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D is for Duck by David Melling

23 Jul

‘Duck is a magician. Abracadabra! He can conjure up a bunny, a chicken and even the King of the jungle. But can he make a dragon disappear?’

David Melling is the well-loved author of the Hugless Douglas series and, our firm favourite, The Ghost Library. D is for Duck is packed with Melling’s trademark humour and brilliantly quirky characters.

I love the way Melling turns the idea of an alphabet book on it’s head and nothing is as expected. It gives the book huge appeal across age ranges and provides so much for children to discover, explore and discuss. 

Just look at this spread. 

The expressions on their faces, the use of ‘hatch’ for H, the tipping table, the desperate duck… D is for Duck would make a great starting point for children’s activities. Making their own alphabet books, discussing what will happen next or using the pictures as a starting point for their own stories. 

There is so much in this seemingly simple alphabet book. The perfect activity springboard for every classroom.

You can get your copy here.

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

Rabbit & Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits

31 Jan

Rabbit & Bear by Julian Gough and Jim Field is a scrumptious book. I love the tactile hardback format and the gorgeous use of the icy turquoise colour throughout. 
 

‘Bear wakes up early from hibernation and decides if she can’t sleep then at least she can make a snowman. She soon meets Rabbit, who is an Expert in Gravity, who never ever smiles, and has never said the word F-U-N before. But with avalanches and hungry wolves on the prowl, Rabbit soon realised that sometimes it’s nice to have a friend on your side and someone to share your winter with.’

Jim Field is a master of expression and the perfect match for Julian Gough’s writing. There’s a lovely mix of poo humour and mild peril, brilliant for reading aloud dramatically with comedy voices, making this a book that will become a firm favourite with kids and adults alike. 

The thing that really caught me was the balance of the text. It doesn’t talk down to children but doesn’t ‘do a Pixar’ and try too hard to appeal to the adults and end up going over the children’s heads. It’s perfect for newly confident readers; there’s not too much text per page but Gough uses complicated sentence structure and wonderful vocabulary that will challenge an independent reader. We had a great discussion about the language and structure of the text and why some words had a capital letter for emphasis, even though it ‘breaks the phonics rules’ (take that, Gove/Morgan). I love it when a book opens up a reader’s eyes like that. Bravo, Gough, Field and the Hodder team.  I can’t wait for the next instalment!

  
Source: review copy kindly sent by Hodder Children’s Books. 

How to Fly with Broken Wings

5 Mar

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This is a stunner from Jane Elson. Her debut, A Room Full of Chocolate, was well received and I think this one is even better.

Twelve-year-old Willem has Aspergers Syndrome and two main aims in life: to fly and to make at least two friends of his own age. But all the other boys from the Beckham Estate do is make him jump off things. First his desk – and now the wall. As his toes teeter on the edge, Sasha Bradley gives him a tiny little wink. Might she become his friend? Bullied by Finn and his gang the Beckham Estate Boyz, Willem has no choice but to jump. And soon, while the gangs riot on their estate, Willem and Sasha form an unlikely friendship. Because they share a secret. Sasha longs to fly too.

I love this book for its believably written and diverse crew of characters. It has depth and it has soul. Touching on loss, absent and troubled parents, Aspergers, bullying, gang culture, poverty, friendship, and the power of believing in yourself, How to Fly with Broken Wings is a beautiful book that will make you want to lift your arms and fly.

Get your copy here.

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

Shhh! A lift-the-flap book with a difference

21 Oct

We LOVE Keep Out! Bears About! by Sally Grindley and Peter Utton. It’s a brilliant concept which involves the children directly in the story – the narrator speaking are they sure they want to carry on? Are they brave enough to go through that dark wood, even if there might be bears? And all the children I have read it with relish the interaction.

Shhh! came first, first published in 1991, but we are very late to the party and have only recently discovered it.

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SHHH! You are about to enter a giant’s castle. Will you get through without waking the giant? Do you dare try?

Based on the familiar story of Jack and the Beanstalk, the narrator leads the reader through the castle, creeping past the characters from the story and peeping back to the previous page to check that they haven’t been disturbed.

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I love the illustrations, with tons of detail and magical things for children to spot. But the true joy of this book is the way it reinvents the way children respond to and interact with a book. It invites them in, right in to the story and the setting. It asks them to get involved and encourages them to play.

Repeated phrases, beautiful interaction and building of tension that leads to a squeal-worthy ending. What’s not to love?

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

What to read after the Rainbow Magic Fairies?

9 Oct

Last week a friend asked me for book suggestions for her daughter who loves the Rainbow Magic fairy books. She loves the fantasy aspect of the series, and the slim volumes that don’t intimidate her. But what could she read next? What should she move on to?

It struck me that it’s probably a common question. The Rainbow Magic books are quite a phenomenon, with children lapping up the books and enjoying following a series. But there are so many beautifully written and illustrated books out there – so many wonderful new characters to meet and authors and illustrators to discover. So a quick look through the bookshelves and a lot of twitter chat later, here are some ideas that may help.

I’ve split the books by type and in each section the books get progressively trickier to make it easier for you to judge which books will suit your children’s reading abilities.

Fantasy books

The Rescue Princesses by Paula Harrison (Nosy Crow)

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A fantastic series of books that shows children that princesses can be smart, independent and great role models. Think ninja-princesses working together and using magic jewels to rescue animals and help the environment. The book format is very similar to the Rainbow Fairy books with short chapters, lots of line-drawing illustrations to break up the text and confidence-boosting slim volumes. They will appeal to children who enjoy the fantasy of Rainbow Fairies while gently nudging children in a slightly more ‘girl-power’ direction. Plus bonus points for character diversity. Hurrah!

When they’ve worked through The Rescue Princesses they could try Faerie Tribes by the same author. (Nosy Crow)

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Paula Harrison’s Faerie Tribes series offers magic, mystery and excitement with a new quest at the heart of each book. The books are longer than The Rescue Princesses books and more advanced in language and structure.
You can find out more here.

Amazing Esme by Tamara Macfarlane and Michael Fowkes (Hodder)
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Meet Esme and her cast of weird and wonderful friends. Follow her wild and imaginative adventures as she leaves behind her circus home to spend the summer with her cousins. When hundreds of baby penguins hatch in Esme’s top floor bedroom, the children have to figure out how to get them outside. Esme and her cousin have the ingenious idea of building a helter skelter around the castle turret, but this is just the start – soon Maclinkey Castle is turned into a full-on Fairground Circus with a big wheel, Bumper Bears, and the show stopping Flying Tigers starring Esme herself!
Amazing Esme is the first book in a series that celebrates the freedom to have adventures. Think Pippi Longstocking with a pirouetting donkey. The Esme books are well-written, short, easy to read, fast-paced and full of fun and adventure. Loads of illustrations throughout and follow on activity ideas at the back.

The Secrets of Flamant Castle by Frances Watts and Gregory Rogers. (Allen & Unwin)
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The complete adventures of Sword Girl and friends includes six books about Tommy, a kitchen girl at Flamant Castle. She dreams of becoming a knight and when she is made the Keeper of the Blades, caring for all the swords in the castle, it seems like her dream might come true. Fun stories about standing up for yourself and following your dreams. Tommy is a great role model with a team of fun characters -like Lil the talking cat and the ghost of a young squire. Short chapters and large text, the book itself is large as it has all six volumes in one, but each individual story is only about 80 pages long.

Sally Gardner’s Magical Children (Orion) series is a collection of six books about children with magic powers.
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Well written stories about ordinary children with extraordinary powers, these books use magical adventures to look at real life problems that children might face – like absent parents, bullying, friendship problems and finding the bravery needed to follow your dreams. Large text, slim volumes with some illustration.

After the Magical Children series, children who are comfortable reading independently could try Sally Gardner’s Wings & Co. fairy detective agency books (Orion).
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Operation Bunny is the first in the series. When Emily Vole inherits an abandoned shop, she discovers a magical world she never knew existed. But a fairy-hating witch, a mischievous set of golden keys, and a train full of brightly coloured bunnies are just a few of the surprises that come with it. With the help of a talking cat called Fidget and a grumpy fairy detective called Buster, it’s up to Emily to get to the bottom of Operation Bunny.
Brilliantly written by Gardner, and exquisitely illustrated by David Roberts, these are longer books (180 pages in Operation Bunny) with smaller text. The wide line gaps and short chapters (about 6 pages each) which are broken up by a couple of illustrations per chapter, make these books excellent stepping stones towards longer novels. Sally Gardner’s books are beautifully gender-stereotype-free with positive characters and strong role models aplenty.

The Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy (Puffin)
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I loved these as a child, and last year the 7th book in the series, The Worst Witch and the Wishing star was published alongside lovely large format new editions of the first six. Start with The Worst Witch – Mildred Hubble is the worst witch at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches – she’s always getting her spells wrong. But she manages to get by until she turns Ethel, the teacher’s pet, into her deadly enemy…
Large format paperbacks, with large text and illustrations throughout, children who can read the Rainbow Magic books independently will be comfortable with these.

Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles by Rupert Kingfisher. (Bloomsbury)

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This is the first in a series of books about a girl called Madeleine who works for her horrid uncle. She discovers Madame Pamplemousse’s shop selling the strangest, rarest and most delicious edibles in the whole world. Madeleine joins forces with Madame Pamplemousse and Camembert the cat in a magical adventure to protect the incredible edibles from her uncle. These are slim and sparkly volumes with large text and line drawings throughout.

Baby Aliens Got My Teacher by Pamela Butchart (Nosy Crow)
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One day Izzy and her friends are surprised to find that their teacher, Miss Jones, is actually being nice to them. This is the woman who was caught secretly smiling when Maisie Miller fell off her chair. There can only be one conclusion: she’s been taken over by aliens, and now she wants to make them all aliens too! A very funny book with large type and fast paced writing that will have children racing through to the end. Lots of illustrations at the edges of pages throughout to break up the text.

Witchworld by Emma Fischel (Nosy Crow)

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More confident readers who are ready to read a longer novel may like Witchworld. A contemporary witch school story, Witchworld tells the story of Flo, a thoroughly modern witchgirl. She has a spellstick, travels about in her skyrider and wouldn’t know a cauldron if she fell into one. But when her grandmother turns up on an actual broomstick, warning that ghouls are about to attach Witchworld, Flo realises everything she’s been told about being a witch is just hocus pocus.
A very funny story, this is the first book in the Witchworld series. This is a full sized novel with smaller type and no illustrations to break up the text, although it does have character illustrations by Chris Riddell at the start – and a gorgeous bright green edging.

Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends by Shannon Hale (Little, Brown)

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Shannon Hale demonstrates that a popular series with spin offs and merchandise can be beautifully well written. She has smashed all my preconceptions and taught me never to judge a book by its merchandise. Her Ever After High series is fantastic and her use of language shines through. The first book, The Storybook of Legends, tells the tale of the students of Ever After High and their pledge to fulfil their destinies as the next generation of Snow Whites, Prince Charmings and Evil Queens. A fantastic concept and brilliant mix of school story and reimagined fairy tale, showing children that they have the right to choose their own destinies and follow their dreams. These are full sized paperbacks suited to confident readers. (Once you have the Shannon Hale bug, try her prize-winning Princess Academy series for a beautifully feminist twist on the traditional princess-in-training story. Her writing sings throughout.)

The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler (Orion) is the first in a series of books centred around mermaids, friendship and family.

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Emily Windsnap lives on a boat, but her mother has always been oddly anxious to keep her out of the water. It is only when Emily has her first school swimming lesson that she discovers why: as soon as she gets into the water, she grows a tail! Great writing and a very collectible series, these are longer books for confident readers.

Animal stories

Zoe’s Rescue Zoo by Amelia Cobb and Sophy Williams (Nosy Crow)

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The Zoe’s Rescue Zoo books follow Zoe’s adventures living at her uncle’s very special zoo. He travels the world rescuing animals and bringing them back to the zoo to be nurtured back to health. It’s Zoe’s job to help them settle in and she has a secret that helps her – she can talk to the animals! Each book in the series focuses on a new animal. The reading level is very similar to The Rainbow Fairies books – slim volumes, beautiful illustrations, large text and short chapters.

Lucy’s Secret Reindeer by Anne Booth and Sophy Williams (Oxford)

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A magical winter’s tale about a very special friendship, perfect for Christmas. Lucy has a big secret . . . Santa’s left her a little reindeer in the garden shed! But Starlight is poorly, and Santa won’t be able to deliver any presents if he’s not well in time. Can Lucy make Starlight better and save Christmas?
This is a beautiful book with a gentle tone that children will love to read independently. A slim volume with large text and illustrations throughout.

Seal Island by Julia Green (Oxford)

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For more advanced readers, try Julia Green’s animal books. Seal Island follows the adventures of Grace as she spends her holidays with Granny at her house by the sea. Grace makes friends with local boy Col who knows the secrets of the island. When Grace discovers a small seal pup separated from its mother after a storm, she’s not sure if she can help it, but she has to try.
A great step between small novels and full sized ones, this book is a slim volume but with smaller print and very few illustrations. Julia Green has written more animal stories for children to collect and would make a wonderful step towards the Gill Lewis animal books.

Broadening their horizons

Life after Rainbow Magic doesn’t have to be all about magic, glitter and cuddly animals. Books can be a child’s window to a whole new world, or a mirror to see themselves from a different perspective. How about something a bit different…

The Girls FC series by Helena Pielichaty (Walker) is a highly collectible and beautifully inclusive series about a girls’ under 11s football team.

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The first book in the series, Do Goalkeepers Wear Tiaras? introduces Megan and how wearing a tiara and fairy wings to football practice led to her starting her own, brilliant girls’ football team.

Great characters to follow

The Daisy books by Kes Gray (Random House) are genius!

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They are riotously funny and Daisy is a fantastic character; smart, articulate, full of imagination, creativity…and mischief! The books really celebrate childhood and show children being children. Children may have already come across her in picture books such as Super Daisy And Eat Your Peas. Once children are reading independently the Daisy and the Trouble With… series are perfect books to engage children and boost their reading confidence. These books are a similar reading level as the Rainbow Fairy books, with larger text and short chapters, lots of illustrations and fast paced story lines. The language used is simple but the books themselves are thicker volumes, which will help build confidence and take away the fear of picking up a big book. The Daisy and the Trouble With… books work as stand-alones and can be read in any order.

Susie Day’s Pea books (Random House) are full of fantastic characters, wonderfully written, fast-paced, and beautifully inclusive works of joy.

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Pea’s Book of Best Friends is the first in the series. Pea has just moved to London with her mum, her (sometimes annoying) sisters, and Wuffly the dog. She sets out to find a new Best Friend…but it proves to be harder than it sounds. If you want your children to read about characters who are beautifully real and flawed and intriguing, then this is the set for you. I can’t rave about them enough! These books are a step up from the Rainbow Magic books and are best suited to confidently independent readers.

Laura Dockrill’s Darcy Burdock books (Random House) are the perfect follow on from Susie Day’s Pea books.

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They share the same energy, humour and pace and they are very similar in size and format. Ten-year-old Darcy Burdock is one of life’s noticers. Curious, smart-as-a-whip, funny and fiercely loyal, she sees the extraordinary in the everyday and the wonder in the world around her. Darcy is a great character to grow up with.

New authors to fall in love with

If you are looking for fantastic writing (and who isn’t) Hilary McKay is the author to head for. Flawless and inspiring writing, brilliant characters, great role models and stories that will engage and excite. You could start with her Lulu stories (Scholastic).

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Short chapters, slim volumes and illustrations throughout make these lovely books for newly independent readers.
For older/more advanced readers try Binny for Short or The Casson Family stories, starting with Saffy’s Angel.

Jacqueline Wilson is a hugely prolific author whose books offer a huge variety of characters and story lines. Her skill is in portraying real families and children dealing with real-to-life situations. The Jacqueline Wilson Treasury (Random House) is a full colour illustrated book that includes some of her stories suitable for younger readers and is the perfect introduction to her work.

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For more confident readers, you could try the Tracy Beaker or Hetty Feather series, or her most recent book, Opal Plumstead

Graphic novels/illustrated chapter books

Oliver and the Seawigs and Cakes in Space by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre (Oxford) are stunning books. Highly illustrated throughout by Sarah McIntyre (Summer Reading Challenge 2014 illustrator) these books are laugh out loud funny masterpieces.

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Oliver grew up in a family of explorers – but his biggest adventure is about to begin! With his new friends – a grumpy old albatross, a short-sighted mermaid and a friendly island called Cliff – Oliver goes off in search of his missing parents. But before he can put his rescue plan into action, there’s an army of pesky sea monkeys to contend with…

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Astra and her family are travelling through space when their spaceship is attacked! Killer cupcakes, batty battenbergs, and marauding muffins – cakey fiends are on the loose! It’s up to Astra and her robot friend, Pilbeam, to stop them before they destroy her ship… After all, people should eat cakes, not the other way round…

Graphic novels offer fantastic storytelling in a highly illustrated format that can be easier for children to digest than their chapter book counterparts.
Gum Girl by Andi Watson (Walker)

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Short stories in a comic book format with a super-heroine who has just moved to a new town. With mild peril and fairy tale twists, humour and modern issues, this is a great place to start.

Hildafolk by Luke Pearson (Nobrow)

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Hilda is sitting in her tent at night listening to the rumble of the storm passing overhead when she hears a bell. As she hurtles towards the vanishing tinkling sound, Hilda unwittingly embarks on an adventure into strange worlds ruled by magical forces. The start of a brilliantly contemporary graphic novel series.

Your suggestions?

What would you add? Please let me know what books you and your children have enjoyed. Join in in the comments below.

A huge thank you to my twitter crew who helped me out with some fantastic suggestions.

Source: review copies of Esme and the Pirate Circus, Opal Plumstead, and The Secrets of Flamant Castle kindly sent by the publishers. All other copies my own or researched online.

Binny for Short – Hilary McKay

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Attention please…! You must all read this book:

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I am newly converted to Hilary McKay’s outstanding writing. She has such a gift for observation, understanding, warmth and wit in her writing. This is a book that feels like coming home.

‘Binny’s life has been difficult since her father died and her dreadful old Aunt Violet disposed of her beloved dog, Max. Her world changed then, to a city flat with not enough space for her Mum, her big sister Clem and her small brother James. Definitely no room for a pet.

Then one day Aunt Violet dies, leaving a small cottage in Cornwall to Binny and her family. Binny finds herself in a new world once more, full of sunshine and freedom and Gareth, the enemy-next-door and the ideal companion for dangerous dares. But Max is still lost in the past, and it seems impossible that she’ll ever find him again…’

Binny is a character that readers can aspire to be like. All of McKay’s characters are so beautifully realised that they jump from the page and follow you around. They get into your head and pull you in to their story, their lives. And then, without your realising it, your lives have become intertwined and you look up from the book, unsure as to what is real and what is written.

McKay is a truly gifted storyteller and she invites you inside the world of Binny and her family through a brilliantly delivered dual narrative. One layer tells the story of Binny and her new enemy, Gareth, as they attempt to pull out a huge barbed fishing net tangled amongst rocks.
The second layer provides the background, the family history and the build up to their mission.

McKay’s writing is pared down to perfection with sentences that surprise with their exactness:
‘For Binny it had happened the way some people become friends. Totally. Inevitable from the beginning, like the shape of a shell.
Only it wasn’t friends; it was enemies.
Binny had known at once that she was looking at her enemy, and the boy had known it too. The understanding was like a swift brightness between them.’

The best children’s writers can place themselves inside the mind of a child. They can remember and imagine what it feels like to be a child, the everyday thoughts, worries, dreams and actions. McKay has the fantastic ability to master this across a wide age range. James, six, is portrayed beautifully. His dreams and inspirations, his ideas and imagination feel plucked straight from the mind of a creative six year old boy. Binny is adventurous and headstrong and big sister Clem is full of determination and self belief, and McKay excels at Gareth’s anger and hurt, his fear and bravado.

McKay really *knows* children. She writes about the things that affect children and play on their minds. And that makes her books so perfect for child readers. They can see themselves in these books. They can read about characters believably going through the same experiences as them. And they can see these characters come out the other side, they can watch them develop and learn and grow alongside them. By including positive images of older children, teenagers and adults, McKay is filling her books with role models and inspiration. I can’t wait for Binny in Secret to be published so I can catch up with them all again

You can get your copy of Binny for Short here.

Try the Casson family stories too. The first book, Saffy’s Angel is stunning.

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

Colour with Splosh

10 Sep

Books that try to teach children colours often end up as dull and lifeless ‘point and say’ books with no storyline or hook for the reader. Colour with Splosh feels entirely different.

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David Melling has created a real character in loveable Splosh. The book invites the reader to join in Splosh’s game of hide and seek and children will be squealing with laughter and shouting out to poor unaware Splosh as his friends hide right in front of his eyes.

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I love the way Melling has included colour as part of the story, and the gorgeous way he has introduced disguise and humour. Melling is a master of portraying expression through his illustration. These pictures will delight young children and the adults sharing with them.

Children learn through play and Colour with Splosh is a fantastic example of encouraging children to laugh and sneaking some learning in without them even noticing. How can children not learn their colours with a book as brilliant as this?
Bravo, Sir Melling! You have done well here!

You can buy your copy here.

Source: kindly sent for review by Hodder 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.

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. The wordless picture books often throw parents/carers (and the kids) when first seen. They are all about exploring the pictures together- talking about what’s happening and telling the story together. It may seem a bit strange at first, but children can get so much comprehension learning from having the freedom to talk about the illustrations.

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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The New Kid

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I love this book!
I love the artwork and how the brush strokes make me want to touch it, to see the original paintings and run my finger over that red red curly hair. I love its vibrancy and its light. And I love the story.

Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick has told the story of a new kid moving into a street, and the resulting storming and forming of the neighbourhood children, with simplicity and a lightness of touch that beautifully portrays the emotional journey of childhood.

The simplicity is deceptive. On the surface this feels like a light and gentle easily-read story but each page tells us so much about childhood and relationships and life. Each sentence and illustration has layer upon layer upon layer. This is what books for children should be all about- writing pared down to it’s childlike bones, with huge hidden depth waiting beneath the surface. Delicious!

Told from the viewpoint of a neighbourhood boy, we see a group of friends meet the new kid and assess her for potential friendship.

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From the first page the story sets the new girl up as ‘other’. The group of friends have been sent by their mums to play with the new girl. They don’t want to be there and their reluctance and apprehension tinged with curiosity is clear through their body language and expression. Only the dog appears keen and excited. (Keep an eye on the dog. It beautifully echoes the mood and character development throughout the book).

The new girl is placed in the shadows, on the opposite page. ‘Her mum says she has to wear her coat. We’re not wearing coats.’ Beautiful! Such a simple and effective way of showing how children perceive and articulate difference.

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Look at the layout of this spread. The children stand their ground opposite each other, with the new girl alone on her page. Look at how the body language of the children is changing as they become more confident and grab a hold of and use her difference against her. And look at the dog. The dog as pointer for what the reader should be seeing and thinking.
‘”What’s your name?” someone asks.’ And it doesn’t matter who that someone is because they are united as a group. They have one voice against the new girl.

But then the new girl does something special and uses her difference to entice and entertain the other children, celebrating her imagination and individuality. And oh how the book comes alive now! I’m not going to show you what happens in the middle. I don’t want to spoil the joy. But I will show you how it ends.

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With all the children together in a happy heap. No longer on separate pages they have come together united in play. And the new girl still has her coat on. She still holds on to her uniqueness and individuality within the group. And look at the dog!

A wonderful celebration of difference, individuality and the power of the imagination. Go and buy The New Kid or ask for it in your local library. And then relish it! It shows children’s fear and sensitivity, their resilience and resourcefulness. This book celebrates childhood and innocence and children’s incredible ability to find the similarities behind the differences and then run with them, coats flying behind them.

If only we could hold on to that skill as adults. If we all put our super coats on and raced round together a bit more, our world would be a much happier place.

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