Tuesday, September 1, 2020

*Not* a Bed of Roses

"Just One of Those Days" by Jill Murphy

(Macmillan, 2020) 

Life is not always a bed of roses. 

In fact it's more like the untidy, strewn-with-crayons, home-to-half-drunk-cups-of-coffee bed that presents itself on the cover of Jill Murphy's truthful and honest picture book, Just One of Those Days.

You may already know the family who are seen waking up in that bed. In fact, the story that began in Peace at Last all those years ago here continues straight away with the ominous words: 'It had been a long night...' as dad stretches wearily to turn off the alarm while mum can barely open her eyes. The sky outside is grey, the trees bare, the light gloomy. 

Mum and Dad sleepily get themselves ready for work. Baby Bear is allowed a few moments more of his dream of dinosaurs but all too soon even he has to face the reality of day. 

And what a day it turns out to be: miserable weather, upsets in the nursery, coffee upsets in the office...even Mum's blueberry muffin treat can't be properly enjoyed. The whole family experience a lot of problems that we're all familiar with...and would equally prefer not to have to face!

But there is comfort to be found in family. After all the troubles that Life has thrown the Bear family that day there's a pizza treat and comfy pyjamas and flaking out on the sofa: Life's simple pleasures that are often forgotten. The wonder of this picture book is its invitation to slow down and think about the things that our own lives offer that are sometimes taken for granted. As much of the book is about the little joys as it is about the down-sides: this symmetry is so important to recognise and the structure of the book reflects it beautifully. 

Murphy's illustrations engage us in making time to consider the everyday in new light, rather as Janet Ahlberg's do: there is the same warmth and realism. In both artists' work the fairy-tale fantasy acts as a foil to what is ostensibly very real and very familiar - ultimately what fairy-tale is all about, in fact - while the tiny domestic details they include make for instant appeal. Look at how Baby Bear's salad differs from mum and dad's at the end of Murphy's book, for example: What does that tell us? How do we relate? 

It's been forty years since Peace at Last, but here the bears wake up to reveal their story as fresh, timeless and as universal as ever - Life may not be perfect; but what we make of it can be just that.

Monday, August 31, 2020

"Layers and Sides..."

The Key to Finding Jack by Ewa Jozefkowicz

(Zephyr, 2020)


 

When her brother, Jack, travels to Peru then goes missing after an earthquake there, Flick puts every effort into trying to locate him. The discovery of an old key, addressed and labelled 'To S.F.', sets in motion a sequence of encounters with the people who have meant the most to Jack and Flick is surprised by what she discovers about the young man (no longer a boy) that she thought she knew so well.

Ewa Jozefkowicz returns in glorious form with this intimate and heartfelt story about the subtleties of family relationships. Flick's is a sensitive portrayal of a young adolescent, coming to terms with the fact that her beloved older brother is now setting out on his own life. The bond between the two is drawn so beautifully, the love so strongly felt, that we immediately invest ourselves in the story, desperate that Jack be found. 

In her previous book, Girl 84, Jozefkowicz explored the theme of age and the elderly to highlight the value of growing old and the stories held by everybody's lives. Once again, this emerges as part of The Key to Finding Jack, Flick's grandmother developing as a major character halfway through the story - both young and old have things to learn about our relationships, the author here implies.  

There are many layers and sides to us all, as the story explains, but the whole book presents all kinds of ways to examine what may at first seem the mundane world of our everyday lives. Characters are plentiful, maybe more cameo-like in their in intriguing and sometimes fleeting appearances: What is Sutty's story? What does the fragmentary scene at Simon's front door tell us about the relationship between father and son? Who is the girl in the red beret that Flick continues to notice once her story has come into creation? So many stories! Like the fictional mysteries Flick alludes to at the start of the story, we are presented with all kinds of different 'pages' in the same gigantic book of life - ones that are barely explained, and only then if we are take time to see...

While online 'bubble'-life may threaten to tangle or even sever the connective threads between us all, Jozefcowicz's wise, warmly encouraging voice helps her youngest readers yet again to slow down and notice what is going on around us, to take interest in others, to find renewed love and affection towards our fellow travellers in the journey of Life.

 And in doing so, there is hope to find us all.

***  

Once you have read the book, I hope you will want to share it! The following questions might help you to connect with other readers and their thoughts, to compare your similarities and differences. The questions are aimed at the maturity level of Year 5/6 children and above.

Questions to think and talk about:

  1. How does Flick change throughout the story? Does anything about her character stay the same?
  2. Describe he relationship between Flick and her mum. Describe the same between her and her dad. How are the two relationships different? How are they the same?  
  3. Are the relationships between Jack and his parents different to that between them and Flick? 
  4. Do you think Jack will return to Peru one day? Why/Why not?
  5. Why is Duncan in the story? How do you think his story will continue after this story is finished? 
  6. Is the old key that Flick finds the most important part of the plot?  
  7. What makes writing such an important part of Flick's life? Do you think she will continue to write through her teenage years and beyond into adulthood? Why/Why not?
  8. What role does old age and the elderly play in the story and to the messages of the book?
  9. "There are layers and sides to a person that you can't uncover until you have the right clues?" What does this mean? Is this the main message of the text, or is that something else? 
  10. The Spanish words 'Oro' and "Llave' are mentioned a lot. What do these two words mean in English? Do they have a greater significance to the story and characters than just being the names of places in Peru?
  11. Flick decides not to draw a spider diagram to record her investigation; what is the significance that she chooses to draw a tree instead?  
  12. What relevance does Jack's haemophilia have to the story? 
  13. Why does the author make a point of regularly mentioning the 10:15pm flyover of the plane?
  14. If this book were to win a prize, what would it be awarded it for, in your opinion?


Thursday, August 27, 2020

"The Girl Who Became a Tree" - Reading Group Questions

Having posted my thoughts yesterday about Joseph Coelho's and Katie Milner's outstanding creation, The Girl Who Became a Tree, I've still had lots of questions buzzing around my head. Some of them might be helpful as a starting point for Book Chat with KS3/4 young people and adults who have read this extraordinary and richly engaging volume.

Happy book-chatting! 


The Title
  • The title is deliberately prosaic: what effect does it have by referring to the abstract 'girl' and 'tree'?
  • Why didn't Joseph Coelho call the book 'Daphne'?
  • Does the title engage you to read the story within? How? How not?
The Cover
  • What's the difference in your view between a verse-novel and a 'story told in poems'?
  • Describe the images on the cover. What feelings does it evoke? 
  • Talk about the use of colours on the cover. Why has the illustrator/designer used these colours?
The Form
  • What kinds of poetic structure are used in 'The Girl Who Became a Tree'?
  • How do the different poetic forms affect your reading of the book?
  • Can you read the poems as separate texts or do they rely on being part of the whole sequence?
Daphne
  • What is ordinary about Daphne? What is extraordinary?
  • How does Daphne conquer her anger and anxieties? 
  • What is the turning point in the story for Daphne?
Mum and Dad
  • How do Coelho and Miller represent these two figures in Daphne's life? 
  • How do you feel about the character of Mum? And Dad? Do your feelings match or echo Daphne's?
Hoc
  • What words would you use to describe Hoc? 
  • What do you notice about Hoc's throne and surroundings? What do they tell us about Hoc? How do they relate to Daphne? 
  • Hoc is an original creation but who are his 'relatives' from other stories? How are they 'related'?
  • Hoc is an unusual word and name, but we do hear it in the Latin phrase 'ad hoc', meaning 'a solution to a given task or problem'. Do you think the phrase is connected to the creature in any way? 
  • Is Hoc good or bad?

Libraries and librarians
  • What role do libraries play in your life? What importance to they have to Daphne? Will the library still have the same role for her after the end of this story? 
  • What is the importance of having a library as a major part of the story? 
  • Could the character of the librarian be omitted from the story or not?
The Forest
  • What role do forests have in stories? What are some of the most memorable forests you know from real life and from story? What bearing do these have on your reading The Girl who Became a Tree?
  • Why is it relevant that Daphne finds herself in a forest?
  • Why is it important that Daphne discovers another 'tree' like herself?  
The Myth
  • Read a traditional version of the myth of Daphne and Apollo. How does Coelho's version of the myth (the parts on black background) retell, build on, and challenge the original myth?
  • What is the connection between the myth and Coelho's main story? 
  • Is The Girl Who Became a Tree an allegory? 
Other texts
  • Read and talk about the relationship of the following poems and stories to The Girl Who Became a Tree: 
          - William Blake - A Poison Tree
          - Red Riding Hood
          - Philip Larkin - The Trees
  • Are there other texts or films which come to your mind while reading? What is the connection? 

The Illustrations
  • Talk about Katie Milner's style: which words would you use to describe it? 
  • How does the book benefit from the illustrations? 
  • Find one picture which you feel strongly connects with the poem it illustrates. How does it achieve this in your view? What does it say about the poem? 
  • Do the pictures tell their own story as well as illustrate Coelho's?
Out-of-the box thinking...
  • Could you read the story backwards, starting with the last poem and working back to the first? How would this structure change/develop your perception of the story?
  • If you were to add a poem to the book what would it be about and what form would it take?
  • As Daphne's phone is a central part of the story, could you imagine The Girl Who Became a Tree as a phone app or game? How would it translate to this medium? 
  • If you were making a film of this book, how would you represent Hoc? How would you show Daphne's transformation? How would the original myth be part of the film?

You may find it of interest to listen to the fascinating interview between Joseph Coelho and Nikki Gamble on the following podcast: https://justimagine.co.uk/podcast/joseph-coelho/ 

The Girl Who Became a Tree is published by Otter-Barry Books. With thanks to Nicky Potter who provided Kate Milner's illustrations for use in this blog. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

A Poison Tree

The Girl who Became a Tree by Joseph Coelho; illustrated by Kate Milner 

(Otter-Barry Books 2020)

 
William Blake tells us:

I was angry with my foe: 
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

But what happens when you can't accept that you're angry with yourself?

***

In Joseph Coelho's and Kate Milner's The Girl Who Became A Tree, Daphne is angry: Dad has gone; Mum doesn't understand her; she doesn't understand herself any more. Hers is a silent, brooding presence in the library. The librarian seems to understand, seems to know what she needs, but she's not going to let him in.

Then, quite suddenly, we snap out of this story and we're watching the myth of Daphne. Where did that come from? The girl who evades danger by entreating her father to transform her into a tree is just a bit too obvious...isn't it? 

Well, no. Because myth isn't real. And although myth is there to make sense of things, Coelho's story shows us that, in some cases, myth doesn't make sense of anything. So the old story is forced to give up the ghost with an angry outburst at Peneus and then crawls away to lick its axe-wounds. 

Now bereft of any guidance, Coelho's Daphne finds her way into an ancient forest via the library.

And Hoc takes charge. 

What is he? Malevolent forest god? Mischief maker? Lazy, huge, sprawling, decadent, deep-rooted, rotten, old, he sits with self-satisfied power over Daphne. He feeds her anger, teases her with promises of returning what she has lost; then transforms her - not to help her escape any danger as the myth would have us predict, but to encase her, to trap her, to stultify her real growth. 

Daphne is strong though. Cocooned in wood, she learns the value of introspection. She can let go of certain things, those things that she thought were all she had left but which she sees finally as fleeting, ephemeral. 

Dad, the tree surgeon, is not the woodcutter of fairy tale: he can't save Red Riding Hood from harm. Nor is Dad any god either: his mortality proves to Daphne that Peneus did the wrong thing, he tried too hard to protect: these physical bonds we have with our parents can't be for ever. Growth is what's needed, although Blake only told half the story: the cultivation of a Poison Tree doesn't always have to end in death or bitter triumph.

Coelho's story is tough. The language is tough. Life and death are tough. The viewpoint veers from deeply personal  self-questioning to subjective allegory through everything else in between. 

Milner's illustrations - inky, smeared, surreal; then razor-sharp and chilling - swing nightmarishly between physical clarity and metaphoric obfuscation. Sense appositely evades comprehension.

There are no soft-centred platitudes offered up. Adolescence hurts: grief hurts: true feelings  hurt. There's nothing easy in any of it. Learning to tell yourself that you are the foe - learning to be your own true friend, even when this involves hardship and massive effort - results in a different story, says The Girl Who Became A Tree:

Wrath will end. 



With grateful thanks to Nicky Potter of Otter-Barry Books, who provided some of Kate Milner's beautiful pictures for this blog. 




Sunday, August 16, 2020

Read me a story in Year Six! (Part 3: Tips for Reading Aloud)

This, the third part of a series about Reading Aloud in Year 6, focuses on the actual act of reading out loud to a class. Many of these points are important to consider in any year group, but the following points are based on my long-term experience of reading to older children and is possibly more sensitive in parts to the attributes and needs of that age of child. 

***

1. "Before we begin..."

Establish where the story has got to so far (like in your favourite box-set!). Get the children involved in this: I like to put on a slight show of confusion turning back through the pages, muttering: "Now what happened at the end of the last chapter...", "What was it that X was up to..?", "Something major happened in the book yesterday. What was it again...?" Children love being better at remembering stuff than the dusty old teacher! 

It's good to recap (briefly) with some basic questions too at this point in the session: 'What's so-and-so's dog called?", "Why have they gone up to the lighthouse?" but this isn't a comprehension test, so I make sure to keep it relaxed.

2. Voices

Reading a book out loud is a kind of spell so the words written on the page desperately need a 'voice' for them to work: a good storyteller shapes the words to bring them to life; a great storyteller gives their living breath to the squiggles on the page. 

This may sound daunting, but take courage! Anyone can become a great storyteller: it's a matter of two things - loving the story you are telling (so much so that you are desperate to share it with your audience!) and letting the story 'in' so you are able to tell it authentically. 

It's really important to 'do the voices'. But that doesn't mean we have to make up different sounds for every character (e.g. a scratchy, fingernails-down-the board voice for the demon bench-end in Priestley's Tales of Terror). This could so easily verge on caricature or worse, stereotype. As the storyteller, we just have to tune into what the story is saying to us about these characters and feel what they are living, saying, breathing...

Year 6 children still love the voices too - and don't get me wrong, so do I! They can add so much to the intensity and immediacy of the telling when done well.  But do be assured: reading aloud doesn't need to become a big, dramatic performance. Where a good deal of reading aloud for younger children benefits from bright, colourful characterisation through the sounds made by the storyteller, the books that are going to satisfy the children's interests at Year 6 have a more developed nuance when it comes to character - pastel and charcoal in shade and texture, rather than bolder, primary colours. (By the way, that's certainly not to say that in my opinion books for younger children are in any way 'easier', or 'less developed' than those for older - no way!)

What is always needed is a sense of character. Having read the book first yourself, you should though understand the need for the emotion and personality in each character speaks their words. That demon bench-end, for instance, might far more effective as a simple whisper, barely containing its anger. So you can simply use your own voice to shape each character's words: just make it quiet or confident, let it bounce along or hide shyly in a corner, allow it hiss snide comment, or bray boorishly...this is what matters - children need to hear the inner character. 

Read with feeling - that's the key thing.  

3. When to talk

I try to read for very long chunks at a time without pausing to ask questions. I used to stop far more often during the reading, but it became intrusive and broke the magic of the story. A constant running commentary isn't needed. Also, again, it's not a comprehension test.   

Sometimes, though, children want to say something during the reading about what they've spotted or to ask a question. Again, I won't stop immediately but try to acknowledge the question with a reassuring glance over at the child and a silent thumbs up. This will mean I've logged their interest and will come back to them at a good point in the next few minutes. I still want the children to feel the pull of the story, for it to mesmerise. 

But equally, I want to pass on the 'expert teacher role' to them. I want to support the children's independence to question and comment on a text. By Year 6, children may have become more self-conscious about this, thinking there may be a 'right or wrong' way to react to a book, or particularly sensitive to the reactions of their peers. To encourage the children to feel confident in taking on what may have been seen previously as the grown-up reader's role - thinking, questioning, wondering with others - is what it's about here.

4. Book-Talk

Reading doesn't stop when you close the book at the end of a read-aloud session. Real reading (particularly as the child becomes older) is increasingly more about thinking and talking about what you have read that it is about deciphering the squiggles and patterns on the page. So we spend at least five minutes of the session discussing individual, group and class thoughts about the bit of the story we've read that day.

Sometimes children naturally want to start talking about something that has grabbed their attention. As the storyteller/teacher, I'll act more as guide in the discussion, inviting comments, disagreements, other 'spots' that children have made, rather than as participant. It is, though, still important to offer them your interpretation of things from time to time: to the children, we are models of 'the mature reader', so our interest, passion, involvement is key; we should take part - just not take over! 

If there is little forthcoming from the children, I use a selection of generic questions to prompt thinking (I'll be writing more about this in the autumn as an Example of Practice for the OU Reading for Pleasure site). For example:

  • Which parts interested you the most today?    
  • What feelings did you experience when we were reading this book?
  • Did anything we read today remind you of something else you’ve enjoyed? Another book? A film?

Because these are very open, these are particularly good to use with children who may lack confidence in talking about books. 

5. Valuing Every Reader

At the end of a lot of sessions, we have a few minutes sharing anything the children have written or drawn to value the range of personal responses. It's a joy to hear and to support Year 6 children in their developing views about the literature they encounter. By this age, there is a special need to recognise that these children are on the cusp of a deeply independent approach to their reading. They have spent much of their primary school learning about the ways they respond to stories and text and at this point, on the point of leaving for secondary school, they have a unique opportunity to explore their thinking at a mature level in a safe space.

Children's drawings are fascinating to examine and considering these in the context of reading can be revealing. For all children, drawing initiates a particularly personal exploration of a text. It allows time to focus on just one or a few aspects of the book being read. Also, some children might not be comfortable talking about books - the 'Book-Talk' tips above may not prove so fruitful with them - but through drawing they may be better equipped to express their thinking.

Questions about the drawings to involve the whole class in looking closely and thinking about the drawing/reading might include: 

  • What have you drawn here? 
  • Why did you draw this today? 
  • What did you hear in the reading today that inspired you to draw?
  • Is there anything else from today's read that you might like to draw later? 
Listen out for how the drawing has been stimulated by their perception of the reading. Engage these children in regular book-chat through their drawing skills. Celebrate how this form of reading a book is just as valid as oral book-chat!  

Because everyone has the right to be part of Storytime. 
 
 ***
 
I'm now looking forward to writing more about this subject in the future! In the meantime, further great thinking about Reading Aloud at Primary School is offered by Martin Galway here: https://www.hertsforlearning.co.uk/blog/do-voices-reading-aloud-primary-classroom, 
and here: 
https://www.hertsforlearning.co.uk/blog/do-voices-reading-aloud-primary-classroom-pt-2. 
 
And if you want to know more about the practice and the impact then Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook (Penguin) will tell you lots and lots more!

 

Friday, August 14, 2020

Le chat qui chante...

Paris Cat by Dianne Hofmeyr and Piet Grobler

(Tiny Owl, 2020)

Picture books these days have to be very special in order for them to stand out in a very overcrowded market. Fortunately, Tiny Owl are producing this sort of quality stuff one book after another! The latest is 'Paris Cat', an utterly winsome story of one feline who is determined to follow her musical passions and to take the world of the French capital by storm.

It's a book that demands to be read out loud, with delicious phrases throughout that chime and charm the ear: 

'[...]she found a nest of silk and satin tulle and taffeta, velvet and voile and fell fast asleep. When she woke, it was to the scrimp scrimp of scissors and the whirr whirr of sewing machines.'

The scissors may 'scrimp' but the prose-poetry certainly doesn't, leading children through the joyful abundance and sonic glory of language: atelier, claw-stitched, seamstress, dressed to the nines are just a few examples that appear.

Then, of course, there's the delightful story itself: breathless in its exuberance, the tale of Kitty who leaps from one 'life' to the next - one minute a clothes designer, the next a stage performer and then...what next? - will encourage young children to follow their own dreams, to act on their passions and interests. The book will also appeal greatly to the adult reader who may be sharing the book with a child or a class: there are cameos from Edith Piaf (who has to compete with a caterwauling intruder!) and Josephine Baker (who temporarily adopts Kitty into her stage show). There are also lovely touches of sly humour: the 'Catacombs Club', the dismissive 'Pffh', 'les poissonneries'...

 

In addition to this delightful text are the equally stylish illustrations by Piet Grobler. The energetic collage style, with confident slicings and carefree juxtapositions, are a beautiful complement to Kitty's own nature. The monoprints add a smoky quality to the textural palette while the bright, characterful eyes that follow Kitty's progress around the city highlight the energy of the urbanscape.

Mention must also be made of the endpapers which provide us with a cat's-view-map of Paris: seemingly the great tourist hot-spots have been noted only for their usefulness in pointing the way to the nearest poissonneries - just follow the red, walking tour lines and you'll be okay, Kitty seems to be saying!

Get hold of a copy of this and I guarantee you'll 'regrette rien de rien', as the song goes (sorry - just couldn't resist!). 


A set of FREE Teacher Resources is also available for this book here:  ow.ly/7kSo50AXoOT #teacherresources

Illustrations are used courtesy of Tiny Owl, © 2020.


Thursday, August 13, 2020

Read me a story in Year Six! (Part 2: Setting up a Read-Aloud Culture)

In Part 1 of this blog, I offered a selection of 10 (secretly 11!) books that have proved extremely popular with my Year 6 classes over the years. What follows here are some ways in which I set up my class and classroom practice to make Storytime a valued and valuable part of my teaching of Reading. There are many points in this blog that could apply to reading aloud in any year-group, though I have highlighted a few key areas from which the oldest children in primary school in particular might benefit.

I aim for this to be useful, stimulating and/or reassuring; but I must point out that the blog is in no way intended as a blueprint for success in Reading Aloud! The suggestions I make are wholly personal though based firmly on my daily practice and the many, many observations I've made and discussions I've had with other teachers, academics and children. To all these people, I extend huge gratitude for making Reading Aloud such an important and inspiring part of my life in reading.

***

Tips for setting up a Read-Aloud culture in the classroom

 1. Read the book first

This is an absolute necessity, for the following reasons: 

  • YOU have to love the book (don't read the class a book that you don't enjoy, kids pick up on this innately).
  • there may be issues, language or dated characterisation which could be sensitive or offensive to you or to the children in your class. Think about how others may respond. Be aware too about parents - would they be OK about you reading this to their child? 
  • it builds a sense of the story; you'll know where it's going and be able to shape your reading (particularly of the characters - see 'Voices' later) and help you to ask and respond to questions appropriately.

Give Gene Kemp's The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tyler a read, for pure enjoyment, but also to give you an idea o why you *have* to read it first!! 

2. Choose a book of appropriate length

I select potential read-aloud books that, with daily reading sessions, would take about 2-4 weeks to read in their entirety, sometimes less, rarely more. Year 6 children cope well with sustained involvement with a book and appreciate the challenge; they can remember and engage with plot and character for much longer by this age, which enables really deep involvement in a story. Having a book on the go for more than four weeks, though, runs the risk of losing some children (not all) with either complexity or lack of pace. Think: If YOU felt after a week that you weren't enjoying a book, how might you feel about three more weeks (at least) of it? 

Easy rule of thumb: will the length of the book sustain the interest and pleasure in the story? If so...go for it!

3. Challenge

Think about choosing books that are going to challenge your class. Year 6 children in particular are on the cusp of entering an 'older' world on their arrival at secondary school. They really appreciate being introduced to more complex or challenging aspects of life. I've seen all kinds of children respond with incredible thinking about books like Jason Reynolds' Ghost and Jo Cotterill's Jelly which treat their readers with the respect and the maturity they deserve at this age. They gently hold their hand as they begin to explore some of the challenges of the world around them and you're there to guide them alongside the book. It's quite humbling when you think about it.

(Remember that funny books can be just as challenging too, in a different kind of way, so don't dismiss them. Jenny Pearson's The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates has some of the most sensitive writing about pre-adolescents that I have read, as well as some of the most side-splittingly funny!)

4. Involve the children

After making sure to read the book before you read it to the class, the next most important thing is to involve the children in any ways you can in the Read-Aloud experience. Some ways we do this in our class include:

a) the children choose from a selection that I have prepared, books I know and love and ones that I think match or broaden their interests too 

b) have small groups to talk about the book beyond the 'Storytime' session - chat at lunch or break with/without the teacher/storyteller

c) contact authors with the children's questions and thoughts. The writers of the book can give some fantastic support and for the kids, it's like magic to see *the* author show interest in their ideas 

d) ask the class to offer suggestions for future Read Alouds, then go read them yourself: you will learn a lot from this practice

Helping the class to feel part of the process and learning yourself from their choices and ideas will ensure a long-lasting approach that evolves and shifts from term to term, year on year.

5. Timetabling

It's hard in many year groups, but perhaps particularly tricky in Year 6, to find a spare slot in the timetable. I can only offer guidance for an ideal situation, though every classroom is different: 

  • make it the same time every day if you can (ours is straight after lunch for 30 mins). Daily (or near-daily) is really important for the flow of the story, engagement and establishing the value of Storytime in the children's perception
  • make sure everyone is there (absence-by-illness etc. excepted!); the worst thing to happen is if a pupil or group are regularly taken out of Storytime for an intervention and get to miss out on something important.
  • try to find a time where the story can breathe: end of the day is fine, but what if you are three pages from the end or you get into some really deep thinking/discussion, when suddenly the bell rings
  • I have been known to put a sign on the door when reading saying 'Shhh! We are reading a story! Please enter quietly.' You need to keep the magic sustained while you're reading!

6. Choose where the children sit

Children, if they have been lucky, will have enjoyed Storytime and being read to regularly in previous years. It's very likely that in their earliest days (and maybe right up to Year 6) they will have sat on the carpet to listen to a story. By the time the children have reached 10 years old though, they have physically grown much bigger! Also, when the children were younger, they needed to be in one area to be able to see pictures that were being shown them from the book. Books for older children don't have that same reliance on the need to see pictures (though there are outstanding exceptions, such as David Litchfield's extraordinarily creepy pictures for Christmas Dinner of Souls).

Although I regularly use a carpet area  to bring children together at key points in the day and in lessons, I don't use it any more for Storytime: at first, I gave up the practice reluctantly but now I can appreciate better that sitting for 20-30 minutes on the floor while trying to keep your legs crossed is not ideal! A number of classes have told me they find it uncomfortable and that they wanted to be doing something rather than simply listening. So now, both for comfort and to develop focused thinking about the book they are listening to, the class sit at tables with a choice of things to do...

7. Think about what the children will do while listening

There's various things that individuals can do while I am reading the story. To sustain engagement and involvement, they might:

a) simply listen - some children like to put their heads down on the table or close their eyes or stare into space even! They don't zone out if it's a good story so don't worry about this passivity. I will always try to involve these children in the book talk afterwards though, to keep tabs on what they have heard and understood.  

b) draw - this is very popular, with children choosing to draw something that inspires them in the reading. They have small notebooks of blank paper for this. 

c) make notes - less popular but some children have loved making lists of new words or making maps of the story/characters etc.

d) follow a copy of the book while I read, if there are multiple copies available or they have their own copy themselves

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I truly hope you'll have fun now, thinking about how YOU will make Storytime a personal and enjoyable experience for your class! Make sure to ask your class (and keep asking them) about things that could develop/improve: they will teach you lots and it will be a true community of readers! 

In Part 3 I'll be going on to explore a few techniques of how reading a story aloud to best effect might be achieved.