Thursday, 15 March 2012

Learning to read diversions; Franklin Watts

Why do reading schemes have to look like and be so obviously reading schemes? Why are they so distinguishable by both adult and child at 20 paces from 'proper' books? Leveled and colour coded to provide a point of instant playground comparison. 'What level are you on then?' is something I've heard children ask each other on numerous occasions; great for those who wish to swank but confidence destroying of course for those who are getting stuck.
The great thing in theory about volunteering with VRH and working one to one with developing readers is that we use real picture books and not readers. The children are free to choose whatever they fancy. The problem with this of course is that what they fancy can be frustratingly difficult to decode and then they get discouraged.

What I would like, please, is a range of beautiful books of different shapes and sizes, illustrated by all our best and lovely illustrators that beginning readers might be able to pick up and access without knowing they were 'doing' reading practice. Can't we get a bit sneakier and more imaginative in designing these objects? I sense the US, with Dr Seuss as a founding father (put him on Mount Rushmore surely?) is better at this; Arnold Lobel and now apparently fab pigeon-on-bus man Mo Willems spring to mind. Julia Donaldson's 'Songbirds' are good but should just be the starting point. I am trying to form my own collection of titles where I find them (Vivienne Schwartz's 'There are cats in this book' has proved a great book giving day purchase for VRH box incidently) but it remains a bit hit and miss.

One of the ranges in the library that I find most useful in this respect (although they still look too uniform not to be clocked as work by the kids) are those published by Franklin Watts; Tadpoles, Leapfrogs, Reading Corner and particularly the more complex Hopscotch have all made for pretty good foraging. They're often genuinely funny, they use a good mix of illustrators and they cover a great variety of styles and topics from traditional fairy tales to some imaginative historical titles: It's hard to resist a book called 'Henry 8th Has to Choose'.

I actually even bought a couple; 'Beowulf and Grendel' is by Martin Waddell and  illustrated by Graham Howells and is part of the Hopscotch 'adventure' range which also covers King Arthur, Robin Hood and Blackbeard amongst others. It tickled me that it was possible to introduce one's children to the roots of Anglo Saxon story telling in under 500 words. It's really bloodthirsty. The boys love it.

'Grendel filled a huge, dragon-skin bag with human flesh. Blood dripped from the bag as he dragged it back to his lair.'

I'm not going to subject you to the picture that accompanies that text, you might be eating a biscuit by your computer or something. But it's pretty cool.

oh go'arn can have a bit of Thursday gore.
That'll make them want to pick it up and carry on won't it?

'Beowulf and Grendel' by Martin Waddell, illustrated byGraham Howells, pub. Franklin Watts isbn 978-0-7496-8563-8


  1. I've enjoyed your posts on reading schemes.
    When my daughter started school last September I was so sceptical about the 'phonics thing', but have been amazed at the process she has gone through in learning to read, and have been pleasantly surprised by the stories available - such as the Songbirds series.
    It's funny how I too allowed my Tiger Mother self to sneak out once in a while...but I don't feel so guilty now, reading non-scheme books has worked wonders for Scarlett's confidence, so maybe the two can go hand in hand...

    1. Thank you. It is pretty mind boggling what must happen in the brain to be able to read fluently...almost as boggling as learning how to talk. Aren't we all clever! ;)I think I will allow myself a Tiger Mother moment once every decade of my child's life- that seems about the right balance ...

  2. That Beowulf and Grendel book looks fantastic. I want to read it! :-)

    I am with you on the reading scheme books. I have a bit of a book habit and can never resist 'bargains' from Book People so I've bought a few of those 'read at home' type sets and the only ones that I found enjoyable were the Songbird phonics ones! Eldest is in reception and it has amazed me how phonics is really working for her and how much she's learnt since September. She can now read whole books (The Odd Pet is a favourite) which is a huge confidence boost for her.

    Looking for non-banded books is tough. Emily Gravett's Orange Pear Apple Bear is a great first 'real' book to read and we have one on face painting ("I am a clown. I am a butterfly." etc). But otherwise at her level, it's very tough. She's only just turned 5 though so it's my job to read and read and read and read to her anyway :-)

  3. and read...and read...and read...agreed:)!
    I remember ''The Odd Pet'- a more seminal work I think than Bill's first read; the slightly underwritten 'Pat Naps'.

  4. The genius of Seuss cannot be underestimated - he takes the mind into untold depths and spheres and shows us that in just 200 words our world can change 200++ times.

    1. Wonderful and inspiring use of limited vocabulary AND a brilliant illustrator- Coo! But is it wrong to confess that they drive me slightly insane to read aloud? Definitely books for my children to enjoy/discover on their own ;)

  5. Polly! They're meant to be read when their mother is out!

    1. Doh! of course. *slaps hand to forehead*