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Tag Archives: Oxford Reading Tree

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.

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Feminism for Early Starters: Picturebooks

My plan to write a ‘little post’ about feminism in children’s books turned into  an unwieldy behemoth. For that reason, I’ve decided to split it into smaller sections, starting with…

Picturebooks

I’m not going to rattle on about the importance of picture books in the feminist movement. They are one way in which preliterate children and emergent readers come to understand the world around them, first by clues in the illustrations alone, then by combining visual and textual to create meaning.

Generally, picture books reinforce traditional gender roles and heteronormitivity. More recently, there has been a shift in production of books for pre-school and primary education designed to empower young girls and instil and ‘I can do anything’ attitude in them – see Carmela laVigna Coyle’s Do Princesses… series for a prime example, but overwhelmingly, picture books, with the possible exclusion of those that fall into the ‘post-modern’ category, do little to subvert. Depressingly, this is most apparent in learn-to-read scheme stories such as the Oxford Reading Tree, in which stereotyped family units and gender roles are the norm.  A study carried out in 2003 by Prof. Diane Reay and discussed in Kat Banard’s excellent book The Equality Illusion found that the education our children receive at in early years education is remarkably gendered, with teachers reinforcing typical gendered behaviours:

…girls received harsh criticism from teachers when they didn’t conform to stereotypical gender behaviours. Teachers described girls who misbehaved as ‘bad influences, ‘spiteful’, and ‘scheming little madams’, yet when boys behaved in similar ways, they were described as ‘just mucking about’.

The Equality Illusion  p. 54

So for feminist parents it is critical that books that subvert traditional gender roles are introduced in the home.

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