Keep Calm and Carry On Reading

When I was at school reading came under the banner of a ‘good thing’. Other than set texts in English lessons, we were left pretty much to our own devices as to what to read. Fast forward to the third decade of the 21st Century and many things have changed. One of the most striking has been the expansion in books written for children and young adults; the range, number, and quality available today for the average young person would have delighted the teenage me – the choices being endless.

What has also become clearer, though, is how much of a ‘good thing’ reading really is.

Young people who enjoy reading are three times as likely to read above the level expected for their age compared with young people who do not enjoy reading at all. Similarly, young people who read outside class daily are five times as likely to read above the expected level for their age, compared with young people who never read outside class. ref: The National Literacy Trust

It seems obvious that if you enjoy something, you will improve, and the more you practise, the better you become. 

Whilst having a wide choice of material is a positive position to be in, the challenge within a school environment is to encourage students to progress with the type of material they read in terms of content and style.

At Northampton High, we provide varied reading opportunities including the reading scheme, games, and activities in class, author visits, Book Week, book clubs, and much more throughout the school year.

Our Year 6 classes, along with their teachers, Mrs Fordham and Miss Taylor, visit the Senior library on a weekly basis. We asked the girls for their thoughts about reading: 

“I was not always been the biggest fan of reading until Year 6, but because I got to go to the Senior library – which has many more book choices – it helped me find the genre of book that I like, which is adventure/murder. Right now I am reading the Alex Rider series because it has lots of tension at the start of the book which I really like.” Year 6 student

There were many more similar responses, along with confessions of getting into trouble for carrying on reading once in bed when they should be asleep.

Through the reading scheme, different genres and types of books are promoted; the reading version of healthy eating if you like. I asked one of my reading groups for their thoughts on books, reading and libraries.

“I have enjoyed funny, adventurous books, but I’m trying to read one book from each genre; we have a huge selection and are being shown interesting books.” Year 7 student

“I love reading because I love learning about all different ideas of what they think is a good book. I love a book called Holes; I thought that I would never read it but it is really good and I recommend it.” Year 7 student

“I like reading because when I read I feel that I am in that book. I recommend the Harry Potter series. It is full of action, suspense, joy, and sadness.” Year 7 student

“I read if I find the right book at the right time.” Year 7 student

“I love reading because it helps me to zone out and imagine that I am anywhere else in the world. It is also fun and gives me ideas for art that I do, and in some way, they feel connected. I can learn new words as well. Book recommendation – Wonder by RJ Palacio.” Year 7 student

Alongside educational benefits, the way in which reading can support mental wellbeing has very much come to the fore in recent years. When I asked my Year 7s for their thoughts on reading, I received the following responses, highlighting the calming influence of reading alongside encouraging empathy and understanding.

“I love reading because it calms me down and I can read in any mood, sad or happy.”’ Year 7 student

“I love reading because it helps me calm down. I also enjoy reading because I can learn so many new things. I see the library as a calm and relaxing place to read….and I will always feel safe.” Year 7 student

‘I enjoy reading a lot…..I love all libraries and book shops as I always feel like I belong there’ Yr 7 student

“I love reading because if I have had a bad day it doesn’t matter which book I open from my shelf, it will always carry me away to another world…I see the library as a safe haven from the busy corridors and crowded classrooms. It is a calm environment and I will always feel safe when surrounded by books.” Year 7 student

“I love the library. Books make me feel relaxed and help me be a different person.” Year 7 student

“Books help me understand how different people react and feel.” Year 7 student

All form groups and their tutors are invited to attend at least one Read and Relax Breakfast during the academic year. As you can see from the girls’ responses, the library supports our students in a number of ways, within the curriculum, from a wellbeing point of view and encouraging a love of reading. 

The encouragement our students receive to read widely and regularly at Northampton High builds a strong foundation, serving them throughout their school life and beyond; we hope that their reading journey fuels a love of learning, and evolves their interests as their lives shift and change over time. 

Further reading thoughts from the girls:

The comments above are from Year 6 and 7 students, but as you can see from the comments below reading continues to be an important part of the girls’ lives as they move through the school.

“I have to admit that I have never really been into reading and I have only really started this year. My goal is to try and read one book every month and I have been reaching it so far. I hope to have read a lot more by the end of the school year. I think reading can really widen your perspective and take you into a completely different world of imagination, which is one of the things I love about reading. I also read to relax and unwind after a busy day, as I’m sure many other people do too. I like to set the ambiance by lighting a candle or having a nice hot cup of tea. I hope that I will get to explore the wide variety and range of books and genres through the ongoing year. I think reading can impact your life so much and I think it helps us relate to other people and encourages us to be kind and considerate of other people’s feelings. When people read stories about other people’s lives, it helps them develop the skills to understand the world through another person’s perspective.” Year 9 student

“A book I would recommend to those in secondary school would be ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas. It follows the story of a girl named Star who witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Now facing pressure from all sides of the community the poor neighborhood she lives in and the fancy suburban school she attends, Star must find her voice to explain what really happened on the night of the shooting. This book highlights the deep-rooted racial discrimination that takes place in all areas of society, rich or poor, and who is really willing to stand up and fight against it. It is eye-opening and will help you understand the events that have occurred in society over the past year regarding racism and police brutality.” Year 10 student

“I love to read because I love to be part of different worlds when I open a book. There are endless characters to get to know and sometimes you find a book that changes your life in ways you didn’t even know needed changing!” Year 11 student

“Like many people who were stuck inside during the summer of 2020, I found that the easiest way to stay entertained and feel connected with the outside world was to continually scroll through Tiktok, binge-watch whatever series I could get my hands on, and FaceTime with my friends. However, although watching noughties crime TV was one of the main things that kept me going during the pandemic, the dopamine rush triggered whenever I opened TikTok meant that I no longer had the patience – or the attention span – to pick up any of the books accumulating on my shelf.  

When I was younger, I used to read several books a week, sometimes up to one a day. In the months since the pandemic, I’ve struggled to find the time to read, and can’t find a book that holds my attention. In today’s society, we are surrounded by quick and easy ways to satisfy our boredom, and though they can be fun at the time, I’ve learnt the hard way that they can affect other hobbies that you enjoy. I also know that I’m not alone in this experience. 

Part of the allure of reading, as many people will tell you, is the escape that it gives you from reality; open a book and you can be anywhere, anytime, for as long as you like, or at least until the book ends. And for me, as a child, that was why I loved it. But I think another aspect of reading that perhaps is more relevant to me today, as I start A Levels and consider what my future holds, is that a good book helps you see your life from another perspective, and to cherish the smaller things in life that make you happy. 

Though it is harder now than before lockdown, picking up a book is still a big source of comfort for me and helps to quiet my mind after a busy day. It sounds cheesy but I do believe that reading is good for you, in terms of helping with stress and your mental wellbeing. After these chaotic past few years, I’m working on rekindling my love of reading, and each time I am reminded of all the reasons why I fell in love with it in the first place.”  Year 12 student

Anne Buxton
School Librarian