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My Teachers’ Reading Challenge 2020:

Reflecting on the Rationale behind my choice of ‘Reads’

teachers’ reading challenge logo 2020

There was a lovely buzz amongst the teacher book-loving community on Twitter yesterday due to ‘signing-up day’ for the teacher’s reading challenge 2020. #trc2020

I was starting to mull over which book I was going to kick off my challenge with when a really insightful Tweet about making book choices appeared in my news feed. Matthew Tobin, Lecturer in Primary English & Children’s Literature at Oxford Brookes University asked Twitter how they went about choosing their next book to read. The information is presented in a really clear infographic.

You can find the Tweet here:

This prompted me to really think about my own book choices and the rationale behind them.

For me, choosing a book has always been a bit like choosing food from the menu in a restaurant: I stick to what I know I like to avoid making a choice that I’m disappointed with – and in the case of a meal, probably having to finish it! It took me a long time as a reader to realise that it’s ok to not finish a book that’s not to my taste and I believe this is as a result of not particularly being given ‘permission’ (as with food) to ‘leave it’ as a child. This is why book blether discussions with children are so important so that they can articulate their thoughts and feelings around books and their choices.

I am the sort of person that likes to have a plan, so I feel more comfortable starting the challenge knowing which books I am setting out to read, a sort of ‘end goal.’ 18% of the people Matthew surveyed said ‘the mood they were in’ influenced their next book choice but I can honestly say that’s not me at all. I like lists. I have been using Goodreads for a little while now and I use the ‘Want to Read’ shelf in there to store books that interest me as soon as I come across them – it’s like a virtual ‘To Be Read pile.’ I also find it quite satisfying moving the books onto my Goodreads ‘Read’ shelf and having a visual record of the books I’ve finished to look back on. I feel both of these strategies are equally helpful to children.

When making my book choices for the challenge, I consulted my Goodreads ‘Want to Read’ list and the ‘Find a Read’ lists on the trc2020 website. I decided I’m going to stick with the recommended target of 6 books. Although the challenge runs for 11 weeks, I know there will be a coupe of weeks around the time that school opens that I may be pressured for time and want my challenge to be achievable. I have some ‘Bonus Reads’ on stand-by though as I am optimistic. I also decided I’m not going to add any books I’ve already read from the ‘Find a Read’ lists or otherwise. I then reflected on my choices and how they fit with Matthew’s findings.

So without further ado, here are my choices which I’ve tried to sort according to the themes in Matthew’s infographic, but not necessarily the order I will read them in.

Stand By Your Author

After thoroughly enjoying ‘The Island at the End of Everything’ and ‘The Girl of Ink and Stars’ Kiran Millwood Hargrave has become an author I just want to keep reading more of. These were both recommendations from a fellow book bletherer on Twitter, who has become part of a group of trusted ‘go to’ people I follow for their knowledge of children’s literature.

I’ve also just discovered the next book ‘A Secret of Birds and Bone’ is being released on 1st October! (This could be going on the ‘Bonus Reads’ list.)

Diversifying Your Reading

Lower Key Stage 2 is the phase I have the least experience of teaching and I know the only way I’ll feel more confident recommending books to children in this age group is by diversifying my reading. I tend to favour books targeted at Upper Key Stage 2. I recently read a lovely review of the sequel ‘The Velvet Fox’ and it sounded right up my street, so I need to read this first. The Midnight Swan is also due for release at the end of August so it would be great to read a trilogy by the same author. (Another two possibilities for the ‘Bonus Reads’ list)

Social Media Recommendations

Coincidentally, another fellow book bletherer on Twitter shared this book last night as the first book of her trc202. She spoke so enthusiastically about the book, even though it was out of her comfort zone that I was intrigued to know more. This is my ‘Wild Card’ choice as it is not a book I would have chosen either.

Theme and Genre

‘High Rise Mystery’ has been on my ‘Want to Read’ list for months now and I love a good detective/mystery story! Equally, it’s so important for Black and Minority Ethnic pupils to be represented in the literature we present to children and ensure that talented BAME authors get the recognition they deserve.

Stories that tackle difficult real-life issues have also always appealed to me. ‘The Boy at the Back of the Class’ made a lasting impression on me for that reason and I am keen to read ‘Star Outside My Window’ to see how Onjali Q. Rauf handles the challenging topic of domestic violence.


I’ve read so many great reviews of ‘The Ship of Shadows’ since its release in July. It’s also the Primary School Book Club August book of the month so I will read this in a week or so, to ensure my knowledge of the book is fresh for the discussion.

Bonus Read #1

I’ve selected ‘After the War’ as my ‘Bonus Read’ as it’s only been a week since it was published and I’ve heard read a number of reviews offering high praise for it. Equally, stories about war are not a genre I would normally choose so this will help me diversify too. Knowing it’s on stand-by will motivate me to exceed my challenge.

Interestingly, none of my choices were based on ‘Judging a Book by its Cover’ but children’s choices are often influenced by book covers. Sadly, visits to bookshops haven’t influenced my choices either. Due to Coronavirus, my shopping trips have been limited mainly to supermarkets.

We are using ‘Here We Are’ as a whole school text when we return in September, using the CLPE planning units so I’ve not chosen an additional picture book for my personal challenge. Similarly, non-fiction is an area we know we need to improve dramatically in school so assessing that is going to be a separate reading challenge for me and my colleagues later on in the year/early in 2021.

I’m really interested to what others are reading and I’ve already started to have a look at the reviews on the trc2020 site. What have you chosen/thinking of choosing and how do your choices fit within the themes discussed? Are you more comfortable with a pragmatic approach like me, selecting most of your books at the beginning with a little ‘wiggle room’ or are you going to go wherever the winds takes you, selecting each book as it comes? Do you have a ‘wild card?’ I’d love to know your thoughts.

If you have’t signed up to the trc202 and would like to, you can do so here:

Rain Before Rainbows

Written by Smriti Halls & Illustrated by David Lichfield

Walker Books & Save the Children

Hardcover available 1st October

Rainbows have become a universal symbol of hope throughout these strange and frightening times and the stunningly beautiful illustrations and tremendously encouraging messages in this book truly moved me. I had goosebumps and a lump formed in my throat the further on I read.

After a devastating fire breaks out in a magical castle, a girl and her fox companion are forced to flee their home in a terrible storm. Overwhelmed with sadness and despair, the two friends set out on a long and treacherous journey. Along the way, they encounter mountains to climb, battles to win and have to face difficult decisions. But they have each other and they find their way out of the darkness, into the light of the rainbow. The story is narrated through a simple but beautiful rhyming structure that is lyrical and song-like.

This is not just another book about the global pandemic, this is a positive message of hope for anyone who’s ever been through or is going through a difficult time in their life. ‘Rain Before Rainbows’ could be enjoyed by every phase in school and would be perfect for a whole school text, assemblies or PSHCE lessons.

During the challenging times in our lives, this book teaches us to weather the storm, follow our dreams, reach out to friends and a brighter day will be around the corner.

Rain before rainbows. Clouds before sun.

Night before daybreak. A new day’s begun.

You can download a PDF file of the book here:

From the author –
Life is never pure sunshine, but when I wrote this book I really didn’t envisage the clouds that would
darken our skies the world over. We have all had to embark on a journey we didn’t expect, facing
difficulty and danger, often separated from friends and loved ones. We may feel alone. But we are not.
There may be rain.
But there are rainbows.

Snooze: Helpful Tips For Sleepy Owls

Written & Illustrated by Eilidh Muldoon

Published by Little Door Books – 14th August 2020

Feeling tired after a busy day? But you can’t sleep?

Then Snooze is the perfect book for you!

It will explain how to get the best sleep ever.

‘Snooze’ is the delightful tale of a poor little owl who just cannot get to sleep. Being nocturnal isn’t easy and little owl’s noisy friends don’t always realise that he is trying to get to sleep. A carefully chosen band of raucous creatures, including honking geese and a crowing cockerel disturb our weary owl’s slumber and there are fantastic opportunities for little ones to join in with the animal noises. Little owl does eventually fall asleep and quicker than you can say ‘TWIT TWOO’ it’s his snoring keeping the others awake!

Continue reading “Snooze: Helpful Tips For Sleepy Owls”

If You See A Lion

Written by Karl Newson Illustrated by Andrea Stegmaier

Quarto Publishing Group – Words & Pictures

Published 18th August 2020

Once upon a time, there was a story in this book… But a lion ate it all.

This is the humorous story of a lion who prides himself on being ‘king’ and living up to typical lion-like behaviour. However, an unlikely soul stands up to him and shows that he can be ‘like the lion in his heart’ instead of eating everything in sight!

Continue reading “If You See A Lion”

One Button Benny & the Gigantic Catastrophe

Written by Alan Windram & Illustrated by Chloe-Holwill-Hunter

Published by Little Door Books – 7th August 2020

Disaster strikes! Everyone is in a panic.

Can Benny Save the day?

Will he have to press his Big Bright Red Button again?

In the second book in the series, One Button Benny is forced to go on a rescue mission. Benny and his friends are shocked to discover that the day before the ‘Cool Cat Competition’ all of their pet cats have been kidnapped – it’s a Gigantic Cat -astrophe!

One Button Benny and the Gigantic Catastrophe
By Alan Windram
Published by Little Door Books
Continue reading “One Button Benny & the Gigantic Catastrophe”

The House with Chicken Legs

Sophie Anderson

Usborne – May 2018

Marinka dreams of a normal life, where her house stays in one place long enough for her to make friends. But her house has chicken legs and moves on without warning.

For Marinka’s grandmother is Baba Yaga, who guides spirits between this world and the next. Marinka longs to change her destiny and sets out to break free from her grandmother’s footsteps, but her house has other ideas…

‘The House with Chicken Legs’ gave me a lump in my throat and on more than one occasion, I was wiping away my tears due to the book’s tenderness and delicate handling of the subjects of death, grief and loss.

Continue reading “The House with Chicken Legs”

The Whales on the Bus

Katrina Charman & Nick Sharratt

Bloomsbury – 6th August 2020

Cranes on trains? Goats on boats? Dragons on wagons?

After the successes of ‘Go, Go Pirate Boat’ and ‘Car, Car, Truck, Jeep’ Katrina Charman and Nick Sharratt have brought us another lovely collaboration, this time re-working the time-honoured classic of ‘The Wheels on the Bus.’

As an experienced Early Years Foundation leader and teacher, singing is most definately in my job description. Nursery rhymes and songs are proven to be crucial in children’s communication and language development and rhymes and songs build phonological awareness which form the building blocks of learning to read. There isn’t a day goes by where we don’t sing in our nursery and reception classes!

Like the original version of the song, ‘The Whales on the Bus’ give lots of opportunities for actions and sound effects. Children will enjoy roaring, quacking and beeping; zooming, gliding and slipping-and-sliding!

Continue reading “The Whales on the Bus”

The Book of Selkie: A Paper Doll Book

By Briana Corr Scott

Nimbus Publishing – June 2020

This is beautifully illustrated, lyrical book explores the mythical world of a selkie. I haven’t seen a paper doll book for years, so it was wonderful to see this concept being used again. I remember having a couple of paper doll books as a child and being totally engrossed playing with them.

Continue reading “The Book of Selkie: A Paper Doll Book”

The Story of Babushka

By Catherine Flores

“ We can never be truly happy without the love that unites us together as one”

Babushka dolls are a source of fascination for children – I have two sets at home that my children and visitors to our house continue to play with and one of my earliest, most vivid memories of school, is exploring a set of Russian dolls that lived in my infant classroom.

The Story of Babushka is that of a very special Russian Matroyshka, or nesting doll and her five bodies, in search of the meaning of life.

Continue reading “The Story of Babushka”