Cognitive Elements in Picture Books - Book Reviews

Episode 10: Tubby the Tuba

THE PURPOSE OF THIS BLOG:

To encourage parents and teachers to read to children (and to educate picture book writers and illustrators 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.

I grew up in the days of cassette tapes. CDs were a novelty in my early teens. As a child, I suffered from chronic asthma which kept me in bed for extended periods.  My mother did her best to keep me entertained. One of my greatest joys was listening to a vast collection of cassette tapes – nursery rhymes, stories, music, etc. One of my favourites was Danny Kaye narrating ‘Tubby the Tuba’.

I was so excited to find Tubby in book form, and bought it to entertain my sister’s children and use with my students.

Tubby the Tuba

Written by Paul Tripp

Illustrated by Henry Cole

Published by Dutton Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, Penguin Group, 345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

The illustrations appear to be mixed media.

This fiction book is perfect for children aged 3 to 8, but brings much nostalgic joy to this adult too. The book is accompanied by a CD and is narrated by the author, Paul Tripp. The music was composed by George Kleinsinger. The melodious soundtrack was performed by the Radio Orchestra of Bratislava, Slovakia, and was conducted by Stephen Gunzenhauser.

Summary:

Tubby, a tuba, feels sad as he never plays a pretty melody with the orchestra. He just ‘oompahs’ a rhythm.

The History Behind ‘Tubby the Tuba’:

According to Wikipedia, the Tubby song traces its origins back to World War II, following the attack on Pearl Harbor. After Paul Tripp and George Kleinsinger performed their first musical piece, the tuba player quipped: “You know, tubas can sing, too.” With this in mind, Tripp wrote the tale of a tuba who found a melody to play, and the pair then made a song out of it. It was not until the war ended that they finally had a hit with “Tubby”.

Lessons to be learnt from this fantastic book:

  1. Auditory Discrimination – When children listen to the recording, while reading along in the book, they will hear the different sounds and tones of some of the different instruments of the orchestra. If the children listen to the recording several times, prompt them to try to name the instruments playing. They will learn to differentiate the sounds and also to remember them. When they listen to other orchestral/classical music, they may then be able to recall the sound of the instrument and correctly identify it in other pieces of music. It is important that children develop auditory discrimination – it is vital for learning spelling and reading (encoding and decoding words).
  2. Musical Appreciation – Many children are not exposed to orchestral or classical music nowadays. Using a book like ‘Tubby the Tuba’ can be a great way to introduce children to a musical genre with which they are not familiar.
  3. Vocabulary Development – As the sounds of the musical instruments are introduced, so are the names of the instruments, as well as other musical terms and words associated with orchestral music, like: scales, melody, conductor, baton, etc. The book also contains lovely words like quivered, indignation, audience, rehearsal, disgrace, snickered, etc.
  4. Personal Conviction – This story is a great way to help children when discussing how they should maintain personal convictions (standing up for themselves) and how to manage situations when they are being belittled by others.

For writers:

  • Text Is Very Active – This story is a good example of ‘showing not telling’. There is dialogue, but very little description.
  • Advanced Vocabulary – Use words required to best tell the story, but always use them in context. The illustrator can assist with the explanation through the illustrations.
  • Onomatopoeia – Onomatopoeia is another device for helping to ‘tune-in’ children’s ears to sounds (phonemes). They often like to mimic the sounds too. Paul Tripp used sounds like: shhhhhh, oompah, tinkled, hooted, bug-gup, ahem, etc. Onomatopoeia words sound like the sounds they make. Onomatopoeia also helps maintain attention to the story. Children love sound effects. If the paired reader can read ‘with feeling’, the sound effects entice the children to listen more carefully.

For illustrators:

  • Bold Outlines – All characters in the foreground have bold black outlines, whereas the background settings have either much finer black outlines or just a pencilled outline. It is easy for the readers to determine the focal point.
  • Dynamic Characters –Character expression and body language is the focus of the illustrations. Colours are kept clean and simple and there is no distracting texture. The story is about characters and so are the illustrations. Background and setting is minimal too.

About the writer:

Paul Tripp lived from February 20, 1911 to August 29, 2002. He was an American children’s musician, author, songwriter, and television and film actor. He collaborated with a fellow composer, George Kleinsinger. Tripp was the creator of the 1945 “Tubby the Tuba”, a piece of classical music for children that has become his best-known work. He authored several books, including Rabbi Santa Claus and Diary of a Leaf.

About the illustrator:

Henry Cole is a self-trained American illustrator. He has illustrated over one hundred picture books.

For those of you new to my blog, I blog about my illustration journey (I am working on a new picture book at the moment, so am sharing as I go along), and review picture books (to share how cognitive elements can be drawn from the book to educate the child, and also how writers and illustrators can incorporate these elements in their work).

At the moment, I am trying to produce one of each blog per month. Please join me again next month.

Happy reading!

Links to the other Tubby stories:

https://archive.org/details/78_the-further-adventure-of-tubby-the-tuba-part-2_ray-middleton-russ-case-and-his-or_gbia0062489/01+-+The+Further+Adventure+of+Tubby+the+Tuba+-++-+Ray+Middleton.flac

Cognitive Elements in Picture Books - Book Reviews

Episode 6: Meerkat Mail (Emily Gravett)

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all have a blessed 2020!

Written and illustrated by Emily Gravett

Published by Macmillan Children’s Books, London, 2006, 2015

The illustrations were created in pencil and watercolour.

This story is perfect for young children, aged 3 to 6. Be aware that 5 minutes will not suffice to explore this book! This is one of those special books that delivers each time you open it. It is one of my favourite picture books ever.

Summary:

Sunny is a Meerkat. He lives in the hot, sunny, Kalahari Desert. He wants to leave home.

Lessons to be learnt from this lovely book:

  1. Zoology – As revealed in the book, meerkats are members of the mongoose family. Children learn about these small creatures through cleverly inserted details in the story, and by the enticing features liberally showered through the book, by way of postcards and postage stamps. Apart from learning about the mongoose family, other creatures like the African Red Hornbill, scorpions, termites, snails, frogs, earthworms, insect larvae, crustacea, reptiles and insects are mentioned.
  2. Number concept – In several places, you can encourage your child to either count or estimate the number of objects, such as ants, meerkats, locusts, termites and chickens. This helps reinforce number concept – the understanding of numbers as quantities.
  3. Social lessons – Sunny appears to be equally fed-up living in a hot, sunny, desert climate and having to live at close quarters with his large family.
  • A story like ‘Meerkat Mail’ can be a great springboard for discussing family dynamics: Why family is important? How do deal with situations when we are irritated or frustrated with a family member or members? etc. Sunny learns that it is better to be smothered but supported by family than to be independent and without a support network.
  • Stranger danger message – although never mentioned by name in the text, Meerkat is being shadowed by a suspicious character. The children will infer that he is up to is no good, but you may need to point him out lurking in the background. We probably shouldn’t pass up an opportunity to remind our children of the ‘stranger danger’ message.

4. Humour – Although aimed at children, this book definitely contains humour that will appeal to the adult reader. One of my favourite moments is on the back cover: Manufactured by: mongeeses mongooses small mammals.

Humour often encourages participation in the book, and will usually result in the book becoming a family favourite. Depending on the child, some of the humour may need explanation.

5. Vocabulary development – most of the vocabulary is age appropriate; however, you may find odd words that need to be explained to children.

6. Geography – It could be a good time to pull out an atlas, or make use of Dr. Google, to show children the location of the Kalahari Desert, Liberia and Madagascar.

For writers:

  • Emphasis – Emily Gravett uses uppercase and enlarged text to emphasis some words. These words can be spoken more loudly.
  • Bite-sized phrases – there are pockets of text sprinkled throughout the illustrations. Text is also displayed in eye-popping ways: on the meerkat teacher’s chalk board, on a sheet of note paper, on postcards, on a banner and engraved on the sand-dunes. Look for ways to insert the text in non-block formats.

For illustrators:

  • Textural illustrations – the illustrations on the covers, end-papers and title pages are layered like a collage. It creates interest through its varied composition. This is also an engineered book with postcard flaps, concealing information that the child needs to see. Every available surface has been utilised to promote the narrative.
  • Static composition – All of the story illustrations are created in a forward, street view. They are, however, shown up close, so that the reader feels as though they are participating in the scene, not just witnessing it.  
  • Varied illustration formats – the illustrator utilises full page bleeds, framed vignettes and double page layouts.
  • Colour palette – is extremely limited, using neutral shades, except for pops of scarlet on items that add humour and promote discussion between the reader and the audience.
  • Simple illustrations – the beauty of these illustrations come from the simple, yet well-constructed design, accompanied by the strong portrayal of emotion and action-filled characters.
  • Text incorporated into the illustrations – Story text is displayed on the meerkat teacher’s chalk board, on a sheet of note paper, on postcards, on a banner and engraved on the sand-dunes.

About the writer-illustrator:

Emily Gravett is a British illustrator and has created many picture books.

https://www.emilygravett.com/

‘Meerkat Mail’ can be purchased:

https://www.bookdepository.com/Meerkat-Mail-Emily-Gravett/9781416934738

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Meerkat-Mail-Emily-Gravett/dp/1405090758

https://www.booktopia.com.au/meerkat-mail-emily-gravett/book/9781509836130.html

For those of you who are new to my blog, I write a month blog, alternating between illustration-themed blogs, and picture book reviews with cognitive insights for parents, teachers, picture book writers and illustrators.

This month, however, I am doing both blogs – a New Years bonus!

Happy reading!

Cognitive Elements in Picture Books - Book Reviews

Episode 6: ‘Oh Dear, Geoffrey’ (Gemma O’Neill)

THE PURPOSE OF THIS BLOG:

To encourage parents and teachers to read to children (and to educate picture book writers and illustrators 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.

As an illustrator, the cover illustration draws my attention. If the cover is appealing, then I will peek inside and see what treasure I can uncover between the pages.

So, what are we reading today?

Oh Dear, Geoffrey

Written and Illustrated by Gemma O’Neill

Published by Templar Publishing in 2013.

The illustrations appear to be collage and mixed media (possibly digital). There is no information in the book, so I cannot be certain.

This book will appeal to toddlers, but many older children will also delight in it.

Summary:

Geoffrey is a young, clumsy giraffe whose efforts to make friends, with his fellow animals, goes awry. Until he realises that he was looking for friendship in the wrong places.

The cognitive insights for this book:

  1. Social messages – Sometimes we cannot be friends with everyone, but there will be someone out there who is just right for us. We just need to keep looking. The monkeys and birds reach out to Geoffrey, who is miserable at this point in the story. We can encourage our children to watch out for those who are lonely or needing a friend. This story can also be a comfort to those of us who are lamentably clumsy! I recommend this book for anyone who associates with Dyspraxic children. It can be extremely isolating if you feel that your clumsiness will get in the way of socialising, sport, games, etc.
  2. Vocabulary development – Gemma uses delightful words like: buckly, stumbles, bumbles, tangled, twitter, etc. These words are explained through the context of the story. They are often bolstered by synonyms, and the actions, both in text and illustrations, reinforce the definition of the more advanced vocabulary. Because so many synonyms are used, this introduces children to the world of using alternative vocabulary for simple, basic words. Often young children delight in using ‘grown-up’ language while conversing.
  3. General knowledge – Different animal species are introduced in the story. Most children are fascinated by animals. Animal stories have a universal appeal, and this story will be popular for many years to come.
  4. Reading with expression – The text is arranged in bite-size pieces, so the reader can relish the rhythm it creates. Emphasis and volume can be employed when the text is enlarged. Reading with emphasis helps children maintain concentration as they are receiving auditory stimulation. It brings the story to life.

For the illustrators:

  • Illustration format – Since giraffes are such tall creatures, most illustrators would probably select portrait orientation for their illustrations. Geoffrey is only fully seen once (the final illustration). Gemma O’Neill has opted to zoom in and focus on particular features, like the head, legs, etc. Illustrators should not feel that they need to draw the entire character, especially when pace and tension may be improved by showing less.
  • Dynamic illustrations – Gemma only illustrates background when it is essential to the story. She always grounds the characters (they are not walking on air!). This is a smart move, as the foreground of every illustration is packed with detail and texture.
  • Animation – At no time are the characters static. Their faces are expressive, and their actions explode off the pages.
  • Colour palette – Is earthy, with the only deviations being the turquoise birds and pink flamingos. This scheme ensures cohesion throughout the book, and is only interrupted by surprising pops of these other colours.

For the writers:

  • Gemma O’Neill takes advantage of every page she can – the publisher’s details are printed on the back cover.  
  • The text is not laid out in traditional blocks. It is symbiotically arranged with the images. The font size also is enlarged to add emphasis.

About the writer-illustrator:

Gemma O’Neill is an illustrator from Northern Ireland. She illustrates books, has her own greetings cards range and creates artwork commissions.

https://gemmaoneill.bigcartel.com/about-gemma

‘Oh Dear, Geoffrey’ can be purchased from:

https://www.amazon.com/Oh-Dear-Geoffrey-Gemma-ONeill/dp/0763666599

https://www.booktopia.com.au/oh-dear-geoffrey–gemma-o-neill/book/9780763666590.html

https://www.bookdepository.com/Oh-Dear-Geoffrey-Gemma-ONeill/9780763666590

For those of you who are new to my blog, I write a month blog, alternating between illustration-themed blogs, and picture book reviews with cognitive insights for parents, teachers, picture book writers and illustrators.

Please join me this time next month for another an illustration blog about my current picture book project.

Happy reading!

Cognitive Elements in Picture Books - Book Reviews

Episode 5: ‘A Year in Our New Garden’ (Gerda Muller) and ‘Earnestine’s Milky Way’ (Kerry Madden-Lunsford)

THE PURPOSE OF THIS BLOG:

To encourage parents and teachers to read to children (and to educate picture book writers and illustrators 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.

We will be looking at two picture books in this blog.

The repairs to our home are progressing, so I have been able to retrieve my picture book collection. The two books being reviewed this month, however, are library books. I simply couldn’t resist them.

As an illustrator, the cover illustration draws my attention. If the cover is appealing, then I will peek inside and see what treasure I can uncover between the pages.

So, what are we reading today?

A Year in Our New Garden

Written and Illustrated by Gerda Muller

Published in English by Floris Books in 1988, 2016 (first published in 1988 in German as ‘Ein Garten fur Kinder in der Stadt’.

The illustrations appear to be done in pen and ink and watercolour.

This book will appeal to junior primary-aged children.

The cognitive insights for this book:

  1. Comprehension and memory skills – Prose is an excellent pathway for teaching comprehension skills. Feel free to ask your child questions about what you have read. Not only will the child have to retrieve information (memory skills), but you will also have an opportunity to determine whether your child has really understood the story or information conveyed. You are also able to share additional information or explanation.
  2. Visual perception – Discuss the pictures. Sometimes picture and story books will contain a sub-plot that is only apparent in the illustrations. Although this book doesn’t quite do that, it does show some lovely instances that are not mentioned in the text. For example, the title page displays a sparrow bathing in some rainwater in the drain; or when the children are gardening, Anna has her doll resting in the vegetable garden beside her. Encourage the child to see all the untold story that is shown in the pictures. They will learn to notice/observe and understand and infer through what they see.
  3. Sequencing – The story travels through a year. It explores the sequence of the seasons. See if you child is able to name the seasons in order. If they remember the story, it will make it easier for them to remember the seasons in the right order.
  4. Vocabulary development – Many plants, gardening implements, creatures etc. are discussed in this book. Your child may become interested in learning the names of plants in their own garden. Books like this are great aids in developing general knowledge.
  5. Activity – Reading this book may encourage an interest in nature and/or gardening. It may just foster, in your child, a life-long hobby or a career in botany or zoology.

Additional lessons that can be learned from this story include:

  • Friendship – Benjamin and Anna become friends with their upstairs neighbour, Louis, who is in a wheelchair. At least in Benjamin and Anna’s eyes, Louis is as capable as them.
  • Facts – Although a vast amount of information is delivered throughout the story, the final couple pages are devoted to teaching the facts about pollen, sowing seeds, roots and types of plants suited to growing in very small spaces.

For the illustrators:

  • Dynamic illustrations – there is a mixture of formats, including aerial view, vignettes, plans, diagrams, thumbnails, full-bleeds, with and without background. As a result, the illustrations are attention-grabbing.
  • Colour palette – is consistent throughout the book and tends to more neutral colours. They are realistic and detailed without being cluttered.

For the writers:

Written in prose, this book has more than 32 pages and is more of a story book than a picture book. The word count definitely exceeds 500 words. Though story books are now considered old-fashioned, I believe there is still a place for them, as they present a bridge between average picture books (containing approximately 500 words) and chapter books. Please comment if you know of any publishers who welcome story book submissions.

About the writer-illustrator:

Gerda Muller is a Dutch children’s book author and illustrator. She has illustrated more than 120 books for children and her books have been translated into many languages. She is best known in Britain for her Seasons board books and A Year Around the Great Oak (all published by Floris Books). https://www.florisbooks.co.uk/authors/gerda-muller.php

‘A Year in Our New Garden’ can be purchased:

https://www.booktopia.com.au/a-year-in-our-new-garden-gerda-muller/book/9781782502593.html

https://www.amazon.com/Year-Our-New-Garden/dp/1782502599/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=%27A+Year+in+Our+New+Garden%27&qid=1567066808&s=gateway&sr=8-1

https://www.bookdepository.com/Year-Our-New-Garden-Gerda-Muller/9781782502593?ref=grid-view&qid=1567066827540&sr=1-1

Ernestine’s Milky Way

Written by Kerry Madden-Lunsford and illustrated by Emily Sutton

Published by Schwartz & Wade Books (imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC), New York, 2019

The illustrations were created using ink and watercolour.

Keeping with the theme of gardens, I was very pleasantly surprised by this book.

This story is perfect for young children, aged 3 to 6. It could be a quick read, but I lovely how much can be unpacked from the text, illustrations and general context of the book.

The story summary:

Ernestine and her mother live on a farm. Since her mother is in the late stages of pregnancy, Ernestine volunteers to carry milk to the neighbour’s house, but the journey is fraught with danger.

Lessons to be learnt from this lovely book:

  1. Botany – Like the previous book review, this book offers an enrichment experience. Who wouldn’t be curious about Googling plants named ‘doghobble’ and ‘devil’s walking stick’?
  2. Astronomy – In a charming and informal manner, children can be introduced to learning about constellations, galaxies, etc.
  3. History – This story is set during World War II, in the rural Great Smoky Mountains of the USA. It is a reminder of days past and of a lifestyle few of us can fathom. This book presents a lovely opportunity to discuss the differences between the era in which the book is set, and our own time. Also watch out for the colloquial dialect. If you can mimic the accent, your kids will love it.
  4. Zoology – The majority of children are fascinated by animals. This book mentions creatures that your child may not be familiar with (wolf, skunks, panthers, whistle pigs, mockingbirds, black bear, raccoons). In New Zealand, we have many birds, reptiles, amphibia and insects; but not native animals. How exciting for children to learn about wildlife from other countries!
  5. Vocabulary – I feel it is always a privilege to help expand a child’s vocabulary. This book introduces words like: hollered, springhouse, constellations, shanty, pail, barbed-wire, Venus, lavender, thicket, passel, glistening, pell-mell, straddled, etc,
  6. Emotional and social lessons – Emily Sutton’s folksy illustrations support the text so well. They bring alive a story set in a time when more people lived off their land and had to co-operate with others to exist. So many of us now live an ‘island’ existence – struggling through on our own. This story reiterates that we need to be there for other people, and they will be there for us.
  7. Map – The simplified map gives the child an opportunity to relive the story and recite it back to the adult. The grown-up can then be sure that the child has correctly sequenced the story, and adequately remembered it.
  8. Hobby – the writer provides a recipe for the corn bread mentioned in the story. You might find yourself living with the next Jamie Oliver!
  9. Background – this story is loosely based on the life of the author’s friend. The Author’s Note, at the back of the book, makes interesting reading.

For writers:

  1. Onomatopoeia – Ernestine hears noises as she walks to the Ramsey’s shanty house: snuffa-snuffa-snufflin, grunta-grunta-gruntin, scratch-scratch-scratchin. Onomatopoeia teaches children auditory and phonological discrimination – the ability to understand sound, which is so important when they are reading and spelling.
  2. Increased anticipation is induced when reading about Ernestine’s wariness when hearing the animals around her. First, she said, then called, and then yelled.
  3. Recurring phrase – several times in the book, Ernestine says, ‘I am five years old and a big girl!’. When a phrase is repeated multiple times, children often memorise it, will recite it at the correct moment in the story, and will often make it a catch phrase during play, etc. Memorisation like this helps children to remember other things too; and helps them to pick up and use phrases in their everyday speech.

For illustrators:

  1. Colour Palette – Emily Sutton kept her colour palette very simple: warm brown, reds, oranges, yellows, greens, blues and greys. Her palette only deviates slightly for the illustration depicting the early morning, and is painted in cool shades of brown, green, blue and mauve.
  2. Textural illustrations – Instead of heaps of detail, the illustrator has created the illusion of detail by using pencil texture marks. It works extremely well.
  3. Dynamic composition – It is very easy for an illustrator to use just one kind of ‘viewing angle’ for illustrations; for instance, a direct street view. However, Emily Sutton uses different angles and winding curves to create the impression of distance and danger. She also illustrates at an elevated angle (looking down) and gives the idea that she is either following or leading Ernestine in the scenes, a little like a camera man.
  4. Varied illustration formats – The illustrator utilises full page bleeds, vignettes, double page layouts and even a simplified map. Both the composition and format maintain visual interest throughout the book.

Ernestine’s Milky Way’ can be purchased:

https://www.amazon.com/Ernestines-Milky-Way-Kerry-Madden-Lunsford/dp/1524714844/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Ernestine’s+Milky+Way&qid=1567067245&s=gateway&sr=8-1

https://www.bookdepository.com/Ernestines-Milky-Way-Kerry-Madden-Lunsford/9781524714840?ref=grid-view&qid=1567067252451&sr=1-1

https://www.booktopia.com.au/ernestine-s-milky-way-kerry-madden-lunsford/book/9781524714840.html

For those of you who are new to my blog, I write a month blog, alternating between illustration-themed blogs, and picture book reviews with cognitive insights for parents, teachers, picture book writers and illustrators.

Please join me this time next month for another an illustration blog about my current picture book project.

Happy reading!

Cognitive Elements in Picture Books - Book Reviews

Episode 4: ‘Two Little Monkeys’ (Mem Fox) and ‘Blue Chameleon’ (Emily Gravett)

THE PURPOSE OF THIS BLOG:

To encourage parents and teachers to read to children (and to educate picture book writers and illustrators 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.

We will be looking at two picture books in this blog.

Since my picture book collection is still in storage, while necessary house repairs take place, I visited our local library.

As an illustrator, the cover illustrations draw my attention. If the cover is appealing, then I will peek inside and see what treasure I can uncover between the pages.

So, what are we reading today?

Two Little Monkeys

Written by Mem Fox

Illustrated by Jill Barton

Published by Puffin Books, Penguin Group, Australia, 2012

The illustrations appear to be done in pencil and watercolour.

This book will appeal to young children (toddlers).

It is a rhyming story, with a strong rhythm, which reminded me a lot of the old nursery rhyme, ‘Two Little Dickie Birds, sitting on a wall, one name Peter, the other name Paul.’

Because of the tight rhythm and neat rhyming, there is a natural cadence when the story is read. Reading picture books, structured in this manner, is fundamental for young brain development. Skills learnt reading books like ‘Two Little Monkeys’ include:

  1. Rhyme recognition and generation – do the words ‘Cheeky’ and ‘Chee’ rhyme? What else rhymes with ‘Cheeky’ and ‘Chee’?
  2. Rhythm development – the ability to clap or tap in time or even to generate new verses in accordance with the rhyming and rhythm patterns laid out in the story.
  3. Memory development – the story is catchy, due to the rhyme and rhythm, and some children will learn the story off by heart.
  4. Sequencing – memorising the story will help children learn to remember the story in order. “What comes after this line if the last word must rhyme with ‘tree’?”
  5. Vocabulary development – marvellous words like ‘prowling’, ‘scramble’, ‘tremble’, and ‘leap’ are used. Most two and three old year children love learning new, ‘big’ or ‘grown-up’ words, and they learn to use these through understanding the context of the story.

Additional lessons that can be learned from this story include:

  • Stranger danger message – Cheeky and Chee realise that there is someone approaching who does not have their best interests at heart, and from whom they flee. This story can be used by parents and teachers as a springboard for a discussion about this very serious subject.
  • Clues – If the children analyse the illustrations, they may find that danger lurks from the very first page. Children need to be made aware that vital information can be concealed on a page, and that they need to look for it.

For the aspiring illustrators, one major lesson stood out:

  • Limited colour palette – Jill Barton kept the colour palette very simple. She did not use every colour available. Cohesion between the illustrations is maintained throughout the entire book. The palette is very neutral, but beautiful, red berries are introduced for the exciting conclusion of the story.

Mem Fox has written many delightful children’s picture books and is Australian. Jill Barton has also illustrated numerous picture books and lives in the United Kingdom.

Blue Chameleon

Written and illustrated by Emily Gravett

Published by Two Hoots, Pan Macmillan, United Kingdom, 2010

The illustrations were created using pencil, watercolour and coloured pencils.

I love chameleons, so I could not pass by this picture book!

This story is perfect for young children. Although a quick read (the word count is only 51 words!), there is so much scope for discussion.

Emily Gravett introduces colour and texture to children in this story, and yet, the book is not about colour and texture. She cleverly utilises them to drive the simple, yet profound, storyline.

In short, Chameleon is lonely. He tries to make friends with a host of other creatures and solitary objects.

As we have all be raised to believe, chameleons change colour to camouflage with their surroundings, and this is what Chameleon does, but still he is lonely, until…DRUMROLL, please…he finally meets another chameleon!

The satisfactory ending in no way negates the need for me to point out that chameleons do not actually change colour to match their surroundings.

Apparently, according to my internet research, chameleons change colour as a response to mood, temperature, health, communication, and light.

Lessons to be learnt from this lovely book:

  1. Colour identification – kids love colour and this book is great way to check that they know their colours.
  2. Pattern and texture discussion – chat about the patterns and textures shown in the illustrations.
  3. Science – explain that chameleons do change colour, and but teach them when they actually do.
  4. Emotional and social lesson – that we are not alone. Even if we do not fit in with everyone else, there is someone out there who we will get along with. We just need to keep our eyes open.

For writers:

  • May this be a lesson to me and other verbose children’s authors, that picture books can be written with just 51 words!

For illustrators:

  • Keep illustrations super simple. Although Emily Gravett utilises props for her protagonist, she did not illustrate the background!

Recently I have been trying to blog twice a month, but time is not on my side, so I am returning to once-monthly blogs. I will be alternating months between illustration-themed blogs, and picture book reviews with cognitive insights. Please join me this time next month for another an illustration blog, where I will be discussing my recent experience opening a Redbubble store, from which my illustrations can be purchased on a wide range of products.

Happy reading!