Friday, 22 January 2016

Charlie Crow in the Snow by Paula Metcalf and illustrated by CallyJohnson-Isaacs

Stories about the Seasons
Metcalf's story Charlie Crow in the Snow is a lovely picture book story about friendship and the changing seasons.

Charlie Crow loves him home in the tree and enjoys visits from his friends Bear and Swallow. However, things begin to change, much to Charlie's surprise. Charlie Crow hasn't seen snow before and when he does see it for the first time he panics and goes to find his friends. He can't find bear and Swallow. However, he does bump into Squirrel who is just as confused and between them they set off to find Bear and Swallow who will surely know the answer to what is going on.

The story beautifully introduces children to the changing seasons from Autumn through to winter. Children will learn about how leaves fall from trees, water turns to ice, snow, hibernation and migration.

It would make a lovely read-aloud story for Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1. It would also make a lovely guided read for children who have mastered phase 5 phonics. In terms of comprehension there are ample opportunities to teach wither through shared or guided reading each of the 5 domains that are identified in the Key Stage 1 Reading Tests, in particular 1a vocabulary, 1b identify key aspects of fiction and 1d make inferences from the text.

The dialogue within the story uses a wide variety of synonyms for said such as squawked, whimpered, cried, shrieked and exclaimed allowing teachers the opportunity to develop children's vocabulary, consider characterisation and further children's grammatical knowledge in context.

The illustrations are bright and clearly depict the different colours and tones associated with the different seasons. Also, the expressions on the characters faces are an absolute delight. The positioning of the eyebrows on each of the characters emphasise the emotions felt by each of the characters at any one particular time and would therefore support the teaching of comprehension  and emotional intelligence. My favourite, I think is the page where Charlie Crow and Squirrel attempt to hibernate with Bear.

Characterisation and emotions

Publisher: Macmillan 
Publication Date: 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4472-8155-9

Saturday, 16 January 2016

The Legend of the Worst Boy in the World by Eoin Colfer, illustrated byTony Ross

Eoin Colfer's book The Legend of the Worst Boy in the World is told in the first person from the point of view of Will, a young boy of 9 who has 4 brothers. Unfortunately for Will, having 4 brothers and 3 of them younger than him means that he often doesn't get the attention he feels he needs and deserves from his Mum and Dad. However, he finds the perfect audience to listen to his tales of woe in the form of Grandad. Children in lower Key Stage 2 will love the ensuing competition between Will and Grandad to see who can tell the story with the biggest problem. They will be able to relate to many of Will's 'problems' and will be amused and engaged by Grandad's tales.

The story contains a second story which is cleverly woven into the main narrative. This story is in stark contrast to the main story which is told through gentle humour. Instead, the second story is full of suspense, tension and action as Will's older brother carries out a plan to get rid of 2-year-old Will. This shorter story within the story is ideal for exploring story structure, identifying the problem, build-up and resolution. Through guided reading children could discuss how Colfer builds up the tension. The sentences are short and simple, thereby quickly drawing the reader into the action. This also makes the text accessible for those who have just gained independence in reading. The text is accompanied by black and white illustrations by Tony Ross, which makes it a suitable 'transition' text from picture book to novel.

Colfer's storytelling is so good that at the end of the book he is able to explain to his readers the meaning of 'moral of the story' in such a way that feels natural and integral to the story itself. This would allow teachers to explore 'morals in stories' with their classes and identify other tales which have morals and what those morals are. The title 'the Legend of...' also provides opportunity to investigate and explore other types of tale/story. So, within this one book we have 3 story genres 1) the contemporary familiar setting story 2) the fable and 3) the legend. Pupils could investigate the features of all three and compare and contrast them and collect examples of each.

There is also ample opportunity for language study from the invention of new words to the use of adjectives to create vivid and funny descriptions, to simile to aid visual understanding.

The fact that the story is told in the first person means that the tale will appeal to a wide range of readers in lower key stage 2, including boys and possibly even those who have not yet caught the bug of reading for pleasure. A great book which deserves a place in the class library for independent reading but also one which has the potential for study both with the whole class and small groups.

Publisher: Puffin
Publication Date: 2008

Saturday, 2 January 2016

The Tale of Jack Frost by David Melling

The Tale of Jack Frost by David Melling is a beautiful picture book based on the mythical creature. Jack, somehow wanders into the shielded magical forest. The magical inhabitants instantly take to him and teach him magic. Jack is a natural showing a particular skill for creating ice and snow. However, Jack's presence is also cause for concern as he has left the way into the forest open. This means the magical creatures are in danger from the greedy Goblins.
The tale unfolds in a way which is not dissimilar to many other fairy tales. Jack tricks the Goblins into thinking that the reflection if the moon in the lake is in actual fact the sun. Children will enjoy the humour in the story and the detailed illustrations.
The illustrations in the book are vivid watercolours, which capture the setting of the enchanted forest. As such the text would provide an excellent stimulus for any Key Stage 1 or even lower Key Stage 2 class who are looking at descriptive writing and settings. 
The opening sentence 'It was a crisp and frosty morning.' is accompanied by a beautiful, detailed, full page illustration in cool blues of the boy asleep and two snow-beetles. 

The following two-page spread zooms out from the scene to introduce us to the other creatures of the forest. These are also introduced through the written text 'Shadows came bobbing and gliding towards them from every direction.'

The characters in the story are also vividly described: 'Cowslip, a tall and gentle creature with hairy knees, spoke first.' The descriptions focus not just on the characters' physical appearance but also their traits and children will enjoy reading about the grotesque traits of the Goblins. 
As a story as a whole, the structure is simple for children to identify the beginning, the build-up, problem, climax and resolution. It also includes the features associated with fairy stories: good versus evil, magic, mythical creatures etc. It has also been animated by the BBC and is available on DVD.
Overall, the Tale of Jack Frost by David Meling is a good read-aloud story for foundation stage, Key Stage 1 and lower Key Stage 2 which also provides a great deal of opportunities for studying descriptive language particularly of setting and character.

Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
Publication Date: PB edition 2004
ISBN: 0-340-85200-3