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! 🙂

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.

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

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.

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.

Peace At Last Book Review

In my opinion,  Peace at Last is one of Jill Murphy’s  finest. First published in 1980, it received a commendation for the Kate Greenaway award.  My first daughter was born in 1993 and this book was a firm favourite. We read it over and over and over again, so much so, I can still recite most of it off by heart, 20 years later!!  It is a charming tale about the Bear family and poor Mr Bear who cannot get to sleep.  She loved joining in with me as I made the noises; Baby Bear’s nyaaowing, the ticking and cuckooing of the clock, the humming of the fridge, the snuffling of the hedgehogs, the tweeting of the birds and the alarm clock waking the family up.

The story starts with the Bear family going to bed, but poor old Mr Bear can’t get to sleep owing to Mrs Bear’s snoring.  He wanders around the house, trying to find some peace.  In the end he finds “peace at last” but …. you’ll have to read the story to find out!

1 Peace at Last is a perfect bedtime story

Bedtimes are truly precious times and stories about bedtimes are particularly charming.  My fondness for bedtime stories crosses 2 generations. I can still visualise my mother, sitting on my bunkbed, over 40 years ago reading Dr Seuss to me. And 30 years after I was repeating the experience but this time in the mother role, and I can’t wait to be able to do the same as a Grandparent (though my children are currently not so keen!)  A story about bedtime reinforces to children that all families go to bed and, in this day and age, traditional illustrations, with no computers, laptops, tablets or phones is a good way to reinforce that bedtimes are not places for electronic devices.

2 An opportunity to show off your vocal talents

In this book, you can SNORE, NYAAOW, TICK-TOCK and much much more! By reading with expression you are making the story more interesting and thus your child will be more involved, engaged and may well join in with you.  Especially if you point to the words as you go along, which is a great way to show your child that the written word in English goes from left to right and top to bottom. Your child will soon see that some words in the book are all capitals which is a clue from the author to read these words with emphasis. Unleash the actor inside and let rip!

3 The pictures are delightfully detailed

From Mrs Bear’s curlers and hairnet to the increasing bags under Mr Bear’s eyes; every page shows lovely detail. Your child is growing up in a modern world and this book is set in an era where there are no mobile phones or even digital clocks, so you can use the illustrations to develop your child’s vocabulary.  Explore their knowledge of knitting, grandfather and cuckoo clocks, hairnets, salt cellars and pepper pots.  The black and white pictures are also worth exploring; there’s an old fashioned telephone with a dial to talk about and compare with our modern day phones.

4 It contains beautifully poetic story language

Simply put, story language is language that is more often found written down rather than delivered in day to day conversation. The story starts with ‘The hour was late.’ Have you ever come across an hour and one that is late?  More commonly, we would say “It is late”. This is one of the many reasons that children brought up on books do better in their academic education because they can use these phrases in their own writing and hence get higher marks.

Illustration of mrs bear and mr bear asleep in bed

5 It is onomatopoeic-tastic!

Poetry is filled with onomatopoeia, words that sound like the noise they are describing, and this book is too.  Snore, Nyaaow, Tick-Tock, Cuckoo …. I could go on but I don’t want to spoil it for you. In school your child will learn about them as a literary device and use their own creations to write poetry; this book is giving them a head-start!

This book could give you and your child a warm fuzzy feeling, like it does for me or it could be used to help your child with telling the time, writing poetry, thinking about how animals adapt and considering what it would be like without electronic devices.  I leave it up to you. Enjoy!

Additional Learning Opportunities
  1. You can help your child write Mr Bear’s diary entry of his night
  2. Discuss with your child what might happen the next day, your child could draw a picture or write a continuation of the story
  3. Rather than using your vocal talents, your child could use a variety of musical instruments to create a soundscape for the story. What sound or instrument might they use for SHINE, SHINE?
  4. There are many clocks illustrated throughout, help your child use them to tell the time and even work out how much time is passing during the night.
  5. Discuss nocturnal animals.

Green Lizards vs Red Rectangles Review

Written by Tanya Alevropoulos

I came across Green Lizards vs Red Rectangles due to my obsession with the Kate Greenaway award. It has been nominated for the 2017 award, due to be announced in June 2017. I take great pleasure in reading all the nominated titles. Then trying to guess which will be selected for the longlist, the shortlist, and finally receive the award. I found it a few weeks ago in Foyles book shop in Waterloo and devoured it.

The story starts by stating that the green lizards and red rectangles were at war.  The red rectangles were smart but the green lizards were strong and thus neither could defeat the other. The fighting continued until they gathered for a truce. Could they find a way to make peace?  I don’t want to spoil it for you, so you’ll just have to read it!

Illustrated page of a book filled with green lizards looking at the top right hand corner

1 It has been nominated for the prestigious Kate Greenaway medal

If a book is nominated for a medal, I always think it’s worth taking a look. It is telling me that other people rate it as well.  Previous winners include personal favourites such as Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are and Anthony Browne’s Gorilla. Which would put this book into very good company indeed!

A red rectangle covers over half the page squishing the green lizards, which don't look very happy

2 The endpapers set the scene and !!!spoiler alert!!! illustrates the ending…

For those not in the know, the endpapers of a book are basically the first and last pages of the book after the front and back covers. These days many picture books have endpapers worthy of study; they relate to some aspect of the story (often in an amusing fashion).

For Green Lizards and Red Rectangles the front endpaper (see photo) shows a heaving mass of lizards, and they don’t look happy! Why might that be? You can talk about this with your child. The back endpaper, for those who like to read the last page of a book in advance (personally I never do), gives you your ending.

Mix of green lizards standing, crawling and fighting some red rectangles

3 It is a very clever story of war and peace

The pictures and printed text combine to demonstrate the absurdity of war and conflict in a way that small children can understand.

A mixture of different sized red rectangles on top of one another

4 The ending is inspired

I was hugely delighted with the ending. It really is very, very clever!

Book illustration with a crowd of green lizards, some standing on each others heads, to get a view of something happening of the paper on the right hand side

5 It should be a compulsory PSHE text

The Guardian review says it all “This book offers an easy, safe means to talk about the idea of war”. PSHE should, in my opinion, be a compulsory subject, but the New Curriculum does not agree. So now many schools are now only paying it lip service. By reading this book with your child you are giving them vital skills to consider the repercussions of conflict and the crucial ability to find resolution.

Page of a book saying the Green Lizards and the Red Rectangles were at war

Steve Antony’s genius is to have created illustrated characters as diametrically opposite as you can get.  Since the lizards are living, green, curvy and squishy, whereas the rectangles are inanimate, red, angular and hard. The history of mankind demonstrates that difference in race, creed or opinions, which has resulted in, and still results in, conflicts. Ones in which millions of lives have been lost.

This book could help your child consider these horrible but real consequences in the safety of a warm, comfortable familiar room. And just maybe, maybe, could make a difference to their life and to the lives of others. I think that’s worth £6.99, and 15 minutes of your time, don’t you?

Additional Learning Opportunities

Rather than listing them all, quite simply this book provides an excellent vehicle to talk about war. As an extra, you could ask your child to think of a different animal and alliterative shape who could be at war and let them create their own drawings, for example Grey Elephants vs Turquoise Triangles, and see how they manage to find peace.