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How teachers can put the right book in the right hand

Last updated: 23 May 2024

Two children in school uniforms read side by side

It is often said that the right book in the right hand at the right time can change a life. We see the truth of this all the time: from closing the attainment gap(this link will open in a new window) to improving self-esteem(this link will open in a new window), the benefits of reading for pleasure are many and wide-ranging(this link will open in a new window).

However, finding that right book can be a challenge, especially for our less experienced readers. For some of us, an hour spent browsing in a bookshop or library is a relaxing and inspiring experience. But for others, shelves and shelves of books can be intimidating, especially if we don't have strategies or techniques to help us find things we might enjoy.

Worse than this, sometimes the kind of story we're looking for might simply not even be on those shelves. Many children are motivated to read when they find characters or stories they connect with(this link will open in a new window) and children and young people report that they would like to see more characters like them in their books(this link will open in a new window). The latest Reflecting Realities report found that still only 14% of children's books feature a main character from a racially minoritised background(this link will open in a new window). Whilst the situation is improving with varied, diverse books being published all the time, these can still be more difficult to find than those by some of the big-name authors. Whilst there's nothing wrong with classic or popular books, as long as pupils are enjoying them, it's important to give children and young people opportunities to broaden their reading so that can see themselves in their texts and discover new worlds and characters – both of which are so important in building the self-understanding, resilience and empathy that we know reading for pleasure supports(this link will open in a new window).

Widening teachers' knowledge

In this landscape, when it comes to helping pupils develop a lifelong love of reading one of the most important things a learning professional can do is put that right book in their hands. In order to do this, they need to have a good knowledge of contemporary literature for children and young people, as well as an understanding of their pupils' interests and experiences. 

With such an incredibly busy job, we know this can be difficult. A 2015 study by the National Literacy Trust(this link will open in a new window) found that one third of learning professionals could not name any children’s authors they would consider ‘good’; of those who could, 25% named Roald Dahl and only 20% could name a ‘new’ children’s author. A 2024 article reports that the situation is largely unchanged(this link will open in a new window), with over half of the 353 preservice teachers included in the study unable to recommend a single author they believed that children would enjoy and the same ‘Dahl-dependence’ as found in the earlier study. Authors cited in both studies were largely white males and both also found a reliance on traditional story formats with little mention of authors of poetry, graphic novels or non-fiction.

There are so many fantastic, contemporary books out there for children and young people, in a range of formats and by authors from varied and diverse backgrounds. Librarians have a wealth of knowledge about the latest texts and connecting people with books they'll love is their bread and butter, so make your school or local librarian your first port of call for expert guidance. Scottish Book Trust also has a number of resources and opportunities to help you and your colleagues find out about the latest books that could spark a love of reading in your pupils, and we're sure you'll unearth some new favourites of your own too.

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