After a hectic, but very enjoyable, few weeks travelling around the country to various literacy conferences and helping organise a R4P TeachMeet event in Fakenham, I've finally found some time to write a blog post. I recently raised the question in the Reading for Pleasure Facebook group of how many authors an 'average' child in Year 5/6 would be able to name. I thought that most of them would know the 'Big Guns' (Roald Dahl, David Walliams, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson and possibly JK Rowling), but how many others? The general consensus from the teachers, librarians and authors in the group was that most children in Year 5/6 would aware of the above names but not too many others.
Out of curiosity, I asked my class to list as many writers as they could in five minutes, without any help from their friends and without looking at the bookshelves. We ended up spacing ourselves out on the field. The lowest score was 2 (Michael Rosen and Jonny Duddle) and the highest score was 27. There were a few other scores over 20, most children got to about 15, although several were much lower. As we've spent the last four terms totally focused on creating a reading culture in the class, (I think) I was pleased with the results. The score of 2 can be explained away by the fact that the child spent most of the five minutes making a daisy chain, which she then gave to her best friend. It would be interesting to know how these scores actually compare to other similar aged classes.
I thought I'd better have a try myself (results below). There was a good male/female balance, but I found myself thinking of lots of great books whose author I couldn't remember. In fact, Rob Smith (The Literacy Shed) raised this- does it actually matter if children don't know many authors' names, as long as they know great books? Teresa Cremin from The Open University argued 'I think knowing authors is important for developing preferences and thus enabling volition and agency as readers - and also supports choice at bookshelves as readers hunt spines for more of the same.'
So, where do children at primary school get their knowledge of authors? Again, I asked my class for their thoughts, and they came up with their teacher, their parents, their peers and the shops. We aren't fortunate enough to have a school librarian, so most of them wouldn't be aware of how much guidance a good one could offer.
From my experience, it seems as if less time is now spent on developing knowledge of children's literature on teacher training courses. As Karen Argent said 'In my experience teaching at a university for the last 15 years, quite a lot of younger students training to teach do not read children's books or are particularly interested in them. Too much emphasis on literacy at the expense of literature when they have been at schools themselves perhaps? So, unless they then experience good inspirational stuff when they are training and/or on teaching practice - the fire doesn't get lit. I find it quite depressing...'
In the Teachers as Readers report by Teresa Cremin et al, nearly 25% of teachers couldn't name any picture book authors and 22% couldn't name any children's poets. When asked to list six 'good' children's writers, the same names kept coming up again and again (basically the ones at the top of the page). As most teachers admit to relying on their own knowledge of children's literature for decisions about classroom reading, and considering the facts that parental input varies massively from child to child, that peer knowledge is directly related to teacher knowledge and that most big supermarkets tend to stock the same few authors, maybe it's not a surprise that children don't know as many authors as we would expect.