I haven’t written a blog for a while, having not felt inspired to after recent events in my family.  Then I finally get my hands on ‘Eye Can Write’ and I feel compelled to tell people about it.

If you haven’t heard of Jonathan Bryan, or seen him on the TV, then you are missing something special.  He is a 12 year old boy who is probably brighter than me, yet because of various disabilities he has been left unable to talk or walk.  Incredibly though, he has managed to write a book, spelling the whole thing out with the help of his Mother and his team of carers.  I won’t spoil it by telling you how he has done it, you have to buy the book for that, but the method is truly extraordinary and will make you re-think everything you presumed about people living with disabilities.

 

I first saw Jonathan on the TV, having just had my third child.  I was already a bag of hormones, brimming over with love and festive cheer (it was near Christmas.)  My daughters watched the CBBC programme in silence, completely in awe of what they were seeing.  I don’t think they’ve really seen anyone in a wheelchair before, and by the end of the programme they had learnt more than I had in my lifetime.

As I read the book, two things became crystal clear.  The first, the overwhelming strength and determination of his Mother and the bond she has with Jonathan.  Without her he still may not be able to communicate.  Secondly, that there is so much more to human nature than what we know at present.  Just as Jonathan lives in the gap between silence and speech, he also lives in the gap between life and death.  To me, he is evidence that we are only a small part of a much bigger community that may go beyond death.  I’m not particularly religious, but I have taken great comfort from what he has shown me.

This book isn’t about sympathy or sadness, it is about joy. The joy of love, family and language.  If there is one small thing you can do today, read his blog, buy the book, support his charity.  Just do something beyond your everyday worries and you will feel so much better for it.

Jonathan Bryan’s blog is at http://www.eyecantalk.net

He is the founder of the charity Teach Us Too, which campaigns for all children to be taught to read and write regardless of their label.  http://www.teachustoo.org.uk

 

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster in our house recently.  A cocktail of good and bad news that has made me retreat to pen and paper, rather than the computer. I don’t know why this is, but at times of stress I find comfort in writing stories. This time, I decided to have a go at writing a children’s picture book. I know, stereotypical or what.  A Mum, currently out of work on maternity leave, thinking she knows more than the experts. (Of which I don’t, clearly.) However, to say I have read hundreds of children’s books would be an understatement.  Three kids, a beanstalk volunteer and an SEN teaching assistant in schools, children’s books are kind of my thing and I thought I knew what works.

But writing one?

Idols such as Michael Rosen, Oliver Jeffers, Rob Biddulph and Nick Sharratt are more than children’s story writers.  They are poets, philosophers, illustrators, educators and comics.  They take children out of the real world and make their imaginations come alive, sometimes for the very first time.  I knew therefore, that I was up against it, but I didn’t see why I couldn’t give it a go.  What I didn’t predict was my daughter’s reaction.

I wrote it for her, for her 6th birthday.  This means that the book with be read by no more than two people, so clearly the pressure is off, but it is still a tricky task! I wanted to use language that she could understand, but not make it too easy.  I didn’t want to feel like I was talking down to her.  I did, however, want to teach her something, but not preach at her.  Easy? Pah.

Firstly, I did find it a really fun experience and I fully recommend you having a go.  I could be a bit cheeky, a bit silly and play with words that really shouldn’t be brought together.  The characters could also be anything, anyone, real or not.  There is a freedom in that, that I really enjoyed.

However, getting down to the nitty gritty is tough. Have a think about your favourite bedtime story, and you will understand how many layers it has.  It has something not only for the child, but also you, the parent who has probably read the book a fair few times.  It has to stand the test of time yet always give the child something to look forward to.

I thought I had managed all this quite well.  I even got it to rhyme, and was quite proud that I had managed to not make it too complicated and worthy.  Her reaction?  I think I was hoping she would marvel at my skill, be amazed at my originality and tell all her friends how talented I was. I can tell you that absolutely didn’t happen.  Surprisingly my older daughter loved it, and was inspired to write her own, but the birthday girl? On the first (and only) reading she burst into tears.  And why?  Although I had made her the heroine of the story, her character appears last, after her sister’s and new baby brothers.  She wasn’t interested that I had made up the story, had hand written it for her until 1am for the past week.  Illustrated it, wrapped it and presented it to her. Nope, she was just mightily annoyed that ‘she’ appeared last.

Kids. Unpredictable to the core. You never can tell how they are going to react, which is why being an author of children’s books is such a tough job. It won’t deter me to have another go, but from now on, writers, I salute you all.

 

 

 

 

I’m writing this in response to a tweet by the legend that is Michael Rosen.  In just a few words he summed up what this blog is all about…

‘For your babies and pre-schoolers,surround them with books and print, read to them every day, let them play with books, choose books, talk books, play with magnet letters, read signs and food packaging, make labels for things, draw, paint, sing songs.’

If he says it then I must be doing something right!  I want this blog to be a source of ideas and inspiration to make reading with little ones enjoyable and fun.  Keep books in places around the house so that the kids can play with them.  Yes, play with them!  They don’t have to be read, or your child to be at a reading age, just let them see books as something fun to do.  Let them look at the colours, spot pictures, feel the texture, anything to ensure they are not scared and put off when asked to read a book.  Make up games, see how many ‘b’ letters you can find for example, or how many rhyming words.  When out and about, take a book with you, not i-pads or kindles, a book.  With pages.  Let them choose words and see if you can spot any of them.  Let them see if they can read signs, menus, house names, anything to keep you talking.

Use my book box idea in your house, so that your child can choose which books they want to look at.  Let them explore and don’t worry if they make a mess, books should be accessible and fun.  They can also be a great bonding tool too.  When they feel sleepy and in need of a cuddle, grab a book and look at it together.  There are so many ways that books can become a source of fun/relaxation/learning; all of which will only help their understanding by the time they get to school.  The evidence is overwhelming to show an early love of books helps not only reading skills, but also communication, imagination and concentration.

Don’t forget books can also be free.  Where, nowadays can you really get something for free?  Sign your little ones up at the library and you get 10 books, for free, for pretty much as long as you want.  A never-ending supply of free stuff.  It’s also an afternoon out if you get bored in the house easily, as there are often events on that can be of interest.  Story-telling, craft activities etc.  Check out your local library for more details.

There’s lots more information on this blog too , as well as ways to keep reluctant readers interested.  Starting young is the key, so do your best even if you aren’t the greatest reader yourself.  As I said, if Michael Rosen gives the same advice, it’s well worth taking it.

 

Who’d have thought it.  Last night my oldest (yep, the one that features in my last post about how much she hates dressing up, therefore dreads World Book Day) actually said to me, ‘I’m really worried school’s going to be closed because of the snow.  That means World Book Day will be cancelled.’  I mean, what?? After all those year’s of pain I’ve actually got it right?

This year she chose Matilda from the Worst Witch, having read the books before the CBBC series, and then again after.  Perfect choice as the costume is basically a school uniform, therefore she won’t stand out and ‘look stupid.’  Her words, not mine.  So apparently we nailed it this year. She liked the pinafore dress, and has apparently always wanted to wear a tie.

All systems go until we wake up this morning, and like in most areas across the country the announcement is made ‘SCHOOL IS CLOSED.’  Much whooping from the kids, much sighing from the parents.  With temperatures not due to rise above -3 there wasn’t really much of a decision to be made. There are certainly not many mornings you see a group of snowboarders walk past the end of your drive anyway!  Costume shelved for next year then?

Good luck to everyone at home today,  I can’t help thinking this is the perfect day to snuggle up with a good book (if the kids allow.)  If not, focus on that gin later.  Maybe World Book Day isn’t so bad after all.

 

 

#worldbookday

Ok, so World Book Day is fast approaching.  I know, as a total book geek this is something that I should embrace, as it really does get children talking about books, buying books and gets people in independent bookshops which as you know is something I’m a bit obsessed with.  However, it is the one day of the year I dread.  Why?  Because my book-worm of a daughter absolutely hates dressing up.  It’s not even a diva type hatred, she just hates it full stop.  It makes her feel insecure and a bit stupid, two things that children don’t like to feel.

For the first year, I just about convinced her that it was going to be OK.  Luckily, the event was on her birthday so aged 5, the thought of the whole school dressing up for her was enough of a distraction to actually get her through the doors.  The next year, not quite so lucky.  It didn’t fall on her birthday, she was a year older and wiser, and could quite eloquently explain why she thought the whole thing was ridiculous.  I swear the nail marks are still on the door frame of her classroom.  I think she lasted about an hour, so as she had her school uniform underneath she spent the rest of the time surreptitiously shedding her outfit until she was once again ‘normal.’

I’ve bought outfits, made them, borrowed them but nothing has worked.  It isn’t just World Book Day I have to say.  ‘Pirate Day’ at school is still etched on my Mum’s memory as one of the worst of her life.  She had the task of trying to get her to school dressed as yes, a pirate.  The problem? A pirate is a man, and she didn’t want to go to school dressed as a boy.  Exactly, oh boy.  Not helped that her best pal tipped up in some kind of girl’s pirate attire, rather than a borrowed costume from yes, a boy.  Not good.  I don’t even think she lasted an hour that time.

For the past two years we’ve managed to pull of a Matilda/wearing normal clothes look, but I think a third year is getting a bit much, so she’s plumped for Mildred Hubble, from the Worst Witch.  She loves the books, backed up by the new series on CBBC.  This is got to be a winner, I mean, she basically wears school uniform doesn’t she? Ah yes, but it has to be the right school uniform.  I could actually feel my chest tightening as we drove to the shops yesterday, how can this be littered with so many issues? My middle one was sorted in about three minutes, wanting to go as Wanda from Where’s Wally.  That involved a stripey top and some glasses. Job done.  Unsurprisingly, we didn’t find anything for the older one.

For a girl whose favourite past-time is reading, it does seem a real shame that the day is so hideous for her.  Obviously as a Mum I blame myself, as I too hate the thought of dressing up. Usually I would tell her to ‘just get on with it,’ ‘stop being so daft’ etc etc, but, as she is in general one of the loveliest, calmest people I know, I’ll let her have this one.

I am now nervously awaiting the arrival of the ‘Mildred’ pinafore dress, bought online on return from the shops.  It is likely to be the wrong colour, shape, size, length but at least we’ve tried.  The tie has also been ordered.  Just got to create some type of sash and we might be safe.  That’s until the morning of the actual day, and who knows what might happen.  Roll on March the 2nd.

 

 

 

Audio books, the current saviour of bedtime. Three tired kids and one worn out Mum (whose husband is hiding somewhere at work) undeniably equals one tough part of the day.

We are currently half way through a CD of traditional bedtime stories, and as I’m trying to get the 8 week old to settle, my 5 year old curls up in bed and has a listen. It takes any tension out of the situation (i.e. that 3 kids needing you in 3 separate places all at the same time thing.) She thinks she is getting a real treat so it gives me an extra few guilt-free minutes with the (extra) little one and all and all makes that crazy hour a little easier.  I have to say I have always been a bit sniffy about audio books, as I just thought they were a way of avoiding reading books, but having done a bit of research I have completely changed my mind.

Apparently, according to much cleverer people than me, audio books give the child more freedom to use their imagination as they are not directed by pictures on the page.  It also helps practice their listening skills, which is a great one if your child is a bit wriggly when you try and read.  If they move and miss something then they will soon learn that they will lose the thread of the story.  Audio books also allow your child to enjoy books that are a bit harder than the ones they might try and read.  Children who are put off books with lots of pages, or ones with lots of words have a different way in to a story they may otherwise not manage.  And there are some really good ones out there at the minute.   All of David Walliams books are on CD, Roald Dahl (read by himself!) Paddington and so on,  all the classics that otherwise maybe too much to handle.

I’m not entirely sure what will happen when we get to the end of the CD, or how long I will get away with this as in my heart of heart I know it is only a short term solution. I am also keen that it doesn’t happen every night, as I do obviously want to still read to my daughter, especially as she has just started to want to read out loud too. However, I’m not going to beat myself up about it when things are so busy. She is certainly enjoying them, so I’m not going to stop something that works. There’s also the added bonus of using the same stories when out and about in the car, or when you simply need some down time.  I suppose that this is the key to this whole blog, just do what works best for you and your family and make sure it is always enjoyable.

So, finally got round to registering the little one’s birth, and super delighted to be handed the Book Trust book pack.  I honestly thought this was something that had been squeezed thanks to the recession/austerity/govn cuts etc etc but no! Two free books and a leaflet giving advice on how to share books with your little one.  There’s nothing ground-breaking within the advice as such, it’s mainly stuff that will come naturally to you I’m sure, but the bit I really like is the part that says ‘you don’t have to be a good reader yourself to read to your child.’  This is because it is the soothing sound of your voice that is more important than the actual words.  You could read them the football results and it wouldn’t matter.  What your child will really enjoy is the act of sitting on your knee, cuddling up on the sofa, whatever you fancy that makes the experience fun for both of you.  Therefore, even if you feel a bit nervous about it, do give it a go.  The younger the better too.  Starting really young (and I’m talking weeks old) might feel a bit ridiculous at first, as clearly they won’t understand a word, but if you can make the act of reading enjoyable, then I promise it will stay with your child for the rest of their life.  Just a quick look together when they are in that tiny window of calm, or part of your routine before naps.  If, however, you’ve got older ones of which books don’t seem to hold their attention, then choose books with interesting, bright pictures and spend your time looking at them instead.  You don’t even need to read the story, you could play a spotting game, or you could ask your child to show you the colours they know, names of objects they can point out etc, anything that boosts your child’s confidence around books.  This is all about making your child feel good about themselves and their skills. Asking your child to choose the book will also boost their enthusiasm.  They’ll soon let you know their favourite one – of which you will get to know very well!

Pick your moment though.  Obviously if they are totally wriggly and getting annoyed then don’t force them into trying to read, do it at a more peaceful time, perhaps before their nap-time or when they are still sleepy in the mornings (apparently that actually happens and not all kids fly our of bed like it’s on fire!)  I am also a huge advocate or the bath, book, bed routine at night.  You can see earlier posts on that one, as I think a book before bed is a given.  The reading I’m talking about here is when they are fully alert and keen to learn.

I truly believe if you show a love of books and are enthusiastic to share them with your child, they will also fall in love with them. Keep it up, and thanks again to Booktrust.  If you want more tips then do check out the Booktrust website  www.booktrust.org.uk.  You can of course also raid earlier posts on this blog for more ideas!

Happy reading x

 

 

 

So after a brief pause, to have a baby (my third…I know!) celebrate my birthday as well as Christmas and New Year, I’m back on it.  It’s been a busy few months, but we still managed to squeeze in a few book-related highs.  For a start, I was totally bowled over during a visit to the big man when my girls were asked what they wanted as presents.  And do you know what they both said?  ‘Books!’ I have to admit there was a tablet in the mix for my youngest one, so clearly I’m not totally anti-tec but books still played a big part in the (huge) hoard under the tree. For both girls, (from Father Christmas…)there was a big box of books alongside their stocking.  Particularly for the older one, they were the next in the series of ones we have read together, or classics that she is now old enough to enjoy.  It was really good fun to put together, I imagine, and I think she appreciated it.  There’s a few that I’m really excited about her starting, such as Harry Potter. What an adventure lies ahead!!

Back to babies, and I have been super surprised about the importance of books to little babies, and we’re talking really young ones.  Mine is now 5 weeks old, so I had a quick look at one of those ‘What to expect from your 5 week old’ websites, and I’m totally delighted that books are mentioned, described as a really important part in their development.  I know, I was surprised too, but the thinking behind it is that as their eyesight starts to improve they enjoy starting to recognise different shades, such as black and white.  So, books with black and white pages are a winner.  This not only establishes an early connection of fun with Mum, but must make your baby see books as a good, positive thing.  I can’t image mine will get it straight away, but I can only see this is as a good idea, setting the foundations for a good relationship with books in the future, and I know how hard that can be for a boy!

There are loads on the market, all specially designed for those first few months.  I have a few from the Amazing Baby range which have been enjoyed by all my kids. Remember, a trip to your local independent bookshop is the best place to get tailor- made advice, as well as a hot cup of tea and cake.  Just what is called for when you have a little baby in tow!

Not that I needed an excuse but definitely going to be waving a few pages in front of my little one from now on.  Not too much, about 10 minutes of play time before he gets too tired is the advice, but can’t wait for him to get up to give it a try.  Let’s hope he enjoys them as the rest of us, I’ll keep you posted!

 

Just thought I’d highlight some lovely charity book-related projects you could get involved with this Christmas.  I know there is already lots to get organised, but each one only takes 5 minutes or so to sort, and could make a huge difference to someone’s life.  Just imagine you could be responsible for kick-starting a love of reading for somebody who never thought it was for them.  Total joy!

1 – BookTrust Christmas Campaign

How lovely is this!  For just £10 you could gift a book to a child living in care.  The chosen book would come as a surprise, could be the first book they have ever owned, and will be enjoyed for years to come.  You can’t ask for more than that!  Love the idea and have already donated on behalf of some of my relatives.  This is a great way to think about other people, at a time when it can get all a bit much.  Why not get your children to help you donate?  Find more details here:

https://www.booktrust.org.uk/support-us/give-a-book-gift-and-light-up-a-child-in-cares-christmas/ 

2 – My local independent bookshop is involved in a fantastic campaign this year.  Why don’t you find out if yours is up to anything similar?  Basically, Simply Books will help you choose a book for a child, which will then be sent to either of two charities – Salford Women’s Aid and the Wood Street Mission.  Find more details here:

http://us5.campaign-archive.com/?u=dd9c40e292f7aebec2cecc0eb&id=834a924d75

3 – Book Aid International

This isn’t a Christmas one, this is a much needed all year round one but what a fabulous gift for someone who doesn’t really need anything this year.  From £6 to £25 a month you could make a huge difference to someone who’s life is simply not as lucky as ours.  Find out more and how to donate below:

Donate

If you have any other ideas then do let me know – not long now until the big day!

 

 

 

My daughter has reached that gorgeous age where she believes she has the power to read everything and anything.  She shouts out letters she recognises on street signs, in newspapers, in books that I’m reading.   Over and over again it makes me wonder what it must be like to experience the big wide world opening up, finding out you can finally understand things that you never thought you could. Seeing her pick up a book and have the confidence to give it a go is one of the loveliest things to witness.

On the flip side, this also makes me sad for the children that this doesn’t happen to.  I’ve been so fortunate to have 2 children that enjoy reading, hugely helped by a school that teaches the basics so well.  Books are celebrated at home and at school so they don’t really have much excuse!  But at the same time there is a big proportion of children who just don’t get the same opportunities.  I had a brief insight into how big a problem it is when I volunteered for the reading charity Beanstalk.  https://www.beanstalkcharity.org.uk/  I just thought I’d mention it in case anyone was looking for some volunteer work, that is easily accessible.  Basically, after a little bit of training, you will be given the opportunity to go into a local school and read, twice a week, with 3 children that need that little bit of extra help.  Alongside the reading, you can play games, spend a bit of time chatting, do puzzles, word-searches, anything to give them a bit of time out of the classroom and a real confidence boost.

When I was involved, I worked with 3 year 5 boys, which was daunting at first as my previous experiences were only with the really little ones.  However, it ended up being a really gratifying time (hopefully for all of us and not just me!)  The boys really got stuck in, and I just about managed to change their opinion that ‘books are boring.’  I’m not saying they became avid readers, but I definitely helped remove the fear factor, and together we found some books they enjoyed.  Most importantly, or I believe anyway, the experience gave the boys some chill out time, in what is now a pretty fast and frenetic life. You can’t get past the fact that children see books as old-school when compared to computers. ipads, PS4’s and so on.  But that isn’t a bad thing.  Books slow children down, make them look at subjects in more detail, and most importantly can be shared with an adult who really cares.  It really is the most rewarding experience when a child asks to read the book you found for them the week before because they were enjoying it so much.  Now that’s not something they would admit to in class, in front of their friends, maybe even their family, but because of the time you’ve invested in them they trust you not to make them look silly.  It’s a real bond, made over books, that will stay with them forever.  Priceless.

So, if you have a few hours a week free, then I would seriously recommend having a look at Beanstalk.  You get lots of support and they will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.  If you haven’t got any spare time, as your hands are full with your own children then do what you can to carve out those precious few minutes to sit down and read with them.  10 minutes a day has been repeatedly proven to work wonders for not only their reading skills, but also concentration, writing, communication and an overall feeling of security.  I know myself how difficult it can be, but I believe the long-term gain has to outweigh any short-term disruption.  And it won’t be forever!  Once they are confident readers you too will be able to get back to that novel that you have always been meaning to finish.