13 books to take pupils out of their comfort zone

It is important that children experience books that make them feel uncomfortable, writes Aidan Severs

Aidan Severs

Children need to read books that make them feel uncomfortable - here are a few suggestions, says Aidan Severs

Reading for pleasure is all the rage in schools, but how often do we, and the children we teach, read for displeasure? Or, perhaps more accurately, for discomfort?

Ask any number of readers what they like about reading and there will be plenty of replies on the theme of escapism. Internet memes carry lines such as "Books: a cosy doorway to paradise".

Actually, for many, it should be that books are a doorway out of a cosy paradise.

Reading in schools

While not dismissing the fact that some reader’s lives are turbulent for a whole host of reasons, there are many who are fortunate to live comparatively secure lives.

Malorie Blackman, the former children's laureate, has said that “reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.”

And that, for many of the children we teach, is a far better reason to be reading.

There are many, many books for children out there which will help them to feel a little discomfort as they learn about, and experience, the feelings and thoughts of others.

Primary reading list

Here are just a few suggestions:

Picture books:

Michael Rosen’s Sad BookMichael Rosen & Quentin Blake

A book exploring how people might experience the loss of a loved one – for all ages.

My Name Is Not Refugee Kate Milner

The account of a refugee that even young children can understand.

The Journey Francesca Sanna

Another story for younger children detailing the experiences of a child fleeing war.

The Island Armin Greder

For older children – a metaphor for how not to treat people who are perceived as outsiders.

Middle-grade books:

Worry AngelsSita Brahmachari & Jane Ray

Two girls, one struggling with her parents’ separation, the other a refugee, find ways to cope with their situations as their friendship develops.

Little Bits of SkySE Durrant

A story about children being brought up in care that is actually about the heartbreaking realities of their situation, rather than a device to allow them to have wonderful adventures, à la Disney.

The Mystery of the Colour ThiefEwa Jozefkowicz

How do children deal with the situation when parents are seriously ill? How do children deal with their own debilitating conditions? This book deals sensitively with both issues.

The Fox Girl and the White GazelleVictoria Williamson

Racism, discrimination and bullying are tackled head-on as a refugee and the child of a recovering alcoholic slowly build a relationship.

All The Things That Could Go WrongStewart Foster

Challenging perceptions of bullies and children with behavioural problems, this book encourages readers to understand the back story of those usually seen as "bad".

Young adult books:

A Monster CallsPatrick Ness

A teenager struggles to cope with his mother’s battle with terminal illness, as well as with relationships with other family members and friends. An insight into how life’s circumstances affect behaviour, attitude and imagination.

Illegal Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin & Giovanni Rigano

A graphic novel telling the story of a refugee, this book humanises the news reports about displaced peoples travelling in boats to find safety.

THUG Angie Thomas

Institutional racism in the US is the central focus in this award-winning book – a good starting point for beginning to understand the plight of those whom society still discriminates against.

Noughts and CrossesMalorie Blackman

A young adult classic. Blackman flips the script on race wars, provoking thought with this painful account of how systemic discrimination ruins lives.

Aidan Severs is a deputy head at a primary school in the North of England

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