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Encouraging book talk in the school library
Encouraging book talk in the school library

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1 What makes a good book?

I met a dragon face to face

I met a dragon face to face

The year when I was ten,

I took a trip to outer space,

I braved a pirate's den,

I wrestled with a wicked troll,

And fought a great white shark,

I trailed a rabbit down a hole,

I hunted for a snark.

I stowed aboard a submarine,

I opened magic doors,

I travelled in a time machine,

And searched for dinosaurs,

I climbed atop a giant's head,

I found a pot of gold,

I did this all in books I read

When I was ten years old

Jack Prelutsky: ‘Good Books: Good Times’, HarperCollins 1990

Maybe it was Custard that Jack Prelutsky met, maybe not; we all have our favourite books and those we hate. How did we develop our personal taste and critical awareness?

All good books have one thing in common – they are truer than if they really happened and after you have finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you.

Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961)

Here are some points you could raise in discussion with pupils to try to encourage them to think about the books they read. I am sure you will think of many more.

  • Did the book they just read surprise them? Why did they choose it? Did they expect to like or not like it because of the blurb or dust jacket?

  • Did the characters seem real? Did they feel sympathy for the characters? Do they know anyone like the character?

  • Did the book take them to new places? Were they real places or imaginary lands? Did they learn anything about the setting from reading the book?

  • Did the author know about the background or topic of the book? Were there any mistakes?

  • Did they want to go on reading more after the book had ended?

Above all, we need to let children know that it is all right not to like a book – even if it is critically acclaimed!

Activity 1

What do you think makes a good book?

Try listing six key features you would look for when reviewing a book.

You could try this question out on your pupils too.

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