Can you recommend a book?…Maybe, or maybe not?


I recommend a lot of books, I am however becoming increasingly worried about suggesting books to people. I worry that people spend their precious school budget on things I have recommended, a recommendation at the end of the day is just me saying I liked something.

I personally think we are in a bit of a golden age for children’s literature with some truly fantastic books being written. Twitter is awash with recommendations of new children’s books. I worry about our quality control however. I wonder about how some of these books will stand up to the great books already out there. Sadly I see a lot of older books disappearing, not because they are not good but because they are not new or shiny. I still firmly believe that Tom’s Midnight Garden is one of the finest children’s books ever written alongside Charlotte’s Web and don’t even start me on the merits of why The Graveyard Book should be read to every Year 6 class. Unfortunately  it is increasingly rare to see these books in our classrooms.

Last week somebody requested some recommendations for KS2 and I was struck by the fact that  they were presented with a list of the newest and the shiniest, often these books haven’t even hit the shops yet. Recommendations are often really unbalanced towards the new and the sparkly. I fear that some truly great books are getting lost in the melee. Pax is a book in question that sadly is criminally ignored in my opinion. Complex, dense , rich language, challenging themes, wonderful story telling.  (Book blog No2 Pax by Sarah Pennypacker) I see some books being written off as old hat. I see schools purchasing class sets of a book they’ve been told is good, I personally think there is something to be said for the test of time. What I’m saying is we need a balance. As a recommend-er of books I need to be cautious

The problem ultimately comes down to teacher knowledge. Many teachers don’t have time to sit and read a book or find one that works for them. This leads to two things

1) They become dependent on the books they knew in childhood.


2) They take a shortcut and get others to recommend books for them.

There is sadly no substitute for reading the book yourself. I’ve read books that I’ve really not got on with. I don’t say that because I know that it is possibly/probably more about me than the book itself. Using a book with a class is a big risk. It relies on many factors to make it work.

  1. Do you like the book? Do you find the book interesting? Does it rock your world? (There is nothing worse than wading through a book that you can’t stand because it’s on your curriculum plan or it’s the book your school has spent its money on.)
  2. The make up of the class. (knowing your class well is a big factor in picking the right book. That’s not saying don’t use something challenging, but about how incrementally you move that challenge on.)
  3. How you’re planning to use the book? What is the purpose for using the book? (a brilliant book for sharing as a class reader may not hold up to intense scrutiny of being picked apart as a model for writing)
  4. Do you understand the themes of the book? (matching the book to your class is tricky, sometimes it can feel like an arms race. Is it appropriate for the children. This is not about us it’s about them. Raising the challenge is not about using books with more mature themes. I always think would I want my child to be read that…I am a massive prude when it comes to this)
  5. Do YOU like the book? Do YOU find the book interesting? Does it rock YOUR world?

So if this sounds a bit grumpy I don’t mean it too. It really is about me.

I will recommend with caution and with an eye on the past as well as the present because it’s our duty to make sure children enjoy the joys of brilliant children’s books both past, present and future.

Now go out there and find the books that make your heart sing.

7 thoughts on “Can you recommend a book?…Maybe, or maybe not?

  1. With my own reading I sometimes half-joke that I only read novels that are at least a decade old, letting everyone else work out what is good enough to stay notable that long. But I might have taken that to extremes reading Gilgamesh and the Homeric Hymns with my five year old…


  2. I adore Tom’s Midnight Garden, but also realize that styles and tastes in literature change. Ellen Conford was new when I was in middle school, and she spoke to my experience. Students may love older books, but often want new books that capture their times. It’s always a struggle, and the fact that you agonize over recommendations speaks well for your ability to make them!


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  5. I’m putting together a staff lending library to gift to the primary school where I volunteer (I think inspired by something you did a while back!) I’m being very careful to include some new books (eg The Explorer) some books from the last twenty years or so (eg Love That Dog) and some classics (eg The Snow Spider). I’m also leaving it with a note to encourage people to add their own books to it in due course! It’s not intended to be ‘books I think the staff should read’ but to start a dialogue about what’s out there and get them excited about reading. They are all very busy and only really seem to know the obvious people, so I want to introduce them to books they might otherwise have passed by, or have forgotten about over the years. I’m hoping they’ll pick them up from a box in the staff room and read them and talk about them and use them.

    My 7yo has read Pax but I haven’t – I might need to remedy that, by the sounds of things. Though even buying them secondhand or cheaply or on 3 for 2 I am running out of budget, so it might not make it in this time!


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