Reflecting Realities – Expecting more from the shelf
At CLPE we have a library of more than 23,000 titles of the best in children’s literature and they sit at the heart of our building and of our work. Literature is central to our professional development programme and is a core feature of all our resources and teaching materials because we have always believed it should be at the core of the primary school experience.
We have always passionately advocated for this because we know that children who are confident readers and enjoy reading are more likely to enjoy academic success. We also know that reading supports children to develop emotional, social and mental resilience, which are all key to ensuring better life chances. Switching children onto reading and keeping them switched on is therefore a moral imperative.
Over the last 15 years of delivering the Power of Reading we have had the privilege of experiencing first-hand the transformative power of books for pupils and teachers alike. From children begging teachers to carry on reading through lunch breaks, to whole classes - including the adults - tearfully consoling one another at key points in a character’s journey, to children who never voluntarily picked up a book only to then plead for books for Christmas, the anecdotes are awe-inspiring and never-ending. Our Reflecting Realities study was underpinned by this core purpose. A key part of switching children onto books is rooted in sourcing books that speak to them. Along the path towards becoming engaged readers, children need to encounter a rich and varied books that they are able to connect with, books that both affirm their sense of self and broaden their perspectives.
The publication of our Reflecting Realities study was met with tremendous interest, overwhelming support and a wide range of reflections and commentary. Moving forward we hope to continue our work with publishers and all stakeholders to ensure that all children have access to a wide and varied range of quality literature. As part of this work, we will encourage anyone working with or using children’s books to resist the tendency to view the bookshelf as finite. There is a misconception that there are the demand for a broader range of books is in some way at the expense of the existing books. Bookshelves provide infinite portals to worlds that feed our hearts, minds and souls. J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit can sit just as comfortably on the shelf alongside Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone. The lessons that the humble seed teach the reader in Pat Hutchins’ classic Titch are no more or less valuable than those in Sam Boughton’s new book The Extraordinary Gardener.
Exploring the entire spectrum of emotions, dilemmas and life experiences using anthropomorphism as a device has embedded some authors and their works firmly into the DNA of our childhood and reader identity. Classics like Richard Adams Watership Down have inspired contemporary classics like Richard Kurti’s Monkey Wars, both are set in very different places but both speaks to the complexities of social dynamics, the fragility of our societal structures and the extent to which power can corrupt. Similarly, the influence of classics that have long sat on classroom shelves across the country such as Martin Waddell’s Owl Babies and Sam McBratney’s Guess How Much I Love You are evident in contemporary classics like Alexis Deacon’s Croc and Bird and Chris Haughton’s A Bit Lost. They all explore universal themes of love, friendship, family and connection, and the shelves would be a much sadder place without them.
Our study is not about replacing these or any other books. It is about expecting more from the shelf and expecting better for all children. All children deserve to have access to a world of books that speak to them as individuals, enrich their sense of self and broaden their perspective, setting them on the path to becoming life-long readers and enjoying all of the benefits that this affords.