Puzzle books – why you’ll love them

Sorry we haven’t written much recently. There’s been a few things going on which has made focusing on Mrs ABC a little bit harder. Still, now that things have settled, it’s time to come back! And I’m going to start with one of my favourite types of books. Puzzle books! I’ve been wanting to write about these for a while, as they can be good in so many ways (and for many different children). So let me start by explaining what they are.

Puzzle books are stories which, as you can imagine, contain a puzzles. Mazes, Spot the difference, and “Where’s Wally” type games that all add to the story. They’re sort of like video games but in book form. You can read the story without doing the puzzles, and it will still make sense. However the real joy and wonder about these books is being a part of them. Every time you solve a puzzle you get to feel like you are with the character. So here are my top 5 reasons why you’ll love them too!

illustration of a brain with lots of bright colours, red, green, blue and yellow, splashed on it

1 Puzzles engage the brain

Puzzles can be key for child development. By doing a puzzle you develop problem solving skills, which you can use in other areas of life. As well as developing strategies for solving them, your memory adapts as it tries to hold onto various bit of information. These skills are the same used for solving maths or science problems. So if your child wants to be a mathematician, engineer or astronaut this is a great place to start.

These puzzles don’t just develop cognitive skills, but also emotional skills like patience, which are just as important. They also help raise your child’s self-esteem, due to the satisfaction and accomplishment of solving a problem. There really is no downside of doing puzzles.

photograph of tasty chocolate cakes with sprinkles of little pink hearts on top

2 The imaginative, adventurous settings

These books are set in so many wonderful locations! I love the book about Chocolate Island (the whole island made of chocolate! Sounds like heaven to me…) but there are ones set in the real world too. There’s a few set in the jungle, some on trains, and even some with dinosaurs! Whatever your child is into I’m sure there’ll be at least one story they’ll like the look of.

Having stories in lots of different settings not only makes them accessible to different children, they also make children aware of the different places on Earth. The puzzles in the Arctic are different to those in the Jungle, but both can be solved using the same techniques. This way your child learns that the skills they have can be used in different situations, helping them develop a growth mindset (look out for an article on the growth mindset coming soon).

photograph of a small child reading a book surrounded by sparkles and light

3 Great for children who struggle with reading

Children who find words difficult often find these books much easier. They can do the puzzles and get that warm feel-good feeling when they complete them. This helps them build their confidence with books, allowing them to transition to other books more easily. Although these books may not have as many words as some others, they can be still be great for your child’s development. So if your child only feels comfortable with these books, that’s fine. They’ll get to more complex books when they’re ready. For more tips on helping your child read have a look at our article What you can do when your child is having difficulties reading.

photograph of 2 boys and a girl lying on some grass, reading books

4 Suitable for all ages, genders and interests

What I find great about these books is that there are ones suitable for 4 year olds up to ones for 12 year olds. And even now, I still find the puzzles engaging. And these puzzles are not solely aimed at boys. There is such a wide array of stories that most children would be happy with at least one, whether they’re into mermaids, dragons or trains.

photograph of a grandmother reading to her two grandchildren

5 Great for family time

Although these books are great to be read individually some of the problems may get your child asking for you assistance. And that’s great! Reading books, or doing the puzzles in them, is a great time to bond together. It’s a great chance for them to learn from you, and to spend quality time together. These books are great for that. So prepare your skills in finding binoculars in the jungles, and finding the safest path across the sea.

Most of the puzzle books I’ve found are published by Usborne, and there are so many to choose from! So, as I love these books a lot, prepare to see a few reviews on these. Happy Puzzling 🙂

Why I Love The Minpins

The Minpins, written by the master of children’s books, Roald Dahl, is a great fantasy-adventure book for young readers. It was always a favourite of mine as a child, full of adventure and heroism. Fantasy and reality. I love that it was set in a forest that I could actually stumble across. And as it could be any forest in England, it made every forest in England potentially full of Minpins! (Minpins are the tiny people who live in trees)

The book stars Little Billy who, being told by his mother to not venture outside, heads out into the dangerous forest. There he finds a beast – and the Minpins – and sees the dangers of going outside. However brave Billy sees a way of making things safer, not just for him, but for everyone in the forest.

Read on for my reasons why I love this book, and think it’s so great for young readers.

1 It’s set in a real place

I find it truly magical when a fantasy book has an actual place in reality. Take Harry Potter for instance. The gateway to the Hogwarts Express is set in Kings Cross Station, allowing people to re-live the magic every time they see it. There’s even now half a trolley in the wall, so they can imagine going to Hogwarts themselves! So I love that The Minpins is set in an English forest, so that it could be any English wooded area. Imagine going on walks with your child and pointing out “There! I think I see a minpin!”. As a child I was definitely more receptive to walks if I could imagine there were minpins in the trees.

2 The Minpins

One of the reasons I love this book is because I love the Minpins themselves. I love that they have little suction boots that help them walk up trees. I love that they live inside trees! The whole idea of a whole house, in miniature, inside a tree…for me is incredibly magical. And maybe it’s a bit silly to look at a tree and think there might be tiny people inside, but I think the last line of the book says it all. Sometimes we need to believe in magic to find it. And in life, sometimes we need to believe in the unbelievable (that we can pass exams, go to medical school, become an astronaut, raise a child, whatever it is). Maybe believing in Minpins is a good start.

3 The incredible adjectives

Okay…maybe I don’t love it for the vocabulary, but I do think it definitely adds to the book. And learning new words is always great for children. Words like “whooshing” and “whoomph-whoomph” and “gigantic galloping hooves” really add pace and adrenaline to the story. Maybe you’ll start using words like “guzzling” and “tantalizing” too. These words are great for expanding your child’s vocabulary, helping them to advance to more complex books.

And let’s not forget the beautiful illustrations by Patrick Benson (as shown throughout this post). His drawings really bring the whole world to life. You can almost feel the “orange-red smoke” coming from the monster, as Billy flies through the air above it.

4 The adventure of being outside

This book is so full of adventure. From flying on a swan over a lake, to up above in the sky. Even if you don’t meet the Minpins, there is so much to be gained from going outside. This story will not only make kids excited to have their own adventures, but also encourages them to be brave. Developing resilience, problem-solving and determination by playing outside, or battling their own challenges, are skills that really help children deal with the wider world. Which leads me to…

5 Sometimes you need to step out of your door

Although ignoring the warnings of your mother is not usually the best idea for a child’s safety, sometimes, just sometimes, following your feet can be a good idea. Like Dory says in Finding Nemo “Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him”. If you go into the forest you may find a beast, but you might also find that you can beat it.

Thank you for reading this article. If you want other books on going outside do read our article on Percy the Park Keeper. While the Karate Princess is a great story about being true to yourself. I hope this article helped you find another great book. Let us know what you think about it in the comments. Happy Reading! 🙂

Additional Learning
  • Go on a walk to a “Minpin” forest
  • Write a diary entry from one of the Minpins perspectives. What were you doing when you saw Billy? What is it like to fly on a bird?
  • Think of all the other good adjectives you and your children know. What words would they use to describe the Gruncher?

Why I Love the Kate Greenaway Medal

I’m not a fan of all awards, and I don’t care for the developing obsession for celebrities. However some awards are excellent at giving recognition to those who would otherwise not meet the public eye. And raises awareness for unknown, but fantastic, authors.  The Kate Greenaway Medal does that splendidly.

I first became aware of the Kate Greenaway Medal when doing a Masters module on children books.  It was actually this module that, quite literally, changed my life. I realised just how important it was for an educator to show children, and parents, not just good books, but great books, brilliant books, awe inspiring books.  And a great place to find these books is in the nominations list for this Medal.

5 Reasons Why I love the Kate Greenaway Medal

1 It’s been around for generations

The first medal was awarded in 1955, that’s 10 years before I was born, so I have literally been brought up on these books.  There are other awards and medals, but they are not yet able to celebrate their 60th year (which they are currently doing).  Just because something’s been around for a long time doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any good.  But it’s certainly worth looking at, to see why and to see if you agree with the selection.

2 It awards the illustrators

My obsession about Picture Books is in part because I love books but it’s also because I love art.  I used to take my young children to art galleries and talk about the stories behind the paintings.  By sharing wonderful picture books with children you are not just sharing a story with them, you are sharing art with them.  The illustrators who are nominated have an amazing gift. They can create images that merge with the text, which creates a unique experience for each individual.  This award brings these talented people into our awareness. So that we can enjoy their books and share them with those we love.

3 The list of winners include some of my all time favourite books

With so many wonderful books it is difficult for me to pick just a few. But, if I have to, these are the ones that stand out for me:

  • Where The Wild Things Are
  • Borka
  • Dogger
  • This Is Not My Hat
  • Can’t You Sleep Little Bear
  • Jethro Byrde, Fairy Child
  • FaRther

These books have illustrations that I can see in my mind.  They are, quite literally, a part of me.  As a parent or carer, by sharing one of these, or any other book you love, you could be giving your child a memory that becomes part of them. That is a true gift.

Image of Front Cover of This Is Not My Hat written by Jon Klassen

4 It is a great starting point to finding books that your child will love

One reason we started this blog was to help you sift out books that you and your child will love.  The Kate Greenaway Award has recognised many wonderful illustrators over the last 60 years.  If you want a list of fabulous books, go to their website.  I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

5 It keeps me guessing for 8 months

In October, once the nominations are published, I try to read as many as possible. Then, when the longlist comes out in February, I re-visit them and wonder which will be selected for the shortlist in March.  Following that, I then have about three months to ponder on which one will ultimately receive the medal.  So that, in a time when new books come out every month, I can easily find great books to read to  the children.

There are other awards but this one, for me, ticks all the boxes.  The research evidence is clear, reading books to babies from 6 months old, and talking about the books, will give children greater vocabulary and early literacy skills.  If you can do that with beautifully crafted picture books, then you’re on to a winner, and if you want to find great books, the Kate Greenaway Award has them.  As the meerkat would say “it’s simples”!

Where My Wellies Take Me Book Review

Where My Wellies Take Me … by Clare and Michael Morpurgo. Designed and illustrated by Olivia Lomenech Gill

This book is just lovely and has become a firm new favourite.  I decided to read it when I saw it had been shortlisted for the 2014 Kate Greenaway Medal. I actually started reading it when we were driving up to my daughter’s graduation.  As a rule, I don’t read when I’m a car passenger because I get car sick! But this book was so delightful, I forced myself to overcome my nausea.  Eventually my body won and I had to put it down but I grabbed stationary moments to read on and finally finished it at the hotel.

You could say this book is a mixture of a diary entry, a poetry anthology, and a natural history guide.  So its appeal is wide ranging. I shared it with my 84 year old mother who was delighted to be taken back to her own childhood.  Young children who are interested in nature would also enjoy this book.  They may not be able to appreciate all the poetry, but I’m sure they’ll enjoy the illustrations and some of the more familiar rhymes and as they grow they can revisit the book and explore it further.

page of the book with a girl in wellies and the words "and I'm off!"

5 Reasons to Read

page of a book with yellow and orange flowers above a handwritten paragraph

1 It’s printed to look just like a scrapbook

I absolutely love all the detail that has been used to make it look like a scrapbook.  It starts with the front cover printed to show a drawing, a postcard, a stamp and small sections torn out from a dictionary all just as it might appear on a scrapbook.  The book continues, exquisitely, in this vein.  Drawings, dried flowers (attached with small pieces of tape), maps, notebook pages all stuck onto the buff coloured paper.  And I adore the way some drawings are on tracing paper, which when turned, reveal another image – the kingfisher is my favourite.  It even has a matchbox with its content (not matches … I won’t spoil the surprise!) It is a book to be poured over again and again.

page of a book showing what looks like a paper cut-out saying "Map of my favourite places and poems"

2 The delightful collection of poems

Poetry speaks to us all in different ways.  My 84 year old mother may not remember what she had for breakfast, but she can still recall poems learnt in infancy.  Learning poems off by heart is a skill that exercises the brain in many ways.  This collection includes well known nursery rhymes, as well as Edward Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussycat”, and Christina Rossetti’s “Hurt No Living Thing”.

It also has many poems that I hadn’t heard of, such as the very lovely “Little Trotty Wagtail” by John Clare, which so perfectly describes a wagtail, and exposes your child to wonderful  vocabulary such as ‘pudge and waggle’, ‘tittering tottering’, and ‘waddled’.

Poems allow children to explore sounds, words, feelings and ideas in a different format from stories.  They are a great tool to developing their attention, language, empathy and thinking skills.  This book gives you a great selection.

Page of book with beautiful pencil drawing of a frog and frogspawn

3 It shows a more natural way of life

We live in a busy world where children are playing with smart phones and tablets.  Electronic devices are great for learning skills and knowledge, but they do not give children all that they need for a healthy, rounded education.  It is really important that children learn to look closely at the world around them.

I also read recently that children need ‘dirt’ to develop healthy gut bacteria.  You could help them by going to collect a wildflower posy, blowing dandelion clocks or planting some seeds.

Corner of a page in the book of a pencil drawn hand holding a pencil that is adding the final touches to a drawing of a lamb

4 The use of handwriting

There is a good reason for teaching children joined-up (cursive) writing.  It  helps children learn to spell, and the more efficient the handwriting, the quicker children can focus on the content of their writing.  However, children don’t usually see hand written books. This book has a hand written story alongside printed poems.  Talk to your child about the similarities and differences.  Which do they prefer?

Page of the book with a poem and a drawing of a kingfisher on a branch
5 It reminds us to appreciate the moment

A. E. Houseman’s poem “Loveliest of Trees, The Cherry Now” celebrates the beautiful cherry blossom.  Depending on the weather, the tree usually blooms from March to mid-April.  So now is the time to go out and enjoy it.  A heavy rainfall or high winds will bring it to its end for the year.  Once gone, you have to wait til next year.  For me, this is a very good reminder to stop and enjoy the moment.

Where my wellies take me is a book to enjoy, keep and return to.  It will take you back to a simpler time in your life and I hope will encourage you find special time with your children to stop and smell the flowers.  An article I read today stated that children spend an average of 6.5 hours a day looking at screens.  This may result in poorer communication and social skills. As parents, you need to consider what you want for your child and help create an environment that supports it.  Bear in mind that you are your children’s role models.  So you will need to put your wellies on too and put your phones away!!

Time is precious.  I wonder where your wellies will take you?  Maybe you could share with us your favourite local  wellie walk, where you can see the changing seasons and enjoy each one for what it brings.

Additional Learning Opportunities

You could help your child start their own scrapbook.  It could be for flowers, leaves, feathers found on walks, or ticket stubs, postcards, brochures, stamps, anything that you can collect and stick in.  Alternatively you could include stories and poems and help your child illustrate them.

Put your wellies on and explore the natural world. Spring is a great time to see flowering bulbs, blossom, buds on trees.  Frogspawn and toadspawn are present now and in a few weeks there will be ducklings, goslings, and cygnets.

For other books about the great outdoors see our review of  Percy the Park Keeper, and for stopping to smell the roses,  see Footpath Flowers.

What can you do when your child is having real difficulties in learning to read

Literacy Difficulties and Dyslexia

There are some children, 10-20% of the population, who, even having been exposed to a great number of books, still find it difficult to read.  I have seen it many times and spoken to many parents about it. I’ll confess it can be quite heartbreaking, seeing these children struggle day after day with seemingly easy words.

So we have put together 6 ways to help your child get better at reading.

6 ways to help your child get better at reading
1 Practise

Not being able to read or not reading well can be a huge disadvantage in this day and age.  Practise can and does make a difference. These children need far more practise than their peers.  So effectively they need to see far more books, and books that will help them.

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go. - Dr Seuss

2 Make it Fun

It goes without saying that things we enjoy, we choose to do. Children often do the same thing over and over and over again, quite simply for the enjoyment of doing it.  If your child asks for the same book to be read repeatedly, celebrate their love of this book and read it with them as often as they like.

Equally, if you find a book you think they’ll enjoy, read it with them and make it as exciting as you can.  Read with expression, use different voices, and get excited about it.  You will be demonstrating that reading is, and should be, fun.

For more ideas, you can read our article ‘5 ways you can help when listening to your child read’.
“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” ― Charles William Eliot

3  Find books they Love

Your local library is a great place to start.  If you can make your visit part of your regular routine, so much the better.  I recall fondly going to the library with my mother every Saturday morning in the 1970s. Going to the library and borrowing books is free.  They will have a great range of books, so keep on trying to find books your child likes. If in doubt, look for books that are funny or that are about categories that your child is already interested in.

“Read what you find interesting, and then follow your interests. You'll find that in doing so you always generate enough to illuminate the next step.” - Mark Helprin

4 Apps and Specialist Publishers are there to help

I will always say that books are better than e-books, however, there are some great apps out there.  These apps may help your child engage in learning the sounds that letters make, and in learning to read words that cannot be sounded out. Cambugs and Nessy are two apps that have been recommended to me.  There are others available.  Have a look and find something that your child will enjoy.

Barrington Stoke is a publisher that publishes books taking into account many of the difficulties that children may have.  They create books with thicker, tinted paper and use specially developed font and increased spacing.  The stories also have age appropriate content with a lower reading age.  And they get award winning authors like Julia Donaldson, Michael Morpurgo, Malorie Blackman amongst others to write the stories.  They also have produced their Red Squirrel Picture Books, designed to help parents and carers who find reading difficult themselves. The website for this range is www.redsquirrelbooks.co.uk and it also has advice for parents. So check it out.

“Read whatever book you lay your hands on if you can, for every writer has a story to tell” ― Bangambiki Habyarimana, The Great Pearl of Wisdom

5 Don’t dismiss comics and graphic novels

A great way for kids to start reading books is to find stories that can be followed through pictures, such as comic books and graphic novels. A friend of mine is dyslexic however she now reads faster than me, due to her love of Manga (a type of Japanese comic book).

Firstly the text is in smaller chunks than in novels, making it more accessible and easier to read. Also big paragraphs can be daunting so you can raise your child’s confidence with books with less text. The stories can be just as complex as written novels but by the added use of pictures, children do not need to rely so much on the words. The meaning can be implied from the pictures, allowing them to learn vocabulary while understanding the story.

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents. —Emilie Buchwald

6 Try Paired Reading

Paired reading is when adult and child (or child and child) read out loud, together.  It takes the pressure off the child and changes the focus to a joint activity. This helps children by avoiding re-inforcing the difficulty in reading.  Another bonus is you get to snuggle up together, making it a special moment, rather than a battle ground.  It will take a little time finding the right pace to do it, but it’s very important that your child chooses the reading material.  Paired reading can also be done with two children, but one child needs to have a reading age at least two years ahead of the other.

If your child prefers reading alone, that is absolutely fine, but a good rule of thumb, whether paired reading or not, is to give your child 4-5 seconds to try to work the word out themselves. Then give them the word and encourage them to repeat it back.  It all helps in developing that much needed practise.

There are different viewpoints as to the best approaches to help these children, but for me there is one thing that is absolutely crucial. And I cannot stress this strongly enough.  If your child is one of those children, it is vital that parents, carers and teachers work hard to ensure that this difficulty does not affect their confidence and self esteem.

So find something they are really good at, and help them turn this skill into a specialism and an expertise. I’m sure you’ve heard of the countless stories of famous artists and scientists who were reported to be dyslexic. Again, there are different viewpoints, but I believe many highly creative people are this way because they spent a lot of time as a child on creative activities that they enjoyed. Reading well is great, but living well is better.

I hope you found this article useful. Let us know if you find any of these suggestions helpful or if you have any other tried and tested techniques for helping struggling readers.

Why a Karate Princess is a great role model

Firstly, let me share with you a little thing about me. When I was 18 I got a black belt in karate, and it was one the proudest moments of my life. It’s the first the thing I come to whenever I think I haven’t accomplished anything (which happens a lot more than I should let it). I started when I was 11, when I saw that there would be an instructor teaching it at a nearby school. And from the first session I was completely hooked.

For me, it was a rare place in my world where being pretty and smiley and friendly didn’t matter. I could be me 100%. Instead of being judged on what I looked like, or how I behaved, I was rewarded for my skill. This was so important to me and, I feel, to every little girl.

So maybe I’m a little biased in recommending this book, The Karate Princess by Jeremy Strong. However it is great to have a story about a strong little girl. There are plenty of books, and films, about princesses who don’t do very much, and even more stories about little boys who do. So I think it’s nice, and refreshing, to have one about a princess who does a lot. Especially when that is defeating bad guys.

The story is about a princess, Belinda, who’s father thinks she won’t marry a prince (and therefore amount to anything) because she isn’t pretty. So her mother sets out to find an instructor who will teach her, so that she doesn’t need to be pretty. She finds a karate instructor. Seven years later, with her years of karate experience, Belinda ends up on a mission which, if she succeeds, will let her marry a particular prince. The ending is superb, as is how she tackles the many ups and downs of her mission. Making the book a great one for courageous young girls, and boys.

Here are my reasons why I think Belinda the Karate Princess, created by Jeremy Strong, is a fantastic role model.

Front cover of The Karate Princess showing a girl with curly black her joyfully kicking a pillar, while an exhausted guard looks on

1 She’s not only good at karate, she’s kind too

When she comes across the Bogle, a monster she has been told to capture, she could have just over-powered him but she doesn’t. She listens to him and empathises with him. It can be all well and good being powerful enough that you can bring harm to anyone, but it is a much greater thing knowing when to use it. And an even better thing being kind. Many heroes focus on their physical strength and power as the thing that makes them heroic, but what I think makes Belinda so good is that she is also kind and supportive. A great thing to teach children.

Belinda is holding the hairy bogles head in her hands.

2 She doesn’t let other people’s opinions of her define the way she looks at herself

In the book other people believe her to be unworthy because she isn’t pretty like the other princesses. However not once in the book does she seem to care. Magazines and films are constantly telling us that we need to be good-looking in order to get anywhere, and it can be difficult not believing them. So I think it is a great to show that you should take no notice of these negative ideas. And that it doesn’t matter if you’re pretty or not, you are amazing anyway.

A picture of a page in the book where a rival princess is kissing a kings hand

3 She’s assertive

Whenever she comes across people who want something different to what she wants, she calmly outlines her point of view. Assertiveness is a key skill where you put forward your needs in a clear and logical manner. However it can be so hard to actually do. Sometimes we’d rather apologise for wanting something or just sit silent and complain later. Belinda does none of that. When she believes she has been wronged she says so, not in an accusatory way but just by stating the facts. This is a great skill to have and one that I believe all children should grow to learn. Especially in this day-and-age, where when they grow up  they could find other people won’t have their best interests at heart.

Belinda, the karate princess, stands knee deep in a swamp and shouts into the fog

4 Belinda is looked down on for not being pretty but ultimately wins using skill

Most of the book revolves around Belinda’s worth being defined by her lack of being pretty. This is a message that often crops up in society both for boys and girls, and fuels the rise in mental disorders like anorexia. I think it is therefore so important that at the age where studies show girls have a drop in self-esteem, they see characters who defy this. Seeing a character who believes in herself and defeats all the opposition, even when other people didn’t believe she would, can only hope to raise children’s confidence.
A page in the book where Belinda is sympathising with the bogle. A monster she was told to defeat.

 

Now I know all children won’t consciously pick up on all these things. However they will see an awesome girl being, well, quite frankly awesome, which really is all that you could need.

Additional Opportunites
  • Take them to a martial arts class. They’ll learn discipline and fitness as well as increasing their self-confidence
  • Write the story from the Bogle’s point of view

Footpath Flowers Book Review

Footpath Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith

This week I received a text from a very good friend saying she’d left something on my doorstep.  I went to look, and found this book, Footpath Flowers.  When I saw her a few days later she said she knew I was going through a rough time, and was going to leave me some flowers. But instead she saw the book and knew that it would be a far better gift.  She was spot on.  I have  been going through a rough time, but this blog has really helped me.  So here I am, writing a book review for a truly beautiful book that has helped me realise that even when you think you are dealing with something alone, there are people out there thinking of you.

Foopath Flowers is a wordless picture book.  Readers will know that I have previously written that good wordless picture books are invaluable at helping children develop speech and language and thinking skills.  This book is no exception.  This book is also an absolute joy to behold.  It gently tells the story of a little girl going home with her father, following a shopping trip.  But the story is so, so much more than this.  The little girl, through the simplest of acts, shares love and kindness along the way.   This is a beautiful story and one that is definitely worth reading.

5 Reasons to Read

 

1 It teaches your child to look deeper

One of the reasons this book stands out is that it is wordless and yet it has an author…. Sounds a bit odd I hear you say! The author, JonArno Lawson is an author and a poet.   In this beautifully illustrated book, JonArno Lawson has created a narrative that is truly poetic. Great poems can be read over and over and each reading brings different interpretations.  This book is the same.  Read it with your child once and talk about it.  Read it again.  What do you notice now? Keep going and keep talking.  By helping your child to go deeper with a children’s book, you are helping them develop skills, and hopefully pleasure, in looking beyond the obvious.

 

2 Anyone can make a difference

The little girl creates a little posy of, well basically, weeds.  She could have held on to them until she got home, but she doesn’t.  She places them, unceremoniously, in places which undoubtedly demonstrates her inate love for living, and once living, animals and people.  It appears that she expects no thanks, just giving for the sake of giving. This is a lesson not just for children, but for us all.

 

3 The narrative is from the little girl’s viewpoint

The narrative is the way the story is written, or in this case, drawn. This book has a simple story. A little girl picks wild flowers and gives them away.  It is the narrative that draws us in to the story and gives us a sense of being part of it. We see the little girl spotting the footpath flowers, often in unusual places, reaching out to get them.  This is very typical of young children, who see the world from a completely different viewpoint, rightfully unburdened by life’s stresses.  Many stories are told in the third person, using the voice of an unseen narrator.  Footpath Flowers, by telling the story from the little girl’s viewpoint, is giving children a different perspective.

 

4 The use of colour

The story starts almost completely in black and white.  Slowly, coulour starts to creep in as the story progresses, in line with the little girl’s act of kindness.  What a lovely way to show that a little bit of love can bring colour into all our lives.  A simple lesson, and one worth remembering.

 

5 The father

When I first read the book, I felt the father was not engaged with the little girl.  This was because he is never seen to be talking to her and is often  on the phone.  However, on re-reading and studying the book, as is so important to do, I got a different impression.  The father is a constant presence, always offering a hand to hold and patiently waiting when the little girl is, so tenderly, placing her flowers. It is this quiet, understated love that I find so appealing.  In this day and age it is not always possible that parents can be a constant presence in their child’s life.  However, what does matter, is that, when there is time to be present, parents demonstrate unconditional love in a way that suits them. Walking quietly, hand in hand, is one charming way of doing this.

Additional Learning Opportunities
  1. Go for a walk and spot wildflowers.  I wonder how many you can find.
  2. Go to a botanical garden and learn more about the huge variety of plants.
  3. Collect some wildflowers and either press them or use them to make a collage.
  4. Discuss what other small acts of kindness could help to lift someone’s day and maybe put one or two into action.
  5. Read Little Red Riding Hood.

Where The Wild Things Are Book Review

Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Where on earth do I start with this classic? To quote Julie Andrews from the Sound of Music, I guess I need to “start at the very beginning”. I first heard of Where The Wild Things Are from my husband. He insisted we buy it when our first daughter was born. I had not heard of the book, but he said it was an absolute favourite of his! He even recalled his father reading it to him when he was a little boy.

I have kept the copy of the book we first bought back in 1993. It was first published in the US in 1963 and in the UK in 1967. I find it impossible to come up with any single word to describe the pictures. I have spent hours reading this book to my three children, and many hundreds of school children, and it has given me so many wonderfully emotional, warm and fuzzy moments. If you have not yet had the pleasure of sharing this book with your child or children, then I recommend you do so immediately.

5 Reasons to Read

 

1 Poetic narrative

The language used is just gorgeous.  It is more like an unstructured poem than a prose text. Sendak wrote how ‘an ocean tumbled by’ and placed Max sailing ‘through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year’. It’s just beautiful. The more you can expose your child to story language, the more they will love it. And the more likely they will use it in their own creative writing.

2 Pictures tell the story

Where the Wild Things Are is a true Picture Book, with the pictures and text combining to tell the whole story. At the beginning, the text tells us that Max ‘made mischief of one kind and another’ and the pictures tell us what some of that mischief was. Then, in the middle of the story there are pictures of ‘the wild rumpus’. Encourage your child to use their own words to describe the rumpus and add in your own words, to expand and extend theirs. Children need to develop their speech and hear new words to develop their own communication skills.

 

3 The picture frames (and lack of them)

The first picture of Max has a large white frame. This frame decreases with each successive picture until it disappears completely. The pictures then increase in size, covering the left page as well as the right and during the wild rumpus both pages are filled in their entirety. The reverse then occurs as Max returns home. The changing frame could simply refer to when the story goes from real to fantasy. However, it could also be seen to represent the presence of Max’s mother providing a safe boundary or even Max dipping his toe into a world where he is in charge. What do you think?

 

4 Great vocabulary

‘they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws’.  These words are great to read out loud with big voices, over and over. All children deserve to hear it, to join in with it, to read it and ultimately to use it in their own speech and written work.

 

5 Help your child develop emotional literacy

Max clearly starts off feeling angry. Anger is a natural emotion and one that we all experience at some time or another. If you never feel angry, you can never know how to deal with it. Books are a brilliant way for children to explore negative emotions and learn about managing them.

If you look carefully at the pictures you will see Max going through a full range of emotions. He starts off angry, then is almost maniacal!  We also see a scared Max, a controlling Max, a regal and possibly pompous Max and a pensive and homesick Max.  Few books show these emotions and thus this book is an excellent vehicle to help talk about them.

Conclusion

Where The Wild Things Are is a book that consists of beautiful language and stunning pictures.  But it is more than that. This book could help you and your child explore feelings and emotions. This could help you and your child develop understanding and skills that will be of benefit for many years to come.

Additional Learning Opportunities
  • Max discovers the land of the wild things. Why not dig up an atlas and talk about famous land discoveries made by boat.
  • Have fun acting out roles in fancy dress.
  • Put on some ‘wild rumpus’ music and  let the ‘wild thing’ in you out!
  • Draw or paint some ‘wild things’ of your own.
  • If you have older children, they could write the story in the form of a play script, and then act it out.
  • Discuss whether Max would ever return to see the wild things and what might happen then?

Dinosaurs and All That Rubbish – a book about appreciating the world

I’m a bit of an environmentalist. I love volunteering with conservation charities and pretty much idolise The Eden Project. I try to minimise the resources I use by fixing things. And instead of buying things new, reusing what I have or buying from charity shops. Maybe this is why Dinosaurs and All That Rubbish resonated so strongly with me. I think I was probably about 5 years old when my mum first read it to me. I can still remember how I felt about the story, which is why, 20 years later, I am now sharing it with you 🙂

The story, written by Michael Foreman, is about a man who wants to reach a star, so he builds a rocket to get him there. Unfortunately this pollutes the Earth and covers the planet in rubbish.  This, however, wakes up the dinosaurs from under the Earth, who then clear the planet of all the rubbish.  When the man returns he finds the dinosaurs and they teach him a very important lesson about the planet.

These are the top 5 reasons I love the book and the lessons it has taught me.

1 It teaches you to appreciate what you have

A lot of reasons why people are unhappy today is that, like the man in the book, they don’t see the good things that are around them. So instead they search for something that never quite makes them as happy as they want to be. Learning to be thankful for the things you have is a great skill to set your child up for a happier life. And one that is even more important in adulthood.

Dinosaurs, apes, mammoths and birds all celebrate together

2 It is all yours, but it is also all mine

What I really, really love about this book is the message that it brings. That only when everyone comes together, and sees that the Earth is “all yours, but it is also all mine” can we look after it properly. The dinosaurs believe the Earth shouldn’t be owned. It shouldn’t have “parts of it [belonging] to certain people”. Maybe if we shared one world, we wouldn’t have people fighting over different parts of it.

Man looking up at a star

3 The pictures help you feel the words

The pictures are made in a lovely watercolour style, which I think is beautiful. Though it’s not just the style that makes them interesting. I love how they reflect the mood of the writing. When the man gets to the “star” and finds nothing there, the picture shows mostly the vast emptiness of space. And when the man is looking at the star, the pictures are equally quite empty. It’s just him. Whereas the dinosaurs are usually seen together. Playing together. Working together. For me, it makes me feel the man’s loneliness. Maybe he wanted to go to the star in the hope he wouldn’t be alone.

A very large dinosaur with a long neck talks to a man in a spacesuit

4 It explains the impact we have on the environment

There are plenty of books on planes and trains for children, but very few explain the impact of making them.  And although technology is fantastic, we don’t often see how we could be causing harm.  I think this is really important for children to learn.  Things don’t just appear out of nowhere. They are made from other things, and often have a cost. Especially in this day and age I think it is very important we know the environmental impact humans have on the environment.

Illustration of a man gleefully getting out of his rocket to find a world full of grass, plants and flowers

5 That if you focus too much on one thing you can lose sight of everything else

In the case of this book it’s literal, as the more the man focuses on the star the more he can’t actually see the Earth. Like the man in the book we can become so focused on one thing that we lose sight of everything else. Sometimes it’s a good thing to just sit and notice everything going on around you. Hopefully enjoying the flowers on the way.

Front cover shows two green dinosaurs happily jumping on a pile of cars

I hope you liked my review of this book and it’s made you want to sit down and read it. I think it has such an important message, which is important for all of us. Let out that inner dinosaur!

Additional learning
While reading the book
  • You could count all the animals in the book. How many dinosaurs are there? How many birds?
  • You could discuss why you think the man wanted to go the star.
Extra Learning
Science and Technology
  • You could draw a rocket. Or even better make one. All you’ll need is an empty kitchen roll, some bits of coloured paper and glue or sellotape. You could even make it fly by getting a foot pump like this or attaching it to a balloon and a long piece of string like this.
  • You could take your child to a Science Museum (the one in London has a very good space exhibition) to learn more about planets and space.
  • If they like the dinosaurs you could teach them about all the different types of dinosaurs that there were. See if they can spot them in the book.
  • This one is just because of the scientist in me but one thing I don’t quite like about the book is that it mistakes a moon for a star. You could explain the difference that our moon is a rock that travels around a planet, while a star, like the sun, is a giant ball of burning gas.
Outside Activities
  • You could go to a Botanical Garden or Park where they have all sorts of different species of trees and flowers. A lot of them run activities for children too, which helps them learn as well as keeping them entertained.
English
  • If your children can write, they could write the story from the dinosaurs point of view.
Art
  • You could draw a picture of the world when it is polluted and one where the dinosaurs have made it beautiful again.
  • Better yet, make a collage! You could use bits of rubbish to make a picture of the rubbish heap and bits of leaves and flowers to make one of the natural world.
Well-being
  • Say all the things you are thankful for, whether it’s flowers or cups of tea. It’ll make you feel better and is a great thing to do when your child, or you, is feeling down.
  • Spend some time in nature. Take a walk with your child and just enjoy the fresh air. I’m sure they’ll enjoy the sticks and puddles quite a bit.

Mr Wuffles Book Review

Mr Wuffles by David Wiesner

I love Mr Wuffles. Apart from his white paws and throat he is very similar to my own cat, Gizmo. Both Gizmo and Mr Wuffles are “the epitome of indifference” as said by Amy Farrah Fowler of the wonderful Big Bang Theory. However he is far from indifferent when it comes to little green men and their spaceships!

In this wonderful, almost wordless book, Mr Wuffles comes up against aliens and a band of insects. As usual for this site, I won’t give away the ending, but I can at least confirm that it is a happy one.

5 Reasons to Read

Mr Wuffles looking at a small silver spaceship on the wooden floor

1 A picture is worth a thousand words

Wordless picture books are fantastic because they encourage children to tell the story using their own words. Young children need a lot of practice to become fluent speakers and so wordless picture books are great tools to help them along the way.

If your child is not yet speaking using grammatically correct sentences you can help them. Always allow them to speak and try to avoid butting in (counting to 5 is a good rule of thumb). Once they have said their bit, repeat it back to them but using the correct language. They don’t need to repeat it, but over time, they will start to use an increasing amount of correct language.

 

Two green aliens in their spaceship with their heads in their hands

2 There’s a lot to think about

Mr Wuffles uses a comic strip format to tell the story. A lot happens in these pictures and the children that I have shared this book with have all enjoyed scrutinising the pictures to understand the story. This is helping your child develop analytical skills that are needed to understand complex texts.

 

Three green aliens in their spaceship holding a yellow flag and talking in an alien language
3 Have a go at translating

The aliens and ants have their own language. Have some fun with this and see if you and your child can translate the symbols. Once you’ve chosen the words, choose some good voices to use. What voice might you use for the aliens? The more fun and interactive you make storytime, the more pleasure your child will get from the experience. And the more pleasure your child gets the more likely they will make reading an integral part of their lives.

 

Four aliens sitting on the floor talking to an ant and a ladybird

4 Explore the cave paintings

Cave paintings may well have been used to tell stories 40,000 years ago.  I like the use of them here, telling us, and the aliens, the ants’ stories.  You could talk about them with your child, both in terms of this story and the history of ancient stories drawn on caves thousands of years ago.

 

A little round silver spaceship with three legs sits on a wooden floor

5 Think about where the aliens will go next

Stories give children the opportunities not only to enjoy the story per se, but also to think of what may happen next.  So, where will the alien ship fly to as it leaves Mr Wuffles’ home? Will it return to the alien’s planet, will it go to another location and battle against another predator on Earth, or somewhere else?  Let your child’s imagination fly.

Conclusion

Wordless picture books really are marvellous in helping your child develop their imagination and language.  Mr Wuffles is a great story and one to be enjoyed, not just with younger children.  Please let us know if you enjoyed it.

Additional Learning Opportunities
  • Can your child name the shapes from the alien’s language?
  • Introduce your child to the planets of the solar system. Can they learn the names of the planets? Maybe your child would be inerested in learning about star constellations or distant galaxies.
  • Could your child come up with another story about Mr Wuffles and draw a comic strip version on this story?
  • If you have an older child, they might like to write the text for the story.