You have a paltry book budget and limited shelf space so how do you know that this book will be worth every penny and each millimetre? You want to be able to look at your shelves in a year’s time and see books that have inspired, excited and motivated readers; you need books that are going to make a difference to your pupils.
I am lucky; I work with a dedicated team who read and review a mountain of advance copies to find those gems that will make a difference and to scrutinise each one for quality, content and reading level. It is a monumental task but every time we finish our annual catalogue we have become experts on a whole new year of children’s publishing. You can ask me anything:
Best new rhyming picture book to entertain Yr1?
‘You Can’t Take an Elephant on the Bus’ (Best Picture Books Reception - Yr1)
Most fun new book for Yr3?
‘Sir John the (Mostly) Brave’ (John Smith is not Boring) (Best New Books Yr3)
Best new Accessible book for Yr4?
‘Wilf the Mighty Worrier Saves the World’ (Best New Books Yr4)
Best new book to broaden the reading of a confident reader in Yr6?
‘Stonebird’ (Best New Books for Transition)
Best new book to keep Yr5 boys interested in reading?
‘Henry Hunter and the Beast of Snagov’ (Best New Books Yr5)
Actually it took me ages to choose just one book to answer these questions and each time I found myself thinking ‘It depends on the child’. For your bookshelves to make a difference you need a variety of great books to meet each need so here are 10 tips for finding them:
- Love reading children’s fiction so much that you fall asleep with ‘The Nowhere Emporium’ on your pillow.*
- Don’t rely on Amazon reviews, they are mostly written by parents crowing about how much their 6 year old loves Tolkien.
- Similarly be prepared to be creative with the recommendations of publishers and bookshops, their core customers are the small percentage of the public who regularly buy books and your classrooms are likely to be far more representative than that.
- Only buy books that have great characters in them, honestly what is the point of one that does not?
- You won’t promote progress by packing your shelves with sets and series. We all know that when children like a book they love to work their way through many more just the same and also that this can be a quick and cheap way to buy books. Unfortunately while we are thrilled that they are enjoying reading these children have spent the last year reading nothing but Rainbow Magic or Beast Quest. Their reading has stagnated, lacks any breadth at all and perhaps worst of all when they run out of enthusiasm for a series they can find it difficult to engage with something new.
- Know what you already have in your school and what kind of books you need to source to make a significant contribution to reading progression.
- Try before you buy, go to the library with a list or sit on the floor in the bookshop and start reading. This way you will know what the text level is, if it is the type of book you are looking for and if there are any content concerns. I have lost count of the number of times I have got half way through a book only to realise that I have already got six others just like it or that some inappropriate language has been introduced. *I know you don’t have time that’s why number 1 is so important.
- It is better to be an effective skim reader than to read the first two chapters and assume that the rest will be the same. I would recommend reading the first couple of chapters carefully and then skimming for new characters and high points in the dramatic tension. Careful reading will help you assess the book for reading level, quality, interest and useful features and skimming will catch any swearing and inappropriate themes.
- Look for books that combine useful features, this way you end up with so much more for your money and books that make delivering the curriculum in a short time frame so much easier.
- Find books that use language beautifully. If you want your pupils to read and write well there is absolutely no substitute for immersing them in high quality fiction; also teaching grammar and literary techniques is so much easier if you have lots of examples and children come across them frequently.
Of course as crucial as all this is and as much as many teachers love children’s fiction I would not have this brilliant job if it were achievable so I would recommend focussing on number 6 and leaving the rest to us, we love it and work so hard to get it right.
We have many selections of Best Picture Books and Best New Books available for different year groups, click on the links below to view all the collections.
Written by Marcia Napp, Book Collections Manager