I have just finished reading two brilliant books; The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and The Happiness of Kati by Jane Vejjajiva. I can't wait to see what a couple of keen readers in Year 6 make of them. I am fortunate to have spent my whole career in education reading, collecting and enjoying children's books. One of my greatest pleasures is sharing good children's books with others--pupils, colleagues, parents--in fact, anyone who will listen. I discovered in my first year of teaching that, for a primary teacher, knowledge of children's books is not just a matter of personal interest; it is an essential element of being an effective teacher of literacy, especially at key stage 2.
As teachers of English, I expect most colleagues reading this article will be in agreement that high quality children's books are a vital part of literacy learning yet there still seems to be many primary classrooms where reading materials are offered according to some arbitrary method of levelling. In addition there is a general lack of understanding about the functional role of children's books in the teaching of reading. Effective teachers of reading need much more than knowledge of the skills and cueing systems which young readers employ, they also need an extensive knowledge of children's literature. Recent research into teachers as readers suggests that all teachers of reading should, as a professional requirement, be readers of children's books (see Teachers as Readers: Phase 1 Research Report for UKLA Web by T. Cremin, E. Bearne, M. Mottram, P. Goodwin, 2008).
Our priority as primary practitioners is to teach our pupils:
* how to read;
* about reading;
* about being a reader.
In order to do this, we need to organise explicit teaching of the processes and purposes of reading and the more implicit experiences that enable individuals to become motivated, independent readers. For both aspects, sound knowledge of books is essential. The most effective methods of teaching--reading aloud to children, shared and guided reading--all require personal knowledge of the text, as does making recommendations of books to be read by newly independent readers. As Aidan Chambers pointed out in 1993, all teachers of reading need a 'store' of at least 500 books that they can rely on at to support youngsters in becoming enthusiastic readers (see 'The Difference of Literature: Writing Now for the Future of Young Readers', in Children's Literature in Education, Vol. 24, No 1).
At this point in this article, I must admit that it is unrealistic to expect any teacher to know hundreds of books. Even if we regularly update ourselves, we will never know enough. For this reason, all primary teachers should seek out the local Schools' Library Service (SLS) wherever possible. If no SLS is available, befriend a children's librarian or find an independent children' bookshop. Librarians will not only give advice about books, they will also offer information about children's publishing, journals and websites, which is invaluable when seeking good ideas for the next book to read aloud or books to support young readers.
Reading aloud to children
Perhaps the most important choices teachers make are the books we will read aloud to our classes. Reading aloud to children delivers powerful and effective learning. It also motivates; having emotions stirred or becoming engrossed in a story creates expectations of pleasure from future encounters with books. We must read from all text types--non-fiction as well as poetry and stories--though some would argue that narrative fiction is paramount; it certainly is the most engaging for the majority of listeners. Children captivated by a story, have their imaginations triggered and they can experience total absorption that being 'lost in a book' can produce. No matter what age they are, reading aloud to pupils will enable them to understand meanings more deeply and to tackle more complex ideas than they could by reading to themselves. …