Author-illustrator launches Premier’s Reading Challenge

The annual event celebrated 23 years with an official launch at Newcastle High School’s recently renovated library. Alyssa Terese reports.

A student standing at a desk talking to a teacher. A student standing at a desk talking to a teacher.
Image: Newcastle High School teacher librarian Elisabeth Porreca-Dubois is excited to kick off this year’s Premier's Reading Challenge.

Author and illustrator Sami Bayly had students laughing throughout the 2024 Premier’s Reading Challenge launch on Monday, with weird and wonderful stories of wildlife and their peculiar habits.

The talented 28-year-old created this year’s poster artwork and had students in stitches with a story about birds that cover themselves in their own excrement to cool down.

Ms Bayly has several books that feature on the 2024 challenge booklist and shared her processes around technical drawing and writing, while also guiding students in years 7, 8 and 9 through an exercise on her biology-based illustrations.

The 2024 Premier’s Reading Challenge launch event highlighted the importance of reading in high schools with an aim to encourage more students to participate.

Ms Bayly said she hoped the poster artwork would appeal to both primary and high school settings and get more students reading.

Newcastle High Year 8 student, Josie Jack, loves that reading can “take you to another world”.

Josie has been participating in the challenge since Year 3 and is among 430,000 students participating in the 2024 edition.

With more than 11,000 books on the challenge booklist, Josi recommended searching for books friends have suggested, or by a particular genre.

“It normally comes up with some pretty good picks and the reading list has expanded my reading horizons,” she said.

Students seated at tables in front of a screen. Students seated at tables in front of a screen.
Image: Newcastle High students show off their illustrations created under the guidance of author-illustrator Sami Bayly.

A learning priority

Reading is a learning priority for Newcastle High, with the school launching a new reading program in 2023 to great success.

Teacher librarian, Elisabeth Porreca-Dubois, has worked alongside the Newcastle High School executive leadership team to nurture a love of reading among students.

The school has celebrated Book Week since 2022and expanded its reading for leisure program to incorporate this year’s challenge.

It has also launched a SMART-ER reading program.

“The SMART-ER reading program nurtures life-long reading and is informed by research, contemporary literature and student feedback,” Mrs Porreca-Dubois said.

The program is run during English classes and occurs within the first 10 minutes of each lesson. In 2024 the program has expanded to include the entire Stage 4 (Year 7-8) cohort.

“It has a ‘DEAR’, drop everything and read, approach that is centred around student choice of books and voice through personalised, SMART reading goals,” Mrs Porreca-Dubois said.

“Twice per term, students receive personalised feedback from the teacher librarian, in written form, regarding their progress towards their SMART goals.”

The Premier’s Reading Challenge is open to all NSW students from Kindergarten to Year 10, in government, independent, Catholic and home schools.

The challenge aims to encourage a love of reading for leisure and pleasure in students, and enable them to experience quality literature. It is not a competition but a challenge to each student to read, read more and read more widely.

Last year, more than 8.5 million books were read by students across the state.

In late March 2024, the NSW Department of Education Arts Unit will release an on-demand event video that features a guided illustration by Ms Bayly for students to view at their leisure.

The 2024 NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge is proudly supported by Digital Partner, ePlatform and Supporter, Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA). Read more about the 2024 Premier’s Reading Challenge.

An artwork featuring Australian native wildlife. An artwork featuring Australian native wildlife.
Image: The 2024 NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge poster artwork created by Sami Bayly.
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