School Librarians of Aotearoa: Theresa Kewish

Theresa Kewish is the librarian for two high-decile rural schools in the Waikato: Tamahere Model Country School for 22 hours a week, and Te Pahu School, a full primary, for six hours a week. Tamahere has around 480 students and Te Pahu around 120. She tells us about how she became a school librarian, and more in this, the final School Librarian of Aotearoa feature for 2018.

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Theresa Kewish at Tamahere Model Country School

I love being a school librarian and I am passionate about connecting students with the right book, author or series for them and to switching them onto the joys of reading for pleasure.

When my youngest daughter started school I wanted a job that would fit in with school holidays. I studied and completed a Diploma in Library and Information Studies. Before studying I had no idea a school librarian was hidden inside. I accidentally found a career that I love: making a real difference in the reading habits of children.

I was an avid reader as a child and I still love reading children’s literature now. What inspires me now are the children I work with. There is nothing more rewarding than a child running up to me full of conversation about a book they loved that I recommended. It is inspiring when the students bring me a book or series that they have read and they are wanting me to try it. I do my best to read as many recommendations as I can.

There is nothing more rewarding than a child running up to me full of conversation about a book they loved that I recommended.

Acting as gateway and guide

As a librarian I try my best to act as a gateway and a guide. I help children choose books that will give them power – the power to change views, understand another’s point of view, be brave or quietly observe. Books that offer a respite from sadness, or a freedom to have an adventure without adult supervision; a dilemma to solve; a problem to ponder; an escape; a fun adventure; a friendship to be made. Books that let them solve a mystery, laugh out loud, learn a moral, learn resilience. Books that are a trigger for the imagination.

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Series suggestions, Te Pahu School

These are just a few of the things that children’s literature have the power to achieve. Children’s literature has the power to open the mind to any and all possibilities.

‘Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift.’

— Kate DiCamillo

How true!

A Day in the Life

I work at Tamahere Model Country School on Monday and Wednesday all day and for a half day Tuesday and Thursday.

My typical day starts when I arrive at school at 7.30am to get organised for the day. The first students turn up at 8am to start the STEPS to Literacy programme, designed for learners with processing difficulties. It works well with learners with dyslexia and also those with global learning difficulties. STEPS is highly structured, cumulative, and multisensory programme that takes learners through supported bookwork and computer-based activities. Some of the skills learnt are letter/sound correspondence, reading comprehension, phonetic and orthographic knowledge, decoding, encoding and much more. The next group starts at 8.30am and finishes at 9am.

Picture books at Tamahere Model Country School

On a Monday the local daycare four-year-olds visit. I read them a book or two and they are taught library etiquette and the way to treat books, and just get to know our library. Throughout the week, all 20 classes come to the library for an allotted library visit. During these visits, I try to read a picture book to each class, usually a new book or one that matches an event or day like Waitangi Day. I help the students choose books, we discuss books, and I do reading advisories for the reluctant readers.

I help the students choose books, we discuss books, and I do reading advisories for the reluctant readers.

I also purchase books and resources, and catalogue, process, mend, shelve, issue, and return books. I supervise students, create displays, organise library competitions, orientation classes and activities like the great library hunt, run the 50 Books Challenge (more about that in a moment) and summer reading programme, update my library blogs, keep current with new release literature, create pamphlets and posters and resources for student teachers and the staff, students and library, arrange book character day and book week competitions and displays, sort overdue and lost books, as well as supporting teachers with many aspects of the curriculum. Plus much more of the usual library stuff. I usually finish at 3.30pm.

I work at Te Pahu School on a Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, with similar duties, but beginning at 12.30pm and finishing at 3.30pm. It is quite useful working in two libraries. I normally do the same displays, competitions and so on in both libraries ,so I share resources.

Te Pahu school library non-fiction and reference books

My library shelves

Tamahere Model Country School library is the original school classroom, opened in 1884. The library was very tastefully refurbished in 2009 before I arrived. All of the original features of the building have been retained like the sash windows and match lined interior.

Tamahere Model Country School non-fiction

Recently I campaigned for the picture books and early chapter books to have new browsing shelves. This has been a fantastic change. It is now much easier for the junior students to browse the shelves and this will also lead to the books lasting a lot longer. It is a warm, welcoming building and a delight to be in every day. The building is literally and metaphorically the centre of our school.

Te Pahu School has been recently refurbished and is now a more modern learning environment. It is often used for meetings and gatherings and also as a place for our community to cast votes in election years. It is an honour to work in a school and community that understands and supports the important role a school library and a qualified librarian has in our children’s literacy.

It is an honour to work in a school and community that understands and supports the important role a school library and a qualified librarian has in our children’s literacy.

The 50 Books Challenge and the Summer Reading Programme

I think the most successful reading promotions that I have held are the 50 Books Challenge and the Summer Reading Programme.

Picture books at Te Pahu School

I run the 50 Books Challenge every second year, alternating between the two schools. Every participant gets a reading log that they fill in. The students need to get each book signed off by an adult. I promote, encourage and support all the students. I have it set up so books read to the students by teachers, parents, grandparents and so on count towards the final total. The challenge is optional but I find many students and even some staff take it up. At the end of the year everyone goes into the draw to win a selection of books. Some years all participants get books depending on my prize book box stocks.

With the Summer Reading Challenge, I realised when I became a school librarian, that at the end of the year after gathering in all the library books and after stocktake the books would sit idle on the shelves for the six weeks over the summer holidays. I also did a bit of research into the effect of the summer slide and how important it is for children to continue reading over the summer break. So I implemented summer reading issuing to both of my school libraries.

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Junior fiction shelves at the Tamahere Model Country School

The students are allowed to take up to 12 books out for the whole summer holidays, ranging from early/first chapter books, to junior and senior fiction books. The students and parents love it. I love knowing that the books are being read and not just gathering dust on the library shelves.

I love knowing that the books are being read and not just gathering dust on the library shelves.

The first year I was a bit nervous about how many books would get lost or not returned with such a huge volume of books issued. The nervousness was unfounded. A very miniscule number of books have been lost and those were paid for as usual. I did have to wait one time for a book to circumnavigate New Zealand in a yacht before it got returned and once a book was left with grandparents in Italy, but was dutifully posted back. The students seem to take the job of caring for the books seriously over the summer break. It does make for a very busy first week back at school returning and shelving hundreds and hundreds of books all at once though!

More books on hunting, fewer series

The one change I would like to see change in the New Zealand publishing environment is for there to be many more New Zealand-published books on hunting for boys, both fiction and non-fiction. I am being asked for these really frequently.

Also, sometimes as a purchaser of books on a limited budget I get a tiny bit annoyed on how many series there seem to be. They are becoming more and more prevalent. If I had an unlimited budget it would not be a problem.

A Christmas display at Te Pahu

My Books of the Moment

I was trying to think of just one book that I became a proselytiser for but there are too many to choose from because it is such a big part of my job and I do it on a daily basis.

Of late, it has been Nevermoor: The trials of Morrigan Crow and Wundersmith: the calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend. I love those books and recently took a group of students to hear her talk and do a book signing.

But I could easily choose a genre. I love children’s fantasy literature and I love switching students over to the genre by pushing the Inheritance series, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Percy Jackson, and any and all books with dragons, wizards and magic.

Also, on both of my school library blogs I have pages detailing “What is Mrs Kewish reading and recommending?” The students and parents will go to this for ideas. Here is Tamahere, and here is Te Pahu.

Theresa Kewish
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Theresa is a fully-qualified School Librarian, and works at Tamahere Model Country School and Te Pahu School in central Waikato. She is married, with 2 adult daughters and a 16 month old granddaughter. She has lived on the slopes of Pirongia mountain in Te Pahu for 18 years and love the rural living. Her main hobby is classic minis NOT the new BMW ones. She and her husband own a classic mini each. Plus a few more project minis. Mine is a 1980 yellow mini like the one in the old Goodbye Pork Pie movie. She is in the Waikato mini club and take part in mini runs and motorsport. She loves racing her mini in autocross and motorkhana events. She also plays volleyball, and loves camping, doing wasgij puzzles, fishing and rock hounding and of course READING :). She is also in a local book club. She is a collector. She collects many things including children's literature, vintage crochet items, vintage glass fishing bouys and she has around 100 valve bakelite radios.