My bookshelf backfired spectacularly, and I need to fix it, fast.

Picture the scene: it’s 9am on a Thursday morning, the Year 5s are sat with their Reading Buddies talking about what they’re currently reading. The room is buzzing, some children are smiling or laughing, others look intense, speaking in hushed tones, a few are gesturing wildly. They are all on task, showing the range of emotions books conjure. Then, one girl starts crying, not a little tear running down her cheek slowly, but huge heart-wrenching sobs.

The Class teacher and I exchange confused and worried glances before I take her off to my little room off the classroom, sit her down with tissues close by, hold her hands, and ask “what’s wrong?”

“I feel so as ashamed! I’m rubbish at reading. I don’t understand the same books as my friends, and they know I’m not as good as them because of the books I can read,” she blurted out.

“You have nothing to be ashamed of and I’m really sorry you feel like this. Tell me how I can help.”

“I know you have some lovely books on your shelf, but they are too hard.”

I sat there open mouthed, and actually felt a physical pain as my heart broke for her. This is a child who tries so hard. All the time. She perseveres with everything. And she does it all with a smile. Her self-esteem had just gone crashing through the classroom floor because she struggles to understand what she’s reading. And worse still, I knew I’d added to how she felt about herself, because I have a bookshelf of must reads that she simply can’t access.

“Now I know that isn’t true*. There’s one there I know you’ll love, and I know you’ll be able to understand it. I only brought it in on Monday. Let’s have a look at it together.”

She gave me a weak smile, and nodded. I went to fetch the book. Her eyes lit up at the cover, and she read the blurb faultlessly. I then showed her the glossary at the back and told her I’d had to use it to understand the technical words used to make the book feel more realistic. We read the first chapter together. We practiced again how to work out the meaning of new words from the sentence they’re used in.

I promised her we’d read the whole book together, a little every day. She was smiling again; she had a book she could talk about with her Reading Buddies that wouldn’t make her feel bad about herself, and we had a plan.

*I also promised to find more books for my book shelf that she could enjoy by herself, because actually, she does have a very valid point. Most of my books are a bit too daunting for her just now. I need to make a much bigger effort to find hi interest low level books that don’t look like they’re hi-lo books. I actually refuse to buy books that have hi-lo, dyslexia friendly or early reader on the front cover for my bookshelf.

For now, I’ll search the bookshelves in the classroom and cover the books I think she’ll enjoy, so there’s a selection that she, and others in the class, can choose from for their genre and blurb that don’t scream “failing reader” from the cover, and won’t damage the self-esteem of pupils, like her, who can read well enough that they know “early reader” or “hi-lo” means you are reading below expectations in Year 5. And actually, she isn’t failing. She’s making good progress and catching her friends up. We all learn different skills at different rates, it’s just a shame that those at the top of education in this country have forgotten that and are happy to label children as “below expectations” regardless of the effects.



7 thoughts on “My bookshelf backfired spectacularly, and I need to fix it, fast.

  1. mefinx says:

    I think this may well explain some of the appeal of Wimpy Kid, Tom Gates and similar series. As well as being great fun and slightly subversive, the layout makes the book look harder and bigger than it actually is. Although most children are aware of this, status still seems to demand that they tackle what looks like a “real book”.

    And I recognise a danger I myself am slipping into. I am in contact with so many book bloggers, all praising books at around the top end of primary level, that I’m beginning to slip into a bubble and overlook the simple fact that many of these lovely titles are beyond the children I actually work with.


    • missclevelandisreading says:

      That’s the thing. My bookshelf is full of MY books. I’m not a Wimpy Kid/ Tom Gates fan so they aren’t there. They are in the class and school library though. I’m not going to buy a book I don’t think I’ll enjoy, as I won’t be as enthusiastic discussing it with whoever is reading it.

      My shelf started as a way to reignite passion for reading from the really confident readers. I now know it must cater for every child in UKS2 so that no child feels there is nothing there for them.

      Still researching, but the books are out there. The Wilderness War & The Boy in The Globe both fit the bill, as do St Grizzles and Beaky Malone which both had reservation lists before they were delivered.


  2. mefinx says:

    Do you run book clubs? I notice TG and DWK are backed up by publisher’s websites offering reams of downloadable material. And that’s great but it’s very tempting for busy teachers/librarians to slip into only promoting these books, which are already very over-exposed. So your bookshelf is doing a great job – but I bet you’re paying for a lot of the books yourself!


    • missclevelandisreading says:

      I’ve got 3 book clubs this term, 2 at lunchtime and one after school. The after school pupils pay £1 a week, and will all receive a book to keep at the end of the term. The rest of the money will pay for extra books for the club which will then go into library stock.

      I pay for all of the books on my shelf myself, unless I win them in giveaways! Some were my son’s books that he’s read and has run out of room for, which is where the idea started.


      • mefinx says:

        Interesting that the children pay for the club, and not unreasonable. Of course a lot depends on the parents and whether this will put them off – assuming you don’t have a Pupil Premium arrangement.

        How long do your book clubs last. I only have 30 minutes for my KS2 at lunchtime, which isn’t really long enough. The school day is so crowded now!

        I just name-checked you in my latest blog post, by the way.


  3. missclevelandisreading says:

    It took a big discussion to get it to be a paid for club, and there is a PPA in place so it is open to all. Having it after school means it’s an hour long, so not rushed at all. My lunchtime clubs are 30 minutes, minus collecting from playground, settling etc, so I feel your pain with that one.

    Thank you so much for the name check, I’m truly humbled! Love your blog 😊💕📚


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