Thursday, 29 September 2016

Cool as a Cucumber by Michael Morpurgo

Cool as a Cucumber by Michael Morpurgo is a short chapter book about a boy called Peter who discovers something unusual whilst digging in the school vegetable patch and becomes something of a hero.

This title is one from the Walker Book's Sprinters titles.These are Ideal for helping to build confidence in young children who are learning to read alone. 

The storyline is simple to follow and is organised into manageable chapters which makes it ideal for those you have just become independent readers and are beginning to develop their stamina by reading short chapter books. It also contains a number of black and white illustrations which makes it a good transition book for those moving from picture books to more lengthy chapter books. There are also a number of items of vocabulary which most children in year 3 should be able to decode independently but they may not be familiar with in terms of comprehension. This makes it a particularly useful text for developing 'working out the meaning of words from the context'.

The story is told in the first person by the protagonist, Peter. The climax of the story is believable and is likely to appeal to boys as well as girls. There have been many similar stories recounted in the press and teachers could find some of these on the internet and use them to compare the story with one that has happened in real life.

Peter behaves like a real child, the school seems like a real school and the events aren't totally fantastical. This could make it easier for children to engage with, because it's not very different from their own lives. In addition to encouraging children in independent reading it could be used for inspiration in creative writing with students imagining what other things they might find in the school garden if they just dig deep enough.

The structure of the story is clear and as such makes a good text to use with children in years 2/3 who are beginning to analyse the books they read in terms of structure. Characterisation is developed through both speech and action and is done in a such a way that again children who are newly independent can nurture their skills of inference. Peter's thoughts and feelings do change throughout the book and this would be a good focus for study.

The climax of the story involves the emergency services and the media and would make a good stimulus for both drama and writing. 

Reading Activities £2

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston

 'I am a Child of Books. I come from a world of stories. And upon my imagination, I float.' These are the opening lines of this beautiful picture book, which follows a young girl as she takes a little boy on an adventure by opening his imagination. As they journey along, she teaches him that you don't need to travel the world to have adventures, you can travel anywhere you like with the aid of a book, as books are the key to letting your imagination flow freely.

Its very simple plot is very effective. The story itself is told through very few words. However, the artwork on every page is an explosion of words from a range of children's literature, which are cleverly presented to create the sea, clouds, mountains and monsters.

The written story and the illustrations visually take you on a journey. The passages have been carefully selected to echo each illustration. The sea is created from texts about journeys: The Voyage of Dr Doolittle, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels (which isn't a children's book but Jeffers and Winston can be forgiven for that).

The little girl leads the boy down the path of adventure which is created from the words from Alice's Adveentures in Wonderland. They climb the mountains of Neverland and enter the caves of Kidnapped before playing in the fairy tale woods and extracts from Rapunzel form the rope from the castle. Many of the illustrations use muted colours but interestingly and significantly the house where the little girl lives is bold and bright. The 2 page spread which features the words ' For this is our world we've made from stories.' is the most colourful of the whole book emphasising the bright, colourful world of stories and books.

It is the perfect book to launch a school book week or reading challenge. Pupils in upper key stage 2 could be challenged to identify all the titles featured. (Apparently there are 42 classic books and lullabies in total - I haven't spotted them all yet!).

It  would also be interesting to explore the 'word painting' that is used. Children could find appropriate passages from books they have read  to create their own images of worlds they have encountered and visited through story. Applications such as wordle , tagul and tagxedo would be useful in acheiving this.

In the back slip of the dustcover, Jeffers and Winston state 'From the very beginning we both wanted to create a tale that celebrates our own love of classic children's literature with an added modern twist. For us it was about capturing some of the magic tha happens when you first get lost in a timeless story, but doing it in a way that readers haven't seen before.' They certainly have done that.

Publisher: Walker Books
Publication Date: Sept 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4063-5831-5