Books every young child must read

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The Independent Online
CHILDREN SHOULD read Edward Lear's "The Owl and the Pussy Cat" before they move on to Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

And those who think Eric Hill's books about Spot, the entertaining dog, are all at the same level of difficulty are wrong. Where's Spot? should be tackled by most children during their first year in school while Spot's First Christmas should wait until they are well on the way to reaching the expected standard for a seven-year-old. That is the message of a new guide designed to help teachers through the new daily literacy hour being introduced in all primary schools from September.

Experts at London University's Institute of Education have devised a list of 3,000 books, both reading schemes and individual titles, graded into bands one (the easiest) to 10 for children in their first two and a half years in school. The specialists, who run the highly successful Reading Recovery programme to help struggling six-year-olds, say that children may not learn to read if they are repeatedly given books which are too difficult for them.

Angela Hobsbaum, co-ordinator of the Reading Recovery National Network, says that she often encounters children who are struggling because they have lost sight of the idea that the point of reading is to make sense of a story. "One of the reasons for this is that they have been given texts which were too difficult for them. About 90 per cent of the text needs to make sense for children to enjoy the story and for them to be able to use what they know to work out the rest."

Careful grading of books for difficulty has worked well for reading recovery and it will be equally important for the guided reading sessions which will take up 20 minutes of the literacy hour. During guided reading, the teacher will divide the class into groups which are at different stages and children will apply knowledge about reading which they have just acquired. The teacher introduces the book and draws their attention to some points before they each read their own copy.

Ms Hobsbaum says that the list also has messages for parents. "It is such a turn-off to introduce children to difficult books too soon."

Though the guide is designed to ensure that children make progress, its authors want to counter the schoolgate rat race in which parents compare how quickly their children are moving on to harder reading books.

Ms Hobsbaum says: "The classic question from parents at the school gate is have you finished your book and have you got a new one? One of the hardest things is convincing parents that it is all right for a child to bring the same book home four days running.

"For instance, children often read the Spot books for the first time with a deadpan face because they are concentrating on decoding the text. It isn't until the second, third or fourth reading that they see the humour."

Some children, she points out, will be able to read more difficult books than those on the list by the time they are seven.

Book Bands for Guided Reading, from the Institute of Education bookshop, price pounds 12. Tel: 0171-612 6050.