Books for reluctant readers

The last dozen years of my life in teaching were spent teaching young people being educated out of school at two different pupil referral units. It may sound challenging, and yes in many ways it was, but I really loved it and loved working with some very interesting, characterful and amazing young people. There were many reasons why these students couldn’t be in school, sometimes school was just not the right place to help and support the, sometimes their home situations made it difficult for them to fit into the regime of a state school. I’m not criticising schools (well, some schools maybe) but one size does not fit all, and one educational establishment does not fit every single student.

Many of these young people were extremely able, many had lost vast amounts of school for a variety of reasons, and as an English teacher, one problem I had was getting them to read – which of course they had to do for their public exams. I was teaching students in the last year of their compulsory education, so time was limited. In an effort to engage them I wrote three books for them; two were designed to get them back into reading – for most literacy was not a problem, but they were so so disengaged  that ‘normal’ books ran the risk of being hurled across the classroom! They could read, but wouldn’t! The other book was introducing (or reminding) them of different ways to write creatively which they needed to do for their exams.

‘The Story of Rufus Redmayne’ is a short novel about a dangerous beast, maybe a werewolf, maybe something worse, written in different ways to demonstrate a variety of methods of story telling. Although the book is aimed at public-exam aged students, the first chapter is simply written as a modern fairy tale. Chapter two the plot is progressed through newspaper reports, and chapter three is a more stylised fairy tale, with archaic vocabulary, repetition and unconventional structures. As the narrative continues there are TV newscasts, a scene from a play, diary entries, a monologue, a chapter from a tourist guide, and towards the end, chapters written in a conventional style but using different narrators and third person narratives. It could be read just as a story, but of course it could be a way of showing how to vary writing styles.

I have paperback copies of these books, but they are also available as eBooks. They may seem a little dated now, but my students enjoyed them, and they were fun to write!

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