How many new children’s books do you think are published each year? 500? 1,000? 5,000? Not even close.
Depending on whom you believe, there are roughly 10,000 new books for children published every year in the UK. That’s an awful lot to choose from.
If you are a bookshelf-half-full sort of person, you might feel encouraged that there continues to be such a vast market for fresh material. If you are more of the library-half-empty tendency, you might worry how any school could afford to keep their book stocks current and relevant.
Either way, given so much choice, you might wonder how you could ever find the right book with the right theme around which you could build a useful topic.
That’s where we could help. Are you sitting comfortably? Then we shall begin.
Getting a child reading for pleasure
Before the arrival of TV on demand and, let’s face it, wonderfully absorbing computer games, reading was a form of entertainment. Helping young children to view books as an enjoyable pastime and a viable alternative to their other distractions is a major challenge for schools – but not an insurmountable one.
Reading can change a young person’s life
But this is much more important than just developing a love of books. An increasing body of research is laying bare just what a huge impact reading can have on life-chances. Independent reading for pleasure has been shown to be a very reliable indicator of academic success, social mobility and improved life chances.
Fact, fiction or nonfiction
No doubt you know this already but it never harms to have a reminder: don’t equate reading for pleasure with reading just fiction. Children get just as much benefit from losing themselves in good non-fiction books, including ones that don’t just focus on whatever corner of the curriculum you are covering that week. Encyclopaedias are a good example. Nevertheless, when you are choosing books for topics covered beyond the English curriculum, look for ones that encourage pupils to read outside the narrow confines of the subject matter you expect them to learn.
A novel book idea
More and more, teachers are beginning to see the potential of fiction books, not just to follow a story and hopefully expand pupils’ vocabulary at the same time. If chosen skilfully, a well-told tale can provide the stimulus for a wide range of cross-curricular learning. For example, take a look at our KS2 topic based on Roald Dahl’s classic Matilda. Through six fully-resourced lesson plans, you can use this inspirational tale as the basis for activities addressing literacy and PSHE objectives before moving on to ones that focus on science, D&T, geography and maths.
Book lists – a trusted guide
Knowing how much great children’s literature is out there, how could a busy teacher possibly be expected to have a detailed, up-to-date mental reading list of books best suited to topic work? The simple answer is, you couldn’t. You need a trusted guide to help you, which is where Teach Reading and Writing magazine comes in. Free to Plazoom subscribers, this twice-yearly magazine is packed with invaluable advice and insights, including round-ups of the best recent publications, both fiction and non-fiction. It also regularly provides book list recommendations for teaching different topics from growing up to global exploration. It can even help you identify books for guided reading that can stimulate deeper thinking and mind-stretching conversations as well as meeting all those curriculum objectives.
When choosing books for KS1 children, make sure you include ones that not only offer scope for cross-curricular learning but, most importantly, delight and excite them. For obvious reasons, there will be a strong focus on giving pupils reading books that focus on specific aspects, such as particular phonemes or letter strings. Even though the authors often do an admirable job of weaving tales based on words that meet each objective, they are nevertheless constrained in what they can write. Therefore, it makes sense to include books without such limitations as part of their regular diet of literature, especially if you can then build an engaging topic around them.
Stress-free ways to approach a children’s book
As a teacher, you have quite enough on your plate without feeling you have to create every lesson from scratch. Don’t feel guilty about drawing on other people’s work if it fits your purposes. For example, if you’re looking for books for KS2 pupils on which to build a wide-ranging topic, save yourself the effort by trying our resource based on beloved author Michael Morpurgo’s Boy Giant, which comes complete with a 12-page ideas pack.
Great book topic choices
The beauty of a good book topic is that it can provide an engaging way in which to have a conversation about potentially difficult issues safely and sensitively. Transition to secondary education can often create a whirlwind of fears and emotions for children who, just a few months previously, had enjoyed becoming the biggest fish in their pond. Based on Dr Seuss’s classic picture book, our Oh The Places You Will Go resource pack provides a wealth of activities aimed at helping upper KS2 pupils to gain an insight into their own feelings and articulate their hopes and ambitions at this watershed moment in their lives.
In a similar way, we hope that you now feel more confident about entering the world of book topics. Just remember, help is out there, if you know where to look.