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.