Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Learning to read diversions; Ladybird beginnings.

I want to write some posts about the process of teaching my kids to read and the relative drearinesses or otherwise of the various reading 'scheme' books we have come across in that journey.
I realise I'm dipping my toes into possibly controversial waters in doing so however- so I'll 'fess up at the outset I have no qualifications or expertise to pontificate on this subject (well, I hope I won't pontificate), no strong feelings about synthetic phonics versus whole word recognition or whatever the current controversies are and no wish to evangelicise results of paths followed. This is intended as an interesting diversion only for anyone who has opened their child's bookbag and flicked through its contents with a heavy heart and a sense of gloom at having to spend the next 15minutes dutifully ploughing through whatever it contains.

The first controversy I may be unravelling seems to be teaching your child to read at all. I did (whispered confession) actively teach Bill to read and provide alternative support around that beyond what he got from school. I felt vaguely shady in doing that; encountering the terrifying tiger mother that lurks within and allowing her a small piece of steak before (hopefully) locking her firmly back in a very small cage, buried very, very deep in an underground bunker.
Here's the thing though; I love to read and both boys appeared to love books and being read to. I was just impatient hungry to help them unlock that experience further. We're all guilty of wanting our children to share our enthusiasms- so I hope it wasn't that different to those that put their babies into an Arsenal strip and buy them their first season ticket at an inappropriately young age-just my version of it. I gave them their first chocolate cake too soon too.

My mum taught me to read. We had a complete set of Ladybird 'Peter and Jane' books that had already seen service for my older siblings and I did a little each day. When I finished a book I got a sweet. When I finished a level I got a packet of dolly mixture. This may have set up some less beneficial lifelong habits that accompany my love of books but I have matured; now it's squares of dark Green and Black chocolate.
I accordingly purchased my own 'starter' set of key word Ladybird books when I thought I'd start introducing some learn-to-read material to Bill- on the 'it was good enough for me' principle (but no dolly mixture).

This was an error. Peter and Jane are really, really dull. I boggle slightly at the rave reviews on Amazon for them. Lovely collectables for their classic font and illustrations (and gender stereo-typing) but unbelievably dull to learn to read from-however supportive the science behind them. Besides which Bill had an understanding of how to phonically build words before he developed an eye for whole word recognition so these were the wrong starting place for us at least. They sat on the shelf unloved by any of us.
Other  Ladybird books were much more useful/popular however. Their 'Read it Yourself' leveled fairy tales remain some of Eddie's absolute favourites and the classic re-issued 'Danger Men' is cracking:

'Some men jump from an aeroplane, then the aeroplane falls into the sea.
The men fall into the sea some way from the aeroplane.
There is some ice in the sea.
The men are in danger, but other brave men are going to help.'

They are so well designed for small hands to carry about; satisfying objects that haven't been fiddled about with too much over the decades. I like all their non-fiction titles, the brilliantly simple but exciting 'Extreme Weather' and 'Vikings' were much enjoyed by both my boys and the VRH kids I've passed them onto.
It's a shame these don't seem to be currently in print, but then I'm not sure anyone buys their Ladybird books new anyhow. Baskets of 10p priced recycled dog eared copies are the foundations of any decent church jumble sale or school 'fayre' and one of my favourite things to rifle through. Ladybird may need to consider making their books less hard wearing if they are worried about their profits.
not my favourite


I'll continue with some more 'reader' musings throughout this week. I shouldn't leave Ladybird however without mentioning their other favourite sibling pair; 'Topsy and Tim', also constants in various reissues since my childhood. My relationship with them is corrupted. They used to be read aloud to me by the strange rabidly right wing father of a friend who would insert his own pro-Tory anti- Labour government of the 70s narrative into the text: 'Then Topsy shook nice Mrs. Thatcher by the hand whilst Tim spanked naughty Mr. Callaghan over the fence and into the field with the bull...' A strange weekly experience whilst waiting for Brownies to begin.
Right, time for a chocolate square.


  1. That Danger Men one sounds good but I'm afraid it would give my son ideas!

    1. I don't know - it's pretty fierce stuff- there's a lot of 'here is danger, this man is in danger, there is danger here'etc. It's sort of hypnotically frightening.