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! 🙂

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 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”!