The Bookseller Children’s Conference 2020 offered a unique insight into the world of children’s publishing, which is a key area of growth for publishers in the UK. A number of important themes emerged at the Conference, including the lack of diversity in children’s fiction, and the innovative measures publishers have taken in order to weather the storm of the pandemic.
Of particular interest to me was the discussion, led by Professor Teresa Cremin, a Professor at The Open University (and former teacher), about the role that teachers can play in fostering a love of reading in their students. Teachers are of course not the only ones who have a role to play in inspiring children to read for pleasure (parents / caregivers have a big impact too), but they are on the frontline and are well placed to make a lasting impact.
I listened with interest as Cremin outlined the benefits that are associated with reading for pleasure, which is, she explained, the single most important indicator of a child’s future success (more so, even, than the socio-economic status into which the child is born). With that in mind, I was surprised and disappointed to hear the results of her research: following a 2009 survey of 1,200 primary teachers, for example, only 46% were able to name more than five children’s fiction authors. Of the same group, 22% could not name a single poet, dead or alive. Studies in 2015 revealed similarly concerning results: when asked what they do to encourage their students to read for pleasure, a number of teachers in a survey conducted in Singapore answered “not applicable” (!). This was, admittedly, something of a salutary tale for me and as I listened, I felt very lucky to have had teachers who fostered my own love of reading, letting me borrow books from their personal collections, which we would then discuss and debate.
The crux of Cremin’s research is that teachers who are readers are better positioned to cultivate reading communities, in which they read for pleasure and share their enthusiasm for doing so with their students. This makes reading a more interactive practice, something that children may begin to see as a form of entertainment in and of itself (perhaps as a break from screen time…).
With a view to helping teachers nurture their reading habits and develop a wider repertoire of children’s fiction, Cremin, in association with The Reading Agency, has developed the Teachers’ Reading Challenge (“the Challenge”), which invites teachers to read and review books and promote best practice on supporting reading for pleasure in the classroom. The initiative is modelled on the Summer Reading Challenge, an annual challenge designed to motivate children to read during school holidays. The Challenge was launched in August 2020. Results so far have been encouraging, with Cremin reporting that over 2,000 teachers had signed up, and 2,343 books read to date.
On the whole, although I found some of the findings reported by Cremin quite alarming, it is encouraging to see that there are initiatives in place to support teachers in developing their reading repertoire of children’s texts. Teachers, like the rest of us, are time poor and may not have time even to read their own books, let alone keep on top of what is happening in children’s fiction. Thus, any measure designed to support them can only be a good thing, and it will be interesting to see what is the impact of the Challenge and what are the thoughts of the teachers who have completed it.