I remember incidents of my own learning to read experience. The sequence of graded books progressed by colour and with difficulty according to increasing reading fluency. I recall moving onto a grade that meant books with blue covers that included a variety of stories, articles and poems. SRA cards that were set as early morning comprehension activity.
My school reading did not equate with ‘reading‘. ‘Reading‘ was pawing through the school library selection, longing for more choices. There were visits to Papatoetoe library to choose books, hoping I’d not incurred fines or lost titles. I would stare longingly, making hopeful choices before the shelves of the Caspar Road bookshop, blotting out the frustration of the bookshop owner.
Before Christmas, I was in a shopping queue behind a father and young child. The father was quizzing the girl on consonant digraphs. ‘What does ‘bee‘ and ‘ruh‘ make?’ he asked. ‘Bruh!’ answered his daughter. Then, ‘What does ‘fuh‘ and ‘ull‘ make? ‘Fluh!’ came the immediate response.’See!’ announced her father triumphantly, for the child had responded satisfactorily to his enquiries,’You can read!’ It was like a well worn canine trick.
Fiction to truth:-
Mr Bookwagon was concerned when he joined the Bookwagon initiative that he would ‘never read another adult book‘. He has not read an ‘adult’ book in twelve months. We undertake every journey with a book clutched closely because of our maxim:- Bookwagon is determined that every title we sell has been read by us, loved by us so we may knowingly recommend it to our readers.
Mr Bookwagon couldn’t predict how much he would enjoy reading books for children. Former children’s laureate, Malorie Blackman:- “Call me biased, but I find the standard of storytelling in children’s books and books for young adults second to none. I find it telling that even now, there are far more children’s books and books for teens that I’d like to re-read than books for adults.” (Guardian, 16-2-2015, to acclaimed children’s writer, SF Said.)
Throughout my long teaching career, and during my training and later education, I read, reread and loved children’s books. I asserted that knowing the titles in class libraries and school libraries enabled me to make informed recommendations to my pupils. I encouraged children proactively, to build a meaningful reading relationship.
By the time I left teaching, I was slightly disillusioned by children’s fiction. I was hearing about and liking less than I had before. I believed the best ‘middle grade’ books were American. I did not feel there were many British writers for this stage particularly, who offered original books of relevance, with warmth or appeal.
What I’ve learned in the past year has disabused me of this notion. There are many, many outstanding British writers of ‘middle grade’ children’s books yet too few who receive the attention and opportunity their works merit. Across all genres and all age bands, British writers are creating wonderful children’s books.
Our community libraries are under huge threat. Every day we learn of another library closing or being altered to make itself economically viable. Many libraries are staffed by volunteers, whereas once professional librarians offered a vital educational and community library service.
Too few communities and towns have independent bookshops with dedicated booksellers. Chain bookshops, supermarkets and Amazon cannot offer a personalised, knowledgeable relationship with books and writers!
The same books, many of which were about in my childhood and thereafter through my early adulthood are published and republished constantly, so that fewer books enter the public consciousness.
Popular themes or ideas are thrashed. Currently we’re overwhelmed by unicorns, detectives, exploitative mental illness themes, and black and white pictures. There is a glut of books that are instructional- shapes, colours, numbers. There is a ton weight of books connected to popular screen characters.
Familiar books, those books that publishers consider most likely to sell, are discounted considerably, or mass marketed. This results in an uncompetitive advantage. New writers, different themes or genres do not get fair treatment. Many writers do not receive a living wage. Readers have less choice, and the range of publications is thwarted. We become less literate and less able to make choices.
How reading is regarded:-
Reading mechanics, the skills of reading, are considered ‘reading’, as the shop queueing father suggested. The practice of reading, of becoming completely absorbed by a book, has become muddied by methodology, levels, targets and assessment. Enjoyment and meaningfulness needs to be proved by statement or reading diary. Comprehension is evidenced through the ‘right’ response, frequently to mass produced spewed questions.
Adults read fewer books. Britain ranked 16th in a field of seventeen contributing countries in a Statista online poll last year ranking the frequency of reading of 22 000 British respondents.
Teachers and reading:-
Teachers are amongst those adults who are not reading as they should. They do not know children’s books as well as they might because the places where they used to learn about books no longer exist. Teacher training is shorter, assessment and targets are priorities, while reading equates with method and schemes. Choosing books for school is impacted by the need for ‘proven’ titles that will include familiar titles and authors and the requirement that books should be purchased by big suppliers. These may offer cut price discounts on titles, but their range is scant and the reading value infitesimal. Constrained budgets and rigid time restraints impact upon range, selection and creativity.
Much is said about the importance of children being in step with technological developments, (Alexa/Siri). Through offering children a broad, creative, free, supported reading community, we have the opportunity to be ahead . We could initiate technological, and any other, developments for our future:- Neil Gaiman and the future of libraries, the benefits of reading and daydreaming.
In this new year, we are more aware of the importance of the work we do in being a unique online children’s book shop with a wealth of wonderful titles. We are reading constantly, urgently seeking out wonderful books that enrich our readers and enables a proud, sustainable children’s writing community. Bookwagon is proud to introduce new titles to its 2018 shop. We hope you love them as we do!
Browse through our latest titles’ category. Here is a selection:-
For babies/ early years:-
For newer readers:-
Non-fiction/ Sophisticated picture books:-
For confident (middle grade) readers:-
Bookwagon welcomes your response to our titles. We love answering your enquiries and making personalised recommendations specific to your needs.