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Teachers' knowledge of children's literature: the cornerstone of reading for pleasure

Originally published in March 2019

Teresa Cremin is Professor of Education (Literacy) at The Open University. An ex-teacher and teacher educator, her research focuses mainly on teachers' literate identities and practices and children as readers and writers. Teresa has written and edited nearly 30 books, numerous papers and chapters, and leads a professional community website(this link will open in a new window) based on her research into volitional reading.

Young people who choose to read in their own time benefit markedly from their engagement as readers. Research demonstrates that reading for pleasure contributes to increased attainment in literacy and numeracy [1] enriched narrative writing [2] and a wider vocabulary and knowledge of the world. Indeed as Sue Ellis recently argued, the positive effects of volitional reading on attainment apply regardless of socio-economic context.

Teachers with a rich and wide knowledge of children's literature and other texts, and a working knowledge of the young as readers, are best placed to help their pupils unlock the many and varied benefits of reading for pleasure. Young people need role models who voice their passion and pleasure in reading and teachers who can tailor their text recommendations to different individuals' interests and needs. Such focused support not only increases the chance of young readers finding books that will satisfy them, but also leads to significant book blether.

Research indicates that knowledge of children's literature and of other texts is the cornerstone on which interactive communities of readers are built [3]. However with so many demands on their time, teachers may not always have time to enjoy their own books, let alone stay abreast of new releases for young people. The Teachers as Readers survey suggests that this can be the case, with teachers referring most commonly to childhood favourites such as Roald Dahl (744 mentions) and long-established authors such as Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson and J.K. Rowling [4].

Practitioners' subject knowledge of literature and other texts for the young is vital to their mission to nurture readers for life. However it is a difficult balance to strike between reserving space for 'old but gold' texts, keeping up with the 'new and bold', whilst also paying attention to texts which represent realities. The last challenge is particularly hard; of the 9115 children's books published in the UK in 2017, only 4% featured Black or minority ethnic characters [5]. Nonetheless, young people deserve to see themselves and all society reflected in books, and teachers need to be able to use and recommend relevant, riveting texts in which pupils' realities are reflected.

In responding to the need to widen teachers' repertoires, the Open University (OU) has launched Research Rich Pedagogies(this link will open in a new window), a practitioner website devoted to reading for pleasure. This draws upon OU research into volitional choice-led reading and the role of teachers’ subject knowledge and offers resources to support the profession, including: classroom clips, practical strategies, audits, as well as Top Texts, Author Spotlights and over 200 engaging examples of teachers' research-informed practice. Many of the examples reveal that as practitioners read more widely and develop their reading for pleasure pedagogy, their professional assurance and practice is enriched, with positive consequences for young readers.

The website has triggered the creation of 80 OU/UK Literacy Association Teachers' Reading Groups across the UK. These research-led CPD opportunities seek to develop the profession's reading for pleasure knowledge and practice in order to impact on young readers. Such groups are also being piloted in Scotland through the First Minister's Reading Challenge.

For teachers who want to expand their repertoires, there are many resources to help. The website and monthly updates from the Open University are a good place to start, with the opportunity to join a reading group if you wish. The Scottish Book Trust's resources also offer opportunities to boost knowledge, such as reading books by authors featured on Authors Live or referring to their book list resources. Award shortlists, from the Bookbug Picture Book Prize to the Carnegie Medal are also a good way to identify new releases to enjoy.

Nurturing reading for pleasure is a professional, moral and social responsibility. Teachers' knowledge of children's literature and other texts underpins an effective reading for pleasure pedagogy and helps build communities of readers, communities characterised by engagement, reciprocity and interaction.


  1. Sullivan, A. and Brown, M. (2015) Reading for pleasure and progress in vocabulary and mathematics British Educational Research Journal, 41 (6) :971-991.
  2. Sénéchal, M., Hill, S. & Malette, M. (2018) Individual differences in grade 4 children's written compositions: The role of online planning and revising, oral storytelling, and reading for pleasure Cognitive Development 45: 92–104.
  3. Cremin, T. Mottram, M. Powell, S, Collins R and Safford K. (2014) Building Communities of Engaged Readers: Reading for pleasure London: Routledge.
  4. Clark, C. and Teravainen, A. (2015). Teachers and Literacy: Their perceptions, understanding, confidence and awareness. London: National Literacy Trust.
  5. CLPE's Reflecting Realities - Survey of Ethnic Representation within UK Children’s Literature published 2018(this link will open in a new window)