I spend many hours throughout the year reading with (and to) my wonderful Year 2 pupils, and to be able to support and witness their reading progress – from dogged decoding to vibrant fluency - is one of the great joys of my job.
As these girls move through the lower school and the floodgates open into the digital world, I will be sending up a quiet prayer that they may continue to find as much wonder and excitement in the printed word as they did in their younger years. For we can all roll off the numerous benefits of reading – reducing stress, improving memory, engagement with the wider world and so forth – not to mention its constant companionship throughout one’s life (The Colour Purple - sixth form, Wuthering Heights – au pairing in France, The Remains of the Day - maternity leave with first child…), but how do we safeguard this precious resource in a world where print can be perceived as boring, and where Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram are king?
Maybe I’m worrying needlessly; even millennials have (grudgingly) acknowledged that their attention is more focused and their enjoyment heightened when they read print rather than online, and there is much evidence to suggest that the children’s book market is more buoyant than ever before. Interestingly, it’s currently the non-fiction category that’s booming, with titles such as Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo’s blockbuster Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls and its sequel both achieving phenomenal success (both, incidentally, crowdfunded on Kickstarter). There are now a plethora of fantastic books on the market focusing on female empowerment, which really capture the current zeitgeist and ‘can do, will do‘ attitude to life. Usborne has brought out a superb range of easy to read chapter books that appeal to our very young audience wanting to read more ‘grown up’ books like their older siblings, and there is so much more to capture the imagination, from graphic novels to comic strips. In fact, there are 10,000 new children’s books published each year in the UK, with David Walliams leading the way.
Meeting authors is always a winning strategy in our celebrity dominated culture, and luckily children’s book authors really know how to engage their audience; Francesca Simon (of Horrid Henry fame) visiting Queen’s was like having visiting royalty; the girls hung off her every word. And a recent visit by Abie Longstaff (The Trapdoor Mysteries) set one of my more reluctant readers on an incredible path to reading fluency; since that visit she has never looked back.
At Queen’s we’re continually striving to make reading as accessible and enticing as possible to our digital savvy girls, constantly updating our approaches. Via our brand new Reading Recommendation Booklet, available on Firefly, I’m laying down the gauntlet to all our lower school pupils to read as many books on this list as possible, publishing and uploading their book reviews, podcasts and video clips for all to enjoy. I will also be regularly reviewing this list in light of their comments and preferences.
As Stephen King has remarked, ‘Books are a uniquely portable magic’. Let’s all do our bit to keep the magic alive for our next generation.
Alison Leighton, Year 2 Teacher & Head of English, Queen’s Lower School.