Enough research? The right research?

Complaining is such a satisfying thing to do. Sometimes, anyway. I caught the tail end of something Lucy Coats said on Facebook, and which I feel entitled to mention here as she tweeted it at TES, making it public. Lucy was dissatisfied with their list of recommended books for children.

Keeping in mind my own moan a few months ago, on a similar topic, I read all the comments, feeling quite enraged. Then I read what school librarian and children’s author Dawn Finch said about it on her blog, including her own list of suitable books. Many great books, and I couldn’t agree more.

Finally (yes I know, I should have started there) I had a look at the offending list the TES had put together. It wasn’t as bad as I had feared, especially considering the list had been compiled by asking teachers. I suppose the TES could hardly go around asking accountants for their recommendations, so the question I have is why ask teachers?

Why not the school librarians, while they are still not totally extinct? Is it that teachers are supposed to know more? Or was it to see how little they are aware of books?

The thing is, as I’ve said on other occasions, by asking fewer experts and more people in general, you end up with the same general lists, because that’s the kind of knowledge we have on things we don’t specialise in.

As I said, the list was nowhere near as bad as it might have been. But if the purpose of the listmaking was to guide adults guide children, then they should have asked the librarians.

One of the first things I was involved with at Offspring’s secondary school library, was the voting for favourite books. Admittedly it was probably mostly the keen readers who responded. But it was illuminating for me, who thought I knew it all. Among boys, the two books that stood out were the Guinness Book of Records, and Dave Pelzer’s A Child Called ‘It’ and both surprised me. Had it not been for the school library, I’d have assumed the winner would be one of the well known novels for children. If not Harry Potter, then one of the others that we adults ‘have all heard of.’

8 responses to “Enough research? The right research?

  1. Thank you! I’ve always wondered about things like this, they never ask the people they should.The people who actually work with the people.

  2. There isn’t a single Nancy Drew book on that list! What about Whispers In The Graveyard? Or The Scarecrows by Robert Westall? Lord of the Flies? I would add Joan Aiken to that list and Ostrich Boys would need to be on it too.

    I’m delighted to see Roald Dahl there, of course. But I think the list would look quite different if school librarians were allowed to redo it…but how different? That would be interesting to see.

  3. From my years working in a bookstore, though not as a children’s book specialist, the Guinness Book of World Records does not surprise me. A Child Called “It” does. I didn’t think this was that book’s audience.

  4. Most primary schools-even big ones don’t possess a school librarian. Many don’t even have a school library. So I’m not surprised the teachers chose ‘classics’ or books they read themselves as children. Our own school library stock is only increased by donations, there is no budget as such, and the only ‘staff’ is one session of a teaching assistant’s time once a week. I’ve started (as a parent) a book club with more up to date titles for Yr 5 & 6 and have provided all the books myself. The kids love it and I’ve had a great response. Many of them are book-lovers anyway and get bought books/taken to the library etc. But I feel desperately sorry for the kids who don’t-there’s not a lot in the tired library offerings to tempt them and as a result books and reading are wholly associated with ‘literacy’ and work for some of them.

  5. At our primary school in Western Australia one of our most fabulous teachers stared a ‘book-swap-shop’. I’m guessing she probably seeded it with donations from the school community- but they now have quite a stock. It is set up in the school library before school on a Tuesday (School assembly day). You simply bring a book to swap and take home something new to you. You don’t need to bring your swapped book back if you have something else you want to swap- so can keep a beloved discovery. All children welcome including pre-schoolers. And small rewards for every ten visits.

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