I was excited to see the study of Literary Themes highlighted as a tool to help children develop their understanding of literature in the new English curriculum. Reading a variety of texts which explore a common theme or idea is a powerful way to identify the different styles and techniques used by authors and to compare and contrast the responses of different characters.
This was exciting because I could see the learning potential for this idea and I knew that I could make some really fantastic Literary Theme book collections that could help teachers deliver this potential. I never doubt how lucky I am to have a job reading and assessing books for schools but I do sometimes miss the excitement of the classroom. Here was an idea which enabled me to use some of the best children’s books I have read and almost taste the buzz they would create in classrooms.
Now what themes to choose? The new curriculum had some suggestions: ‘The Triumph of Good over Evil’ and ‘The Use of Magical Devices in Fairy Stories and Folk Tales’ for lower KS2; and ‘Loss’ and ‘Heroism’ for Upper KS2.
Fairy tales themes provided rich pickings and they are often used to great effect in both traditional and modern literature which provides us with a nice contrast between the two. The selection of books available is wonderful, featuring humour, peril, intrigue, fantastical magic, and an array of evil foes and true heroes. The wide range of books and the variety of hugely successful films and musicals with fairy tale themes added to the appeal for children and teachers. These were going to be great book collections.
I also wanted to create some Literary Theme collections that speak to children about their own experiences in the real world. The books have to come first so I went back to our library to find the stand out titles, the books that linger long after you have read them and that come back to you when you hear a news story or when you encounter a new experience yourself or through a friend. Fiction has the power to express and inform human experience and there is a wide variety of age-appropriate children’s books that do this exquisitely. I looked at different types of loss experienced by children and the experiences of children moving to Britain and found these themes to provide a superb range of high-quality titles.
Books really need to deserve their place in a Literary Theme collection. If you are going to be using them to explore the craft of writing and want to make the most of your classes’ study of the characters, plot, style and techniques then it is important that the books do not just share a theme but are also well written. Selecting high-quality titles for these collections means that your readers are not just identifying themes and comparing different titles but are also extending their vocabulary, developing their comprehension and widening their experience of literature at the same time.
These collections took time to put together but it was fun and immensely satisfying, for those of you wanting to do the same I wish you many happy hours in the library, you won’t regret a minute of it.
To view our full range of Literary Theme collections please click here.
Written by Marcia Napp, Book Collections Manager