Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Starting School

This may seem an odd time of year to write a post about books for starting school but I have been asked by several people for recommendations recently and my own preschooler, the one and only Rosie doesn't stop talking about going to school (she's been going on about it since last year!). I think it's great that she's excited but in reality she doesn't really know just how life-changing it's going to be. Five days a week for the foreseeable future are going to be a 9-3 cycle of learning. So it's helpful that there are a fair few books available to help us through the transition.

These are the books that we have been reading and enjoying:
Starting School by Janet and Alan Ahlberg, this is a classic and possibly the best of the bunch. It's a little old fashioned now, it was published in 1988 after all. But as an introduction to the routine and relentlessness of starting school this takes some beating. We meet eight characters as they start school, they take us round their first day, then the second day, then the first week, until we get to Christmas and the holidays. The detail is fantastic and the emotions of the children and their ups and downs are minutely documented, it's quite surprising what a picture book can achieve in just 32 pages!

Alfie and the Big Boys by Shirley Hughes is not a book about starting school exactly but I think it's great at pinpointing that even boys who are big and tough might sometimes be weak and vulnerable (and want their mummies!). Alfie is still in nursery at this point but it is in the nursery attached to the school and every morning at playtime he and Bernard watch the older boys led by a big tough boy called Ian Barger playing in the playground. Alfie and Bernard long to be part of their gang. But then one saturday morning Alfie is out with mum and Annie-Rose when he discovers Ian Barger crying and becoming quite hysterical because he's lost his mummy. I won't explain the entire plot but Alfie and Bernard come to realise that there is another side to their hero!


I also have two books by Ladybird from their series Start School: Talkabout My Big School and When I Start School by Richard Dungworth and Emma Dodd. Unfortunately these are now out of print but they are available from abebooks or other second hand retailers. These are really great for going through in close detail what happens at school and addressing any worries a child might have. When I Start School follows a boy who is worried about lots of little things like not liking the school dinners and not knowing anyone and as each worry is addressed you turn the page to find the solution. Talkabout My Big School gives more a sense of place and shows a child exactly what their school will be like. Out of the two I think Rosie prefers When I Start School - probably because we follow a character throughout.

The lovely folk at Random House very kindly sent me a few books at my request. One of them was Bobbo Goes to School which is a classic Shirley Hughes title. Lily is not quite old enough for school yet but her toy dog, Bobbo accidentally goes to school one day and when Lily picks him up she gets to see the school and the classroom. It's not a lot about the routine of the school day but is a nice gentle introduction to the concept of going to school and the difference between being at home with mum and being at school.

They also sent me Dear Panda by Miriam Latimer which follows the story of Flo who has just moved house and is starting a new school (although not for the first time). The new teacher writes to her and asks her if she will be able to stand up in front of the class and tell them a little about herself and this makes Flo very worried (I must say I can totally understand that!). So Flo makes friends with a Panda who lives in the zoo next door and he proves to be a great ice breaker (oh I wish he was a penguin!). This is a lovely story and a sweet introduction to school and the fear about making new friends and being in a new place.

We have been Topsy and Tim mad in our house ever since the TV series started. If allowed Rosie would probably just watch it non-stop back to back. So I decided that she might enjoy the original books on which the series is based. Topsy and Tim Start School by Jean and Gareth Adamson is a lovely book which has the advantage of having twins so there are two perspectives of the first day at school and as usual in the books Tim is a little bit grumpy. They find their pegs, join their class, have playtime, lunchtime and more class time and then go home. It's a great introduction to the routine of the day. I'm not sure Rosie recognises them as Topsy and Tim though, which makes me sad since the books came first and I used to read them to my brothers.

I love a Charlie and Lola book so I decided that we'd definitely want to have a look at I Am Too Absolutely Small for School by Lauren Child. It's a cracker of a book with the inimitable Lola finding various reasons why she doesn't want to learn numbers, reading and writing and Charlie finding just the thing that will appeal to her and change her mind. The invisible friend character is funny too!

So that's our collection! I do have a few more books that address starting school and school life but I think the above are the cream of the crop.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Just Imagine by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart

This book is the sequel to You Choose - a firm favourite in our house! So we were really looking forward to reading Just Imagine. It's funny because at first I really wasn't sure about how well it worked. But it has become such a bedtime favourite and a real winner for my 18 month old that I have reversed my opinion.
I think I felt it was slightly limited as appose to You Choose which seemed so boundless in choice and options. But as I say it has become a real favourite and we've spent hours reading it. The format and the look is similar to You Choose but the topics are quite different. I particularly like the page where you're invited to imagine yourself back in time and you can go to the Egyptians, the dinosaurs, world war two and many more, it's a very good basis for talking about history (if you can remember it all!).

There's a great picture of an amazing machine which covers two pages and you're invited to imagine what the machine would make. At first we thought that it would make the best ice cream in the world but lately Rosie has been saying that she thinks it can make medicine to cure any illness. When she first said that I was amazed, but I guess this book exercises your imagination to its peak!

There is a magical creatures page that at first I was confused by, not realising that it was essentially a before and after snapshot. Once we realised we had great fun spotting what things had turned into and what had changed. It's like a fantastic spot the difference for younger children!

There are a few pages of animals where my toddler really starts to engage (ie. roar like a lion!) and has been very helpful in learning the different animal noises, although I'm floored by a few (armadillo?). I'm also a fan of the flying in the sky and living in the sea pages, full of a mix of fantastical and real creatures and people and so many different options!

I could actually write a lot more about this book, I really think it's wonderful and that we will be enjoying it for a long while yet!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

100 First Animals by Little Tiger Kids

I was given this book by Little Tiger Books last year as part of their parent panel testing out books and doing reviews but at the time my youngest was 9 months so a bit little and my nearly 4 year old didn't seem that keen. So I didn't review it because I didn't have much to say!
But now! My 18th month old adores this book. It has umpteen flaps on each page with loads of different animals and because her language is exploding at the moment she's really interested in sounding out the animal names.

The flaps are integrated so much harder for little hands to pull off and the book is arranged thematically so you have 'farm animals', 'jungle animals', 'desert animals', 'pets' etc. Each flap lifts to show a close up, or maybe a mother and baby, of the animal pictured on the top. It's not the greatest surprise in the world but for this age group it works nicely.

It's a big sturdy book which uses photos instead of artwork and I think it works very well. There is something very cute about watching a toddler lug around a big book and then plonk themselves (usually right in your way!) and sit and read it totally absorbed.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Winnie's New Computer by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

We've been Winnie the Witch mad recently, mainly reading Winnie's New Computer - because that is the only Winnie book we have! Although we've had quite a few out from the library in the last few months, Winnie in Winter being a favourite, too.
 I think Rosie particularly likes the computer one because she feels sorry for Wilbur being shut out in the rain and being turned blue and then invisible. It's nicely done and thankfully fun to read (I think it might be nearing about 50 times now, I'm available for recitals!). 
Winnie orders a new computer and when she gets it she realises she can scan all her spells in and get rid of her spellbook and her old wand. But then something goes terribly wrong! It's actually quite an interesting comment on the paperless office now I come to think of it! And I did experience the utter terror of losing everything you hold online when my yahoo work email went down a few days ago. Yikes!

I think the Winnie books are charming and there is enough extra detail in the illustrations to bear rereading them again and again. The duo of Winnie and Wilbur is great fun too, although Wilbur always seems to bear the brunt of Winnie's crazy plans.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Monkey Nut by Simon Rickerty

This book has captivated my 18 month old. My four year old also loves it. I don't totally understand why the toddler adores it so much but I think it must be to do with the minimal text and slapstick humour!
It did however win the Roald Dahl funny prize in 2013. I do enjoy reading it since the minimal text and the amount happening in the illustrations lends itself to reading it in a very silly way. I always add 'CRUNCH!' when the elephant steps on the big black spider.

The design is quite clean and graphic, using photos (of the monkey nut) and illustrating the spiders. It's good fun! But it has made me realise I must buy some monkey nuts to show the girls since they've never had them - I know, deprivation in its worst form.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb

We've been really enjoying The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb. It's the story of a little girl whose mother makes her a string of paper dolls and they name them 'Ticky and Tacky and Jackie the Backie and Jim with two noses and Jo with the bow' and take them on all sorts of adventures until they are untimely cut short by a little boy with a pair of scissors!
It's a simple story but touches on some very big themes, including remembering people who have died, and growing up to become a parent and the passing on of traditions. After the little boy cuts the paper dolls into pieces the text tells us that they 'flew into the little girl's memory' and in the little girl's memory we find all sorts of things including 'a kind granny'.

The text is slightly different to Julia Donaldson's usual fare and I really like it, it's rhythmic but not rhyming and I know from experience how hard it is to get that to work. I guess if anyone is going to do it well it would have to be Julia Donaldson!

I really like the artwork by Rebecca Cobb as well. I like the sketchy feel of it and the colour palette she uses. She also manages to show the movement of the paper dolls, which I think is a feat in itself!

I'd almost forgotten that you could make paper dolls, they're so easy to do, anyone can make them, even me! We've made quite a few sets and seeing Rosie play with them is fascinating, it's easy to see why this picture book came into being, it's the imaginative world of a little girl come to life.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Favourite Christmas picture books!


It's nearly Christmas so here are a few of my favourite Christmas picture books. There are loads out this year and we haven't got round to reading them all by any means, in fact most of these are from previous years!

One that I haven't read yet but I am wishing for in my stocking is Alfie's Christmas. It looks wonderful! I am fairly confident that Rosie is going to receive it so we will snuggle up together and share it on Christmas day!

One of our very favourite Christmas books is Father Christmas Needs a Wee. It's got counting, Christmas and funny rhymes - it truly is a Christmas cracker of a book! I don't know why but even as an adult I get very excited seeing Father Christmas' house depicted. This year Random House have published Father Christmas Comes Up Trumps which looks equally fun.

Angelina's Christmas is a really sweet story about the old village postman being home alone and old and how Angelina and Henry cheer him up. Angelina's world lends itself to Christmas anyway with the nostalgic and beautiful illustrations.

We got The Christmas Show by Rebecca Patterson out of our library a couple of weeks ago and it has resonated with us since Rosie was in her first nativity play last week. She wasn't quite as forgetful as the main character in this book though! It's a nice gentle story about a school putting on their Christmas play. I love Rebecca Patterson's artwork, it's cheeky and cute!

I love the poem The Night Before Christmas and this version illustrated by Christian Birmingham is really lovely. The book we have is rather small - I wish I'd got a larger version (if there is one!) but it's still really nice.