By Emily McLean-Inglis, a Beanstalk trained reading helper 

I have been a Beanstalk trained reading helper for four years now at a school in Bethnal Green. I work full time at a nearby University, and ride my bicycle to the school in my lunch break twice a week.

Over the past four years I have read with children that have a range of skills and attitudes towards books and reading, and it’s been wonderful to have the opportunity to have a positive impact upon all of these children’s approach to reading.

For the past two years I have been reading with the same boys, now in Year 6. Both boys have different challenges with their reading, which means I have to think carefully about both the books, and the approach I take in my sessions with each of them.

One of the key aspects of being a trained reading helper with Beanstalk is being able to offer the children books that will capture their attention initially, then hold it once they have begun reading. I think of it this way; I would not read any old book put in front of me, and it’s the same for the children. Where children are struggling with reading, for whatever reason, it’s really important to spend time finding stories and books which they will engage with.

One of the boys is currently reading The Ratburger by David Walliams. The book cleverly approaches topics that he is able to relate to such as scary teachers, classroom and playground politics, and the local community. We have laughed out loud several times since starting the book, and a couple of times I have had to stretch my repertoire of voices to a whole new level of absurd. The David Walliams books have colourful and imaginative front covers, and contain regular illustrations throughout, which for some children is really important for stimulation and comprehension. While the challenges of engaging this boy are still there, they are less pronounced when we find a book he enjoys.

If as a reading helper you get stuck for ideas for books, I recommend talking to friends, colleagues or other volunteers about books suitable for the children you are reading with. I recently spoke to a friend about children’s authors and books for one of the boys, after running out of books in the school library that I felt would keep him engaged. My friend is the oldest of four and her youngest siblings are boys. She has a wealth of knowledge about books suitable for young boys that I had no experience or knowledge of at all. From my friend’s recommendations, I chose The Graveyard Boy by Neil Gaimann and got hold of a copy. It’s been a huge success! The boy has shown impressive signs of comprehension and engagement with the plot and characters of this book.

With just 35 pages to go to the end of the book, we finished our most recent session with an astonishing plot twist that left us both with our jaws on the floor. I cannot wait until our reading session on Thursday to find out what happens next…

If you would like to become a Beanstalk reading helper then it’s really easy to get involved, I can’t recommend it enough!