Igniting a love for reading in your students

Igniting a love for reading in your students


Igniting a love for reading can be quite tricky with young people. Often parents ask teachers for help in getting their child to become a ‘reader’ after many attempts, and that’s not without them trying very hard.

When I was growing up, computers were so slow that by the time a game had loaded up on my computer I could have read a whole book. Modern life means that we have modern problems related to reading. Would a child rather watch a video on their phone, or would they rather read a book with no pictures in it? The speed and ease with which young people can access entertainment is phenomenal. Books have a lot to compete with, so every day should be a World Book Day.  We need to create the right conditions for reading and for this we need the right materials and techniques to get them enthralled and hooked on reading.

1. Give space and time for reading

Reading is a slow and quiet process. If young people are going to read, then we need to give them the space and time to read. That means space, and time, away from the television, computer or mobile device.

2. Set routines

Ask any reader about their reading patterns and they’ll tell you a specific time or part of the day when they read. I always read for an hour before bed and that routine is set. My reading isn’t just a habit, it is a routine. To help young people, it is best to create the routine first.

3. Let the books do the work  

Once you have the space, time and routines, it is down to the books and that’s largely where the problem lies. An adult’s enjoyment of a book is not infectious. In fact, the choices of adults are rarely mirrored by young people. A dad’s enjoyment of World War One stories is personal to him and only him. Therefore, the child should be the source of direction for books. What do they like? What are they interested in reading? What do they want to know more about? Let the child be the source of direction and let them explore. Yes, there are some fantastic books out there but let the children hunt them out.

As a teenager, I read everything and anything related to Doctor Who. The passion to know a topic was there in me, as it is with most children, and the reading feeds that hunger. Every child has a passion and we just need to direct them to books being a way to feed that hunger for their passion.

Non-fiction is often an easier way into reading for young people. You can engage quickly with the content of non-fiction and you have more flexibility when it comes to the reading process: a quick 5 minute skim of the section; or, an intensive, prolonged read of a section. We have this image that a reader is someone that constantly reads fiction and we see that as a model to aspire to.

A child who reads is a child who succeeds in life regardless of the form of a book. Fiction takes time to read and engagement isn’t instantaneous. Think of how difficult the first chapter of any novel is to read; that disorientating effect is the problem that surrounds fiction. Some of us love the world building in our imagination, but for others that is a really difficult thing. Non-fiction combats this. A child can read instantaneously and not be confused from the start.

Here are just a few avenues to explore if a child is hungry for a particular thing.


Hungry for historical fiction

When the World Was Ours by Liz Kessler

Partly inspired by a real act of kindness, Kessler’s heart-breaking and moving story explores the rise of the Nazi party and the impact it has on three young people. Three friends go on three separate journeys which test their faith, friendships and loyalties.

For me, the strength of this book is how it takes us through a child’s experience of war and shows us the impact it has emotionally, physically and mentally. Leo, Elsa and Max see, at first, subtle changes, but then those changes become obvious and life changing.

See also:

The Last Paper Crane by Kerry Drewery

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr

Ghost Boy by Jewell Parker Rhodes

The Wheel of Surya by Jamila Gavin

Cane Warriors by Alex Wheatle


Hungry for fantasy fiction

Rebel Skies by Ann Sei Lin

Ann Sei Lin’s opening book in a trilogy does what every fantasy book does best: it builds a world so fantastic but so real at the same time. A world where paper can be manipulated to create creatures, people and monsters. Kurara, our protagonist, takes us on a journey of airships and floating cities to find her identity.

Wizards, trolls and wands have largely dominated fantasy fiction and this adds something new to the genre. Lots of comparisons have been made with Studio Ghibli and ‘Rebel Skies’ and you can see why. The fusion of fantasy and Japanese culture makes this such an interesting novel.

See also:

Across the Nightingale Floor – Lian Hearn

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Mortal Engines – Philip Reeve

Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun by Tolá Okogwu

Podkin One-Ear by Kieran Larwood


Hungry for young teen fiction

The Amazing Edie Eckart by Rosie Jones

Rosie Jones’ debut novel bridges the gap between Jaqueline Wilson books and later teen fiction. Edie Eckart has cerebral palsy and she is navigating her way through school, friendships and relationships. Told as a series of diary entries, we live through Edie’s experience of starting a new school.

This is a book that doesn’t shy away from complex issues, but keeps things grounded with a Jones’ sense of humour. The book is perfect for any Year 7 starting a new school. So many things are easily identifiable for them.

See also:

Fight Back by A.M. Dassu

Oh My Gods by Alexandra Sheppard

Sadé and Her Shadow Beasts by Rachel Faturoti

The Asparagus Bunch by Jesscia Scott-Whyte

Yusuf Azeem is Not a Hero by Saadia Faruqi


Hungry for a quick or easy read

Needle by Patrice Lawrence

‘Needle’ is a book created to make reading more accessible for young people. It is a quick read but it packs a punch, dealing with issues around fostering, crime, racial bias, anger management and… knitting. Charlene, our protagonist, is a fully rounded character and reflects the complex emotions teenagers experience.

Lawrence’s writing is concise, but it conveys so much about the relationships and the feelings of the characters. There’s an assumption that easy reads are light and simple, but Lawrence proves that is not the case.

See also:

I am the Minotaur by Anthony McGowan

Lark by Anthony McGowan

Rat by Patrice Lawrence

Stay A Little Longer by Bali Rai

The Climbers by Keith Gray


Hungry for something spooky

Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley

Imagine if Tim Burton wrote books. That’s the best way to describe Chris Priestley’s work. His writing is dark, creepy but also quite fairy-tale in its approach and style. ‘Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror’ revolves around Edgar visiting his uncle, who tells him stories which each have a strange connection to the house.

Atmosphere is the key element of ghost stories and Priestley’s strength is his ability to create unsettled and ominous moods. We, like Edgar, know that something isn’t quite right, but we can’t put our finger on exactly what it is. The fun is waiting for the moment things are revealed to us.

See also:

Cirque Du Freak by Darren Shan

Crater Lake by Jennifer Killick

The Monsters of Rookhaven by Pádraig Kenny

The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delaney

The Twisted Tree by Rachel Burge

Waking the Witch by Rachel Burge

Zom-B by Darren Shan


Hungry for non-fiction

You Are a Champion: How to Be the Best You Can Be by Marcus Rashford and Carl Anka

This book is so popular with students that I need to include it in a list of recommended books. The combination of advice and autobiographical snippets makes this such an easy and accessible book for students. Key Stage 3 boys, in particular, like this book, because of the football element, but also because Marcus Rashford is such a positive role model for boys.

See also:

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

Musical Truth: A Musical History of Modern Black Britain in 28 Songs by Jeffrey Boakye

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics by Tim Marshall

Things A Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nichols

This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work by Tiffany Jewell and Aurélia Durand

This Book Is Feminist: An Intersectional Primer for Feminists in Training by Jamia Wilson and Aurélia Durand


Hungry for older teen fiction

The Outrage by William Hussey

William Hussey’s dystopian novel is an eerily prescient warning for society. Gabriel, the protagonist, is a gay teenager in a world where being openly gay is a crime and people are punished and labelled as ‘degenerate’. Gabriel battles against ideology to prove that love is better than hate.

Hussey presents hope in a dark and twisted version of our world, but warns us of the dangers of prejudice, intolerance and bigotry. Young adult fiction has the ability to deal with complex ideas, thoughts and emotions with such brevity and ‘The Outrage’ is a great example of this. Teenagers want to read complex ideas in texts and they don’t want to be patronised.

See also:

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Fall Out by C.G. Moore

Grow by Luke Palmer

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

The Gay Club! by Simon James Green

The Upper World by Femi Fadugba

What We’re Scared Of by Karen David

When Shadows Fall by Sita Brahmachari

While people across the land dress up to promote World Book Day, let’s focus on building that appetite for reading. You don’t know you have an appetite for pizza unless you’ve tried one. That’s why it is so important that we expose students to a range of reading experiences. Like food, it takes time for us to work out what we like and what we love.

Happy World Book Day!

Chris Curtis has been an English teacher for over fourteen years and a head of department for the last five years. As an avid reader and blogger, he is passionate about igniting a love for reading in students and is always looking and reflecting on what works for students in the classroom. He is a big believer in finding and sharing practical solutions to difficult problems in the classroom, and is the author of the editable teacher pack, Develop Brilliant Reading, and How To Teach: English and The Art of Writing English Literature Essays: for GCSE.