My Five Friday Favourites are today going to be children’s picture books, a subject I should know lots about being a Reception teacher, although not having small children myself anymore I can sometimes be a bit behind the times! I was a bit late in knowing about Minions, until it was show and tell and a child with a speech impediment brought in a toy Minion. I asked him what it was and why he had brought it in and his reply was “it’s minging”.. I was slightly surprised to say the least and although I didn’t get too close just in case it was a bit whiffy, my LSA (learning support assistant) turned round to look at it and said “Minions Mrs S, it’s Minions”…how was I to know?
Some books do seem to stand the test of time better than others, even though on looking at them you might think the illustrations are a little dated and the characterisation a bit stereotypical. If the story and characters appeal and capture the child’s imagination, if the story language is rich and inviting and if the illustrations are engaging, a child can be hooked. and the story can go on and on and become a classic.
To find only five is going to be quite tricky for me as I LOVE children’s books, so I am going to narrow it down by choosing five favourite books that I have used at school to support a PSHE topic (personal, social and health education), as storybooks are a great teaching tool and can be important to teach children essential lessons in life.
Number 1- Elmer
This book was written by David McKee and was originally published in 1968. A slightly different version of the same book was published in 1989. The story is about a multi-coloured patchwork elephant who likes to joke and laugh. The other elephants laugh at him and Elmer decides that if he was ordinary elephant colour they wouldn’t laugh at him anymore and he might feel happier. He tries to change his appearance to fit in, but finds out that he is much happier being himself. The other elephants actually love him for being different!
This picture book has humour and the message in the story is an important one, that it is ok to be different. The illustrations are more cartoon in style, but are very colourful. My sons loved this story and one of them even had a toy Elmer. He has become such a popular character that the author has written twenty seven books about him and he has been turned into a TV series.
The PSHE discussion from this story can be linked to being unique, different, trying to fit in and friendship.
Why does Elmer want to be different? How do the other elephants feel about Elmer? Why did he paint himself grey with berry juice? Why did the other elephants not recognise Elmer? Why is it ok to be different from other people? Why do the other elephants love Elmer?
Number 2- The Selfish Crocodile
This book was published in 1998 and was written by Faustin Charles and illustrated by Michael Terry. The story is about a very snappy and selfish crocodile who won’t let the other creatures share his river. He shouts at them “Stay away from My river! It’s MY river! If you come in my river I’ll eat you all” The animals are all very frightened and stay away. One day they wake to a groaning sound and see the crocodile in pain, holding his jaw. It takes the smallest animal of the jungle, a little mouse to help him cure his toothache. The mouse’s kindness teaches the crocodile a lesson and he learns to share the river with the other animals.
The illustrations in this book are wonderful. The pictures are bright, bold with fantastic characterisation and animal expressions, which children love. Young children can name all the different animals in the pictures and be aware of the jungle habitat This book is a great moral story and teaches children about the importance of treating others nicely. There is lots of dialogue so you can use different animal voices, although I sometimes omit the sentence “maybe he’s going to die” as I don’t want to upset small children. We have acted this story out as part of a class assembly which was very successful.
The PSHE discussion from this story can be linked to bullying, being selfish, sharing, friendship and kindness:
Why were there no animals in the river at the beginning? Why do you think the crocodile wanted the river to himself? How did the animals feel about the crocodile? Why didn’t the other animals want to help the crocodile? Why did the mouse help the crocodile? Why were the animals happy to be in the river at the end? Why did the crocodile decide to share the river?
Number 3- Owl Babies
The story Owl Babies was written by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson and published in 1992. In the story three baby owls wake up in their hole in a tree to find their mother has gone. As it gets dark, the owls start to worry and wonder what has happened to her. Each of the baby owls has a different character. Sarah, the biggest is being very sensible, Percy, the middle one is trying to be brave and Bill, the smallest needs lots of comforting. Mother owl finally returns and wonders why they were worried. The baby owls are thrilled to see her and she reassures them that mummy will always come back and they realise they needn’t have been frightened.
This is a lovely story, particularly for those children who might struggle with anxiety and separation issues. It has wonderful delicate and detailed illustrations and the dark night time background gives the story atmosphere and a sense of the deepening fear and worry the baby owls are feeling. The story is not very long and the text is big and easy to read. The story has lots of dialogue so you can use different character voices. and children love to join in with the repeating phrase from Bill, the smallest owl, “I want my mummy!” This is a great reassuring read out loud book for bedtime.
The PSHE discussion from this story can be linked to feelings.
How did each of the baby owls feel when they woke to find their mum had gone? Why were the owls worried? How did mother owl feel when she returned to the tree? How did the owls feel when mother owl returned?
Number 4- The Tiger That Came To Tea
This story was first published in 1968 and written and illustrated by Judith Kerr. The story is about a little girl called Sophie who is just about to sit down and have tea with her mum when the doorbell rings. Who could it be? They certainly didn’t expect it to be a tiger, a great big furry, stripy tiger! The tiger has such a huge appetite that he eats and drinks everything on the table and in the house, including all the water from the taps, so Sophie can’t even have a bath! Dad comes home and on finding nothing to eat so takes them all out to a café. The next time they go shopping they buy a big tin of tiger food, in case he returns
The story does have some stereotypes with dad at work, whilst mum and Sophie are at home drinking tea. The illustrations are quite old fashioned in design and detail. Tea is served from a tea pot with cups and saucers. The clothes that are worn are very dated, the shopping baskets are not high fashion and modern, but the drawings have great character and humour which make them appealing. The story itself is wonderful and children seem to love it.
When my eldest son was small he wouldn’t eat his food and I used to tell him this story over and over again, emphasising the key words and using my best deep tiger voice! As I said the words “he ate ALL the biscuits” etc. I got him to open his mouth and I quickly put a mouthful of food in his mouth as I carried on telling him the story! He never grew tired of it (although I don’t suppose he would use it as bed time reading now, at aged 23!) and it doesn’t look like children of today have tired of it either. Forty years after the story was published it still is as popular as ever and has become a children’s picture book classic!
The book is so popular that it has been made into a musical show and is currently having a Christmas short run at the Lyric Theatre. It has had great reviews and I am lucky enough to know the tiger!
The PSHE discussion from this story can be linked to manners, sharing and feelings:
The tiger wasn’t very polite to eat all the food…so what manners do we need to remember when going to tea at someone’s house? Why should the tiger not have eaten all the food/drink? How did Sophie feel when she saw the tiger? Why did Sophie and mum buy some tiger food?
Number 5- The Rainbow Fish
This book was written and illustrated by Marcus Pfister and first published in 1992. The story tells of a beautiful fish with shiny multi-coloured scales. One day a small fish asks if he could have one and the Rainbow fish, who loves his scales, refuses in a very rude way. The other fish are upset by his behaviour and won’t play with him anymore. The Rainbow fish is upset and asks his one friend, the starfish, what he should do. He has to go to the octopus for advice who tells him he must share the beauty of his scales with his friends. Rainbow fish shares out his scales and seeing their happiness he feels much better.
The illustrations in this book are very distinctive because of their shiny foil scales which have an immediate appeal to young children and are very tactile. The pictures are stunning and the colours beautiful. Some adults have taken the view that in giving his scales out the fish is ‘buying friendship’, which is not a good lesson to teach. Having read this story numerous times to children they have a more simplistic view and have never taken it in that way, instead they focus on the importance of sharing and friendship.
The PSHE discussion from this story can be linked to vanity, selfishness, sharing, being individual, kindness and friendship.
Why did Rainbow Fish not want to give away his shiny scales? How did the Rainbow Fish’s behaviour make the other fish feel? Why did the other fish not want to play with Rainbow Fish? How did Rainbow Fish feel when no one played with him? Why did Rainbow fish give away his most prized possession? How did it make him feel?
Hopefully, by hearing these stories, discussing and learning the message behind them, children will become polite, happy, self assured and unique individuals, who will share and be good friends to everyone. What a wonderful place the world would then be!
Honestly Fiona xx