Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Marvellous Imaginations: Extending Thinking through Picture Books

As ever it was great to be at the NCRCL/IBBY national conference at the weekend. I’m a huge fan of picture books and all they offer, and make sure they feature highly on lots of my training courses training courses, so I loved the fact that the day was all about them.

klausThis is Klaus Flugge, long-standing champion of innovative picture books, with IBBY’s John Dunne and a cake in honour of Andersen Press’s 40th birthday.

Picture book expert Martin Salisbury was the first speaker. He talked compellingly about the importance of visual thinking. He celebrated the increasing blurring of the lines between writing and illustration and championed today’s pioneering breed of picture book makers who help readers see and understand the world in exciting new ways. He showed us some fabulous illustrated texts – I was delighted that one of these was The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head by Daisy Hirst – and threw in some very pertinent quotes. Here’s Saul Steinberg: ‘Drawing is a way of reasoning on paper.’ This is Corbusier: ‘I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster, and leaves less room for lies.’

Lecturer Vivienne Smith told us picture books can and should be play. She drew out the parallels between them. Play in early years education is freely chosen and self-directed, spontaneous, whole-hearted, creative and imaginative, explorative, and a context in which learning happens. Exploration and playfulness are certainly not embraced in current discourse around reading, yet they are how children learn. Practitioners should aim to create playful readers, to combat the impression children can now get all too easily, that reading is just about getting the words right. Children need playful books that playfully challenge their thinking and help them learn they can make a difference. ‘Playful reading animates texts; roots texts in the imagination; allows texts to become significant and useful to the reader. Play gives texts an afterlife.’

We were then privileged to hear an inspiring panel of speakers discuss the power of picture books to develop children’s thinking, understanding and empathy. Miranda McKearney of Empathy Lab, Nicky Parker of Amnesty International, Harriet Goodman from Philosophy for Children and the chair, author Sita Brahmachari extolled picture books for providing a platform for raising questions and helping children to explore abstract ideas and concepts, as well as difficult issues and emotions. Picture books can fuel a sense of social justice and teach children that more unites than divides us. Mirror by Jeannie Baker and There’s a Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins, both of which I love and use a lot, were held up as just two examples. Picture books can create compassionate and critical thinkers who grasp the meaning of fairness and will be better able to stand up against bigotry and violence. Wonderful stuff!

Parallel session followed, and I was inspired again by the one I attended on how an international collection of silent picture books (or books without borders, to use Sita Brahmachari’s excellent phrase for wordless picture books) has been used to enormous effect with migrant children in Lampadusa and has galvanised children in a village in southern France. How moving to see the picture books the French children made for the children in Lampadusa being handed over. The IBBY Silent Books project aims to promote books as a tool for integration. Lovely to hear some of the ways in which that aim is being fulfilled.

Lunch next, and a chance to catch up with friends and colleagues, and to talk to some inspiring publishers. Then we heard lots of very positive NCRCL and IBBY news. The IBBY international congress in New Zealand sounded amazing.

It was good after this to listen to two illustrators talk about their craft. Laura Carlin and Carol Thompson were very interesting on the huge amount of thought and creativity they put into their books, so that they give enjoyment and provoke thinking and understanding.

Next Louise John Shepherd and Charlotte Hacking from CLPE explained the Power of Pictures project. This is helping teachers discover good picture book creators and learn how to read picture books, particularly interpreting the pictures. It is giving them confidence to use them and providing ideas for exploring them with their pupils. I frequently talk about the value of picture books in terms of inference and critical thinking, so was pleased to hear these benefits highlighted. I really liked this quote too, from Perry Nodelman: ‘The words tell us what the pictures don’t show, and the pictures show us what the words don’t tell us.’

I used to be a volunteer with the Reader Organisation, so was very pleased Jane Davies, its founder, was speaking. After telling everyone about the brilliant shared reading approach, and a wonderful project with looked after children, she outlined the latest Reader initiative, a fabulous story barn in Liverpool, ‘a place where reading helps imagination run wild’. I really want to visit it.

The conference drew to an end with a brief speech from Nicholas John Frith, winner of the inaugural Klaus Flugge prize for the most exciting newcomer to picture books illustration, and then that amazing cake. What a day!

Friday, 4 November 2016

Children’s reading – news, articles and quotes for Children’s Book Week

embrun-statueWhat better time to reflect on children’s reading and explore the latest research and articles about it than Children’s Book Week. And what better quote to start with than English teacher and children’s author Emma Cox’s words in her TES article about the value of reading for children: ‘Reading is the most powerful gift we can give a child: it puts stardust in their imaginations’. Lovely!

I took the photo in Embrun in the French Alps. Great to see children’s reading celebrated in this way.

November is National Non-Fiction Month – the perfect opportunity to highlight information books and harness their value. So many children get into reading because they love finding things out. Non-fiction can change the attitudes of reluctant readers. There’s a poster and information available about 100 brilliant NF books, and a chance to win the entire set. The National Federation of Children’s Book Groups blog has lots of interesting posts on NF themes. The Federation has an activity pack to encourage NF book-making and tips for booking NF authors.

I totally agree with the title, and the content, of the latest BookTrust blog ‘No wrong book’ – how to get your child reading.

New research shows that reading to children is more effective than technology at boosting science skills.

There’s been lots of press coverage of a report on boy’s reading that says boys read less thoroughly than girls, and therefore understand less, and that they are more likely to choose books below their reading level. The research is based on analysis of Accelerated Reader data, which has raised questions among some commentators about its overall validity.

Susan Elkin has written an article on how to get boys reading.

‘Equip teachers to support children with language disorders in the classroom’ makes interesting reading, showing that lack of recognition of language disorders has major impact on children’s literacy and wider learning.

For those working in the secondary sector, I came across a useful blog on the importance of higher level language skills for literacy, in particular the need for support for comprehension, especially for students with poor language skills.

I was pleased to discover innovative ideas for supporting literacy through photography.

Finally, wise words from Professor Teresa Cremin: ‘We cannot require children to read with or for pleasure, nor can we oblige them to engage positively in words and worlds. We can, however, invite and entice children to find enjoyment in reading, share our own pleasures (and dissatisfactions) as readers, and work to build communities of engaged readers.’

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Rhymes and rhyme times and their value

golders-green-rhyme-time-1I have lots of training coming up on supporting reading in the Early Years Foundation Stage, and on working with babies and under fives in museums. Preparing them has got me thinking again about how important rhymes and rhyme times are. Then just today, I had a request for a rhyme time course.

There’s no question that young children love rhyme times, and that parents and carers value them greatly. The photo here of a wonderful session I attended in a Barnet library demonstrates just how special they are. There is also no question about the support they give for children’s well-being, their learning and their overall development. Research and anecdotal evidence show that they benefit:

•    social skills
•    self-esteem and confidence
•    attention and concentration
•    memory
•    imagination
•    physical coordination and motor skills
•    cognitive development
•    understanding of the world
•    numeracy
•    communication skills
•    speaking and listening skills
•    literacy
•    phonological awareness
•    vocabulary
•    comprehension

Quite a list! You might also be interested to read a recent article on the value of music and rhyme for children’s literacy development and another one on how using stories, songs and rhymes can support mental health.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Children’s and young people’s mental health: how reading can help, plus booklists and quotes

img_3525Some time ago I did a fascinating and illuminating online course on literature and mental health. It’s still available. Doctors, celebrities and academics shared moving insights about the ways in which reading can help people struggling with depression and other debilitating mental health issues. Mental health problems among children and young people are horribly prevalent. As someone who specialises in children’s and young people’s reading, I am particularly interested in the role that books and reading can play in supporting them, and also in spreading understanding about the issues. In the words of Frank Cottrell Boyce, a book is ‘the knife that picks the lock of your isolation.’

I have found these articles and booklists informative and helpful:

Holly Bourne (author of the wonderful Am I Normal Yet?) has written an excellent piece on mental health issues in YA fiction.

Read what two teenagers with mental health problems have to say about the importance of books – and the paucity of provision – in ‘Mental health and books: teenagers speak out’.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has a list of books for pre-school to 12 year-old children on a wide range of mental health concerns. Letterbox Library supplies a good range of children’s books on mental health issues. Have a look too at Booktrust’s list, which includes both children’s and young adult titles.

Do read about the Reading Well scheme to support young people’s mental health in libraries. There’s a useful guide to the books available, organised by issue (eg bullying, self-harm, OCD, body image and eating disorders).

Young Minds has a list of young adult books that reflect mental health issues. There’s another valuable booklist from Madeleine Kuderick, author of Kiss of Broken Glass.

A few more quotes to end. Shami Chakrabarti tells us ‘Reading can bring the breeze of hope’. This is John Green: ‘Great books help you understand, and they help you feel understood.’ Matt Haig, who writes so brilliantly about depression, says in Reasons to Stay Alive that reading is important ‘because it gives you room to exist beyond the reality you’re given. Reading makes the world better.’ Finally, here’s Ben Okri: ‘Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Dyslexia information, articles and websites for Dyslexia Awareness Week

daw_abdDyslexia Awareness Week starts today. What better time for a round-up of useful resources?

This is good on how to make sense of dyslexia.

Research on dyslexia and the brain shows, among other things, that children with dyslexia hear language differently and it’s this that impacts on their reading and spelling. Dyslexic brains are good brains too is also well worth reading.

These visuals showing what reading is like if you have dyslexia are fascinating.

Dyslexic and Loving Words is a moving film, with insights from dyslexic authors, storytellers, poets and academics, including Sally Gardner and Benjamin Zephaniah.

Nasen has guidance on supporting secondary students with dyslexia.

Excellent publishers Barrington Stoke have tips for parents and a useful app.

Do read Bev Humphries on using apps and tablets to support struggling readers.

Finally, some helpful websites:

British Dyslexia Association

Driver Youth Trust

Dyslexia Action

Dyslexia Scotland

Dyslexia SpLD Trust

Helen Arkell

Nasen