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How do you choose a book?

This week I had the task of choosing core books for my school. A core book is a book which links into the curriculum topic, with the purpose of being shared with the children. The idea is that all of the children will be able to access high level (and high quality) texts, under the careful guidance of their teacher. Because the adult is reading, the level of text can be much more advanced than that of the ability of the children. Using such texts is a perfect way of introducing new vocabulary in a meaningful context. It works extremely well and is something I advocate whole heartedly.
But where do you begin? The choices are so vast, which is a very good thing, but it makes the whole process quite daunting if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
The best approach is to look closely at the curriculum you are planning to deliver, focussing on your intended outcomes. What is it that you want from the books? Hopefully you want to offer the children exciting opportunities to discover new ideas and furnish them with the tools they will need to discuss their findings.
I have found that the most productive (and enjoyable) way of choosing books is to browse, read reviews and seek the opinions of those around you. You also have to know your audience; there’s no point in buying a text-heavy scientific encyclopaedia for a class who are just beginning to learn about life processes. A book should challenge, but it must be accessible. If the book is too complex the audience will be immediately switched off before you have had a chance to share it.
Ultimately we want to be enabled to enthuse children through books. To do that, the adult must be enthusiastic. Get to know the book before you share it, so that you know where to focus the children’s attention. It also means that there are no nasty surprises because sometimes a book may not be as suitable as we hoped! There’s nothing worse than getting half way through a page to realise that you can’t go on reading for fear of traumatising your audience.
Core books have a variety of uses: teaching children to read, extending the experiences of children and reading for information. For core books to succeed within a setting, there should be a comprehensive mix of all three. As I have said before, not all books shared with children should be at their reading level. Our choice of books must be aspirational; we want our children to think ‘I wish I could read that.’ For me it was Roald Dahl’s ‘Danny Champion of the World’. I remember listening in awe as Miss Smith read to us and thinking how great it would be if I could read just like her. It was also the time when I realised that Dahl had the incredible ability to weave beautiful stories. I began writing stories and poems at every given opportunity. The books of our childhood inspire us, they inspire and drive us on, if chosen carefully.


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