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Real books

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In this comprehensive series of newsletters available to download, Opal Dunn introduced readers to real books to use in the classroom and elsewhere, with recommendations and related features.

Below, you can choose an edition to download or read the story behind RealBook News.

The story of RealBook news
Although I had been using Real picture Books in the small school I started in Cambodia in 1960s, it was not until I reached Japan in 1970s that I had the opportunity to concentrate on using only picture books and related (cross-curricula) activities with young children in the series of voluntary Bunko (mini-libraries) I opened in Japan in 1977 and still run world-wide.

In the 1980s, I was invited on several occasions by the Council of Europe to lecture on the value of including Real picture Books in young children’s English as a foreign language programmes. By 1998, during a conference in Warsaw, Poland I realised that to sustain enthusiasm, I needed to support teachers through training articles and selecting suitable Real picture Books. I thus decided to create a twice-a-year newsletter, REALBOOK NEWS. (Real = A genre created in UK in the 1960's to distinguish picture books with authentic language texts written for children's enjoyment from book schemes aimed to teach reading based on graded words with confirming pictures.)

The EU informed me that no funds were available to support a Newsletter. Since my aim was to recommend the best picture books published, I realised that I could not be tied to one big publisher, so I decided to create my own REALBOOK NEWS writing, publishing, funding and distributing it free.

The response to Issues 1 and 2 were enthusiastic:
‘It’s practical;’  ‘the information is straightforward and just what I need;’  ‘the ideas for follow-up are creative - my children loved making the puppet show’.

From Issue 3 onwards, I wrote an easy-to-access Feature Article, which introduced Teachers and Parents to latest relevant thinking.

Numbers printed increased with each Issue. By Issue 10, May 2001, in response to requests from Nursery Schools and parents teaching young children English at home, I published a separate Supplement introducing 25 books suitable for Nurseries or first Home Learning.

After several more Issues the numbers of people using REAL picture Books had so increased that I suggested to colleagues at Brighton IATEFL Conference it was time to arrange a Conference that brought together teachers, trainers, researchers, publishers, authors and artists. In November 2004, Using Picture Books to support early English language acquisition Conference was held at the International Youth Library, Munich, Germany.

The Conference was supported by REALBOOK NEWS, IATEFL, Munich University, London Metropolitan University and The British Council, who hung the BC exhibition  Imagine - showcasing the best of British Children Book Illustrators. Many of the papers given were later edited in a collection, which became the first Conference publication devoted to Picture Books. (J. Enever & G. Schmid-Shonbein (Eds) Picture Books and Young Learners of English. Munchen: Langenscheidt ELT GmbH)

The last printed REALBOOK NEWS was Issue 15, May 2004. Issues 16 and 17 appeared on website as by then REALBOOK NEWS needed to be more accessible.

After writing Issue 17, due to my husband’s severe illness, I no longer had time or energy to devote to REALBOOK NEWS and handed the website to Annie Hughes, Young Learner Specialist and Deputy Director of the EFL Unit at the University of York. At the same time I donated 400 - 500 picture books to start a Picture Book Library in the EFL Department as well as 2 Book Boxes each containing 3 copies of 12 titles to continue REALBOOK NEWS tradition of starting-off MA research.

The two main projects REALBOOK NEWS started-off within Europe were:

  • The Pecs REALBOOK Project in Pecs, Hungary led by Professor Marianne Nikolov, Pecs University and researched by Reka Lugossy. See Reka’s  article in Picture Books and Young Learners of English: Browsing and Borrowing your way to motivation through picture books.
  • The Nettlehouse REALBOOK Project in Portugal led by Sandie Jones Mourao, who is presently studying for a doctorate at Aveiro University, Portugal. See Sandie’s article in Picture Books and Young Learners in English: Understand and Sharing: English storybook in Portuguese pre-schools.

Through contact with Publishers, lecturing and writing, I tried to increase Picture Book Publishers' awareness of the new, different market for suitable picture books for non-native speakers learning English world-wide.

Although Issues were published several years ago, many of the selected books are still available either in Children’s Book Shops, corners of chain Book Shops, Charity Shops or on Amazon (www. or The Book Depository (; the latter two both sell some remainders and re-cycle nearly-new books, some of which are out of print.  

Opal Dunn
February 2010

REALBOOK NEWS printed editions included

  • Lists of suitable and newly published Story, Rhyme and Information Picture Books.
  • Suggestions on how to use and follow-up with real experiences selected picture books.
  • Feature Articles introducing cutting edge, relative ideas and research. 

Featured articles (please note these are external links)