Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Inspired by India

Inspired by India 2Lantana Publishing held an illuminating and thought-provoking event at the Nehru Centre in London last week, inspired by two of their recent picture books: You’re Safe With Me, written by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Poonam Mistry and Nimesh the Adventurer, written by Ranjit Singh, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini.

The authors and illustrators each told us about factors that influenced them. Chitra’s love of story-telling dates back to her early childhood in India. She remembers hearing stories from a very young age. Enid Blyton, particularly The Magic Faraway Tree, inspired all the stories she told her friends and relations.

Poonam, also born in India, was always fascinated by Indian folk art, with traditional textiles a particular inspiration. Aboriginal art has been another major influence on her style of illustration, along with the art of William Morris.

Born and raised in Southall with parents from India, Ranjit said his real education came from the local library, his haven when truanting. Japanese and Bengali film directors, Shakespeare and Sanskrit epics taught him how to tell stories.

Mehrdokht’s interest in books goes back to her childhood in Iran. Her mother taught literature. She fell in love with illustration when an art teacher asked the children to illustrate a children’s story. She chose one of Andersen’s tales.

Both You’re Safe With Me and Nimesh the Adventurer have been extremely well received within the children’s book world, and more importantly by children themselves, both in the UK and internationally. We heard that huge numbers of parents in India want books in English that feature children with lives like theirs.

Alice Curry of Lantana asked the panel their views about ‘the diversity label’ and whether they felt pressure to reflect their backgrounds in their work. All had experienced such pressure, and all agreed that the label is limiting and unhelpful (although Ranjit pointed out its marketing value). Chitra told us she gets more rejections for books without Indian characters, and that publishers frequently request Indian folk tales. Poonam and Mehrdokht were united: ‘We are illustrators. We should not be defined by our ethnicity or religion.’ Alice said Lantana never imposes limits on their authors and illustrators. How refreshing to hear that Chitra and Poonam’s next picture book for them is set in the Arctic.

This piece was written for Armadillo Magazine.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Children’s language and literacy – a round-up of recent news, research and articles

overview - book awardI loved attending last week’s Redbridge Children’s Book Award ceremony. The buzz around books and reading was palpable, so this photo is the ideal illustration for my final language and literacy news round-up of the school year.

A new study shows that language ability at school entry is an important predictor of student outcomes.

‘What’s going on in your child’s brain when you read them a story’ is interesting and useful.

The Education Endowment Foundation has published an important new report ‘Preparing for literacy’, focusing on the teaching of communication, language and literacy to children between three and five.

Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman has recently spoken about how vital reading and literacy more widely are in the early years. ‘Reading empowers children …… when you make a reader, you give them the world.’

In ‘Why aren’t children reading in schools’ Barbara Band analyses the reasons children may not be readers, and what to do about it, not least a school librarian ‘recognised as a valued professional colleague with specific skills and expertise’.

‘How can schools promote reading for pleasure?’ is well worth reading.

Clare Sealy makes important points about the necessity for daily reading aloud and highlights other reading for pleasure strategies in ‘We must promote reading for pleasure at primary school’.

‘On selecting better read alouds’ by Pernille Ripp has lots of valuable ideas.

In ‘Why asking how to get boys reading might be the wrong question’ author Jason Reynolds suggests that we need to listen to young people if we want to encourage them to get reading.

Do have a look at ‘For some children, reading feels like a cryptic code. We can help them crack it’.

I was very struck by ‘Vocabulary: What does it mean to know a word?’, which explores how to help children gain a strong understanding of words.

The International Literacy Association has published a useful report on reading fluency: ‘Reading fluently does not mean reading fast’.

Ali  Sparkes has three terms’ worth of practical suggestions in ‘Making the most of your author visit in primary’.

RedbridgeThat mention of author visits brings me back to last week’s ceremony, where children’s author Polly Ho-Yen wowed everyone with her passion for reading and writing and her humour. It was great too to hear Mayor Debbie Kaur-Thiara’s heartfelt belief in the power of reading, libraries and the summer reading challenge.

Monday, 25 June 2018

What characterises a good reader?

Sam & Jessie plus book

I often ask participants on training courses what characterises a good reader. It’s not at all an easy question, and there many possible answers.

At a conference recently Ofsted defined good readers as children who can:

•  see images
•  hear a reading voice
•  speculate and predict what happens next
•  ask questions and pass comments
•  empathise and relate what they read to their own experience
•  read and re-read sentences, searching for meaning
•  continually re-interpret as they read
•  enjoy multiple meanings and ambiguity
•  notice and interpret patterns (visual, verbal, aural, thematic, figurative)
•  relate what they have read to their own experience
•  relation their reading to their previous reading experience
•  have a range of reading strategies they can draw on
•  analyse and articulate their own reading processes
•  pass judgments on likes and dislikes
•  take time to think about a text, rather than rushing to judgment
•  read texts in different ways for different purposes

The Ofsted list is useful and thought-provoking. The absence of any reference to enjoyment concerns me deeply though. As you can probably tell from my choice of photo to accompany this, I think children can be good readers even before they have learnt to read.

I found children’s author Piers Torday’s Twitter response to the Ofsted definition inspiring. Alternatively, he wrote, a good reader is also someone who can

•  laugh
•  cry
•  sit on edge of seat
•  wonder
•  think about the world
•  throw the book across the room in rage
•  feel inspired
•  escape reality
•  imagine other lives and experiences
•  close the book and still be somewhere else for a brief moment

Yes, yes, yes!

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Picture books and their value – and some useful websites and publications

KFP2

I was very lucky to attend the Klaus Flugge Prize shortlist announcement last week. The prize is for the most promising and exciting newcomer to children’s picture book illustration. These are the books in contention.

I’m a huge fan of picture books. They have an enormous role to play for children of all ages. Is there any better route into reading for pleasure? Surely there is no aspect of literacy they do not benefit. Picture books are great for building empathy, and for supporting every area of social and emotional development. They increase children’s knowledge and understanding of the world. They develop thinking skills. They stimulate curiosity, imagination and creativity.

I felt very privileged to write a guest blog ‘In praise of picture books’ for the wonderful charity Give a Book recently. It gave me the opportunity to try to encapsulate all they offer and think through good practice in using them. They are on my mind again now as I am in the midst of preparing a picture books training course. All this has made me realise it might be useful to list some online and printed resources about picture books that I find particularly valuable.

Lauren ChildAt the start of this I mentioned the shortlisting event last week. Lauren Child gave a delightful talk about her development as an illustrator. This is one of the pictures she shared. How lovely to discover that the wall here is a National Trust one. She photographed that beautiful sky in Hackney. And the plants? They were growing in a New York allotment.