Reader Story: Poppy, Liverpool Hope University

It felt safe reading it and talking about it in the group. I’d definitely encourage young people to read it – it’s real.

Poppy* had been a quiet, shy, though attentive, member of a Shared Reading group for PGCE students at Liverpool Hope University, always present and interested, but very rarely offering comments in discussion and never reading aloud. But something happened after the Christmas break, when the group started reading Patrick Ness’ novel A Monster Calls.

After a few weeks of reading, during which Poppy had become more and more engaged in the book and our discussions, she shared with the rest of the group her connection to the book’s main character, Connor, whose mother is terminally ill with cancer. She said:

“When my mum was ill I felt like he does – I didn’t know what I wanted people to say to me, and I couldn’t express what I was feeling to anyone.”

At the end of the year Poppy came to me at the end of our very last Shared Reading group, when we finished the novel and said:

I wanted to keep coming to the group to find out what Connor does, how he makes it right in the end, and to kind of encourage him along. It felt safe reading it and talking about it in the group. I’d definitely encourage young people to read it – it’s real.


*Please note all Reader Stories are anonymised

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Reader Story: Harvey, St Mungo’s Learning Community, Glasgow

“Teachers overhearing from their rooms or passing by are astounded at how positive and enthralled Harvey has been, especially as his default setting in class is to be so reticent and dour.”

Harvey lives in his sibling’s more exuberant shadow and is by far the least confident of the two. Whilst his peers have all been selected to read in groups, Harvey’s teachers decided he would benefit most by having some exclusive time and reading in a one-to-one session.

When I first met Harvey, he was incredibly stony faced and made little to no eye contact throughout the entirety of our early sessions. However, as we progressed he began to enjoy the short stories more and really valued having an hour without his brother or any of his peers close at hand. The big breakthrough for Harvey came when reading the Skellig extract from A Little, Aloud for Children. Harvey loved the suspense and horror of finding a decrepit man in his garage and was gripped throughout. At the end of the session when I asked him for a mark out of 10 he gave it an 8. When I asked him why only an 8 he said I’d give it 10 if we knew who the man was”. When I told Harvey that this was an extract from a longer story and that we could read it and find out if he liked he beamed from ear to ear and nodded, repeatedly saying “Yes!”.

Since then Harvey has given the story 10 out of 10 each week, been really articulate in his responses to meeting Mina, his concerns for the baby and how it must feel to be Michael. Teachers overhearing from their rooms or passing by are astounded at how positive and enthralled Harvey has been, especially as his default setting in class is to be so reticent and dour. Each week he remembers exactly where we have left off and sits smiling for an hour as we continue with the story.


*Please note all Reader Stories are anonymised

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Reader Story: Gail, Liverpool Hope University

I met Gail* when we began our first Shared Reading groups with PGCE students at Liverpool Hope University. She told me that she wasn’t a keen reader and in general, didn’t really like reading or see the point in it. Over the weeks however, I could see Gail becoming more interested and engaged in the story we were reading. It was The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce. In the last group session we had before the Christmas break, she told me:

“Coming to the reading group, and reading this book, has made me remember that I do really enjoy reading – and how much fun it is to find a story you can get lost in. It’s why I’ve asked for a Kindle this Christmas, and I’m going to read the book with my little cousin!”


*Please note all Reader Stories are anonymised

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Reader Story: William, Looked After Child

“…that’s like me, when I was taken away from my family, I didn’t want to go, but it wasn’t right, but I didn’t know that until I was safe somewhere else like Skellig”.

William* is 12 and has learning difficulties which mean that he finds it very difficult to read. He is a Looked After Child. When I first started reading one-to-one with him, his reading ability seemed so low that I felt concerned about finding a book that would be appropriate for his age as well as his ability. As it happened, in our first meeting I had taken the book Skellig, by David Almond, which I had almost written off as being too difficult for him. However, he liked the cover, so I thought, well, let’s give it a go.

I started reading it to William, and almost immediately, he was hanging off every word. He was just soaking up the story, and watching my face – I wondered if he had ever been read to before. As he mostly looked at me when I was reading, rather than at the book, I made sure I was making as much eye contact as I could with him by raising my eyes from the page when I could – this way, we could communicate through our facial expressions whilst reading, and William certainly had a lot of response in his facial expressions!

When I stopped and asked William open questions like, ‘what did you make of the man in the garage? I wonder if he is a man!’, William chatted away showing that he had been following the story completely.

I always asked William gently but without any pressure if he would like to have a go at reading, and one day he said yes. He read very, very, very slowly, and haltingly, as the majority of the words he didn’t know. But, we got to the end of the page. I praised William a great deal for this, as it had been an admirable effort. I assumed that he had not understood what he was reading because of the way he had read it, and meaning to cover what had happened in the page, I checked first by saying “What did you think about what was going on there then?”, ready to jump in with an explanation if he shrugged. But, to my surprise, William had understood every word he had read. This was a great lesson for me to learn – that a child’s reading ability does not always reflect their level of comprehension. William was obviously a very quick to understand, mature child, and this demanded a book like Skellig.

We have a reading ‘trick’ now, where William, when he is reading, follows the words with his finger and taps under words he doesn’t know. I then whisper the word to him, and he repeats it and continues with his reading. His reading is getting better and better, and his vocabulary is widening – but what is more important in our sessions is his enjoyment of the book.

William is expressing more and more feeling and thought through the book. In a recent week, he said that, when the man in the garage is taken by the children to a safe place, that’s like me, when I was taken away from my family, I didn’t want to go, but it wasn’t right, but I didn’t know that until I was safe somewhere else like Skellig. The connection that William made with the book connected W with me, too, and with his own feelings – it gave him a starting point for understanding and expressing his own, very important experience.


*Please note all Reader Stories are anonymised

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Reader Story: Paul, Looked After Child

“I think he loved the respect that went with reading this type of stuff together – by giving him the older, harder literature, I was saying to him that he was mature enough for reading serious literature with me.”

Paul* is 10, and is a Looked After Child. When we first started reading together, he couldn’t be bothered with books. He quite enjoying spending time with me and playing games and chatting, but would get very disgruntled when I started reading to him, and would do anything he could to distract me away from books.

This situation went on for months – all of the books I were bringing were, I thought, fun, bright books, Roald Dahl, Jeremy Strong, Frank Cottrell Boyce – books that I thought he would like because they were quite funny and, I felt, quite relevant to the modern child. But none of them were working! He would protest, ‘I hate reading’, ‘reading’s boring!

Until, one day, I brought The Reader’s new publication, A Little, Aloud for Children. This was a breakthrough book for Paul. To my surprise, it was the really dense, older, trickier stuff in the book that grabbed his attention, and the darker the better – he loved it! The stuff that was as far from modern reality as possible. His favourites were Dracula by Bram Stoker and The Invisible Man by H.G Wells. I think he loved the respect that went with reading this type of stuff together – by giving him the older, harder literature, I was saying to him that he was mature enough for reading serious literature with me.

The length of the extracts worked well too – there was a real sense of achievement when we had finished each story, and he would love deciding which one to read the next week. This excitement with the book lasted every week, right until we finished our one to one sessions.

I was holding an awards ceremony for children who I read with one to one, and when I told Paul that I would be reading a poem to everyone at the ceremony, to my great surprise he asked, ‘can I read one, too?’ I explained that there would be up to 50 people there, but this didn’t faze him. When Paul got up and read Amulet by Ted Hughes with much gusto to the audience at the ceremony, and followed this by a little bow, the power of one-to-one reading for pleasure really hit me. Now that Paul’s one-to-one sessions have ended, he is voluntarily attending a reading for pleasure club every Friday after school.


*Please note that all Reader Stories are anonymised.

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