Thursday, 13 March 2014

Stretching able readers – and Ben Okri’s 10½ inclinations

Carnegie cubesThere were great discussions at my course on stretching able readers this week at Heath Books. We talked about the characteristics of able readers and ways to broaden their reading and increase their engagement while maintaining their enjoyment. Reading groups are brilliant. So are activities like the Kids Lit Quiz and shadowing book awards. These lovely Carnegie cubes were made by librarian Rebecca Marshall at Lipson Cooperative Academy.

A key feature of the day was exploring a wide range of books. We discussed the challenge of providing and promoting books that suit able readers’ interests and abilities without being too advanced in terms their emotional maturity.

One group on the course offered the very useful notion that the best books are launch-pads. The two books that provoked the most enthusiasm, from both primary and secondary teachers and librarians, were picture books, one with no words and one with very few: The Arrival by Shaun Tan and The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. They are great just to enjoy, and also for supporting inference and deduction, and inspiring higher order thinking and creativity. (I am very pleased to be giving a course on using picture books to support learning at KS2 at Heath Books next term.)

Ben Okri’s 10½ inclinations provoked fascinating debate. Okri was once asked for a list of ten books every child should read. This was his response:

  1. There is a secret trail of books meant to inspire and enlighten you. Find that trail.
  2. Read outside your own nation, colour, class, gender.
  3. Read the books your parents hate.
  4. Read the books your parents love.
  5. Have one or two authors that are important, that speak to you; and make their works your secret passion.
  6. Read widely, for fun, stimulation, escape.
  7. Don’t read what everyone else is reading. Check them out later, cautiously.
  8. Read what you’re not supposed to read.
  9. Read for your own liberation and mental freedom.
  10. Books are like mirrors. Don’t just read the words. Go into the mirror. That is where the real secrets are. Inside. Behind. That’s where the gods dream, where our realities are born.

And finally 10½.  Read the world. It is the most mysterious book of all.