Chez l'abeille

Culture. Travel. Writing. My world in words and pictures


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“Planet Odd”

planet oddI’m don’t know about you but I’m only just getting my head around the new world order. In a heartbeat what seemed so ordinary, now seems either really hard to achieve or simply not necessary. I seem to be setting myself simple goals on a daily basis – mostly linked to locating ordinary items I would not have given a single thought too in that previous world we inhabited.

I also work in early education so the current issue of children being in or out of school is all consuming. I have seen many parents coming online to ask about the kinds of things they can do with their children whilst they are at home – which at this moment could be for quite a while.

For children who are almost at the end of their reception year parents can still find ways to help children practice their developing reading skills. At this stage in the school year children have typically been exposed to most of the letters in the alphabet (graphemes) and the sounds they make (phonemes). They can match a sound to a letter. (phoneme -grapheme correspondence) and they can hear the sounds through a word. They may have learnt to do “robot arms” when they orally chop up the sounds in a word This “segmenting” will help them with writing. For example, red is split into 3 distinct sounds, r/e/d. The other way around, when they put the sounds together, (blending)  is a key skill they draw on to read. Being able to independently read simple words like this is a key target for children going on into year 1. Reading books together will help children at this crucial stage of cracking the reading code. Find words in any books you have that are easily segmented and blended. Look for common words such as “the” or “my” which are not so easily blended (sometimes called tricky words). I found a useful video that might help anyone who wants to know a bit more.

Children read and understand simple sentences. They use phonic knowledge to decode regular words and read them aloud accurately. They also read some common irregular words.They demonstrate understanding when talking with others about what they have read.   (Early Learning Goal for Reading)

The Maverick Yellow Band Early Readers are the perfect match for this vital stage of reading development. Among the most recent additions to the collection is the fabulously titled Planet Odd, which matches the current state of the world outside our front doors. Written by Jenny Jinks and illustrated by Roman Diaz, it follows the adventures of Kip, who crash lands on a planet quite unlike his own. This planet is r/e/d! Thankfully, Kip meets Zak, the odd resident of the red planet, who turns out to be quite a helpful character. The illustrations provide some excellent opportunities for a spot the difference conversation as Zak and Kip travel towards a solution for returning Kip home. Much of the story is told through conversation and works well with the visual story told through the pictures.

Another winner for me is “Too Much Noise” by Cath Jones, illustrated by Leesh Li. This story has a more classic, bedtime story feel to it. Poor Rabbit cannot sleep because of bear’s rumbling tummy! However, Rabbit is a true friend and after much  effort Bear can sleep again. Or can he?! I was reminded of one of my old favourites, “Peace at Last” by Jill Murphy, so if that is a family favourite I’d bet on this one being a winner too.

“Bad Robot” (which I cannot say without hearing the ident for the production company of the same name) by Elizabeth Dale and Felicia Whaley is the tale of Max and his robot Rob. This is a fun story with a great twist at the end, that I certainly didn’t see coming! Finally “The Red Rocket Pirates” by Katie Dale and Elena Resko will certainly appeal to all pirate lovers out there. The story is well paced and there are many laugh out loud moments! With Easter on the way the ending feels just right.

So if you’re in lock down with a Reception age child, I would recommend any of these new books, along with the full range of Early Readers. As with all the books in the scheme they are well written, perfectly pitched and above all fun!

Stay safe and well and KEEP READING!

 

©Chez l’abeille  2020

Disclaimer: I was provided with complimentary copies of the books by Maverick Books. I was not recompensed for this review and all views are my own.


Bananas and Sausages!

Two new books appeared recently and both are fully focused on food! Published by Maverick, these are fun reads which would make a great bedtime or story time book. In the classroom they also offer interesting opportunities to support the literacy curriculum.

Iguanas-Love-Bananas-LR-RGB-JPEG-274x280

Iguanas Love Bananas by Jennie & Chris Cladingbee, with illustrations by Jeff Crowther is a reading feast! It starts simply by asking “who knew?” then launches into a run of rhymes that take in a huge variety of animals and their favourite foods. Bees apparently prefer cream teas – I was very pleased to note that these particular bees are obviously well brought up Cornish bees (they put the jam on first!). The pictures are vibrant and packed full of tings to notice and discuss. There are some interesting words within the text, which children will be able to explore and use to build their vocabulary – sophisticated is just one example, a six syllable word which just rolls around, though constipated may be fun to explain!

“Teachers should ensure that their teaching develops pupils’ oral vocabulary”

“Pupils’ vocabulary should be developed when they listen to books read aloud and when they discuss what they have heard. Such vocabulary can also feed into their writing. Knowing the meaning of more words increases pupils’ chances of understanding when they read by themselves.”

KS1 English

The rhyming couplets whisk you through the panoply of animals and their favourite foods but then the twist! Suddenly they’re all off, as fast as they can run. Just what is it that they cannot stand…well, you’ll have to read the book to find out, but suffice to say this book might also squeeze itself onto a Christmas book list too!

Its-MY-Sausage-LR-RGB-JPEG-275x280The second book is “It’s MY sausage”, written and illustrated by Alex Willmore, who also illustrated two books by fellow SCBWI member Alison Donald. I was also reminded a little of Vivianne Shwarz’s cats.

“There are five of us but just one sausage” says the narrator… and there is the problem, laid out on spread 1. How will this cat keep the sausage all to itself, despite the best efforts of the rest?

Much relies on the visual literacy of the reader as the owner of the sausage goes to increasingly zany lengths to save it from the other four cats. The smallest of clues leads us to see that maybe this isn’t going to end the way this selfish cat believes!

“Role-play and other drama techniques can help pupils to identify with and explore characters.”  Key stage 1 English

The use of the first person would make this an interesting text to discuss in class or to use as a model for independent writing activities. It would also lend itself well to drama activities, such as hot seating, to explore the characters. Each cat has a range of expressions which at a stroke give us a sense of their inner thoughts and desires so their inner thoughts could also be an interesting writing prompt.

The moral aspects of the story would be a good starting point for a circle time discussion. Do the cats deserve the sausage. Are they the authors of their own downfall? How would five cats share one sausage fairly? Many moral issues exist within this story which will appeal to most children.

Bananas and sausages – now I’m feeling hungry!!

©Chez l’abeille  2019

Disclaimer: I was provided with complimentary copies of the books by Maverick Books. I was not recompensed for this review and all views are my own.

 


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Chihuly Nights

Dale Chihuly is one of my favourite artists and I have written about his exhibitions on several occasions. The most recent was my trip to Kew Gardens in the spring. Seeing the pieces in a natural environment, unhindered by the confines of a gallery space was something I didn’t think could be bettered. But I was wrong.

Kew is known for its Christmas lights but I’ve never been to see them. When I saw adverts for a night time visit to the Chihuly exhibition, literally seeing the works in another light, I was straight onto it. Tickets booked, friends organised…we were in!

We arrived around dusk and after a short wait to enter we were off on a magical walk. At first the paths seemed a little crowded but as we walked on into the nighttime, guided only by fairy lights and music playing among the trees we often found ourselves alone. Kew in the day is fabulous but at night it becomes more elemental. As you tread closer to the heart of the gardens the air gradually cools. Shadows tumble around you and it starts to feel like another world entirely. Add to this mix the illuminated sculptures, which  glow like jewels in the darkness and it is simply magical!

My favourite piece from the day time trip was the water lily house. Once again I was captivated by this installation and the reflections created by water and light was perfection.

Second place went to the indoor pieces which also cast otherworldly shadows across the walkways.

We were among the last people to leave the gardens that night and left full of plans to finally book for the Christmas lights this year…if it is half as good as this experience, I think it will become a regular calendar event!

©Chez l’abeille  2019

 


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An aliens guide to… new non-fiction readers!

Another great bundle of books arrived recently, just in time for the start of the school year! Among the collection was a set of new non-fiction readers pitched at the Year 2 end of the book bands.

The books have the same set up as the other non-fiction readers. Zeek and Finn are providing essential information for extra-terrestrial tourists. This collection has a loose environmental theme, which will appeal to readers interested in the impact humans have on the world around us – a very hot topic.

img_1759“Going Green” explores how we are finding alternative ways of producing our energy. Covering wind power, wave power and geothermal energy there are a wide range of ideas and information which would provoke discussions about how we are managing our resources. With many schools looking at how they can become more eco-friendly this book should easily find a home in the class library.

“Food for Thought” and “City Animals” would also be useful reference books for the Science Programme of Study in Year 2 .

“Pupils should be introduced to the idea that all living things have certain characteristics that are essential for keeping them alive and healthy. They should raise and answer questions that help them to become familiar with the life processes that are common to all living things. Pupils should be introduced to the terms ‘habitat’ (a natural environment or home of a variety of plants and animals) and ‘micro-habitat’ (a very small habitat, for example for woodlice under stones, logs or leaf litter). They should raise and answer questions about the local environment that help them to identify and study a variety of plants and animals within their habitat and observe how living things depend on each other, for example, plants serving as a source of food and shelter for animals. Pupils should compare animals in familiar habitats with animals found in less familiar habitats, for example, on the seashore, in woodland, in the ocean, in the rainforest.”

With this in mind, “City Animals” will provide a positive challenge to possible established ideas about habitats, in particular some of the larger animals found living alongside humans.

In this 50th anniversary year of the first lunar landing the last book, “Our Place in Space” also feels timely. Reading through this text I discovered quite a few things I didn’t actually know! When I was last teaching space, Pluto was always the last planet – usually held aloft by an energetic child at the furthest end of the playground as we recreated the solar system on a human scale. Now I learn it has been downgraded to being a dwarf planet. Sorry Pluto, you were always a favourite.

I’m a big fan of these books – they work well as individual readers but also as books to dip into with groups and the whole class. The environmental issues discussed could be used within science teaching but also to prompt wider discussions about the impact of humans on the earth and beyond. With these discussions becoming more and more relevant in the lives of young people, even down to the Early Years, I think they will find much to engage with here.

©Chez l’abeille  2019

Disclaimer: I was provided with complimentary copies of the books by Maverick Books. I was not recompensed for this review and all views are my own.


Aliens visit earth!

As a small child, I adored Ladybird books and the ones I wanted to read and re-read were the information books. I would spend hours filling my mind with useful knowledge. In fact, I still can’t experience a storm without thinking of the Ladybird Book of The Weather – everything I know about the Beaufort Scale comes from that well worn copy!

The new non-fiction readers from Maverick have a similar feel. There are three new books, at the higher end of reading skill based on the book band colour coding used.

The books have a similar format – Zeek and Finn act as helpful alien tour guides for any aliens who fancy a quick trip to earth but are worried about what they may find there.

In “Woah! What’s the Weather?” Dill from Planet Drull is a bit worried about the Earth’s weather (given the state of the summer this year he may have good reason). Zeek and Finn give a walk through many elements of weather types and how we record different aspects.

Bim and Bam from Planet Bland are worried about the wildlife. “Wild and Wacky Animals!” shows them an appealing mix of strange creatures and brings in some key environmental vocabulary such as prey, predator, rain forest and mammal as well.

Finally Flim and Flam from Planet Fashion (obvs!) want to know what they should wear. “Dress to impress!” explores how humans dress for everyday life and for special occasions. There is a useful map of the world at the start, which helps the reader see where each item of clothing is worn. The inclusion of accessories as well as more traditional clothing allows the reader to learn about other clothing such as Masai bead-work and Bolivian bowler hats.

These books have a similar format to the fiction readers. They are the same size and have a new spread for each item. There is also the established quiz at the end. However, the contents page, introduction and index/glossary will enable young readers to use their reference skills to locate specific information and build their vocabulary. The spreads are clearly laid out and alongside the main text and pictures we have commentary from Zeek and Finn, which adds additional information.

I think these books will add a positive additional dimension to any school reading scheme – often non-fiction books are more inaccessible for younger readers but there are many children who don’t want to always read fiction. For the child who, like me, wants to find out about the world around them, these may be just the thing!

©Chez l’abeille  2019

Disclaimer: I was provided with complimentary copies of the books by Maverick Books. I was not recompensed for this review and all views are my own.


“The Pirate who lost his name” by Lou Treleavan and Genie Espinosa

Finding new texts to enthuse young children is always a teacher’s top priority. In recent times, I don’t think I’ve got through a school year without seeing a pirate context being used in an early years classroom somewhere. Most young children love the idea of pirates and know a lot about them too. The-Pirate-Who-Lost-His-Name-Cover-LR-RGB-JPEGThis new book by Lou Treleaven and Genie Espinosa brings a new twist to the pirate genre, and offers some strong curriculum links too.

The front cover bears some detailed investigation and consideration; our pirate protagonist is sporting a quizzical look and a very large bump on his head, his parrot is wearing a rather long -suffering look and the way-sign suggests we’re off on a journey. Lots to discuss and predict from there onwards.

Our main character has all the trappings of your usual high seas brigand – he is the very model of a model modern pirate but unfortunately he’s forgotten his name. There is a very engaging double spread explaining exactly how, which took me a while to fully appreciate. In a series of small vignettes we are able to visually read the cause of his amnesia, which adds some useful practice of inference and deduction skills to the telling of this tale.

So begins our hero’s quest: to find a way to remember his name. His first stop at Captain dreamboat’s heart shaped island would provide opportunities to investigate 2d and 3d shapes in nature. I was immediately reminded of the famous heart shaped island in the Maldives, but discovered more!

At each port of call, he gets closer and closer to discovering his name and the parrot becomes more insistent with her squawks of frustration. Then almost at the point of failure his name is revealed! There’s a nice twist at the end too which will have the reader and listener laughing.

This story would also provide opportunities to discuss the cast of characters and their various attributes. Each pirate has a hugely descriptive name and sometimes some quite subtle characteristics. Captain Anorak certainly wears an anorak, but why does our pirate rush away when the “One Thousand Favourite Pirate Postcards Scrapbook” is produced? Understanding the multiple meanings of words and phrases is a skill the reader needs to develop so they can really understand the texts they engage with. I think having opportunities to do this with language and not just images is important. My only request would be to even up the gender balance as I could only find three female pirates who all had background roles. (Maybe there’s an idea for me to ponder and add to my “to write” list!)

All in all this is a funny story, with depth to the tale and the illustrations, and one which will bear multiple readings. A worthy addition to the pirate canon!

And if anyone can tell me what movie the “Best Pirate Beard Contest” poster is referencing, could you please let me know? I REALLY can’t remember.

©Chez l’abeille  2019

The Pirate Who Lost His Name

Disclaimer: I was provided with a complimentary copy of the book by Maverick Books. I was not recompensed for this review and all views are my own.

 


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The MOOsic Makers by Heather Pindar and Barbara Bakos

There’s nothing more exciting than coming home to an envelope full of books! Even more exciting is a book cover that is full of sound and rhythm. Many of my own stories feature sound as an integral part of the story, so I was curious to see what came next.

The story starts quite quietly… Joni is sat on her farmhouse porch, just listening. There’s a stillness that draws the reader in to explore the double spread until you spot the riotous MOO-grass music rising up from the barn. What is going on?

Joni is surrounded by talented music making animals so when disaster strikes her loyal gang set out to save the day.

Along the way they discover fame but no fortune, the perils of being something you really don’t want to be and the nature of true friendship.

Although, on the surface, this story appears quite straightforward, there are several themes which would make it a very useful story for any classroom. Nutmeg and Celery, the talented duo are lured by the scent of fame, but have to become DisCOW musicians instead.  Georgie Smarm, music industry baddie extraordinaire, tells the girls that their preferred checked shirts and straw hats are for boys and instead they must wear pink and glitter! Joni is a capable, cowgirl boot wearing character too. Discussing these characters would make a very interesting starting point for conversations about gender, image and personal preferences.

Music clearly plays a large part in this tale. Nutmeg plays a mandolin, which is not a typical instrument in most children’s musical repertoire and certainly not mine! I recently went to hear the Ukelele orchestra of Great Britain playing and had been surprised at the range of ukuleles that exist. A quick google indicates that there are specific bluegrass mandolins and I’d guess Nutmeg’s instrument is sporting a lovely traditional sunburst colour scheme. You can read a bit about the mandolin here. Listening to fast, finger picked mandolin would be an exciting way to introduce the story and create a sense of the western environment it is set in.

I also felt that this story would be of value to read with slightly older children. The perils of forgetting your friends and your true self, in pursuit of quick fame and glory, might not be so evident for younger listeners but children who have been steeped in the overnight success seen on X Factor or Britain’s’ Got Talent, could find some insight into the dangers of being seduced by all that glitters.

The story is riotously chock-ful of puns, which will have children laughing and adults groaning in equal measures. Some may need explaining but all will add to the pleasure of the read. The good news is that Joni and the MOOsic Makers save the day and the evil impresario gets his comeuppance. It said so in the New MOOsical Express!

The MOOsic Makers

©Chez l’abeille  2019

Disclaimer: I was provided with a complimentary copy of the book by Maverick Books. I was not recompensed for this review and all views are my own.