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.