Children's Literature in Primary Schools


David Waugh, Sally Neaum & Rosemary Waugh

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  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Copyright

    The Authors

    David Waugh is subject leader for Primary English at Durham University. A former deputy headteacher, David worked in ITT from 1990 at the University of Hull, where he led the PGCE course and became Head of Department. In 2008 he was appointed as National Strategies Regional Adviser for ITT. As well as his educational writing, David also writes children's stories, including Jessica's Other World published in 2016.

    Sally Neaum is a Lecturer in Education. Sally has worked as a nursery and primary school teacher, an early years and inclusion advisory teacher and in initial teacher training. Her areas of research include the pedagogy of early literacy and the professional development of early years practitioners.

    Rosemary Waugh is a linguist and classics teacher at Queen Margaret's School, York. She collects children's literature and lectured on the subject for the University of Hull. She also contributes to conferences and publications on children's literature.


    We would like to thank all the trainee teachers who shared their classroom experiences to help us to write this book. Particular thanks go to Molly Hill and Surindar Kaur, both of whom wrote their case studies for us. We are also grateful to Cliff and Dot Robson, Debbie Ling and Kirsty Anderson for their suggested books for Appendix 1. We are especially grateful to Amanda Swift, Headteacher of Easington CE Primary, and Angela Gill of Durham University, who contributed reviews of books for Appendix 1.

  • Conclusion

    We hope that this book has whetted your appetite for exploring a range of children's literature, and that you will make extensive use of this literature in your teaching across the curriculum. You should now be aware of the breadth of literature available and its potential for enhancing your teaching and children's learning. Above all, you should have recognised the importance of sharing and discussing literature with your pupils and the value of engaging them with a wide spectrum of stories and poems.

    Stories and poems are central to our cultural heritage and should, therefore, be at the heart of our work in primary schools. They provide entertainment, as well as opportunities to develop a love and understanding of language. Through engaging with children's literature, children can improve and develop their own writing, as well as their reading skills. If they have teachers who are enthusiastic about stories and poems and who have a wide knowledge of texts, children will develop a love of reading which can be life-enhancing.

    Our reading habits are changing constantly. After peaking in 2007, when the final instalment of the Harry Potter series was published, sales of printed books (now referred to as p-books by some publishers) have fallen as those of e-books have risen. No doubt further changes will occur as your teaching career unfolds. It is, therefore, important to be receptive to change and to ensure that, whatever media children's literature is presented in, you help make it attractive and available to your pupils. (See also Baddeley, 2015.) We hope that reading this book will contribute to your ability to do that.

    David Waugh

    Sally Neaum

    Rosemary Waugh

    June 2016

    Baddeley A. ( 2015 ) The ebook is dead. Long live the ebook. Guardian. Available at: (accessed 12.04.16).

    Appendix 1: Seventy-Five Books

    The books described in this section were chosen by parents, teachers, headteachers and the authors of the present book because they represent a wide range of children's literature and many of the major authors.

    We have tried to include classic and modern texts, as well as those which represent our diverse society.

    The list, which is presented in no particular order, is bound to induce debate: Why this author and not that one? Why that book by that author and not one of her others?

    We hope you will join the debate and will send us your own suggestions, but that in the meantime the list might inspire you to read something you hadn't previously tried or even to revisit some old favourites.

    Appendix 2: Glossary of Terminology for Poetry

    Acrostic A poem which uses the initial letters of a key word to begin each line:




    Ice has melted

    New growth everywhere

    Green has replaced brown.

    Alliteration A phrase or nearby words begin with the same phoneme: Sweet, succulent, silky smooth and satisfying.

    Assonance A form of rhyme where the vowel sounds are the same, but linked by different consonants; for instance bottle and cockle, or magic, if and adjective. This kind of ‘nearly-rhyme’ is very often used in rap lyrics.

    Ballad A poem or song which tells a story.

    Blank verse Poem with rhythm and metre, five feet to a line (‘iambic pentameter’), but no rhyme.

    Calligram A poem where the formation of the letters represents an aspect of the poem's theme. e.g. a scary poem might be written in a shaky hand.

    Cinquain A poem invented by the American, Adelaide Crapsey, containing 22 syllables on five lines in the sequence: 2, 4, 6, 8, 2 (see above).

    Clerihew A four-line comic verse with two rhyming couplets. The first line is the name of the person about whom the poem is written:

    Jeremiah Smith

    Is boring to be with;

    The company he doth keep

    Will send a person to sleep.

    Concrete poem A poem in which the layout of the words represents an aspect of the subject.

    Couplet Two consecutive lines of poetry which are paired in length and rhyme.

    Elegy A poem which is a lament, usually for someone or something that has died.

    Enjambement Sometimes called ‘run-on lines’, enjambement is the continuation of a phrase from one line to the next of a poem, with no punctuation break. For instance, And would have done so, had not she Discovered this infirmity – from Matilda by Hilaire Belloc.

    Epic A poem about the adventures of an heroic figure.

    Free verse A poem without patterns of rhythm or rhyme.

    Haiku A Japanese form of poetry with 3 lines, 17 syllables in the sequence: 5, 7, 5.

    Rivers burst their banks

    Fields, towns and houses flooded

    Rain, rain go away!

    Half-rhyme Words which almost rhyme. polish/relish.

    Jingle A short verse or rhyme used to attract attention: often used in advertising.

    Kenning A poem written as a list of the characteristics of the subject without naming it:








    Limerick A five-line comic verse following the sequence of syllables: 8, 8, 6, 6, 8 and the rhyming scheme: a, a, b, b, a (see example):

    There was a young person from Crewe

    Who didn't know quite what to do.

    He went for some shopping

    But ended up dropping

    His purchases straight down the loo!

    Metaphor ‘Imaginative substitution’. The writer describes something as if it were something else:

    The sea is a hungry dog

    Giant and grey.

    He rolls on the beach all day.

    With his clashing teeth and shaggy jaws.

    (From The Sea by James Reeves)

    Narrative poem A poem that tells a story.

    Onomatopoeia Words which sounds like their meaning, for instance Snap, splash, plop.

    Personification A metaphor which attributes human characteristics and actions to non-human subjects. Winter grabbed us with his icy fingers.

    Riddle A question or statement, often in rhyme, which is a puzzle to be solved by the reader.

    Shape poem A poem which is laid out to take the shape of the subject of the poem.

    Simile The writer compares one thing to another in order to create an image.

    Sonnet A poem of 14 lines which may follow any rhyming scheme.

    Stanza A verse or set of lines of poetry, the pattern of which is repeated throughout the poem.

    Tanka Japanese poem based upon a Haiku but with two additional lines to give a more complete picture of the event or mood. (A poet would write a Haiku and then give it to another poet, who would then add two lines to create a poem of 31 syllables with the sequence: 5, 7, 5, 7, 7. This would then be returned to the original poet.)

    Appendix 3: Model Answers to the Self-Assessment Questions

    The answers provided are suggestions. You will probably think of many more.

    Chapter 1: Developing a Love of Reading
    • What are the key features of dialogic book talk?

      Key features of dialogic book talk include:

      • using language for thinking;
      • helping children to make connections to things they already know;
      • asking questions of books;
      • exploring books at different levels;
      • children giving reasons for what they say.

      Discussions can be planned to focus on settings, characters, relationships and events. Questions can be prepared which should not be simple checks on children's knowledge about events but should challenge them to think and discuss.

    • Why is it important for teachers to have a wide knowledge of texts?

      It is important that teachers develop a wide knowledge of children's literature so that they can:

      • enhance study across the curriculum by introducing children to appropriate fiction and poetry;
      • help children to broaden their range of reading by being able to recommend suitable texts and guide them towards those which might interest them;
      • be better able to conduct successful guided reading and dialogic book talk sessions, drawing upon a strong knowledge and understanding of children's literature.
    Chapter 2: Sharing Literature with Children
    • How would you justify spending time reading stories and poems to children if a parent or colleague questioned your approach?

    It is important to emphasise that reading aloud to children is much more than simply a way of entertaining them, although that in itself is a good reason for doing so. You might refer to The National Curriculum in England: Key Stages 1 and 2 Framework Document (2013, London: DfE) which states that:

    By listening frequently to stories, poems and other books that they cannot yet read for themselves, pupils start to learn how language sounds and increase their vocabulary and awareness of grammatical structures. In due course, they will be able to draw on such grammar in their own writing.

    (Programme of study for Year 1)

    You might further justify devoting time to reading aloud by explaining the importance of children experiencing stories read by an experienced reader, who is able to bring them to life and model reading skills which children are still acquiring. This also enables them to hear stories which they would not be able to read independently and introduces them to a wider range of texts. In addition, as children hear language structures and vocabulary they are more likely to be able to introduce it into their own writing. You might also emphasise the value of discussion and drama which can follow reading aloud, and the opportunity this gives for children of different abilities to participate.

    Chapter 3: Using Children's Literature across the Curriculum

    Consider your last teaching placement.

    • Identify a successful lesson that you taught. How could you have enhanced it by including the use of children's literature?
    • Identify a lesson that could have been better. How could you have used children's literature to improve the lesson?

    Answers to these questions will vary depending on the lessons that you have identified in your last placement. The chapter content will support your analysis of the lessons and offer you some ideas for how you can incorporate literature into lessons across all curriculum areas.

    Chapter 4: Books for Younger Children
    • Choose a book for babies or young children. Identify the benefits of that book for children's enjoyment and engagement with books and stories and suggest how it might support language and literacy development.

      Your answer to this question will depend upon the book that you have chosen. However, you should have identified aspects of the book that support some of the following benefits of books and stories for young children. They:

      • are a rich source of engagement and enjoyment;
      • enable the expression of a wide range of emotions;
      • are an opening for sensitising children to the needs and feelings of others;
      • open up experiences beyond the child's own experience;
      • are a safe way into understanding experiences beyond a child's own experience;
      • enable a child to see social patterns and relationships beyond their own experience;
      • make a connection to children's own cultural heritage;
      • provide a connection to a range of different cultural heritages; both in the content of the story and different cultural patterns of stories and story telling;
      • are an authentic way of extending and enhancing children's language capability;
      • encourage focused listening;
      • provide a way of promoting ‘storying’ in their play and responses to books and story telling which supports learning about story structure, language and plot;
      • are an authentic introduction to literacy.
    • Refer to Wade and Moore's (2003) evaluation of Bookstart. What are the implications of their findings for Early Years policy?

      The most important finding of the Bookstart project is that when there are books in a home, most families will read and talk about the books with their children. This enhances the chance that the children will reap the benefits from early exposure to books outlined in question one. The important implication for Early Years policy and practice is to support parents in having books at home and reading and discussing books with their child. The project is an excellent example of the importance of parents in children's learning, and bears out the research evidence that it is more important what parents do with their children than who they are.

      (Sylva, et al., 2003)

    • Recall a story time that you have led for young children. Undertake an analysis of your planning, preparation and delivery of the session. What worked well? What could have been better?

      In your reflection on story times that you recall you need to consider:

      • your choice of book;
      • how you prepared;
      • how you read the story;
      • how you followed up the reading.
    Chapter 5: Picture Books

    Choose a picture book.

    • What is the relationship between the pictures and the narrative?
    • What social and cultural understandings do you bring to understanding the book?
    • How may the pictures support children's meaning-making from the text?
    • Describe the illustrative style. What is the effect of the illustrator's choice of materials and techniques? What are the affective aspects of the book?
    • Identify ways in which this book could be used as part of your teaching.

    Answers to these questions will vary depending on the book that you have chosen. The chapter content will support your analysis.

    Chapter 6: Stories and Poems from and about Different Cultures
    • What do you consider to be the value of finding stories and poems about different cultures which are written by people who have experienced those cultures first-hand?

      Your answer might include some of the following points.

      • Writers with first-hand experience of a culture may write about it more accurately, avoiding some of the fanciful elements included by those who have never experienced the culture (animals which do not live in the environments described, for example).
      • The focus of a member of the indigenous population may be on the content of the story rather than using the setting purely as a vehicle to describe a culture or society. Thus, we learn about the culture incidentally.
      • Many feel that stories about different cultures should not simply be created to ‘tick boxes’ by portraying different people in certain ways. Stories which are written by members of a cultural group as stories rather than as vehicles for political agendas may be more appealing to readers and still help them to learn about another society.
    Chapter 7: Traditional Stories and Fairy Tales
    • What are the key features of fairy tales? Think about character, setting, plot and language.

      The features of fairy tales may include some of:

      • kingdoms and castles;
      • princes and princesses;
      • animals which talk and have human characteristics;
      • wishes that come true;
      • a moral or an embedded message that gives a truth about life;
      • speed of time passing;
      • absence of extraneous detail and description;
      • recurrence of ‘lucky numbers’ of characters;
      • one-dimensional characters – people tend to be good or bad.

    For further definitions see Phillip Pullman's comments in the chapter.

    Chapter 8: Fiction which Addresses Issues

    Choose one of the books identified in the chapter and read it carefully.

    • What are the issues raised?
    • How are they raised?
    • What, if anything, would you need to consider about the presentation of the issue or the language used in the text?
    • What age range would you consider the book appropriate for? Why?
    • How could you incorporate use of the book in your teaching?
    • What aspect of the issue would you have to be sensitive to? Why? How would you achieve this?

    Answers to this question will vary depending on the book that you have chosen. The chapter content will support your analysis.

    Chapter 9: Fantasy and Magic
    • What do you understand by the terms high and low fantasy?

      In low fantasy the rational world is the setting for non-rational happenings (see Gamble and Yates, 2002 – details on page 144), while in high fantasy events take place in an alternative world. Therefore, The Hobbit, which takes place in Middle-Earth, and the Narnia books, which predominantly take place in Narnia, are high fantasy, while Flossie Teacake and Matilda, which take place in a familiar world but include extraordinary occurrences, may be referred to as low fantasy.

    • Are there any aspects of magic and fantasy fiction which you would avoid?

      You may need to be sensitive to individual children's backgrounds when selecting stories. For example, some religious groups are opposed to children experiencing stories about witches and the celebration of Hallowe'en. You might also consider whether some stories might be disturbing or frightening for some children. There is such a huge range of stories available that it is not difficult to find alternatives which may avoid upsetting children and their parents and carers.

    Chapter 10: Classic Fiction
    • Having read the chapter and considered the issues raised about classic children's literature, consider the following.

      • Books regarded as classics for children are dated in their language, social context and social attitudes. Therefore, they have little relevance for children today and so should have no special place within the English curriculum.

      Discuss your views with a colleague.

      Answers to this question will vary depending upon your point of view. The chapter content will enable you to construct your argument. A number of sections in the chapter are particularly relevant to this debate.

      • Why read classic books?
      • The literary canon
      • The golden age of children's books
      • Conclusion

    The case studies and research focus sections in the chapter will also support your consideration of the place of classic texts in the curriculum.

    Chapter 11: Everyday Fiction
    • What is meant by the term ‘intertextual'?

      Intertextuality is the shaping of texts’ meanings by other texts. It can include authors transforming a prior text, as in C.S. Lewis's use of the resurrection of Christ when he describes Aslan's resurrection in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, or to a reader's referencing of one text to another. For example, in Each Peach Pear Plum there are several allusions to well-known stories, which the reader will notice. In other stories we can draw parallels with traditional tales such as those which involve rags to riches stories. Readers make intertextual connections and comparisons by looking at what they are currently reading in the light of what they have read before.

    • It has been argued that children's authors need to appeal to more than one audience. Why?

      It has been argued that for a children's novel to succeed it needs to be attractive not only to children but also to parents, librarians and teachers who are the people who make decisions about which books to purchase.

    Chapter 12: Poetry
    • Can you describe the features of each of the following types of poem: haiku, limerick, cinquain?
    • What is enjambement? You will find definitions for all of the above in the glossary in Appendix 2.
    Sylva K. , Melhuish E. , Sammons P. , Siraj-Blatchford I. , Taggart B. , and Elliot K. ( 2003 ) The effective provision of pre-school education (EPPE) project: findings from the pre-school period. Available at: (accessed 12.04.16).

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