Kerry Godsman is Lead Adviser for Primary English at HfL
A love of books is something we all aspire to develop in the children we teach. Studies have found that reading for pleasure is more important to a child’s educational achievement than their family’s wealth or social class. Research carried out for The Reading Agency has found strong evidence that reading for pleasure can increase empathy, improve relationships with others, reduce the symptoms of depression and the risk of dementia, and improve wellbeing throughout life. If reading is a pleasure for them, children won’t see it as ‘work’, but as a way of accessing a wealth of information and opening door to other worlds. We are all well aware of the link between reading and writing: good readers are most likely to be good writers. So the underlying message in the English curriculum – that promoting reading for pleasure is vital – is one that every teacher would echo. Although there is a greater focus on skills teaching in the current curriculum, there is far more freedom to choose the genres that will provide the context in which to learn and apply those skills. However, finding books that children want to read, or authors that excite them, can be difficult; the choice is endless and time for searching out texts is not. Fortunately, help is out there in the form of some great websites.
Start with books that you enjoy. All of us have read books that leave us breathless as we tell someone about the ‘best bits’. The passage in ‘The Weirdstone of Brisingamen’, where the children escape through tunnels barely wide enough to wriggle through, is so well-written and exciting that I had to pause after reading it to recover! If you don’t enjoy a book, you will have a hard time enthusing and engaging your children in learning from it. Does the cover make you want to pick it up? Does the blurb make you want to read it? Is the print clear and well- spaced on the page? Are any pictures attractive? Try reading a page at random to get a feel for the style and see if the pitch is age appropriate (guidance on characteristics of age- appropriate texts can be found on the HfL reading assessment criteria). Model this behaviour to your children to help them know what to look for when choosing books that will suit them.
A fabulous website is Lovereading4kids.co.uk . They give book recommendations that are sorted by age group with enough of a blurb to help you make informed choices. There are many different categories: reluctant readers, children’s classics, books for boys, books reviewed by children and, my favourite, ‘If they like… They’ll love’ which is designed to help children discover new authors.
- If they like Michael Morpurgo they’ll love Megan Rix and Nick Garlick
- If they like David Walliams they’ll love William Sutcliffe
- If they like Jacqueline Wilson they’ll love Anne Booth and Dawn McNiff
- If they like Alex Rider they’ll love Urban OutlawsThe website is particularly useful for teachers because, once you have registered, you can read extracts from the books and the opening pages to help you identify whether a text will be an appropriate model for writing as well as a great read. Take a look at the awards section. Those books selected for the UKLA award are specifically selected by teachers, for teachers, to share with pupils in the classroom. The website is constantly updated and you can see the top 10 bestselling children’s books for each week.
BookTrust’s stated aim is to inspire a love of reading; BookTrust’s Children’s books . Amongst the myriad book recommendations, again usefully sorted by age, genre and interest, there are also downloadable resources, lesson plans, videos and guides to holding whole school events to celebrate books and authors. Children can read books online, listen and read along and take part in quizzes and competitions. Have a look at the Blue Peter Book Awards if you want some ideas for good quality texts. Perhaps you could get your children involved with voting when the shortlists are announced?
Steer parents towards Words for Life a website set up by the National Literacy Trust which is set out in age bands from birth to 11 years. As well as the book recommendations you would expect, there’s guidance to help parents recognise key milestones in children’s development as readers and fun ideas and activities for parents and children do together. There are also helpful videos to support with both decoding and comprehension. Together with a video on understanding phonics with guidance on pronunciation, parents can watch Michael Rosen’s top tips for reading bedtime stories.
Books for Keeps is an online magazine devoted to children’s literature. As well as hundreds of book reviews, you can find articles on every aspect of writing for children and news about all the latest children’s book awards. I was familiar with the Guardian and Costa book awards, but this website introduced me to great new non-fiction texts such as Atlas of Adventures, illustrated by Lucy Letherland and written by Rachel Williams – winner of the 2015 Educational Writers’ Award – and Utterly Amazing Science by Robert Winston which won the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize for 2016.
These websites will help to keep you up to date and provide you with ideas to refresh your children’s diet of quality texts and introduce them to new authors. With school budgets shrinking, if you collate a selection that tempts you, it’s worth putting in an order at your local library as they can draw from stock all over the country. Then it will be free to use the texts and you can ‘try before you buy’ without committing school funds.
At the heart of great English teaching are good quality texts. We all have our tried and trusted favourite books which we enjoy sharing through our teaching, but it’s great to know that there are great new books being published all the time that will add to the pleasure of learning for our children.