Sam, says his increasingly exasperated mother, doesn’t like reading. No matter how hard she tries, she can’t make him read anything. All he does when he gets home is play on his iPad** and watches YouTube,*** she complains, and every book he brings home from the library is a non-fiction book about transport. Or animals. Why can’t he choose a nice fiction book, she wonders?
We all know a Sam, or even a class of Sams. How can we help Sam’s mother have a son who reads? Well, first of all, Sam does read. Sam reads books about transport and animals, he reads messages from his friends on-line, he reads the signs on the way to school, he reads in class, he reads his friends as they react to his latest joke, he reads the advertisements in the mall… the list is endless. We need to show Sam that we see him as a reader, to give him the message that he is a reader, that every day he is decoding, infering, understanding and enjoying reading words, in whatever form they come.
But Sam’s mother wants him to read books, novels, fiction, literature, for she knows that by enjoying a wide variety of reading material, he is increasing his life chances in all sorts of ways, that go far beyond academic achievement in school (and warrants a blog in itself – next time!) Sam’s mother is not alone in wanting this for Sam. All of us who work in school understand the importance of encouraging a love of reading for pleasure and relaxation, as well as for purpose and skill.
For the second year running, I have been leading a group of teachers and librarians from across Dubai as part of a large research project being run by the Open University in the UK, in association with the UKLA. We are one of over hundred of such groups which are run throughout the UK and beyond by people who are passionate about developing a Reading for Pleasure (RfP) pedagogy in their school communities. Our work is underpinned by some fascinating and compelling research that was conducted by Professor Teresa Cremin, amongst others, which found that in order to embed RfP we need to move beyond extrinsic rewards, one-off events, competitions, reading records and vibrant reading corners and exciting displays. “These often-colourful spaces overtly indicate to parents, governors, [school] inspectors and the children that the school values reading. But is this institutional demonstration of community enough?”1 she asks. We need to start by instilling an intrinsic motivation to read for pleasure, to help children choose to read “for themselves at their own pace, with whom they choose and in their own way.”2 From this reconceptualising of reading as a practice that comes from within, comes strong, vibrant, meaningful communities of readers. Then it becomes a shared practice, which involves not just teachers and pupils, but parents and the wider school community. This process takes time, and our projects to establish strong reading relationships are in their infancy, but the teachers and librarians who are taking part in the research are finding a new joy in reading some incredible new children’s literature and developing their own pedagogical practice.
But what of Sam? How will this encourage him to discover the joys of getting lost in a book? This week, the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals longlists were published3. As the most prestigious and longest running awards in children’s literature in the UK the books on these lists are a pretty good place to start when searching for the best books to recommend. The Carnegie Medal recognises the best writing for children published this year, while the Greenaway Medal is given for illustration. This year at Hartland, both the children and our Teachers Reading Group will be taking part in the shadowing programme which runs alongside the judging process for the Medals. We will be reading the nominated books at the same time as the judges, following their judging criteria to determine our own winners. The impact that shadowing has on the children who take part is quite remarkable; their engagement with the books, and the seriousness with which they take their role as shadow judges is indicative of how this reading culture is permeating throughout the school. Last year, we avidly watched the livestream of the awards ceremony, and waited with bated breath to find out whether our winners had won overall. The breadth and scope of the books on the list – from verse novels to YA fiction, from picture books to illustrated novels for older children – means that there is something for everyone – even for Sam.
But the real joy is in discovering these books together, in sharing our own excitement and delight, or even disappointment and dislike, for the titles on the lists. As we know too well, our children model our own behaviour, so when we read, they read. So, what about rediscovering the joy of children’s literature together as a way to encourage Sam, and those like him, to reawaken the reading spirit which lies within? Katherine Rundell, in her little gem of a book, catchily titled Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise, writes “When you read children’s books, you are given the space to read again as a child: to find your way back, back to the time when new discoveries came daily and when the world was colossal, before your imagination was trimmed and neatened, as if it were an optional extra.” 4 What a thrilling prospect! The books on the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway longlists open up a world of new discoveries – even for our video-game, Netflix generation of Sams – and contain within them places and emotions and experiences which will take the reader on wild and fantastical adventures which are more powerful and life enhancing than one could even dream of.
About Mary Rose Grieve
Mary-Rose has been the Librarian at Hartland International School almost since the school opened IN 2015. In 2019 she was presented with first place in the School Librarian of the Year award by the Emirates Literature Foundation.