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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. 

National Non Fiction November – Usborne spotlight

5 Nov

Usborne, Usborne… How I do love you!
Usborne publish awesome non fiction. Finding out books, activity books, spotter’s guides, they do the lot…and they do them well! Their design is always spot on and they are immensely interactive, entertaining and kid friendly. Best of all, Usborne are very good at keeping their finding out books clear of gender stereotyping. Their books about animal facts don’t go all pink and sparkly when it’s about kittens or black and shouty when it’s about sharks. These books are for all children. And they are a million times better for it. Bravo, Usborne!

Here’s a round up of some of our favourite Usborne finding out books:


For little fingers, the Peep Inside series illustrated by Simona Dimitri is stunning. Peep Inside the Zoo and Peep Inside Animal Homes are full of loads of fun flaps to lift and facts to find out. You can read my review of them here.


Usborne’s Lift the Flap series is a real winner with loads of information and big flaps for children to lift and engage with. This series really makes the most of the format, using the flaps to show children information in an interactive way. This is something I think Usborne really excel at. The books in this range are large – picture book sized, perfect for pre-school children and above. Our favourite is the shark book with it’s strange and menacing goblin shark. *shudder*

I really love these books! The Usborne Beginners series is a beautiful fit for newly independent readers or children who are just getting the hang of it. These A5 sized books are packed with fascinating facts and the short snappy sentences support independent fact-finding missions – perfect for those early homework projects. There are more than 60 titles in this series, so certainly something for everyone. Each book has a contents, index, and glossary page to help children learn how finding out books work, and a link to websites to explore the topic further. A great mix of photographs and illustrations and a new sub-topic on each double page spread make these books brilliant for reading from cover to cover as well as dipping in and out of. They are wonderful! You can snap up a starter set of 20 books here.

20141105-140048-50448441.jpgFor slightly older children, or children who crave more information, The Usborne Little Encyclopedia of Animals is a beauty of a book with a huge amount of information and loads of links for curious minds to follow to find out more. This is definitely a step up in content but without losing any of the Usborne joy.


The See Inside range is a stonkingly good series of books covering a wealth of topics. They are a4 sized hardbacks crammed full with information and diagrams and hundreds of flaps to lift to see what’s going on inside. The level of information in these books suits inquisitive minds, and they can get quite technical, but there’s so much to look at that they work across a broad age range. See Inside Your Body was Mollie’s favourite book in the world when she was 3 and she still loves to look through it now nearly 3 years on. They really do grow with children – a sure sign of a quality, well-designed series!


And last, but certainly not least, are these two gems. The Usborne First Illustrated Maths Dictionary and it’s Science counterpart. These are every parent/carer’s best friend! No more tricky homework explanations- these books are easy to use and have fantastic illustrated examples throughout. The science dictionary explains terms and gives ideas for experiments and projects and the maths dictionary uses plain everyday language to explain and illustrate maths concepts to children (and the grown ups scratching their heads next to them). Brilliant!

Bravo, Usborne! And hurrah for fantastic finding out books!

Source – all books from the rhino reading rooms.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!


Reluctant readers and early chapter books

10 Feb

There are some children who don’t like to read. It’s not that they can’t, they just don’t *want* to. Sometimes there may be underlying issues around ability, confidence, or peer pressure, but sometimes they just don’t fancy it. They think books are boring, or for other kids, or for school. These children often get lumped together into a group labelled ‘reluctant readers’. Often they just haven’t had the right role model, or have been put off by an enforced school reading scheme and haven’t found a book to bring the fun back in. Non-fiction books can work wonders with these children. As can books that are short, interactive, fun and easy to engage with.

Enter Dixie O’Day, Mortimer Keene and Squishy McFluff, three wonderful early chapter books, to save the day.


I love the format of these books. They work beautifully for children who are making the transition from picture books to chapter books and are perfect for enticing reluctant readers. And there’s something here for everyone.

Dixie O’Day – In the Fast Lane is a modern masterpiece by Shirley Hughes and Clara Vulliamy.

The story is broken up into seven bite-sized fast-paced chapters, making it easily accessible for children who are just starting to read independently – for whatever reason – and perfect for a chapter a night. A wacky races style tale of friendship and acts of kindness, it grabs you, pops you in the sidecar with a biscuit and whips you along for the ride.

There is so much to love about this book. Written by literary royalty, you are in extremely safe story hands. The design is gorgeous with a delicious colour scheme and a retro look. The illustrations bring the book to life and give Dixie and his sidekick Percy so much personality. Nobody does ‘shocked dog’ like Clara Vulliamy, and I will never come across a happier sight than the otters in their bath-car. Genius!


The beauty of this book is its accessibility. Hughes and Vulliamy have placed it brilliantly with joint appeal for boys and girls across a wide age range. My four year old sucked it up in one excited sitting and the year six pupils I’m working with are slowly savouring it. The extras in this book give it a huge amount of kid appeal and make it even more attractive to those reluctant readers. I love the interview-style introduction to the characters and the maps that book-end the story, subtly altered at the end to reflect the story’s developments. The reader is also given a brief introduction to the author and illustrator and then encouraged to get in touch – children (and their grown ups) are invited to design their own marvellous motor, which they can then send in to Dixie and his creators! A beautiful touch.

Once you have devoured this one, get ready for the next book in the series – Dixie O’Day and the Great Diamond Robbery, coming soon. I can’t wait!

Dixie O’Day kindly sent for review by Random House.

Mortimer Keene
For something in the same early chapter book format, but a bit zanier, try the Mortimer Keene series by Tim Healey and Chris Mould. It is school-based madness with added goo. Think an early reader Lemony Snicket or Osbert the Avenger.

The first book, Attack of the Slime introduces the reader to Mortimer Keene, a science-mad young school boy who likes to put his brains to serious mischief-making. His slime generator is burying the school in stinky slime and the teachers must send a special task force to stop him. The second book, Mortimer Keene – Ghosts on the Loose, sees him return to his antics with a Phantom-machine that is filling the school with ghouls.

Both books are split into four short parts and written in fast paced rhyme with a four-line verse to a page. The text is large enough for new readers to cope with but the vocabulary is exciting and will stretch them with words like ‘sinister’ ‘consigning’ ‘torrents’ and ‘intrinsically’.

Chris Mould is the perfect illustrator for this series, catching the character of the teachers perfectly and giving the books a zany sinister edge. Brilliant!


Attack of the Slime is perhaps more suited to a younger reader as the story doesn’t require any existing knowledge and never gets too scary. Ghosts on the Loose however, definitely contains some mild peril and deals with plague victims and a Victorian hangman- brilliant for holding the interest of an older reader. Although I’m assuming the publishers are marketing this more towards boys, I think the story and illustrations will appeal to both genders.

Again, a host of extras will coax in those reluctant readers, with top trumps style introductions to the characters and an A-Z around the topic. I particularly love the labelled machine designs and tips for telling your own ghost story or making your own slime. A great way to keep their interest and get them interacting with the stories.

I’m looking forward to the next in the series – Mortimer Keene- Alien Abduction coming soon.

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

Squishy McFluff
For a more magical twist on the early chapter book, Squishy McFluff the Invisible Cat by Pip Jones and Ella Okstad is a stunner.

‘Can you see him? My kitten?
Close your eyes tight.
His fur is so soft
and all silvery white.
Imagine him quick!
Have you imagined enough?
Oh, good! You can see him!
It’s Squishy McFluff!’

With three chapters of rhyming verse, this is perfect for bedtime stories as well as for new readers. Its gentle comical story about Ava’s mischievous imaginary cat makes for a wonderful transition from picture books to early chapter books. Its reassuring familiarity bridges the gap beautifully.

I love the design of this book. Its blue and red colour scheme sets it apart from the early readers usually pitched at girls. The illustrations have a strong Nordic influence and more than a hint of Alex T. Smith and Sam Lloyd. The illustrations support the text beautifully, aiding young children’s comprehension as they show Squishy McFluff there but not quite there.


A delicious book for inspiring young imaginations and celebrating family relationships, Squishy McFluff may encourage your little ones to create their own jungle in the bath tub. I hope you’ve got a special Grandad at hand to save the day.

This is the first in a series, and one of the first picture books released by Faber and Faber. Having had a sneak peek at their new list, I’m excited about the quality of works they are producing. Watch this space!

Source: kindly sent for review by Faber and Faber.