Primary school teachers share their favourite books for children

Book Reviews, Reading, Teaching

Some kids are natural born readers. Many others develop a love for books because of the time that their parents spend reading with them. For others it starts with a single book that sparks just enough of a reaction to get them to read one more book, and then another, and so on.

As a teacher, to know that you’ve inspired a love of reading in a child is a wonderful thing for so many reasons… not least the fact that a child who reads will come to my classroom with a more expansive take on the world and an exponentially greater vocabulary.

School reading lists can often seem somewhat, ahem, dry, which is rubbish because teachers are brimming with ideas of great books which is exactly the point of this post. Instead of sharing all of my own ideas I opened the floor to other teachers – for one thing it means that I can present a more rounded range of recommendations, and it’s always easier to get other people to write my blog posts for me while I’m busy with my real job, and y’know, pretending to write that novel that I keep banging on about.

Big thanks to Kerry, Rob, Lindsay, Gillian and Tom for taking the time to craft their reviews. An aggregated list of all of the books can be found here.

Danny, Champion of the World, Roald Dahl

“Danny is a sweet and clever boy raised by his dad. Together they lead a wonderfully simple life full of excitement and stories, living in a small, self-contained gypsy caravan just behind the gas station that Danny’s dad owns and where he works as a mechanic. Danny loves his life and his dad, but when he wakes up one night to find that his dad isn’t in the bunk above as usual, it’s a frightful moment that leads to the greatest discoveries and biggest secrets…

I love the uniqueness and simplicity of this story. It’s the first book I read to my new class every year and it never fails to impress the little lovelies and capture their imagination. The children are always completely engrossed by the storyline, constantly craving more each time I finish a chapter. The look on their faces and their need to hear more excites me year after year, and that’s why I love it so much. It also has the power to inspire even the most reluctant readers that the world of reading is an amazing and magical place to be and one that they want to explore further.

Danny is truly a champion—on so many levels!”

Kerry Osborn

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach

“This was my favourite book as a child. My Dad, who had an interest in flying, gave this book to me to read when I was around twelve years old. Jonathan is a member of a flock of seagulls and constantly takes risks when flying, leading to his banishment after one accident too many. Whilst in isolation, Jonathan is able to pursue his love of flying for flying’s sake, and perfects the way that he is able to control his flight. After dazzling some members of the flock when returning, he begins to gather followers who want to push their own boundaries too.

When I read the book I was immediately struck by the way that the main character was able to explore his freedom from making his own choices. This helped me to begin to form my own ideas about how you don’t have to follow what everyone else believes is the “proper” thing to do. Along with this came an appreciation for the way that gulls fly, and I began to notice the kind of things that were mentioned in the book. This in turn led to a love of travel, and in particular to the coastal areas of the United Kingdom.

This is a book about not being afraid of following your own path.”

Rob Small

The Gruffalo, by Julia Donaldson

“I just love The Gruffalo. In fact, when you’re teaching in Foundation or Key Stage 1, any Julia Donaldson book is a surefire winner, but this charming story, coupled with illustrations by Axel Sheffler, makes it a firm favourite with me and many classes I have taught. I love it when my son chooses it for his bedtime story as it is a book I can happily read over and over again. It’s also a brilliant platform for a variety of lessons, such as character descriptions, story writing and drama activities. The real magic of this book, though, is how well all children know it. There’s something quite thrilling about reading children a story that they all automatically join in with. The repetition and rhyme make it easy for them to join in and guess what’s coming next.

There are so many books I could have chosen but The Gruffalo will always have a special place on my bookshelf—at home and in the classroom.”

Lindsay Pollock

Malory Towers, by Enid Blyton

“As a small child my favorite book was Dogger by Shirley Hughes, but this was purely because of the pictures…

As a slightly older child—and probably still now if I had a chance to read them—I loved the Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton. I loved school and these books made me want to go to a boarding school! I always wanted to do the things they did in the stories, like the midnight feasts. I enjoyed following the characters from their first year through to when they left, and I could relate to them… although I never did get to go to boarding school. Maybe it inspired me more to go into teaching, who knows?!”

Gillian Forbes

George’s Marvellous Medicine, Roald Dahl

“George’s mother and father head out for the day leaving their solitary lad, George Kranky, to mind his ugly, shrivelled up, abusive Grandma on the family farm. Once his parents are out of the way the ‘old hag’ entices George into the living room, demands a cup of tea, and begins the torment of the innocent, gentle George. Stuck in an oversized armchair she sits, leers, and frightens the young George with horror stories about grotesque eating habits and the ills of being a child. Fleeing the room, George is wracked with fear. Knowing Grandma’s daily dose of disgusting brown medicine is due, he decides to concoct his own medicine to teach the puckered-mouthed crone a lesson…

I’ve read this book ritually to year 2 and 3 children over the years. I love it. You have to be fearless when reading it, become another person. I’ve refined the voices, actions and general performance to a slightly bizarre level, to the point I’m leaping around the classroom, screeching like Ade Edmondson and dancing around vast, imaginary saucepans of bubbling medicine. Initially the kids are taken aback—“Who is this loon?” they mutter. But within minutes you’re sucked in. This is the charm of the book, both for adults and children. It has minimal characters, four in total, so it allows for some crackling dialogue. It’s pacey, full of cliffhangers, packed with horror, humour and imagination. It’s the one book, I’ve found, that always keeps a class of children rapt and eager to hear more. There is no better feeling than a class cheering you for the mere suggestion you’re about to read, or applauding you after reading a chapter. The collective laugh, groan, inhale of breath of a room of kids is something special, something to cherish. So thank you Mr Dahl, I salute you.

Tom Scannell

If you’re a teacher and you’d like to submit a recommendation, feel free to get in touch with me here and I’ll add it to a future post. I’d like to keep the series going for as long as I’ve got content to share.

Matt.