Usborne Books at Home

Skip to main content

Choose Usborne for your School - Reason #1 Usborne's Reading Programme

5th April 2018

We have thousands of Usborne Organisers across the UK and Europe working with schools to inspire a lifelong love of reading in their pupils, and to help teachers and parents to find the very best books for their children.

Every month we'll be exploring how creating a partnership with an Usborne Organiser can hugely benefit you and your school. From free and discounted books for your school, to planning personalised reading events to suit you, to recommending the best books for each age range, an Usborne Organiser can be an invaluable support to you and your school.

This month we're looking at Usborne's Reading Programme. Comprising of over 300 reading books, both fiction and non-fiction, and graded in eight levels for guidance, the books are carefully designed to capture the imagination and build the confidence of beginner readers, and to motivate and inspire children who find reading difficult or dull.

Our programme was developed in consultation with Alison Kelly, a leading expert in the teaching of reading. All titles aim to match the key principles of the Usborne Reading Programme: exciting, engaging narrative that both appeals to readers and provides inspiration for their own writing, and lively, detailed design and illustration.

We spoke to the Senior Managing Editor in charge of Usborne's Reading Programme to find out more about it:

How do you decide on the titles in the Reading Programme?

'Reading Programme titles are mainly chosen on how well known we think the stories are - and that we decide by instinct. In the same way that film stars are 'A listers', certain stories (particularly well-loved fairy and folk tales) have the same cachet. This is also true of the subjects in our Famous Lives strand (a collection based on historical figures such as Queen Victoria, Christopher Columbus and Florence Nightingale).

Where a story might not be so well known, I first consider how strong it is - does it have a gripping plot? Do I care about the characters? Will it appeal to the readers? And it's not just the content that is important, the title is also key - after all, it is the title that grabs people first. (And for non-fiction titles we are guided, though not constrained, by National Curriculum topics.)

We are always looking for more stories to retell - folk and fairy tales from all over the world, not to mention classics - and search through libraries, bookshelves at home, and the internet in the hope of uncovering wonderful new tales.

In the last few years, we have also added an exciting new strand of fantastic original fiction, still carefully levelled and following Reading Programme principles, including stories about fairy unicorns and unforgettable mischievous monsters. We are currently developing more fiction for the lower levels so watch this space!'

How do you level the books in the Reading Programme?

'When it comes to deciding levels for the Reading Programme, I assess the complexity of the plot and how simply I think the story can be retold. Some stories very obviously fit into one level or another, but sometimes that decision isn't made until we see how the story writes up. Writers follow the various guidelines for the different levels - each level at First Reading, for example, has specific word limits per double-page spread. If it appears that a story needs more words or a more complex sentence structure, or conversely a simplification as it is written, the initial level can be changed.

Sometimes, the themes of a story mean that it is more suited for a particular level. With our adaptation of Othello, for example, while we could certainly have retold the story of the play using language suitable for YR2, we felt that the plot, with its adult themes, needed an older age group which is why it is a YR3.'

How do you ensure that the books are accurate in terms of content?

'We are very lucky to work with a number of experts, whose advice and knowledge is invaluable in creating our books.

On non-fiction titles especially, the experts can be full of unexpected information to really make a story come to life. Researching the Story of Rome, the author discovered that Nero wanted his mother, Agrippina, out of the way and tried to poison her. But it was the expert, Dr Verity Platt, who mentioned that Nero then booby-trapped Agrippina's bedroom with a collapsing ceiling and, when she escaped that, sent her to sea on a collapsible ship. When it sank, she swam ashore!

These stories not only enliven the narrative, they bring the characters to life and give readers a real feel of the world they are entering. Our experts don't simply check for accuracy, they share a passion for their subject which (we hope) comes across in the books.

One of our history and ancient myths experts, Dr Anne Millard, is an Egyptologist who took tour groups on boat trips down the Nile and lectured at the various temples and pyramids. She is a firm believer that people haven't really changed down the centuries and helps one picture scenes, such as a bustling ancient market, so vividly it is as if you are there yourself.

We find Reading Programme experts in all sorts of places, not simply university faculties. Dr Erika Langmuir OBE, who advised on Leonardo da Vinci, is a distinguished art historian and was Head of Education at the National Gallery. Dr Paul Edmondson, who advised on William Shakespeare is Head of Research and Knowledge at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. And the adviser on Captain Cook was John Woolley, then Education Officer at the Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby, which is housed in a 17th century house in Grape Lane, where James Cook almost certainly lodged as an apprentice.'


Want to find out more about our Reading Programme?

Research the different levels in the programme, and the many titles that make them up here:

Contact your local Usborne Organiser today to find out more about our Reading Programme, the discounts they can give you on your order, and how they can help your school to select the books that will work best for your pupils.

Find your nearest Organiser by typing your school's postcode in here: or email to be put into contact with an Organiser.