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Becoming an Independent Reader

I have one vivid memory of learning to read at infant school. I remember learning to read following the One, Two, Three and Away series of books about Roger Red Hat and friends also known as The Village with Three Corners by Sheila K. McCullagh, illustrated by Ferelith Eccles Williams and published by Collins. This series probably prompts much nostalgia, including from Louise, editor of Armadillo. That one afternoon at school, I was BORED. I didn’t enjoy the stories. I couldn’t relate to the characters: no-one I knew wore a hat, a waistcoat or a Jennifer Yellow Hat’s striped dress. There were so many! I felt disheartened looking at the row of neatly shelved books in the series I had yet to read. Thankfully somethings in education have changed!

Bloomsbury, partnered with the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE), have published reading guides for over seventy of their brilliant books, differentiated by Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 (Lower and Upper) and also by age band. The number of books varies between 7-9 books in the 5 bands at Key Stage 1 and 6-14 titles in the seven bands across Key Stage 2. The banding at Key Stage 1 and lower Key Stage 2 overlap, allowing for advanced young readers at Key Stage 1 to continue reading as well as support struggling readers who have moved up to Key Stage 2.

There is a fantastic selection of popular authors. They include Sarah Crossan, Julia Donaldson and Tom Percival in Key Stage 1 and Neil Gaiman, Patrice Lawrence, Catherine Johnson, Sibéal Pounder, Geraldine McCaughrean, Zanib Mian and Louis Sachar at Key Stage 2. Others include Tony Bradmad Terry Deary, Alexander McCall Smith and many more. Named authors can be a great help to families when independently choosing other books from a library or bookseller or perhaps if a family member is buying a book as a gift. None of the books however I read for this blog included these names and they were all thoroughly great stories, demonstrating the depth of quality of storytelling by so many Bloomsbury authors.

There are so many great books to read. Stories include detective fiction, fantasy, mythology, mystery, realistic fiction and Shakespeare (MacBeth and The Tempest). One of the first books I read was Margaret Ryan’s Scratch and Sniff, illustrated by Nathan Reed and intended for readers aged 7-8 years old. It is a hilarious story introducing two detective dogs helping their owner Police Constable Penny Penrose to investigate a robbery at Doogood’s furniture stores and catch the culprits. The mythological selection is particularly rich, including Irish stories of Finn McCool and Cuchulainn, the Welsh hero Taliesin, West African folklore of Anasi the spider, an Indian tale of a clever barber’s wife as well as Greek mythology: Pandora and Icarus. I really enjoyed The Hound of Ulster for readers aged 8-9 years old. Malachy Doyle story captures the drama of the tale and seven-year-old Setanta’s tenacity, whilst illustrator Erin Brown’s hound manifests the power and ferocity of the beast.

The stories and characters are diverse and understanding this diversity is often crucial to the story. Memorable for me is how pivotal Thai culture is in the story of Ping and the Missing Ring by Emma Shevah and illustrated by Izzy Evans for young readers aged 9-11 years old. When Ping’s Aunty Lek believes Isabelle, one of her employees, has stolen her ring, she feels unable to work with people she cannot trust. It is up to Ping to find the missing ring and clear Isabelle’s name, despite her parents’ warning not to have any more adventures! Slightly younger, 8-11 years old is Pratiuma Mitchell’s Bamba Beach, illustrated by David Dean, in which a feud between two neighbour houses lasting generations begins to thaw and renews one boy’s hope of earning enough money to support his family. It made me more fully appreciated the impact of tourism on sometimes remote locations, and how small amounts of money to tourists can sometimes mean a lot to locals.

Finally, these books encourage readers to engage with the story. At the end of each book there are three or four activities readers can choose to complete based on the story. These include a quiz testing how much of the story readers can remember, a point of reflection directing the reader to an important theme in the story, suggestions for creative writing or drawing as well as a storytelling toolkit sharing skills writers use that readers could adopt when writing their own stories. For teachers there are detailed downloadable pdf teaching guides that could be the basis for a series of whole class lessons, using effective pedagogies to develop children’s literacy skills created by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE). It is also worth downloading the Glossary that describes in more depth the different techniques and approaches referred to in the teaching guides.

I hope I’m a dinosaur and that initiatives such as the Bloomsbury Guided Reading and the work of the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education means young readers are better supported, and most importantly have more fun, to become independent readers that then inspires a lifelong pleasure of reading. I can’t remember much about Roger Red Hat and his friends, except when Percy Green’s kite blew away, so I must have made some progress. I can only imagine reluctantly as I didn’t enjoy reading until much later, devouring Willard Price’s Adventure books from the local public library. I hope your journey to independent reading was easier.

Simon Barrett

Useful websites:

Bloomsbury Guided Reading:

Centre for Literacy in Primary Education:


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