We shouldn't be afraid when primary pupils want to stretch their reading beyond age-appropriate fiction - we should encourage it
When my daughter first started reading The Hunger Games, I did not expect her to end up, some time later, dressed as the central character Katniss Everdeen and leading her very own rebellion against a repressive regime. Nor that the regime in question would be her school.
It was World Book Day, giving my daughter and her friends an excuse to dress as heroines from their favourite "forbidden" novels in protest at not being allowed to read the books in class.
The problem was the young adult (YA) fiction genre, of which Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy is one of the most popular examples. My daughter and her friends had worked their way through the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and the complete works of Jacqueline Wilson and were ready for something new and exciting. They found what they were looking for in Collins' books, as well as Veronica Roth's Divergent and anything by John Green. I was delighted that they had shown the initiative to take their reading to the next level.
A new chapter
I loved that my daughter had found such a rich seam of appealing stories, and was not at all perturbed by the fact that at the age of 10 and 11 she was reading so-called YA fiction, a genre primarily aimed at teenagers but also popular with many adults and younger children.
The fact that crossover novels such as The Hunger Games are shelved in the teenage section of bookshops and appear on lists of recommended texts for children slightly older than my daughter did not mean she should have to wait, in my view. Her school disagreed. When my daughter and her friends asked to read their own books in class, rather than the selection on offer at the school library, they were told they couldn't. The school felt the YA books were unsuitable for her age group.
This reaction is understandable. Children develop at different rates so the safest path for a school is always going to be to follow publishers' age guidelines. But when it comes to books for private reading time, some flexibility (in conjunction with parents) is surely sensible.
In my view, primary schools should enable children to be as free as possible in their choice of literature. As long as parents are involved in vetting books, what better way to foster a love of reading than by letting pupils explore material that stretches, challenges and engages them?
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