Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson
This is an affecting book which ostensibibly is about three baby owls: Sarah, Percy and Bill awaiting the return of their mother. The illustrations are richly textured and Bill’s refrain, “I want my mummy” makes this a book you would have to heart of stone not to be touched by! The book taps on young children’s fears about separation from their parents and carers and is an ideal one to share with a young child who is about to face any form of separataion. Writing this little review on the first Monday of September made me think of colleagues whose own children are about to start the first day of big school today
The Red Tree by Shaun Tan
I was first introduced to this book by the marvellous Marilyn Brocklehurst who owns the Norfolk Children’s Book Centre; that magical bookshop in a Norfolk field. http://www.ncbc.co.uk/new/index.html
She told me the story of a head teacher who had the book on the shelves in his room. A troubled child came to see him and somehow they got around to reading the book together. After the reading, the child was visibly restored. Something about the book, the reading of it had touched an important part of that child at that moment. This is a book I would definitely have in my classroom, and it would be on my bookshelf, not in the hurly burly of the class shelves or boxes. It would be a book for certain moments, particular situations.
The book presents a series of images which invite the reader to interpret as they wish. These are often dark and some people challenge Shaun Tan on this. He says, in answer, that it was simply that he found the more negative feelings more interesting from both a personal and artistic point of view. I find this series of images invites a meditative reading and am glad, that, despite the uncertainty, the book ends on an optimistic note.
However, Shaun Tan is much more interesting on this than me. I recommend his website.
Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak
It may seem surprising, now, to learn that for the first two years after its publication in 1963 Where the Wild Things Are was banned in libraries in America. Children have always loved this book. It is adults who are not so sure. I don’t know what it is that makes them wary. Perhaps you can tell me why.
Where the Wild Things Are is about those terrifying feelings a child can have when they are so very angry, when it seems that they are out of control. What is very special to me is that when Max returns home from his voyage his supper was waiting, and it was still hot. The adult can see that the rage is short-lived. For the child the rage is vast and all-consuming. That warm supper is there to reassure the child. Max’s mother is there to care for him. She loves him. Where the wild things are, where we go when we are angry, is a lonely, place, however much fun it might seem. It is good to know home is safely there.
I read somewhere that it took Maurice Sendak a year to write the text of this picture book. Look closely at the words, read them aloud. They are rhythmic and magical. They remain in the head. They can become part of our repertoire, the child’s repertoire. And the illustrations are wonderful. Wikipedia tells me that these are based on his Yiddish aunts and uncles who frightened him as a child. If you are interested, have a look at the Wikipedia entry, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Where_the_Wild_Things_Are. You may also know that Spike Lee made a film based on the story to which he brings his own interpretation.
Enjoy this book. Share it. Travel in and out of weeks and almost over a year………
……. and let the wild rumpus start!
Dogger by Shirley Hughes is one of my absolutely favourite books. I have lost count of the many copies I have owned : most were worn out through sheer love and repeated retellings with one or two copies borrowed but never returned (though I have some hope that they have been read by my former pupils to their own children by now). What is special about this story? A small boy losing his favourite toy which is duly returned by his big sister is an everyday unremarkable happening in childhood. However, this story deals with big themes: conflict; resolution; compassion and kindness. It is the perfect book for reading aloud. If it is not yet on your bookshelf, get it!
Love that Dog Sharon Creech
Benjamin Zephaniah calls this “the book that cannot be pigeonholed.” First person, not chapters but diary entries and set out in something like free verse. Read this first for yourself, as a teacher. Follow the story of one child’s changing attitude towards poetry, and then introduce him to your class. This book is a natural read aloud. Think about reading it when you are teaching poetry and following the example of Miss Stretchberry. If you look, you have a scheme of work set out for you right in these pages.
The story is intriguingly full of gaps, and so good to discuss and to share the filling in of the implied and the inferred. It is alluringly brief, but I find that readers return to certain pages repeatedly.
Sharon Creech has also written Hate that Cat and Heartbeat, both in a similar style. If you really don’t get on with this, don’t give up on her. She has written some great novels in more conventional style. Try Chasing Redbird, Ruby Holler or Walk Two Moons.