Left on the shelf


It was my last lesson with the year 10s (15-year olds) and I’d invited them each to get up and tell me and the class about their favourite book.

Public speaking being a route to self-ful lment (ask Dale Carnegie and Toastmasters), this was in any case a chance to practise the speaking element of the GCSE and also to start a list for a class book club maybe?

The first three I called on had not read a book. I turned to one of the brighter in the class. Mercifully, he had prepared his presentation: I shall be speaking about Diary of aWimpy Kid. If you have no idea what that is,count yourself lucky. Astonishingly, secondary school libraries stock these “silly, popular” (I quote Wikipedia) part-comic books along with the Captain Underpants series (written for primary school level) so, not so astonishingly, that is what the kids read.

Still no surprises then to find a report this week from Professor Keith Topping stating that “Worryingly, by the later years of secondary school many students are reading books that are no harder than those in primary school.” If they are reading at all… And you don’t need to be a professor to share his insight that “good literacy is the single most important educational building block from which all other learning follows.”


Now I’ve finished weeping for the generation of non-readers we’ve raised; I’ve wiped my nose and wrung out my sleeve – I’m emboldened. So here goes: I would remove from school libraries all books not written in recognisable English that enables readers to establish a solid relationship with literature, build their vocabulary and an understanding of good English syntax. I would provide them with this list of recommended reading that would, in addition, they’d lay down a store of cultural capital. What would you add?

Alice inWonderland, Lewis Carol

Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Lord of the Flies, William Golding
The Hobbit, J R RTolkien
Treasure Island, R L Stephenson

1984, George Orwell
Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

I’d interleave those with books that can’t fail to cheer you up. Researching such books online produces a dismal slew of titles on how to overcome depression, ready to spoil any spirit that had the temerity to be glad. Let’s do better than that!

Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K Jerome
So Long and Thanks for all the Fish, Douglas Adams

Anything by P G Wodehouse
Winterdance, Gary Paulsen
How to make a Jewish Movie, Melville Shavelson

Goodbye, Columbus, Philip Roth


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