Fantastic Books and Where to Find Them

Much of what I do in the classroom relies heavily on quality, authentic texts, so knowing where to find them is crucial.

Ensuring that children have access to fantastic books – whether it’s for lessons, a read aloud or simply for pleasure – is absolutely essential to inspire and build a community of lifelong readers. The use of high quality texts not just for English, but across the entire curriculum, can motivate even the most reluctant of readers.

As teachers (especially for me as an ‘early career’ teacher) it’s important to educate ourselves on children’s literature that we can use in the classroom or recommend to our budding young readers. We must first be teachers that are readers so that we can engage children in genuine book talk, develop their interests and extend their learning.

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A recent survey of over 1200 teachers (led by the Open University) found that most of us actually have very limited repertoires of children’s authors, poets and picture fiction creators and that we rely heavily upon childhood favourites and ‘celebrity’ authors. For example, only 46% of the teachers were able to name 6 children’s authors. Roald Dahl dominated the list, with Michael Morpurgo, Jaqueline Wilson and JK Rowling receiving 300 or more mentions. Even worse, only 10% of the teachers were able to name 6 poets (22% named none at all!). Michael Rosen led the list, with Alan Ahlberg, Roger McGough, Roald Dahl and Spike Milligan receiving over 150 mentions. You can watch a short video of Professor Teresa Cremin and teacher Claire Williams explain the implications of the findings and how we can address them in our teaching practice here.

The Open University’s research, in a nutshell, revealed that developing this subject knowledge enabled teachers to:

  • Engage enthusiastically and reciprocally as readers in school
  • Make one to one reader recommendations tailored to specific children
  • Articulate an informed and strategic rationale for selecting/using texts as part of their Reading for Pleasure pedagogy
  • Identify multi-layered texts that inspire and enrich literary experiences
  • Build reciprocal and interactive reader-to-reader relationships with staff and children.

You can review your own knowledge (and that of staff in your school) by completing this this handy self-review document. You will also find practical classroom strategies and a staff meeting PowerPoint to support whole school reading development on their very useful, insightful and informative website.

We all know that passion and enthusiasm is infectious and our own love of literature will inevitably rub off. This is why I think it is so important for teachers to have a say in books chosen for the library, the classroom, book corners and the curriculum. It’s important that you’re in touch with your school librarian or library lead and that your voice is heard before budgets are spent on new books.

For teaching and learning, build a bank of books that you know well and that you know work in the classroom, but don’t be afraid to try new things either. This year I used a brilliant new book by Nicola Davies, King of the Sky, and used many of the teaching sequence ideas from the CLPE to bring this learning to life for the children.

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I had no idea that my Year 5 class would gain so much from a picture book. They produced some brilliant writing as a result and were completely immersed in the topic with diary entries, debates about pigeons in London (nuisance or beloved bird?), descriptive writing, letter writing, drama and factual booklets about pigeons. I’m currently reading Piers Torday’s The Last Wild and am considering introducing it as a Guided Reading unit of work next year. I am constantly seeking new material! Of course there will always be a place for teaching ‘the classics’, but the beauty of using new books is that you can take children on that reading journey and experience the children’s delight of reading a new book or discovering a new author for the first time.

Exposing them to a breadth and depth of different genres, authors, themes and styles is key. In my year 5 class, we cover everything from Kipling’s classics to comic strips and graphic novels and there are a number of places to look if you are ever in search of brilliant new books to engage and inspire.

Here’s my handy guide of potential treasure troves to explore…

Fantastic Books and Where to Find Them

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Book Lists
There are many fabulous resources out there which break down book lists by age-group or topic. Here are just a few of my favourites:

  • The Teaching Booth Blog has an excellent resource bank of brilliant book lists, including: 100 Books To Read In Year 5 and 6 (pictured above), 100 Books To Read In Year 3 and 4, 100 Books To Read In KS1. All lists are in word format and can be edited to your liking. You can download them all here. I even printed them and made a display out of them, inspired by the wonderful display at the CLPE offices (see pics above).
  • Books for Topics have produced a wonderful list of 50 best reads for primary year groups. If you’re in search of quality texts for wider curriculum topics, their easy-to-navigate website organises texts by subject, age group and trending topics. Screen Shot 2018-07-23 at 08.11.47.png
  • The Book Trust’s list of the 100 best books for children from the last 100 years is the ultimate booklist to read before you’re 14. In 2015, a team of experts put together this list: broken down into four age bands, with 25 titles in each band.
  • TES and the National Association for the Teaching of English ran a survey to find teachers’ top 100 fiction books all children should read before leaving primary school.
  • The CLPE’s Core Booklist contains books that have been tried, tested and found to work successfully in classrooms, providing children with memorable and positive reading experiences. The Core Booklist was originally a printed publication and it was updated every two years. It is now a free, online publication which anyone can use to find the very best of current children’s literature. The collection is curated and updated by their full time, qualified librarian in partnership with teaching staff. The CLPE also gives lots of advice for teachers through their free online resourcestraining and projects. Check out their teaching sequences and free resources – an invaluable resource. Their free publication: Choosing and Using Quality Texts is also available to download from the site.
  • The UKLA Book Awards are fab for those seeking new and exciting books.
  • The National Literacy Trust has a fantastic range of book lists as part of their Young Readers Programme, including poetry, dual-language and non-fiction as well as groups separating books by age range.
  • The English Media Centre has a range of publications including some diverse shorts which are full of fantastic narratives and poetry suitable for the classroom.
  • Scholastic offers free downloadable book guides from Pie Corbett which provide invaluable support for teachers. Choose from the following downloadable resources organised by Year Group: NurseryReceptionYear 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Year 5, or Year 6.

Twitter
Twitter is great for engaging with the #readingforpleasure community. You’ll find everyone from Literacy Leaders to Librarians, authors, literacy associations, charities, book shops and book publishers hanging out in the twittersphere. When seeking suggestions, I’ve found that everyone is genuinely helpful and passionate, many jump at the chance to connect and support people looking for quality texts.

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#PrimarySchoolBookClub
If you want to go one step further, join the #primaryschoolbookclub by following @PrimarySchoolBC. It’s a fantastic online community of book enthusiasts. It is essentially a book club for teachers, TAs, heads, librarians, trainee teachers and parents that can be attended from the comfort of your own sofa, via Twitter. It’s hosted on the last day of each month from 7-8pm, led by @MrEPrimary.

Librarians
If you’re lucky enough to have a school librarian, use them! Librarians are perhaps one of the most underused resources but many librarians are incredibly knowledgeable about books and can recommend books for different age groups, genres, topics and interests. If, like me, you don’t have a librarian in school don’t be afraid to use your local library to source new material – this is also a great way of ‘trying before you buy’. You’ll be surprised at just how willing those passionate librarian folk are to share their knowledge! Better yet, take the kids to the local library and ask the librarian to talk to them about using it and encourage their parents to use it as well (homework?). You can also use the expertise of your local Schools Library Service; They have some excellent resources, such as their termly recommended best fiction and best picture book lists (categorised by key stage) and if you sign up to the website you will be emailed brand new lists directly to your mailbox each term.

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Staff in School
Find out which staff in your school are experts – I recently found out that someone in my school has a Masters in Children’s Literature, she is now my go-to-girl for book recommendations and talk. You could ask staff to bring a book to share at a staff meeting or share new books on a staff CPD wall or during INSETs. A little book blether is always a great way to kick off some training and get people talking!

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Children in School
Your own class is a fountain of knowledge. Get to know your readers – what do they like reading? What interests them? What have they read at home recently? Do they read any magazines that you might be able to subscribe to for your book corner? Have they been to their local library recently? Read any new books from the book shop? I actually keep ‘book recommendations’ postcards on our reading display that children can recommend their favourites to peers. I also have a ‘book suggestions box’ for books they would like in the class library and we often have discussions about books in class. You might be pleasantly surprised with insights about book they’ve read – they often know about new releases before I do!

Teachers’ Reading Groups
I recently blogged about my interest in the Open University and UKLA’s Reading For Pleasure Book Groups – I’ll be hosting one in Blackheath come September, for more info click here – and how connecting with other teachers in your local community is a fantastic way of building reading for pleasure communities beyond your own school. The Open University and UKLA have teamed up to run a series of Teachers’ Reading Groups and there’s been an explosion of interest across the country. Want to join a book group near you? Or maybe you’d like to start a new OU/UKLA book group in your area? Download the 2018 map of existing locations and email gina.sharp@open.ac.uk who will put you in touch with a local group leader. Email Gina and let her know. You can also look out for the #OURfP hashtag on Twitter.

RFP

Book Shops
My local bookshops (The Bookshop on the Heath and Blackheath Bookshop) are two of my favourite places to browse new books. They have an excellent children’s section and staff are always keen to share new publications with you. It’s actually where I’ll be hosting my very own Teachers’ Book Group later this year. If you want to fall in love with bookshops again, try checking out one of the 50 coolest bookshops in Britain. If I don’t have the budget, I often take a quick snap with my phone and order through school later in the week. Charity Shops are also great for bagging a few bargains, which you can usually claim back through expenses (if you have a school budget for this).

Book Sellers and Publishers
I love a conference or CPD event that involves book sellers and/or publishers. I love browsing new books and it’s especially useful if they’re selling books that are recommended on the course, or books by authors who are giving keynote speeches. You’ll find may book sellers and publishers on social media too. I try to sign up to their newsletters to keep up-to-date with children’s literature – they also have amazing competitions (for you to win author visits or books and for the kids to enter), free resources and inform you about reading related events and exhibitions too!

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Book Awards
Book Awards are a fantastic way to learn about exciting new literature and authors. You might like to have a look at the Carnegie Medal in Literature, Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, Kate Greenaway Medal, British Book Awards, British Children’s Author of the Year, British Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year, Children’s Laureate, National Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year and Waterstones Children’s Book Prize for starters!

Newsletters
Authors, bookshops, publishers, libraries, book clubs, Teachers’ Reading Group networks and Awarding bodies all have their own newsletters and social media accounts. I would advise that you follow them and sign up to as many newsletters as possible as they often include author/book competitions, interviews, books of the month, new releases and resources etc.

 

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