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


Saturday, 7 February 2015

Bringing Down the Moon by Jonathan Emmett

Bringing Down the Moon is an enchanting, picture book tale which concerns a young mole, who climbs from his hole one night to be dazzled by a full moon. Thinking he just must have it, he ventures to get it; first by jumping for it, then by poking at it with a stick, then by tossing acorns at it. With each attempt, he manages to wake up another forest creature: a rabbit, a hedgehog, and a squirrel. They all agree with Mole that the moon is beautiful but warn him that “It’s not as close as it looks.”

The tale is beautifully told using patterned language and clear sequencing. The story is enhanced by the richness of Vanessa Cabban's illustrations.

Bringing Down the Moon would be a lovely read aloud book for foundation stage as part of a topic on Nighttime. The children will really enjoy hearing about mole's attempts to capture the moon. The repeated phrase 'You'll never do that,' said.....'It's not as near as it looks.' will encourage the children to participate. Because of its clear and repetitive structure, once familiar with the story 3-5 year olds will readily pick up this book and play read. The rich watercolour illustrations beautifully depict night time. Very young children though will need an adult led discussion to understand the sequential nature of the pages that are split into four frames. 

These, for older readers, depict a sequence of events but many children in foundation stage will 'read' these images as four separate and individual moles.

For children in Key Stage 1, there is plenty to support their language and literacy development. Throughout the story there are numerous examples of onomatopoeia as mole desperately attempts to 'bring down the moon': thump, bump, swish, plink and splash. When mole meets each of the characters there is a simple conversation between the two of them which clearly model the use of direct speech, which could easily be differentiated from those beginning to demarcate speech with the inverted commas to those who are ready to develop their use of internal punctuation. In terms of story structure, it is a 'quest' story where mole makes several endearing attempts at obtaining what is, as all his friends know, the impossible. Being a short picture book story makes it ideal as a text to explore story structure and a model on which to base their own stories. The theme of the story is also suitable for Key Stage one: that of resilience or never giving up.

A beautiful book.

Author: Jonathan Emmett
Illustrator: Vanessa Cabban
Publisher: Walker Books
Date of Publication: 2001
ISBN: 978-0-7445-8950-4


Wednesday, 4 February 2015

There's a Shark in the Bath by Sarah McIntyre

What would you do if you found a shark in your bath? Or worse still, if you found a whole family of sharks in there? Well that's exactly what happens to Dulcie in Sarah McIntyre's picture book There's a Shark in the Bath. Dulcie, the little girl who makes this discovery is not a girl who is easily rattled and uses her skills and several sneaky games in her efforts to outwit the sharks in this amusing and enjoyable adventure.
The shark family arrives at breakfast time in Dulcie's house and Dulcie races downstairs to tell her parents the news. Dulcie’s parents greet this announcement with disbelief and gentle teasing in a manner which reminds me of Bernard's parents in Not Now Bernard by David McKee. Therefore, Dulcie has no option but to deal with the shark family all by herself. This is made a little challenging as the sharks are extremely keen to eat Dulcie for their breakfast. Dulcie, though, doesn't let this put her off and has several bright ideas up her sleeve. 
The story is great fun and is enhanced by Sarah McIntyre’s uniquely wonderful and vibrant illustrations.
There's a Shark in the Bath would be ideal as a story time read to children in foundation stage. Young children will enjoy the excitement of Dulcie's adventures, the vibrant colours and the 'busy' images which provide so much opportunity for discussion. Foundation stage teachers could follow up the reading of this story with activities that focus on ordering sizes (Papa, Mama and Baby Shark). The font of the text makes use of a range of sizes and is sometimes emboldened and capitalised and therefore, could promote discussion around reading with expression.

For children, in year 1, teachers could draw similarities between There's a Shark in the Bath and traditional tales such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Here, you have the same patterning of speech as you do in the 3 Bears story, 'Papa Shark said....Mama Shark said....Baby Shark said'. You could also explore the character traits of the sharks and compare and contrast them with those of the 3 bears.

There's a Shark in the Bath could also be read with children at Key Stage 2 as part of a unit on Fairy Tales. It contains the key 'ingredients' you would expect to find in a fairy tale, such as the importance of the number 3, the delaying of impending doom by the use of magical, inventive tactics and the theme of good versus 'not so' evil. As such pupils at key stage 2 could be encouraged to identify these elements after investigating them in traditional tales and then plan their own 'modern' fairy tale, which they could write for the children in Key Stage 1 or Foundation Stage.

A lovely picture book worthy of a place in every school library.

Published by Scholastic 2014
ISBN 978-1-407121-91-8


Monday, 2 February 2015

Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

Fortunately, The Milk is a tale of what happens when Dad has been left in charge of his two children. When he goes out to buy the milk, the weird fun begins. He is abducted by globby, five-eyed aliens. He also meets pirates who have never heard of "walking the plank"; he befriends a talking dinosaur and meets a god named Splod. 
The story is brought fantastically to life by Chris Riddell's inventive and witty caricature illustrations (Dad is a version of the younger Gaiman).
Fortunately, the Milk has a general interest level of ages 7- 9. The story is fast paced and as Dad is the protagonist would appeal equally to boys and girls. Much of the sentence structure is either simple or compound, making comprehension accessible for those who have recently gained reading independence. Most children in year 4 would probably be able to read it as an independent read. 
As a class read, it would provide a fantastic stimulus for an extended write. The children could plan and write their own 'Fortunately the Milk' stories, describing all the improbable adventures that happened to Dad on his way back from the corner shop.
As the book contains a great deal of conversation, it is also a good model for including direct speech in children's own writing. For teachers who are focussing on the teaching of 'nouns', Gaiman, makes up his own imaginative names for objects such as a 'big-red-flat-pressy-thing' for a button, in much the same way Jeanne Willis does in the Dr Xargles books.
A wonderfully funny and imaginative book ideal for class libraries as well as class reads.

Published by Bloomsbury 2013
 ISBN 978-1-4088=4176-1