“We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves”
Author, Neil Gaiman
So often, once children have learned to read independently, they stop being read to, both in the home and in schools. In Primary schools, storytime for our Key Stage 2 pupils is certainly under threat, but this time is so valuable that we have to protect it at all costs.
Reading books to children that are beyond their own reading level is one of the best ways we have to inspire their love of literature. Leading them into a world of stories, inspiring them to keep moving forwards with their own reading journeys and compelling them to choose reading over screen-time, as Jim Trelease says “Technology may save space, weight, and time, but there is no science showing that it will save children’s minds.”
During these storytimes, teachers should try to resist the temptation to test children on the author’s choice of vocabulary, story structure or examples of curriculum grammar. Storytime is just not the place for it. Of course, through listening to stories, children will naturally be hearing more sophisticated vocabulary, broadening their horizons, developing empathy and stretching their imaginations. Just by reading to them, without teacher-led analysis, children will want to talk about the book. These conversations should flow naturally around the class, just as they would with any group of friends talking about the books they love, and this is the really magic moment – when the children are buzzing with excitement from the story and you know they are hooked!
When it comes to selecting books for storytime, teachers should find rich, varied books with diverse characters which will spark their interest. Include a range of genres and themes, including those which tackle complex issues and think carefully about new books that will appeal to our children today as well as the tried and tested classics.
We must make storytime a special part of the school day, every day, for all children in our care. With this in mind we have put together a list of some of our favourite stories to read (with passion and prosody!) to children aged 7-9:
Uncle Shawn and Bill by A. L. Kennedy illustrated by Gemma Correll
A. L. Kennedy has crafted a ridiculous riot of a book. The book begins with Bill the badger having a very bad evening where he finds himself in a scratchy and horrible bag. You will be glad to hear Bill is from a long line of brave and resourceful badgers. You will be even more glad to know that Uncle Shawn, who loves rescuing things has a plan. A. L. Kennedy has a wild sense of humour and she does not patronise young readers, the illustrations add to the immediacy of the storytelling and the short chapters are an easy 5 or so minutes read each. Perfect!
Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman illustrated by Chris Riddell
Mum has gone to a conference, so dad is ‘in charge’. Dad goes out to get some milk – but he is ages! When he finally returns, he tells a tale so outlandish and ridiculous that we have no choice but to believe him. In Neil Gaiman’s shaggy dog story, dad encounters a time travelling stegosaurus called Professor Steg, aliens with very strong opinions, dinosaur galactic police on space bikes, a god called Spod and some brightly coloured ponies as well as a host of other characters. Throughout his wild caper dad keeps his cool and fortunately he keeps hold of the milk! Chris Riddell’s coloured illustrations add to the comedy and fun of the book.
Mr. Gum by Andy Stanton illustrated by David Tazzyman
Mr Gum is a bad man. He’s absolutely grimsters. In this series of books a girl called Polly and her friend Friday try to stop Mr Gum doing devious, dreadful and unlikely acts of complete badness. Full of surreal events and wonderful catch phrases: The truth is a lemon meringue, Andy Stanton has created a vibrant world of unusual characters that defy all convention. Enjoy these Monty Pythonesque romps and introduce your class to a series of books about a bad man whose bad actions are constantly foiled in very surprising ways.
Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell
There is no doubt as to why this book won so many awards when it was published in 2007: it is beautifully pitched for children ages 7+, has a feisty heroin called Ottoline and a mystery that needs to be solved. Ottoline has an interesting home life, her parents are often away so she is cared for by a creature called Mr Monroe who is from a bog in Norway. He is also a master of disguise, which comes in very handy when the two of them investigate a dog-napping ring of criminals. With incredible illustrations interwoven and indeed telling the story, this book is a delight to read and share.
Planet Omar by Zanib-Mian illustrated by Nasaya Mafaridik
This cartoon-style book is full of wit and full-on laughs. So funny that you ‘will laugh so hard that snot will come flying out of your nose’ proclaims the author!! Omar is a small kid with a massive imagination. He has just moved to a new house and started at a new school and is navigating that world the best he can. The trouble is that Omar is trouble. He can’t help it! Eid is coming up and Omar can’t wait to eat all his favourite food and get presents, but to do so Mum and Dad say he needs to keep out of trouble… Winner of Little Rebels Award in June 2018.
Little Badman and the Invasion of the Killer Aunties by Humza Arshad and illustrated by Henry White
Humza Khan AKA Little Badman is an amazing Rapper (in his mind!). He is destined for fame and internet glory. That is until something even more mind-boggling happens. One day Humaza’s teacher is taken ill and is replaced with one of his Aunties! The children are taught through a curriculum of sweets and carb heavy foods and soon they are groaning with delight. As more teachers become ill and more Aunties take their place Little Badman becomes suspicious and begins to investigate. Funny, silly and a rollicking read. Treat your class to Little Badman.
Wisp a story of Hope by Zana Fraillon and Illustrated by Grahame Baker Smith
Nominated for the 2020 CILIP Greenaway Medal, the picture book Wisp is lyrical a read. Idris is a child who lives in a refugee camp, he knows nothing of the world outside the tents and fences, until ‘wisp’ appears. Whoever ‘wisp’ touches regains their memories and these memories become a collective hope. Read to find out what happens when the wisp touches Idris.
There’s no Such Thing as a Snappenpoop by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Matt Saunders
Sibling rivalry is a common theme in children’s books as Jeanne Wills knows well. She says, ‘Big Brother always plays the best games. But the best game of all was…… not letting Little Brother join in!’ But Little Brother will do anything to join in with Big Brother, so Big Brother sets a challenge: bring me a Snappenpoop and then I will play with you. Big Brother knows Little Brother will never succeed as there is no such thing as a Snappenpoop! Little Brother hauls a myriad of beasts for his brother and none of them are the Snappenpoop. Big Brother is smug. But in a final twist Little Brother is successful and Big Brother gets his comeuppance!
Ada Twist Scientist by Andrea Beatty and illustrated by David Roberts
A picture book for slightly older children addressing the idea that, with the right support behind you, you can achieve anything no matter who you are or what your starting point is. Ada isn’t like other children, she doesn’t talk to start with. But once she starts, she has so many questions! Her harried parents try to answer them all, but Ada is a natural scientist and her curiosity requires experiments to provide answers! The story is told using rich vocabulary and in rhyming verse with hilarious illustrations to match.
The Promise by Nicola Davies
A beautifully poignant picture book for older children which inspires the belief that a relationship with nature is essential to every human being. The arresting illustrations powerfully communicate emotion and mood. A thought provoking book that will stay with children long after they have heard it.