It was when ELT trainer and author, Lindsay Clandfield, invited me to do a 'guest spot' on teaching young learners on his blog 'Six things - A miscellany of English language'. Lindsay's blog is a varied collection of interesting, surprising and often amusing things about teaching and learning. The only proviso is that every posting comes in a list of six.
Given my love of literature and storytelling, it's probably no surprise that I chose to write about my six favourite illustrated story books to use with children. The reason for reproducing my original posting on Lindsay's blog and list here is that, following the discussion we have had so far with contributions from so many different countries and cultures, it would be wonderful to hear about your favourite story books too!
Here's what I wrote:
In more than 25 years of teaching, I’ve used many different picture books with children aged 3 – 12 and have a precious collection of well-thumbed favourites. In the 1980s, picture books closest to my heart included classics such as The Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle), Where’s Spot? (Eric Hill), Meg and Mog (Helen Nicoll & Jan Pienkowski) as well as more challenging titles such as Where the wild things are (Maurice Sendak) and Gorilla (Anthony Browne). I still love these books and have found it an almost impossible task to reduce my collection of favourites to a list of six. I’ve therefore decided to choose six picture books which i) I’ve used recently and ii) have produced the most enthusiastic responses in the groups of children that I’ve shared them with. They are in no particular order as follows:
1 Giraffes can’t dance (Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees)
This picture book in rhyming verses tells of Gerald the giraffe’s anguish at being mocked by all the other animals for his lack of dancing skills at the Jungle Dance.
We follow Gerald’s touching learning journey from his loss of self-esteem to becoming the object of admiration of all the animals. In terms of significant issues, the story touches on believing in yourself and discovering your own personal strengths. Two features are the strong beat of the rhyming verses which makes the language highly memorable, and the expressive illustrations of Gerald both when he’s sad and as he entrances the animals with his elegant dancing at the end of the story.
2 I will not ever NEVER eat a tomato (Lauren Child)
In I will not ever NEVER eat a tomato Charlie plays a series of imaginative and amusing tricks on his little sister, Lola, who is a very fussy eater, to get her to eat her dinner. The story is predominantly told using direct speech from Charlie’s point of view. Charlie and Lola are drawn in bold lines with large eyes and expressive mouths that clearly convey their every feeling. Lauren Child also uses a combination of photos, collage and computer-generated backgrounds, as well as a variety of fonts and sizes in the text. These add to the appeal and humour and emphasise how Lola really hates eating vegetables. This story is ideal as part of a unit of work on food and, if children enjoy Charlie and Lola, there are many more stories in the series as well.
3 Mr Wolf’s week (Colin Hawkins)
The appeal of Mr Wolf’s week seems to lie in the fact that it is an ordinary, everyday story about the routine of a normal, inoffensive wolf, in contrast to the villainous character children associate with traditional stories, such as Little Red Riding Hood. For language classes, the story helpfully focusses on lexical sets typically found in children’s coursebooks: days of the week, weather, clothes and everyday actions. The charm of the story lies in the delightful pictures of Mr Wolf and the simplicity of the repeated language pattern for each day: Monday is … (weather). Mr Wolf puts on his … (clothes) and …. (what he does). This also makes it an ideal model for children’s own attempts at writing a story.
4 Something Else (Kathryn Cave & Chris Riddell)
Something Else is a moving story about differences, and the agony and isolation of being an outsider. Something Else wants to be like the other creatures but they won’t accept him. Then one day a strange creature comes to Something Else’s house and wants to be friends. Something Else almost rejects him but is reminded of his own experience just in time. Embedded in this beautifully illustrated and apparently simple story are themes of racism and intolerance. Whenever I share this story with children in upper primary, I never fail to be impressed by their mature response and ability to talk openly about issues that adults often shy away from. Something Else makes me think how often we underestimate children, and also that picture books should not only be for them.
5 Dear Zoo (Rod Campbell)
Dear Zoo is a classic ‘flap’ picture book that never fails to appeal to very young learners. If possible, it’s best to use the ‘big book’ version which makes it easy to see with large groups and more fun to open the ‘flaps’. The concept of writing to the zoo to ask for a pet is brilliantly simple, and the repetitive language pattern, combined with different size coloured boxes and animals on each double spread, engages the rapt attention of little ones, even those with the shortest concentration spans. As the different animals on each page get sent back to the zoo because they are not suitable, the animal on the last page of the story is ‘perfect’.
6 Lost and Found (Oliver Jeffers)
Lost and Found is a touching story about a penguin and the boy who helps him. Behind its apparent simplicity resonate themes of loneliness, friendship and the value of kindness. As the boy and the penguin set off to the South Pole, their tiny boat contrasts with the vastness of the blue and green-toned sea and the waves as big as mountains. Many children worry when the boy realises his mistake in leaving the penguin at the South Pole, and their reunion hug on the penultimate page needs no words. This is a picture book children will ask you to read again for sheer pleasure and, in my view, it’s best to let the magical words and illustrations speak for themselves.
I'm really looking forward to hearing about your favourite story books to use with children now too! Please feel free to write about one or more - it's entirely up to you - and in as much detail as you like in order to convey to others why the book(s) is/are so special. My hope is that by the end we will have the most fantastic collaborative list of story book recommendations. Please do join in and share!