OK, OK, I admit it – he sounds like a spectacularly ineffective superhero…
But do not underestimate Hatman. He isn’t interested in fighting unhinged global villains (insert your own Donald Trump joke here) – no, Hatman has a much more important mission: he’s going to get kids reading. Well, he’s going to try.
As an author who visits schools all over the UK and abroad I’m hearing the same message from teachers all the time: not enough children read; we want to get them reading for pleasure; boys aren’t engaged with books; HELPPPP!
Over the years I’ve thought about this issue a lot and studied the problem. It has many causes, of course and in thinking about these I decided to change the style of my school author visits and start looking at ways to get kids excited about books and motivated to read.
I also wrote a series of books to have maximum appeal to reluctant readers – I thought about the kinds of things that would have got me enjoying a book at age 10. The books have done very well with their potent combo of humour and amazing facts in bite-sized chunks designed to capture even those children who say they hate reading.
A lot of it is about enthusiasm, of course, and that does go a long way when you are trying to change someone’s attitude. But there are other important elements: introducing children to the incredible range of books that are out there; giving them choice; drawing them into good stories; showing them the astonishing quality of current illustration, and more.
I started taking books by other authors into schools and recommending them. I also created The Reading Show with Alan Gibbons and developed more strategies that worked during school visits. But I acknowledge that getting an author in front of children is expensive (it’s worth the cost, but it is expensive!). So I wanted to do something that would reach a much wider audience.
This meandering thought-path carried me towards the idea of a vlog where I could recommend all kinds of books for children. I decided to aim at the 7-11 age range because this is the group I know best (having taught them in the past and now as a writer for them), plus I think this is a critical age to get children hooked into reading.
But why Hatman? Why dress yourself up in ludicrous headgear and suffer sniggers from your wife and daughter? Simple: I wanted to find a way to help children remember the vlog. People’s names are hard to recall (as are book titles) but a berk in a Fedora stays in the mind somehow… My thinking was that if a teacher showed the vlog to her class and a boy, say, saw a book he really liked the look of and went home and asked his mum if they could go to the local library and borrow it then if he couldn’t remember the title he probably would remember ‘hatman’. A quick Google later and the book would be found. It’s a route to reading – hopefully.
So Hatman was born. I do like hats and have fairly eclectic collection at home and so I’ll be donning all sorts of strange items over the weeks to come. The Hatman Reads vlog will feature a new video post each month and I’ll be recommending four varied books each time:
- All books aimed at 7-11s
- A mix of fiction, non-fic and poetry
- At least one book each month suitable for younger or less assured readers
- A huge variety of types, authors, styles, content
- Books that I know kids will like (mainly new but a few that have been around a while)
The vlog is aimed mainly at primary schools and my hope is that teachers of KS2 will show the vlog to their classes each month. In the past teachers had time to read children’s books and keep up with the world of kids’ literature – now they are drowning in a swamp of admin and targets, held captive by the Data Monster. So, here you are teachers, trainees and TAs: a nice fun way to promote Reading for Pleasure and to find out about new authors, illustrators, current books and developments in publishing.
I get most of the books from my local library and am always open to recommendations. Do comment below if you have suggestions for books to review. Obviously I can’t feature every title that somebody loves but I’ll do my best to look at them and hopefully read them! Publishers do email me if you’re keen to see a title featured on Hatman Reads.
I’d also love to hear from children who follow Hatman and try out some of the books he recommends: send me your thoughts!
Enjoy your reading!