Books for guided reading

We are frequently asked for suggestions for guided reading as are our wonderful School Library Service so we decided to get together and come up with a list. Who could say no to half a day looking at books? We looked at loads of books and chose some for our list which we have organised by year group but of course there are no hard and fast boundaries.

One of the things that we have decided to do is to say why we have chosen the book, and therefore what is it about the text that is worth discussing. This is not the only thing worth discussing in the book but is a starting point.

To support us with this, we have delved into Doug Lemov’s latest book Reading Reconsidered. Although it is written about secondary age pupils, we found much in it that resonated with us.  We were particularly taken with his ‘reading plagues’ as they summarise the challenges in books that we did not have  name for but often discussed.

1. Archaic text.  We know that texts written some time ago have a different vocabulary and syntax so why on earth would we want children to read books like this?  I think the reason is that they are part of our heritage and culture and are often books that have stood the test of time.  If we don’t introduce children to these books and ways of writing, some children will never meet them.  Take for instance Paddington Bear in Paddington Hits Out by Mchael Bond

‘Do you happen to have my tee handy, Bear?’asked Mr Curry, as he took up his position at the start.

‘Your tea, Mr Curry?’ repeated Paddington. Taken even more by surprise at this sudden request, he reached hastily under his hat in an effort to make amends for his accident, and withdrew a marmalade sandwich.

There is so much in just this small amount of text. There is the knowledge about golf and therefore the wordplay with tee/tea and linking this with ‘the accident’ in the next sentence and vocabulary such as ‘to make amends’ and ‘withdrew’ , The last sentence is a long one with many clauses  starting with a past participle (taken) and can be confusing in terms of who did what and why.

There is not a year group when children should start to read books with this type of langauge. The idea is that as soon as books are read to children and when they start to read books themselves, children come across texts which use archaic language.

2. Non-linear time sequence.  There are  texts which jump backwards and forwards in time and in setting. One example of this is The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo.  The story starts off with a narrator going back in time to his school days and by the end of the first chapter has moved into ‘seeing the lion’ alongside an old lady who he met in the woods.  The story then moves setting to Africa and back further in the old lady’s memory. You can read the start of the story here.  If you asked ‘When is this story set?’ it would be quite a complex answer because the story shifts amongst times and narrators.  These texts are more than flashbacks or flashforwards. Non-lineartime sequences might involve being unclear about when an event took place, moving from a single event in time to multiple moments in time, layers of memory (which is what happens in The Butterfly Lion) and shifts in the rate of time elapsing.

3. Complexity of narrator.  There can be multiple narrators (Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne), unreliable narrators (The True Story of the Three LIttle Pigs by Jon Sciezka) and non-human narrators (Dr Xargle’s book of Earthlets by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross).  If you haven’t come across narrators like these, it can be a very disorientating experience. I remember reading Dr Xargle to a Yr3/4 class and them completely missing that it was an alien describing the babies and couldn’t work out why they didn’t use the ‘right words’.

4. Complexity of story (plot and symbolism).  A story with mulitple plots is obviously harder to follow than one that follows one plot.  Black and White by David Macaulay is a perfect example of this sort of text. Consisting of four stories, it is not clear at the beginning where you should start and whether you should read each one separately or all at the same time and whether they are separate stories or all one story. Also included in this plague are books that have many intertextual links: those stories where characters from other stories pop up. This is quite common at present, particularly in stories about books. One example is  Yours Truly, Goldilocks by Alma Flor Ada where Little Red Riding Hood and Peter Rabbit appear. At an even simpler level The Foggy Foggy Forest by Nick Sharratt has Sleeping Beauty and the Three Bears appearing in it.

5. Resistant text.  Books which are just difficult to read/understand because they need to be or books which have parts that refuse to yield up their meaning.  I have often found The Secret Garden to be quite a resistant text for primary age children yet often find it in guided reading sets.  Sometimes the resistant text can be anticipated and other times it can’t.

It is not that every book in guided reading has to link to one of these plagues, it is just that they can be complications in texts.  See our list of guided reading books here along with our reasons for choosing them.

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