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.


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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.