Whoever said ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’?

‘Good’ readers already know a great deal about a book before they begin to read it.

They look at the title of the book.

  • They ask themselves ‘What might this book be about?’
  • They ask themselves if it reminds them of anything else they’ve read before.

They look at the picture on the cover to discover more information.

  • Perhaps the picture depicts characters or setting, and so they know who the book is about, or where the action of the book will take place.

The colours on the cover, and the font in which the title is printed, can also be important.

  • Good readers can often tell that the book belongs to a particular genre or type.  Bright colours and cartoon-like figures might tell them that this is a funny book.  Dark colours might mean that the book is scary or sad, and other design features will provide further clues about the content of the book.  If the font appears to drip with blood, for example, good readers know that this is going to be a horror book.

Good readers read the blurb on the back cover.

  • They know that it is designed to entice them to read the book, but they also know that it provides extra information about character, plot or genre.

Good readers have favourite authors.

  • They recognize the author’s name on the cover of the book, and know whether this is likely to be a book that they want to read.

Good readers don’t just pick up a book and start reading, hoping that it will turn out to be something they like.  They check it out very thoroughly, first.  Here are the kinds of questions you might ask to make your child more aware and to help build comprehension skills:

  • How does the title of this book tell you what it might be about?
  • Does this title remind you of any other books you have read?
    Did you like those books?
  • What kind of book do you think this is going to be? (ie, what genre?)
    How can you tell?  (What are the clues on the cover that tell you this?)
  • Do you know the author of this book?
    If so, do you know what kind (genre) of books s/he usually writes?
    Have you read any other books s/he has written?
    Did you like it/them?
  • Who do you think wrote this blurb?
    Why was it written?
    How does it want you to think about the book? (For example, that the book  is very exciting/sad/frightening/mysterious etc.)
    What extra information does it give you about the contents of the book?
    Now that you’ve read the blurb, do you think you would like to read the book?

 After your child has finished reading the book, or you have finished reading it together, come back to some of the predictions he or she made after examining the cover.  Ask questions like these:

  • How accurate were the predictions you made before you started reading?
  • Now that you know what the book is about, do you think the title was appropriate?
    Is there another title that you think would have been better?
  • If you were the author would you like your book to have a different cover?  What do you think should be on the cover?

So … whoever did say, ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’??


Girls and Bullying: what to do about it?

Yesterday someone told me what had happened to the daughter of a friend.

The quiet and fairly studious Year Seven girl was having a birthday party.  She invited four girls from her class – girls that she thought she got on with OK, although they weren’t close friends. They all accepted the invitations.

The mother did the preparations and the girl looked forward to the occasion.

On the day, none of the four girls turned up.  None.

I can well imagine the anger of the mother who had prepared the party, but I can’t begin imagine the misery, hurt and humiliation of her daughter or the loss of self-esteem and anxiety about having to go back to school on Monday to face those girls.

I can’t be bothered trying to work out why they might have done this.  Was there a ring-leader who peer-pressured the others into going along with her nasty little plan?  Who knows? Perhaps they did it simply because they could.

But I spent a lot of time wondering what I would do in this situation if it happened to my daughter.

If I thought my daughter could carry it off, I’d remind her that ‘living well is the best revenge’ – or, in this case, appearing to live well.  I’d suggest that on Monday she go up to the girls, singly or in their group, and say something like, ‘I’m sorry you couldn’t come on Saturday.  You missed a great party!  Perhaps next time ….’

But that would probably be a tough ask for a girl crippled by the cruelty exhibited towards her.

Probably I’d talk to the teacher – not with any desire to have this particular incident addressed at school because that might put my daughter in an even more unpleasant position in relation to these girls – but certainly so that the teacher was aware of the bullying that was occurring and alert to future manifestations.

Having said that, the kind of subtle bullying in which girls engage – the raised eyebrow, the facial expression, the turned back, the refusal to share  – can be very hard to pin down.  The girl on the receiving end can hardly draw attention to the bullying by complaining about being ‘looked at’ in a particular way.

Which makes it all the more vital that teachers notice this kind of thing, and having noticed it, act to make it clear that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable in the classroom.

Would I try to speak to the parents of the girls?  Probably not.  I find it difficult to believe that they would have been aware of what was happening and, unfortunately, it’s often the case that parents are so protective and blinkered when it comes to their children, that they wouldn’t believe them capable of such cruelty, anyway.  … But they are.

Bullying of any kind is one of the (many) reasons why the teaching of literature in our schools is  so important.  Literature encourages the use of  imagination, and with imagination we are able to develop  empathy and compassion. Empathy is exactly what these girls lacked: they had no idea what it would be like for the girl whom they so thoughtlessly snubbed – which is what enabled them to act the way they did.

If you’re a parent, what would you do if it were your child in the situation I’ve just described?

If you’re a teacher, and you were told about this situation occurring among students in your class, how would you handle it?