Puzzle books – why you’ll love them

Sorry we haven’t written much recently. There’s been a few things going on which has made focusing on Mrs ABC a little bit harder. Still, now that things have settled, it’s time to come back! And I’m going to start with one of my favourite types of books. Puzzle books! I’ve been wanting to write about these for a while, as they can be good in so many ways (and for many different children). So let me start by explaining what they are.

Puzzle books are stories which, as you can imagine, contain a puzzles. Mazes, Spot the difference, and “Where’s Wally” type games that all add to the story. They’re sort of like video games but in book form. You can read the story without doing the puzzles, and it will still make sense. However the real joy and wonder about these books is being a part of them. Every time you solve a puzzle you get to feel like you are with the character. So here are my top 5 reasons why you’ll love them too!

illustration of a brain with lots of bright colours, red, green, blue and yellow, splashed on it

1 Puzzles engage the brain

Puzzles can be key for child development. By doing a puzzle you develop problem solving skills, which you can use in other areas of life. As well as developing strategies for solving them, your memory adapts as it tries to hold onto various bit of information. These skills are the same used for solving maths or science problems. So if your child wants to be a mathematician, engineer or astronaut this is a great place to start.

These puzzles don’t just develop cognitive skills, but also emotional skills like patience, which are just as important. They also help raise your child’s self-esteem, due to the satisfaction and accomplishment of solving a problem. There really is no downside of doing puzzles.

photograph of tasty chocolate cakes with sprinkles of little pink hearts on top

2 The imaginative, adventurous settings

These books are set in so many wonderful locations! I love the book about Chocolate Island (the whole island made of chocolate! Sounds like heaven to me…) but there are ones set in the real world too. There’s a few set in the jungle, some on trains, and even some with dinosaurs! Whatever your child is into I’m sure there’ll be at least one story they’ll like the look of.

Having stories in lots of different settings not only makes them accessible to different children, they also make children aware of the different places on Earth. The puzzles in the Arctic are different to those in the Jungle, but both can be solved using the same techniques. This way your child learns that the skills they have can be used in different situations, helping them develop a growth mindset (look out for an article on the growth mindset coming soon).

photograph of a small child reading a book surrounded by sparkles and light

3 Great for children who struggle with reading

Children who find words difficult often find these books much easier. They can do the puzzles and get that warm feel-good feeling when they complete them. This helps them build their confidence with books, allowing them to transition to other books more easily. Although these books may not have as many words as some others, they can be still be great for your child’s development. So if your child only feels comfortable with these books, that’s fine. They’ll get to more complex books when they’re ready. For more tips on helping your child read have a look at our article What you can do when your child is having difficulties reading.

photograph of 2 boys and a girl lying on some grass, reading books

4 Suitable for all ages, genders and interests

What I find great about these books is that there are ones suitable for 4 year olds up to ones for 12 year olds. And even now, I still find the puzzles engaging. And these puzzles are not solely aimed at boys. There is such a wide array of stories that most children would be happy with at least one, whether they’re into mermaids, dragons or trains.

photograph of a grandmother reading to her two grandchildren

5 Great for family time

Although these books are great to be read individually some of the problems may get your child asking for you assistance. And that’s great! Reading books, or doing the puzzles in them, is a great time to bond together. It’s a great chance for them to learn from you, and to spend quality time together. These books are great for that. So prepare your skills in finding binoculars in the jungles, and finding the safest path across the sea.

Most of the puzzle books I’ve found are published by Usborne, and there are so many to choose from! So, as I love these books a lot, prepare to see a few reviews on these. Happy Puzzling 🙂

Why I Love The Minpins

The Minpins, written by the master of children’s books, Roald Dahl, is a great fantasy-adventure book for young readers. It was always a favourite of mine as a child, full of adventure and heroism. Fantasy and reality. I love that it was set in a forest that I could actually stumble across. And as it could be any forest in England, it made every forest in England potentially full of Minpins! (Minpins are the tiny people who live in trees)

The book stars Little Billy who, being told by his mother to not venture outside, heads out into the dangerous forest. There he finds a beast – and the Minpins – and sees the dangers of going outside. However brave Billy sees a way of making things safer, not just for him, but for everyone in the forest.

Read on for my reasons why I love this book, and think it’s so great for young readers.

1 It’s set in a real place

I find it truly magical when a fantasy book has an actual place in reality. Take Harry Potter for instance. The gateway to the Hogwarts Express is set in Kings Cross Station, allowing people to re-live the magic every time they see it. There’s even now half a trolley in the wall, so they can imagine going to Hogwarts themselves! So I love that The Minpins is set in an English forest, so that it could be any English wooded area. Imagine going on walks with your child and pointing out “There! I think I see a minpin!”. As a child I was definitely more receptive to walks if I could imagine there were minpins in the trees.

2 The Minpins

One of the reasons I love this book is because I love the Minpins themselves. I love that they have little suction boots that help them walk up trees. I love that they live inside trees! The whole idea of a whole house, in miniature, inside a tree…for me is incredibly magical. And maybe it’s a bit silly to look at a tree and think there might be tiny people inside, but I think the last line of the book says it all. Sometimes we need to believe in magic to find it. And in life, sometimes we need to believe in the unbelievable (that we can pass exams, go to medical school, become an astronaut, raise a child, whatever it is). Maybe believing in Minpins is a good start.

3 The incredible adjectives

Okay…maybe I don’t love it for the vocabulary, but I do think it definitely adds to the book. And learning new words is always great for children. Words like “whooshing” and “whoomph-whoomph” and “gigantic galloping hooves” really add pace and adrenaline to the story. Maybe you’ll start using words like “guzzling” and “tantalizing” too. These words are great for expanding your child’s vocabulary, helping them to advance to more complex books.

And let’s not forget the beautiful illustrations by Patrick Benson (as shown throughout this post). His drawings really bring the whole world to life. You can almost feel the “orange-red smoke” coming from the monster, as Billy flies through the air above it.

4 The adventure of being outside

This book is so full of adventure. From flying on a swan over a lake, to up above in the sky. Even if you don’t meet the Minpins, there is so much to be gained from going outside. This story will not only make kids excited to have their own adventures, but also encourages them to be brave. Developing resilience, problem-solving and determination by playing outside, or battling their own challenges, are skills that really help children deal with the wider world. Which leads me to…

5 Sometimes you need to step out of your door

Although ignoring the warnings of your mother is not usually the best idea for a child’s safety, sometimes, just sometimes, following your feet can be a good idea. Like Dory says in Finding Nemo “Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him”. If you go into the forest you may find a beast, but you might also find that you can beat it.

Thank you for reading this article. If you want other books on going outside do read our article on Percy the Park Keeper. While the Karate Princess is a great story about being true to yourself. I hope this article helped you find another great book. Let us know what you think about it in the comments. Happy Reading! 🙂

Additional Learning
  • Go on a walk to a “Minpin” forest
  • Write a diary entry from one of the Minpins perspectives. What were you doing when you saw Billy? What is it like to fly on a bird?
  • Think of all the other good adjectives you and your children know. What words would they use to describe the Gruncher?

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.

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?

Dinosaurs and All That Rubbish – a book about appreciating the world

I’m a bit of an environmentalist. I love volunteering with conservation charities and pretty much idolise The Eden Project. I try to minimise the resources I use by fixing things. And instead of buying things new, reusing what I have or buying from charity shops. Maybe this is why Dinosaurs and All That Rubbish resonated so strongly with me. I think I was probably about 5 years old when my mum first read it to me. I can still remember how I felt about the story, which is why, 20 years later, I am now sharing it with you 🙂

The story, written by Michael Foreman, is about a man who wants to reach a star, so he builds a rocket to get him there. Unfortunately this pollutes the Earth and covers the planet in rubbish.  This, however, wakes up the dinosaurs from under the Earth, who then clear the planet of all the rubbish.  When the man returns he finds the dinosaurs and they teach him a very important lesson about the planet.

These are the top 5 reasons I love the book and the lessons it has taught me.

1 It teaches you to appreciate what you have

A lot of reasons why people are unhappy today is that, like the man in the book, they don’t see the good things that are around them. So instead they search for something that never quite makes them as happy as they want to be. Learning to be thankful for the things you have is a great skill to set your child up for a happier life. And one that is even more important in adulthood.

Dinosaurs, apes, mammoths and birds all celebrate together

2 It is all yours, but it is also all mine

What I really, really love about this book is the message that it brings. That only when everyone comes together, and sees that the Earth is “all yours, but it is also all mine” can we look after it properly. The dinosaurs believe the Earth shouldn’t be owned. It shouldn’t have “parts of it [belonging] to certain people”. Maybe if we shared one world, we wouldn’t have people fighting over different parts of it.

Man looking up at a star

3 The pictures help you feel the words

The pictures are made in a lovely watercolour style, which I think is beautiful. Though it’s not just the style that makes them interesting. I love how they reflect the mood of the writing. When the man gets to the “star” and finds nothing there, the picture shows mostly the vast emptiness of space. And when the man is looking at the star, the pictures are equally quite empty. It’s just him. Whereas the dinosaurs are usually seen together. Playing together. Working together. For me, it makes me feel the man’s loneliness. Maybe he wanted to go to the star in the hope he wouldn’t be alone.

A very large dinosaur with a long neck talks to a man in a spacesuit

4 It explains the impact we have on the environment

There are plenty of books on planes and trains for children, but very few explain the impact of making them.  And although technology is fantastic, we don’t often see how we could be causing harm.  I think this is really important for children to learn.  Things don’t just appear out of nowhere. They are made from other things, and often have a cost. Especially in this day and age I think it is very important we know the environmental impact humans have on the environment.

Illustration of a man gleefully getting out of his rocket to find a world full of grass, plants and flowers

5 That if you focus too much on one thing you can lose sight of everything else

In the case of this book it’s literal, as the more the man focuses on the star the more he can’t actually see the Earth. Like the man in the book we can become so focused on one thing that we lose sight of everything else. Sometimes it’s a good thing to just sit and notice everything going on around you. Hopefully enjoying the flowers on the way.

Front cover shows two green dinosaurs happily jumping on a pile of cars

I hope you liked my review of this book and it’s made you want to sit down and read it. I think it has such an important message, which is important for all of us. Let out that inner dinosaur!

Additional learning
While reading the book
  • You could count all the animals in the book. How many dinosaurs are there? How many birds?
  • You could discuss why you think the man wanted to go the star.
Extra Learning
Science and Technology
  • You could draw a rocket. Or even better make one. All you’ll need is an empty kitchen roll, some bits of coloured paper and glue or sellotape. You could even make it fly by getting a foot pump like this or attaching it to a balloon and a long piece of string like this.
  • You could take your child to a Science Museum (the one in London has a very good space exhibition) to learn more about planets and space.
  • If they like the dinosaurs you could teach them about all the different types of dinosaurs that there were. See if they can spot them in the book.
  • This one is just because of the scientist in me but one thing I don’t quite like about the book is that it mistakes a moon for a star. You could explain the difference that our moon is a rock that travels around a planet, while a star, like the sun, is a giant ball of burning gas.
Outside Activities
  • You could go to a Botanical Garden or Park where they have all sorts of different species of trees and flowers. A lot of them run activities for children too, which helps them learn as well as keeping them entertained.
English
  • If your children can write, they could write the story from the dinosaurs point of view.
Art
  • You could draw a picture of the world when it is polluted and one where the dinosaurs have made it beautiful again.
  • Better yet, make a collage! You could use bits of rubbish to make a picture of the rubbish heap and bits of leaves and flowers to make one of the natural world.
Well-being
  • Say all the things you are thankful for, whether it’s flowers or cups of tea. It’ll make you feel better and is a great thing to do when your child, or you, is feeling down.
  • Spend some time in nature. Take a walk with your child and just enjoy the fresh air. I’m sure they’ll enjoy the sticks and puddles quite a bit.

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.

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.

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.