A love of reading for life

As a teacher, I know that getting students to read, read and read some more is one of the most important factors in determining a student’s success at school: as a parent, I know that, in this age of technology and constant distraction, it is also one of the hardest things to do.

As reading lead in my current role, I spend a large proportion of my time extolling the virtues of reading for pleasure and selling the immeasurable impact it can have on a child’s success. Sadly, this is getting harder and harder. I want students to voraciously consume and devour texts; some do, but sadly, that number is decreasing.

One of the biggest obstacles to finding that spark that a love of reading that, once generated, creates an appetite that can’t be satisfied, with students, like flesh hungry zombies, searching for their next meal, is finding the right book. I find myself constantly saying to students who say ‘I don’t like reading – it’s not my thing’ that they just haven’t found the right book. Reading is like food – it keeps us alive, it energises us, it heals us, it sustains us and it nurtures us. And who can live without food? Anyone who is not a lover of food (Do such people exist? Well, pot noodles and pop tarts are big sellers!) just hasn’t eaten the right meal.

Choice is a great thing and our libraries and bookshops are stocked with a plethora of books for young people. However, too much choice can be debilitating, inhibiting; it can prevent young people choosing anything at all due to the overwhelming amount of books out there, especially those targeting teenage and young adult readers.

Furthermore, our live fast and immediate gratification generation has less patience that we did as children. Too often I hear students say ‘I read the first couple of pages and it was a bit dull’. I tell them that it’s like walking out of a film after the first minute. So, my challenge, and your challenge, as parents or teachers, is to point these students towards books that will gratify, that will keep them interested for long enough for them to develop the resilience and patience of an avid reader. Something that will teach them that books take time but they resonate for much longer, weedling into your thoughts over breakfast or in the queue at the supermarket, making you think, changing your ideas, thoughts, perceptions and beliefs.

I’ve just realised that I’ve waffled on for a bit but this is a passion of mine. To get to the point, my intention is to provide anyone who visits this blog with some tried and tested books to engage reluctant readers. How do I know they are good? I have been running book clubs for years, I have made it my mission to only ever recommend anything that I have read, I have followed the Carnegie Shadowing scheme for years and religiously read the books on their shortlist, I run the tutor reading scheme at our school where students read about 10 books per year in tutor time so I have done a little groundwork, so you don’t have to. I have read books I feel little for, I have cried like a baby on a bus in Barcelona, I have argued with students (constructively) about why I loved or hated a book and I have guided many heated debates among young people about the books that we have read. But most of all, I have searched for books that would have had me at 12, 13 or 14, sneaking a torch into my room, so I could continue reading under the covers into the small hours.

Enough about me and why I think that reading is great – let’s get to the books. I will only ever post anything that I recommend or those that have gone down really well with the students that I share the books with. I will also recommend roughly what age they are appropriate for, but not by reading ability, but the content and ideas explored.

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

Very much a young adult ‘crossover’ and one which you could read with your child (12+). Yes, it is harrowing in places and it will make you cry but it is beautifully written and it will resonate with you for a long time.

If you don’t know the story, it is about a young girl called Leisel who is taken in by the Hubermanns during World War II. At the beginning of the novel she is illiterate but she acquires a book – The Gravedigger’s Handbook – which she uses to learn to read and ignite the spark of passion for reading which drives her throughout the novel.

This book is poignant and powerful; due to the very nature of the context, World War II and the Holocaust, it is deeply moving in places but it is also a book full of love, hope and friendship. Told from the perspective of death, it is a beautifully written coming of age story that will teach young people, inspire them and stay with them for a long time afterwards.

An absolute must read for anyone – don’t bother with the film.

Where the World Ends – Geraldine McCaughrean

Another great novel by McCaughrean whose mastery of capturing disparate communities is second to none.

I love this author and she can do no wrong in my eyes. Too many authors of fiction aimed at younger readers talk down to them and patronise them somewhat – not McCaughrean. Her books are consistently challenging, thought provoking and she refuses to pull any punches.

This novel won the Carnegie Award in 2018 (I called it) despite it being a year of such high quality, including Angie Thomas’ The Hate You Give. It was my winner due to the original storyline, beautifully drawn characters and evocative description of the setting.

Based on true story it is about a community eking out their existence on the island of Kirta, 40 miles west of the Outer Hebrides, out in the middle of the North Sea.

Every year, in order to survive, the men of the village, journey to a remote sea stac to hunt the birds which nest there, for food, feathers, and oil. The boat to come and pick them up doesn’t arrive, so they are trapped on the sea stac for 9 months, enduring terrible storms, starvation and paranoia which tests their relationships, their determination to survive and their resolve.

Seen through the eyes of Quill, who sets out as a boy and returns as a changed man, it is a novel full of hope and friendship but has moments of brutality and horror, as they struggle against the most powerful character in the novel – the sea.

I promise my next post will be just about the books now that I have set out my stall. Please let me know if there are any books you feel passionately that I should read so we can recommend for young people.

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