Gaps in the market #3: books for more able 9 year olds.

A bit like the six year old not challenged by the books that she is actually interested in, the more able nine year old has a similar problem.

This is another of my gaps in the market.

A more able nine-year old has the reading ability of a teenager, but books for teenagers are all a bit, well, teenagery. Books like Skulduggery Pleasant, where the hero is undead, or Beautiful Creatures, with just a hint of sexuality. These books may well be fine for the average 14 year old, but if they’re the current in-thing and the next step up for someone with the reading age of a twelve-year old, they not really suitable for a nine-year old.

Myself, I enjoy sci-fi and fantasy and so I wouldn’t mind encouraging my son to read the same sort of books. I’m not going to force him, mind, just a gentle steer. He already read Lord of the Rings when he was eight, so where do I go from there. George R. R Martin is the current successor to Tolkien, but George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones series is barely appropriate for me, and I’m 40, let alone my little boy.

And so he’s reduced to reading Cressida Crowell’s ‘How to Train a Dragon’ series and the Beast Quest books. All these are fine and firmly within the 9-12 category found in many bookshops. But they level of the text is too easy for my boy – he’s read them in an evening, which means either that reading becomes an expensive hobby, or that the 8-book visit to the library is a weekly visit.

There is an answer of course. Appropriate books at a challenging level do exist and many of them are free. The ‘classics’, like Treasure Island, are a step up and being older than seventy years can be downloaded for free from many places, including the Kindle store. I’m going to encourage my son to read these books of course, but what I would really like is for the authors of popular series for 9-12 year olds to step up their language just a little. Maybe they could write the odd book in their series with just a bit more challenge – so that a book takes more than a single evening to read.

Gaps in the reading market #2: Less able 10 year-old boys

I wrote about my first gap yesterday. My second gap is not so much a gap anymore, because I think it has been filled. But let me explain anyway.

There are a few boys (and possibly some girls too), who don’t get reading at 6 or 7 when they’re supposed to. I’ve met them over the years and they present with a range of reasons for why they can’t read. Family breakdown is probably the main thing, with medication coming in second – either having too much or not having enough. I suppose it’s difficult to focus on reading a book at home when your father is beating your mother regularly and then leaves you, never to be seen again. Similarly with medication: drugs do work, but if they dosage is wrong they really don’t, and this can have a catastrophic effect on learning.

By the time these children get to books the schemes that exist in the infant part of the school just doesn’t suit. The English may be at the right level for them, but the themes are not. These children are watching drama like Eastenders and have lived through some tough stuff themselves. Reading trite stories about animals that can talk can be a little demotivating.

So there was a gap in the market here. Books with easy texts but an early teenage theme to them. And then Rising Stars made Dockside and the gap was filled.

I have to declare an interest here – we use Dockside at my school and it’s brilliant. For the one or two readers who did miss the reading boat the first time around, Dockside has really helped them catch up. They will be going on to secondary school being able to read, instead of pretending that they can.

Gaps in the reading market #1: Bright 6 year old girls

bookshelf in bookshop
Watch out for Rainbow Magic!

I post this, half hoping to be corrected or at least pointed in the right direction.

I believe there are gaps in the market for reading books in the primary age range.
This first one is for able girls who are about 6 and 7 years old.

These girls begin to master the books within their school reading system towards the end of their reception year and begin getting some degree of fluency by the start of Year 1. This means that by their 6th birthday they’re really getting quite good at reading. So they look around at what to read, and of course the main thing girls of that age want to read about is fairies. And unicorns. But mainly fairies. So inevitably they all find the the ubiquitous Daisy Meadows and Rainbow Magic – a seemingly endless sequence of books all about how some girls from the real world meet and actually become fairies. It is, quite literally, every 6-year old girl’s dream.

Now I didn’t mind it when my own six-year old started reading these books. The first couple are pretty good and I could see her gaining confidence in her own reading. But by the end of the first series of seven books I began to get a little tired of the plots and the standard of English. Seriously, I’ve seen books for younger children with more complex grammar and a wider range of vocabulary. Julia Donaldson in her book “Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book”, which I would suppose is read to three or four year-olds, uses the word ‘indignant’. Such a word would never appear in Rainbow Magic.

And then I discovered that there are many more series of seven books. In fact at least ten more. I suddenly had a vision of my daughter reading these books when she’s nineteen.

What I really wanted was some sort of language development in Rainbow Magic: a progressively more demanding vocabulary; greater challenge from more complex sentence structures; that sort of thing. But no. It was all pretty much the same.

So there’s a challenge all you authors – can you write something to engage and challenge bright 6 year old girls. My second daughter is four at the moment – if you could sort something out for 18 months time, I would really appreciate it.

Yes: schools should be fined for not teaching reading

So, the recent report on the Summer 2011 riots recommended that schools should be fined for not teaching reading. I agree.

Michael Bond, the author of the much loved Paddington Bear, was on the BBC on Monday morning. He said that the two most important things you can do with children are spending time with them and teaching them to read. He went on to say that reading must start in the home.

And for many families this is the case. Reading does start in the home. Children are exposed to books from birth. They are read to every night. They understand which way to turn the pages and which way to read the script. They may even recognise a few words.

However this is not the case for all families. For some children their first exposure to books is at school. For a sizeable minority in my school this is the case. And for many more, whilst the children still have had some exposure to books, they still enter school behind the national average for reading.

In my school we have to teach reading. Merely giving the children a home reader and hoping doesn’t work. The children have to be taught how to read from scratch.

In contrast, at the school where my own children go, less teaching of reading is needed. This is because in general the children enter the school more able to read and continue with more home support of reading as they progress through the school.

Yet funding is more or less the same. Yes, my school probably does pick slightly more special needs funding, but it is for the few children who are a long way below the national average, not those who are slightly behind. And despite that, the teaching of reading at my school really works. Where nearly 80% of the children enter the school behind the national average, less than 20% leave the school behind the national average.

We taught reading well to a lot of children.

I suspect the measure being suggested by the panel that investigated the Summer 2011 riots would suggest fining schools like us for allowing some children to leave us at a standard that is lower than the national average. But wouldn’t be great if it was a measure that rewarded schools who actually teach reading and don’t just leave it up to supportive parents.

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