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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More Maverick doings…

I’ve reviewed several Maverick Early Readers before, so it’s always interesting to see the new titles and get a feel for how the series is developing. These new books certainly deliver. One of the things I love about them is that they would be equally at home in the home or in a classroom – so as my day job takes me in and out of many classrooms, I’m going to consider them in that context.

There is a lot of discussion in education currently, about the need for reading books that are “decodable”; that is, closely matched to the phonics knowledge a child has mastered. The recently revised draft Ofsted Inspection Framework makes much of this viewpoint, so many schools I expect, will be looking closely at their reading book shelves and making big decisions about their content. Personally, I think all the Maverick books would be a good addition to any classroom collection.

er-mole-in-goal-cover-lr-rgb-jpeg-731x1024First up then: Mole in Goal by Amanda Brandon and Giusi Capizzi (Orange Book Band/Phase 5 Letters and Sounds). This is a great book in which disability is sensitively explored. Mole has very poor eyesight and naturally short legs which prevent him being able to play his favourite game, football, until his goal keeping skills are discovered. What I particularly liked is the opportunity this affords for children to explore Blind Football and see how a visual impairment is not something that needs to prevent engagement in games and sports at very high levels. When his team mates create a sound making football, Mole is able to save the game and the day.  The illustrations work well with the text and I particularly liked the way Mole’s point of view is demonstrated, so children can see how he experiences the world.

er-the-oojamaflip-cover-lr-rgb-jpeg-1-731x1024The next three colour bands; turquoise, purple and gold, are all aimed at readers who have developed the required phonics skills and are now building their reading fluency. I was particularly happy to see “The Oojamaflip” by Lou Treleaven and Julia Patton (Turquoise Band) in the set I received. This story, in its very early submission stage was once shared with permission in a SCBWI workshop I attended and greatly influenced my move into sometimes writing in rhyme! In this funny story, the wonderously red haired  and resourceful Professor McQuark invents her Oojamaflip, which does exactly what it says! I was interested to see that this has been rewritten in prose and it did make me wonder if there is a place for rhyming texts within this series. However, I do think that having alternative versions of stories, outside of the traditional tale cannon is an equally useful addition to classroom resources. Given that I sometimes have to hear Year 2 children reading as part of my day job, I think this one may make its way into my work bag!

er-wishker-cover-lr-rgb-jpeg-731x1024“Whishker” by Heather Pindar and Sarah Jennings takes us up to Purple band, which brings in more opportunities for wider inference and discussions about the characters and their motivation. This also extends to the illustrations. The main character’s wish builds gradually into a massive problem, which presents the reader with a moral dilemma; Mirabel learns her lesson, but does somehow get her wish! However the nice twist at the end also brings opportunities for considering what happens next. I also felt the language and structure of the text gave it a sightly more episodic feel – perfect for building up the reading stamina as children move into early chapter books.

er-scary-scott-cover-lr-rgb-jpeg-731x1024So finally to “Scary Scott” by Katie Dale and Irene Montano (Gold Band). I loved this story for it’s humour and pace. The story is told over 5 chapters and I also liked how the illustrations interplay with the story and add layers of meaning, so the reader has to use their inference and deduction skills to really engage with the text. The tension builds gradually and there are some great Uh-Oh! moments and cliffhangers along the way. There is also another moral dilemma to discuss – how to do the right thing, even if you may lose out is an important consideration for most 6 and 7 year olds!

So once again, all I can say is Maverick have continued to bring children, parents and teachers some great stories which we can all enjoy in equal measure!

Bravo!

My other reviews of the Early Readers can be found here:

A “Maverick” reading scheme? Yes please!

Making Reading Real Again.

©Chez l’abeille 2019

 

 

 

 

 


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Making Reading Real Again.

One of the longest standing debates in the teaching of reading must be the reading scheme vs. “real books” one. Over nearly 35 years of being involved in the teaching of reading, this one has rumbled and rumbled. Being a realist, I was always aware that the barrier to reading a published picture book independently lay in the complexity of the written words and this remains the main stumbling block.

Maverick have grasped this nettle and are building a deliciously appealing set of banded reading books which combine both the aesthetics of a picture book, yet have the graded vocabulary required to match a child’s developing decoding skills. The colour bands used to grade the books are derived from the “Book Band” system, developed by the Institute of Education, and used widely in schools to match books across the many existing schemes. I’ve been a long-standing devotee of the book bands, as they give teachers a short hand system for judging the relative difficulty of a book. In my day job I work with primary schools and this includes the moderation of reading assessments in Reception and Year. At times like this, being able to judge a book by its cover comes in very handy!

Maverick titles August 2018

New Maverick titles August 2018

I was able to review some of the earlier books in the scheme, which were in the Purple Band – definitely for the more confident readers likely to be in Key Stage 1. These were retellings of existing picture books, which was what I loved about them! I was therefore keen to see if there was any difference in the earlier bands, given the need to pitch the language and vocabulary to a more specific range of reading skills and knowledge.

Both books really worked well for me. Jim and the Big Fish, by SCBWI friend Clare Helen Welsh and Illustrated by Patricia Reagan is a Yellow Band book – this would roughly be aimed at a Reception/Year 1 child. It is a charming story with a seaside setting – now knowing Clare lives in Devon, this didn’t surprise me! Jim tries unsuccessfully to catch a big fish but the items he does fish out of the harbour, courtesy of the pesky seagulls, help him achieve his aim in a roundabout way! There are simple sentences and speech bubbles which feature easily decodable words, perfect for the developing reader. The usual quiz is at the end of the book to support recall skills. The illustrations also provide some opportunities for practising inference and deduction skills, as you have to look quite hard to see that the man in the boat is also fishing – it took me two reads through!

Little Scarlet’s Big Fibs by Katie Dale, Illustrated by Kevin Payne is a Blue Band book,  – perfect for Year 1 readers. This is based on the traditional Red Riding Hood story but with a great twist that will get children laughing! There is an increase in the number of sentences on the page, which will build reading stamina, but the reader is still supported by decodable words to help fluency. Small illustrated clues also give the reader information about just what Little Scarlet is up to and why Granny isn’t getting her treats. Granny is quite savvy and I’m also sure Scarlet won’t be eating her snacks again! One thing I did wonder about was the universality of crossing your fingers behind your back to excuse a fib…again this is a very small illustrative detail but key to any discussion around Scarlet’s behaviour – is telling lies to your Granny a good or bad thing? This would definitely be worth exploring from a moral standpoint.

Once again the high production values and quality of the writing shine through in both books and I think these are a great addition to the Maverick Early Reader scheme.

©Chez l’abeille  2018

 


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A “Maverick” reading scheme? Yes please!

As a child I read everything and anything I could get my hands on and I can still vividly recall the moment I realised I was actually reading in my head! It was magical; words and pictures danced together, creating a perfect moment of pure story pleasure.

What I also remember is that I was very conscious of the existence of two types of books; the ones I chose for myself and the ones I had to read. The school reading books. The utterly boring and tedious activities of characters I had no interest or desire to know any more about, thank you! My Naughty Little Sister, Paddington Bear or Olga Da Polga would trump anything that Janet and John or Peter and Jane could offer me, any day.

“Literacy begins with immersion in an environment in which the skill is used in a purposeful, active, and meaningful way.”

Don Holdaway, “The Foundations of Literacy” (1979)

How could any reading scheme be purposeful, active and meaningful, when there were so many exciting books to explore and read? As a result, even as an experienced primary teacher, I have always been a tad suspicious of any reading scheme, no matter how “real book” they try to be.

I was curious, therefore, to have a closer look at the new “Early Readers” from Maverick Children’s Books. The idea behind this series is simple: to create reading books that support the transition from being a listener to being a reader. The resulting books have also been “banded” according to the Institute of Education’s book bands for guided reading, which provides clear guidance on the level of difficulty and reading skills needed. This is a big plus for me, as I frequently use the book bands in my advisory work with schools.

Working with their roster of established authors (including several SCBWI friends across the whole series), the purple band books are based on existing stories or characters, with which children may already be familiar. The established pairings of author and illustrator are also replicated, which again provides a sense of familiarity and high quality. In look and feel they have the same structure as a typical picture book with each one running to thirteen double page spreads. Illustrations and text work well together, although there is a greater separation of text and image on the page than is typically found in a picture book. This enhances the sense that they are a step up from a picture book  – they are instead books with great pictures! Yet there is still much to explore in the illustrations and I particularly liked Queen Fluff’s encounter with a rat in his underpants in “A Right Royal Mess”. 

As reading books these would be suitable for reading alone or in a guided group. Maverick have created useful activity packs for some of the books which can support the teaching of reading in a group activity or at home. For example a focus on specific consonant clusters is suggested if reading “The Jelly That Wouldn’t Wobble”, and key language features that can be used in writing, such as onomatopoeia are also featured. Yet they are not too schooly and I think they would be equally welcome as a shared bedtime story.

Each story comes with a quiz at the end, which can be used to support recall of key information. If I were to suggest one thing to strengthen this section of the book, it would be a greater focus on inference. Some questions do provide a “think about” element such as “Why does nobody want to help the Grizzly? in “The Great Grizzly Race., but there is only one answer. More open-ended questions could provide greater challenge and opportunities to develop skills of being able to “answer questions and make some inferences on the basis of what is being said and done” (End of KS1 expected standard).

For me, each book works well as a complete story, bringing the sense of satisfaction that comes from active engagement in a well written picture book. For a transitional reader the overall reading experience would be supportive, yet one of moving on to something more challenging. In Don Holdaway’s words, they are definitely purposeful and meaningful.

So am I converted? I have to say I am.

©Chez l’abeille  2017

Disclaimer: I was invited to review the Maverick Early Reader books by the publisher who provided copies of three purple band books.
I have received no compensation for doing this piece and all opinions are my own.