THE PURPOSE OF THIS BLOG:
To encourage parents and teachers to read to children (and to educate picture book writers about including cognitive elements in their work). The act of reading out loud is not enough. When reading a picture book, or even a middle grade book, we are given a fantastic opportunity to develop an interactive experience with our children.
What is an interactive experience?
This interactive experience does not require any devices. It does require constant interfacing between the adult and the child/children.
When reading to children, you want to deliver the book in a manner that invites the children to participate as active listeners and engages responses from them that grow their minds.
Passive listening is all very well, but the story is soon over, and an opportunity has been lost to use ‘story time’ as a guided exploration of another world, or some subject. I totally understand how often the bedtime story has to be delivered promptly and that there is no time for discussion. I firmly believe however, when possible, an extended period devoted to reading and delving into the text, benefits the child, and is enjoyed by both the adult and the child.
Let me take you on a journey with me, as I ‘read’ ‘The Dudgeon is Coming’ to a hypothetical child.
Of all Dame Lynley Dodd’s fabulous picture books, this one is my favourite. The beautiful, jungle-scene illustration on the cover caught my attention, and the title enticed me further. On reading the first page, I knew I was on to a winner.
Yes, it is a rhyming story. Amongst picture book writers, it is common knowledge that publishers are not keen on rhyming books. Too many manuscripts have rhyme and scanning issues. However, children love rhyming stories, and a well-written story trips off the tongue in a delightful fashion.
According to research (http://www.readingrockets.org/article/development-phonological-skills), 80-90% of 5 year olds should be able to recognize rhyming words (Does cat rhyme with mat?); and by the age of 5 ½ , they should be able to generate rhyming words (Which word rhymes with hat?).
When we read rhyming books to children, they instinctively absorb rhyming knowledge. For some children, they will need targeted guidance, for example, using a passage from ‘The Dudgeon is Coming’:
“ ‘Pass on the news,’
said the bombazine bear
to the taffeta cat
who was dressing her hair.”
Adult: ‘Does news rhyme with bear?’
Adult: ‘Listen as I say the words again. B…EAR; N…EWS. Do the ends of the words sound the same? b…EAR; n…EWS’
Child: ‘Nope – they are different.’
Adult: ‘Spot on! Let us try this one. Does bear rhyme with cat?’
Child: ‘B…EAR, C…AT. No, they are not the same at the end.’
Adult: ‘How about bear and hair?’
Adult: ‘They rhyme because they both have the ‘ear/air’ sound at the end of the words. b…EAR, h…AIR.’
Rhyming is all about sound. The graphemes (letters) do not need to match. In fact, they often do not.
Rhyming is a listening skill, not a reading skill; however, once a child understands rhyming, they are quicker to learn to read using Word Families in Phonics.
In ‘The Dudgeon is Coming’, Lynley Dodd used a great tool: PAGE TURNS. She knew how to pitch suspense in order to encourage the reader to continue TURNING THE PAGES.
Picture book writers and illustrators know the value of page turns. Your book is a success if a child cannot put it down until it is finished. An even greater gauge of success is if the child begs for the book to be read again, once the last page has been done!
In ‘The Dudgeon is Coming’ the reader knows is that the dudgeon is coming tonight, but nobody knows anything more than that. Trust me, one’s toes curl with curiosity!
Auditory (Hearing) Skills
Do you remember playing ‘Chinese Whispers’ when you were a child? Then you will also remember how convoluted and confused a simple statement became. The tiny piece of information about the coming of the dudgeon is contorted into something resembling a frightening urban myth.
Without posing an obvious moral at the end of the story, children will understand how easy it is to mishear, misinterpret information and misinform others.
This story is an excellent springboard for teaching children listening skills. Ask them to explain how the message changed and what happened because the second character was not listening carefully enough.
It is vital that children develop good listening skills. They will need this skill-set for the rest of their lives.
Be a Voiceover Artist
Some books just need to be read in a clear manner. ‘The Dugeon is Coming’ deserves a voiceover effort.
- When reading to children, I try to give each character their own unique voice. For instance, I think the Bombazine Bear has a low, quiet voice, while I think the Stickleback Twitch speaks with a squeaky stutter (I think he exudes nervous energy). You may infer that these characters should sound different. How you decide they should sound is up to you. There is no right or wrong way to speak for these characters, but I think both adult and child can really enjoy the moment, if you can get down to the child’s level and bring the character to life.
- I also vary the volume. In ‘The Dudgeon is Coming’, I sense a growing fear among the creatures, and knowing how shrill children get when they frightened, I tend to get louder with each new character. I strongly suspect Lynley Dodd intended for the Pineapple Pig to shout his warning, as the type is in UPPER CASE! The volume gets cranked right down for the last part of the story when the dudgeon arrives.
- I also try to vary the speed in which I read. The pace tends to escalate with each new character introduced, however, like the volume, I dial it down several notches at the end.
If we give children time to examine illustrations, their visual discrimination (understanding and discernment of visual information) skills are built. The better a child can evaluate and grasp visual data, the more likely they are to remember it. Intensively studying pictures can help prepare children for learning to read.
In ‘The Dudgeon is Coming’, the illustrations are colourful and full of fascinating imaginative creatures. Guide the child to study colour and textures. Also encourage the child to ‘read’ the characters’ emotion and actions portrayed in the illustrations.
In multiple areas of the story, Dame Lynley Dodd uses vocabulary children will not be accustomed to. The words are exciting and children may like the sound of them (and mimic them), but you will need to explain some of the definitions too.
Please join me for another picture book review blog in the middle of March, and an illustration-related blog at the end of February.