Over the past couple of years I have seen posts on Twitter asking for recommendations for books to use as class readers, some even stating on a Saturday that they need it for the Monday. I have also seen World Cup of Books held which contain books that the teacher has not yet read (one even won), even one where a book had not yet been published (and yes, it won).
Following different conversations recently with a few high profile booky tweeters including Simon Smith (@smithsmm) and Mat Tobin (@Mat_at_Brookes) about the suitability of books (including picture books) for different age groups, I feel the need to put it in writing.
I do understand the need for recommendation requests from teachers new to year groups or new to teaching. Trainees and NQTs cannot possibly be as widely read as more experienced teachers. However, this needs to be planned for and advice sought well before the book is needed.
There are many, many lists of recommended books out there. Some schools have reading spines, key books for each year group to cover during the year, either as class readers or for novel study. These are good places to start looking.
Approach these with some caution though. What works for one Y5 class may not work for another. What works for one teacher does not work for another. We do not all like the same things. You really need to know your class. If you need a book for a new class in September, speak to the previous teacher about the children, ask for suggestions or choose one you know has nothing contentious or highly emotive in it to start off the year.
When the new curriculum came out and expectations were rightly raised, many took that to mean KS3 texts could be brought into UKS2 and Y6 books would now be used in Y4. In some cases this is appropriate, however challenging the children to be better readers does not necessarily mean giving them more complex emotional themes to delve into. There are some books that may be fine as individual recommendations to children you know can cope with these or want to read something with a character they can identify with from their own family, but would not work as a class reader and may trigger some children or be beyond others. There are so many books to choose from, ranging from older classics to newly published. There are enough out there that are challenging without adding in more mature themes.
An example where care is needed is Who Let the Gods Out by Maz Evans. An exciting read and even more enjoyable if you have a good knowledge of the Greek Myths. That really helps the reader to understand the humour. Another plus for the book is that it tackles the issue of dementia. However, without doing work on this with the class alongside the read, or even beforehand, I personally feel it is too big an issue for many children, especially LKS2, to face when hearing it as a class reader, as some may not have heard of dementia, whilst some may have personal experience of relatives with dementia and know a great deal.
Another example is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. An amazing book. Yes, we teach children who have lost parents and who are struggling with their emotions around this issue, just like the main character. I lost my mum when I was 14. I know I would not want my emotions laid bare in front of my classmates, as I know they would have been, if that had been read aloud to us. Personally, I feel this is a KS3 text although there may be individuals you teach in UKS2 who you know it would be ok for.
It all needs careful unpicking, which is why knowledge of the books and your class is key. Do not read a book to your class you have not read yourself. There are other opportunities for unpicking texts and deep conversations around the themes. Yes, there will be emotions tied up in reading books, investment in the characters and storyline, but for the purposes of class readers they should not be deeply, deeply personal ones that could trigger a meltdown.
Know the books, know your class and choose wisely – a class read should be an enjoyable, immersive experience for you and the children.