Category Archives: Reading

Getting children to read

This week, on April 2nd, it was International Children’s Book Day. Established by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), a non-profit organisation bringing children and books together, its aim is “to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children’s books” (IBBY, n.d.). Last year the theme was Let Us Grow With the Book; this year, it is The Small is Big In a Book. On Twitter, #InternationalChildrensBookDay has generated tweets celebrating all that is wonderful about children’s books.

Let’s celebrate children’s books!

Children's Books

Image by AnnieSpratt: CC0 1.0

Inspired by International Children’s Book Day, the fabulous Joanne Harris posted a thread on Twitter about getting children to read. Here are her suggestions:

1. Read aloud to your children as regularly as you can. It’s the best way to interest them in reading from an early age.

2. Let them see YOU reading for pleasure. If you don’t read, how can you expect your children to do it for themselves?

3. Talk about the stories you enjoy-in books, in films, in games, on TV, in the papers. Make your children aware of the scope of their own imaginations.

4. Stop thinking of your child’s reading as an achievement to be graded. Make it a pleasure, and your child will develop happily, at their own pace.

5. Never present reading as a duty, or a chore, or a punishment. That’s a surefire way to put your child off reading forever.

(Harris, 2018)

Reading for pleasure, anytime, anywhere…

6. Never criticize your child’s choice of reading material. Whatever it is-comics, magazines, encyclopaedias, or something you consider to be trashy or worthless-be grateful that they’re reading at all.

7. Is your child reading something that you consider to be problematic? Don’t worry. If they read widely, the other things they’re reading will counterbalance whatever it is. Or use the opportunity to discuss the book with them, non-judgmentally.

8. Never, EVER use phrases like “the classics” or “quality fiction”. It makes books sound boring, elitist and old.

9. If your child is a reluctant reader, try reading them the start of a really exciting book, then being “called away.” Leave the book lying around. Or tell them about an exciting book, before saying; “but it’s not really suitable for kids.”

10. E-books. Comics. Audiobooks. Fan fiction. Non-fiction. These things are ALL books. Let your kids choose what they want to read. And never, EVER allow the words “proper books” to pass your lips.

(Harris, 2018)

Caught reading…

This advice echoes that of Neil Gaiman, which I included in my post about reading for pleasure. As parents, educators and librarians, we can use these suggestions to encourage the children we know to catch the reading bug. In this way, all young people, regardless of their background and circumstances, will come to love books and the magic contained within their pages.


Celebrate reading

During September, several events will be held to celebrate reading. These help to raise the profile of reading (and libraries) within the community. They allow people to “discover and rediscover the joy of reading” (The Reading Hour, n.d.), whilst encouraging the “anytime, anywhere” (The Reading Hour, n.d.) philosophy, which makes reading visible in society in all its forms.

The Australian Reading Hour will be held on September 14th. The aim of the event is to encourage people of all ages to read any time during the day for 60 minutes. In previous years (it has been running since 2012), it has been held mainly in public and school libraries. However this year, publishers, booksellers and authors have come on board and it is hoped this will expand the scheme and shift the focus from child readers to reading for all ages. If you are not working in a library service or bookshop, you can host your own event for family, friends or colleagues in your home or at your workplace.

Spend an hour reading by yourself…

Boy Reading

Image by sof_sof_0000: CC0 1.0

or reading with someone else…

or reading a newspaper on a bench!

Reading Side By Side

The Reading Bench by David Hodgson: CC BY 2.0

Last week, on September 6th, it was National Read a Book Day in the UK and the US. Other similar events in America include National Reading Day on January 23rd and Read Across America Day on March 2nd, Dr Seuss’ birthday. All these events place the spotlight on reading, encouraging adults and children to dive into books. Because, as Dr Seuss said, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go”!

Story dogs

I included The Detective Dog (written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Sara Ogilvie) on my list of picture books about libraries. It is a wonderful story about Nell, who goes into Peter’s school every Monday and listens to the children reading. I recently came across a book about another Story Dog: Madeline Finn and the Library Dog (written and illustrated by Lisa Papp). Unfortunately I was unable to borrow it from my local library service, so I can’t provide a review of it. However, here is the blurb:

Madeline Finn does NOT like to read. But she DOES want a gold star from her teacher. But, stars are for good readers. Stars are for understanding words, and for saying them out loud.

Fortunately, Madeline Finn meets Bonnie, a library dog. Reading out loud to Bonnie isn’t so bad; when Madeline Finn gets stuck, Bonnie doesn’t mind. As it turns out, it’s fine to read when you’re not afraid of making mistakes. Bonnie teaches Madeline Finn that it’s okay to go slow. And to keep trying.

(Synopsis from Peachtree Publishers)

These two books have inspired today’s post, which is all about reading dogs and the benefits they have for emergent readers.

Reading to a captive audience!

Reading to dogs has become increasingly popular since the idea was first introduced in the US in 1999 through the READ program. Since then, a number of organisations have been set up around the world including Bark and Read in the UK and Story Dogs in  Australia. The aim of these programs is to promote a love of reading through helping children to “develop literacy skills and build confidence” (The Kennel Club, 2017). Dogs are chosen for their calm temperament and their handlers are trained to support emergent readers. They speak through the dog to ask the child questions about the book, words or pictures (Story Dogs, 2017). In some programs, the dogs are taught to ‘read’ flash cards with commands such as ‘Sit’ and ‘Paw’ on them (Stroud, 2012). The reading sessions take place in public libraries or schools with the children sitting near their dog so they are able to interact with them (Pets As Therapy, 2015). The reading dogs initiative may occur alongside other therapeutic programs supporting emotional and social development (Stroud, 2012).

Reading to a dog is sooooo relaxing

Reading To A Dog

Georgetown PAWS To Read 2017 by Allen County (IN) Public Library: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Reading to a dog has been shown to be beneficial in a number of ways. Being with a dog has a calming effect on children (The Kennel Club, 2017), providing comfort and encouraging positive behaviours (Pets As Therapy, 2015). There is evidence that children’s blood pressure and stress levels are lower when reading out loud to a dog (Stroud, 2012). Many talk to their canine friend about themselves and their worries, which helps them to develop their emotional intelligence (The Kennel Club, 2017). Dogs are also non-judgemental listeners (The Kennel Club, 2017), who don’t point out mistakes or criticise reading attempts. In addition, because they are told they are teaching the dog to read, children feel more in control of the reading process (Stroud, 2012). This means that they are more likely to have a go at difficult words, thereby improving their literacy skills and increasing their confidence as readers (Story Dogs, 2017). In a pilot scheme at a primary school in the UK, 60% of children improved their reading age by 3 months in a 6 week period (The Kennel Club, 2017). In another study, Year 2 students showed improved attitudes towards reading after undertaking a program in which they read to dogs. This then positively affected their motivation to read (Scienmag, 2017).

These reading programs are often targeted at struggling readers. However, I believe they need to be offered to all children, because of the emotional benefits associated with reading (and being) with dogs. Confident readers may not be anxious about reading out loud, but they may still be stressed by school or home life. Reading to a dog may help them with these worries.

Story dogs love to look at the pictures

Therapy Dog

Norman West Therapy Dogs by Pioneer Library System: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Programs that promote reading to dogs have a positive effect on readers because they encourage the ‘virtuous circle’ in which the more you read, the better you become at reading (Johnson, 2017). I would also add that the better you are at reading, the more you read. This improves your academic skills and life chances. However, if you struggle with reading, you tend to avoid it, which negatively impacts on your learning and future outcomes (Johnson, 2017). It is so important to remember that “learning to read is often less about intellectual limitation than about overcoming fears” (Story Dogs, 2017). This is where story dogs come in; they help children to gain confidence in their ability to read and to learn to enjoy the wonders of the written word.

If you are able to, open the doors of your library to this service. If you aren’t, read to your dog (or someone else’s!). Because “set within a language-rich literacy environment, there appears to be little to lose and much to gain” (Johnson, 2017) about these dog-centred programs.

Libraries and reading: Part II

In Libraries and reading: Part I, I considered how public and school libraries provide for readers through decisions made around collection development. Following on from this, I would like to explore the ways in which libraries promote reading for children through events, activities and displays. As the previous post highlighted, there is a difference between the two sectors in terms of the driving force behind decision-making. In school libraries, the focus is on education and reading is promoted as a way to learn and develop skills. Recreation is highlighted in public libraries, with an emphasis placed on reading for pleasure.

School libraries are very good at promoting reading, with many using a range of strategies to encourage their students to engage in this activity. Special events are one way of placing the spotlight on reading. These include World Book Day, which often involves children coming to school dressed up as characters from their favourite books. In Australia, Book Week occurs in August each year and coincides with the Children’s Book Council of Australia book awards. Book character parades and reading and voting on shortlisted books are part of the celebrations in schools across the country during this week. Other events for promoting reading include author and illustrator visits and book fairs. The teacher-librarian, Barbara Braxton, has a extensive list of examples in her post on library events. (Her blog, 500 Hats, is an excellent resource for teacher-librarians and children’s librarians and is well worth bookmarking for future reference.)

You’re a wizard, Harry! Dressing up for World Book Day

World Book Day

World Book Day-Being Harry Potter by Iain Cameron: CC BY 2.0

There are also a number of ongoing activities that can be used to promote reading. These include book clubs, which can be tailored to the interests and needs of the children. Again, Barbara Braxton has a post entitled The FIRST Book Club, which includes suggestions for monthly activities for a group meeting in the library. Golden tickets can be hidden in books that are seldom borrowed, prompting children to search beyond popular titles. Genre passports can be used to encourage students to explore the breadth of the fiction collection, helping them to discover what they enjoy reading. I have set up a Pinterest board to curate ideas for promoting reading. This can be used as a starting point for planning library activities.

Displays are another way of promoting reading. Like events and activities, these expose children to new formats, genres, authors, illustrators, subjects… They can be based around particular topics, celebrations and authors’ birthdays (such as Eric Carle, Dr Seuss and Roald Dahl). Students can be involved in creating the displays by including their reviews and recommendations of books (Braxton, 2015). There are a couple of posts on the 500 Hats blog that offer useful advice for setting up library displays for children: The Landscaper’s Hat and Tricks of the Trade. I also have a Pinterest board entitled Library Displays, containing inspiring pins from a variety of libraries.

Public libraries tend to use fewer approaches to promoting reading for their younger users. Most offer storytime sessions, some of which are tailored to different age groups. These may also be bi-lingual, either incorporating a community language or sign language. Some libraries have loyalty schemes (such as The ReadUp Program), with children collecting stamps for each library visit and then receiving a certificate once they reach a certain amount. Public libraries are particularly known for their summer reading programs (such as the UK’s Summer Reading Challenge and the Summer Reading Club in Australia), which encourage children to continue reading through the school holidays. Awards and prizes are often offered as part of these. However, the public sector could learn a great deal from school libraries, which are very creative in the ways in which they promote reading amongst their students.

Everyone is welcome at storytime…even bears and ninja turtles!

I hope that this post has provided you with some ideas for promoting reading (for pleasure) amongst the children you work with. I would also recommended reading The Reader Leader’s Hat by Barbara Braxton for ways of “growing readers” (Braxton, 2014). Please share any activities you have used to encourage children to read in the comments below.

Happy birthday, Harry Potter!

June 26th marked the 20th anniversary of the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was published ten years later in 2007, bringing the adventures of the boy wizard to a conclusion. During that period, the popularity of the series grew as it was embraced by children and adults. The seven books have resulted in eight films, a range of computer games, a stage production (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), a fan website (Pottermore) and several theme parks. Fans have come together to form the Harry Potter Alliance. With chapters around the world, this organisation uses principles from the books to promote activism, especially amongst youth.

Levioso! (With thanks to Harry Potter Wiki)

Harry Potter Series

Potter by L. Whittaker: CC BY-NC 2.0

Whilst it is widely acknowledged that the Harry Potter series has played a significant role in encouraging children to read, there has been criticism about the quality of J. K. Rowling’s writing (Dickenson, 2017). The first three books won numerous awards, many of which were judged by children. However, as the series became increasingly popular, the debate around the books as works of literature began. The issue I have with this is that critics assess the writing using adult standards and tastes (Dickenson, 2017). They also judge the books in terms of the educational value they have rather than the pleasure they bring the children who read them.

Grim news….critics slate the Harry Potter series

This, of course, brings us back to the issue of reading for pleasure, which I explored in an earlier post. Many popular children’s writers have experienced the same criticism that has been levelled at J. K. Rowling. This is intellectual snobbery at work (Gaiman, 2013); by downplaying the value of Harry Potter, high culture can once again be presented as superior and pop culture as trash. This attitude ignores the passion and delight children feel for the series and for the characters within the books. It also downplays the richness of the world that J. K. Rowling has created (Dickenson, 2017), as well as her ability to create page-turning plots. As with other popular books and series, adults are still telling children what to read rather than respecting their choices. Yet again, reading for pleasure is being sidelined in the name of raising standards.

Despite adult criticism, children love Harry Potter

Reading Harry Potter

Hermionivy by Jeremy Hiebert: CC BY-NC 2.0

Perhaps it’s time to accept Harry Potter as a entertaining read that has been, and continues to be, the first step into the world of reading for many children.

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.

Picture Books About 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.