Thursday, 10 December 2015

Betty and the Yeti by Ella Burfoot

Ella Burfoot's story of a little girl called Betty who collects various items of clothing as she ventures across the frozen, snowy landscape, is a charming tale of friendship. Betty is an inquisitive character who befriends a Yeti and helps him to stay warm and make new friends.

The story would make a good stimulus for a science topic 'Keeping Warm'. As Betty ventures through the snow with her sled full of clothes, she meets various animals and inquires if the clothes she has found belong to them. Each of the animals tells Betty that they don't and explains why. Betty then meets the Yeti, who does need clothes to keep him warm.

It is also a story about friendship. The other animals are frightened of the Yeti, despite him being small, because of his appearance. However, this changes when they see Betty walking along holding the Yeti's paw.

The story is told in rhyme and as such provides numerous examples of alternative spellings for long vowel phonemes. Children could collect the examples, sort and classify them in preparation for a spelling investigation.

The language used is also rich with noun phrases. As Betty collects the various items of clothing they aren't simply listed. They are described using noun phrases which enable the reader the visualize each item: 'a little red sled', 'a jingly jangly fluffy hat', 'a woolly scarf', 'one enormous smelly coat'. It would be interesting to read the story to the children without them being able to 'see' the illustrations and get them to draw what they imagine the items (and the Yeti) to look like before introducing them to Ella Burfoot's own illustrations. This could then lead onto children composing their own noun phrases for items they might include in a story of their own.

The text is also a good model for investigating direct speech as in the short text there is a great deal of conversation between the various characters. This could be done through re-presenting the text as a comic strip or a play script.

Overall, a lovely humorous, little story which is a rich resource for the English curriculum and provides a stimulus for topic work in other curriculum subjects.

Published: 2010
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 978-1-4472-8154-2

Thursday, 3 December 2015

This is Our House by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Bob Graham

Michael Rosen’s This Is Our House takes a humorous look at the lack of logic behind reasons for discrimination in a way that even the smallest children can grasp.George, the protagonist of the story, wants to feel special and powerful, so he takes over the cardboard house and makes up reasons to exclude others from it.  He bans them for different but always personal reasons: because they're girls, or too small, or wear glasses, etc. His house is NOT for people that are unlike George. These characteristics comically exaggerate the ways in which children (and adults as well) set up boundaries in distinguishing “us” from “them,” which discourages any acceptance of others' identities.  This can open the door for teachers to talking about bigger real-world issues of discrimination with even very young children.

George's friends do try to get him to open up his house by weaving him into their play: ""We're coming in to fix the fridge,"" announce twins Charlene and Marlene, while Luther sends his toy airplane crashing into the house and tells George that he must rescue it. But George will not budge until, finally, nature calls. Whilst he is gone, they take over the house and turn the tables on George and force him to see the error of his ways. Rosen has an instinctive feel for the way children confront one another, ponder, negotiate and form alliances; every word of the text rings true. 

However, this does cause a slight problem in that the way the children manage to get George to see the error of his ways is through retaliation. While it’s good that Rosen does not show the children fighting or resorting to violence over control of the house, the other children do end up ganging up on George. (Surely not an approach teachers would wish to advocate). While their retaliation's effect on George's change of attitude seems justified in the end, the implicit idea is that if someone discriminates against you, it’s okay to discriminate against them to teach them a lesson. This “eye for an eye” mentality undercuts some of the anti-discrimination ideal that Rosen intends to share with the reader.

Finally, according to Graham's illustrations, the cardboard house is destroyed at the end of the book, which is also problematic. On the last page of the story, the walls of the house have separated and are nearly beaten into the ground. While the text above it proclaims that the house is for everyone, the picture of the house says that once you let everyone inside, the house falls apart. Teachers do need to be aware of this unintentional message because for some children the illustration may convey the idea that it is better to exclude people because when everyone is included, things get destroyed! 

Nevertheless, it is a good book to share with children in early years settings and Key Stage 1 as it does raise important issues in a way that can be accessed and understood by young children. It demonstrates in a 'safe' way the non-sensical way in which people discriminate and offers the opportunity to open up those discussions. 

Leave Me Alone by Kes Gray and illustrated by Lee Wildish

“Leave Me Alone” written by Kes Gray and illustrated by Lee Wildish is a  picture book that tackles a controversial subject in our  schools: bullying.  A young boy who is being bullied is approached by eight animals that can sense his sadness: a fly, frog, robin, cat, rabbit, cow, and Magpie. The little boy tells them they won’t be able to help because his problem is too big. He is being bullied by a giant. However, the animals stay with the boy and when the giant arrives, the animals all shout together “Leave him alone.” The combined force of the animals standing up for their friend persuades the giant to leave and of course, he never comes back. 

 The picture book is a magical tale of what can happen when children have the support of friends when facing someone who is bullying them. 

The story is told from the point of view of the young boy and is written  in rhymed couplets, One by one, the animals come up to offer comfort to the boy,  but he tells them each to leave him alone.  
“Leave me alone,” I said.
“Sorry,” said the pig.
“But problems should be talked about,
Especially if they’re big.” 

The illustrations by Lee Wildish enhance the text and offer the opportunity to develop children's emotional intelligence and in particular understanding of the emotions and feelings of others. The cover page of the picture book shows a young boy sitting alone on a hill.  Wildish is able to capture the sadness the young boy is feeling through the boy’s expression, and the colours he uses on the boy’s face.  The boy’s face is slightly red as if he has been crying, or recently embarrassed. Through detailed illustrations, Wildish is also able to capture the sadness that each of the animals feels when they see the young boy sitting alone on the hill.  Over a two-page spread Wildish draws all the animals sympathetically staring at the young boy as they surround him on the hill.

Wildish’s artwork also supplies a substantial amount of drama. When the Giant appears in the story, the shadowy figure soon takes over the hill and is “so big he blocks the sun”.  Wildish draws him as a dark figure with fiery eyes who is casting a huge shadow over the hill.   The bully is so big that he causes the ground to shake, which is also brilliantly illustrated by Wildish over a two-page spread. The giant is, in fact, portrayed as an enormous, hulking monster, backlit by a blazing sun, who lumbers toward the group, eyes glowing red. Again, the visual representation of a child’s feelings is wonderful here. Wildish has made use of texture, scratchy lines, splatters and the use of size and perspective to convey emotion.

When the Giant finally reaches the young boy he is so big that the reader can only see his feet, but stretched across the page are giant words that say “LEAVE HIM ALONE”.  In this illustration the reader sees the back of the animals who are yelling those words, which allows the reader to also feel like they are standing up to the bully.  With “eight voices” standing up for the young boy, the Giant with the fiery red eyes retreats down the hill.  After the Giant is gone the illustrations include bright colours as the animals and young boy jumping for joy. 

Whilst the message may be over-simple and a little unrealistic 'tell those that bully you to leave you alone and they will', there are many 'lessons' that can be learnt from reading and discussing the story with young children. It provides a real context for teachers to raise and discuss the issue of bullying with children in early years settings and Key Stage 1 and in that sense a 'safe' way to approach this sensitive subject. It contains many of the key messages that are advocated by the anti-bullying alliance: tell someone, keep close to friends, if you see someone being bullied stand by them, and for that reason would prove to be a good stimulus for anti-bullying week.


Tuesday, 20 October 2015

The Ride-by-Nights by Walter de la Mare and illustrated by CarolinaRabei

The Ride-by-Nights is a short narrative poem by the classic author, Walter de la Mare. It describes the journey taken by group of witches as they have fun flying through the night sky, making it a perfect read for Halloween.

Not only are we told about their antics as they 'whoop and flutter' and the speed at which they fly but de la Mare also tracks their journey by making references to various constellations they pass on the way before returning home.

 It is written in rhyming couplets with a rapidly moving rhythm. The meaning of the poem is enhanced using a range of poetic devices such as the playful and mischievous noises the witches make as they 'twitter and tweet' as they fly. 

Carolina Rabei's illustrations in this picture book version of the poem offer a rich and charming parallel tale of a group of young children as they go trick or treating on Halloween. We first encounter the children as they decorate the house in preparation for the festivities. Flying high above them are the witches and in the distance is a small red fox.

On the next two page spread, we move in closer to the children's cottage and see them in their Halloween costumes as they prepare to journey into the village for their evening of fun. As they journey towards the village we are treated to pictorial representations of the mischievous and playful actions of the witches. Throughout the story, the children are totally unaware of the witches and the fox. The fox, though, is aware and watches the activities of both the children and the witches from a safe distance.

The images work alongside the written text resulting in a beautifully multi-modal text that has so much to spot and discuss. The wordless images on a number of the pages could be used as a stimulus for narrative writing. As the story itself is already there in the pictures, children can focus on developing their skills of scene setting and characterisation. 

Rabei uses a limited colour palette for her illustrations, namely different shades of purple, which are often associated with magic. The scenes are made more magical by the bright twinkling stars in the sky, especially those which form the Milky Way. The warm yellow glow of the lights from the windows contrasts sharply with the cold night sky. Likewise, the red of the witches' hair, the little girl's stockings, the older girl's outfit, the pumpkins and the front door provides a hint of danger but one which is not menacing.

The result is an enchanting picture book which can be shared over and over again by children of all ages.

Publisher: Faber & Faber
Date of Publication: 2015
ISBN: 978-0-571-32422-4


Sunday, 18 October 2015

A Candle in the Dark by Adele Geras

A Candle in the Dark is an historical story set on the brink of  the Second World War.

It follows the story of two young Jewish children: refugees who came from Berlin to England on the Kindertransport after their family have been persecuted for being Jewish.

Geras, captures the fears and anxieties the two children experience whilst travelling alone on their long journey and how they acclimatize to life in a different country. During the few short months Clara and Maxi are living with their English family, they encounter preconceived stereotypical beliefs about them being Jewish and German and readers are invited to empathise with Clara as she deals with the comments made by her English hostess' best friend.

The book is truthfully grounded in historical fact and children will be able to research the events that are referred to in the novel, in particular how the Kindertransport brought almost 10 000 refugee Jewish children to Great Britain from Nazi Germany between 1938 and 1940. Another historical fact that will need to be researched is the concentration camp at Dachau, as Clara and Maxi's father has been taken there. For these reasons the book would make an excellent text to read for any class studying World War II.

Likewise, readers will learn about the Jewish religion. As we read we learn about the festival of Hannukah and the importance and significance of the Menorah.

The book is relatively short, only 78 pages long and organised into 8 short chapters. Each chapter is set during a specific date between 9th November 1938 and 20th December 1938. This makes the book ideal for guided reading. In addition to developing their comprehension skills, the book is a good stimulus for developing different types of writing. Chapters could be re-presented as diary accounts written in the first person from either Clara or Maxi's point of view: they could also be  presented as newspaper articles, particularly chapter 3 which recounts the Kindertransport journey. In chapter 4, Clara writes a letter home to her mother and again this provides a model and a stimulus for pupils to compose their own letters.

Publisher : A & C Black
Publication Date: 1995
ISBN: 0713674547


Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Tappity-Tap! What Was That? By Claire Freedman and illustrated byRussell Julian

Claire Freedman's picture book story, Tappity-Tap! What Was That? Is a charming story about friendship and facing your fears. On a dark and stormy night, Owl, Mouse and a Rabbit hear a knock at the door and fear the worst - The Monster of the Woods. As the story progresses we witness them as they support each other in facing their fears: from Owl's plan just in case they should encounter the Monster, to curling up together in front of the fire with a cup of hot cocoa to finally finding the courage to peep through the peephole to see who it is at the door.

This is a beautiful book to share with young children. It would generate a great deal of discussion around the subject of fear: the kinds of things that children fear, who they turn to when they are afraid and the sorts of things that make them feel better. Owl, who is the largest of the animals in the story, takes on the traditional role of being the 'wise old owl' and as such the parental figure that the smaller animals turn to. This makes the text ideal to discuss charaterisation. What are Owl's qualities that make others turn to him for comfort? What evidence is there in the story to support the children's views?

For children in year 2, who need to develop their vocabulary and use a variety of synonyms for 'said', the text proves to be a good model of how to do this. Teachers need to consider with the children why Freedman has chosen to use the variety of words for 'said' that she does. What additional information do these choices give the reader. For children in year 3, it would be interesting to 'collect' the different words and then categorise them. Which synonyms for 'said' does Freedman use to indicate fear? 'gulped', 'trembled', 'shivered' etc. How might you categorise the other synonyms?

In terms of scene setting, Freedman creates the atmosphere of the storm through the use of onomatopoeia: crash, bang, howl, thump. The atmosphere of the story is further enhanced by Russell Julian's illustrations. The darkness that envelops owl, literally and metaphorically as he pretends not to be at home when he hears the tappity-tap tap, how the peephole in Owl's door enlarges the eye when rabbit looks in and reduces the size of the Monster when the three of them look out, the eeriness of the shadows as we peer through Owl's window. The black silhouetted image which contains the words 'The Monster of the Woods' depicts how through fear we tend to make things much bigger than they are in reality. Note the size of the spider and the unidentifiable fronds in comparison with the three friends. The images of the woods in the end papers could provide a stimulus for some descriptive writing. How could the children describe the trees to create that same sense of eeriness?

A picture book which could be read and enjoyed by children of all ages and in terms of the classroom can be used in a variety of ways to develop children's reading and writing.

Publisher: Scholastic
Publication Date: 2009
ISBN: 978-1-407131-68-9


Monday, 31 August 2015

Toby and the Ice Giants written and illustrated by Joe Lillington

Toby and the Ice Giants is a story and an information book rolled into one. It tells the tale of the young Toby, a bison, as he ventures away from the herd for the first time. Like other similar stories (Monkey Puzzle by Julia Donaldson, The Bad Tempered Ladybird by Eric Carle, Brown Bear, Brown Bear What do you See? By Bill Martin ) Toby meets other creatures as he journeys, many of which are quite scary to Toby. However, unlike these other stories all the creatures that Toby meets are genuine animals that were around during the Ice Age.

The book would support any study of the Ice Age as each page includes a fact file of the creature that Toby encounters which details its Latin name, size, weight, diet, habitat and when it died out. The fact file also includes an illustration which demonstrates how big the animal was in comparison to a human.

During the Ice Age, it would have been impossible for Toby to have met all if these creatures as they originate from various countries all over the world. We are made aware if this fact in the author's note at the end of the book. At the very beginning of the book Lillington includes a very useful and informative map of the world which illustrates the countries each of the animals would have been found.
The back of the book has a size comparison chart ranging from the smallest (a young human child) to the largest, the woolly mammoth.
In terms of English, much of the story is told through dialogue which is highlighted in small ovals which are paler than the rest of the illustration, almost speech bubbles. This would provide a model for that important transition for children: moving from speech in speech bubbles to punctuated direct speech embedded in the written text.

As the majority of the story is told through direct speech teachers could explore with children how authors develop characterisation through speech without having any descriptions. We can identify with Toby's emotions throughout the story through the things he says. 

Lillington's rich style of illustration brings an almost retro charm to the story. The facial expressions on each of the creatures again gives insight into their thoughts and emotions.

Publisher: Flying Eye Books
Publication Date: Sept 2015
ISBN: 978-1-909263-58-1 

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth by Michelle Robinson and illustrated byKate Hindley

Michelle Robinson's picture book How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth is a delightfully quirky instructional text. The teacher is a freckle faced little girl. She meticulously takes us through the ten essential steps of the process. Robinson's minimal text is supported by Hindley's clever illustrations.

For teachers at Key Stage 1, this will provide a welcome alternative to the usual instructional texts that are available. It contains all the features of the genre: a goal in the form of the title; step by step instructions that are chronological in order; diagrams to support the instructions. It is also written using the imperative form of the verb 'fill', 'add', 'start', 'wash' etc. Each step also contains adjectival noun phrases, thereby providing a good model for children's own writing. The little freckled girl charmingly warns us about some of the possible difficulties we might encounter when attempting to wash our mammoth 'a mammoth's tummy is terribly tickly'.

Many of the steps are accompanied by illustrations and diagrams to exemplify the instruction. For example step 1 'fill the bath' is supported by 2 diagrams on what appear to be post-it notes Fig. 1: Empty and Fig. 2: Full. Others are humorous drawings depicting how the reader might get their mammoth into the bath.

When the little girl shampoos the mammoth's hair, she can't help but experiment with a range of hair dos for her mammoth and these are delightfully illustrated in the form of eight square frames. Hindley portrays how the mammoth reacts to this pampering session through the use of facial expression: from closed contented eyes, to wide startled eyes. We learn of the mammoth's emotions by paying careful attention to the illustrations throughout the whole of the picture book.

The end papers determine the actual beginning of the story and the end. At the beginning the little girl is playing with a bright blue star patterned ball and at the end after successfully washing her mammoth her wellies and ball are carefully placed together. The back cover depicts a whole range of mammoth related toiletries from bubble bath to tusk whitener and these have been cleverly used to display the ISBN of the book, the price and the synopsis.

How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth would be a useful and entertaining resource for any teacher who is studying instructional texts with his/her class as well as those who are investigating the Stone Age in history.

Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Publication date: 2013
ISBN: 978-0-85707-580-2


Monday, 17 August 2015

The Mixed-Up Summer of Lily McLean by Lindsay Littleson

The Mixed-Up Summer of Lily McLean is Lindsay Littleson's debut novel. It tells the story of Lily, who is about to leave primary school and transfer to secondary school. Littleson convincingly gets into the head of this 11 year old girl so much so that you forget that this is in fact told by an adult pretending to be a young girl! 

Leaving primary school for secondary school is a very emotional time for Lily. She has loved her time at primary school and has some longstanding friends. That prospect of change brings with it thoughts/musings that 11 year olds will easily relate to. In particular, will her best friend she has known since she was little remain her friend or will she 'move in with' what Lily describes as the popular crowd? 

 On top of this Lily is experiencing a complex and often bewildering time at home. Her mother has been married twice (Lily's father has died) and her mum has subsequently divorced her step-dad. Consequently, they live in a very small and cramped council house and Lily has to share a room with her younger brothers. She also has an older sister, who appears to have undergone a personality change since entering puberty, and a baby sister who Lily dotes on. The insights we get into her home life are sometimes funny, sometimes sad and at other times deeply moving.

Lily's life gets even more complex as she begins to experience some very strange and disturbing goings on in the form of a 'disembodied voice'. In fact, these experiences are so strange she dare not tell anyone about them, including her very best friend.

The Mixed-Up Summer of Lily McLean would appeal especially to pupils in year 6 and therefore would make an ideal text to have in year 6 class libraries. 

It also has a great deal to offer in terms of support for pupils' literacy development. Pupils could examine how authors create and develop characters by studying Lily. As the story is told by Lily, there are no long descriptions of her. The reader learns everything about Lily through her actions and her speech. A really good model of 'show not tell'. Pupils could identify adjectives to describe Lily and then justify their choices by finding evidence in action and speech. This would facilitate both pupils comprehension and composition skills. This is in contrast to the vivid description we get on page 40 of Lily's friend Rowan. 

Littleson's writing style is beautifully rich without being flowery. Her choice of vocabulary is particularly thoughtful and as such portrays her characters' emotions and actions in such a way that pupils and teachers could engage in discussions about when and why authors opt to use the word 'said' as opposed to 'taunts', 'screams' or 'replies'. 

Littleson's writing is so clear readers will find it easy to visualise the setting. The fact that it is set in real places in Scotland makes the novel an ideal resource for a joint English and geography unit of study. For teachers in England, it could be used as a stimulus for study of a location beyond the local area. Research would lead to ample material for pupils to use in preparation for a whole range of different types of writing including persuasive writing in the form of tourist leaflets and brochures.

Overall, the story is engaging, tender, humorous. 

The Mixed-Up Summer of Lily McLean won the prestigious Kelpies prize in 2014.

Publisher: Kelpies (an imprint of Floris Books)
Publication date: 2015
ISBN: 978-178250-180-0 

Monday, 20 July 2015

Superkid by Claire Freedman and illustrated by Sarah McIntyre

Superkid is a superhero story with a twist. In Claire Freedman's tale, the superhero is there to save children from their everyday troubles: the bully at school, eating healthy vegetables and room tidying, as well as the extraordinary: pirates that make you walk the plank. What makes this superhero special is the fact that he or she is most probably the reader's friend!

The story is told through a series of humorous incidents where Superkid saves the day. The story could be enjoyed simply as a 'read aloud' text to promote a love of books in foundation stage and Key Stage 1. However, it also has the potential for developing children's understanding of character. Although Superkid is quite likely to be a classmate, he also possesses the powers you would expect of a superhero: changing into his superhero costume in an instant, x-ray eyes, flying, making things disappear, putting things in order, rescuing people from evil monsters. 

Like Sue Hendra's Supertato, Superkid utilises some of the features you would expect to see in comic strips, in particular onomatopoeia, e.g. Zapp, whoosh and puff. Sarah McKintyre's illustrations take this one step further. You will find examples of the zig zag frame to indicate something happening quickly, lines after a character to indicate movement, the action of the story told through a sequence of brightly coloured frames. Her illustrations also provide the opportunity to examine how different facial expressions indicate different thoughts and emotions: shock, surprise, fear, relief, delight.

The end papers also merit comment. At the beginning of the book, you have a wordless text which tells the story of a superhero through comic strip frames which again use a number of conventions associated with comics. As such, this provides the opportunity to explore and discuss these features with children before creating their own comic using an application such as comic life. The papers at the end of the story are annotated character portraits: a possible stimulus for work in class.

As you would expect from Claire Freedman, the text is presented as a rhyming story. It is fun and fast paced and could be decoded by children who are working at phase 5 or beyond.

Publisher: Scholastic
Date of Publication: 2013
ISBN: 978-1-407124-06-3


Monday, 13 July 2015

Supertato by Sue Hendra

Sue Hendra's Supertato is a quirky take on the standard superhero tale. It's set in the vegetable section of a supermarket, not a child's first choice of where to find a hero of any sort, usually. The hero of this story is a rather rotund potato! Nevertheless, he has all the characteristics you would expect of a superhero. The evil villain is the smallest character in the book, the pea. 
This is a pacey read. The style of the writing includes a number of authorial questions to engage readers. The simple plot moves swiftly along through the use of dialogue which will appeal to young children. The story is delightfully silly. The narrative coupled with the dialogue has all the features you would expect in a comic superhero tale: slapstick, good versus evil, mild peril and the inevitable happy ending.
Alliteration is used for comic effect to describe how Supertato stealthily creeps up on the mischievous pea. 'Crept through the cakes'.....'checked the cheese'. There is also an element of comic strip writing with features such as 'kerpow!' Children will love rewriting this as a comic strip using an application such as comic life. This could be used to emphasise the words within the speech marks or develop the use of temporal connectives (adverbials).
Other writing activities might include wanted posters, newspaper reports or play scripts.
The illustrations help the story along enormously. Supertato is depicted as a typical superhero, with his super belt around his rather plump middle, his bandit-like eye mask and his superhero red cape. Evil pea's eyes look demonic at the beginning of the story. The facial features of all the characters are full of emotion, ranging from horror, surprise, shock to the twinkle of Supertato's teeth to illustrate just how good he is. The pictures are bright, with lots of primary colours and plenty to see on each page. This would be really fun 'read aloud' to a group of children in foundation stage or Key Stage 1. It would also make an ideal book to read as part of any project on Superheroes or healthy eating.

Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Date of Publication: 2014
ISBN: 978-0-85707-447-8

Monday, 15 June 2015

The Great Ice-Cream Heist by Elen Caldecott

The Great Ice-Cream Heist is a fast paced adventure, full of 'edge of your seat' drama, about sticking up for your friends. The story, being action-packed, will appeal to both boys and girls and is ideal for children at Key Stage 2 who need more sustained stories.

The main protagonist, Eva, lives a quiet life with her over-protective Dad. Eva cannot read and as such is quite happy to spend her time at home with her Dad and invent adventures with him. This soon changes though when a new family move in next door. Both Eva and Jamie (the boy from next door) are 'forced' to attend  the local youth centre over the summer holidays.  They quickly become friends. But then everything goes wrong and Jamie is in trouble. Eva knows it's down to her to help him, even if it means upsetting Dad in the process. 

The Great Ice Cream Heist is a lesson about not judging people on appearances. Warm-hearted, moving and never heavy handedit approaches a range of issues including bereavement, dysfunctional families and children in care with sensitivity and directness. 

The book contains some loveable characters, in particular Eva, and as such provides an ideal text with which to study characterisation. Eva is timid and loyal and readers will witness her grow as a person: watch her get outside of her comfort zone, overcome fears, make new friends and even address her embarrassment about not being able to read. 

Teachers could use a range of drama techniques to help children empathise with Eva, such as conscience alley to consider the options Eva has and the decisions she needs to make, hot-seating to understand Shan's prejudice and how it is completely shaken by the end of the book; thought-tracking to understand and reflect upon the reasons behind Gran's actions. Elen Caldecott's brilliant writing also exemplifies how authors 'show not tell' how their characters are feeling through their dialogue and actions.

The climax of the story, is really fun, edge of your seat stuff. The pace and excitement of the drama is masterfully achieved through the use of a range of authorial devices such as short sentences, simile, dialogue, alliteration and sibilance. Coupled with this is the fact that Shan is supposed to be appearing on local radio. Teachers could use this part of the story as a springboard to a whole range of writing including the pupils writing their own exciting, dramatic chase using the devices identified in the book, a newspaper report of the incident, a television interview or even a playscript.

Poignant yet full of humour and fun, this is a carefully-balanced story with a clear message about the value of friends, family and the local community - and the importance of not judging others.

Published: 2013
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1-4088-2050-6


Friday, 5 June 2015

The Egyptian Echo written by Paul Dowsell and designed by Karen Tomlins

The Egyptian Echo provides an excellent and fun introduction to all aspects of Ancient Egyptian life. Readers will learn about the Egyptian gods; the pyramids; hieroglyphics; papyrus; different types of boats, houses and jewelery; fashion; health and medicine; art and Egyptian professions amongst other things.Each of the topics is presented in a lively, newspaper article format which is both engaging and informative. This will appeal to readers of all abilities both boys and girls. The layout, that of a newspaper, provides an accessible text, particularly for those pupils who experience difficulties in reading as each of the items is short and therefore not overwhelming for pupils who perhaps don't normally enjoy reading.

The vocabulary, being subject specific, may at times be at a level beyond which some Key Stage 2 readers can read independently. However, through guided and shared reading and the teaching of specific vocabulary this can be overcome. Presented as a newspaper, this is a good text to introduce to children, in order to develop reading for pleasure.

The book contains all the features you would expect to find in a newspaper: from news stories 'of the day' to job adverts; a problem page; adverts for a whole range of Egyptian things to buy; articles about works of art; competitions and quizzes and sports pages.This in itself provides a model text to study newspapers and journalistic writing. Pupils can compare the range of text types within the book with those in contemporary newspapers, local and national.

The news stories are also model examples. They follow the correct format and structure with an introductory paragraph of approximately 30 words, followed by subsequent paragraphs which in turn provide more detailed information. They are written in the past tense, include 'quotes' from individuals and include a summarizing statement.

Likewise, the adverts are written in the present tense, include emotive vocabulary, rhetorical questions and superlatives.

The photographs throughout the book have been sourced from the Werner Forman Archive; a highly valued resource of images valued by publishers around the world. Werner Forman was an acclaimed photographer, who began his career at the age of 14 and would be an interesting person for pupils to research before writng a biography.

Overall, the book provides a valuable resource for both the history and English curriculum at Key Stage 2.

Publisher: Usborne Books
Date of Publication: 1996
ISBN: 978074602751

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Jake's Cave by Lou Kuenzler, illustrated by Nick Maland

"Your imagination made that cave big enough for a dragon," said Uncle Paul. "A dragon as big as a bus!"

Jake is excited when Uncle Paul offers to take him and his little sister out for the day. Jake wants to go to the big dark cave at the beach – they haven't been there for ages, and he can pretend to be a brave knight and save Princess Pip from the terrifying dragon. Pip is excited too: she'll get to wear her princess costume, and she knows that Sir Jake the Brave will save her! But when they arrive, the cave is much smaller than Jake remembers; he's too big even to fit inside it. Jake is so disappointed. Why can't things just stay the same? He soon realizes, however, that it's your imagination that counts. He'll just have to pretend – for Princess Pip!

Jake's Cave is a well written story, perfect for children who have gained independence in reading and need to build their confidence and stamina. It is one of the 'Walker Story' collection, which is advertised as 'the perfect first step into fiction.' The story is told in 3 short chapters, not three short stories, as stated on the back cover of the book. It is one complete story. The first chapter provides the orientation of the story. The second chapter is the build up leading to the problem and the final chapter explores the problem, provides the climax and finally the resolution.

The language used in the book provides a good quality model for children's own writing. Each of the three characters are developed through the use of dialogue which utilises a range of alternatives for 'said'. Teachers in years 2 and 3 could use extracts from the book for discussion and examples of how to punctuate direct speech and vocabulary development.

There are also some lovely examples of descriptive language, such as 'a shimmer of sea, sparkling bright blue in the sun.' Other examples make use of simile: 'as big as a bus and bright red. As shiny as your new Wellies.' Immersing children in quality fiction which models such language features will have a positive impact on the quality of the children's own writing.

Being a short story, organised into 3 chapters, also makes it ideal for use during guided reading in years 2 and 3. Each chapter could be managed in one guided reading session. Comprehension skills of inference and deduction can be developed through discussion of key aspects of characterisation. For example, in chapter 1, why does Jake think that Pip is likely to have a tantrum? Children will have to draw on their prior knowledge of younger siblings and evidence drawn from other known texts to be able to answer that. Likewise, in chapter 2, why does the walk to the cave seem much shorter than Jake remembered?

The black and white illustrations provide support for those children who are making the transition from picture books to longer chapter books. They also help visualise the different settings encountered during the story: Jake and Pip's home, the town in which they live, the journey through the countryside and finally the beach. These would provide a useful resource for comparing and contrasting the different settings. 

All in all, Jake's Cave is a story that will be enjoyed by both girls and boys aged 6-8. By the end of year 2, many children will probably be able to read the book independently. 

Published: 2010 by Walker Books
ISBN: 978-1-4063-2153-1

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Scariest Thing of All by Debi Gliori

Debi Gliori's picture book, The Scariest Thing of All, is about a little rabbit called Pip. He is the smallest of his family but he has the biggest imagination.  Pip is scared of just about everything, from tree stumps to unusually shaped clouds and his worries begin to wear him out. When Pip is awoken from an afternoon nap by a strange growling noise, he is so frightened that he runs away. Unfortunately, he runs into the dark and forbidding woods. Finally he stops deep in the woods and sees the scary thing nearby and hears the sound again. This forces him to be brave and figure out what the scary thing is, which in turn helps him confront his fears and realise that things aren’t always quite as scary as first he thinks. 

Children in Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1 will enjoy the humour and the imaginative writing in this book. Through shared reading of the story, children will enjoy exploring the fearful creatures Pip imagines the everyday objects of the wood to be: rainfall to "...the sound a vast hisster makes as it weaves its web." and a "...gobbler blowing bubbles at the bottom of the lily pond." The journey into the wood and back home again is reminiscent of that the mouse takes in Julia Donaldson's The Gruffalo. Pip returns home with a new found confidence.

The language used to describe the journey usefully introduces children in Reception and Year 1 to the prepositions 'into', 'through', 'across'. Teachers could build on this vocabulary with the much loved Pat Hitchins' tale of Rosie's Walk

Year 1 and 2 will also enjoy playing with the onomatopoeia in the book as they read of the 'flippity flap' of the insects, the 'aaark, aaark' of the gulls, the 'rustle, rustle' of the caterpillars, the 'hoowit, hoowit' of the owl and of course the 'raaarrrr' of the scariest thing of all. There are other examples of onomatopoeia later on in the book which children could 'collect' for the working wall, before expanding their list of examples from other texts and their own imaginations.

It is also a lovely story to revisit at Key Stage 2 when looking at personification. Pip imagines each of the inanimate objects to be a living creature, making them hiss, blow bubbles, bite, wave, move, slide and agree. Gliori's ink and watercolour illustrations, particularly the one in the wood of the upturned tree, provide the stimulus for a discussion about personification, exploring the human qualities that can be attributed to the tree. 

The tones and colours of this particular two-page spread exemplify the devices authors often use to create suspense: cold, dark, moonlight, silhouettes. This particular composition also captures the emotion of the action via its scale ( pink-eared Pip is surrounded by large shadowy trees in midnight blue). The incredible blue moon rising above Pip gives a really haunted feeling.

It is a beautifully illustrated book, designed to be pored over. There are holes to look inside, tree rooms to investigate and scary creatures to tame. The art of this picture book is really special beginning with the sunny warmth of Pip's family and home to the dark blueness of a the woods at night returning to supper and the golden glow of home. 

 A truly stunning book which can be enjoyed on many levels.

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publish Date: 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7475-9969-2


Friday, 13 February 2015

Ready, Steady, Jump! by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Adrian Reynolds

Ready, Steady, Jump! is a lovely picture book which celebrates individuality. Meet Elephant who, desperately wants to be the same as the other baby animals. Why can't he jump like they can? He sets out to prove the others wrong, but alas, no matter how hard he tries, he just can't jump. Then, one day, he discovers there is something he can do which none of the others can!

This is a beautifully told story, ideal for Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1 as a read aloud story. It illustrates the very important message that everyone has a gift or talent and is good at something. Ready, Steady, Jump! would provide the perfect stimulus for a topic on difference and individuality. Children in Key Stage 1 could explore Elephant's feelings throughout the story. This could readily be done through the use of thought bubbles or hot-seating. 

Adrian Reynolds' bright illustratrations bring each of the characters to life. Children and adults alike will find all the baby animals loveable. The facial expressions are superb. We have the determined concentration of baby Elephant (tongue sticking out as children often do), amusement of the other baby animals, puzzlement, concern, joy and on Monkey's face, bewilderment (which I think is my favourite).

Other stories which could be read alongside Ready, Steady, Jump! are Alexis Deacon's Beegu about an alien creature that doesn't 'belong' and, of course, David McKee's Elmer. Each focuses on a slightly aspect of difference.

publisher: Andersen Press
Publish date: 2015
ISBN: 978-1-78344-172-3


Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Penny Dreadful is a Magnet for Disaster by Joanna Nadin

Penny Dreadful is a Magnet for Disaster contains three adventures starring Penny Jones, a girl who comes up with plenty of ‘brilliant’ ideas. Each story is a complete story in itself. Penny Dreadful isn't her real name, it's a nickname given to her by her father. Her gran says she is a ‘Magnet for Disaster’ and certainly in these three stories she lives up to both descriptions. This is because Penny's 'brilliant' ideas frequently don’t turn out in the way that she planned and usually have disastrous consequences. With the help of her best friend Cosmo, Penny manages to superglue her cousin Georgia May Morton-Jones to the carpet, steal a dog and amaze the school inspector.
These are fun stories that read aloud well and are supported by lively illustrations by Jess Mikhail. Children in years 2 and 3 will enjoy reading about Penny's disasters. The themes of the stories are similar to those in Francesca Simon's Horrid Henry and David Roberts' Dirty Bertie, but this time the protagonist is female. However, due to the style of writing, children will need to have developed a little more reading confidence to read these books independently than either the Horrid Henry or Dirty Bertie series.
It is very difficult not to love Penny Dreadful as she hurtles from one disaster to the next. The books are narrated in the first person and Penny chats away unstoppably and is so utterly believable. The stories are fast-paced and the style in which they are written enhances the character of Penny. Each of the characters are quirky and loveable in their own way. The storytelling is only broken up by the equally quirky and perfectly matched illustrations provided by Jess Mikhail. There are lots of amusing pictures with highlighted and capitalised text bubbles to enhance the fast pace and humour.
Penny Dreadful is a Magnet for Disaster would be an ideal book for use during guided reading for those children who have developed their reading confidence and are ready to discuss how an author's style adds to the meaning of a text. (The old AF 5). There is much to discuss such as the ways in which the text has been broken up with speech bubbles, lists and different sizes of text affect the children's reading and enjoyment of the story. Why Penny's 'brilliant' ideas never seem to work out the way she planned and how do the author and illustrator make the stories so funny? The stories also lend themselves to work on characterisation. Each character has their own distinctive character traits which will make it easy for children in year 3 to identify and therefore, develop their understanding of character traits. Jess Mikhail's illustrations of each of the characters at the front of the book could easily be enlarged for a working wall display identifying the adjectives which describe each of the characters.
In Year 4 the stories would also be a good resource for looking at events from different points of view. Using Anthony Browne's book Voices in the Park as a model children could retell the events from a range of different points of view. So, for example 'Penny Dreadful and the Faithful Sidekick' could be explored from the points of view of Aunt Deedee and Mrs Higgins. What are their stories? Other ideas include writing their own Penny Dreadful story or re-writing one of the stories as a play.
Penny Dreadful is a Magnet for Disaster was shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize.

  • Publisher: Usborne
  • Date of Publication: 2011
  • ISBN: 978-1-4095-2672-8