Developing readers

14th January 2000 at 00:00
Books to Enjoy with Boys in Mind by Wendy Cooling (pound;5 inc pamp;p from the School Library Association. Tel: 01793 617838, e-mail: is a splendid booklist. Reliable, straightforward and up-to-date, it's worth a fiver of any school's budget.

Boys may have made startling progress in terms of last year's test results, but there is still a prevailing consensus that they are not avid readers. Cooling acknowledges that boys do read magazines, non-fiction books and so on, but addresses the need to nurture wider reading. In her introduction she makes much of the importance of broadening the knowledge of and interest in children's books among the entire teaching staff if reading is to be given a high profile throughout the school.

A Multicultural Guide to Children's Books: 0-16-plus edited by Rosemary Stones and compiled by Judith Elkin (pound;7.50 from Books for Keeps. Tel: 0181 852 4953, will certainly broaden knowledge. It is a magnificent third edition of an already well-regarded Books for Keeps guide (the previous edition came out in 1994).

With double the number of books listed, the guide also contains six self-penned profiles by the likes of Jamila Gavin and Caroline Binch. Preceding the carefully categorised book entries (there are new sections for information books and for 16-plus fiction and poetry), all pithily annotated by BfK reviewers, are six thought-provoking features, including an overview by the guide's editor, Rosemary Stones, in which she teases out trends and terminology.

It is surprising to find no mention of Christopher Paul Curtis's The Watsons Go To Birmingham, a superb novel that focuses attention on race hatred in early-1960s Alabama. Otherwise, Judith Elkin has produced listings which will prove indispensable.

A Place fr Children (Library Association pound;34.95) is an important publication, presenting the results of research into the impact of public libraries on children's reading. Much is made of the fact that public libraries are "the only statutory local government service available to children from babyhood to adolescence", but that hitherto little attempt has been made to assess their contribution. Underlying many of the librarians' responses is an emphasis on promoting books for their entertainment value and a desire to keep at a healthy distance any attempt to become involved in teaching and developing specific skills. Not perhaps the wisest of attitudes to take in the current education-driven climate, in which 10 per cent of library authorities employ no specialist children's staff and even the comparatively well-staffed London boroughs only employ one librarian per 7,000 children.

The findings, whilst broadly positive, will not make for smug self-satisfaction. Ray Lonsdale, in his chapter on collection development, highlights how slow libraries are to do more than pay lip service to "non-book materials", and Judith Elkin lists no fewer than 16 negative findings, including "lack of understanding of the potential which ICT could provide to support reading development".

Developing Information Literacy Skills Through The Primary School Library (pound;4.50 inc pamp;p from SLA, see above) contains much clear, practical advice for bringing the library, ICT and the child into a positive three-way partnership. As is the way with such blueprints, the guideline can be a bit fanciful. How many school libraries have yet developed the range of "non-book" electronic sources envisaged here?But class teachers, ICTco-ordinators and school librarians can always benefit from a dose of wishful thinking.

Michael Thorn

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