In my last post I listed some ideas to help a 10-year old who has fallen seriously behind with her reading. I'm talking about a particular 10-year old. I found out about her when I got chatting to her older sister on Twitter, who said, ‘She struggles to understand books that are age recommended but is reluctant to be seen with a book she’s more comfortable with.’
This seems to be a really common problem. In my last post I focused on the very first steps you can take if a child is struggling with reading: flashcards and phonics books. But my Twitter-friend’s sister is actually further on with her reading than that; ‘She’s read Mr Gum but didn’t understand what she had read. She can say if it’s good but can’t say why it is or retell it.’ So she can sound out words, just not follow the story at the same time. In this post, I’ll list books that might engage her by being light on text and heavy on pictures, and that aren't too babyish, so hopefully won't embarrass her or remind her that she's 'behind' her peers.
These ideas were generously contributed by people on Twitter when I asked for help. I've linked to those people, and I recommend following them if this is a topic you’re interested in! I'm so grateful for their help.
Picture books - with words
A lot of picture books have a 'young' style that means a 10-year-old wouldn't pick them up. But not all picture books (and not all 10-year olds!).
- Author Ruth Fitzgerald suggests the Clarice Bean books by Lauren Child, because they start as picture books but gradually age upwards. The first is Clarice Bean, That's Me, in which Clarice Bean introduces her family. She's probably supposed to be younger than 10 in age, but she doesn't seem 'babyish' as a character. Next in the series comes My Uncle Is A Hunkle (love that title) and then What Planet Are You From. This is where the books switch from picture-book format to regular-book format, with Utterly Me, Clarice Bean - but still with some fun typography and a few black and white illustrations to break up the text.
- Author and ex-teacher Jenny McLachlan recommends picture books by Anthony Browne (who was the Children's Laureate from 2009-11). His books are highly illustrated, but many are in a fairly 'grown-up' style. Jenny found them invaluable when she taught 11-year-olds who were reading at a much younger age level. Three of Anthony Browne's books that might be suitable are The Tunnel, Into the Forest and Hansel and Gretel. As Anthony Browne says himself here, 'Picture books are for everybody at any age, not books to be left behind as we grow older.'
- Book blogger Michelle Toy suggests the Claude books by Alex T. Smith, in which a dog called Claude and his sidekick Sir Bobblysock - who is, believe or not, a bobbly sock (genius) - go on adventures while their owners Mr and Mrs Shinyshoes are out. The books have very little text per page and are in 'regular-book' format rather than being large like picture books. And they're funny! There are several to choose from including Claude in the City and Claude on the Slopes.
Wordless picture books
One of the problems my Twitter-friend’s sister seems to be having is understanding the story, rather than just reading the words. Primary school teacher James Syner, whose wonderful blog about picture books is Magpie That, suggests reading wordless picture books to develop comprehension. You can use something called the 'reciprocal method' to do this: as you read the book with your child, ask them questions about what they see. What do they think is happening in the story? What might happen next? Getting them to interpret what's happening on the page helps improve their comprehension skills.
These are James' top recommendations for wordless picture books.
- First, three books by David Wiesner. In Tuesday (which won the Caldecott Medal), the very strange and eerie events of a particular Tuesday play out in front of the reader; frogs lift off their pond and fly through the air to a nearby town, where they zoom through a woman's living room, encounter a dog playing in his garden, and distract a man from eating his midnight snack. Mr. Wuffles has a similarly mind-bending story. At the beginning, an owner tries to entice his cat to try a new toy. The cat isn't interested at all - but then he sees something he does like the look of: a tiny but very real alien space ship. David Wiesner brilliantly outlines how he developed the story here. Finally, in Flotsam, while exploring at the beach a boy finds a barnacle-encrusted camera - and the secrets it holds. You can find out more about David Wiesner on his website.
- James Syner's next recommendation is Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith, in which a girl who is full of the joys of life goes on a walk with her anxious father. Here's the Magpie That review, including pictures where you can see some of the inside pages.
- I hadn't heard of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick before James recommended it to me, but reading up about it, it seems it's a bit of a cult classic. It's a collection of loosely related drawings by Chris Van Allsburg, each accompanied by a title and a caption, leaving the reader to fill in the gaps and decide what's going on. The pictures are so strange and mysterious that it's impossible to resist making up stories to explain them.
- Finally there's Journey by Aaron Becker (another Caldecott winner) and its follow-on, Quest. In Journey, a lonely girl draws a door on her bedroom wall and escapes through it into a world of wonder and adventure - but also danger. There’s a lovely video on Aaron Becker’s website showing how he created Journey, and giving a flavour of what's inside the book. (It may also make you horribly jealous of his New England lifestyle, living in a gorgeous clapboard house and working on his drawings in a converted mill...or is that just me?)
That's all for this post. Next time I'll be thinking further about how books with pictures can help our 10-year-old struggling reader, but this time in the form of comics and graphic novels. After that I'll look at specialist and non-specialist publishers, alternative genres and formats - and other ideas!
I'm now going to go and spend lots of money on picture books...