Mine! A sharing story

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Sharing is a tricky concept that all children have to learn to deal with at some point. It can be a very emotional lesson to learn and often children need a little help.

Mine! by Jerome Keane and Susana De Dios is a bright, bold and stylish book that gently explores sharing through humour and fun.

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Fox was bored. Horse was bored. But then something happened. An egg falls down between them. Can Fox and Horse learn to share their new entertainment?

This book is a visual delight. It has perfectly balanced design with great use of colour. The illustrations beautifully capture the characters’ emotions. Mine contains the best bored horse I have ever seen…

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as well as a fantastic portrayal of the rigid awkwardness of Uncomfortably Pretending Indifference.

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You can feel the tension. All that character and emotion portrayed through the positioning of eyes, hands and bottoms. Great stuff – and something that could inspire some fab creativity if pointed out to children.

Brilliantly simple repeated text builds tension and involves children in the story. Allowing the children to see the duck appearing in the background to reclaim the egg really empowers them.

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They know what is going on before the characters do, and will be yelling at the book as the duck creeps closer and closer. This is a joyful way to involve children and encourage them to interact with the book – whilst also placing them in a position of wisdom. They can call out and tell Horse and Fox what they should be doing, leaving them confident in their own knowledge of how to share.

Deceptively simple, yet very clever stuff. Bravo!

And don’t worry, my caring sharing friends… Horse and Fox may have lost their egg but something far more exciting soon appears for them to play with. And surely they’ve learnt their sharing lesson now. Haven’t they?

If you liked this you could also try It’s Not Yours, It’s Mine by Susanna Moores. Another great book about learning to share.

Source: Kindly sent for review by Orchard Books.

None the Number – a counting adventure

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Oh, picture books! I really do love them! They give children so, so much… and then they just keep on giving.

In my recent post about learning to read I begged parents/carers not to leave picture books behind when children are learning to read – or when they can read independently. Picture books still have so much to give children and aren’t only for the 3-5 age range that they are often slotted into. They are created by writers and illustrators at the top of their game. They expose children to world class art and language. They encourage their minds to open and question and explore. These are skills that will set children up for life.

I often write posts about picture books that give children something more. Something different. In addition, I’m going to start a semi-regular feature of picture books that stretch the genre and work beautifully for children learning to read or already reading. For children who are at the stage where they are told they should be ‘moving on’ from picture books – as if picture books are only an introductory tool to real reading. NoNoNoNo!

These books will stretch children, give them a new way of seeing something, prompt them to stop and think and question. They will build on all those wonderful skills that their early picture books have taught them and stretch them further. Think of these books as the picture book gifted and talented programme.

My first example is this gem:

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None the Number – A Counting Adventure is not your average counting book. It doesn’t deliver the numbers 1 to 10 with sweet pictures of animals that can be neatly grouped and gently counted. Instead it questions the way counting books work and the way we count objects. It encourages children to think and question things for themselves. And of course, being authored by Oliver Jeffers, it does so in a very funny way.

None the Number introduces the concept of none, or zero, as a number through the Hueys. Written as conversation, one Huey is explaining the concept to another, who is finding it somewhat tricky to grasp. I like the neutrality of these characters. Beautifully simple and yet full of character and expression.

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“Is none a number?” asks white Huey. “Of course,” says Huey Blue who proceeds to count objects up to 10 before taking them all away to demonstrate the concept of none as a number.

I love the quirky and often very funny objects that readers are given to count. My personal favourites are ‘Four. That’s how many tantrums Kevin throws every day.’ And seven:

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The addition of handwritten text -an Oliver Jeffers special- offers a challenge for independent readers as well as working beautifully towards the design of the book.

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At the end of the book White Huey is still confused. But children won’t be. They can laugh at White Huey’s inability to grasp the concept and position themselves with Huey Blue. The use of conversational writing here is a clever approach that allows children to act out the book and take on the roles of the characters, enabling them to ‘be’ Huey Blue and read the book from a position of knowledge. Deceptively simple, hugely effective.

So is this one of those picture books that has been created for adults, with Pixar style humour to entertain the adult reader as they read a book for the ninetieth time? No, I don’t think so. Mollie has just turned five and she loves the humour in this book. She particularly enjoys reading the handwritten speech and doing the voices. The book involves her and entertains her. It has made her think and the facts about zero on the endpapers have prompted some great discussions. This is a great example of a book that works across ages. With design and language that is simple enough for young children to find lots to love and lots to point out, it has enough depth and humour to entertain older children and encourage them to question and wonder. It’s also a beauty for the adults trying to get a look in over the children’s shoulders!

If you like this book, try Drew Daywalt’s The Day the Crayons Quit which includes pages of handwritten letters for children to read, a lot of advanced language and ideas and a highly original concept that will get children thinking and questioning and looking at the crayons they have taken for granted through new eyes.

Source: kindly sent for review by HarperCollins Children’s Books.

Worries Go Away by Kes Gray and Lee Wildish

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The dream team of Kes Gray and Lee Wildish have done it again with their new book Worries Go Away.

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Like their previous two books, this one should be in every school, library and children’s centre. Mum and Dad Glue is the perfect book to support children and families through parental separation or divorce, Leave Me Alone is a stunning book that deals with bullying, and Worries Go Away is a comforting look at coping with worries. Quite a trio!

Leave Me Alone portrays the bully as a big dark monstrous form and in Worries Go Away Lee Wildish has taken a similar approach. A young girl hides herself in her head in a world of her own making. At first it is beautiful and filled with ice creams and sunshine and bees buzzing. But before long her worries begin to infiltrate her world and long tentacle-like yellow and orange arms creep and stretch in from the edge of the page. They are ominous and threatening and they spoil everything they pass. Ice creams melt. Skies darken. And the worries grow larger and take on forms with squinting red eyes.
‘They turn into monsters
That circle and prowl,
That bellow and cackle,
That grizzle and growl.’
The girl panics and runs. The monstrous worries give chase. The illustrations become more threatening, beautifully matching the tightening rhythm and increasing pace of the text. It is immersive and powerful but not too scary for young children. A wonderful balance that’s tricky to achieve.

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The girl is backed into a corner by her worries – until she finds a locked door. Her family and friends stand behind the door calling for her and she realises that she is the key – if she opens her heart she can let her friends and family in.

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There’s a lot to love about this book. I was initially concerned about the message being a bit ambiguous. What is meant as a book saying ‘don’t bottle things up, talk to someone about your worries’ could potentially be suggesting that children shouldn’t live in their imaginations and that a world of their own can be a bad place. But the more I read this book the more I see and the more I love. The endpapers are a delight, combining the colours from the worries and the family reunion with the images from the girl’s imagination. This brings everything together in a positive happy light, celebrating her imagination and new-found happiness. Plus I just love that unicorns serene smile!

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The combination of Gray’s emotive rhyming text and Wildish’s colour-rich and textured illustrations create a book that is immersive, emotional and uplifting. It’s a fantastic springboard for discussion and would work perfectly in any classroom or library. A great book to use with children who are worried or struggling with their emotions, Worries Go Away is another winner.

Source – kindly sent for review by Hodder Children’s books.

Welcome to the Family

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Last night Mollie was reading an old finding out book about the body. She called me upstairs and asked “It says that when they grow up a man and a woman can live together and have a baby but it doesn’t say that a woman and a woman can, or a man and a man can. Why?”
Gulp!
She had been looking up belly buttons in the index and come across a very high level and outdated ‘making babies’ page. Mollie has two mums. We have always been honest with her and answered any questions that arise and she knows that the doctors put the man’s seed into my tummy to make her because we were two mummies. But this book dated from my childhood and it confused her. And I was the stupid mum who left it on her bookshelf.

Luckily, just a few days before, this gem had arrived through the door:

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By the inclusion dream team of Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, Welcome to the Family follows in the footsteps of their previous non-fiction books Great Big Book of Families and Great Big Book of Feelings and explores all the diverse ways a baby or child become members of a family. It covers natural birth into a nuclear family, fostering, adoption, same sex families, surrogacy, IVF and more, all in their inclusive, child-friendly and humorous style.
I knew Mollie was in safe hands.

The overriding message of this book is that all families are different and all families are equally valid and special. A message that is so important for children and their families to hear and see. I wish something like this had been available when I was a child – what a lot of progress has been made in one generation. Hurrah to that. The sentence that is repeated and emphasised throughout is ‘the children are very welcome.’ No matter what the family make up, or how the child came into the family, they are welcome. They are special. They are valid. Affirming stuff.

Affirming, but also honest. I love that the Hoffman/Asquith dream team don’t shy away from honesty. They show such respect for the children that will be reading their books. They respect their right to see themselves portrayed in an honest and truly reflective way. So we see that families are complicated. Things don’t always go smoothly and children aren’t always perfectly happy. They show us reality. And that can be equally as affirming – seeing a family in a book that is going through a tricky patch just like yours is, seeing that it is normal and okay to feel angry and jealous and frustrated and worried and all the other million emotions that a child will go through. That is a hugely affirming and positive message for a child.

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Mollie’s friends come from all sorts of different families and came into their families in all sorts of different ways – they are all different and all special. Mollie knows that and is happy and comfortable talking about it. But a book that reflects that is such an important resource. Mollie has devoured it, reading it to herself and hunting through the illustrations. She has found her friends who are adopted, found her friends who are in foster care, found her friends that have blended families, mix race families, one parent, two parents, three parents… She has found herself and how she came to be in our family. All that from one book. Impressive stuff!

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I used it to support her last night. Imagine if every teacher or adult who works with children had access to a copy. Imagine the ways in which it could be used to help children see themselves and their place in families, to help them through a change in the family – a new sibling, fostering, adoption, a new parental relationship. To help them understand all the diverse families they will come across in their lives. It has such potential.

Perhaps Gove should scrap all his education reform and, instead of donating a King James Bible to every school, he could put a set of the Hoffman/Asquith books in every school library. He could change the world.

This wonderful book is due to be published 4th September 2014- just in time for the new school year. I’ll be getting a copy for Mollie’s school library and probably a few as presents for some beautiful families I know. But this copy is staying right here on Mollie’s bookshelves, replacing the outdated body book and ready to give her an affirming inclusive nod whenever she may need it.

Thank you Mary, Ros and everyone at Frances Lincoln for making this book available to her and all her peers. You have made a difference.

Source- kindly sent for review by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Simon and Gaspard

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Children (and indeed adults) often name pets after their favourite characters in books. As a child my rabbits were (rather obviously) Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontails and, if she’d been a boy, I would have really liked our dog to be named Timmy. A generation on and Mollie has her own rabbits and full freedom and responsibility for naming them. Beatrix Potter is still very much loved in this household and Flopsy and Mopsy or Peter and Benjamin were a very real option. But Mollie’s love for the anarchic and quirky has led to the arrival of Simon and Gaspard. Or PooBum and StupidBaby if you are on good terms and have a dandelion to offer.

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Simon and Gaspard are named after the rabbits in Stephanie Blake’s series of books about a rather pesky rabbit called Simon and his brother Gaspard. We have LOVED these books ever since Mollie’s Grandma came across Poo Bum in her local indie bookshop. Poo Bum introduced us to Simon who would only say the words ‘Poo Bum’. A Deal’s a Deal and a very large bogey followed and then, hooked, we bought Stupid Baby. These books celebrate children and their crazy ways. They relish silliness and encourage children to test their boundaries and play with language. What’s not to love? There is nothing better than reading these books with kids and watching them giggling behind their hands and falling about with laughter.

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I Don’t Want to go to School is the latest in the series. Our lovely Gaspard is due to start school but he is not at all taken by the idea. His mother and father encourage him and tell him he is their big brave bunny. He will only reply ‘I’m not going!’ The dreaded day arrives and Simon is delivered to school where he does hundreds of things. At the end of the school day his mother comes to take him home… and you can guess what he says.

Another triumph. What Stephanie Blake is fantastically good at is looking at important events in children’s lives, like a disappointing swapsies, a new sibling or starting school, and writing it honestly from the child’s point of view. She can get into the child’s mind and create a book that portrays their thoughts and ideas and decisions and fears. All the hundreds of emotions that young children go through every day. And she reduces them down like a fine sauce and portrays them simply, with humour and style, so that children can see themselves and relate to the events and emotions they see. She shows (rabbit) children behaving as children. Bravo!

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So if your little one is due to start school in September and you are looking for a book to support them through their worries, this is the book for you. It doesn’t belittle the child’s fears or anxieties but neither does it put extra things to worry about into their heads. It shows them it is okay to be nervous and it’s alright to have a little cry but then they will be far too busy having lots of fun and… it will all be alright in the end. Hurrah for that.

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Source- kindly sent for review by Bounce Marketing and Gecko Press.

East Sussex Children’s Book Awards 2014

18 Jun

Oh, books! They are incredible things, aren’t they?! They have a special magic and the power to bring people together, unite them and excite them. I feel very privileged to be able to share books and spread their magic.

It was a joy to take my year 6 book group to the East Sussex Children’s Book Award final ceremony last week. To see their excitement and watch them revel in the build up to the announcement of the winner. To hear them chatting passionately about their chosen authors and to watch them bouncing at the thought of actually meeting them in actual real life. They were so passionate about their chosen authors that, on the minibus on the journey there, they gave themselves temporary biro tattoos on their hands to proclaim their faith. “Matt Haig to win” “Christopher William Hill rocks”. (I was holding on to my twitter-based insider knowledge that Matt Haig was at his home dealing with estate agents and house viewings, and therefore not the soon-to-be-revealed winner.)

The East Sussex Children’s Book Award is an annual award run by the East Sussex Libraries and Museums Service. It is an incredibly child-centred award with children in years 5 and 6 involved through the entire process. The five shortlisted books are selected by a group of local schools and the participating years 5 and 6 children spend six months reading, reviewing and working creatively with the shortlisted books. The winner is voted for entirely by the children and is revealed in a special award ceremony for the children.

This year the shortlisted books were:

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Since the start of the year we have been busily reading and discussing the shortlisted books, and the children have been writing reviews, designing book jackets and doing their own creative writing based on the books.

Matt Haig’s To Be a Cat caught everyone’s imagination and was unanimously enjoyed, Ali Sparkes’ Out of this World had a core group of fans, but it was Christopher William Hill’s Osbert the Avenger that ignited the most passion within the group. One of my girls is a voracious reader and dreams of becoming a writer. She inhaled Osbert and then bought the next book in the series and raved about it to the group. It was swiftly shared round and a Christopher William Hill gang was formed. Often seen huddled round copies of the books and whispering together, they knew every inch of every murder and death and plot twist. They have analysed his writing style and written their own reviews. They have been begging me to get my hands on an advance copy of the third book, but alas, they will have to wait til next school year.

The intensity of their love for Christopher William Hill’s books and the way they have been inspired by his writing both surprised me and filled me with joy. Unlikely friendships grew from their shared love of the books. A so-called ‘slow reader’ burst from his shell and became animated when discussing the books. They asked for recommendations and sought out other books that they might enjoy and recommended them to each other. This is what books can do! This is what reading can achieve! And it is beautiful to watch!

So back to the ceremony. I’m sure you can understand now that I was sitting on crossed fingers for Christopher William Hill to win. The CWH crew were sitting next to me, faces alight with hope and anticipation. And when his name was called as the winner we all burst out with YESes and cheers. I looked round to see my crew and I wished I could have photographed their faces. Filled with joy and pride and amazement. And then in came Christopher William Hill. The room erupted! My kids could barely stay in their seats.

Christopher William Hill was joined on stage by one of the shortlisted authors, Ali Sparkes. We had seen her at an event during the build up to the final and she is a fantastic speaker. If you get the opportunity to see either of them at an author event, grab it! They are both fun, witty, honest, incredibly funny and fantastic with the kids. Their passion for what they do is palpable and they really did light up the stage. They were very generous with the children, happily signing books and answering questions and having their photos taken.

My kids came out of the event energised, passionate and full of chatter. About what would be the best way to die, what food sounded the most deadly, where Ali Sparkes got her incredible sparkly boots and whether there was a story behind them. They raved about the authors and their stories. They chatted about what they want to be when they grow up and what kind of books would be the most fun to write. They were buzzing. And that’s what books can do. Yes, Christopher William Hill and Ali Sparkes were energising but these kids have been chatting about books like this since we started. They have been set alight by books!

The best thing about this whole experience has been sharing it, and loooots of books, with the kids. It has been a real privilege to see them grow up over this school year and to share all the booky chat with them. I feel very honoured to have been able to ignite their book passion and help them find and explore so many new books. I have loved being a small part in the process and I really hope I get to run the book group again next year.

A HUGE thank you, from me and from my booky crew, to East Sussex Libraries and Museums Service, to all the shortlisted authors and especially to Ali Sparkes and Christopher William Hill. I think I have some budding new writers growing here, thanks to you.

And for Christopher – my student’s passionate and prize-winning review of Osbert:
The story is about a boy called Osbert Brinkoff , who is a young genius. Osbert and a girl called Isabella both pass an exam to enter a school called The Insitute. Yet they did not know that the teachers at the Insitute were cruel and horrible. Soon after the two children get accepted, Osbert speaks out of line to the head master of the Insitute. Trouble lies ahead for the Brinkoff family when Osbert gets expelled and vowed revenge on the teachers of the Insitute.

My favourite character , undeniably , is Osbert; because, in my eyes he is quite admirable for creating those ingenious plans to get rid of the teachers of the Insitute and not get caught.

I loved the entire story, I loved the plot line and how every thing was set out; It honestly is the best book that I have ever read.

I think that both boys and girls would enjoy it, mainly boys though. It may appeal to a small selection of girls, I am one of those girls. The age group reading this book should be 9-12 year olds.

Pea’s Books of Pure Joy by Susie Day

17 Jun

I spend a lot of time looking for and championing inclusive books. Books that show real people and real characters, reflecting the true diversity of our world. If I could have given you an overview of what I have been personally looking for, it would have looked a bit like this:

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I can’t tell you how happy the Pea books make me. If only there had been books like these around when I was a girl. I would have devoured them then as joyously as I am savouring them now.

Full of wonderfully diverse characters that are beautifully real and flawed and intriguing, Susie Day’s Pea books are the books I am foisting upon everyone at the moment. My friends, their children, my year six book group, my daughter’s school librarian, anyone who will listen to me! Because I think these books are really important and I think people deserve to be able to read them as much as the books deserve to be read.

I am so thankful that my daughter will be able to read these when she is a bit older. She will be able to read about real children who grow up in diverse families that are brilliantly unique and creative and imaginative and caring and fun. She will be able to read about a family like hers – one that has two mums. And she probably won’t even notice because the story won’t be about that. The story will be about things that she will care about – finding a new best friend, settling in at a new school, having a really good birthday party, planning what job to do as a grown up.

Hurrah to Susie Day for creating genuinely diverse characters that are refreshing, relevant, unique and casually included. For me, casual inclusion is when you have no idea that you are about to meet these characters. When the book is all about the story and the fun. When the book looks like it could fit nicely in to any child’s bookcase or any school shelf and looks enticing enough for the child to want to grab it and read it. The inclusion is secondary to the story itself and the book is something that children want to read. Congratulations to Susie Day – she’s nailed it on all those fronts.

This is storytelling at its best. Brilliantly skilful writing, fantastic characters, and a series that you will never want to end. I am off to read the latest book in the series, Pea’s Book of Holidays. Treat yourself to a few copies – you’ll be wanting to share!

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Susie Day – Launching Pea’s Book of Holidays

10 Jun

carmenhaselup:

This! This is what the world of children’s books needs in bucket loads. Susie Day writes in her blog about why she chose to include a character with Hemiplegia in her new book, Pea’s Book of Holidays. This kind of casual inclusion is so, so important and I salute Susie Day for writing a series of books that truly is inclusive.
Also, check out @chaletfan’s brilliant review of Pea’s Book of Holidays here

Originally posted on Susie Day:

Usually I celebrate the arrival of a new book in glamorous author style, ie in my pyjamas, crying over my laptop while I try to write the next one. But I thought Pea’s Book of Holidays deserved a party all its own.

Proud Writer face.

Dorky writer face.

Why? I’m proud of all my books. But writing this one has been a different experience: not only because I’ve drawn so much from real memories of growing up reading Enid Blyton, or actual family holidays, but also because the process was different this time. More collaboration, more research, and more fear.

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Stackable Peas. Many thanks to Oxford Blackwells for hosting!

Mostly, my job is to write fun characters, a plot and daft jokes about ginger beer, but along the way I aim for all that stuff to be casually inclusive; to show a world where difference – by all definitions – is present…

View original 786 more words

Teaching your child to read – book bands, reading schemes and early readers.

9 Jun

The world of reading schemes, book bands, early readers and early chapter books can be a bit of a minefield and seems to have its own language. It can be particularly tricky if your child hasn’t started school yet and you are working it all out on your own. I thought it might be useful to break down some of the mystery surrounding reading schemes and the lingo used, and give some examples of what I’ve found helpful.

This has all been prompted by a friend asking for some book recommendations for her son who has just turned 4. He is starting school in September and is already reading fluently. She is looking for books that will challenge his reading ability without being too advanced in subject matter. This is a tricky business and an area that I’ve been looking into lately as Mollie is turning into a fluent, confident reader. She is coming to the end of her first year of school and is reading voraciously. She sometimes gets bored with the reading scheme books from school so I’ve been collecting together alternatives at home to hold her interest and extend her a bit.

By no means an exhaustive list, this is a picture of resources and ideas that I have found to be accurate and helpful and books that I’ve found work well for Mollie. PLEASE share your ideas and recommendations, my friend and I would love an excuse for more book buying!!

What are Reading Schemes?
Reading scheme books are a collection of books graded by difficulty and labelled by coloured groups. Ranging from wordless picture books to full chapter books, they gradually increase in difficulty, length and technical elements. Most publishers have their own reading scheme books, often split into different collections. Sadly publishers often create their own classification system, so it can become a bit confusing to find books at the right level. But if you dig a bit further, most publishers do display the coloured book band, either on the book itself or on their website.

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This chart, from online reading programme bug club, gives an idea of which year group/s each colour book band matches with. This chart is just a guide- children all learn at different rates and don’t always progress evenly as they often take time to consolidate before moving on.

This helpful website links the coloured book bands with national curriculum levels and with the Letters and Sounds scheme used in the current curriculum to teach children to read.

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It also describes the characteristics of books within each coloured book band. This is a great resource!

Reading scheme books
The Usborne Reading Programme is fantastic. I used it to teach Molls to read and she is quickly progressing through the levels and still loving them. There are great stories and a lovely mix of fiction and non-fiction, all with age-appropriate subject matter.

The Usborne Reading Programme website is also really helpful, with all the books split into reading levels and a chart to help you compare the Usborne levels with the book bands and national curriculum levels used in schools.

This Ladybird I Am Reading set is brilliant.

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I bought it for Molls because she’d read past the reading level of the books in her reception class library and I wanted to stretch her. They start at band 4 (blue) and go up to book band 10 (white). The subjects are perfect for Mollie’s age – Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs, Moshi Monsters, fairy tales, Peppa Pig and Charlie and Lola. The books extend her with new words to learn and longer text to read as she progresses through. They are like mini picture books – fully illustrated and brilliant fun. Plus if you buy it from the bookpeople it is ridiculously good value. I can’t recommend them enough.

The It’s Fun To Read website is a really useful resource for finding books appropriate to your child’s reading level. Created by the Hachette publishing group, the site is split into 8 ability levels, ranging from very beginners to independent chapter book readers. The 8 levels link to examples of their reading scheme books from Orchard, Franklin Watts and Hodder. The website is packed with information, as well as a pack to download which describes the 8 levels in more detail and offers hints and tips for parents. Each book description gives you the colour book band to help you assess the correct level. We particularly love their Orchard Colour Crunchies, especially Titchy Witch!

Early Readers
The term ‘early reader’ means different things to different people. Essentially they are books for the newly independent reader.

Early readers seem to be ‘a thing’ at the moment, and some publishers have recently started taking stories from established authors and re-packaging them as ‘early readers’. Some are picture books re-formatted to look like an early chapter book and some are extended picture books or abridged chapter books made shorter and technically simpler. I’m sceptical about early readers that are a re-packaged version of picture books. Just read the picture book! They get me a bit edgy and make me want to defend continuing picture books past the age of fluency. But that’s a whole different rant and there are some wonderful early readers out there that sit within reading schemes.

Mollie started with the Daisy early readers by Kes Grey. They have two picture book stories repackaged into a smaller chapter-style book. She knew the character from the picture book Super Daisy and had read Eat Your Peas in its original picture book format. She now loves the Daisy and the Trouble with… full chapter books and, loathe though I am to admit it, I can see how the early reader format and character progression may have helped her with that transition.

My absolute favourite early reader collection is the Walker Stories set.

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Each book has three short stories by established and popular authors and illustrators. They vary slightly in length and difficulty, but all do a beautiful job of introducing children to longer text and smaller sized books with (sometimes) less illustrations than picture books. The Walker Stories books have black and white illustrations throughout and the stories are well written and engaging. They make a great transition from picture books to chapter books- for example, Handa’s Surprising Day contains an extended version of Handa’s Surprise called The Fruity Surprise. Mollie lapped this up, having the confidence of knowing the original story.

There are also early chapter books that sit outside of reading schemes, like Shirley Hughes and Clara Vulliamy’s wonderful Dixie O’Day books, Tracey Corderoy and Joe Berger’s Hubble Bubble books, or Pip Jones and Ella Okstad’s Squishy McFluff series. Often a series of books so children can really get to know the characters, these are highly illustrated chapter books, perfect for children who are reading independently and looking for something to stretch them a bit more.

So what else works well for supporting children learning to read?
I’ve found non-fiction books a life saver because there are always new words to learn without getting too grown up in the subject matter. Usborne non-fiction books are brilliant! Molls loves the See Inside… books – and the Usborne Beginners non fiction books are awesome.

I highly recommend the Wonderwise series by Franklin Watts. A brilliant mix of story and fact, a variety of typeset and layouts, including comic-style sections, and a brilliant range of subjects that will appeal to children from four. A brilliant series that we come back to regularly.

Molls is also loving reading children’s poetry because it gives her some different reading skills and makes her think about words and structure in a different way. She is currently lapping up Spike Milligan and Edward Lear because she loves the nonsense words. Dr Seuss is perfect – tongue twisters, nonsense words, alliteration, rhyme and rhythm… loads to challenge those little tongues and minds!

Don’t give up on the picture books!
I strongly believe that picture books are for all ages. When Mollie first learned to read she went back to her board books. She loved the thrill of being able to read a whole book, cover to cover, all by herself. As her reading improved she was able to read picture books to herself and now reads a few a night independently. But they still challenge her! Picture books vary immensely in their language and concept, and in length and technical difficulty. The learning children get from the play between text and illustrations is immense. Picture books can provide rhyme, rhythm, new language, large amounts of text, format and typeset challenges, and entirely new concepts to take on board. They can often give children so much more than their reading scheme books. In fact, a lot of the colour banded books Mollie brings home from school are picture books judged to be orange book band -a reading age of year 1 or 2. So don’t push your children to read chapter books and leave picture books (or board books) behind. Let them come back to old favourites over and over and let them read things that may appear too simple. They need time to consolidate their learning and to learn more than just the words.

Keep reading to them
A child’s comprehension level will often be further ahead than their reading level, so carry on reading to your child even when they can read independently with ease. We still read picture books to Mollie every night, and now we often read a few chapters of a longer book. Apart from all the learning they will take on, it’s a lush thing to do together. And you’ll be modelling the enjoyment and the importance of reading, setting them up to be readers for life.
What more could you ask?

What books, schemes, websites or ideas have helped you teach children to read or progress to harder texts? Please do share!

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Chicken Clicking by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross

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I always feel in safe hands with Jeanne Willis. She has written some of my absolute favourite books – Wild Child, Bog Baby, Susan Laughs – and this one doesn’t disappoint.

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One day, Chick wanders in to the farmhouse and starts browsing the internet. Much hilarity follows as Chick buys unexpected gifts for herself and all the farm animals.

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It’s not long before chick realises that the internet could be a fantastic place to find a new friend. A few clicks later and Chick is chatting with a friendly seeming chick with Best-Friend-Potential. But when they arrange to meet up in the Wily Wood things aren’t quite as chick expected.

I love this book. I really, really do. But initially I was thrown by the lack of resolution in the book. But Mollie wasn’t! She was instantly off imagining high jinks and creative escape plans. It all led to a great discussion of internet safety, stranger danger and which is the best knot to use when tying a stranger’s shoelaces together. And of course THAT is why this book is so perfect. Because Jeanne Willis has empowered the child reader and given them the freedom to think and discuss.

This book has become a firm favourite in this house, asked for again and again. Chicken Clickingbelongs in every primary school and deserves a place on the curriculum. I’ll certainly be buying Mollie’s school a copy. It is a book that will make children laugh but also help them think about important contemporary issues. It is Wonderful! My apologies, Ms Willis, I’m sorry I ever doubted your brilliance.

Source – kindly sent for review by Andersen Press.

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