Bookbag at St. Catherine’s Infant School

Bookbag 2020

Bookbag is a children’s book-gifting initiative established by picturebook maker and creator of the Henry Hugglemonster series, Niamh Sharkey, during her term as Laureate na nÓg (2012–2014). The project is delivered in partnership with Brown Bag Films and Children’s Books Ireland and aimed at schools in areas of disadvantage, which may not have the necessary resources to fund author or illustrator visits or books for a school library. The Bookbag project builds a buzz around reading and encourages a whole-school reading culture, which should be sustainable beyond the duration of the project. Bookbag ensures that every child in the school has access to at least one book in their home. The books gifted are chosen carefully: they are visually striking, entertaining, funny and engaging; the type of book that we hope will draw in a child who does not already think of themselves as a reader.

This year, the winning school was St Catherine’s Infant School, a DEIS Band 1 school in Cabra. This small school of 138 students teaches children from junior infants to first class, as well as two Stars ASD classes. They told us of their need for brilliant new books to excite their pupils. Their enthusiasm was not just for the new books they would receive, but also for the buzz about reading that a Bookbag handover day would generate in the school, and in the wider school community. This is a school that is already working hard to build a culture of reading and we wanted to support and encourage that.

This year our plans for the Bookbag handover day had to change and change again. The handover in March was postponed and in May we made the decision to give each of the children the book that they would take home and keep in advance of the handover day and the school holidays. The school was putting together packs for the children with materials for working at home; we wanted to support this and make sure that children had at least one book to read over the summer holidays. All students got their book to keep, plus a reading guide, bookmarks and stickers as well as colouring sheets.

Finally, in late November 2020 we had a brilliant handover day with St Catherine’s Infant School. Niamh Sharkey kicked off the day with encouragement to have lots of fun getting creative. Volunteers from Brown Bag films recorded a really fun Monster Doodle demonstration video and the whole school drew together in their classrooms that morning. We video called into the classrooms to see the children’s work and were so impressed with the original and unique monsters they’d created.

Children’s book artists Tatyana Feeney, Mary Murphy, Margaret Anne Suggs and Juliette Saumande then delivered live digital workshops with the children in their classrooms. Each workshop was specially designed to work over Zoom and for this young age group, and all of the craft materials were sent to the school beforehand. Junior infants created sound dictionaries with Juliette Saumande, senior infants created pigeon puppets with Margaret Anne Suggs, 1st class drew pandas and Panda Foo with Mary Murphy and the Stars class created rainbows with Tatyana Feeney.

Síle Carroll, St Catherine’s Infant School –
On the Bookbag day there was such excitement in the school and the children and teachers embraced it so much. One of the teachers actually said ‘It was one of the best days ever’ in true junior infant style! One of the children asked ‘Can we do this every day?’.

There were lots of unexpected outcomes on the day. It was consistently mentioned to me that the children who are often the least engaged in school were unbelievably engaged with the tasks, especially the monster doodle.  It captured their imaginations and we are going to try to harness this for future projects in the school. This for me was one of the most significant benefits to the day.

Across the board we often find that the children can be afraid to put pencil to paper but they all got straight to work with the monster doodles and the results were fantastic. Another noticeable difference was that the children often draw really small but on this occasion they all used the full scale of the page and this enabled them to be really creative and they got so enthusiastic about sharing their ideas. Drawing is something I personally feel really strong about in schools and we could clearly see the benefits on the Bookbag day. It’s such an important stage in learning to read and write and develop language skills.  All their monsters have been displayed together in one long corridor and they pack a punch when you see them altogether in our Monster Gallery.

Thank you from all of us at St. Catherine’s Infant School for organising such an amazing experience for the children and staff. We know we will treasure it as an outstanding moment for us in 2020.

The school received 434 books in total: 183 for students to keep at home and 251 for their school library. We selected books from the Mind Yourself Mental Health and Wellbeing Guide as teachers had flagged that these would be particularly useful after the difficult year the children have had. The three new junior infant classes and the new Stars class also got their own book to take home and keep. We felt it was really important that these new students not be left out when trying to encourage excitement about books, reading and creativity in the wider school community.

We will launch the call out for next year’s Bookbag school in early 2021 – watch this space!

Bookbag was the winner of the €5,000 DAA Arts Award at the 2014 Allianz Business to Arts Awards and was short listed both in 2015 and 2017 for the Best Small Sponsorship category.