By Catriona Taylor, a Beanstalk trained reading helper 

As a trained reading helper in West Yorkshire I have supported children in Year 5 and 6, predominantly boys. As I’m sure other reading helpers will testify, appealing, age and reading level appropriate resources are not so easy to come by for year 5 and 6 boys, so I thought it would be helpful to share my experience of how to do so.

I find that non-fiction has been their preferred type of read, as long as the content is something they can identify with in some way. Again, not a simple task given the limited life experiences and poor vocabularies of the children I have worked with.

I have to thank the Leeds Library service for being terrific at searching for books on a specific theme, for locating books and for having them delivered to my local library. I could not have provided my Beanstalk children with such a choice of books without the fantastic free service of the local library. The extended loan period we are given as Beanstalk reading helpers also means the books can remain choices for the children for several weeks.

Last summer term I asked one of my very passive supported children what he would like read and he said “Real stories about people doing things”. Okay, so I knew he liked playing football and on the very rare occasion when he would initiate conversation, he had asked about war.

It was a gift sent from West Yorkshire’s very own author, Tom Palmer, when I came across the National Literacy Trust’s genius toolkit: Euro 2016 and Battle of the Somme. The description of the toolkit is this: 

“Using the 1916 Battle of the Somme centenary and the football fever around Euro 2016 to encourage reading and writing for enjoyment in schools, libraries and homes”.

Tom Palmer wrote a chapter a day for his book, ‘Over the Line’, for the duration of the Euros and released it every week day morning on the National Literacy Trust’s website for children to read. The combination of fact and fiction, bite sized reading materials and the wholly relevant and current topic provided in the Toolkit was a perfect offering for me to share with my Beanstalk boy.

It was a brilliantly written, gripping thriller about present day school children, with a passion for football, going on a school trip to visit the battlefields of the Somme and a past footballer turned soldier in the trenches. Each chapter was meant to be read in ten minutes but, due to my Beanstalk boy’s reading skills and poor vocabulary knowledge, it took us our full 30 minutes to read a chapter.

For the first time in the 18 months of my time with him, he showed emotion and interest in response to the words we read and the images they conjured. Rather than the typical response, ‘Good’, which he gave to everything I asked him about previously, about the Toolkit, he replied, ‘Very good.’ What a result!

In short my advice for engaging boys who are a reluctant readers is to take the time to find out what their interests are and then find the books to match – your local library service is bound to have books on their favourite topic, no matter how obscure.

If you would like to become a Beanstalk trained reading helper like Catriona then getting involved is quick and easy!