Award-winning author, Ali Sparkes helps children celebrate their ‘Book & Stories’ graduation at BU

Ali Sparkes, author of award winning ‘The Shapeshifter’ series of children’s books visited BU to help local school children celebrate their graduation from the BU ‘Books & Stories’ programme. The special graduation event took place on Talbot campus on Wednesday 28 February 2024.

All 63 graduating pupils from the programme got a chance to meet author Ali Sparkes and talk about the book they had been reading throughout the 10-week ‘Books & Stories’’ programme, ‘The Night Speakers’ in a specially designed presentation run by the author. They also got to hear about her new book ‘100 Summers’ and attend a book signing session, where they could ask her questions.

Ali Sparkes said: “It’s so lovely to see children excited about reading, it’s such an important thing in their lives, and having people around them, to encourage them and help them to understand that is absolutely crucial.”

According to the Education Policy Institute (EPI) disadvantaged children remain on average nearly 11 months behind in their learning at the end of primary school (EPI study conducted in 2022). Each year the BU ‘Books & Stories’ programme partners with local schools across Dorset to select pupils to attend the programme. The aim is to achieve demonstrable improvement in the reading ability of Year 6 pupils and advance their confidence in and attitudes towards reading.

The local schools involved in this year’s ‘Books & Stories’ programme included:

  • Bayside Academy
  • Manorside Academy
  • Ocean Academy
  • Jewell Academy
  • Twynham Secondary
  • The Grange

This year the ‘Books & Stories’ programme consisted of carefully structured workshops and reading sessions that were tailored to meet pupils’ needs. Each 30-minute guided reading exercise is followed by a series of interactive sessions to help improve reading comprehension and literacy skills. The sessions were delivered during school time by BU staff, with support from BU student ambassadors.

Libbi Hammond, BU’s Schools Liaison Manager, who helped organise the graduation event said: “Twynham and The Grange school delivered our ‘Books & Stories’ programme ‘in-house’ with the programme delivered by eight of their sixth form students. BU staff visited the sixth formers to train them on how to deliver the programme and had the privilege of visiting them again a few weeks later when the programme was up and running to see how their sessions were going. It was wonderful to see how well and confidently they delivered the sessions.”

Leanne Tucker, Principal at Bayside Academy, who brought along pupils to the graduation event said: “It’s not just about the curriculum learning, it’s about showing them the possibilities of what they can achieve in the future. Our school is located on a council estate and so building the children’s aspirations for the future, and opening possibilities and doors is one of the most important things we can do for them.”

After the talk and book signing, the pupils were led to a special gowning area on campus where they were invited to put on their graduation gowns in preparation for a gowning ceremony. The pupils then took to the stage to collect their certificate, and a professional photographer was hired for the event to capture their special moment.

For more information about the ‘Books & Stories’ programme at BU, please email

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