This article investigates the premise that literary texts use language in aesthetic, imaginative and engaging ways that have considerable potential to extend the learning of bilingual pupils. It draws on research findings from a qualitative study that examined the value of developing pedagogic practices for emergent bilingual learners at the interface between language and literature. The educational research is framed from an ethnographic perspective and employs critical discourse analysis of classroom interaction. The research addresses the current gap in studies of bilingual pupils' learning in majority language classrooms at secondary level. The findings show the risk of placing bilingual learners in low-ability sets where their exposure to literature may be limited and language skills are frequently taught in isolation. In contrast, bilingual learners who were given the opportunity to use language creatively and had access to a range of texts slowly became attuned to the musicality of the new language and developed deeper word knowledge. The findings indicate that through drawing on bilingual learners' contextual knowledge and making space for cross-cultural discourses around texts, these learners can understand both the local and global in acts of reading. The research points to the need for a pluralistic pedagogy in learning literacies.