Chez l'abeille

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


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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.

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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.


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“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.

 

 

 


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Reading for pleasure part 1: What’s new in the Maverick Gold Band.

It will soon be the start of the summer term and for many Key Stage One teachers this means one thing: time for the Statutory Assessments or SATs. Reading is a key part of this process and by the time a child is completing this phase of their education there are a number of skills they are expected to master. Among the list provided in the National Curriculum we find that children should:

  • read accurately by blending the sounds in words that contain the graphemes  taught so far, especially recognising alternative sounds for graphemes
  • read accurately words of two or more syllables
  • read further common exception words
  • read aloud books closely matched to their improving phonic knowledge, sounding out unfamiliar words accurately, automatically and without undue hesitation

I would also add an additional aspect to reading at this age – it has to be FUN! Being able to read for the sheer joy and pleasure of the story is vitally important. So the books children have access to at this vital stage need to not only support their independence in the mechanics of reading, but also enthuse and engage them.

Looking at the new additions to the Maverick Early Readers at the Gold Band level, I think Year Two teachers will find plenty to support children develop these essential building blocks towards independent reading. Each one is a five chapter book, which will build reading stamina. On top of that they are great stories that are fun to read.

ER-The-Chicken-Knitters-Cover-LR-RGB-JPEG-731x1024“The Chicken Knitters” by Cath Jones and Sean Longcroft is a rollicking adventure with a host of capable and fast thinking female characters, including the chickens!  As I have recently rediscovered the joy of crochet, I was immediately drawn to this title. Lilly, our knitting heroine is determined to save the featherless chickens from the clutches of Farmer Claw. Despite several setbacks, she finally outwits the farmer with the help of the local school knitting champions and Edna McLuskey, the school caretaker.

Many of the year 2 spelling and grammar expectations feature, providing much needed examples in context. The text also includes plenty of onomatopoeia, which enriches the language experienced by the reader. What I particularly liked is the way environmental and animal welfare issues are carefully integrated into the story. This book would provide a good launch point for discussion around these points. The value of crafts and making things is another aspect which is promoted, and I was pleased to see that the champion knitters included a boy! More perceptive readers may wonder why Lilly herself wasn’t at school, but “The Chicken Knitters” is an engaging chapter book, with a very satisfying and happy conclusion.

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Katie Dale has two new books in the Gold Band. “The Coach, the Shoes and the Football”, illustrated by Ellie O’Shea, is a witty inversion of the traditional Cinderella story. Raj (who is presumably an orphan because his mum is never mentioned) lives with Terry, his uncaring stepfather, and his two dreadful step brothers. All three make Raj’s life miserable and his only hope on the horizon is the summer football camp. Will Raj get to the try outs and impress Coach Prince? Not if Luke and Damon can help it. But despite their efforts and a series of setbacks, Raj is saved by his “hairy Godfather”, Dan, who even provides some sparkly new football boots too.

I liked the way the story references the traditional tale, but makes it a modern version – perfect for prompting similar re-telling of traditional tales from a different angle. It also uses interesting similes and wordplay to stretch the reader. When challenged, Terry turns “as purple as a beetroot,” and there’s also a full on cheesy Cinderella/football joke at the end which should make everyone groan!

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Katie Dale’s second book is “The Magic Music box”, illustrated by Giovana Medeiros.

Bella is desperate to go to ballet school, but there just isn’t any spare cash to pay for it. Bella, however is determined and saves hard to acquire the tutu and shoes she needs. She is also given a magical music box with a dancing ballerina by the mysterious lady in the charity shop. The dancing ballerina inside coaches Bella until she is ready for the talent competition. But things don’t go as the reader may predict – and this is my favourite part of the story. In a time when talent shows are seen as THE way to achieve success, it’s heartening to have a story where hard work and practice are the virtues that get rewarded. In turn, Bella passes on the magical musical box to a dance obsessed boy – another nice twist in this engaging tale.

The story uses alliteration to very good effect, for example, Bella does the cha-cha-cha to the charity shop. There is also a range of descriptive vocabulary which will open up inference questions; when Bella trudges to the charity shop or bites her lip, how is she feeling? The illustrations also open up questions to be explored…just who is the woman from the charity shop?!  This is a sweet tale which emphasises how hard work is what will ultimately help you achieve your dreams.

ER-The-Spooky-Sleepover-Cover-LR-RGB-JPEG-731x1024Finally we have “The Spooky Sleepover” by Elizabeth Dale, illustrated by Steve Wood. I was particularly taken with the monochrome illustrations in this book, which seem to bridge between all colour picture books and an illustrated story.

Summer can’t wait to show off her new house to her friends, and nothing, including spooky noises and a mysterious cat, is going to stop the four girls from having fun! Ella is not so sure about the spooky goings on, but her friends are so reassuring that even she takes part in the midnight ghost hunt. The next day the four friends make a surprise discovery, with an even more surprising ending.

This story manages the balance between being scary but not TOO scary very well indeed! The lovely black and white illustrations work well, as the girls explore the night-time house, where every sound is different to the familiar day time world. I also like the way the girls are not reacting in a stereotypical way to the spooky noises and goings on. Summer has a practical explanation for each occurrence, and they all positively relish the idea of holidays spent looking for ghosts! The story builds gently to the final reveal, but still leaves enough room for discussion about what really happened.

All four of these new Gold Band books will give independent readers a challenge and support their writing skills too. Children who are writing at the greater depth standard are expected to “write effectively and coherently for different purposes, drawing on their reading to inform the vocabulary and grammar of their writing“. If these are the books they are reading, then they should be off to a great start.

©Chez l’abeille  2019

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