Without a shadow of doubt, the last few years have seen some truly wonderful children's books being released. From Sky Song to Squirrels Who Squabble, it's a great time for primary-appropriate literature.
After a discussion with @dm_crosby, a keen advocate of Doug Lemov's 'Reading Reconsidered', we felt that that the reading spines in our schools needed re-inventing. Why? Lemov points out early in the book that there are 5 plagues of reading which children need experiences of in order to access tougher texts, especially those expected of them in secondary school and beyond. They are as follows:
Archaic Texts - The vocabulary, usage, syntax and context for cultural reference of texts over 50 or 100 years old are vastly different and typically more complex than texts written today.
Non-Linear Time Sequences - A story narrated in a given style with a given cadence and that cadence endures and remains consistent, but in the best books, books where every aspect of the narration is nuanced to create an exact image, time moves in fits and starts. It doubles back or is non-linear in execution.
Narratively Complex - Multiple, unreliable or non-human narrators which often create multiple plot-lines or alternative view points
Complexity of Plot/Symbol - Stories which can be steeped in figurative language and often exist on an allegorical or symbolic level, sometime complex in plot and structure.
Resistant Texts - Texts written to deliberately resist easy meaning-making by readers. Perhaps half of the poems ever written fall into this category. You have to assemble meaning around nuances, hints, uncertainties and clues.
With this in mind, we felt children in primary schools should have access to all of these text types within the long-term plans so that, for example, by the time children have The Jungle Book or The Secret Garden thrust upon them in year 6, they have studied archaic texts every year from Year 1 and the same goes for the other 'plagues'.
The CoreKnowledge.org.uk site has proven to be a fantastic source of inspiration, supplying lots of archaic texts and suitable poetry for individual year groups. The importance of background knowledge more generally has been well discussed by Doug Lemov, and more recently here by David Didau. These 'Core Knowledge' books, although highly challenging, are wonderful texts for primary teachers to support their own subject knowledge in all areas of the curriculum.
Having completed the reading spine, it was clear that, although covering the five plagues is a worthwhile target, there are so many other children's books which are great to study at primary school which do not fit into the five categories, and so I have also included Pie Corbett's free Scholastic reading spine and a range of other 'go-to' resources to help you when selecting the right books for your school. It also ensures schools do not repeat books, books are at an appropriate level and there is a justified theme running through your book choices.
This will hopefully become an ever-evolving document and will be updated regularly so please feel free to leave comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with other recommendations.
Doug Lemov concludes it succinctly in his book:
"If teachers want to ensure maximum achievement in reading and maximum readiness for college, text selection deserves greater attention and intentionality. This does not mean that every book needs to be selected using a 'maximum value for learning' calculation. Some should be; we hope many will. Choosing others sheerly for the pleasure of it or on a lark is fine as long as the overall portfolio of books is intentional and balanced."
I would like to say a big thanks to members of the Twitter community who have contributed to the list such as Rob Smith, Gareth Baker, Scott Evans, Ashley Booth, Aiden Severs, Doug Lemov himself and many more. Thanks for the contributions and to everyone else that has looked over and added to the list!
Anyone wishing to take this further, it may be worth having a look at the 'Text Selection Rubric' and if you don't have a copy of 'Reading Reconsidered', get one!
You can download the reading spine below for FREE and see if this could help your school to structure a new approach to the long-term planning of reading.