Category Archives: Reading

Picture books about reading

Having previously explored my reading philosophy and reading in libraries, I’ve selected seven picture books that shine the spotlight on reading. In these stories, characters learn to read, love to read or learn to love reading.

How Rocket Learnt to Read
Written and illustrated by Tad Hills

How Rocket Learnt To Read

Meet Rocket, a new student, and his teacher, a little yellow bird.

Watch as Rocket practises singing out the sounds of each letter of the alphabet, discovers the delicious excitement of listening to stories and finally, best of all…learns to read!

Dogs and reading. Two of my favourite things. In this delightful story, Rocket the dog is drawn into reading because he wants to hear the ending of a story read by the little yellow bird. Before long, he is learning “all of the wondrous, mighty, gorgeous alphabet” and using the letters to spell out words. By the end of the story, the two are reading stories together again and again. Oh the joys of becoming a reader!

Bears Don’t Read!
Written and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark

Bears Don't Read!

George isn’t happy doing the usual bear things like chatting and fishing. But what else is there? Until one day, he finds a book beneath a tree and knows, more than anything, he wants to learn to read! If only he could find someone to teach him.

Then he meets Clementine, a little girl whose love of reading will change George’s life forever…

With fabulous illustrations by Emma Chichester Clark, this book tells the story of George the bear, who wants to learn to read. He finally finds a teacher in a girl called Clementine. Like the little yellow bird, she starts with the alphabet, showing him what she is learning at school. Although George finds reading tricky at first, he perseveres with the help of his friend. Soon he is able to read a whole book on his own and “that was just the beginning”.

The Bush Book Club
Written by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Ben Wood

The Bush Book Club

All the animals belong to The Bush Book Club. All except Bilby. He can’t stay still long enough to read. But what would it take for Bilby to slow down and look into a book?

I love the work of Margaret Wild and I’m sure more of her books will make an appearance on future picture book lists. Ben Wood’s illustrations beautifully complement this story about the Australian animals who are part of The Bush Book Club. Each has their own reading style (Echidna reads tucked up in bed, while Kangaroo reads as she hops along) and preferred genre (Koala loves fantasy tales, while Crocodile prefers stories that make him cry). Only Bilby doesn’t read, because he just can’t sit still long enough. But after he gets locked in the clubhouse, he discovers that reading happens when you find the right book. In his case, The Terrifying Adventures of Big Brave Bilby! This calls to mind Ranganathan’s Second Law of Library Science: every reader his/her book.

Oliver and George
Written and illustrated by Peter Carnavas

Oliver And George

Oliver is ready to play but George the bear is busy…reading. Oliver tries everything to get George’s attention. What happens when a boy bothers a bear too many times?

This simple but effective story highlights the engrossing (and addictive) nature of a good book. Oliver wants to play with George, trying all sorts of things to get him to join in. But George is caught up in his book and nothing can distract him from it, except…when Oliver takes it away. And just when George is ready to play, Oliver opens the book and gets hooked too!

Rufus Goes To Sea
Written by Kim T. Griswell and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev

Rufus Goes To Sea

Rufus Leroy Williams III knows exactly what he wants to do for summer vacation. He really, really, REALLY wants to be a pirate, just like the characters in his favorite book. He’s ready to become a brave matey on the Scurvy Dog. But there’s a small problem:

Rufus is a pig.

“Arrrh! No pigs on pirate ships!” the Captain growls.

What can Rufus do to prove he’s the pirate Captain Wibblyshins is looking for?

Keeping with the animal theme, Rufus is a pig who loves to read and wants to become a pirate. He is also very persistent, never giving up on his dream, despite being rebuffed several times by Captain Wibblyshins. But then, the pirates discover he is just what they need: a reading pirate. Rufus is able to read the instructions on their map, which leads them to the buried treasure. Like Pirate Pete in No Pirates Allowed! Said Library Lou, the pirates discover that the treasure is a chest of books, where “new adventures waited inside”.

The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read
Written by Curtis Manley and illustrated by Kate Berube

The Summer Nick Taught His Cats To Read

Nick has two cats, Verne and Stevenson. They do everything together-except read. So Nick has an idea: he will teach them to read too! But reading can be hard and takes lots of practice. Can his cats learn how?

In this celebration of reading, Nick and his cats discover that finding just the right book can make all the difference.

This picture book features cats and not just any cats, but a grumpy cat! Nick wants to read with his cats, but they are less enthusiastic about the activity. So he tries to teach them to read using flashcards. When he reads stories about fish, Verne gets hooked and he is soon borrowing library books with Nick. But Stevenson (the grumpy cat) is not interested until Nick discovers he loves pirates. Like Bilby in The Bush Book Club, it was simply a case of matching the reader to the book. This is a great story about reading for pleasure. I love the illustrations by Kate Berube, especially those of Stevenson with his pirate’s patch!

A Child of Books
Written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston

A Child Of Books

A little girl, a child of books, sails her raft across a sea of words and arrives at the house of a young boy. She invites him to go away with her on an adventure into the world of stories…where, with only a little imagination, anything can happen.

Like a number of picture books, this one straddles the topics of reading and stories. I have included it, because it focuses on the joy of reading stories, rather than the process of learning to read. It is described as an “extraordinary ode to the power and promise of storytelling”, which of course lies at the heart of reading fiction. The authors have been economical with their words, choosing them carefully to create poetic sentences including “We can lose ourselves in forests of fairy tales” and “We will sleep in clouds of song”. Each page is filled with Sam Winston’s typography from relevant stories and songs, creating a landscape and adding an extra layer to Oliver Jeffers’ illustrations. This is a remarkable book arising from a truly collaborative process.

I hope you enjoy sharing these wonderful books about the joys of reading. Coming soon…picture books about books!

All images taken by the author. All quotes taken from the blurb and contents of the book.

Libraries and reading: Part I

Having outlined my beliefs about reading, I want to consider how reading occurs in library contexts. (At this point, it is important to remember that libraries offer more than just books, but that is for a future post.) In this post, I will focus on the ways in which libraries provide for readers through collection development.

There are two types of libraries that support children’s reading: school and public libraries. The ways in which they provide for readers is different, because of the beliefs that underpin their approach to collection development. School libraries are focused on educating children and seek to support learning and teaching. The emphasis is on learning to read and reading to learn, sometimes at the expense of reading for pleasure. In addition, any local or national curriculum will impact on collection development, particularly in the area of non-fiction. On the other hand, public libraries concentrate on recreation, both in terms of reading for pleasure and reading for information. Unlike school libraries, they are not driven by government documents.

Books, books, beautiful books!

These different beliefs about the purpose of the library impacts on collection development, resulting in different resources being made available in school and public libraries. Because the collection development of school libraries is often driven by curriculum, this can result in a non-fiction collection which is tailored to support topics within subject areas. This is partly influenced by the limited budgets available to teacher-librarians, who have to make purchase decisions that will support learning and improve educational outcomes for students. This means that the non-fiction collection may be narrower than that of a public library and is more likely to change in response to amendments to the curriculum. Fiction may consist of ‘safe’ choices, particularly in denominational schools, and this can result in the omission of genres or formats that are considered less educational, such as comics, magazines and pop culture literature.

Collection development in a school library is often influenced by curriculum 

In public libraries, collection development is primarily driven by user needs and interests. This means that the scope of a children’s collection may be broader than in a school library. Non-fiction tends to cover topics that may not appear in curriculum documents and will often focus on leisure reading, rather than reading to complete an assignment. Fiction is also more extensive, including graphic novels, ebooks, audiobooks and magazines. Authors and series that are popular with children are included, rather than frowned upon, because they encourage reading for pleasure.

Public libraries may have broader fiction collections for children

It is important to note that this does not imply that public libraries are better than school libraries in providing for children. Both play an equally important role in supporting the development of readers. They just do this differently. I will explore the ways in which libraries promote reading in a future post. This is something that school libraries do very well.


My reading philosophy

Having explored libraries over the last few weeks through picture books and fiction for children and young adults, I thought I would turn my attention to reading. To begin with, I want to share what I believe about reading as it relates to children. These beliefs form a personal philosophy, which underpins my practice as a children’s librarian. They also influence the decisions I make about all aspects of working with children from setting up the library space to developing a collection.

I believe all children:

– are competent and capable
– should be treated with respect and understanding
– have different learning styles, which need to be considered when teaching reading
– are already readers, albeit at different stages in terms of skills and experience
– are able to read, regardless of ability, background or previous schooling
– have the potential to fully develop their reading skills
– can develop a love of reading, based around personal choice

Even very young children are readers

Baby And Child Reading

Reading by ThomasLife: CC BY-ND 2.0

I believe children learn best when:

– they are interested and engaged
– they see purpose in what they are doing
– they have a say in what they learn

Reading happens naturally when a child chooses his reading material

I believe we read for different reasons and in different ways, including:

– for enjoyment
– for information
– for practical purposes
– alone
– with another child or adult
– as part of a group

A book can be shared with a friend

Reading Together

IMG109 by US Department of Education: CC BY 2.0

I believe reading extends beyond classic fiction to include:

– personal preferences
– different formats, including ebooks, comics and magazines
– a range of genres, including non-fiction

Reading encompasses more than just fiction print books

Different Formats

Digital Dandy by TaylorHerring: CC BY-ND 2.0

As a children’s librarian, I will:

– model a love of reading
– demonstrate positive attitudes towards reading and readers
– provide a safe and supportive environment for readers of all ages
– encourage all reading efforts
– model reading skills through group storytime and shared reading experiences
– talk with children about books to develop reflection and the ability to self-select
– provide opportunities to read for both pleasure and information

The library environment encourages and supports all readers

Shirley Library

Shirley Library by Solihull Heritage & Local Studies: CC BY-SA 2.0

These beliefs are not set in stone. Instead I will develop and refine them in response to new information and ideas I encounter. This ensures that my philosophy is relevant, enabling me to engage in best practice within the library and to support all children as they explore the world of reading.

A month of reading

As April draws to a close, May will see a focus on the promotion of reading in several countries. In the United Kingdom, it is National Share-a-Story Month (NSSM), which is organised by The Federation of Children’s Book Groups (FCBG), an organisation that seeks to bring children and books together. The theme for 2017 is Picture a Story and one of the aims of the event is “to celebrate the power of illustrations…for all ages” (FCBG, n.d.). The sharing of picture books, along with comics and graphic novels, is also being promoted. Suggested activities include an illustration competition inspired by The Everywhere Bear, the new book from Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb, and a comic creating competition for older children. The FCBG website also contains a number of links to support the event, as well as suggestions for celebrating Picture a Story in digital format.

Sharing a book can happen at any age

Sharing A Story

Reading Together by Matthew Hauck: CC BY-ND 2.0

In May, Get Caught Reading (GCR) is promoted in schools and libraries in the United States. This national campaign was first held in 1999 to celebrate the enjoyment that reading brings people of all ages. The GCR website includes a range of resources, such as posters, newsletters and videos, to support the initiative. Suggested activities include taking photos of family, friends and community members (shopkeepers, police officers, etc.) caught reading and using these to create displays to encourage reading.

Someone got caught reading!

Caught Reading

Reading by Eugene Kim: CC BY 2.0

Wherever in the world you are, enjoy reading during May and throughout the rest of the year! Together let’s share a story, get caught reading and celebrate the joy found in books.

Reading for pleasure in schools

In an earlier blog post, I explored the idea of quality in children’s literature. Despite Neil Gaiman’s belief that there is no such thing as a bad book, many teachers and school librarians feel that there is. They view books through adult eyes, judging them in terms of quality, appropriateness, taste and educational value. Within many schools, this results in the promotion of acceptable books, creating “a school book-based approach” (Cremin, Mottram, Collins, Powell, & Safford, 2014) to reading. Children whose preferences sit outside these titles, authors and genres find their choices discouraged by educators. Disempowered and marginalised within the education system, they either turn away from reading or only engage wholeheartedly with it outside of school.

The current accountability culture within education focuses on outcomes and standardised testing (don’t get me started on that!). As a result of this, reading is being taught in a sequential and structured way, with texts being broken down into their component parts and analysed. This emphasis on literacy rather than literature has put many children off reading, making it is harder for them to learn to read. Yet when reading for pleasure is encouraged, children are more likely to push through the difficulties of a text, because they want to know what happens next or because they have an interest in the subject matter of the book.

Learning to read is important, but learning to love reading is life-changing

Learning To Read

Image by Wokandapix: CC0 Public Domain

Today there is a move towards schools promoting reading for pleasure, because it has been shown to improve outcomes. Whilst I am pleased with this initiative, I believe reading for pleasure should be encouraged for its own sake, not for what it might achieve in terms of test results. Reading for pleasure should be embraced because it’s enjoyable and good for the soul. It is also empowering for children, because it is all about personal choice (Cremin et al, 2014). This can clearly be seen in Wisdom From A 12 Year Old, a post on Jackie Morris’ blog. It contains a letter written by Phoebe opposing the recent library closures in the UK. In it, she points out the difference between being made to read certain books in school and choosing what to read in libraries: “I can read what I want. I have the freedom to choose. If that freedom got lost I would start to lose interest. Lose interest in books. The thing I love the most. Reading would just become a chore at school” (Howard, 2015).

Reading for pleasure is about choosing what and where you read!

Child Reading

Reading by Erik Schepers: CC BY-NC 2.0

Reading for pleasure occurs in schools when teachers and school librarians recognise, accept and respect children’s preferences in terms of reading material. This removes barriers to reading and is more accepting and respectful of individual choice. All texts, in whatever genre or format, are then valued for promoting a love of reading for its own sake. In this way, all children can experience the pleasures of reading.

International Children’s Book Day

April 2nd is Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday. It is also International Children’s Book Day (my apologies for the belated post, but I’m still getting the hang of this blogging lark!). Organised by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), it is “celebrated to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children’s books” (IBBY, n.d). The event for 2017 is sponsored by IBBY Russia, with the theme Let us grow with the book!

Let everyone grow with the book! 

IBBY was “established by the visionary Jella Lepman following the devastation of the Second World War, [and] is devoted to encouraging excellence in children’s books, to supporting literacy and reading projects across the world, and to developing international understanding through children’s books” (IBBY UK, 2017). The non-profit organisation has a number of activities aimed at “bringing children and books together” (IBBY, n.d.). Their Children In Crisis Fund supports projects to replace or create libraries in areas that have experienced natural disasters or conflict. Another initiative is Silent Books, “a collection of children’s books without words, created as a response to the need for books on the Italian island of Lampedusa, the destination for many refugees fleeing North Africa and the Middle East” (IBBY, n.d.).

Michael Rosen at the 33rd IBBY International Congress, another IBBY activity

IBBY Congress

IBBY Congress 2012 by Jack Dix Davies: CC BY-NC 2.0

Along with International Children’s Book Day, IBBY presents the biennial Hans Christian Andersen Award to authors and illustrators, who have made a significant contribution to children’s literature. Recipients include the authors, Martin Waddell, Margaret Mahy, Katherine Paterson, Astrid Lingren and Tove Jansson, and the illustrators, Quentin Blake, Anthony Browne, Robert Ingpen and Maurice Sendak.

Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen by Thora Hallager (1821-1884): Public Domain

The article, Hans Christian Andersen: Father of the Modern Fairy Tale by Terri Windling, provides information about the writer. It makes interesting reading and gives an insight into the man behind such fairy tales as The Snow Queen, The Princess and the Pea, and The Little Mermaid.

As we celebrate International Children’s Book Day, let’s embrace the important work of IBBY and promote children’s literature every day, helping all children to grow with books!

No such thing as a bad book

Since my last post, I have been re-reading the books of my childhood. It has been an interesting experience, because, as an adult, it is clear to me that some of them are not particularly well-written. Yet I still feel an emotional attachment to them, because they are a link to the little girl I was all those years ago.

In her blog post, The Stories We Need, Terri Windling also recalls the books she loved as a child. As a writer and editor, she acknowledges that they were perhaps not the best books, “so cloyingly sweet, so heavy-handedly moral” (Windling, 2016). However, they were the books she was drawn to; books that filled an emotional need within her. She says she took what she needed from them and, in return, they made her the person and writer she is today.

Enid Blyton has frequently been criticised for the quality of her writing

In a 2013 lecture for The Reading Agency, Neil Gaiman examines the issue of quality in children’s literature, stating, “I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children” (Gaiman, 2013). He discusses how, over the years, genres and authors have been criticised for being unsuitable for children. Comics have been blamed for “fostering illiteracy” (Gaiman, 2013). Enid Blyton and R. L. Stine are among those who have been branded poor writers. Roald Dahl was denounced by the book critic Eleanor Cameron for his writing of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with its “phoney presentation of poverty and its phoney humour, which is based on punishment with overtones of sadism” (Cameron, in Mangan, 2014). Despite these views, generations of children have loved the work of these authors and, for many, their books have resulted in a love of reading.

Despite adult criticism, Roald Dahl’s books have always been popular with children

According to Neil Gaiman, adults often seek to discourage children from reading particular genres and authors, because they don’t approve of them. As he points out, in order for children to learn to read and to learn to love reading, they need to find books they enjoy, be able to access those books and be allowed to read them. This is something we need to be aware of as librarians and teachers. It is important we don’t judge children’s choices based on our own preferences. Equally important is allowing them access to the books they enjoy through our library collections. Maybe we need to remember the books we loved as children and consider how we would have felt if someone had told us not to read them or had taken them away from us.

Comics are often frowned upon by librarians and teachers


Comics! by Brian Wilkins: CC BY-NC 2.0

By viewing certain titles, genres or authors unfavourably, we run the risk of turning children off books when we want them to find a way into them. I agree with Neil Gaiman; the most important thing is to get children reading. And if that means reading books that I may not like or choose to read, so be it. They are not going to be ‘harmed’ by poorly written books, despite what some people believe. But they will miss out on all that reading offers if they turn away from books after being told that what they are reading is rubbish.