Books are more than just words on a page

Moonface, The Saucepan Man and Silky the Fairy were favourite characters of mine from the books my mum read to me as a child. Alongside listening to the stories of Roald Dahl and tales of the Hobbit. I loved being whisked away onto faraway lands and fantastical adventures, which kept that childhood belief in magic alive.

I still get a glimpse of that magical feeling whilst reading children’s books, both old and new. Trips to the library provide a wealth of choice to delve into any number of imagined worlds. I feel lucky that my youngest still enjoys sitting by me and listening to book after book, and sometimes the other two sneakily, with half an ear, have a little listen in.

Some months ago, I went onto a training course as part of my job to learn about the hows, whys and wherefores to extend children’s working vocabulary and how this in turn informs their writing. Even though children may be fluent readers, they may not be interacting with the text and engaging with the story, or even grasp what is actually happening in the story. It was fascinating to learn a variety of techniques to deepen and extend children’s understanding and experience of the stories they read or that are read to them, some of these skills are easily transferable to use at home when reading with children…and they probably won’t even notice if you sneak in a few questions. Open questions are an excellent way to elicit thoughts and feelings about the story they are reading, for example, how do you think this character is feeling? Why do you think that? Tell me what you thought about ‘the trolls who lived under the bridge’, what came into your mind when the three bears arrived home?

Something I had never thought much about, which made a huge impact on me, was the relationship between the story and the illustrations. Previously, I had just taken them for granted, viewing them as a pretty accessory to the words on the page. I was given a whole new insight into how they reinforce or add meaning to the messages being communicated through the story. There are many talented and amazing illustrators for children’s literature, and now that I have woken up and taken notice, I can see how they are also creating a story of their own. Observing the expressions of the characters in a story, how the pictures are laid out, the colours or scenery they use, the atmosphere that has been created through choice of season, objects or environment all add to the messages and themes surrounding the printed words on the page. These are some books that I chose after attending the course, that have both a thought provoking story alongside illustrations that further spark the imagination:

Books can also inspire real life! We recently borrowed this book from the library and it inspired D and I to play the squiggles game, where one of you draws a shape or squiggle and the other person then transforms it into a picture. We ended up with lots of surprises and giggles…D tried to guess what I was going to draw before I even started (so of course I had to come up with something else to surprise her!). Do you have any books that really capture you and your childrens’ imagination?

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