with my Year 9 and 10 book club and we are so happy to have her on board with us again. Students were very excited to be collaborating with Savita as receiving recommendation postcards from an author helps the students to feel connected. We discuss Savita’s recommendations, research the books she has recommended and, as many of my book club members are potential writers, they also appreciate receiving writing tips from her to develop their own stories.


One of the books recommended by Savita – Ink by Alice Broadway – had a big impact on the students. Luckily, Alice is a local author and a friend of mine, so we had her visit for just an hour after school to do an author session with the book club. Most of the students involved have now read all three books in the trilogy following her visit.


The students spend a lot of time writing postcards back to Savita and we do this once every half term. Getting the students thinking of book recommendations helps them to think of books they have thoroughly enjoyed, to help develop literacy skills the students even like to write a little review about the book for her.

We have also read The Girl in the Broken Mirror so the students get to know Savita as a writer, not just a Pen Pal. We spent time reading and analysing the book and writing reviews to send to Savita and we will be reading the book with different students again this year.


I like to show the students who are taking part in the Book Pen Pals scheme and I share this on our library twitter page @stwLRC. I also have a display in the school library entrance for all students and staff to see the postcards that Savita sends. It is a great way to show the rest of the school that we do work with authors and it doesn’t always have to be via visits.


I will be signing up for Book Pen Pals again next year as it is so beneficial to students whether it be through a class or just a small group of young people and it is a great scheme to be a part of.


Book Pen Pals is not verifying new schools at this time, but will be accepting schools onto the digital programme in the near future so interested schools can register their details. Author/illustrators can sign up at any time. Visit www.bookpenpals.com for more details.


Savita Kalhan is the author of three teen YA books: That Asian Kid, The Girl in the Broken Mirror, and The Long Weekend. Born in India, Savita now lives in North London. She runs a teen reading group at her local library, and loves visiting schools to give talks or to run creative writing workshops. If you’d like to know more about her, visit her website www.savitakalhan.com


Emma Suffield is Learning Resources Centre Manager at Saint Wilfrid’s, a CofE Academy which provides a faith-led education to 1400 11-18 year olds in Blackburn, Lancashire. Under her guidance, the school’s issue statistics rose from 2,400 to over 18,000 in five years.