Thursday 26 November 2020

How To Create A Book List

There’s been a lot of excitement on social media the past couple of weeks around the announcement by Marcus Rashford that he’s teamed up with Macmillan Children’s Books to not only write several books but also launch a children’s book club aimed at age 7+ with the remit that “books should have diverse characters … making sure people of all race, religion and gender are depicted correctly and representative of modern society.”

As a school librarian, I know the impact a popular young Black male footballer tweeting “Reading is cool. Books are cool.” will have – and it’s exactly what we need to help promote books and reading for pleasure. Can we have more role models like this please?

But, as is the norm whenever anything like this is announced, a plethora of suggested books appear – one of these was a list published in the TES of 10 books gathered by a teacher from suggestions on Twitter. Now, there’s nothing wrong with these books but they don’t exactly fit the intended remit. And I know if I was to create a library display around them very few would be borrowed. I might be able to entice some students to try a couple if I could deliver a talk promoting them but it would be more likely to be the avid readers picking them up, those who are already confident in trying something new or different knowing that if they didn’t like it they could put it down and move on to something else.

It’s actually quite difficult to put together a list that appeals to everyone, especially if the number of titles is restricted. The wider the age range the list is targeted at the more challenging it is especially if you have to consider emerging readers alongside confident readers – too many suggestions aimed at each group will put many off. I’ve had experience of doing this for book awards and school library packs, and it takes a lot longer and is harder than you’d think.

The books need to be diverse – with respect to characters as well as authors and illustrators. They need to be inclusive so that children can see themselves in the stories, physically and emotionally. However, it’s important to remember that they don’t always want to read something that mirrors their own lives; sometimes they want escapism.

The stories should be well researched – there really is no excuse for incorrect factual information – and well-written with characters and plots that engage and develop throughout the book. Fiction introduces children to new language, sentence structure, inference, etc. but books that are aimed too high and outside their level of understanding may well have the opposite effect and put them off reading. So a balance is needed with books at all levels encompassing both less-able and more-able readers. It is important to remember that a book that is read with a child, or as a class set text, can be at a totally different level from one a child reads by themselves; simply because words can be explained, concepts explored and any issues arising in the book discussed.

Then there are genres to consider. If you want the list to have a wide appeal it needs to include as many as possible; fortunately most books encompass several genres but this can still be a bit of a balancing act. And let’s not forget different types of books; poetry, graphic novels, verse novels, memoirs, non-fiction and so on …

Finally, one important thing to think about is the visual appeal of the whole list, especially if you are planning to create posters or displays using the books.  Covers are important.  Forget “don’t judge a book by its cover” because that’s what people do. They have nothing else to go on until they pick the book up and read the blurb so if the cover doesn’t appeal, they’ll leave the book sitting there. And children are no different ... if anything they can be more rigid in what they like and dislike.

So … I asked my librarian colleagues for suggestions, received rather a lot and have narrowed them down to the following 10. This is not a top ten list and if I was to create another one in a couple of months, it would likely be very different. I've not been able to include every type of book or every type of character.

And yes, I know it’s yet “another” list but I’m hoping this one might just be a bit more appealing and help some children engage with reading. As with all book lists my caveat is that the age recommendations are exactly that; they may appeal to younger or older children and books targeted at 7 – 11 years sometimes have content that may be unsuitable for the younger age range although often the age restriction is more to do with reading ability. If you’re not sure my advice is to read the book first - or ask a librarian.

So … what do you think?


1.      The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson
Published by Andersen Press, 2020
Recommended 7 – 11 years (and older)

A stunningly illustrated poem that remembers both famous and often overlooked figures from Black history. This book can be read on several levels and is excellent for encouraging discussion and further exploration into the background of the people and events represented. It’s a book that, when on display, draws people to it.


2.      Super Side Kicks: No Adults Allowed by Gavin Aung Thun
Published by Puffin, 2020
Recommended 7 – 9 years

Junior Justice is fed up with the adult superheroes getting all the attention so he and his friends form their own team to save the world. A graphic novel series about superheroes and supervillains – always popular! Rather silly and entertaining.


3.      World Burn Down by Steve Cole and Oriol Vidal
Published by Barrington Stoke, 2020
Recommended 8 – 11 years

Carlos’s mother works for Brazil’s Environmental Authority protecting the Amazon from being destroyed. When he’s kidnapped, Carlos manages to escape but then finds himself trapped in the burning jungle. A gripping story with an environmental message. Particularly suited to struggling, reluctant and dyslexic readers.


4.      Who Let The Gods Out? by Maz Evans
Published by Chicken House, 2017
Recommended 9 - 12 years

Things are not going well; Elliot is struggling at school, he is the main carer for his mother, and they’ve received a letter informing them the house is going to be repossessed. But when an immortal constellation crashes into the cow shed, he has a whole new set of problems to deal with. A laugh-out-loud and action-filled fantasy adventure with a nod to Greek mythology and a wonderful cast of characters. This is book 1 of 4 so opportunities to read more of the same.


5.      High Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson
Published by Knights Of, 2019
Recommended 8 – 11 years

When Nik and Norva discover their community art teacher has been murdered on their tower block estate, the detective duo swing into action, collecting evidence and tracking down suspects. A fast-paced, urban-set whodunnit with a gripping plot and great cast of characters.


6.      The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L D Lapinski
Published by Orion Children’s Books, 2020
Recommended 9 – 12 years

When Flick Hudson discovers the Strangeworlds Travel Agency, where she can be transported to hundreds of other worlds simply by stepping into the right suitcase, her adventures begin. However, Five Lights, the world at the centre of all this, is slowly disappearing and Flick has to race against time to save it. An imaginative fantasy that pulls the reader in and transports them to magical lands.


7.      Wild Lives: 50 Extraordinary Animals That Made History by Ben Lerwill and Sarah Walsh
Published by Nosy Crow, 2019
Recommended 7 – 11 years

The true tales of fifty animals from around the world and throughout history, featuring bravery, friendship, courage and inspiration. Lots of interesting details, a great way to learn about history and superbly illustrated with drawings and photos.


8.      Planet Omar: Incredible Rescue Mission by Zanib Mian and Nasaya Mafaridik
Published by Hodder, 2020
Recommended 7 – 9 years

Omar has a very active imagination and when he discovers his regular teacher has been replaced with a rather grumpy one after the school holidays, he’s convinced she’s been abducted. So he persuades his friends to undertake a rescue mission. Book three in a great series about the (mis)adventures of Omar and his friends. The illustrations as well as fun use of fonts and space make this book visually appealing and the characters are culturally diverse.


9.      The Big Book Of Football by Mundial and Damien Weighill
Published by Wide Eyed Editions, 2020
Recommended 7 – 11 years

There’s no denying the popularity of football books – my library shelves that contained them were always in a mess – but many are aimed at older readers. This is a perfect book for younger children covering the history of the game, popular players, famous stadiums and lots more. An essential guide to football with fun, colourful illustrations.


10.  Seven Ghosts by Chris Priestley
Published by Barrington Stoke, 2019
Recommended 8 – 11 years

Jake is a finalist in a writing competition and they have all been invited to a tour of a stately home haunted by seven ghosts. As each tale is told, the ghosts are stirred up and Jake begins to see things out of the corner of his eye. An atmospheric collection of connected short stories that are unsettling rather than frightening. Great for struggling, reluctant and dyslexic readers.

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