Category Archives: books

Picture Books to Inspire Children’s Art Projects

Art is not part of the curriculum in our school district, instead all elementary art lessons are taught by parent volunteers.  Once a month I volunteer to teach in my daughter’s class.  A monthly art lesson seems a little piecemeal and I often wish that there was time to delve deeper into projects. With this in mind, I often teach lessons that inspire children to discover a new medium or learn about an unfamiliar type of art.  Picture books can be a good starting point. Below are some of my favourites .

  1. The Noisy  Paint Box

My children are fascinated by abstract art. I recently introduced them to the works of Kandinsky after they created abstract art on our mirror table. This book tells the story of Kandinsky’s life as an artist and explains how he expressed his feelings and senses through painting.  As a boy he felt he could hear the paint box hissing and at a classical music concert saw colours and shapes before his eyes, that expressed the music.

After reading the book,encourage children to paint what they feel as they listen to a piece of classical music. Discuss their feelings and document some of their comments with the painting.  Try playing different genres of music to see how their reactions change and explore together how this was reflected in their painting. A large scale collaborative painting to music could develop this theme further.  Explore the differences in expression and how they all fit together to make a complete painting.

2. Korgi 

The captivating black and white illustrations in this textless graphic novel inspired this project about monsters.  The drawings here were in charcoal but pencil drawing or pen and ink would work equally well.


3. The Mr Men

Strangely, the Mr Men have been one of the girls favourite things to draw and  model for some time.  The book’s back cover displaying all the Mr Men make it easy for them to choose a Mr Man to copy.

WP_20151119_001 1

They used polymer clay to make 3D representations. Their simple forms make them perfect for introducing young children to polymer clay or modelling smaller characters.  It also helps them to see how their drawings can be translated into a 3 dimensional model.

Mr Men polymer clay models

They even created their own Mr Man – Mr Tae Kwondo.

Mr Tae kwondo


4. How are you Peeling?

We loaned this book from the library and it was a firm favourite.  On each page fruit and vegetables are photographed to represent an expression or emotion.  It has inspired us to search the supermarket for interesting vegetables and would be even more fun if you grow your own. It would make a wonderful photography project.

5. Leaf Man

Leaf Man is a good introduction to collage and art using natural materials.  The story of leaf man is illustrated using photocopies of leaves on a colourful torn paper background.  We used this for an art lesson in my daughter’s Kindergarten class and here are some of the finished projects.


 Further Suggestions

The Tiny Seed – paint flicking

The Hungry Caterpillar – collage (Eric Carle describes how he creates his pictures in this slideshow.)

Camille and the Sunflowers – a story about Van Goch




The Elephant and the Bad Baby: Why Toddlers Like Repetitive Books

All 3 of my girls had the same favourite book at the age of 2. I didn’t encourage it, but somehow ‘The Elephant and the Bad Baby’  by Elfrida Vipoint hit the spot for all of them.
The story is highly repetitive, so much so that it drove my husband insane every time he read it. It is also quite long.
So why would it be so popular?

The repetitive text is most likely what they love the most.

Repetition is important for young children as it helps them to remember and learn. Knowing what comes next is comforting in a generally unpredictable world. Small children love repetition, it means that they can join in and demonstrate how much they know. As they hear the story language time and again, they come to anticipate words and phrases and will insert the vocabulary if the reader pauses at key points, as seen in the video clip.  They will even correct you if you get it wrong (as I did).   Children, as they become older, memorise repetitive books and can be seen to be ‘reading’  them to themselves, before they can actually read the text.  This is a very important starting point for learning to read.

Other repetitive books:

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt – Michael Rosen

The Very Busy Spider – Eric Carle

Peepo – Allan Ahlberg

Hairy Maclary – Lynley Dodd

Farmer Duck – Martin Waddell

A Squash and a Squeeze – Julia Donaldson

The Little Red Hen

Dear Zoo – Rod Campbell

Bark George – Jules Feiffer

British Children Learning to Read and Write in the US.


I knew my youngest children would learn to read and write in the US and as a result I would have to accept that they would spell differently and use American phrases and grammar.  There are some unexpected differences however that I hadn’t considered.

A few days ago my 4-year-old remarked,

“Mummy, all the other children at preschool don’t write t’s properly”

“Really! Can you show me”

It is a bit like an x, like this……


My youngest is 4, I taught her to write her name but it never crossed my mind that letter formation might be different here.

I asked my kindergartener

” Do you write a curly bit on the bottom of the letter t at school?”

“No we do it like a cross”

I checked with the teacher and she explained that they use the ball and stick method where  letters such as t, w and y use straight lines rather than curves as they feel it is easier for the young children to master. It is one of many differences that I hadn’t anticipated.

alphabet ball and stick

I always believed the transition would be most difficult for my eldest, who went  to school in England until she was 8, so learned to read, spell and write ‘the English way’. The first thing she noticed, was that punctuation had different names; full stops were periods and brackets became parentheses.  We were really keen that she wouldn’t lose her knowledge of British spelling, so school agreed that she could learn both.  As an avid reader and proficient speller this wasn’t really difficult.

Choosing books wasn’t simple either. Most books by British authors are rewritten for an American audience.  When we borrow books by British authors from the library or buy books here, they are American versions.  My daughter is really eager to maintain her ‘Britishness’, so we often order books from the UK. This way she can still read books with British spelling and vocabulary and is able to read literature from both cultures. Tonight we read an American translation of Pippi Longstocking. This was my daughter’s favourite book for many years, so she knew much of the text by heart.  Every time she spotted a difference, she would quote the British text. In the end we got her old battered copy down to compare. I was surprised that though the meaning remained the same, the texts were very different. The monkeys name was different and the language in the British version was more detailed and poetic (although I am sure that the original Swedish is even more rich).

“A remarkable child” said one of the sailors, wiping a tear from his eye when Pippi disappeared from view. (British translation)

” A remarkable child” said one of the sailors as Pippi disappeared in the distance (American translation)

My daughter’s desire to maintain her British identity isn’t without its pitfalls.  Once she was marked down in a piece of writing because she referred to a ladybird rather than a ladybug (which I felt was a little harsh).

I thought things would be simpler for the younger ones because they started school here but they have been faced with different challenges:

1. The alphabet ends with zee (my daughter has decided that it makes more sense the American way because the song rhymes).

2.  What sound does a short ‘o’  make? To us it is o as in fox, box and top but American pronunciation is different, instead it makes the sound a as in fax, bax or tap. Confusing but also a little amusing to the girls who still have perfect English accents. I think I was fortunate that my daughter was beginning to read when she went to school and had already learned basic phonics so this wasn’t too much of an issue.

3. School reading books have American phrases which to a Brit’s ears sound totally wrong and often make me shudder. An examples from today’s reading book is :

Let’s go find Leo.

The omission of “ly’ at the end of adverbs is common as in ‘We need to be real quick’. I suppose one positive is that the girls generally notice and remark that it sounds different.  When my daughter reads a word that we don’t use, she substitutes it for the British word “I’m just going to say mum not mom”.

4. Sometimes they complete worksheets where they have to circle pictures that begin with particular letters. This can be confusing if the British word is different from the American or if it is something traditionally American like baseball equipment.

On the whole I think the girls awareness of the differences gives them a far richer experience of the written word.  It certainly gives us a lot to talk about.


Juice Recipes for Kids: Inspired by ‘The Hungry Caterpillar.’

juice for kidsIn a bid to get more healthy we recently invested in a juicer.  I now start every day with a healthy mean green as featured in the film ‘Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead’. It looks pretty grim but I assure you it’s delicious.  It contains

1 cucumber

4 celery sticks 

2 apples

A small amount of ginger

A small bunch of kale

Half a lemon 

I sometimes add a carrot for good measure.

The kids are not so keen on this one but they love the fruity ones.

For Hungry Caterpillar Day we tried an experimental Hungry Caterpillar Juice. No Caterpillar’s were harmed I assure you. Head across to Really Kid Friendly to see my Guest Post on how we made it.

Try some, it’s delicious and would be great for a Hungry Caterpillar themed party.

10 Hungry Caterpillar Inspired Activities

To celebrate the 40th birthday of one of the world’s most famous picture books, I have 10 Hungry Caterpillar inspired activities.

  1. clay caterpillarMaths: Build caterpillars from dough or clay. Count the number of segments that make up the caterpillar. Play a matching game – place the correct caterpillar on the leaf with the matching colour or number of segments.

2. Imaginary Play: My eldest followed an enveloping schema for years. She would hoard things in little bags and containers and if you ever left anything around that she could climb into, you would find her inside. On one occasion I left a fabric storage bin in her room. She promptly climbed inside declaring that she was in her cocoon and soon emerged as a beautiful butterfly. Provide material, boxes, play tunnels, blankets, wings and deely boppers.

3. Song and Rhyme: Sing the caterpillar on a leaf song or sit behind your child and pretend to crawl a caterpillar up their back.  Teach them to ask ‘Whose that climbing up the garden wall?’ and you reply in a caterpillar like voice ‘It’s me’ said the caterpillar ‘I’m learning how to crawl’.

4.painting butterflies Paint symmetrical butterfly pictures: I’m sure we all remember these from school days. Paint on one side, fold the paper over to create a symmetrical print on the other.  This can also work well by painting a piece of string, placing it between the folded paper and then pulling it out whilst the paper is still folded.

5. Movement: Read the Hungry Caterpillar and give the children movements to follow during the story. Egg – curl up in a ball, caterpillar – crawl along the floor moving to eat different types of food,  big fat caterpillar – stretch out wide, cocoon – spin slowly then hang their head between their legs, staying very still, butterfly – flap their wings and fly.

6. Discovery – it is a little cold yet but once the weather is warmer, grow your own butterflies. We have done this very successfully using kits from Insectlore. It is fascinating to watch how quickly the tiny caterpillars grow and then instinctively hang upside down. You soon get to recognise when the butterflies are ready to emerge and can feed them indoors for a day or 2 before releasing them into the garden. The species that they use tend to stay within your local area for a few days after being released so you can spot them in the garden.

Find out about the butterflies and caterpillars that can be found in your locality, and print pictures of more exotic species.

7. Food: Make a fruit salad using the fruits eaten by the Hungry Caterpillar or taste some of the more unusual foods he ate.  We are a big juicing family so we are going to make Hungry Caterpillar juice using:

1 apple

2 pears

3 plums

4 strawberries

5 oranges

 8.finger caterpillar Maths: Turn your finger into a crawling caterpillar and measure things in caterpillar steps.measuring caterpillar

9. Outdoors – Grow a butterfly garden. I saw some amazing butterflies in our garden last year that are fairly commonplace in this area. I’m definitely going to learn about how I can attract them this year.

10. Visit a Butterfly Farm. I can highly recommend the butterfly house at Bristol Zoo and Felinwynt Rainforest Centre in West Wales.  In Seattle there is the Butterfly House at the Pacific Science Centre . Feel free to add any recommendations in the comments.

And don’t forget to read the book……

Books about Children Wearing Glasses – The Pirate of Kindergarten

My 3 year old wears glasses. She has been getting on really well with them and feels quite special and unique.  She wears them because she has a turn and is long sighted.  The ophthalmologist thinks that her glasses will correct the turn, but there is a chance that she will have to have an eye patch.

When we were told she would have to wear glasses, I searched for picture books about children wearing glasses.  I bought the Charlie and Lola book ‘I Really Absolutely Must Have Glasses’.  This didn’t really fit the bill because although it is about going for an eye test and really wanting glasses, Lola doesn’t actually need glasses.

I gave up looking for a while until by  a stroke of fate I came across The Pirate of Kindergarten in a list of top 10 books for Special Educational Needs.  This hit the nail right on the head .  The story is about a little girl who is clumsy and sees in double vision unless she closes one eye.  After attending an eye test they tell her that most children don’t see in this way and  give her glasses and a cool eye patch .  She becomes the Pirate of Kindergarten.

My 3 year old is incredibly clumsy and often falls over and crashes into things.  I asked her if she ever saw 2 of things like the girl and she replied ‘sometimes’.  I don’t know whether she sees in this way, but the book gave me a valuable insight into what the world might be like through her eyes.

This is a lovely book for  a child who wears glasses and for a nursery, pre-school or childminder who is looking to increase their inclusive books. The illustrations are beautiful, the subject matter is handled sensitively and is told in a simple and sympathetic manner that young children can understand.

This post is a personal recommendation, no payment or product was received for writing this review.

The Changing Face of Literacy

As an Early Years teacher I have always capitalised on opportunities for literacy in everyday life. Making children aware and involving them in these things is often key to children viewing reading and writing as fun. Traditionally these would have been things like writing shopping lists, reading road and shop signs, mark making in diaries and calendars or following recipes.

However literacy in the real world is changing. Children these days are just as likely to see you read or write on your phone or laptop as they are to see you write a list or note.

This really hit home with me when I watched my 3 year old playing on my iPad a few weeks ago.  She asked if she could download an app called Dad book, designed for dads to record stories for their children.

But mummy it’s not doing anything

she said once it was downloaded.

No, someone has to tell the story and record it.

I replied.

I asked her 7 year old sister to record the story for her, they sat together as my 7 year old narrated the story.  When she was finished my 3 year old listened and then repeated the words as she had seen done with another app Pat the Cat .

What a great opportunity for playing with literacy for both children.  This made me think about all the other literacy activities my children tap into on the iPad.

My 3 year old is learning about the alphabet and phonic sounds using the wonderful Elmo loves ABC’s app.  This has loads of different levels of games all based around learning letter names and sounds and includes lots of  memorable Sesame Street clips.

Another favourite is Me Books a children’s picture book reader for classic Ladybird books.  Both my children enjoy following the stories and adding in their own sound effects. This is simple for the children to do and another great way of getting different aged siblings to share reading.

The Ladybird Touch and Say books are also a great way for my 2 year old to learn to read simple words and even my one year old loves the Baby Touch app.

My 7 year old loves creating her own stories and animations using Toontastic or Puppetpals and these are also simple for pre-schoolers to use with adult guidance.

We have even discovered new songs and rhymes through English Songs and Chants. My 3 year old loves this one and can be heard walking around the house reciting the chants and singing the songs.  The chants are excellent for teaching rhythm and steady beat, a concept I usually teach using Ros Bayley’s Beat Baby.  I wonder whether Ros has considered creating a Beat Baby app?

There are a number of things that I really appreciate about the way my children use technology to play and learn about literacy.

  • The children freely choose the literacy apps and never feel like they are learning literacy skills.  Everything they choose to play is fun and interactive.
  • The apps are an added dimension to their experience of literacy. They still love books and choose to read traditional books more often than  e-books, still love to write, tell and listen to stories.

Current touch screen technology is still a little small to offer good mark making experiences for the youngest children but the drawing apps are good fun for when they get a bit older and are able to work on a smaller scale.  I look forward to a time when I can roll out a big screen onto the floor and let the youngest children explore markmaking on a large scale.

I also think Kinect holds great possibilities for literacy. My children talk to their dad via video Kinect when he is not at home. There would be great potential for speaking and listening activities if they connected with other children from around the world and shared experiences about their life and culture.

My girls are avid readers, I’m not afraid that new technology will distract them from traditional literacy, but that it adds a richness to their lives and new possibilities for exciting literacy experiences.