Friday, 25 October 2013

Pop Up and Sit Down with a Book! (or, How Pop Up gets Young People Reading.)

by Edge Author
Dave Cousins
Why pick up a book? I mean, there are so many other things you could be doing: watching TV, hanging out with your mates, playing a game, tweeting, texting, sharing pictures on Instagram, surfing YouTube … Why switch off all that multicoloured, moving, bleeping, tweeting interactive fun and sit down quietly with a book? 

Tricky one that. It’s a question parents, teachers, librarians, book-sellers, writers and publishers have been wrestling with for years. 

One of the tenets of writing is “SHOW, don’t TELL” and that could also apply in this case. When I visit schools, I try to avoid telling young people that they SHOULD be reading. Sure, I’ll explain how important books have been to me, share my enthusiasm for some of my favourites, but then I read something—SHOW them what I mean—in the hope they’ll be inspired to give books another go themselves. 

The programme of literature festivals and events offered by London's Pop Up organisation takes this idea even further. Pop Up Director Dylan Calder explains: “The children read a book, meet the author of the book, then experience a workshop around that book to create creative responses.”

Earlier in the year, I took part in a number of Pop Up Booklinks events. When I arrived at the schools, the entire class had already read 15 Days Without a Head and produced work based on the story, including hot-seating, where students would take it in turns to interview each other as one of the characters. The teachers said the pupils’ enthusiasm for the project was evident in the way they had approached the tasks and the quality of work produced. The video below shows a small sample of film posters students produced having been tasked with casting and promoting a movie of the book.

The fact that pupils know they are going to be meeting the author creates an extra dimension to their reading experience and associated work. The opportunity to both question the author, and share their own responses, brings them closer to the book and makes reading a much more inclusive process. Working with the author on the students’ own creative project further breaks down barriers between reader and creator, and provides an important channel for self-expression. 

My overriding impression from the classrooms I visited was one of great enthusiasm. Dylan Calder sums it up perfectly: “Children should come away from Pop Up wanting to read more because they had such a great experience.” Maybe that answers our question.

If you’d like a Pop Up Education programme in your learning community email:

Below are links to a couple of short films showcasing recent Pop Up events in June 2013, run in partnership with London museums and galleries.

Waiting for Gonzo by Dave Cousins is out now in paperback, audiobook and kindle, published by Oxford University Press. A soundtrack of original music inspired by the book is also available. To find out more, please visit 


  1. Great ideas. I know a number of writers who visit classrooms, but is there anything like PopUp in the US?

    1. I don't know if there is anything like PopUp in the US, John. At the moment, as far as I'm aware, PopUp only operates in London in the UK. It would be great if every city had something like this – with government funding perhaps (ha ha!). It's a great model, seems to be working very well.

  2. Love the idea of Justin Bieber in the film version! The story might lose some of its gritty authenticity, though...

  3. What a great idea! And excellent posters too!

  4. Totally agree about 'should', Dave. The worst sort of sentence is one that begins 'You should'.
    Thanks for sharing the young people's work - it's great - they were certainly inspired by 15 days!