Age Ranges for Children’s Picture Books? Ignore them

Not so long ago, I was sitting on the floor in Foyles, London (one of my favourite haunts), thoroughly enjoying Aaron Becker’s wordless trilogy, when a grandfather came up to me. He asked me if I could recommend a book for his five-year-old granddaughter.

After getting a little more information, I selected a few, and he happily trotted off with the first one I selected. I was touched that he trusted me sufficiently to make that choice. It made me think about the best ways of choosing books for children.

Recently a new bookstore said they were going to introduce recommended Age Ranges for their books. This irritated me as I feel it won’t help parents make the best decisions about books for their children. I don’t like having age ranges for books because I believe they are extremely limiting. There are so many fabulous picture books out there. And I would be really saddened if I thought no child over the age of six was going to enjoy them. So here are my reasons why age ranges are unhelpful.

1. Children learn at different rates

No five year old is the same. A few are reading independently, most are able to sound out simple words and know some High Frequency Words. While some are not reading at all. They can also have hugely different attention spans. A few can’t sit still, most can sit still for five to ten minutes and some can sit still and concentrate on books for hours.

picture of a book shelf

2. Your child can still learn from them

No matter the ability, children can still learn from these books. If your 5 year old hasn’t yet grasped High Frequency words like “and” and “the” then reading picture books will be great, as children can learn words from these books more easily. If they can read slightly more they’ll be able to link some of the words to the pictures. This will help build confidence as they’ll feel excited when they get it right.

In some books, like This Is Not My Hat the story is more complex. While some children will just enjoy the pictures, others you can talk about what’s going on. As such you can use the story as a means to talk about certain issues. Some picture books have some very interesting and complex issues like Green Lizards vs Red Rectangle and Dinsosaurs and All That Rubbish.

3. Different things interest each child

Children have completely different interests too. So I recommend parents encourage their children to choose books that interest them. This way they are far more likely to engage with it. By all means show them other books as well but please give them the opportunity, whatever their age, to look at picture books. If you’ve read any of our other articles, you’ll quickly see that picture books are fantastic platforms for all sorts of learning.

picture of green aliens with their heads in their hands

4. Children can gain confidence from them

Your child will feel a sense of accomplishment by reading “easy” books, or books that they already know. Getting through the book all by themselves can be great for their confidence, and can give them the motivation to keep on reading. Some children can get discouraged if they find a book too challenging. So by giving them a book they can read themselves, you will help them feel more comfortable reading.

illustration of a boy in a tree looking curiously at an inch tall man standing on a branch

5. Your child may still love it

One of the key factors in helping children to read is having them choose books they love. Just because the words in picture books are not as complex doesn’t mean there is no value in the book. As long as your child enjoys reading they will continue to read. So reading their favourite book over and over again, whether it is one they fully understand or one where they don’t, will be beneficial. No matter what the book is.

white teddy bear reading a book
picture courtesy of pexels

If you want to have a look at books we think are great for lower reading ages, have a look at the Read With Me category.

Happy Reading! 🙂

Agent Arthur’s Puzzle Adventures

After writing an article on the benefits of puzzle books, I thought I’d write a review on my first puzzle book. So far I’ve ordered five of them, as a little treat for myself (I only wish they did ones for adults too :P), and will slowly review them all (very slowly, at the moment due to the stifling summer heat).

The first one is aimed at 10-12 year olds and called Agent Arthur’s Puzzle Adventure. It is at the higher end of difficulty, with challenging puzzles (even for some adults). Here are five things I noticed about the book after reading it, and how they can affect the children reading them.

1. The adventures

In this book Agent Arthur has 3 different adventures (which, if you wanted, can be bought as 3 separate books). There is Agent Arthur’s Jungle Journey, an epic intrepid adventure through the jungle. On The Stormy Seas, a mystery involving a ghost ship. And an Arctic Adventure, a rescue mission in the chilling Arctic (surprise!).

What I love is that each adventure has it’s own unique, destination specific, puzzles. So you’re not just doing the same types of puzzles just in different settings. In the jungle there’s a lot of map reading, whereas The Stormy Seas talks about the speed of boats and hurricanes.

This diversity means when children read them, they aren’t just developing problem solving skills, but also knowledge about the real world. Things like compasses and skidoos are introduced. As well as vocabulary like “groggily”, “marooned”, and “marine”. All of which broadens your child’s mind as they learn.

2. The Real World Puzzles

Some of the puzzles require you to use what you know about the world in order to figure things out. I really like this as it is more applicable to real life. Some of the puzzles require thoughts about safety. Other puzzles compare things you would find in the modern day. These things not only require abstract problem-solving skills but real world problem-solving skills too.

3. The Attention to detail

And it’s not just about problem solving. A lot of the puzzles rely on you to notice slight differences in the illustrations, and they are very clever. Some are obvious, while others you have to really concentrate to spot. This develops children’s attention to detail, which can be a fantastic skill to have. It is useful for exams where you need carefully check exam questions. As well as vocational skills outside schools. Lawyers, writers and scientists (to name but a few) all benefit from having good attention to detail.

 

4. The Comic Book Style Illustrations

I really like how the pictures tell the story, and that you really need to look at them in order to understand the story. This is great if you are reading with your child as they can spot the story in the pictures. As well as this, they can spot the details needed to solve the puzzles. This gives them a great confidence boost, and keeps them engaged throughout the book. Great for children who find it difficult to concentrate.

5. The variety of puzzles

There are codes you need to translate, routes to navigate across, and clues to find. Of the three stories Agent Arthur’s Arctic Adventure has the most diverse range of puzzles. Such adventures include navigating over treacherous routes and decoding secret messages. There were quite a few I needed tips to solve or couldn’t even decode at all (the password to get into the secret base was very clever). However, there are plenty of simple puzzles too.

This variety means children can develop their problem-solving skills with the ones they find challenging. While also improving their confidence as they solve the easier ones. It’s a win-win!

I really enjoy these books, even as an adult. They’re great intellectual stimulation, easy to read, and really interesting. And what’s fantastic is that they’re accessible to so many different children. While strong readers develop their problem solving skills, weaker readers can be read the story, then gain confidence by doing the puzzles.

As this is a more challenging book, the next book I’m going to review is one for younger readers. So keep a look out! And keeeep reading! 🙂

Additional Reading
  • Let your children make their own puzzles which they can give to you, their siblings and/or family friends to solve. It’ll help them learn puzzle making skills and give them great creative development.
  • You could even create one specifically for your child, containing a mix of puzzles they can do, and some that they can’t

A new type of story: Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls

This book is not found in book shops. And it is not just one story. It brings the stories we may not have heard, but really should. This is Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls!

The Story

The idea started when Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, two entrepreneurs, saw how few children’s books contain stories about girls. According to a study (2011) 100% of books contain male characters. Whereas only 75% of books contain female characters.

And when you look at the aspirations of these characters, the difference becomes even greater. In children’s media only 19.5% of female characters have jobs or have career aspirations. Meanwhile, 80.5% of male characters do.

So they wanted to create a book that would inspire children. And be one that they would have wanted when they were growing up. Their aim is that it will inspire young girls and boys to reach the extraordinary; become astronauts, architects, mathematicians and athletes. Showing boys and girls the amazing jobs and actions women can do.

They describe their book as:

“a children’s book packed with 100 bedtime stories about the life of 100 extraordinary women from the past and the present”

Which is pretty awesome.

The Book

And the book really is exquisite. Every double page has an illustration of the inspirational woman on the right, with a beautiful glimpse of the woman’s life on the left.

The wonderful women include people from the past including Ada Lovelace, Frida Kahlo and the Bronte sisters. As well as people who are making history now, like Simone Biles, Serena Williams and Malala Yousafzai.

And it’s not just about the women in the book. The illustrations were created by 60 female artists from around the world too. So children get to not only read about amazing women, but see the wide diversity of their artwork too.

The book has received almost entirely positive praise.

Waterstones and The Book People both give it a 5/5! And it totally deserves this.

They say “If you can see it, you can be it”, and what better than 100 different people to see!

Things to Note

We should say that there are some women in the book that some people don’t agree with. Personally, I think including a transgender girl can be good, though I feel someone like Laverne Cox would have been better suited. There’s also two pirates, who probably don’t have the most admirable professions. However they do show a full range of what women can do.

There also may be a few people who you wish were in the book but aren’t. But that opens up a great opportunity! Let your children know these people. Let them create their own book of amazing women. I’d include Ronda Rousey, Miranda Hart and Rachel Bloom (because of how they inspire me) but there are so many women out there who’s stories deserve to be heard. And if children hear them, you never know, it might be the thing that raises their aspirations.

Additional

If you want to find out more, or have a look at the plans for the sequel, go to rebelgirls.co

For our reviewed books about inspirational girls, have a look at the Karate Princess, about a unconventional girl and her great skill.

 

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.