Reading…(The importance of knowing books)



Reading is and should be a joy. It is one of the greatest pleasures.

I was a little dismayed on reading this from Jonny Walker  Dahl Dependency

Part of our responsibility as primary teachers surely has to be to  open the door to children to the amazing worlds that are available in books. Equally books should be the greatest tools in our classrooms.

That we become stuck in the books we read or that were read to us when we were children is sad. That we become stuck in a limited pool of authors is equally disheartening. I have nothing against Dahl (I adore Matilda) or Morpurgo (well actually I’m not a big fan but I do think The Giant’s Necklace is a fantastic Ghost Story) or even C.S.Lewis.  I do feel though we are missing out and even worse that our  potentially limited knowledge means that children are missing out.

We are in my opinion in an incredibly  rich time for children’s books. I was blown away last year by the brilliance of some of the children’s literature that came out.

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My Favourite Books from 2016

All the above books are phenomenal. All would be fantastic as drivers for curriculum, or at the very least would make great reads with children.


My fave picture books from 2016


The true joy isn’t hard to define either. The best books make us ask questions, expect us to draw links. The great thing about books is that they are often open to interpretation. I will read and understand a book differently because I bring a different set of stuff to my interpretation. I draw links I spot influences.

I have written previously on this but focussed towards picture books Picture book blogpost for TES

Margaret Meek, Jane Doonan, Aidan Chambers, Nikki Gamble and Mary Roche all discuss brilliantly the need to explore and discuss. I would recommend everyone of their books.

The first challenge surely has to be how do support colleagues in building up that knowledge. Having a Librarian in school would be great but in the current climate sadly feels like a luxury. Having obsessively bookish headteachers or staff can work, staff having somewhere to go to find out what’s out there and to help them draw links is fab  (Book pushers if you will). Twitter is also a great source (Get them on twitter) There are lots of brilliant bookish people sharing fantastic stuff, Ashley Booth’s 100 books to read before you leave Year 6  Matt Tobin Picture book Padlet  are just two examples of many. Twitter is also fab for linking to authors, most are happy to engage. My school now has a Patron of Reading due to twitter.

The real challenge beyond this  is developing teacher expertise. If we don’t know books we can’t use them effectively. We can’t help students dig deeper into the books and help develop their understanding if we don’t know the books.

There are a couple of large pachyderms in the room. The first is the time required to do this, with the workload issues it is understandable that many don’t have the time to develop that knowledge. The second is that the current assessment regime is increasingly suggesting that there is only one answer to many questions rather than it being open to interpretation.

Earlier this week I was in a school in Stockton where reading sang out. Staff knowledge and pupils exploration could be seen everywhere using a wide range of books and texts. I saw some wonderful drama to explore text more deeply and talked to children who were articulate in talking about books and text. (I was supposed to be looking at maths sorry Vicky) CLPE’s Power of Reading had really impacted in their classrooms. It was great a real privilege.

The best lesson I’ve ever watched was where a class were exploring “Snow” by Ted Hughes. The understanding and expertise of the teacher, led to astounding progress in understanding for the pupils in that class. The skill of the questioning and development of understanding could only be done due to the in-depth knowledge and understanding of the text that was held by the teacher. That is not to say that interpretation was imposed,  the pupils very much explored the meaning and the questioning challenged the understanding. It was phenomenal teaching. I have equally seen poor reading sessions mainly due to lack of teacher text knowledge has led surface questioning and skimming.
Talk about books is equally key. We have to talk about them, challenge thinking, explore themes and ideas, see the bigger picture. This is key for higher level reading, for learners to develop critical thinking around texts. We have to discuss, passive reading will not develop  readers abilities to comprehend a text, neither will throwing down some comprehension questions. We have to teach children to be readers.  Silent reading while nice, in my experience in school, is often a chance for pupils to switch off, especially if they have not got that love of reading. Every second truly does count.

Talk and discussion are vital. Room to explore and think critically around text is important. If we want children to read for pleasure thenwe have to let them experience the joy of exploring a book.


This means a number of things for schools. We need teachers to teach understanding. To do that they have to know the text expertly. To truly dig deep with learners, teachers have to truly understand the text they are using.  This takes time, something which for all  teachers is a rarity.  Developing that broader knowledge of children’s literature is also key, as only by knowing an increasing range can we help children unlock the door to reading.

To develop higher level reading schools must make it a priority, give staff the time and abilities to be experts and the children the time to explore. #becomereadingjedis


PS if you’ve not read ‘Raymie Nightingale’  then blummin’ well read it.



2 thoughts on “Reading…(The importance of knowing books)

  1. Pingback: Why Picturebooks are Important…TES article archive #1 | Being Brave! a first time headteachers blog.

  2. Another great article thanks. Yes, Dahl dependency is real (love that term) but it’s not always the fault of the busy teacher. Schools need to be ‘collective book clubs’ where knowledge and awareness of other authors is just as important as discussing outcomes.
    For so many of our children, quality fiction is that ‘second hand experience’, through which they learn about the world and build background knowledge if that first hand experience isn’t possible.


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