Five Best Books to Read Aloud in the Classroom: Engaging Reluctant Readers

Chosen by Chris Soul

Engaging reluctant readers is a difficult task as a teacher, especially with other curriculum priorities. Storytime, though, can really inspire the most reluctant readers to find pleasure and purpose in reading. In my school (Watford St John’s) the impact of storytime has been extraordinary, simply by carving out twenty minutes a day to sit comfortably, turn the page and begin… So in this blog I want to highlight five books from Farshore and HarperCollins Children’s Books that made brilliant read-alouds, and the kind of impact they had on reluctant readers.

The first is Jenny McLachlan’s epic fantasy-adventure The Land of Roar. Children in my Year 4 class were absolutely enthralled by it, despite some children being initially fidgety and disengaged. In my daily log I noted that these children were my most reluctant, some with special educational needs – they even made a den in the corner to escape.

Sticking to storytime consistently, however, is so important because, after a few sessions, these children joined the main group and became active listeners. One boy started to physically respond to the story, almost stimming; hopefully because I’d brought the book to life with my over-the-top expressive reading. He’d look past me and over me as if the events of the Land of Roar were happening all around us – he just needed to leap up and grab hold. In my log I noted: ‘He reacts with such dramatic expressions! He’s someone who seems to be really getting a lot from storytime and normally he might present a little passive in more formal lessons.’ This same boy later became confident enough to volunteer his own lengthy summaries of the plot, as if he’d watched a blockbuster film at the cinema.

What I discovered that really mattered, particularly to those disengaged readers, was that it was always me reading aloud, as I had defined the voices in the story, especially my evil croak for the villain Crowsky! The Land of Roar also brilliantly lends itself to twenty-minute reads; on multiple occasions I’d end on a perfect cliffhanger that literally caused my class to fall over shouting ‘NOOO!’ One girl, usually very shy, declared: ‘Well, I’m just going to have to go out and buy this book myself then!’ By the end, every child was engaged: ‘You could hear a pin drop. Their attention and listening was brilliant.’

In Jennifer Killick’s excellent horror Dread Wood, each chapter also roughly lasts about twenty minutes. But Killick’s writing is full of twists and jaw-dropping moments (including cows being swallowed by the ground) that it’s easy to just leave a class hanging by simply not finishing a sentence… My class would get infuriated whenever I would say: ‘And we’ll find out what happens next tomorrow!’ Like with The Land of Roar, cliffhangers improve engagement. The Dread Wood series is also such a word-of-mouth sensation. Even the most reluctant readers want to get their hands on a copy. I’ve lost count of the amount of times a Year 6 child has come into my class (interrupting my teaching) to ask if I know where a copy of Dread Wood or its sequels have gone. There’s a kind of badge of honour for books like this.

Another book in a similar vein is ‘Amari and the Night Brothers’ by B.B. Alston. The Year 5 teacher told me that her reluctant SEN readers started to dramatically engage with the book too; even acting out what was happening on the carpet in front of her. Storytime is an engine for the imagination. She also told me that having a black girl on the cover really inspired those reluctant readers who ordinarily wouldn’t see themselves reflected in fantasy literature.

Children really enjoyed the madcap humour of Jim Smith’s Barry Loser: I Am Not a Loser, although I would say that due to its illustrative nature it lends itself better to one-to-one reading. That being said, reading a book like this aloud engages readers who may feel reluctant to read the bigger chapter books. Reading Barry Loser led to informal book chats about comics, like the Beano, and so now I see lots more reluctant readers gravitating to more illustrative texts; like they now have permission to do so.

Lastly, I wanted to highlight another funny book: Head Kid by David Baddiel. Humour is such a necessary and sometimes forgotten tool for engagement. When the months are cold and dark, storytime allows those reluctant readers some relief; to giggle and to feel safe in a story well-told. Last year, a Year 3 teacher read Baddiel to his class and he told me that a child with SEN then learned how to settle and be still because of storytime. There’s something primordial and instinctive about gathering round for a story that helps all of us.

When you read the right book aloud consistently for twenty minutes every day you’re no longer just a teacher; you’re a Storyteller. And you’ll be surprised by what happens with even the most reluctant of readers.

Chris Soul has been a teacher for fourteen years and is currently English Lead at Watford St John’s CE Primary School. He is also the Teachers’ Reading Group (TRG) Lead for Reading for Pleasure in Hertfordshire. Reading and reviewing the very best in children’s literature is a joy, while carving out time for his own writing.

Follow Chris on Twitter/ X: @ChrisSoulUK
Read his book reviews at

To find out more about our Storytime in Schools Research, click here.

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