It’s not (just) the book

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while. A long while. I’m a member of quite a few librarian and school librarian groups and invariably, at least once a month, a question will pop up asking for a “killer” book. Either one that is perfect for reluctant readers, or one that will entice students to read, or the perfect book for boys, for grade 2, 3, 6, middle grade. There is an assumption out there that there’s a quick fix. That one book that will transform lives, transform non-readers to readers. It’s that one dose of the right drug that will make of our students little reading addicts. Firmly entrenched in the Judaeo-Christian culture of the “road to Damascus”. There is a similar culture amongst dieters and sports people. The one tablet, the one food, the one diet, the one coach.

The truth I’m afraid is more nuanced. Yes there are books that capture and imagination and hearts and minds. Just as the “Kid magician” captured that of my BWB (Blokes with Books) last year. But I think once the flame is kindled with a book, the fire needs to be continually fed in order to keep burning.

Since I’m giving a session at the AFCC I was asked to provide a book list so that the books could be available after the session for parents and students to purchase. So on Friday I asked my blokes to write down the top 3 books that they’ve read in the last few months. When they’d done that some grumbled that 3 wasn’t enough, so I let them also add “the ones that got away”.  I’ve just gotten around to analysing the list. Now a list is a list prima facie, unless you have a very good feel for what is going on in the school and the environment it would be very easy to misinterpret this list and think that there was something special about the books.  Yes, each of the books selected by the 21 boys have merit, but there is more.

  1. The top books are books with “cult status“.  I deliberately said they couldn’t choose “Wimpy kid” because it’s already at the top of my “top 10 fiction” lists each month. It’s also the book that everyone always mentions as a panacea to reluctant readers. We know that, let’s move on. So in our top books we find the series of “Storey Treehouse” (Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton). Then comes Harry Potter (JK Rowling) – who is still making his mark, followed by Amulet (Kazu Kibuishi) and Conspiracy 365 (Gabrielle Lord).
  2. The next set of books are very special. Mainly because I KNOW they were teacher read-alouds to various classes. This I think is very important. Yes they are great books, I know because I recommended them to the various teachers. But they aren’t always the easiest books to read independently. These include Because of Mr. Terupt, Pax, Wonder and City of Ember. I cannot over emphasize the importance of teachers reading books aloud to their classes. Particularly “first in the series” books.
  3. The following set shows the power of carefully selected books for national or regional book awards. In this instance the “Red Dot Book Awards” run by the ISLN. Of the selection for 2016/7: Secrets of Singapore; Confessions of an Imaginary Friend; The Thing about Jelly Fish; Blackthorn Key; Bronze and Sunflower; and Circus Mirandus; made the lists. Once again, these are books that students probably wouldn’t naturally gravitate towards, but which have received a lot of publicity in the school, we have at least 6 copies of each which means they’re more widely available and read and talked about.
  4. The power of author visits. During the past year we’ve had the authors of these titles, and it’s shown clearly in their popularity: Sherlock Sam, Secrets of Singapore / Danger Dan.
  5. The rest. What is so interesting about the list is that 21 boys selected 36 different titles in their top 3 lists and a further 10 titles in their “ones that got away”. I really like that. It shows an increasing maturity in reading and a diversity in taste and choice.

The complete list can be found here:

BWB favourites


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