The link below is to an article that reports on children preferring printed books.
The link below is to an infographic that looks at how children’s books are made.
With Batman turning 80 this year, the link below is to an article that takes a look at the best Batman books for kids.
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The link below is to an article that provides advice on how to self publish children’s books.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at how to introduce children to books and getting them into reading.
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In this confusing and often conflicted world, children’s author Gillian Cross has summed up what it is about reading fiction that is so important: “Good stories help us make sense of the world. They invite us to discover what it’s like being someone completely different.”
As the author of a children’s novel myself, I’m going to double down on this and say that if this is important for adults, it’s 100 times more important for children.
Children passionately want to understand what’s going on – and fiction is a potent way for them to do this. A study by education professor Maria Nikolajeva found that “reading fiction provides an excellent training for young people in developing and practising empathy and theory of mind, that is, understanding of how other people feel and think”.
In the wealth of recent fiction for children and young adults, here are ten powerful stories for young people, addressing some of the most important, and troubling, questions we face today.
1. The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon (Orion)
Imagine being imprisoned for your whole life. Imagine growing up like Subhi.
The nine-year-old’s world ends at the diamond-shaped fence – the outer edge of the detention centre he is detained in with his Rohingya family in Australia.
Fraillon draws a vivid picture of life inside the fence – vulnerable people fleeing persecution, only to find – instead of the peace and sanctuary they so desperately need – indifference and hostility.
But Subhi finds hope in his friendship with an Australian girl from outside the fence. (Age: 11+)
2. The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew (Red Ink)
What if Germany had won World War II and the UK was now part of a Third German Reich? This is a coming-of-age story with a difference – 16-year-old Jessika is a talented ice-skater in a high-ranking REICH?family.
But her friendship with subversive, courageous and desirable Clem threatens everything: her family, her future, and her very life. This is a story that paints the dangers of totalitarianism in vivid language. (Age: 12+)
3. Boy 87 by Ele Fountain (Pushkin Press)
Fourteen-year-old Shif lives in a country that conscripts its children into the army. The country isn’t named, but may be in Africa. He wants to play chess with his best friend Bini and race him home from school. But the army comes calling and the two must flee.
Shif experiences at first hand the brutality of a totalitarian government, then the trauma of migration and trafficking. Despite this, the story manages to be hopeful. (Age: 12 +)
4. The Jungle by Pooja Puri (Ink Road)
Sixteen-year-old Mico is surviving his life in the Jungle refugee camp in Calais. Without anyone to look out for him, he must look out for himself, living on his wits and his luck. Using careful research, Puri shows us what life is like as a refugee, owning nothing, not even the clothes on your back or the blanket you sleep beneath.
She shows us the desperation and terrible lengths refugees will go to, to try to find a home. But when Mico meets Leila, we see, too, the hope – and the risk – that friendship brings. (Age: 12+)
5. After the Fire by Will Hill (Usborne)
Moonbeam has lost her mother and she only knows life inside The Fence – it’s a life controlled by cult leader Father John.
But one night a devastating fire burns that life to the ground – the buildings, the people, the leader are all gone and only Moonbeam and a handful of children survive. Moonbeam and the others must now discover the world beyond the fence.
Can she do this when Father John has told her to trust no one outside? Using the WACO siege as his source material, Hill explores the power of brainwashing and cult identity.
Moonbeam’s search is for a truth she can stand by now, and for the mother she thinks must be dead. (Age: 12+)
6. I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan (Macmillan)
Written in the voice of its smart and self-deprecating heroine, British Muslim Pakistani teenager Muzna, this is both a coming-of-age novel and a thriller. Muzna navigates her life at home and at school, working out how to have her own identity and her own ambitions, not those imposed by her parents, religion, school or friends.
And, as her relationship with Arif develops, the story becomes a thriller, and the stakes become very high. (Age: 13+)
7. The Territory trilogy by Sarah Govett (Firefly Press)
What happens when the sea levels rise? Govett imagines a flooded world with dwindling resources and not enough dry land for everyone. Choices have to be made, about who stays on the dry territory, and who is banished beyond the fence, to the dreaded Wetlands. But when 15-year-old Noa finds herself beyond the fence, she discovers that not everything the adults have been telling her is true. (Age: 13+)
8. Night of the Party by Tracey Mathias (Scholastic)
Following Britain’s withdrawal from Europe, a far-right Nationalist party has come to power.
Only those born in Britain (or BB as they are known) are allowed to live legally – everyone born outside the country is subject to immediate arrest and deportation and failing to report illegals is a crime.
Mathias has set her thriller in a British dystopia that is more scarily plausible than ever.
The young protagonist Zara is an illegal living in this scary new Britain – and falling in love with Ash might be the most dangerous thing she could do. (Age: 13+)
9. Moonrise by Sarah Crossan (Bloomsbury)
It’s ten years since Joe saw his brother Ed – and now Ed is on death row, facing execution for the murder of a police officer. What do they know of each other now? Ed says he’s innocent of the murder, but everyone else believes he’s guilty.
Crossan’s verse novel explores a single summer, perhaps Ed’s last, as 17-year-old Joe struggles to understand what has been done to his brother – and to himself. (Age: 13+)
10. The New Neighbours by Sarah McIntyre (David Fickling Books)
The only picture book in the list, McIntyre’s delightfully illustrated story explores how intolerance and scaremongering can run like a mad fever through a community. When new neighbours move in to the tower block, hysteria builds quickly, until finally the other animals discover the truth about their newest neighbours. (Age: 2+)
The link below is to an article that questions the ‘need’ for children to read classic children’s books.
A child’s early experiences with books both at home and later in school have the potential to significantly affect future reading performance. Parents play a key role in building oral language and literacy skills in the years prior to school. But it’s teachers who are responsible for ensuring children become readers once at school.
While there’s much we know about how students learn to read, research on books used to support beginning reading development is sparse. Guidelines provided in the Australian Curriculum
and the National Literacy Progressions complicate matters further. Teachers are required to use two types of texts: decodable and predictable books.
Each book is underpinned by a different theory of reading, arguably in conflict. This contributes to uncertainty about when and how the books might be used.
The difference between decodable and predictable books
Predictable books and their associated instructional strategies align with a whole-language approach to reading.
In this approach, meaning is prioritised. Children are encouraged to draw on background knowledge, memorise a bank of the most common words found in print, and to use cues to guess or predict words based on pictures and the story. This method is not consistent with a phonics approach.
At the earliest levels, predictable and repetitive sentences scaffold beginning readers’ attempts at unknown words. Word identification is supported by close text to picture matches and familiar themes for children in the early years (such as going to the doctor).
While there is some evidence the repetitive nature of predictable books facilitates the development of fluency, the features contained within disadvantage young readers as they do not align with the letter-sound correspondences taught as part of phonics lessons. This is particularly problematic for children who are at risk of later reading difficulties.
In comparison, decodable books consist of a high percentage of words in which the letters represent their most common sounds. Decodable books align with a synthetic phonics or code-based approach to reading. This approach teaches children to convert a string of letters (our written code) into sounds before blending them to produce a spoken word.
When reading decodable books, children draw on their accumulating knowledge of the alphabetic code to sound out any unknown words. Irregularly spelt words (for example was, said, the) are also included, and children receive support to read these words, focusing on the sounds if necessary.
There is mounting evidence for the use of decodable books to support the development of phonics in beginning readers and older kids who haven’t grasped the code easily. Decodable books have been found to promote self-teaching, helping children read with greater accuracy and independence. This leads to greater gains in reading development.
The role of books in early reading development
Children need lots of opportunities to practise reading words in books. Given research demonstrates a synthetic phonics approach provides young readers with the most direct route to skilled reading, there’s a strong logical argument for supporting early reading with decodable books.
Until the most recent version of the Australian Curriculum, only predictable books were included in the Foundation and Year one English curricula. The addition of decodable books recognises the critical support they provide beginning readers. But this places teachers in a difficult position because the elaborations in the curriculum documents place more emphasis on the strategies designed primarily for use with predictable books.
Using different books in the classroom
While reading is an extraordinarily complex process, a model of reading called the Simple View of Reading is very helpful from an educational perspective. It explains skilled reading as the product of both decoding and language comprehension. This helps us understand what we need to do when teaching children to read, and the types of books they need to support early reading development.
Before they enter school, the majority of children are considered to be in the “pre-alphabetic” stage of reading. In this stage, children have little or no understanding the written code represents the sounds of spoken language. They would not have the skills to use decodable books.
Instead, they recognise words purely by contextual clues and visual features. For example, children know the McDonalds sign because of the big yellow arches (the M) or can read the word “stop” when they see the sign, but not out of that context.
Predictable books would help the pre-alphabetic reader gain insight into the workings of texts, especially with regard to meaning. In particular making the connection between spoken words – which they are familiar with – and written words, which they are not.
Beyond this stage, predictable texts become less useful because memorisation and meaning-based strategies aren’t sustainable long term. Once children have advanced to the partial and full alphabetic stages of reading, usually fairly quickly after starting formal reading instruction, they benefit more from decodable books which allow them to apply the alphabetic code.
So where to from here?
There is no evidence children benefit from the continued use of decodable books beyond the beginning stages of reading. In the absence of any empirical studies, we suspect it would be a good idea to move children on once they have sufficient letter-sound knowledge and decoding skills that they can apply independently. At this point, the introduction of real books would benefit students and provide access to more diverse language structures and vocabulary.
Given what we know about how reading works, it makes sense for children in the early stages of learning to read to be given decodable books to practise and generalise their developing alphabetic skills. At the same time, they will continue to benefit from hearing the rich vocabulary and language forms in the children’s books being read with (to) them.
It’s less clear what predictable texts contribute to beginning reading in schools when considering how reading skills develop. But there is evidence they might have a useful role to play in pre-school prior to the start of formal reading instruction.
We often hear about the benefits of reading storybooks at bedtime for promoting vocabulary, early literacy skills, and a good relationship with your child. But the experts haven’t been in your home, and your child requests the same book every single night, sometimes multiple times a night. You both know all the words off by heart.
Given activities occurring just before sleep are particularly well-remembered by young children, you might wonder if all this repetition is beneficial. The answer is yes. Your child is showing they enjoy this story, but also that they are still learning from the pictures, words, and the interactions you have as you read this book together.
Kids want repetition
A preference for familiarity, rather than novelty, is commonly reported at young ages, and reflects an early stage in the learning process. For example, young infants prefer faces that are the same gender and ethnicity as their caregiver.
With age and experience, the child’s interests shift to novelty seeking. By four to five months, novel faces are more interesting than the now highly familiar caregiver face.
But even three-day olds prefer looking at a novel face if they’re repeatedly shown a picture of their mother’s face. So once infants have encoded enough information about an image, they’re ready to move on to new experiences.
Your child’s age affects the rate at which they will learn and remember information from your shared book-reading. Two key principles of memory development are that younger children require longer to encode information than older children, and they forget faster.
For example, one-year olds learn a sequence of new actions twice as fast as six-month olds. And while a 1.5-year old typically remembers a sequence of new actions for two weeks, two-year olds remember for three months.
Two dimensional information sources, like books and videos, are however harder to learn from than direct experiences. Repeated exposure helps children encode and remember from these sources.
How do kids learn from repetition?
Being read the same story four times rather than two times improved 1.5- and two-year olds’ accuracy in reproducing the actions needed to make a toy rattle. Similarly, doubling exposure to a video demonstration for 12- to 21-month olds improved their memory of the target actions.
Repeated readings of the same storybook also help children learn novel words, particularly for children aged three to five years.
Repetition aids learning complex information by increasing opportunities for the information to be encoded, allowing your child to focus on different elements of the experience, and providing opportunities to ask questions and connect concepts together through discussion.
You might not think storybooks are complicated, but they contain 50% more rare words than prime-time television and even college students’ conversations. When was the last time you used the word giraffe in a conversation with a colleague? Learning all this information takes time.
The established learning benefits of repetition mean this technique has become an integral feature in the design of some educational television programs. To reinforce its curriculum, the same episode of Blue’s Clues is repeated every day for a week, and a consistent structure is provided across episodes.
Five consecutive days of viewing the same Blue’s Clues episode increased three to five year olds’ comprehension of the content and increased interaction with the program, compared to viewing the program only once. Across repetitions, children were learning how to view television programs and to transfer knowledge to new episodes and series. The same process will likely occur with storybook repetition.
How parents can support repetitive learning
The next time that familiar book is requested again, remember this is an important step in your child’s learning journey. You can support further learning opportunities within this familiar context by focusing on something new with each retelling.
One day look more closely at the pictures, the next day focus on the text or have your child fill in words. Relate the story to real events in your child’s world. This type of broader context talk is more challenging and further promotes children’s cognitive skills.
You can also build on their interests by offering books from the same author or around a similar topic. If your child currently loves Where is the Green Sheep? look at other books by Mem Fox, maybe Bonnie and Ben rhyme again (there are sheep in there too). Offer a wide variety of books, including information books which give more insight into a particular topic but use quite different story structures and more complex words.
Remember, this phase will pass. One day there will be a new favourite and the current one, love it or loathe it, will be back on the bookshelf.
The Victorian Coalition has promised $2.8 million for “decodable readers” for schools if they win the upcoming election.
Money for books must surely be a good thing. But what exactly is a “decodable reader”? After all, surely all books are decodable. If they weren’t decodable they would be unreadable.
What is decoding?
The Australian curriculum provides a clear definition of decoding:
A process of working out the meaning of words in a text. In decoding, readers draw on contextual, vocabulary, grammatical and phonic knowledge.
However the Victorian Coalition is defining decoding as “sounding out letters”. As their policy platform states:
Decodable books are designed to align with explicit, systematic phonics instruction. They are simple stories constructed using almost exclusively words that are phonetically decodable, using letters and letter-groups that children have learned in phonics lessons.
The “decodable readers” they are funding are books that are contrived to help children practise a particular letter-sound pattern taught as part of a synthetic phonics program.
For example, the following sentences are from a decodable reader designed to focus on the consonants “N” and “P” and short vowel /a/
Nan and a pan.
Pap and a pan.
Nan and Pap can nap.
Books like this have no storyline; they are equally nonsensical whether you start on the first page, or begin on the last page and read backwards.
While they may teach the phonics skills “N” and “P”, they don’t teach children the other important decoding skills of grammar and vocabulary.
And as many a parent will testify, they don’t teach the joy of reading.
What about the children’s vocabulary development?
Meaning and vocabulary development are not the focus of decodable readers. Yet, research shows the importance of vocabulary for successful reading.
Students need to add 3,000 words a year to their vocabulary to be able to read and write successfully at their year level.
Limited vocabulary in books translates to lack of vocabulary growth.
What is the alternative to ‘decodable readers’?
Supporters of decodable readers are hopeful these books will support students with reading difficulties, by focusing closely on the sounds in words. However, focusing on sounds alone is not sufficient to support a struggling reader.
The reality is all children learning to read need to listen to, and read books that are written with rich vocabulary, varied sentence structures and interesting content knowledge that encourages them to use their imagination.
Compare the text about Pan and Nap with the opening lines of Pamela Allen’s very popular story Who Sank the Boat?:
Beside the sea, on Mr Peffer’s place, there lived
a cow, a donkey, a sheep, a pig, and a tiny little mouse.
They were good friends and one sunny morning, for no particular reason,
they decided to go for a row on the bay.
Do you know who sank the boat?
This book immediately engages children and asks them to question, imagine and help solve a problem. Children always ask for this book to be read again and again and they enjoy joining in. They learn new vocabulary and incidentally learn about complex sentence structures, which they emulate in their oral language and story writing.
Using books to teach all the decoding skills
Using rich authentic texts supports all the decoding skills described in the Australian curriculum – phonics, vocabulary and grammar.
In Pamela Allen’s story above, we can look at the word “bay” and notice the parts /b/ – /ay/, which help us to say and spell the word. What happens if we change the beginning – how many other words could we write and read? For example, day, say, play, and so on.
We can look at the “frequent” words. These are the words that we can’t always “sound out” but which make up the 100 most frequent words in English. For example, do, you, they, were, the.
These words are very important to teach children, as these 100 words make up 50% of all written language.
We can develop their vocabularies with words and phrases such as “for no particular reason”, “decided” and “beside” .
We can introduce them to beautifully literate sentence structures, for example,
“Beside the sea, on Mr Peffer’s place, there lived a cow, a donkey, a sheep, a pig, and a tiny little mouse”.
Decodable readers can only do the phonics part of the reading puzzle. They are a very inefficient way to teach reading.
So what do we want for all children learning to read?
When teaching children to read, we hope they will learn reading is pleasurable and can help them to make sense of their lives and those around them.
The strategies children are taught to use when first learning to read greatly influence what strategies they use in later years.
When children are taught to focus solely on letter-sound matching to read the words of decodable readers, they often continue in later years to over-rely on this strategy, even with other kinds of texts. This causes inaccurate, slow, laborious reading, which leads to frustration and a lack of motivation for reading.
A book must be worth reading and give children the opportunity to learn the full range of strategies needed to read any text.
Children who grow up with real books, with rich vocabularies, beautiful prose and genuine storylines reach a higher level of education than those who do not have such access, regardless of nationality, parents’ level of education or socioeconomic status.
And yet it’s children from disadvantaged backgrounds who are less likely to have access to these books in their homes. It’s crucial schools fill the gap.
A$2.8 million spent on beautifully written books to fill Victorian classroom libraries would be a far more effective use of the education budget.
Misty Adoniou, Associate Professor in Language, Literacy and TESL, University of Canberra; Brian Cambourne, Principal Fellow, Faculty of Education, University of Wollongong, and Robyn Ewing, Professor of Teacher Education and the Arts, University of Sydney