I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book” -Groucho Marx- 

Jewish education and culture have always valued literature and many of the greatest novelists of our time are Jewish authors. At Herzlia we recognise this significant tradition and from the first year of our children’s formal schooling, they are introduced to our modern, well-equipped libraries in the primary schools. Besides the portable classroom libraries available to our Foundation Phase pupils (Gr 1 -3) for quiet time reading when formal work has been completed and, of course, the teacher’s popular story time each day, every week pupils are taken into the library to be introduced to new reads and given time to take out books to read at home. PJ library definitely encourages the younger children’s love for reading especially with the exciting way in which the books are introduced.

During the Intermediate Phase years (Gr 4 – 6), the pupils are introduced to at least two novels a term during English lessons. While these carefully selected novels are studied more formally as ‘setworks’ they are also read for pleasure and enjoyed by the vast majority of our pupils. Pupils also enjoy weekly lessons in the library where they are introduced to various age-appropriate authors and genres of books.

Our primary schools host reading focus weeks each year where we invite drama groups and authors to visit for exciting presentations to stimulate an interest in books and reading for pleasure. These programmes are extremely popular. Children are also encouraged to dress up as their favourite book characters and pieces of popular novels are dramatised by groups of older pupils. There are also outings arranged to libraries like the Sea Point and Gitlin libraries. DEAR – Drop Everything and Read – is a wonderful opportunity for the whole school, including teachers, to spend 10 minutes a day reading in silence.

Traditionally the Grade 6 ‘Library Committee’ is used to assist in the library and is available during breaks to welcome pupils into the library and to supervise the checking out of books. This is an enticing venue for children who prefer a quieter environment at break time. It also allows the pupils an opportunity to browse through the books on display. 

Primary school pupils enjoy the experience of reading ‘real’ books. That does not mean we do not make use of digital materials where necessary. Audiobooks (Audible is a superb App for these!) are useful for those pupils who struggle to read the written word but still enjoy a good story. In the Foundation Phase classes make use of an online programme called Purple Mash which has a wonderful graded book collection both for reading for pleasure and also for more formal comprehension activities. Unsurprisingly, there are an increasing number of Grade 5 and 6 pupils making use of their private Kindles for reading.

It goes without saying that like during their children’s pre-school years, parents who are readers become excellent role models for their older children as well. Research shows that children who come from homes with stacked bookshelves and parents who read have significantly more chances of becoming passionate readers themselves. International research also shows, rather sadly, that increasingly adolescents are becoming less interested in reading for pleasure. In a highly literate country like New Zealand, educationalists are grappling with how to stem this worrying trend. One possible solution they have suggested is the idea of making reading for pleasure part of the formal academic curriculum which leads to the assumption that it will be assessed. For me this reeks of desperation and surely there have to be more positive ways of encouraging our adolescents to appreciate the wonders of reading an enticing novel!

We are extremely fortunate at Herzlia High School to be blessed with a beautiful, cutting-edge library containing thousands of popular fictional reads. Recently I asked ChatGPT to provide me with a list of the top 50 reads for adolescents and amazingly enough our library has 42 of these on its shelves (see the list below)! However, we, at Herzlia, are also struggling to encourage our pupils to read for pleasure.

One of the more popular initiatives to emerge from our English department is the ‘Book Club’. Since 2021, the Book Club has held termly meetings to discuss various works of literature, celebrating the importance of reading. Pupils from Grades 7 – 12 may join, and everyone is welcome to participate in our discussion meetings even if they are not official members, including staff. Last year, the Book Club organised daily activities and events to celebrate South African National Book Week. A literature trivia Kahoot quiz was held. Author Patricia Schonstein recited poetry from her new collection, ‘‘The Phoebe Book of Poems for Children”. Author Joanne Jowell took part in a discussion of her book “Zephany”. We also facilitated a discussion on the Booker Prize-winning novel “The Promise”. The week concluded with an “escape the reading room” event. We hope that this will become an annual event at the school. This year, our Term 1 Book Club discussion was on “Good Omens”, and we have decided to read two novels this term for our discussion meeting which is due to take place later this term: a young adult novel, “Carry On”, and a more mature read, “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo”. Pupils may choose to read one or both novels. 

At our High School, teachers have accepted the challenge that we all need to be much more involved in creating an ethos that encourages our pupils to read for pleasure. We are committed to this and while we understand the academic pressures that confront our pupils, we all have some free time! The challenge for both teachers and parents is to encourage our children to read for relaxation and enjoyment. While this is a significant challenge, it is one that with awareness, action and a series of small steps, we can begin to reinvigorate the passion our children once showed when they first heard a story read by a parent or when they were first given a book to hold!

Have a look at the ChatGPT-generated list of books I have included below. Discuss these titles with your adolescent children and challenge them to read one before the end of this term, then two next term and another in the fourth term. We shall do the same – in English classes as well as in mentor groups! Together, let’s see if we can buck the international trend and turn Herzlia into a school where adolescents choose to read for pleasure.

Please share any interesting thoughts you may have on this subject and watch this space to hear about further reading-for-pleasure initiatives across our schools.

Here are 50 popular novels for teenagers, listed in no particular order: Click here

Mark Helfrich
Head of Curriculum