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