Over the last decade, more and more celebrity books are appearing on children's bookshelves in bookshops. Amazingly, the likes of Madonna (The English Roses), Dolly Parton (I Am A Rainbow) and Jennifer Anniston (The Prettiest Actress) considered themselves worthy additions to the creations of AA Milne (Winnie The Pooh), Julia Donaldson (The Gruffalo) and Dr Seuss (The Cat In The Hat).
I wonder in a "Blind Submission" whether a celebrity's book would still make the grade. Would Jamie Lee Curtis (Is There Really a Human Race?) make it to publication or Sarah The Duchess of York (Tea for Ruby), for that matter, without her name on the cover or the press attention it creates? Would a child or a parent choose a celebrity title when placed along side a new Eric Carle (Very Hungry Caterpillar) or Ludwig Bemelmans (Madeline)?
The publishers choose to accept the book because they know, sadly, that the general public will buy a book by a celebrity rather than a non-celebrity, but nonetheless excellent other author, despite the fact it may not be as good! The publishers, naturally want to make money!
It must be frustrating for genuine, hardworking, long suffering children's authors. The celebrities' books probably get the best spots on the shelves and zoom up the publisher's lists, demand greater advances and win more publicity. The celebrities probably get the best interview requests and go on the better tv shows to talk about their books. And, as they are probably not trained, they don't understand the "rules" of children's publishing so the end result is not that good!
For example, when writing for children it is vital that the author doesn't scare the children; they should create suspense without terrifying them. The words must be understandable but not patronising. The story must be structured but not so much that it is confusing. The writing shouldn't be too moralistic or try to teach too many lessons. Overall, and most importantly, it needs to be a good story! It's as simple as that.
Of course, some would argue that children don't know who Whoopi Goldberg (Sugar Plum Ballerina) is and she actually made it to the New York Times Best Sellers List! is. But the parents, the ones paying for the books, do! Julie Andrews has written children's books, but under her unmarried name. This is more like it!
Learning the concept of big and small may seem quite simple, but in fact, learning about size is a part of mathematical concepts. Here are a few activities for the children to try out to help them learn sizes:-
Teddies and Wellies - Line up some wellie boots or shoes and grab a few different sizes bears and dolls. Try putting the dolls and teddies in each of the pairs of shoes. Predict whether the toys are too big or too small to fit in!
Dress-up time - Take a selection of hats, shoes and coats that belong to different members of the family. Try them on and decide if they are too big or too small!
Messy time - Make some hand prints with other children or do some yourself. Look at the prints together and say which are bigger and which are smaller. Measure them with a tape measure if you have older children or cut them out to compare them.
Story time - Read Goldilocks and the Three Bears and act out the story using chairs, different sized bowls etc.
Tubs and pots - Take a few tubs and pots of different sizes. Look at them and compare them. Fill some with water. Transfer the water between them to see which hold more and which are bigger than the others.
Books - Go to a bookshelf and look at all the books. Compare the sizes of the books and sort them in size order. You'll end up with a tidy books shelf too!
Last summer on a family outing to Buckler's Hard in Hampshire, our children were enthralled by the tale of a ship builders daughter who, 300 years ago, would stand in the window of her cottage, reading a large antique bible. She stood in the window for two reasons, first because 300 years ago, before electricity, it was the lightest place at which to read, but second, her proud parents wanted her to be seen by the whole village, so that they could show off their affluence in society by demonstrating that they were wealthy enough to educate their daughter who, in a time of widespread illiteracy, was able to read. Most likely, the bible was the only book that this family owned.
This week the Evening Standard is running a special report uncovering shockingly low levels of literacy in some parts of London. The stories are desperately sad. In one instance a class was asked to bring in a book from home. One nine-year-old brought in an Argos catalogue saying that it was the only book in his house. At one level we might laugh and think this is an amusing anecdote, but the Standard goes on to state that as many as one in three children are growing up without access to books in the home. This doesn't come about because of a shortage of money - 85% of children have games consoles in their home, and most have televisions and hi-fi's. No, this lack of access to books is the result of parents making certain choices, choices that could have a fundamental effect on the lives of their children.
In this modern day, there is absolutely no excuse for parents not to expose their children to books. Books are more readily available today than at any other point in history. If family's cannot afford books then they can borrow them from libraries or school.
The knock on effect of children not being encouraged to read is that 16% of adults aged 16 - 65 living in London have the reading skills of an 11 year old. 40% of employers in London claim that poor literacy skills has a detrimental effect on their business.
Books are a great source of inspiration for children - they're entertaining, educational, exciting and fun! Get familiar with all the different types of books that we use and have a session sharing them with your children. Talk about different books, look a their pictures (or lack of pictures), and talk about what each different sort of books does or helps us with. See how many different types of book you can find! Here are a few suggestions:
- Storybooks: lots of pictures, great stories, ideal for bed time!
- Recipe books: pictures of food and meals, helps with ideas for cooking. Yum!
- Dictionaries: helps us look up words, spell and understand what words mean.
- Atlases and map books; help us find out where we are or where we're going.
- Novels: storybooks for adults to read in their spare time with no pictures, thousands of words and hundreds of pages.
- Colouring books: pages of pictures to colour
- Non-fiction, factual books: books about history, medical books, how to fix a car or how to care for a baby.
Enjoy looking at all the different books together!
The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has said that children as young as eleven years old should read about 50 books a year. This would be part of a national drive to improve literacy standards throughout schools in our country. He claimed literary demands put upon children have been too low for so long that they don't expect to read more than they have to. Instead, children should be reading a novel a week!
He said that primary schools should encourage children to read lots of books too in preparation for secondary education. A December report stated that British teenagers rank 25th in an international league table of teenage literacy!
Along with his Coalition Government, he stated that standards had to rise after he discovered that the vast majority of teenagers read only their GCSE core book and no others.
Many pre-school children will be taking comfort from this as so many parents and carers read numerous books to their children each day let alone each week! Starting the enjoyment of reading at an early age - even before the children can read or talk or even understanding the story - is the best start.
A new Mr Man book - or rather a Little Miss book - will be published in time for the Royal Wedding featuring a lovely, kind princess who moves into a lovely shiny palace. It has been suggested that this new addition to the Mr Men and Little Miss characters is based on Prince William's fiancee, Miss Kate Middleton. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the titles, Little Miss Princess And the Very Special Wedding will be published in April.
Adam Hargreaves the author, was inspired to create the character in honour of the royal wedding later this year and is probably hoping for an invitation! Adam is son of Mr Men's original creator, Roger Hargreaves.
The Little Miss Princess is described as "not rude or spoilt, but kind and generous" and is said to be "privileged but caring" and apparently she can "be a bossy boots at times!"
Over the past 40 years, more than 100 million Mr Men and Little Miss books have been published by Egmont Publishing Group. They have been sold worldwide and more than three million Mr Men and Little Miss books are sold every year.
Whether they are learning to read, just looking at the pictures or starting to sound out letters, whatever stage your child is at, it is vital to get them enthusiastic about books. No matter the style of book, whether it is the latest release or an old favourite from your own childhood, or if it is from a book shop, a library or is borrowed - get them excited about books. Here are some easy ways!
Bring it alive: That doesn't just mean fun voices and emotion in your voice when you read... why not introduce some sensory experience too. If it's a book about a fish, swimming in rough water, panting to get to the party on time to eat cake... why not get them to take their socks off and paddle in a few inches of water in the bath, then run on the spot and have a mouthful of cake for them to eat along with the characters!
Pictures: There are some super illustrations in children's books, so sometimes just look at the pictures. Spot things, talk about what's not mentioned in the story but that feature in the pictures. Focus on one thing and make up your own little story.
Familiar books: If you have read a book too many times for your liking, talk about changing the ending and decide what else could happen. Change the character and discuss how different animals or people would make the story different.
Other means: Try all sorts of books, cloth books, out sized books, ones with lots of words or just a few. No matter the age of your child, they will get something out of looking or reading a new book, even if its not officially aimed at their age.
Get everyone involved: If you have family visiting get them to read a book or if your little one is starting to read, get them to read to your family or act out their favourite book. Do a puppet show with teddies or dress up in the characters and do a version as a play.
Library: The library will have books in different forms: A book you may have read may also be available in audio CD/spoken word format or as a cartoon or film on DVD. Use these formats too.
Write your own story together: Take some photos of things and print them. Then create your own story. Write the words in a book, stick in the pictures and it will become your own, unique masterpiece!
Teaching your child to enjoy reading, to love stories and grow their imagination is really a very easy thing to do and you will both reap the rewards. Reading is not only essential at school but it is great fun too!
- Get your child to choose the book or at least the topic to read about.
- Treat them occasionally to magazines to get them interested in different sorts of books and words and the way words and stories are presented.
- Go to the library; ask friends about good books that have inspired them and try to get hold of some.
- Swap good books with your children's friends... like a kiddie book club!
- Make sure your child sees you read: whether it be books, magazines, papers etc. They will learn from seeing you.
- Do research on things together: look up on the internet or go to the library together is something has triggered a thought.
- Keep books around the place so they see them as part of every day life. And, keep the children's books at a height they can reach!
- Reward your child when they do start to read and show them how pleased you are for them.
- Make time each day to read together - even once your child is reading independently its still nice to read a book
- Make it fun and enjoy reading together!
Local libraries offer a fabulous resource, but at a time of severe funding cuts, there's every danger that your local library may be targeted for closure. When evaluating the value of local services, local authorities will look at how well utilised their services are. If you want to keep your local library open, then make sure you are using it and are appearing on the local radar!
- Make sure you and your children are enrolled so that you are counted when the council investigate how many people use the library
- Make sure that you borrow books regularly to help contribute to healthy lending rates
- Attend special events laid on for children during half terms and holidays
- If your library doesn't hold craft days or readings, see if you can help organise some during holiday periods
- If your library has a cafe or toddler group, make sure you use them, even if only occasionally
- Spend time in your library with your children, take them in and read to them in the library
Local libraries offer all sorts of services in addition to simply lending books. It would be a shame to lose these facilities, yet they can only be justified if they are being used. Make sure that you use your library with your children, and help local authorities justify keeping libraries open so that your children's children can one day enjoy them too!
There are lots of ways to liven up story time, both for you and your little one! Try some of these tips!
- Do the voices! You may think you sound silly, but children LOVE it when you do the funny voices for different characters in the story you are reading! Make them laugh, and they will enjoy reading, words, communicating and the story itself even more!
- Have a special time of day for stories. This means you won't forget to have stories and you'll both get used to the time slot as part of your routine.
- Read in different places as a treat. Hide in the shed and read a story or go out to the park with warm coats and some warm milk and read there!
- Theme your stories. If you know your little one likes farms, then get some farm or animal books and read them one day at a local farm! Go look for pigs as you read about them in the book etc. Bring it all to life!
- Keep them alert! Ask questions as you go along: how many sheep in the field; What colour is the ball? etc.
- Recap at the end of the story. Go over the story together to make sure they have understood.
- At the end, go back through the book together and find out which bits were best, which pictures were most fun, what happened next?
- Don't force them. Encourage them to want to hear a story, but don't force them if they are overly reluctant otherwise they won't enjoy stories!
- Let them make choices! Get them to choose the book themselves. Look at it together and make sure its a good one etc!
- And, most importantly... have fun!
We all know how important reading is for children and that reading to even the tiniest toddler will help them in so many ways, but it can be frustrating if you find that your child loses interest after a little while or simply won't settle when you are ready to read a book.
The first thing to remember, is that this is not unusual. Every child is different and while some love the idea of a book, the pictures, the page turning the flaps etc, others are not interested. They don't want to lift flaps or look at the pictures. They consider reading a book as something passive, they sit back and listen and perhaps fall asleep rather than get involved. Or, they will just lose interest and walk away. The answer is not to force them to sit, be still and listen. It is our job to inspire them.
- Find something they are interested in. Have a chat with your child and find out what they like. They may not like train books, but love books about animals. Then, focus on their interest and keep feeding them more of the same.
- Find books that reflect what they have done or recall a recent event. If they have just been a bridesmaid or been to a castle, find books that relate to this experience. Start by not even opening the book, but look at the front cover and talk about it. Then, talk about their own experience.
- Don't assume that children only want stories(ie. fiction). Some are not interested in wizards or fairies but will be more excited by facts. A book about the body, nature, how cars are made etc may inspire them.
- Don't be too demanding. Don't expect to read pages of words and finish the book each time. You may not even complete each book you start. Read a few pages then if you feel it's time to stop, then do!
- You don't even need to read a single word! Just look at the pictures, talk about the colours and the illustrations. Compare the pictures to real life or imagine how you would draw the pictures.
- Read at different times. While routine can be great for some children and a book before bed can be an ideal time to set aside. Don't think that's the only time you can read with your child. Read before breakfast, or after lunch or take a book out and about to the coffee shop, in a car journey or to the doctor's and read together.
- Make it fun! In winter snuggle under a blanket and have a warm drink together. In summer take a book to the park and sit on a rug under a tree.
- Don't forget the voices... children adore the funny voices that parents and carers put on when reading a book. Try to make the book as animated and as compelling as possible.
- Ask your child to choose the book. Try not to dictate which book you read, give them the choice and don't feel aggrieved if they choose the same one they had yesterday. Children love repetition and familiarity so just read it again or focus on something different this time when you read the book.
- Book activities: A book is more than words: one day how about focusing on the pictures only: count how many sheep in the field or clouds in the sky. Ask your child to find the carrot in the picture or ask what colour the door is. Make the pictures come alive by asking interesting questions that they can answer and feel involved and inspired by what they find in the book.
Research has shown that habits made in early years will stay with a child for life; learning is part of that so when the children are young it is a great time to set up some habits that will be good for their learning later in life. All children benefit from reading books. If you get into the habit of reading every day at a certain time of day it becomes part of your schedule and is easy to remember. With a huge selection of books on offer, which are best to choose for your child at different stages of their early years?
Books for Babies and Toddlers Under 2
Children are never too young to enjoy books. They may not speak, or follow a narrative, or be able to turn a page, but sitting with someone, having a cuddle, reading a colourful book becomes a lovely, comfortable, happy experience and that is what they recall. They enjoy the attention and the sound of a parent or carer's voice. They like the feel of the books, the sound of the pages and the colourful pictures. They like the rhymes and the funny voices.
Once they can hold things in their hands, touchy-feely books are great for little ones. Cloth books are soft (washable!) and gentle to touch. Activity books have strings, buttons, and fabric to touch. Flap books have pages that fold out and pictures behind secret little doors. Board books are great to hold and have even been know to be good for chewing too! There is so much fun to be had!
Books for 2-3 Year Olds
Toddlers love the colours and pictures in books. They enjoy rhyme and the repetition of some story lines. They will join in and anticipate what will happen next. Books that explain or deal with every day occurrences are good for this age (going to nursery, going to ballet lessons, having a new baby etc). They may even create their own stories.
They will often look at the same book day after day. The know what happens next and love the idea of anticipating the next page. Pop-up or flap books are great for this age as they can do it themselves. And, sturdy board books are advised as they may get handled frequently and roughly!
Pre-School Books for Children Age 4-5
At this age, children love to learn about the world and books that explain this are always popular with pre-schoolers: bugs and animals, schools and hospitals, the Egyptians etc. so they needn't just have fictional stories, non-fiction is of interest too. Try all sorts of books and discuss each one. What are the pictures like? What is the text like? Can they find certain letters in the text or count certain elements of the pictures? Try and bring the books alive and be led by your child. If they ask about dinosaurs, get hold of a book about them and show them. Visit your local library for access to books on hundreds of interesting topics.
Enjoy the time you have reading with your child and make it as fun as you can.
Toddlers can't read, so why do we bother with reading them books? The answer is simple: one day they will have to learn to read and if they like books, associate them with fun and good experiences, they will be more inclined to want to learn about letters and sounds and eventually reading.
Being able to read a book is a huge and marvelous gift. It opens the world up for little children and allows them to enjoy the fantastic stories that are available and help them learn at school. So, by reading to the toddlers and even babies, you're helping them for when they need to learn to read at school and indeed helping on their journey through school. Plus, even more important at this stage, introducing them to a wonderful world of stories and adventures!
So, what to do to make books fun! Here are a few tips:
- Read as often as possible! You can read a book in bed, while on a journey, in the morning. Have some cuddly time together when you read and make it cosy and comforting for you both!
- Try and bring the stories to life by using lots of expressions and funny voices! It will make your child laugh and will help you get through all the kiddie books without getting bored yourself!
- Talk about the stories together and try and guess what is going to happen.
- Let your little on choose the books. Read the favourites as many times as they want! Children love things that are familiar so they love hearing books over and over again!
- Try and encourage the children to say the rhyming bits with you or the catch phrase.
- Try and get as many book as you can! Go to the library, book sales, car boot sales and get a wide selection.
- Allow children to handle books all the time. Yes, teach them to be careful, but get board books if they are heavy handed and let the look at the pictures, feel the pages and turn the pages. You don't need to have a shelf of pristine books that no one is allowed to touch. Better a shelf of books that have been used, and read, and enjoyed for many years!
There are lots of activities you can do with your child to introduce them to reading, that don't necessarily involve learning to read in the traditional sense. Here are some tips to make learning to read an easy, fun and inspiring time for both you and your children!
- Look at the pictures: Look at the cover, the pictures throughout the book. Discuss the style, colour scheme, characters depicted.
- Look carefully at the title of the book. Explain to your child what the title is.
- Look at the characters throughout the book. What are they doing? What do they look like? Do they remind you of anyone you know?
- Talk about the sequence of pictures in the book. Look for differences and talk about why may be happening.
- Chat about what might happen in the book. Predict a story together and what the ending might be.
- Make up a story with a different ending and describe what the picture might be if your ending was used instead of that actually in the book.
- Start looking at the words together. Follow the words with your finger and then with your child's finger. Chat about what letters begin each word and sound out the words together.
- Look at the pictures for clues of what's going on in the story. Show your child how the pictures can be a great help when learning to read.
- Focus on the easy words and brush over the hard words or those that are not easily read by new readers (the, said, giraffe).
- Chat about the book the day after and see how much you can remember together.
Most importantly, have fun when reading with your child. Don't get annoyed if they don't understand immediately or struggle on words they knew yesterday. Certainly don't force them to read or make them do it if they're tired or not in the right mood.
Enjoy... learning to read can be so much fun and they will make you so proud when they try hard and make progress.
World Book Day 2010 falls on Thusday, 4th March (in the UK) and events all over the country are already underway to embrace and celebrate reading, why not attend an event in your area? The World Book Day website has a list of events largely focused on public libraries. If your children don't already borrow books from your library, then this offers the perfect opportunity to join up and introduce your children to the wonders of books!
World Book Day was designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading. In the UK events are organised by a charity with financial backing from National Book Tokens, publishers and booksellers. The aim is to encourage children to explore the pleasures of reading and encourage book ownership. World Book Day is celebrated in over 100 countries, although most countries celebrate it on St. George's Day (April 23rd).
Even if there aren't any events local to you, you can always organsie your own World Book Day event in your own home! Why not dress your children as characters from their favourite books and have a special reading in the afternoon where you read their favourite books to them? Visit the shops and let them choose a new book to buy, or arrange with friends to lend your favourite stories to each other so that you can share the delights of your own library!
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