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Tag Archives: Dr Seuss

Three Picture Books for starting School

image from wikimedia commons

image from wikimedia commons

A version of this post was ready to go two weeks ago, when it would’ve been much more useful than it is now, but WordPress is a cruel mistress and it ate my draft before I could hit ‘publish’. No amount of cursing and fist shaking could get it back. This is a condensed version of that post. I hope it is still helpful.

Around this time of year, four- and five-year-olds across the country and across the globe are getting ready to enter Reception class for the first time. Some will have had Early Years education in a formal setting such as a nursery, and perhaps find the transition to ‘big school’ easier because of it, but many will not.  It can be a daunting time for parents and children alike.

Books, as ever, can help ease the transition process by addressing fears and giving children an opportunity to ask questions, demistifying what the first stages of formal education are about and maybe even making the prospect of school an exciting, rather than a terrifying one.

The books I’ve chosen here each approach the subject in different ways, allowing parents and carers to tailor their approach to the specific needs of their own little student.

Starting School, Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Starting School

Starting School

It is widely agreed upon that, in the field of kidlit, the Ahlberg’s can do no wrong. Working together and individually, they have produced eighty-something works for young readers ranging from poetry (such as Heard it in the Playground) to post-modern picture books (like Peepo! and Goldilocks, storybooks (such as Burglar Bill and the Happy Families series) for emerging readers and novels (such as Woof!) middle grade lone readers.

Starting School (1988) has few of the metafictive elements that the Ahlberg’s are famous for in their books. It’s a linear narrative presented in a traditional fashion and it helps little ones imagine what their own first days in school will be like.

The book provides an overview of a typical week in a British primary school. The children hang their coats on pegs, have a PE class in the hall, eat lunch and play with the class pet. There’s a reading corner, a dressing up box, a carpet for storytime. It’s by no means exciting, but it’s not meant to be. It’s built to reassure children about what will lie ahead of them. Janet Ahlberg’s calming illustrations fill the page and offer plenty of action to supplement the text. There are children joining in and children holding back. There are accidents, messes made and a teacher who sometimes gets a little bit cross.

The classroom in Starting School could be any classroom in the UK; this is how it demystifies the first few weeks in compulsory education. But there is a secondary asset in the book: the size and shape of the text and the construction of the page also echoes the style of Oxford Reading Tree and similar reaching schemes which children will encounter at the beginning of their academic career, perhaps providing a level of comfort when learing to read begins.

Read the rest of this entry

Bans and Challenges: Spurious Charges


This post is the first in a series on banned and challenged books marking the ALAs Banned Books Week 2011.

There are countless books that have been banned by someone or other, and countless more that have been challenged. Governments, religious leaders, librarians and school districts, as self-proclaimed arbiters of decency, all seem to think they have the right to deny us, and our children, access to literature.

Generally, the motivation for the banning or challenging of a book is that the content is thought unsuitable for the reader. Arguments are based, usually, on the preservation of the ‘innocence’ of children and young people. By protecting the young from literature that is morally corrupting, goes the argument, our children can remain children. Childhood is sacred: let it persist. It seeks to defy biology, social awareness and psychology.

There is a strong case to be made for parents to be able to censor the books their own children read; the problem comes when groups like PABBIS (Parents Against Bad Books in Schools) attempt to restrict the reading of other people’s children too. Challenges come from every point along the political spectrum – and always with the best of intentions: our children do not need to know that not all pregnancies culminate with a live birth (or that some end in termination); that racist language exists, and is used; that people have sex (and sometimes for fun, and sometimes with the same gender); that sometimes life is violent or that terrible things have been done in the name of religion. But our children do need to know. It is our duty to teach them and the onus is on us to determine when the time is right.

Book banning is an abhorrent practice, undoubtedly, but in most cases we can see why such action was taken, even if we don’t agree with the ideology behind it. Heather Has Two Mommies and And Tango Makes Three, for example, were banned by some schools for ‘normalizing’ homosexuality;  Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret for mentioning kissing boys and menstruation and thus acknowledging the sexuality of a young girl; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for use of racial slurs. We may not agree with the decision to ban a book, but at least most of the time we can follow the logic.

In 1952, President Eisenhower made a commencement speech at Dartmouth College which attacked McCarthyism. Among his comments was this:

Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you are going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book, as long as that document does not offend our own ideas of decency [my italics]. That should be the only censorship.


What follows is a selection of books that have been banned by governments and other authority groups for reasons decidedly more spurious than those mentioned above. Read the rest of this entry

The KidLit I can’t bear to part with

Van Gogh, The Novel Reader, 1888. Oil on canvas

Unsurprisingly, I have quite a large number of kids’ books. Most of them have found their way to me in the last few years, when my academic interest in the genre was piqued. Some of them, though, have been with me since I was a wee young thing myself.

The first of them, Peepo!, is thirty years old this year. I know this because my local WHSmith, inexplicably, is holding a buy-one-get-one-half-price event to honour the fact. This is not, as one might expect, an offer on all picture books, or even just picture books from the (considerable) Ahlberg catalogue, but on one book. Unless you have two children who are particularly reluctant to share, or are chronically unable to resist a bargain, seems to me entirely inexplicable. I adore Peepo!, but I cannot imagine a situation in which I would be compelled to buy two identical copies. Read the rest of this entry