My very first experience of blogging came a few months ago.

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!



Lovely to read about everyone's favourite story books. Many of my top favourites have already been mentioned so I'd just like to share one book with you all. It's called 'What's Wrong with My Hair?' and it's by Satoshi Mitamura. It's a large board book which makes it very durable for classroom use, although as yet I haven't had the chance to use it with a class as I'm not teaching primary this year. This book was given to my daughter as a present and since then I've given it to several friends' children and it's always been a hit.
The story is about Lionel the lion who is going to a party and needs to get his hair done. He goes to the barber and tries on lots of different styles such as rocket hair, ice-cream hair and octopus hair! The book has a hole in the middle so the story teller (or the listener) can pop their head through the hole and try on the hair styles too! It's a lot of fun and I can imagine it going down really well in a class, although I guess all the children would want a go at trying on Lionel's hair styles so you'd have to plan for this! A nice follow on task would be for the children to then design their own crazy hair styles for Lionel on a piece of card with a hole in the middle which they could try on.
Happy story telling!

Dear Carol
I think the pioneering 'diversity via children's literature' work coming out of British Council Paris is superb and a real inspiration.  I used and adapted the materials for Susan Laughs while teaching at British Council Bangkok in early 2008 and found it was a brilliant vechicle for enabling YLs to see children with disabilities positively.  This had a significant impact in a context where disability is still regarded as taboo and rights are seriously lacking. 
Many colleagues have already mentioned the range of excellent titles available with a diversity focus - especially those which address ethnicity and gender and equal rights.  However, I still feel that there is a dearth of attention to sexual orientation in children's literature and a corresponding lack of attention in primary ELT classrooms worldwide.  In an age of civil partnerships and adoption of children by same-sex partners, I regard this as censoring reality and strictly removing the notion of being lesbian, gay or bisexual from children's vision.  The perception being therefore that 'everyone is heterosexual'...  As educators of children, I believe we have an ethical responsibility to be inclusive and cater for all types of children who may be in our lessons, including those with same-sex parents / carers, as well as for those who may be lesbian, gay or bisexual themselves. 
I'm currently working on an initiative to address diverse sexual orientation in primary ELT classes via children's literature.  This involves developing materials which retain a language / skills  focus while also raising awareness and promoting acceptance of non-traditional family structures.  I'd like to suggest three great storybooks that colleagues may like to try out with their classes, as follows:
1.  and tango makes three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell (Simon and Schuster, 2005)
This charming, heart-warming tale is based on a true story at the Central Park Zoo in New York.  Roy and Silo are just like the other penguin couples at the zoo - they bow to each other, walk together and swim together.  But Roy and Silo are a little bit different - they're both boys.  Then, one day, when Mr Gramzay the zookeeper finds them trying to hatch a stone, he realises that it may be time for Roy and Silo to become parents for real.  The message embodied in this story is that the basis for a happy family is love - regardless of the gender of one's parents / carers.
2King and King by Linda de Haan & Stern Nijland (Tricycle Press, 2000)
This is a merry and modern tale of living happily ever after.  The queen decrees that it's time for the prince to marry and the search is on!  Princesses come from far and wide hoping to catch his eye.  Will the prince be charmed by a magic act?  Tantalized by arias?  Or will he simply follow his heart?  This story helps young readers understand and accept others with orientations different to their own.  It also can help pave the way for the teenage years when those who are lesbian, gay or bisexual often struggle with coming out to parents and carers and issues such as relationships are addressed.
3.  King and King & Family by Linda de Haan & Stern Nijland (Tricycle Press, 2004)
This is a progressive, inclusive story which challenges the assumptions perpetuated by many children's storybooks - without preaching.  In this further adventure of the King & King series, Lee and Bertie go on their royal honeymoon.  Hippos, crocodiles, and snakes abound, but little do the regal travellers know that the jungle holds much more - perhaps even the secret to fulfill their hearts' fondest wish for a family of their own.  This portrait of a diverse family helps to promote the message that love flourishes in traditional and non traditional families alike and can help to normalise the concept of 'family' for children with same-sex parents / carers and their friends. 
My favourite has to be 'King and King Family' for its buckets of fun and lush illustrations.  I'd highly recommend all 3 and would love to hear from colleagues who use these books and the types of activities they develop to provide both a linguistic and diversity focus.
Very best wishes

Hi JanetMany thanks for your great contribution. I'm so glad that you've brought Nick Sharratt's work into this collaborative collection of favourites and thank you for describing his style so vividly and also for explaining so clearly how these two books work and the reasons for their appeal. They're both also titles that I love and have used regularly!Ketchup on your cornflakes is another of those titles that works really well as a model for children to invent their own parallel versions with more or less absurd and hilarious questions such as: Do you like toothpaste on your hamburger? As well as being creative, this also gives children much contextualized embedded practice at writing present tense questions!I completely agree with you about the Elvis quiff in Shark in the Park, and the hole on each page where you're not quite sure what's coming next is great for encouraging children to guess and predict.Thank you very much also for sharing the research findings about illustrations and multiple storylines which is extremely interesting. Intuitively I feel that I'm sure you're right that the less demanding processing load in clear and direct illustrations such as Nick Sharratt's is what helps to make them more accessible to younger children.One more book by Nick Sharratt that I also love is called You choose which I'm sure you also know and which is wonderful for getting children to choose and talk about things they'd ideally like to have or places they'd like to go and justify their opinions and choices.Lastly your choice of Nick Sharratt reminds me of that excellent interview you did with him for CATS, the IATEFL YL SIG newsletter (as it was then) in issue 1, Spring 2006, called 'Picture Books and Creativity: an Interview with Nick Sharratt' which I'd really recommend people read if they're interested in hearing a children's author/illustrator talking about his own work.

Hi JoI don't know this book. It sounds brilliant! Thank you so much for suggesting it and I will definitely look out for it. I love your idea of the creative follow-up with children designing their own crazy hair styles of Lionel on a piece of card that they could try on. If you don't want to use a big piece of card, this idea could also work by getting the children to make a mini origami book and cut a hole in the centre of all the pages except the last page where they either stick a passport size head and shoulders photo of themselves or draw a picture. They can then draw different hair styles on each page and try 'wearing' a different one as they read their books and turn each page.Interesting to hear that this book was a present to your daughter first of all - I often used to find that my children's favourite books were my best classroom resources too, and although they're now grown up I've still got a lot of them as part of my precious collection! 

Hi DavidMany thanks indeed for this wonderful contribution and for describing in such detail these three titles which are designed to challenge stereotypes, assumptions and prejudices in such a warm, human and 'light' way. Your descriptions of the story lines in each one is so vivid that, although I don't know these books, they sound delightful and I found them very touching. I will definitely follow up and get hold of them.I completely agree with you that the work on diversity through children's literature coming out of the British Council in Paris is 'superb and a real inspiration' and many thanks also for describing your experience of using Susan laughs in Thailand. Storytelling and story books are wonderful vehicles for developing awareness of equal opportunities and diversity in children, partly I think because as Bruno Bettelheim says in his book 'The uses of Enchantment' (that I also referred to in an earlier post) they operate at an unconscious level and allow children to develop psychological structures that assimilate possibilities such as e.g. family love coming in many different forms. One of the things that Bettelheim also says is that to talk about the issues too explicitly with children is to break the spell and you just have to let the messages come through naturally and in their own time. I tend to agree with this and it is, of course, through exposing the children to a rich range of diverse stories such as the ones that you recommend that children take on board the attitudes they convey in a totally natural way.Conversely, I also think we need to be very aware of the adverse equal opportunity messages picture books often convey - and I'm thinking particularly of gender here (perhaps because it's something I personally notice). But often in picture books even these days, woman who are mothers are depicted in aprons as a symbolic icon of their role and grannies invariably have clutch handbags and pearls. And why are princesses always (well usually) still only depicted as long-haired blondes? etc.. Thanks again so much, David, for raising such an important issue and for bringing these books to our attention.   

Hi to Carol and to the rest of the TeachingEnglish participants in this discussion,

From what I've read so far concerning this topic of story books, the only story book that I could think of at the moment, and probably the only one that has remained in my mind for so long is 'Clifford the Big Red Dog.' Does it sound familiar to anybody else? Honestly, I have only heard about a few of the above mentioned books the rest have been discussing so far.

'Clifford the Big Red Dog' is an American children's book series first published in 1963. It was written by Norman Bridwell, and published by Scholastic Books.

Short summary: Clifford was the runt of the litter, and was chosen by a city child named Emily Elizabeth Howard as her birthday present. No one expected Clifford to grow, but Emily Elizabeth's love for her tiny red puppy changed Clifford dramatically. Not long afterwards, he was over 25 feet tall, forcing the Howard family to leave the city and move to the open spaces of Birdwell Island.Emily was named for creator Norman Bridwell's daughter.

The following are a short list of books including Clifford as the main character: Clifford and the Big Parade, Clifford and the Big Storm, Clifford and the Grouchy Neighbors, Clifford and the Halloween Parade, Clifford at the Circus, Clifford Gets a Job, Clifford Goes to Dog School, Clifford Goes to Hollywood, Clifford Grows Up, Clifford Keeps Cool, Clifford Makes a Friend, Clifford Saves the Whales, Clifford Takes a Trip, Clifford the Firehouse Dog, Clifford to the Rescue, Clifford Visits the Hospital, Clifford the Big Red Dog Clifford the Small Red Puppy, Clifford We Love You, Clifford's ABC, Clifford's Best Friend, Clifford's Birthday Party, Clifford's Busy Week, Clifford's Christmas, Clifford's Class Trip, Clifford's Family, etc...


Dear Janet - thank you for remembering Polish Poster Art, there is  really a very strong tradition.Thank you for mentioning Nick Sharatt - Shark in the Park is wonderful. Last summer I came across Foggy Foggy Night - and once more realized that there is no limit for picture book art.

Dear Aneta, Clifford - Spot's American friend is popular in Poland too. I read the books to my students and I remember usung it in the past like a kind of year-long-experience. As Clifford has many adventures that are focussed around popular holidays (Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Easter) or events familiar for every child (Circus, Schoolt etc). One more advantages is a puppet that helps the teacher while introducing stories.The only problem I find with Clifford is the language. I feel it is sometimes too difficult, plus the match between the language and the illustrations is not the one that supports children comprehantion. There are board book stories and they are easier - but then the size is a bit problematic when working with a group.I always introduce both puppies to my students but deep in my heart I preffer Spot and Eric Hill's illustrations. Anneta from Warsaw

Dear All,I am so sorry for the mistake with a title - of course it is Foggy Foggy Forest - I was too deeply involved in Starry, Starry Night with my kids and it dominated Nick Sharatt's title. Sorry for that , I do recommend it. Anneta

Hi everyone.
Janet’s remark about Nick Sharrat’s art work storylines with a little bit of anarchy thrown in to engage the slightly reluctant reader and perhaps to keep parents awake when reading bedtime stories is so right.
I know from experience that this is what most children’s publishers are looking for in their books. Without that extra something in the artwork, which may be too much for Young learners to decode, they say Parents (and possibly Teachers, too) don’t find the books attractive and therefore don’t buy.
Most children’s publishers feel a decision to buy is generally made quickly and usually it seems to be based on the attractiveness of the artwork.
Selection of the right books for children is important, but we have to remember that parents (and teachers, too) need to read and mediator them with enthusiasm, even if it is the 10th time they read the same book, and the second time  that book session!
Here are two other fun books by the great team, Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt, for very young and young learners.
Toddle Waddle playing with language, words and phrases, for Nursery School childrenand Chocolate Mousse for Greedy Goose (with common western food)  both published by MacMillan’s Children’s books.


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