Six Questions for Joy Alexander & Ruth Jarman, authors of Reading Science for Pleasure :: NEWS

Six Questions for Joy Alexander & Ruth Jarman, authors of Reading Science for Pleasure

17 April 2021 Share

Q&A with Cathal Coyle, Publications Co-ordinator (SLA)

This new publication includes: the benefits for children in reading science books, the pleasures of science reading, how children read science books, how to promote science reading for pleasure and ideas for book-related activities.  

1) What are your experiences of working collaboratively with schools in promoting science books?

It has been a rewarding journey for both of us. We’ve learned a great deal from the teachers and librarians we’ve been privileged to work with and from our encounters with children and young people who have been discovering science books. We started off on a small scale and it has been exciting to see the reading ripple spread as more schools joined with us – primary, secondary and special schools – and then to see how promoting science reading for pleasure took on a life of its own as schools adapted and developed our basic model (Project 500) according to their contexts and requirements. They generated lots of great ideas for encouraging pleasure in reading which we shared in our newsletters and now more widely in this publication. Ruth’s specialism is Science and Joy’s is English, two subjects which aren’t so often brought together, but it’s proved to be a collaboration that all involved, both adults and children, have found interesting, enjoyable and of value.

2) What are your aspirations for the future of ‘Project 500’?

Project 500 ran in a variety of settings from 2011 to 2020. We would have loved to continue with it but, having retired from the University which had provided the services necessary to administer our grants, we discontinued the scheme knowing it would be a bit of a nightmare managing a funded project independently. 

However, we did (and do!) have aspirations for the future. Firstly, we hope that some of the schools that were involved in Project 500 will have found the experience so beneficial that they will embed opportunities to read science for enjoyment in their curriculum. Secondly, as we say, we have worked with some very creative school librarians and teachers and they have developed some wonderful ideas for encouraging children and young people to engage enthusiastically with science books. We were eager to share these ideas more widely and therefore delighted when the School Library Association agreed to collaborate with us in the publication of this Guideline. We do hope it inspires others to promote Reading Science for Pleasure in their schools.

Finally, when circumstances allow, we would like to explore the possibility of another organisation taking Project 500 forward into a new decade. So, if anyone is interested ....!

3) What have been your highlights in promoting science books?

There's no doubt about our answer to this question. We both agree that our highlight has been the number of children and young people who have told us that, while initially they viewed science books rather negatively or indeed avoided them altogether, they now realise that these books can be interesting. 'I thought science books were a bit boring at the start, but once I got reading them they were amazing' was a comment we often heard.

Of course, not everyone responded in this way, but we were surprised and delighted by how many pupils reported that they enjoyed their reading experience and thought they would be more likely to read science books in the future.

There have been other highlights too. We felt honoured, for example, to attend some very impressive launches where science books were introduced in wonderfully imaginative ways and some very inspiring end-of-project events where the children's reading was celebrated with relish and enthusiasm.

4) What are the key benefits for children in reading science books?

Well, reading for pleasure is its own reward. But there are discernible benefits, deriving from the fact that reading science books can accommodate all kinds of children with their differing interests and needs. An obvious benefit is the potential to arouse or foster interest in science, either consolidating what is already known or opening new perspectives. Another benefit is the opportunity for young people to extend their reading repertoire, gaining confidence in handling non-fiction and perhaps increasing their familiarity with new shelves in the library.

5) How effective is a ‘launch event’ and have you any favourite examples?

Experience has increasingly convinced us that a launch event is essential in a reading programme if it is to be truly effective. It is a way of ‘building up a head of steam’ as the reading commences and ensures that the children and young people are motivated and excited to participate. We strongly recommend investing effort in planning a memorable launch; the outcomes will amply justify it.

In primary schools, successful launches were often organised to coincide with World Book Day or Science Week. One school, however, planned their launch to take place on the day of a well-publicised partial eclipse of the sun. In advance, a P7 girl wrote a play (with enough speaking parts for every child in her class!) based around a school where all the teachers loved science books - except for one. He was only interested in sport! Others composed a song 'Science books are awesome' to a tune from the Lego Movie and yet others created a Scratch project to publicise the event. On launch day, the pupils presented their play and performed their musical number for the whole school. It was very well received with one young child declaring, rather to our discomfiture, 'Miss, that was much better than the eclipse'!

In the secondary sector, a launch was devised as a cross-community venture for two junior classes from two schools on either side of town. They came together for a fun-filled day in the public library which lay between them and which had a very large upper floor available. The young people circulated between two interactive science shows (courtesy of the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Chemistry), an informative library tour, and a story-telling workshop. Then they worked in groups in a ‘book-tasting’ event, looking at an array of science books, selecting a group topic, and then producing either a ‘show and tell’ poster or a ‘fascinating facts’ poster. Finally, they went on to create topic-related video news items, alternative book covers or informative PowerPoints, and researched possible related careers.

6) Can you recommend any four science books (two each!) that you’ve read since 2015 for pupils in Key Stages 2 and 3?

This is a hard one! Book selection is so dependent on a school's circumstances and on the current needs and interests of its pupils, that, to be honest, we tend to avoid recommending specific books. Rather we prefer to offer more general advice, as in Appendix A of the Guideline. What's more, there is such a wealth of wonderful books to choose from that it is always difficult to make a selection. But here goes ... 

RUTH: While often captivated by animal behaviour and intrigued by human biology, children tend to overlook the importance - and interest - of plants. Yet they are vital for life and for our long-term survival. A number of recently published books explore this subject. I Love this Tree by Anna Claybourne and illustrated by Andy Elkerton was shortlisted for the SLA's Information Book Award (IBA) and won the ASE Book of the Year Award in 2017. The quirkily illustrated I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast by Michael Holland and Philip Giordano offers a very distinctive, if visually unconventional, celebration of the plant kingdom.   

In these challenging times, children have many questions about what is happening. Hopefully, a carefully written book about Covid-19 for this age-group will be published soon. In the meantime, sensitively used, the Bacteria Book by Steve Mould, could provide some helpful information. It was shortlisted for the Royal Society’s Young People's Book Prize in 2019.

JOY:  I’ve read these two books within the past five years, though they were actually on the Royal Society’s Young People’s Book Prize shortlist in 2014. Both should have a wide appeal to upper KS2 and KS3 pupils – I loved them!

What makes you YOU? by Gill Arbuthnott (A&C Black) was shortlisted. It’s an utterly fascinating step-by-step illustrated guide to genes, DNA, cloning, etc.  – a wonder-book of effortless learning. The 2014 winner was Eye Benders: the science of seeing and believing by Clive Gifford (Ivy Kids). We all love optical illusions and there are many to experience between these pages but, better still, there are scientific explanations of how the brain and/or eye are fooled. What’s not to like?

Thank you Joy and Ruth – and congratulations on your publication!

Get your copy of Reading Science for Pleasure to encourage engagement with science books in your school, here!