A whole new chapter;Children's books

24th September 1999 at 01:00
Michael Thorn spruces up your classroom library and presents his personal choice of titles to put in it.

A new term, new pupils, but what have you got on your bookshelves? You will invariably find a number of titles left behind by pupils from the previous year (with "Happy Birthday from Granny" written inside); stray topic loan titles overdue for return to the schools library service; a number of very old paperbacks with torn covers (many bearing the names of teachers who left the school long ago); and, with luck, an assortment of school library books (almost certainly old stock).

"Not like that in our school," you're thinking. Good. Gold star for you. And if you're thinking: "Well, not quite as bad as that, but not quite right either," have a silver star, but it is not difficult to see how we could all deserve the gold stickers. An Office for Standards in Education review of primary inspections characterised many book corners as waste-of-space "clutter". Here are some suggestions for sorting out your shelves and a few thoughts about what you can put on them.

Brought to books * A library of between 75 and 100 books will allow the average-sized class to take one each with an adequate selection left over. Half of these could be class library titles, which always stay in the classroom, especially when there is a change of teacher, and half rolling stock changed each term from the school's central library.

* One of the problems with selecting books in main libraries is that the majority of stock is shelved with the spine outwards, so that children don't have much to go on apart from the title and author. The small scale of the class library can be turned to advantage, and many of the books can be displayed with the front jacket forwards.

* As the collection will be fairly static, the children can explore different ways of organising the stock. Regularly rearranging it will lead to fresh interest.

* About pound;1,000, the sort of sum that is blithely spent on literacy hour resources, will, with discounts and working on the average price of pound;3.99 for a paperback fiction title, purchase some 300 books - 50 books for each year group. These 50 books might be made up of 10 classics; 20 new or recent fiction, published within the past two years; 10 non-fiction titles; five poetry collections or anthologies; and five picture books or graphic novels.

* Library stock, including new titles for class libraries once they've been established, should be ordered at least termly; more frequently if possible. This means that new stock will always include a fair proportion of just-published titles by popular authors or in series that children are keen to follow up. It means the librarian or teacher can be alert to shifts in reading taste and avoid the mistake of spending on once-popular titles only to discover that interest in them has subsided.

Aidan Chambers (30 years ago, in The Reluctant Reader), wrote :

"Ideally, it is with eagerness that we take the book off the shelf, not with a sense of self-imposed or teacher-imposed compulsion."

Class libraries should have one agenda: to encourage an enjoyment of reading. Thematic collections of books have their place, but they are not class libraries. The lists that follow have not been compiled to dovetail with the range of texts prescribed by the literacy strategy. On the following pages are 60 titles (20 for each of three different age-groups) worth putting on that class library shelf for no other reason than that they should be eagerly taken off.

Key stage 1 Year 2

Mr Apeby Dick King-Smith (DoUbledayCorgi)In one of King-Smith's best recent books he is able to make gentle points about prejudice and presumption en route to a conclusion in which Ape opts for human companionship rather than a life of reclusive eccentricity.

Freak Out by John Talbot (Puffin) Chapter books are becoming more excitingly graphic by the day. This is an excellent example of the Chillers series, with lots of speech bubbles and slams! and swaks!

The Cats of Cuckoo Squareby Ad le Geras (Corgi)Told in the first person, from four different cats' viewpoints, with bright covers and hilarious illustrations by Tony Ross. A super mini-series for newly independent readers.

Alberta the Abominable Snowthing by Tessa Krailing (Puffin) Alberta, the fluffy white Polaroid, is dispatched to an English zoo, but there is a mix-up with the crate labels and she arrives as a boy's birthday present.

A Funny Sort of Dog by Elizabeth Laird (Mammoth) Something isn't quite right about Tip, the new puppy from Uncle Peter. It's very big, it has long claws, and it roars.

Henry Spaloosh by Chris d'Lacey (Scholastic) An authentically funny story about a subject lots of children will identify with - water phobia.

Blair the Winner by Theresa Breslin (Mammoth) Everyone stops nagging Blair when he saves the day on a disastrous camping trip.

A Gift from Winklesea by Helen Cresswell (Hodder) An egg-shaped stone, bought at the seaside by Dan and Mary for their mother, hatches into an amazing character. A chapter book classic.

Dilly Breaks the Rules by Tony Bradman (Mammoth) Dilly joins his big sister at school in the latest title in a long-running series that has recently been given a fresh lease of life with new jackets.

It Was a Dark andStormy Night by Janet and Allan Ahlberg (Puffin) Antonio, an eight-year-old boy kidnapped by brigands, gives a virtuoso performance as animpromptu storyteller.

The Jealous Giant by Kaye Umansky (Puffin) Waldo is jealous of Heavy Hetty's handsome new trainer. A good introduction to Umansky's sense of fun.

Fruits by Valerie Bloom and David Axtell (Macmillan) A Caribbean counting poem in a picture book that nobody will be content to read just once.

Skating On Sand by Libby Gleeson (Puffin) When an Australian family go camping in the bush they look forward to walking, fishing, swimming and feeding the kangaroos. All except Hannah, who only wants to roller-skate.

Fowl Play by Jonathan Allen (Orion) A graphic and witty introduction to the genre of detective fiction.

No More Pets by Cally Poplak (Mammoth) A charming storyline that inspires confidence in family relationships.

Natalie's Garden by William Mayne (Walker) Mayne vividly captures a small child's way of looking at the world, particularly the desire to mimic adult behaviour. In the opening story, Natalie wants to wheel her wheelbarrow inside the house and tip stuff out of it like the workmen next door.

Name Games by Theresa Breslin(Mammoth) An entertaining look at the assumptions we make about people on the basis of their names.

Can We Keep It Dad? by Gus Clarke (Andersen) A gem of a chapter book with a "fortunately-unfortunately" narrative style POETRY

Dragons Dinosaurs Monsters poems edited by John Foster (Oxford) Three popular poetry selections in one, superbly illustrated by Korky Paul.

Young Hippo Spooky Poems compiled by Jennifer Curry (Scholastic) The selection is mainly modern but this excellent if unassuming anthology also contains poems by Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter de la Mare and James Reeves.

Key stage 2 Year 4

Practically Perfect by Hilary McKay (Hodder) Madcap, sophisticated humour in which ladies-in-waiting keep a poet under the stairs as a sort of pet.

Stone Me! by Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore (Puffin) A variation on the Medusa myth from a pair of authors who have their finger on the pulse of junior humour.

Spacebaby by Henrietta Branford (Collins) A baby with a brain to rival Einstein's? Ingenious chapter titles will certainly spurcuriosity.

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (Walker) Caleb and Anna's father has sent for a mail-order bride; a tender story which takes in the hardship of prairie life.

The Lottie Project by Jacqueline Wilson

A brilliantly executed double narrative, in which the life of a Victorian servant interacts with that of the contemporary character; Wilson makes it fun, where another author might have made it earnest.

Beyond the Deepwoods by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell (Doubleday) The result of an exciting collaboration between author and artist, this is an original and captivating adventure for nine-year-olds ready for extended fantasy. There are two more parts of this trilogy to come.

Totally Wicked!

by Morris Gleitzman and Paul Jennings(Puffin) Not all Gleitzman and Jennings fans liked these stories, originally published as six separate titles, but they remain a rare example of collaborative writing for this age group.

Beaver Towersby Nigel Hinton The first book in a series that has been known to turn a faltering reader into an independent one. Especially suitable for the less mature Year 4 child.

The Ghost of Tantony Pig by Julia Jarman (Andersen) Laurie Gell's mother is arrested and a strange new teacher appears at school. Then a pig speaks to him. It's worth directing children to the author's useful website: www.juliajarman.mcmail.com Singen Poo Strikes Again by Paul Jennings (Puffin) Y4 is exactly the right time to introduce children to Paul Jennings. This is one of his more recent story collections.

The Ghost Dog by Pete Johnson (Corgi) Daniel and his friends make up a ghost story about a terrifying dog. The ghost dog starts to haunt Dan and he suspects that something imagined has become real. Johnson has found a new lease of life as an author since starting to write for younger children.

Fly, Cherokee, Fly by Chris d'Lacey (Corgi Yearling) Deservedly shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, this is a novel crying out to be read by every Y4 child in the land.

Charlie's Eye by Dorothy Horgan (Puffin) Charlie isn't bothered about her glass eye but when Jason calls her "handicapped" she has to set out to prove him wrong. Superbly jocular about a major disability.

Little Wolf's Diary of Daring Deeds by Ian Whybrow (Collins) Little Wolf's diary style, with its echoes of Molesworth, really engages this age group and there are now several titles in the series.

Grandpa's Indian Summer by Jamila Gavin (Mammoth) Grandpa Chatterji invites his British grandchildren to visit Calcutta.

Mr Nobody's Eyes by Michael Morpurgo (Mammoth) Harry's father dies, his mother remarries and Harry has a new step-brother. Feeling lonely and rejected, he runs away with his only friend, a circus chimpanzee.

Jennifer's Diary by Anne Fine (Puffin) A marvellously frothy commentary on imagination and language.

I Was A Rat!

by Philip Pullman (Doubleday) Imagine one of the rats in "Cinderella" misses the coach homeI Well, that's the rat's story.


Puffin Book of Nonsense Verse edited by Quentin Blake (Puffin) Children of this age love nonsense verse, and what better than the Children's Laureate's choice?

Plum by Tony Mitton (Scholastic)plus Charles Causley's Collected Poems for Children (Macmillan).

Two highly recommended choices . "Plum" is so good a debut collection that Tony Mitton might just be the next Charles Causley of children's poetry...

Key stage 2 Year 6

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (Macmillan) An amusing but emotionally charged "road" novel by a winner of the Newbery Medal (the US equivalent of the Carnegie).

The Watsons Go To Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis (Orion) Another American "road" novel, set in the Civil Rights era, that takes the reader on a journey from high comedy to high emotion.


by Malorie Blackman (Doubleday) A brilliant opening forces the main character to confront moral choices, the dramatic development of which is one of this author's strengths.

A Bone From A Dry Sea by Peter Dickinson (Corgi) A narrative that is compelling on every level, and a brilliant choice for readers who like fiction that will make them think.

The Wheel of Surya by Jamila Gavin (Mammoth) Superior example of a contemporary writer constructing a novel in the traditional manner.

Andi's War by Billi Rosen (Faber) A spare but moving novel set during the Greek civil war; children have strong views about its ending.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (Macmillan) Believe everything you've ever heard about this writer; if all else has failed to capture the attention of an older primary pupil, the chances are that Paulsen will succeed.

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman (Scholastic) Many primary children will not be ready for Pullman's heady magic but this marvellous book should be on the shelf for those who are.

Music on the Bamboo Radio by Martin Booth (Puffin) An exciting wartime yarn set in Hong Kong, of a type once the staple of action adventure but now in short supply.

Elephant Gold by Eric Campbell (Macmillan) Moby Dick on safari: more superior action adventure.

The First Book of Samuel by Ursula Dubosarsky (Puffin) Dubosarsky is a unique Australian voice who should be better known. She creates vivid characters; the parents in this title are a rum lot.

The Tulip Touch by Anne Fine (Puffin) This is often considered to be a 12-plus title, but there are plenty of 10 and 11-year-olds who want fiction to unsettle them as well as to entertain.

Bumfaceby Morris Gleitzman (Puffin) The opening page has already achieved classic status, and what better time to appreciate it than during a Y6 sex education project.

Hex by Rhiannon Lassiter (Macmillan) Vivid and pacy science fiction set in a futuristic London.

Brother, Brother, Sister, Sister by Helen Dunmore (Scholastic) A hilarious tale told by a Y6 pupil whose mother has just given birth to quads.

Foxspell by Gillian Rubinstein (Orion) Rubinstein ran around on all fours in the bush for this book; no wonder the human-to-animal transformations are so believable.


The Puffin Book of Twentieth-Century Children's Verse edited by Brian Patten, illustrated by Michael Foreman (Puffin) A new edition of this excellent anthology will soon appear.

A Spell of Words by Elizabeth Jennings (Macmillan) Not all contemporary poetry for children should be of the laugh-a-line variety.

Funky Chickens by Benjamin Zephaniah (Puffin) Zephaniah's first collection for children is still electric.

The Oxford Treasury of Classic Poems edited by Michael Harrison and Christopher Stuart-Clark (Oxford University Press) No class library should be without some of the best poems in the language Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm primary school, Hailsham, East Sussex National Children's Book Week takes place October 4-10. Visit the Book Trust website at: www.booktrust.org.uk

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today