Catering for everyone’s tastes and abilities should be at the forefront of anyone responsible for children’s reading material. We all know young readers can be the most demanding consumers. There’s that well-known phrase, “You can lead a child to a bookcase, but you can’t make them read”. OK, I made that up. But a horse will eventually drink water. If we aren’t filling our schools with the variety of what’s on offer, some children will always feel the book corner or library isn’t for them.
Children also grow up in a world of consumption vastly different from ten years ago. We can choose from a seemingly unlimited amount of media whenever and wherever we want. New episodes, songs and computer game updates are “dropped” to much fanfare and excitement. The buzz ripples across social media and workplace small talk.
But only hardcore readers will feel that excitement from the release of a new book. There are exceptions, but these are rare. And we tend to only see series fiction becoming such publishing avalanches in children’s literature. However, “rockstar” or celebrity authors who can churn out a book or two every year generate huge sales and excitement. Arguably at the expense of quality and with greater support of the publisher than more worthwhile books, but that’s a different debate.
In the 19th century, a lot of novels were released episodically. Dickens’s novels were famously clambered over when each part was released. So is there a way to recreate this constantly changing media world that children grow up with? I think there is: periodicals. Although that’s a rubbish word, isn’t it? It feels very dusty and of a different time. But the range of them for children is vast. Walk into a large WH Smiths or supermarket and browse what’s on offer. Far too many to list, but I have chosen a few that will be popular in many schools.
I’ve mentioned Britannica a few times in these blogs. Their relatively newly branded children’s nonfiction is brilliant. The Britannica Magazine is no different. Released once a month, it’s “The ultimate magazine for curious young minds!”. Facts, stunning photography, latest discoveries and inventions (many of which I hadn’t heard about anywhere else. Did you know in the US, scientists have built a prototype machine called SpinLaunch, which they hope will throw a satellite into orbit at 5000 mph?).
History also has a place each month with an extract from Christopher Lloyd’s Absolutely Everything! September’s issue has two double pages on (curriculum alert) Ancient Egypt. Readers are also able to send in questions for experts to answer. And of course quizzes, puzzles and jokes.
Two of the most popular comics are Beano and The Phoenix. Both of which come out each week. Beano’s sales figures have increased in the last 12 years. From 40,000 to nearly 55,000, which shows there’s still a demand for a comic that’s been around since the 1950s. The short one or two-page comic strips are easily digestible and huge fun, and wonderfully anarchic.
The Phoenix is a baby in comparison at only 10 years old, but also hugely popular. Published by David Fickling Books, it features many favourite strips which continue each week, creating anticipation with every release. The popular graphic novel No Country first appeared in The Phoenix comic, and new ‘episodes’ continue today. The massively popular Bunny vs Monkey and Looshkin by Jamie Smart also feature.
It would be remiss of me not to mention football magazines. Children will read and reread these until they fall apart. And you will find groups of children crowding around one issue. Match of the Day and Match magazine are two which are still popular. When I was in primary school, I would get Match and Shoot, which sadly doesn’t exist anymore. They were a huge part of my reading journey. The posters were a big part of the appeal, and they still are. Interviews, match reports, transfer gossip, competitions. Women’s football also features. And after the success of the Lionesses this summer and the upcoming World Cups (men’s 2022 and women’s 2023), there will be an even greater interest in all things football this year.
When it comes to the news and current affairs, most schools will be familiar with First News, which does a great job of explaining the week’s news to a young audience. Importantly not shying away from sensitive topics. Also available is The Week Junior, which has on its cover “Making sense of the world”, which is exactly what you can expect. As well as the week’s news (UK and World), sections include, but are not limited to, The Big Debate, People, Animals and the Environment, a feature – this week it’s about school uniforms, Science and Technology, Photos, Sport, Wellbeing. There is also a monthly edition dedicated to Science and Nature. I also picked up a special edition called The Big Debate. This is 130 pages of important questions with arguments for and against. This would be a great teacher resource too.
You can’t get away from subscriptions these days, but in the case of magazine purchasing, it is a good way to keep costs down. Buying them individually at first is a good way to find the ones that suit your readers. But moving to a subscription is better in the long run, and they all offer introductory offers of some sort. Once you’ve chosen, make a fuss when each copy arrives. Create a buzz, read from it and display it, although hopefully, it will always be in someone’s hands. Let parents know about these publications, too; if it isn’t in the school’s budget, it might be in theirs. Also, watch out for offers and competitions on social media. I managed to get a year’s worth of Britannica Magazines for free.
Books are amazing, but they’re not for all readers. And they’re not the choice of reading material for every scenario, either. With the start of a new leg on pupils’ reading journeys, think about some periodicals. Because I guarantee as you’ve read this, you’ve been thinking of the pupils that would prefer this type of reading.