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!

Cognitive Elements in Picture Books - Book Reviews

Episode 3: ‘How Much Does a Ladybird Weigh?’ (Alison Limentani) and ‘Katie and the Impressionists’ (James Mayhew)

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.

Unlike my previous ‘reading picture book’ blogs, where I took you along with me as I ‘read’ to a child, in this blog, and hopefully, more future blogs, I would like to examine picture books and draw the cognitive depth from them.

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

Since my picture book collection is 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?

How Much Does a Ladybird Weigh?

  • Written and illustrated by Alison Limentani
  • Published by Boxer Books, United Kingdom, 2016
  • Alison used lino cuts and litho printing and digital colour to create the illustrations.

This is a counting book. Adults always want counting books for teaching wee ones counting and number concept. This is a counting book with a twist.

(Writers and illustrators note: many publishers will not accept counting or alphabet books, citing an oversupply in the market. If you are able to come up with a book that is not simply about counting, or is delivered in a unique way, there is a market.)

This book uses counting as a springboard for teaching the concept of WEIGHT! This is the first junior picture book that I have found that deals with weight.

Alison compares the weights of different creatures, for example: 10 ants weigh the same as 1 ladybird.

Cool! Very cool! My inner geek is excited. What a clever way to introduce children to comparisons, understanding the impact of size, weight and quantity. Mathematics education at its best.

The illustrations are simple, but detailed and very attractive. Since most 3- and 4-year olds are fascinated by animals, I think this book will be a winner.

It will appeal to boys and girls.

‘How Much Does a Ladybird Weigh’ was Alison’s debut picture book. She is a qualified Veterinary Nurse, Animal Behavourist and Children’s Book Illustrator. She has published two picture books, and has several other animal-themed books in the pipe-line.

Katie and the Impressionists

  • Written and illustrated by James Mayhew
  • Published by Orchard Books, United Kingdom, 1997, 2014

One of several similarly themed books by the same author, ‘Katie and the Impressionists’ is a gentle introduction for young children to fine art.

Katie goes on a rip-roaring adventure. She is a little a like Mary Poppins, diving into pavement chalk paintings. I would have loved this book as a child, and indeed, I do as an adult. Truthfully, I would find some of her adventures a little frightening. She is a plucky kid, jumping from one painting adventure to another!

The illustrations are lovely and Katie is an action-filled adventuress who keeps you turning the pages. I didn’t want the story to end. It is a pity picture books are generally 32 pages long. I wish story books were still popular.

This picture book provides a visual feast. I think this book is ideal for prompting children to describe what they see, and also to inspire them to try different art styles. You never know if you have a budding Impressionist at home. Art is not just a creative outlet. Drawing and painting involve multiple cognitive (brain) functions, so can be a fun way to boost brain development.

James Mayhew included artwork by Monet, Renoir and Degas.

I am certainly no expert, since I do not use these mediums, but I think the illustrations are done in pastel and either colour pencil or conte crayon.

Apart from his numerous other books, in the ‘Make Art an Adventure’ series, James Mayhew has also authored:

  • Katie and the Sunflowers
  • Katie and the British Artists
  • Katie and the Bathers
  • Katie and the Lily Pond
  • Katie and the Spanish Princess
  • Katie’s Picture Show
  • Katie and the Starry Night
  • Katie and the Mona Lisa

Needless to say, I will be on the lookout for some of these books!

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.

Happy reading!

Cognitive Elements in Picture Books - Book Reviews

The Dudgeon is Coming

The Dudgeon is Coming, by Lynley Dodd.
‘The Dudgeon is Coming’, by Kiwi author, Dame Lynley Dodd

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.

Rhyme

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?’

Child: ‘Yup.’

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?’

Child: ‘Yes!’

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.

Suspense

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.

Visual Discrimination

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.  

Vocabulary Development

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.

Happy reading!

Illustration

My Grandfather’s Coat

This is one of my favourite picture books. I first found it in the library, and loved it so much that I just had to buy a copy. Sadly, it does not seem to be available in any New Zealand stores, so I bought it online.

Let me take you on a journey with me, as I ‘read’ ‘My Grandfather’s Coat’ to a hypothetical child.

My Grandfather’s Coat

Written by Jim Aylesworth, and illustrated by Barbara McClintock

Published by Scholastic Press, USA; 2014

 ‘Let us take a look at the cover of our book.’ Give the child a moment to study the cover.

‘What do you see?’ This gives the child an opportunity to describe the scene before them. Depending on what they say, you will very likely be able to ask them questions, for example:

  • What is the man doing?
  • How is the man feeling?
  • How do you know that is how he is feeling?
  • What do you think is going to happen?
  • Do you recognise this flag?
  • Do you know where the man is standing?
  • What do you think of the man’s clothes?

Allow the children to express their thoughts and add some of your own.

You should be having a two-way conversation, not an adult delivering a lesson to a student.

Depending on the age of the child, you could use the cover as an opportunity to practise colour recognition (‘Show me the yellow buttons’, ‘What colour is the man’s scarf?’ or ‘Do you see anything green on this cover?’).

Number concept can also be developed: ‘Let us count the blue cotton reels. How many red cotton reels are there? How many more red reels are there than blue ones?’ Etc.

Use illustrations as a opportunity to determine your child’s level of vocabulary, and you will find opportunities for extending it.

                I.e. Do you know what these are (pointing to the needles in the bottom corners of the cover)? These are needles. People use them for sewing clothes. Nana can show you next time we visit her.

Surreptitiously, you are feeding the seed of general knowledge that is always a boon for academic achievement.

Often in books based in the past (history), illustrations and vocabulary will need to be explained, as children do not automatically understand that the past was different to life as they know it now.

Do your best to read with expression. If you can vary the pace, reading faster and a little louder (volume), when the story is exciting, the child’s attention will be seized. Reading even more slowly, or adjusting your voice to a lower tone/register, can add dramatic emphasis.

If you are able to assess the emotion that is being aroused by the story or character, and if you are able to ‘act out’ that emotion, you will find that your voice delivers the story in an exciting and gripping manner.

When I read ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’, I try to use a different tone, pace, volume or ‘voice’ (sometimes I mimic other people) for each part of the adventure. I do sometimes get caught out trying to remember how I read that part of the adventure when the family are returning home, and the pace of the story is escalated! While it is tricky for me, the kids love spotting the inconsistencies! The same applies to reading Dr Seuss’ ‘Mr Brown Can Moo! Can You?’

If you feel at a loss to know how to read expressively, take a look at some Youtube videos. There are quite a few where pictures are being read. Here are some lovely examples:

Read clearly, and more slowly than you would speak conversationally. If possible, try to avoid incorrect speech patterns (for example, pronounce the ‘th’ sound even if you do not do so conversationally). Children will learn to read it correctly and very importantly, spell it correctly, if you can help them with this while reading with them.

Do not be afraid to ‘put on the voices’. Kids love it if you can. My niece loves being read ‘The Three Little Pigs’, but I have to put on all the voices. I am usually hoarse at the end of the story!

Hannah loves when I put on high, squeaky voices for the little pigs, and a deep, husky voice for the big, bad wolf. We take deep breaths and growl out, “Little pig, little pig, let me in!” Then we get very loud and shrill when the pig cries out, “Nooooo!!!!! Not by the hairy of my chinny chin chin. I will not let you in!”

Getting back to the first page of the story:

  • Read the story on that page.
  • Give the child a chance to have a good look at the illustration and give feedback.
  • Check in with the child regarding vocabulary.
  • Discuss any aspects of the illustration or story that need extending.

Continue each page in this manner.

Most picture books are only 32 pages long, and have a maximum of 700 words. Most have only 400 to 500 words.

By reading picture books this way, you are utilising metacognition (facilitating the child’s learning through making them aware of their own thought processes, and probing them to ‘figure things out’ rather than you telling them).

My Grandfather’s Coat includes several interesting education paths:

  1. Sequencing (the ability to remember where everything belongs, in its own particular location = order) – this story has a strong sequence. Once you have read the story, you can do either of the following: a. For younger children, let them flip through the book and give you the story in their own words, using the pictures as their sequencing guide. b. For older children – ask them to retell the story. Give them pointers if they struggle to remember the story, or if they get the order (sequence) muddled.
  2. Subplot – the illustrations give a story-line that was not written in the text. See if the children can pick up on subplots. The ability to recognize a subplot is brilliant training in inference.
  3. Repetitive phrases – these are great tools for training the memory. Children pick them up easily, and can be encouraged to recite them at the right time if you prompt them.

The repetitive phrases: ‘He snipped, and he clipped; and he stitched and he sewed…’ along with ‘and he wore it, and he wore it; and little bit by little bit; he frayed it and he tore it; until at last he wore it out!’ can be an exciting refrain that young children will chant with great enthusiasm.

  • Reversed sequence – at the end of the story, the sequence is reversed. This is a great opportunity to see if your child can remember the story in order, and if they can reverse the order!
  • Rhythm – My Grandfather’s Coat has been carefully written with rhythm. Children love rhythm. Try to use the rhythm to give the story a ‘springy’ feel as you read it. If you get the rhythm right, it should feel like the words trip off your tongue.

The last page of the book contains the author and illustrator’s biographies as well as their dedications and in very small print at the bottom of the page, there are details of the media used by Barbara McClintock for the illustrations. Sharing information like this with your child enriches their reading experience (and yours!).

The back cover has come recycling prompts and a cookie recipe.

I think you can see why I love this book so much. It is an all-round winner. Fabulous text, magical illustrations and heaps of intellectual stimulation!

Happy reading!