by Charlotte Hacking
At the CLPE, we are passionate about placing high quality literature at the heart of all learning. But this doesn’t just mean physical books; well-chosen magazines, newspapers and comics can be key in engaging children in reading for purpose and pleasure.
As with physical books, there is a lot out there for schools to select from, so it’s just as important to look at the selection available with the same discerning eyes as you would with books when selecting titles for your classrooms and library.
There are many magazines and comics whose key purpose is to engage children with reading for pleasure. Storytime and Scoop are two of the best examples of these. They have thought about their target markets carefully and have planned content and selected narratives, with high quality illustrations that go beyond just being decorative or merely representing the content and articles, that meet the needs and interests of their intended readerships. Storytime is perfect for sharing in Key Stage 1 classrooms, showcasing a range of traditional tales and twists on tales with ideas for creative activities that enable children’s deeper understanding such as visualisation through drawing. Scoop takes this approach into Key Stage 2 with high quality authors, poets and illustrators such as John Agard, Vivian French, Jamie Smart and Ben Newman contributing stories and non-fiction pieces to engage children’s interests on a variety of topics and subjects, themed by issue.
Comics are and have always been many children’s preferred independent reading choice. There can be a certain amount of snobbery over these; Neil Gaiman, in his Reading Agency lecture in 2013, remarked ‘Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy.’ Far from it. Building reading stamina is often interpreted as children reading quickly and reading longer novels but comics, as with graphic novels and picturebooks, actually do work on building real reading stamina, slowing reading down to allow children to really take in what they are reading and seeing additional detail in the illustration, leading to a deeper level of comprehension.
Find out more about visual literacy with our Power of Pictures research.
The better the quality of storyline and illustration, the better the reading experience, so choose high quality examples such as The Phoenix, who draw on some of the best comic artists and illustrators around. Stories in series, such as Neill Cameron and Cate Brown’s Tamsin and the Deep, leave children itching to read the next issue. Strips such as Adam Murphy’s Corpse Talk also make links across the curriculum, engaging children in finding out about the lives (and deaths!) of key historical figures. David Fickling Books, who produce The Phoenix have also collected full sets of the narratives of some of the strips in books in their The Phoenix Presents series. Neill Cameron has also written How to Draw Comics in this series, encouraging children to see that making their own comics is a valuable way of telling stories of their own in words and pictures.
It’s also important to include magazines and newspapers that expand children’s knowledge of the world and recent events. Children are becoming aware of the ‘fake news’ culture at earlier ages and high quality publications such as The Week Junior and First News judiciously pick stories that broaden children’s knowledge of local and world news in engaging ways. In our increasingly visual world, the skill of analysing and interpreting images is essential for children. (From the Power of Pictures 2019 Interim Report). The Week Junior’s weekly debate engages children in critical thinking, sharing both sides of an argument and inviting children to vote on what side they agree with and why. It’s an excellent example of how to present a balanced argument to inspire children’s own writing too.
There are also many magazines that can help to broaden children’s understanding of curriculum content. Two of the best examples are Okido and Aquila. Okido engages 3-7 year olds in a range of activities that promote artistic and scientific understanding. They’ve researched their concepts well and present the information clearly, without ever being patronising, so that children can understand some complicated concepts clearly and engage with these practically in easy to carry out experiments. Aquila takes this concept and the quality of research around concepts through to Key Stage 2 and also contains activities and articles that broaden children’s understanding of English and Maths.
Specific publications that tap into children’s personal interests and recognise popular culture can also be useful additions, perhaps individually rather than as a subscription. In Early Years classrooms, some of the CBeebies programme tie-ins can encourage the youngest readers to engage with print and higher up the school, specific magazines that link to particular children’s interests, such as Angling Times, Airliner World or specific sports or craft magazines can be exceptionally engaging for children with definite fascinations or hobbies outside of school. If you are drawing from magazines published for a wider audience, always read these through yourself first to check their suitability.
As a teacher, do you read comics and magazines yourself? Showing that you value these as a form of reading is important in raising their status for your children and parents too. You can use these to extend your knowledge of other types of children’s literature by subscribing to magazines like Carousel or the digital magazine Books for Keeps.
It’s important when selecting any text for your classroom to do your research first. Look at the publication’s website for samples and to see if they offer special rates for school subscriptions or if they’ll send a trial issue for you to evaluate with your class, so you know your money will be well spent. A well-chosen selection can reap great rewards in terms of engaging readers of all ages.