Mirrors and windows

In these still uncertain times, many families are facing challenges and situations that are unimaginably difficult. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on lives, physically, emotionally and economically. And at a time when people need compassion and understanding, what is often given is judgement and resentment. Picture books can offer a starting point for discussing these issues with children and for fostering the qualities our world needs at this time.

In children’s literature, we talk about books acting as mirrors and/or windows for children. They enable young people to see themselves and their lives represented in stories (mirrors) and/or to come to understand what life is like for others (windows). I recently came across two books, both written and illustrated by Kate Milner, that offer opportunities to see yourself in a book or to see what life is like for others. The first is It’s A No-Money Day, which has recently been short-listed for the Kate Greenaway medal:

It's A No-Money Day

My mum works really hard and knows lots of fun things to do that don’t cost any money. But when there’s nothing left in the cupboards we have to go to the foodbank.

Maybe one day things will be different…

This is a book that will resonate with many families whose lives have been adversely impacted by government cuts and COVID restrictions. For a child and her mother, it’s a no-money day; the cupboards are empty and there is no money to buy food. There are things you can do without money, such as “read a book from the library.” But they need food, so they go to the foodbank, queuing up with others who are also in need. On the way home, they “play the maybe-one-day game”. Mum would like a car and some new clothes; her daughter would like a kitten and some doughnuts. Back at home, after eating together, the child hopes that “maybe one day me and Mum won’t have to worry, but tonight, because of kind people, our tummies are full”.

Unfortunately this book acts as a mirror for many children who are living in poverty today. Their lives are often not seen in books, which makes this one so important. The experiences of the child in the story are a reality for many: visits to the foodbank, reliance on charity and dreams of “maybe-one-day”. It is important for all children to see themselves in books. It enables them to relate to the characters, to have their lives validated and to know they are not alone in their experiences.

The second book is My Name Is Not Refugee for which Kate Milner won the V&A Illustration Award in 2016 and the Klaus Flugge Prize in 2018.

My Name Is Not Refugee

Our town is not safe for us any more. Leaving will be sad, but quite exciting too. The journey will be long, but Mum will be there every step of the way.

How would you feel if you had to leave your home behind?

A child and his mother have to leave their home as it is no longer safe for them to live there. They say goodbye to friends and then walk and walk and walk until they reach a refugee camp. There they sleep on the ground and are surrounded by the unfamiliar. Finally they reach safety and settle in to a new life. The book ends with the poignant sentence: “You’ll be called Refugee but remember Refugee is not your name”.

This book provides a window into the life of a child and his mother seeking safety and a chance of a new life. It enables us to examine the issue of refugees and the right to seek asylum. It also encourages the reader to develop empathy and compassion for those making these difficult journeys. It is “a powerful and moving exploration that draws the young reader into each stage of the journey, inviting the chance to imagine the decisions he or she would make” (Barrington Stoke, 2020). This is achieved through a question on each double-page spread; eg. “How far could you walk?” and “What things would remind you of your old home?” This encourages discussion about the child’s experience, enabling the reader to imagine what it would be like to go through that. In this way, refugees are seen as people, just like us, a counterpoint to the political rhetoric which often dehumanises them. An excellent teacher’s toolkit is available from Barrington Stoke, which can be used to further explore the questions and themes within the book.

These two books enable us explore difficult issues with children, helping them to see how life is for others. They can also promote compassion and understanding in adults who share them with their little ones. Too often we judge people rather than trying to consider what life is like for them. Instead of lashing out physically or verbally, we could offer understanding and a helping hand, because we would wish for that if we were in the same position. Who knows, maybe change could come from reading a picture book.

Click on the book cover image to link to the source. Quotes taken from the blurb and content of the books.

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2020 Reading Challenge review

At the beginning of last year, I wrote a post about a Reading Challenge for 2020. I thought I would put my money where my mouth is and undertake the challenge myself. I did and here are the books I read…

2020 Reading Challenge

1. A book with a green cover
Oi Puppies!
Written by Kes Gray and illustrated by Jim Field

Oi Puppies!

Dog is looking after lots and lots of puppies. Lots of cute, adorable, badly trained puppies who don’t know the meaning of SIT!

Can Frog take command?

A picture books about dogs; what a great way to start the New Year! Oi Puppies! was great fun to read. I love the illustrations and the different puppies, each with its own personality. In the rhyming section of the book, I like the way the animals ask “I wonder what [name] is sitting on?” This encourages the reader to practise their rhyming skills by guessing what the item might be. Kes Gray and Jim Field have collaborated on a number of books featuring Frog, Cat and Dog. These include Oi Dog!, Oi Cat! and Oi Duck-billed Platypus! And this book is extra-special, because Jim Field dedicated it to libraries and librarians, with a “Thank you”.

2. A book by an author with the same initials as you
Old Bear’s Bedtime Stories
Written and illustrated by Jane Hissey

Old Bear's Bedtime Stories

The beloved toys from Jane Hissey’s Old Bear series are back in a collection of classic stories. Follow Old Bear, Little Bear, Bramwell Brown and friends as they organise a winter picnic, stage an amateur production of the Three Bears, and have many other enchanting adventures.

I love the Old Bear books by Jane Hissey, partly because I have an Old Bear of my own. This collection of 21 stories and poems is a delight to read and would make, as the title suggests, an ideal book to read with little ones at bedtime. Beautifully illustrated with all the familiar characters (and some new ones), the tales feature problem-solving, persistence and thoughtfulness. There is a gentleness to them that contrasts sharply with our modern world. I would recommend reading this book alongside those of Celestine and the Hare for a double dose of love and kindness.

3. A book with non-human characters
The Hundred Names of Darkness
Written by Nilanjana Roy and illustrated by Prabha Mallya

The Hundred Names Of Darkness

The Nizamuddin cat clan are licking their wounds, recovering after their terrible battle with the ferals from The Shuttered House. But soon they find their beloved Delhi neighbourhood changing around them, and they encounter new enemies – vicious dogs, snakes and humans. Unless Mara, a young ginger kitten, can use her powers as a Sender to help the clan find a safe haven, the small band of cats will be wiped out for good.

Led by the plucky Southpaw, the cats set out on a perilous journey though India’s urban jungle in search of a new home, meeting new loyal friends, and deadly foes, along the way.

I read the first book about the Nizamuddin cats, The Wildings, as part of a blog post about cats in children’s literature. I enjoyed it so much I decided to read the sequel. And I was not disappointed. The Hundred Names of Darkness takes place just after the dramatic conclusion of The Wildings at a time when the urban landscape of Delhi is changing. Humans are encroaching on the cats’ territory, meaning food is scarce and their homes are being lost to developers. They need to find a new place to live and Mara, their Sender, must step outside her comfort zone to help them with this. It was so good to re-connect with most of the characters from the first book and watch as they change and grow as a consequence of the circumstances they find themselves in. This book particularly highlights the challenges faced by those animals who live on the streets, and as such, could be read alongside A Dog’s Life, a particular favourite of mine.

4. An audio-book about an adventure
Have Sword, Will Travel
Written by Garth Nix and Sean Williams and narrated by Oliver Hembrough
Running time: approximately 7 hours 45 minutes

Have Sword, Will Travel

When Odo and Eleanor stumble upon an ancient sword in a river outside their village, something very unexpected happens… the sword starts to talk! Much to Odo’s dismay, he discovers that he’s awoken a famous enchanted blade called Biter and thus has instantly become a knight. Eleanor would love to become a knight – but she’s not the one with the sword.

Unearthing Biter is only the start of their troubles; soon boy, girl and sword must depart on a noble quest to save their kingdom from threats – in both human and dragon form.

I really enjoyed this rollicking good adventure! Odo the miller’s son awakens an enchanted sword whilst fishing for eels with his friend, Eleanor. He becomes Sir Odo and she has to make do with being his squire. And so begins their quest to discover what is blocking the flow of water in the local river. With false knights, thieves and dragons, this story has everything you could wish for in an adventure. The characters are appealing and grow over the course of the book. They inhabit a world where anyone can become a knight (Eleanor’s mother was knighted on the battlefield) and do good deeds. Having listened to the audiobook (which was very well done), the second book in the series, Let Sleeping Dragons Lie, is now on my To Read list.

5. A book that has been made into a film
Mortal Engines
Written by Philip Reeve

Mortal Engines

London is hunting again. Emerging from its hiding place in the hills, the great Traction City is chasing a terrified little town across the wastelands. Soon, London will feed.

In the attack, Tom Natsworthy is flung from the speeding city with a murderous scar-faced girl. They must run for their lives through the wreckage – and face a terrifying new weapon that threatens the future of the world.

This is the first book in the Predator Cities quartet and was released as a film in 2018. Set in a post-apocalytic world, it features cannibalistic cities and towns constantly on the move in search for prey. The story begins in the traction city of London with a chance encounter between Tom Natsworthy, an apprentice historian, and Hester Shaw, a would-be assassin. They are thrown together on an adventure that takes them to the static settlements in Asia. On the way, they encounter slave traders, pirates and secret agents, whilst being pursued by a murderous cyborg. The two must work together when they discover that London has built a deadly weapon. Mortal Engines is full of action and adventure, with plenty of twists to keep readers engaged. The concept of traction cities is both innovative and haunting. Highly recommended for those who love steampunk stories.

6. A book with a two word title
Mary Poppins
Written by P. L. Travers and illustrated by Lauren Child

Mary Poppins

When Mary Poppins arrives at their house on a gust of the East Wind, and slides up the banister, Jane and Michael Banks’s lives are turned magically and wonderfully upside down…

This abridged version of the children’s classic is wonderfully illustrated by Lauren Child, known for creating Charlie and Lola. Containing seven of the original twelve chapters, it begins with the arrival of Mary Poppins on the East Wind and ends with her departure on the West Wind. Those familiar with the original film starring Julie Andrews will recognise Bert and the Bird Woman, as well as the laughing gas scene. With gorgeous collage images that enhance the text, this is a perfect introduction to the world of Mary Poppins. A sequel to the film, Mary Poppins Returns, was released in 2018 whilst Saving Mr Banks tells the story of how the book became a film.

7. A book with an animal on the cover
SkyClan and the Stranger
Created by Erin Hunter, written by Dan Jolley and illustrated by James L. Barry

Skyclan And The Stranger

Leafstar has fought to restore her clan. But can it survive a dangerous new threat?

Newleaf is coming, and Leafstar is proud to see SkyClan thriving under her leadership. The woods are brimming with prey, the warriors’ den is full, and Leafstar is expecting kits of her own. But when the arrival of a mysterious stranger throws SkyClan into turmoil, Leafstar must figure out what is best for her Clan – once and for all.

The very popular Warrior series by Erin Hunter is now available in graphic novel format. This edition includes all three of the SkyClan and the Stranger books: The Rescue, Beyond the Flood, and After the Flood. These tell the story of SkyClan, led by Leafstar. She encounters Sol, a stray cat who has been taken in as a kitten and cared for by a human. He helps Leafstar and her kits escape when they are taken from the clan by his twoleg. Sol tells her that he wants to become a warrior like her, but things don’t go quite according to plan. SkyClan and the Stranger was recommended to me by my 10-year-old niece, who has read several of the Warriors graphic novels. It is ideal for fans of the series and for those who love stories about cats.

8. A book with a colour in the title
Blue Chameleon
Written and illustrated by Emily Gravett

Blue Chameleon

This chameleon can turn into anything and appear to fit in anywhere, but it seems that neither the swirly snail, the green grasshopper nor the stripy sock want to be friends. Will the chameleon ever find someone to talk to?

Synopsis by Pan Macmillan

This is a deceptively simple book, which is ideal for sharing with young children. It consists of double-page spreads, each with just two words (a colour or pattern and a thing; eg. “Yellow banana” and “Swirly snail”) and a picture of the chameleon mimicking the object or creature. At the same time, there are thought and speech bubbles showing how it is feeling as it tries to find a friend. Finally, after a sad “White page”, there is a “Hello?” and the final pages are a riot of colour and patterns as the chameleon finally meets someone just like it. Another stunning book from the creator of Dogs and Cyril and Pat.

9. A book about something scientific
Explore Your World: Weird, Wild, Amazing!
Written by Tim Flannery and illustrated by Sam Caldwell

Weird, Wild, Amazing

Professor Tim Flannery has discovered new animals, dug up dinosaur bones, floated down crocodile-infested rivers and wrestled pythons. He also knows the answers to questions like:

Are zombie jellyfish real?
Which animals eat poop? And more importantly, why?!
Will a vampire bat suck your blood?
Which insect drinks tears?

Bursting with bizarre facts and vibrant illustrations, this deep-dive into the natural world will make you laugh out loud… and squirm in disgust!

This is a fabulous non-fiction book, beautifully illustrated and filled with fascinating facts. It’s divided into four sections: Water, Sky, Forest, and Deserts and Grasslands. Within each of these are double-page spreads containing details about creatures found in these habitats. There’s also a Concepts section, which explains ideas such as evolution and extinction, a Glossary and an Index. The book is written in an easily accessible and enjoyable way, with the illustrations adding to the experience. There are lots of interesting information and insights into the animals, birds, fish and insects we share this world with. For example, I learnt that a group of moths is called a whisper (just adorable!) and that the vampire moth drinks blood. This book would make a great addition to the bookshelf of a budding naturalist.

10. A book about a mystery
Violet and the Pearl of the Orient
Written by Harriet Whitehorn and illustrated by Becka Moor

Violet And The Pearl Of The Orient

Can you solve the case of the Pearl of the Orient?

When the Count and Countess Du Plicitous move into Violet’s neighbourhood she’s sure there’s something strange about them. And when her eccentric neighbour, Dee Dee Derota, has a precious jewel called the Pearl of the Orient stolen, a series of clues make Violet think the new family are to blame. But with no one willing to listen to her, Violet’s going to need to use all her detective skills to uncover the truth…

The Violet series was recommended to me by my niece, who’s ten. In fact, she loaned me her copy of Violet and the Pearl of the Orient. And I must say, she has good taste! I really enjoyed the story, which centres around the theft of a precious jewel belonging to Violet’s good friend and neighbour, Dee Dee Derota. It’s a classic whodunnit with clues, suspects and red herrings. And, just like Poirot or Holmes, Violet Remy-Robinson uses her little grey cells to solve the mystery. The book is beautifully illustrated throughout, including (be still my beating heart) a map of the neighbourhood. Highly recommended for all amateur detectives.

11. A book based on a true story
The Gypsy Crown
Written by Kate Forsythe and illustrated by Jeremy Reston

The Gypsy Crown

For Luck, Light and Magic

Emilia Finch and her cousin Luka are on a dangerous quest to find six ancient lucky charms – a golden crown, a silver horse, a butterfly caught in amber, a cat’s eye shell, a bolt of lightning forged from the heart of a falling star, and the flower of the rue plant, herb of grace.

Uniting the charms will give the gypsy family the bit of luck – or as Emilia believes, magic – they need to escape. For everyone in Emilia’s family has been wrongfully accused of vagrancy and murder, and thrown into gaol with only three weeks to live. It will be up to Emilia, Luka and their strange menagerie of animals to save their families from the dreaded hangman’s noose.

This was a particularly tricky challenge! In the end, I chose the first book in the Chain of Charms series because, although it’s not about a particular event, it contains real people woven into a historical narrative. Set during the English civil war, it tells the story of Emilia and Luka, who have to find six gypsy charms to save their families. I first read The Gypsy Crown with my eldest niece when she was about 10. We worked our way through the series and greatly enjoyed the adventures of the children and their animals (Zizi the monkey, Alida the mare, Sweetheart the bear and Rollo the dog). We also learnt about the ways of the Rom and the prejudices they faced (and still face). This is what makes the Chain of Charms so good: it weaves historical facts into the narrative so delicately.

12. A book with a number in the title
Three
Written and illustrated by Stephen Michael King

Three

One, two, three…

One, two, three…

Every day was a skip and a hop for Three. He was happy to walk from here to there, wherever his nose led or wherever his legs took him… all the way to new friends.

I love Stephen Michael King’s books. And Three is no exception. Beautifully illustrated, this is a poignant story about a homeless dog with three legs. He is a happy-go-lucky little fellow, living life in the present moment: “Every day was a skip and a hop for Three”. We follow him as he journeys through the city streets and, catching a “sweet scented breeze”, out into the countryside. There he meets a girl called Fern and is welcomed into her family. The book ends with “Three was thankful for everything”. This gorgeous story can be paired with Stephen Michael King’s Mutt Dog (a favourite of my nieces when they were small), which also features a dog living on the streets. And if you want to meet a real-life Three, check out Pod’s account on Twitter. He is just beautiful.

Like last year, I really enjoyed taking part in the 2020 Reading Challenge. The experience was like a treasure hunt as I searched for books that fitted each item on the list. As a consequence, I found myself reading more widely in terms of format. I shall certainly be doing the challenge again this year!

Click on the book cover image to link to the source. Quotes taken from the blurb and content of the books.

2021 Reading Challenge

A new reading challenge for a new year….

Welcome to 2021! I’m starting the year with a reading challenge. This is a great way of promoting reading and encouraging children (and adults) to explore the world of books.

Boy reading

Image by anaterate: CC0 1.0

A reading challenge is, unsurprisingly, a list of challenges related to the what or where of reading and examples can be found on my Pinterest board, Promotion Of Reading Activities. I would like to thank those who have generously shared their ideas via the Internet. This year, I have used the challenges from the State Library of Queensland’s Summer Reading Club as the basis for creating my own reading challenge. The important thing for me is that this is a way of promoting an interest in reading. It should not be seen as a log, which, like structured book reviews, have a tendency to bog children down in paperwork. This often has the effect of turning them off, rather than on to, reading.

For my reading challenge, I decided to focus on the what of reading. I also chose to see the challenge as a treasure hunt, rather than a reading log, because I wanted to ignite children’s interest in reading through searching for books that matched each of the challenges. In addition, these needed to be fun and appealing to all readers, from those who are confident and enthusiastic about reading to those who are reluctant to pick up a book. I also wanted every child to be able to complete the challenges, regardless of whether they were sharing picture books with their families or reading independently. (The challenge can also be undertaken by teens and adults.) In order to achieve these aims, I have selected broad challenges, rather than focussing on particular subjects. In this way, it is possible to complete the whole challenge regardless of your individual interests and reading preferences. So, without further ado, may I present my Reading Challenge for 2021…

2021 Reading Challenge

I hope you might consider encouraging the children you know to undertake my 2021 Reading Challenge (or even have a go yourself). One book a month is not terribly hard, but it may help them to catch the reading bug. So let the Challenge begin!

This post was first published in January 2019 and has been updated to include a new list of reading challenges.

Library and Information Week

This week is Library and Information Week in Australia. Organised by the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), this is an opportunity to, amongst other things, “learn about the range of services that your library offers” (ALIA, 2020) and to “consider the role which libraries play in our local community, work, and personal life” ALIA, 2020). The theme this year is Create, which “showcases all the ways that libraries and library and information professionals create through their work and support their patrons to create” (ALIA, 2020). Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, celebrations will be a little different this year. There are a host of online activities and events, including a virtual National Simultaneous Storytime on Wednesday 27th. This year we will be reading Whitney and Britney Chicken Divas, written and illustrated by Lucinda Gifford!

Let’s celebrate all libraries from the humble…

to the grand!

Big Library

Image by Michael Beckwith: Pixabay License

Events highlighting the value of libraries and the role they play in communities are held in countries around the world. Last month, from 19th to 25th April, National Library Week was held by the American Library Association (ALA), with the theme Find Your Place at the Library. It is “an annual celebration highlighting the valuable role libraries, librarians, and library workers play in transforming lives and strengthening our communities” (ALA, 2020). With libraries closed due to the pandemic, this event highlighted the fact that “you can still find your place at the library because libraries are open for business online, providing the virtual services and digital content their communities need more than ever” (ALA, 2020). Later in the year, the UK will mark Libraries Week from 5th to 10th October with a series of events. An initiative of CILIP, it will “celebrate books and reading… and the contribution [libraries] make towards building a Nation of Readers” (CILIP, 2020). There are a range of publicity materials available to promote this event.

Although we may not be able to visit libraries this week due to current restrictions, take some time to celebrate all that is wonderful about these special places and the people who work in them.

 

No such thing as a bad book

Following on from my previous post, here is something I wrote about the importance of respecting children’s reading choices…

Since my last post, I have been re-reading the books of my childhood. It has been an interesting experience, because, as an adult, it is clear to me that some of them are not particularly well-written. Yet I still feel an emotional attachment to them, because they are a link to the little girl I was all those years ago.

In her blog post, The Stories We Need, Terri Windling also recalls the books she loved as a child. As a writer and editor, she acknowledges that they were perhaps not the best books, “so cloyingly sweet, so heavy-handedly moral” (Windling, 2016). However, they were the books she was drawn to; books that filled an emotional need within her. She says she took what she needed from them and, in return, they made her the person and writer she is today.

Enid Blyton has frequently been criticised for the quality of her writing

In a 2013 lecture for The Reading Agency, Neil Gaiman examines the issue of quality in children’s literature, stating, “I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children” (Gaiman, 2013). He discusses how, over the years, genres and authors have been criticised for being unsuitable for children. Comics have been blamed for “fostering illiteracy” (Gaiman, 2013). Enid Blyton and R. L. Stine are among those who have been branded poor writers. Roald Dahl was denounced by the book critic Eleanor Cameron for his writing of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with its “phoney presentation of poverty and its phoney humour, which is based on punishment with overtones of sadism” (Cameron, in Mangan, 2014). Despite these views, generations of children have loved the work of these authors and, for many, their books have resulted in a love of reading.

Despite adult criticism, Roald Dahl’s books have always been popular with children

According to Neil Gaiman, adults often seek to discourage children from reading particular genres and authors, because they don’t approve of them. As he points out, in order for children to learn to read and to learn to love reading, they need to find books they enjoy, be able to access those books and be allowed to read them. This is something we need to be aware of as librarians and teachers. It is important we don’t judge children’s choices based on our own preferences. Equally important is allowing them access to the books they enjoy through our library collections. Maybe we need to remember the books we loved as children and consider how we would have felt if someone had told us not to read them or had taken them away from us.

Comics are often frowned upon by librarians and teachers

Comics

Comics! by Brian Wilkins: CC BY-NC 2.0

By viewing certain titles, genres or authors unfavourably, we run the risk of turning children off books when we want them to find a way into them. I agree with Neil Gaiman; the most important thing is to get children reading. And if that means reading books that I may not like or choose to read, so be it. They are not going to be ‘harmed’ by poorly written books, despite what some people believe. But they will miss out on all that reading offers if they turn away from books after being told that what they are reading is rubbish.

This post was first published in March 2017.

Learning to read during a pandemic

Schools in many countries have been closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has meant that children are being home-schooled with support from their teachers. At a time when many have financial and social worries, this is another stress for families, especially those with more than one child and those who are also working from home. Parents and carers want to do the right thing by their children, but may not know how to. In this post, I would like to offer some advice for supporting your child in continuing to grow as a reader whilst not attending school.

Reading can be relaxing…

Boys Reading

Young boys reading books by Government of Prince Edward Island: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

  1. Focus on reading for pleasure. Don’t concern yourself too much with the mechanics of reading (phonics, sight-words, etc.). Make it fun by letting your child choose their own books. Don’t tell them what to read or what not to read. And don’t turn reading into a battlefield.
  2. Read aloud. You can read to them and they to you. Older siblings can read to younger ones  and vice versa. Borrow eAudiobooks from your library service. Your child can listen to these when relaxing or at bedtime. Listening to stories supports reading skills as I outlined in my post on audiobooks.
  3. Make use of the free resources available online at this time: Audible Stories, BookTrust Home Time and literacy and reading resources from the BBC.
  4. If you can get your hands on a copy of Raising Readers by Megan Daley, it is full of advice for parents in supporting their children’s reading. At this time, it might have to be in an electronic form (see if your local online library has a copy).

especially when sharing books with a friend!

One final thought:  remember, this situation is temporary. Although we don’t know exactly when it will end, it will end. So be kind to yourself and your children. You are their parent or carer and your relationship with them is the most important thing at this time. Cuddle up together on the sofa with a book and share a story. If they read to you, fabulous. If you read to them, fabulous. It’s all reading and it will help them in so many ways.

Libraries in lockdown

The last month has been extraordinary as the COVID-19 virus has spread across the world. Along with other organisations, many public libraries have closed their doors in order to protect patrons and staff. The library service I work for shut up shop on 25th March and we have no idea when we will re-open. Like many others, I am in lockdown, watching events unfold from the safety of my home.

Lockdown will help to stop the spread of the coronavirus and save lives

Lockdown

Image by JoshuaMiranda: Pixabay License

Even though physical libraries are closed, digital ones remain open. At a time when people are confined to their homes, books can be a comfort and a distraction from all that is happening in the world. Your library card gives you access to a range of resources within the virtual world. If you aren’t a library member, you may be able to join either online or over the phone; just contact your local library service.

So what resources are available for library members? Most services have platforms for borrowing eBooks, eAudiobooks and eMagazines. These include BorrowBox, RBdigital and Overdrive. I am particularly enjoying the eAudiobooks option as it’s supplementing my physical reading whilst in lockdown. Many libraries also offer a range of resources for children and adults, such as educational games (eg. Busy Code and Grid Club), streaming services (eg. Kanopy and Beamafilm) and websites for learning new skills or languages (eg. Universal Class and Transparent Language). Each library service has its own log-in for these; check out your service’s homepage for links to them.

Finally, because of closures, libraries are now unable to offer storytime to young children and their families. However, librarians are nothing if not flexible and creative. Many services are now offering virtual storytime via Facebook or YouTube, as well as access to apps such as TumbleBook and Story Box Library. This means you and your children can enjoy readalongs together in the comfort of your own home.

For now, physical libraries are closed, but digital ones remain open for borrowing

There is one problem with virtual libraries; the digital divide. Those who are unable to afford devices and/or access to the Internet, as well as those who lack confidence or skills in using technology, are hugely disadvantaged at a time like this. These are often the people who benefit most from the resources and services offered by physical libraries and are now left with nothing to support them during challenging times. Many libraries are still offering phone services (eg. ‘Ask a Librarian’) and may be able to help those in need find organisations that can provide assistance or social contact whilst maintaining personal safety.

I would like to end this post with a massive thank you to all those on the frontline, from doctors and nurses to hospital porters and cleaners, from postal workers to supermarket assistants. You are all brilliant and brave, and we cannot thank you enough for what you are doing. Hopefully governments will recognise this and pay you all a decent wage.

To everyone out there, stay safe; practise physical distancing but social connection; stay home if you can.

Raising Readers

There are many resources available both in print and online for helping children to become readers. Today I would like to share one with you.

Raising Readers: How to nurture a child’s love of books
Written by Megan Daley and illustrated by Jo Hunt

Raising Readers

Some kids refuse to read, others won’t stop-not even at the dinner table! Either way, many parents question the best way to support their child’s literacy journey. When can you start reading to your child? How do you find that special book to inspire a reluctant reader? What can you do to keep your tween reading into their adolescent years?

Award-winning teacher librarian Megan Daley, the passionate voice behind the Children’s Books Daily blog, has the answers to all these questions and more. She unpacks her twenty years of experience into this personable and accessible guide, enhanced with up-to-date research and firsthand accounts from well-known Australian children’s authors. It also contains practical tips, such as suggested reading lists and instructions on how to run book-themed activities.

Raising Readers is a must-have resource for parents and educators to help the children in their lives fall in love with books.

Megan Daley is a teacher-librarian from Brisbane, Australia, who blogs at Children’s Books Daily. She has been awarded the Queensland Teacher Librarian of the Year and the national Dromkeen Librarian’s Award. She is therefore well-placed to offer advice about reading and books.

Aimed at parents and educators (and, I would add, children’s librarians), Raising Readers  is about encouraging reading for pleasure. I love how Megan Daley places this front and centre from the beginning of the book: “Flashcards or early online reading programs won’t instil this joy [for words, images and ideas] in your little one, but gorgeous books will”. This idea is further explored in the chapter Reading and School, which is particularly informative for parents. We are reminded that “learning to read and becoming an independent reader is a process of incremental skill building”. In essence, it takes time and practice to become a reader. And this is where Raising Readers helps us understand “the difference between ‘learn to read’ books (teacher-chosen levelled readers) and recreational books (self-selected library books)”. Children need both because they support one another in developing reading skills and confidence as a reader. But reading for pleasure is at the heart of the reading journey, which is why “focusing on developing a sense of joy around reading, rather than on what level your child is reading and where their peers are at, is so very important”.

Raising Readers is filled with great advice and information about all aspects of reading.  It contains tips and book suggestions for each developmental stage from babies through to teens. There is information on establishing reading routines, creating spaces for reading and supporting the social life of readers. I love the chapter on school libraries, which is so important for justifying their existence at a time when they are being lost from schools. Developing reading rigour and overcoming reading challenges are covered, along with multimodal and digital reading. Other topics explored in the book include reading to support sustainability and nature through encouraging action, and the importance of acknowledging and reflecting diversity in books. There is also a series of How To guides, including “How to start a book club”. Finally the book closes with a chapter entitled Reading the Dark, which explores the importance and value of books about big emotions, including grief.

Raising Readers is a worthy addition to the family library and any collection of professional resources. It will help make the reading journey enjoyable for both children and the adults who are travelling with them.

Click on the book cover image to link to the source. Quotes taken from the blurb and content of the books.

Thank you, John Burningham

Last January, John Burningham, the renowned children’s author and illustrator, died aged 82. With a career spanning over 50 years, his books have been read by generations of children. Prior to publishing his first book in 1963, he designed “witty, eyecatching posters for London Transport” (Kellaway, 2009). Alongside his picture books, he also illustrated Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming and The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Married to fellow illustrator, Helen Oxenbury, the couple were jointly awarded BookTrust’s lifetime achievement award in 2018 for “their outstanding contribution to children’s literature” (Flood, 2018). In memory of John Burningham, I have compiled a selection of his picture books to share with you.

Picture Books By John Burningham

Borka (1963)

Borka

Once upon a time there were two geese called Mr and Mrs Plumpster. Each spring they returned to the marshes of their ancestors, and Mrs Plumpster laid her eggs. Soon six fine young Plumpsters hatched: Archie, Freda, Jennifer, Oswald, Timothy and Borka. But Borka was different. Borka had no feathers and could not fly. When winter came the other geese flew off in search of warmer climates, leaving Borka all alone. But her adventure was only just beginning…

(Synopsis by Penguin)

Borka is a goose with no feathers, whose mother knits her a “grey woollen jersey as much like feathers as she could”. Unable to swim or fly, Borka is left behind when the other geese leave for warmer lands. She finds shelter and friendship aboard a boat. Upon arriving in London, Borka is taken to Kew Gardens, where she is accepted by the other geese. This is a wonderful story about being an outsider, rejected by others for being different. Unlike the Ugly Duckling, Borka doesn’t undergo a transformation, but instead finds her place in the world through the kindness of others. John Burningham won the 1963 Kate Greenaway Medal, awarded for outstanding children’s book illustration, for Borka.

Simp (1966)

Simp

Simp is a small, fat, ugly dog. Nobody loves her and she hasn’t got a home, so she sets out in search of a friend and finds a family-and some hidden talents that make her rather special…

Another beautiful story about finding your place in the world. Like Borka, Simp is an outcast, wanted by no-one, because she is ugly, fat and small. Left at the dump by her owner, she is caught by the dog-catcher and taken to the pound. But Simp escapes and runs and runs until she comes to a circus. There she is taken in by the clown and becomes part of his act as “the little dog fired from a cannon”. And that is why she is called Cannonball Simp (an alternative title for the book). 

Mr Gumpy’s Outing (1970)

Mr Gumpy's Outing

One day Mr Gumpy decides to go out in his boat-but everyone else wants to come too! Soon Mr Gumpy’s boat is full. What do you think happens next?

This simple sequential story, reminiscent of a nursery tale, is about Mr Gumpy’s day on the water. He is joined in his boat by two children and a group of animals. Despite a warning to each, “but don’t…”, it isn’t long before they are all misbehaving. The result is, you guessed it, an upturned boat and everyone in the river. They all dry out in the sun as they head to Mr Gumpy’s house for tea. John Burningham won the 1970 Kate Greenaway Medal for Mr Gumpy’s Outing, becoming the first winner of two medals. A follow-up book, Mr Gumpy’s Motorcar, was published in 1973 while Mr Gumpy’s Rhino was published last year.

The Shopping Basket (1980)

The Shopping Basket

Tea-time is looming, and Steven is sent out to the corner shop. Along the way he meets several shady characters who are only too willing to lighten Steven’s basket by helping themselves to his shopping! Only by his quick wits can Steven outsmart the bullies and save his tea.

Steven is asked to “pop down to the shops” with a shopping list: “six eggs, five bananas, four apples, three oranges for the baby, two doughnuts and a packet of crisps for your tea”. He buys the food and heads back home. But along the way, he meets a bear, a monkey, a kangaroo, a goat, a pig and an elephant. Each animal demands some food, but Steven outsmarts them all, largely by goading them into action. This ends with each of them distracted by something, allowing Steven to make his escape. I love the ludicrous nature of the book, with animals never seen in Britain standing outside a corner shop or jumping over a workman’s tent. Brilliant!

Granpa (1984)

Granpa

Adorable Granpa nurses his granddaughter’s dolls, mistakes her strawberry-flavoured pretend ice cream for chocolate, and falls in love with her imaginary plans to captain a ship to Africa. It is a friendship that children who read this book will long remember.

This is a beautiful story about the relationship between a grandfather and his granddaughter. It is told as a series of conversations between the two as they garden, sing, play, share food and go on outings together. But then Granpa falls ill and “can’t come out to play today”. The last page shows the child gazing at the empty armchair. No words are needed to convey what she is feeling (and what we all feel when we lose someone we love).

Avocado Baby (1984)

Avocado Baby

The Hargraves want their new baby to grow up big and strong. But the puny mite will hardly eat a thing. One day Mrs Hargraves finds an avocado in the fruit bowl and the baby gobbles it up. Soon, the strangest things start to happen…

None of the Hargraves are strong. When the new baby arrives, their wish is for it “not [to] be as weak as they were”. But it won’t eat anything despite all Mrs Hargraves’ attempts. Then the children suggest trying the avocado pear, which no-one remembers buying. Amazingly the baby eats it and quickly becomes strong, very strong. It is able to pull a cart full of children up a hill, carry shopping and push the car when it won’t start. One night, a burglar (with his black mask and swag bag!) breaks into the Hargraves house, only to be chased away by the baby wielding a broom. Then two bullies pick on his siblings when they are all out for a walk in the park. The baby leaps out of its pushchair and throws them in the pond. This is my favourite John Burningham book.

Oi! Get Off Our Train (1989)

Oi! Get Off Our Train

A little boy sets off on a round-the-world night train to dreamland with only his toy dog for company. But soon all sorts of endangered animals are asking if they can jump up and join them on their journey.

A boy goes to bed with his toy dog and soon there is a tiny train hurtling through the bedroom, driven by the two. Journeying through the countryside, they stop from time to time to pretend to be ghosts, swim, fly kites, play in the rain and throw snowballs. Each time, an animal attempts to get on the train and each time, the boy and the dog shout “Oi! Get off our train”. But when they hear why the animals want to join them, they allow them on. People want to cut off the elephant’s tusks. The seal has nothing to eat because of water pollution and over-fishing, while the crane’s marshland home is being drained. People are cutting down the forests where the tiger lives and want to make a coat out of the polar bear’s fur. Each animal ends by saying “Soon there will be none of us left”. Finally, the train returns to the boy’s bedroom. The next morning his mother wants to know if the animals in the house are “anything to do with you”. It is so sad that, 30 years after it was written, the issues highlighted in the book are still relevant.

Husherbye (2001)

Husherbye

There were three tired bears, who are climbing the stairs… and a fish in the sea, it is weary you see.

Husherbye is an ideal bedtime story. In the first half of the book, a parade of animals (and a baby) pass through the pages, all weary and ready for bed. With the words “Now we are tired, we need to lie down”, they each find somewhere to settle for the night. The cat and her kittens snuggle down under some hay, whilst the three bears are tucked up in bed. The book ends with “your head’s on the pillow. You’ll soon be asleep. Husherbye. Husherbye. Hush.” A lovely gentle book for sharing with a little one before bed.

There’s Going To Be a Baby (2010)
Written by John Burningham and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

There's Going To Be A Baby

When is the baby going to come?
What will the baby be called?
What will the baby do?

Perhaps the baby will grow up to be a chef or a gardener. Maybe one day the baby will work in the zoo or be a doctor or a nurse.

We don’t really need the baby, do we?

Day by day, month by month, question by question, the baby’s arrival comes closer and closer.

This book was written by John Burningham and illustrated by his wife, Helen Oxenbury, marking the only time the two worked together. It consists of a conversation (very like the narrative structure of Granpa) between a child and his mother that begins with the announcement, “There’s going to be a baby”. The story moves through the seasons from winter to autumn as the arrival of the baby gets nearer and nearer. It deals tenderly with the uncertainties that come with the impending event and the child’s place in his family; “Mummy, can’t we tell the baby to go away? We don’t really need the baby, do we?” This is a great book for helping little ones adjust to becoming older siblings.

More Would You Rather… (2018)

More Would You Rather

Would you rather have breakfast with bears, lunch with a lion or dinner with ducks?

Would you like to fly with the pelicans or swim with the fish?

Would it be worse if an elephant made a terrible smell or you fell over in a field full of cows?

A follow-up to the wonderful Would You Rather, this book asks readers to choose between several options, such as “Would you like to jump with kangaroos or swing in the trees with monkeys?” There is lots to talk about when reading this book, because everyone is sure to have an opinion about which one is best! I also love the way John Burningham has incorporated the original book into the cover illustration and used the same character in both (the child with the green dungarees).

As a newly qualified teacher in the 1990s, I encountered many of John Burningham’s books as I worked in early childhood classrooms. I loved them and enjoyed sharing them with my classes. And the children loved them too. This was because there is “a mischief and a humour to his stories, but they also touch often on some big, profound themes” (BookTrust, 2019). In researching this post, I discovered that John Burningham shared my view of young children: “Children are not less intelligent, they’re just less experienced” (Burningham, in Flood, 2019). This belief and respect for children comes through in his work. You can complement this list with the one on the BookTrust website, which was complied to celebrate his lifetime achievement award in 2018.

Thank you again, John Burningham, for your wonderful books. They have been a source of joy for many. You will be much missed.

Click on the book cover image to link to the source. Quotes taken from the blurb and content of the books.