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 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

5 Ways You Can Help When Listening to Your Child Read

Listening to your child read is key in helping develop their reading skills. But sometimes it can be difficult to find the best way to do this. That’s where we come in. Here are five ways that have been proven to help when you listen to your child read.

picture of a book shelf

1. Let them choose

There’s nothing worse than having something you enjoy taken away from you by making it a chore, or by someone telling you how to do it. It’s the same for a child. Don’t force them into reading a book that they don’t want to read. This could make them resent reading because they associate it with something they HAVE to do rather than they WANT to do.

To help, take them to libraries and let them choose books they like. Even if they choose the same book week after week or they’re choosing books that you feel are too easy for them.  Let them take ownership.  Try to see that their choice is a good thing, as it shows their love of specific books.

girl looking at a notebook

2 Give them time to figure the words out themselves

When they’re reading there are going to be words that they stumble over. Let them try to work it out. Many words in the English language are ‘sound-out-able’ i.e by using the phonics that they have learnt at school, they can say the sounds in the words and then blend the sounds together to make the word.

However some words cannot be sounded out, they are now referred to as “Common Tricky Words”.  Unfortunately, phonics can’t help here.  Your child just needs plenty of practice seeing these words and reading them ‘on sight’.

So when your child stumbles on a word, after about 4-5 seconds, if it is ‘sound-out-able’ then sound it out for them and then just say the word.  If it is not, then just say the word and make sure they repeat it before they carry on.

You could also re-read the whole sentence for them, up to and including the difficult word, so that they don’t lose the flow.  If there comes a point in the book where this difficult word comes up again, and they are still struggling with it, that is completely normal.  Just go through the whole process again.

It is completely normal for children, when learning new words, to repeatedly struggle over the same word.  Although you may see your child remembering it in some contexts but not all.  Again, this is completely normal.  The most important thing is to stay calm and understanding and try really hard to avoid getting frustrated.

It’s like learning to ride a bicycle.  A lot of hard work at the beginning but then with plenty of practice, everything just slots into place.

A stack of picture books with a mug on top

3 Listen to them read “little and often”

It is much better to listen to them read for 10 minutes every day, than for one hour once a week.  The more often a book is read the more your child will remember the words in it. So if you can, put aside some time each day to listen to your child read. It could be a book on their reading scheme, or one that they’ve chosen from the library. It could even be a paragraph from a child-friendly magazine. As long as you’re listening to them read regularly, you’re helping them on their way.

Little boy sitting on a bench with a book, laughing

4 Be encouraging and reward effort over ability

Sometimes it’s difficult knowing how to help someone do something you already know how to do. Let them know there’s no rush in figuring words out and that they’ve done really well. If they pronounce a word wrong or can only work out half a word tell them the right word but congratulate them for trying. Tell them that you’re so proud of how they tried to figure it out even if they didn’t get it quite right.

By rewarding effort over ability you’re helping your child develop a good working mindset. One where they feel they can overcome a challenge if they work at it rather than giving up because they don’t think they can do it.

woman reading by the sea

5 Be a reader yourself

One of the best things that can help children get into reading is if their parents read. Studies have shown that children who grow up in houses with books do better at school than other children. It doesn’t even have to be literature, as long as you enjoy it. Children learn how to act from the people around them, and copy what they do. So the more you read, the more they will too.

 

Photos thanks to Pexels

I Can Read with My Eyes Shut Book Review

I have always loved Dr Seuss books and I Can Read with My Eyes Shut is no exception. I love the wacky, out of the box, out of this world stories and illustrations. They’re so creative and can be both very clever and just right for children. What’s also brilliant is that they’ve been cleverly made to help children read, using techniques like rhyming words and repetition to get kids learning to read faster. As well as enjoying some truly fantastic books.

I Can Read With My Eyes Shut is a very simple book, more like a poem really. Like many Dr Seuss books it joins the Cat (as seen in Cat in The Hat) telling little cat that he can read with his eyes shut but that it’s more fun if you open them. And takes you on a journey of all the things you could read about if you don’t read with your eyes shut.

1 The rhyming words

Not only do the rhyming words make the story fun to read but it also makes it easier to read. Children will pick up the words faster as they know how they should sound. It also helps them to see that words can sound similar while looking quite different. Like “stuff” and “enough”. This helps them to learn different ways of spelling the same sounds and then knowing which ones go with which words by seeing them on the page.

2 It has a great rhythm

It’s got a very upbeat rhythm keeping you going til the end. Unlike some books that might make you think you’re reading a novel, I Can Read with my Eyes Shut  doesn’t drag or get boring. A bonus as this is, it also makes it easier to read and remember words making this a very good book for children who’ve just started to read. In a similar way that song lyrics are easier to remember than other text, your child will pick up the words and remember them better than with other books. This helps them gain confidence and encourages them to go and read more.

The more that the you read, the more things you know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go
3 The story is about why it is wonderful to read

The main character is literally telling you that reading is amazing, while you’re reading. That is brilliantly meta! I love the idea that you are reading a book that’s showing you why you’ll love reading books. What’s more it’s saying it like a friend, with so much enthusiasm and love you can’t help but go along with it. It also opens your eyes (pun intended) to what we can read about. There are things far beyond our imaginations out there to read. Encouraging children to go out there and find it.

4 It sets your imagination a-light

Who is Foo Foo? Why is Jake the Pillow Snake? What problems would you have with an owl on your nose? All these questions you’ll be asking as you read the book, and the answers are endless. Each time you could come up with something different. Or elaborate on the answers you’ve already thought up. Great for creating inquisitive minds.

Little cat playing a Hut Zhut

5 It’s fun

There are so many opportunities in this book to have fun with your child. Whether you’re trying to read upside down or trying to read with your eyes shut (which I can guarantee you will after reading this book), there are so many places you can have fun and enjoy reading with your child.

I hope you enjoy this book just as much as I do and together with your children see that even if you can read with your eyes shut, it is much better to read with them open.

Learning Opportunities
  1. Say all the things you could read about, real or made up, the more the better
  2. Draw a new musical instrument as creative as the Hut Zhut
  3. Discuss what you think the problems would be of having an owl on your nose
  4. Discuss with your child what they think  Foo Foo could be or where they could find Jake the Pillow Snake
  5. Let them create a creature, like the ones found in the book, that they could read about.