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.

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?

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.

Why parents should know about educational research

There is a lot of research on the achievement of children and the methods that help them learn. And we believe more people need to be aware of this, especially those who actually live and work with children.  Mrs ABC is here to share this knowledge, with parents, carers and teachers, so that all children can achieve their potential.

Studies have shown that parents involvement in their children’s education is one of the biggest contributors to their success.  Helen Pearson’s book, published in 2016, called “The Life Project”, reviewed large scale long-term studies.  She found that children whose parents are involved in their education are more successful.

One of the reasons Mrs ABC was created was to help those who care for children with their children’s reading. Through finding the best books and showing you the additional learning opportunities within them, we aim to get your child reading more fluently as well as wanting to read more.

Why should parents know about the research?

If you know about it you can use it. By raising every parent’s knowledge, you can raise every child’s knowledge too. Children whose parents read to them before they start school have higher achievements than those who don’t.  Children whose parents don’t read to them start school already at a disadvantage and this disadvantage is rarely reduced.  If parents understand how much of a difference it makes being involved in their children’s lives, then they can go out and make that difference.

It would also help teachers

Children are joining school with fewer skills than children from previous years. This puts a huge pressure on teachers to help these children develop when they are far behind. By teaching children before they reach school, teachers can devote time on teaching rather than on child development issues.


It’s as simple as ABC

Mrs ABC is here to help you.  We will review the books that will help your child not just learn to read, but learn to communicate and think too.  They will also help your child learn vital social skills.  It needn’t cost you a penny, your local library will stock many of these books.  If you can get into the habit of taking your pre-school child to the library on a weekly basis you will be giving your child the very best start in their life. After all, isn’t that what every parent wants for their child?

Once Upon An Alphabet Book Review

Once upon an alphabet by Oliver Jeffers

I like alphabets. When expecting my daughter in 1992, I made a Winnie The Pooh alphabet cross stitch to while away the last few weeks. I recall my mother telling me about an alphabet banner that was on ‘Matron’s wall’ in the 1930s! Even now, 80 years later, she can recite the whole thing! “A is for Alfred who angled at Ayr, B is for Bernard who …”

Some of its language is a bit outdated now, but it’s incredible that she can still recall it all. So I was delighted when I came across Once Upon an Alphabet in my favourite independent bookstore in Bristol.
I am definitely a fan of Oliver Jeffers. His quirky style came into my world with Lost and Found and, with every new publication, he continues to show his incredible talent and amazing creativity. Once Upon An Alphabet is quite simply superb. Here are 5 Reasons why you should Read it.

For this article, I’m going to take a slightly different stance by using 5 of the 26 letters, and their stories, to give my 5 reasons.

M – The mad and magnificent “Made of Matter”

Alliteration abounds! This story contains no less than 15 words starting with the letter M. Alliteration, where words next to each other start with the same sound, is a literary device, and all the stories here contain them. Understanding alliteration will help your child recognise sounds, a technique called phonological awareness, which is a vital component of learning to read. And once your child is writing, using alliteration will help them create wonderful poetry and stunning stories.

W – “The Whiraffe”

I’ll be honest. This one is quite unsettling. However it is very important that children explore darker themes, and they can do that in the safety of their own homes, with their special adults close by. You can use this story to discuss ethics and talk about whether the inventor should have done what he did.

O – “Onwards”

The owl and the octopus appear in several stories. As well as being amusing, this interweaving of characters will help prepare your child for more complex texts. Your child will learn how multiple characters are linked and learn how to remember more characters. This story also provides us with intertextuality, where different books are linked to one another. Look closely and you’ll spot two of Oliver Jeffers’ creations from another book Lost and Found.

Y – “A Yeti, a Yak and a Yo-yo”

Limericks are less well known these days, probably because they have often contained inappropriate language. However they are fun and children enjoy the rhythm and rhyme. Maybe you could help come up with some appropriate ones. Rhythm and rhyme help children learn the natural rhythms of spoken language. It will also help them say and read words with more than one syllable.

Q – “The Missing Question”

Oliver Jeffer’s is more than an illustrator. His pictures provide additional information for the reader. In terms of printed text, this story is the shortest, with only three sentences. But the pictures give us more. This is teaching your child that stories, good stories, go beyond the literal. Helping your child to learn how to infer.

Once Upon An Alphabet has 26 short stories that intertwine with one another in a humorous and occasionally unexpected way. Each story will give you and your child something to think about. And when you get to the end you can, and will, find yourself back at the beginning again.

 Additional Learning Opportunities

The vocabulary is glorious. A child’s book with the word enigma can’t be sniffed at. Use it to develop your child’s language. Don’t assume they understand the words, explain them to them by giving a definition and then using them in other sentences. As well as wonderful words, there are expressions too. ‘Building bridges’ and ‘laughing in the face of death’.

Talk about Bob and Bernard. What might they do next?
Could an astronaut have a fear of heights? You could talk about fears and what can be done to avoid them having an impact on your life.

Book Review for It’s A Book

It’s a Book by Lane Smith

Nettie texted me a few weeks ago and asked me if I’d read It’s a Book by Lane Smith. It rang a bell although I couldn’t recall from where, so I did what we all do when this happens and googled it. When I found out that Lane Smith was the illustrator of two excellent books, as yet to be written about here (watch this space), The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, I immediately bought it. And I’m very pleased I did, it’s very funny!

It’s about a monkey, a jackass and a little mouse that has a small but important part to play too. The monkey is reading a book whilst the jackass is on his laptop.  Clearly, the jackass has never come across a book and wonders how it could possibly be as interesting as a laptop. It can’t scroll down, it can’t blog or text or tweet. The monkey patiently replies, to start with at least.  As usual for this site, I won’t spoil the ending, but as a book lover myself, I like the ending. A lot!

5 Reasons to Read
1 It’s a Book

I had to put this down as a reason, I couldn’t resist using the title. The modern world is filled with all singing and dancing electronics. And we can be pummelled by the bright flashing lights and the non-stop noise.  We have sensory overload. Where better to escape the madness than in the pages of a book? I know of no better place I’d rather be at the end of a long day. All books provide us with new experiences and new knowledge and some books go beyond this. They give us opportunities to think. It’s A Book gives us just that.

Illustration of a monkey reading a book and a jackass on a laptop
2 It’s a book about a book

The monkey is reading. After endless questions he shows the jackass the book he is reading: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.  At first the jackass is critical and says it has too many letters. But he soon settles down and is completely absorbed in the tale. What a great way for children to see the power of a book. It also demonstrates a literary device, intertextuality, when authors mention or refer to other books. Encourage your child to see if they can find these mentions or references when they read.

Page in It's a Book showing a page in Treasure Island

3 It provides an opportunity to learn about non-verbal communication

Good picture books do this in spades. The monkey’s facial expressions in It’s a Book are brilliant! What I particularly love is that the eyes are so subtle that you could miss it completely, so I recommend re-reading it and pointing them out to your child. Children love making faces. They could pretend to be the monkey. Help them use voice intonation as well as eye movements to match those of the monkey’s.

Illustration of a monkey looking irritated

4 Great vocabulary

The book in It’s a Book is Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. One double page spread is used to show the page the monkey is reading and on this page we have unsheathed, broad, cutlass, maniacal and petrified. What great words for your child to add to their vocabulary.

Picture of the jackass pointing at a book

5 Learn a literary technique

Authors often use word play for effect. In It’s a Book there is a lovely moment when the jackass asks “Where’s your mouse?” and the monkey offers a simple response of looking up. The jackass follows the monkey’s eyes to see his mouse. It’s just a lovely moment and one you could explain to your child. Lane Smith has used the fact that the word mouse is a homonym and has two meanings, but is spelt and sounds the same. Can your child think of any others?

I hope this book will make you and your child smile, as it did for us. Perhaps it is more apt for older readers, like me, who grew up when computers were being developed but required whole rooms and even whole buildings to house all the hardware. This book gives you an opportunity to talk about that and how quickly technology has become a natural part of our lives.

Additional learning opportunities
  • The clocks show the passage of time. What times are they telling?
    Look at the text. How does the author show who is talking? (Hint: the colour of the text)
  • This book is akin to a playscript, but there is one page that is different. Can your child see the difference? (Hint: find the speech marks)
  • How do you know the mouse is shouting on the last page?
  • Just like the monkey, you could go to your local library.
  • Are you up for the challenge of reading Treasure Island to your child? Maybe not yet, but have a copy ready for the right time and you’ll see that it’s a classic for a reason.

Percy the Park Keeper Book Review

Percy the Park Keeper Stories by Nick Butterworth

  • One Snowy Night
  • After the Storm
  • The Rescue Party
  • The Secret Path
  • The Treasure Hunt
  • Percy’s Bumpy Ride

This article is about not just one book, but six books, all about a kindly Park Keeper, Percy.  The first one was published in 1989, but it was the fourth that first came to my attention when it was given to my daughter as a birthday present and became a firm favourite. It is a charming story with a fold out page at the end to enjoy. The books became so popular that they were turned into television programmes, which all my children watched avidly. They are all appealing owing to the gentle pace, charming illustrations and a surprise fold out page.

Each book features Percy and his woodland friends. In One Snowy Night, Percy helps the animals come in from the cold while in After the Storm, Percy assists them in a relocation. The Rescue Party deals with a trapped rabbit and The Secret Path has the tables being turned on the animals. In The Treasure Hunt the animals find out that treasure can mean different things and in Percy’s Bumpy Ride a flock of sheep save the day.

1 See that a simple act of kindness goes a long long way

In three of the books, Percy helps the animals either find somewhere warm to spend the night, find a new home or find safety. However, he doesn’t always do it all on his own, the animals all help too.  What a great way for young children to have it demonstrated that by pulling together the outcome is better for everyone.

Illustration of a rabbit stuck down a well

2  These stories can help your child learn resilience

Bad things happen. Wrapping children up in cotton wool may seem the best response but in the long term it means your child will not be equipped to deal with difficult circumstances. It is important for children to build resilience by experiencing difficulties and overcoming them. These stories demonstrate that difficulties can be surmounted.

3 See the beauty of the seasons

In these books we get to enjoy the beauty of all the seasons. The daffodils in Spring, warm Summer days with wildflowers and butterflies. The exquisite colours of Autumn and the cold snow of Winter. The pictures are beautifully drawn, down to the last detail of Percy’s breath condensing in the cold Winter’s air. You can enjoy the pictures and talk about the seasons with your child. Explore which is their favourite and why.

4 Take a trip to your local park

Children learn so much from being outside.  These books are great to stimulate them to look into the beauty of the Natural World. I have a particular fondness of garden birds and Nick Butterworth includes robins, blackbirds, thrushes and sparrows as well as woodpigeons, coots and seagulls.  As well as wildlife, the books shares information about trees and plants. Go outside and see if you can spot birds and trees or bushes, and then go home and try to find out what they are called.

5 Enriches your child’s vocabulary

Books are wonderful at providing your child with words that they don’t come across on a day to day basis. These stories will introduce your child words like to cocoa, snuggled, shivering, chuckle, damage, tangly, wrecked, handkerchief, shrubbery, and handiwork and expressions such as “Good gracious!”, “pricked up his ears”, “a great storm was raging”, and “drifting downstream”. As your child’s vocabulary grows the more they’ll enjoy increasingly complex books, which in turn gives them more words. It’s a never ending expanding spiral.

Percy with his arm around a sad fox with badger and the squirrels

These are lovely books that you will enjoy just as much as your child. This is the fourth article I have written for the blog and it was as a result of a personal request, from my brother-in-law, to write about the books he loved reading to my nieces and nephew 20 years ago. I hope he feels I’ve done the books justice. If you have a personal favourite, please let us know, and we can share with the rest of the world. Good books are worth sharing!

Additional Learning Opportunities
  1. These books are great for discussing animals and habitats.
  2. Can your child sort the animals from the smallest to the tallest?
  3. Maybe your child could plan a treasure hunt for you and write signs or clues?
  4. Could your child design a flying machine and where would they like to fly to?
  5. Go to the park and enjoy doing observational drawings of flowers or trees.