For our final week, the Junior Librarians Arthur (Owl class) and Ozzie (Owl class) are sharing with us their favourite reads.
Firstly, Arthur recommends The Don’t Panic Gang, written by Mark Sperring and illustrated by Sarah Warburton.
Arthur’s reason for his choice: “My mum and I both enjoyed laughing as we shared this story!”
Mrs Harvey would also promote Arthur’s choice. The Don’t Panic Gang is a top-secret organisation, comprising a doughnut-loving cat, a little blue bird and an unassuming window-box worm. When they receive an urgent call for help, the three friends immediately leap into action and, donning their superhero costumes, they transform into Sumo Cat, Ninja Bird and Kung-Fu Worm. Clambering over rooftops, leaping off buildings and scaling walls – not always successfully – the invincible trio eventually reach the distressed caller, who is at the mercy of something huge and terrifying in the bathroom.
From a literary perspective, the bright, sketchy illustrations contain a wealth of amusing detail, such as tiny superhero costumes hanging on the washing line, which will captivate and delight. Similarly, the changing style and size of font add another layer of meaning to the book. Why, for example, has the author chosen to use different fonts for the differing characters? An assortment of page layouts, from small vignettes to full-page views, creates a sense of pace and urgency, swiftly moving the tale along to its entertaining conclusion. With witty text, plenty of anticipation and opportunities to predict what will happen next, this is an exciting and funny adventure, perfect to read aloud.
Secondly, Ozzie recommends one of his favourite fiction books, Max the Brave written and illustrated by Ed Vere.
Ozzie explains his choice: “This is a really funny story – Max searches EVERYWHERE for a mouse and eventually finds one, or does he?”
Mrs Harvey would also recommend this story which encapsulates the time-worn scenario in which a mouse outwits a cat – but in this story it gets a fresh new spin.
Max, a brave, fearless kitten who prefers a superhero cape to cutesy bows, chases mice. There’s just one little problem: he doesn’t know what a mouse looks like. Going in search of one, Max encounters various unfamiliar creatures and asks who they are; each identifies itself in turn and reports on the real mouse’s whereabouts close at hand. When Max eventually meets up with Mouse, he naturally doesn’t recognize it, making it easy for the tiny would-be prey to flummox his nemesis completely by claiming to be Monster—and pointing the way to a sleeping “mouse” nearby who—surprise! —turns out to be the real monster.
The narrator’s voice, expertly pulled off with dry British wit, and the childlike, quirky illustrations are the real humorous draws here. Children and adults alike will chuckle at Max’s bravado, the mouse’s blithe deception, and the intrepid hero’s antics battling the laughable monster. The short sentences move the pace along at a steady clip; the artwork, rendered mostly in black but with some splashes of bold colour, is set against bright pastel-hued pages with sparse background details, keeping readers tightly focused on the action and growing tension. This technique gives a directness to the story. Both the ending and Max’s realization that bravery is only occasionally necessary are comically satisfying.
Both of this week’s Books of the Week, really harnesses the power of pictures – pictures tell you stories in different ways to words. There’s nothing concrete about a picture – it is full of ambiguities and possibilities. Pictures can be read in many ways, with many different interpretations. Which means they are engaging the imagination… massively!
There’s a perception that picture books are only for the very young, and when children get to six or seven, they should have ‘moved on’ to chapter books. Picture books are indeed perfect for four and five-year-olds, but if you unpack what is happening in the pictures, they’re also full of meaning, emotional content, humour, knowledge and interest for much older children (and, dare I say it, adults!).
When children have increased time looking at picture books it has a positive impact on their understanding of language. This is because, we think, children learn what words mean and how to use them better when they read them alongside pictures. When we take longer over a book and really look at the pictures and talk about them, children start to understand how to look at something in depth, and therefore, get a depth of understanding for language they might not have had before. Pictures can show the mood and context for the words. Children can ‘see’ what the words mean as well as ‘know’ them.
Reading picture books give children a solid understanding of story structure that they can use to develop their writing more widely. Giving time and space for children to read, respond to and discuss the themes and structures of different picture books provides children with a strong understanding of how to construct a compelling story in an accessible way, including characterisation, setting, plot, creating empathy, pacing and structure.