Making Books with Young Children: Every Picture Tells a Story

ImageI have talked before about how we are a house full of story tellers and avid readers.  Jasper has begun creating his own stories; he’s used them in his play for a while – adding narrative as he acts out his ideas of pushes his trains around the track, but he has now started to ask, “Can I tell you a story?” This is always greeted, of course, with a resounding “Yes!”

So I thought it would be nice if we started to turn some of Jasper’s stories into books.  I’ve videoed lots of them and played them back to him, watching him squeal with delight (this could be more to do with vanity than pride in his story-telling – he does love watching and listening to himself!) but I thought it would be particularly meaningful if his stories were made into actual books.

Here’s how:Image

  • Take a piece of A3 paper and fold into quarters before drawing a frame in each corner.  (incidentally, this was a great opportunity to talk about fractions and how many more frames we needed to draw before we had filled all the quarters!)


  • Put the paper down so it’s landscape and then cut across the fold on the left to the middle.
  • Flip the paper over so the cut side is still on the left and draw 2 more frames, one above the other.
  • Fold in half (downwards) and then wrap the edges around so you have a 4 page book with front and back covers.

ImageThis idea was taken from Paul Johnson’s Making books – this is not an affiliated link.  If you click this link, I do not receive any money from Paul Johnson or amazon.  It is a wonderful book though, packed full of book making ideas including concertina books and pop up books.  I would certainly recommend you get hold of a copy for some truly marvelous creations!


Anyway, now you have your book and can fill it any way you like.  We decided to write our own version of a story we knew.  As I said earlier in the post, I wanted Jasper’s stories to feel really meaningful and be “published” for him so I wrote the story exactly as he said it (even if there were bits that didn’t quite make sense) on the left hand pages and he drew pictures on the covers and the right pages.  This gave us a great opportunity to talk about what you usually find on the cover of a book, how illustrators might choose what to draw and how to link pictures to the story.  It also was a great opportunity to practise the pencil-grip and shading – Jasper gets cross when I mention this usually but this morning, because he was so engaged with making the book, he made super progress with his fine-motor development.

ImageAs for the content, I mentioned in an earlier post that Jasper loves the story of ‘The Ghost Train’ by the legendary Alan Ahlberg and that we created our own version when we rode the steam train last week, in honour of Halloween.  Jasper changed parts of the story – we had a “bright, bright station” instead of a “dark, dark” one and he used so much descriptive vocabulary, particularly to describe how the smoke swirled around the train as it chugged through the tunnel. 

So I thought this would be a great story to write in the book.

Jasper had other ideas though.  He still wanted to tell a story about a train, but he decided it was going to be ‘more like the Dr Bones Bump in the Night’ story (another Alan Ahlberg one) and the trains were going to thunder down the track and bump into each other. In the end, there was of Thomas the Tank Engine too!  I asked him why there was so much thunder in his story and he replied that we’d a lot of thunder recently so the trains probably had some too! I couldn’t argue with that! And isn’t it just another example of the power of nature?!

Here’s the finished version:

Image‘Once upon a time there was a train and its name was Thomas.  He had another friend called Percy. ImageAnd they had some more friends.  One was Gordon, one was Henry, one was Edward, one was James.  They did a chug around chasing each other.  Another train called Hero bumped into them.  And then he chugged back.  He bumped into the track so hard he stopped.  Then there was a big thundering noise.  It wasn’t thunder, it was Gordon chasing the trains past hero. Then was another thunder but it wasn’t thunder, it was Spencer. They all had to go back to their sheds.’






World of your imagination – where has our love of reading gone?

I love books. 

Absolutely, utterly, completely adore them.  I could quite happily spend every waking minute devouring stories; flicking through pages, inhaling that new (or old!) book smell.  It never fails to thrill me that inside every cover exists another world: Worlds of adventure, mystifying magical lands, heart-wrenching tales and bellies full of laughter.

When I was pregnant, I used to read children’s stories to the bump.  I’d sing nursery rhymes, poems and create my own tales hoping to somehow instill this love of reading and stories into my unborn child.  If a fetus recognises its mother’s voice, then who is to say it can’t develop a love of literature too? That was my outward reasoning anyway although I suspect it had more to do with the fact that it gave me a perfect excuse to read some old childhood favourites!

We read to Jasper from the moment he was born – I used to breastfeed whilst reading aloud Christopher Robin’s adventures in the 100 acre wood.  He had a few bedtime stories that we’d read over and over again and other stories that we would dip in and out of.  He’d squeal with delight when animals would hide in forests, children would run and hide under beds and various creatures began their eipc adventures in the big, wide world.

We borrow books from the library regularly.  Jasper now rushes in desperate to find what’s hiding inside the shelves, searching for whatever he wants to read about that day.  My amazon basket is always full of books I think he’d like to share together and now, those he may be able to just start to read himself.  My favourite way to buy books though, is in a bookshop.  I know they’re cheaper online and I know we need to keep our libraries open and in order to do that, we need to visit them.  We complain they’re not stocked with the latest releases, that half the pages are missing and if you can manage to find what you want, it’s usually already on loan and you have to wait 6 weeks for the last borrower to return it.

Oh, but there’s something about a bookshop.  Sliding your fingers across the spines of freshly printed books, the rush you feel when you find a book by your favourite author that you have somehow managed to miss.  The excitement  when you notice that all paperbacks are on ‘buy one get one half price’ – you feel perfectly justified in spending money you don’t have on books you don’t technically *need* and end up buying bags full.  I don’t mean to sound frivolous, I’m not in any other way but with books, I just can’t help myself.  They’re like the purest form of escapism, new friends you care desperately about and can’t stop thinking about, long after you’ve closed the book at its final page.  Sometimes you even forget that the characters are just that. Characters.

I’m almost certain – I hope I’m certain, that my love of reading has been passed on to Jasper.  It’s the best gift I feel I could have given him.  He dances a jig when he is given a new book, he stares longingly at the pictures of other covers in the back of books he already has, wondering what joys he may find within their pages and begs to hear stories over and over again.

When we’re waiting for an appointment and other children around us are playing on their mother’s phones, Jasper will ask me to make up stories for him and sometimes I’ll ask him to make them up for me.  He’s three so of course has had very little (if any!) formal teaching yet he uses such descriptive vocabulary, he draws his listeners in – he gives voices to his characters, he uses adjectives and imagery.  Have I taught him this? Of course not.  Books have.

He sees us reading all the time because we genuinely love it.  Our house is full of books, they’re everywhere.  I have bought a kindle (as a space saver!) but I’ll never stop buying books.  Each one like a little treasure.

What saddens me though, and I mean deeply not merely in passing, is that something seems to have happened to our love of reading.  I teach primary school and we’re constantly bombarded with new initiatives to try to persuade children to read – let them watch the film, I hear; give them stories full of action; let them read comics; read an email or even a text.  I’m not suggesting for a second that everyone finds the physical act of reading easy (and hence perhaps not enjoyable) but a good story is magical.  No one can dispute that.

At home, we act out stories – we go into the woods on a bear hunt – perhaps red riding hood will be behind a tree or we’ll find the Gruffalo trudging along with a mouse.  We read Alan Ahlberg’s classic ‘The Ghost Train’ in honour of Halloween week and decided to go on a steam train to make up our own version.  Everywhere you go is the setting for a story, every incident the start of a wild adventure.  But so many of us would rather watch a film or play a computer game.

Recently, I was listening to John Suchet on classic fm.  He was talking about a performance of one of Haydn’s symphonies and how the interpretation had involved almost slapstick comedy while the orchestra played.  Before playing the symphony on air, he said he wasn’t able to fully describe the performance and that the listener would instead need to use their imagination as they listened. “Radio,” he said, “is better than television because the pictures are in your own imagination.”  He didn’t say this exactly (my memory fails me!), but that was the gist.  And isn’t it just the same with books?

So where has our love of reading gone?  Isn’t it about time it came back?



Five Minute Friday: Grace

It’s my second week of Lisa-Jo Baker‘s Five Minute Friday and this week the word is ‘Grace’

So here goes:

I recently watched this beautiful video by Shaun Lichti entitled ‘What she taught Me.’  The video shows Shaun, a young man who was home educated, reflecting on the love of reading instilled in him by his mum.  It was, he says, the snuggling on the couch reading stories, listening to her voice for hours, which made him want to emerge himself in the magical world of story.

When I first saw it, I cried.  Tears streamed down my face and it made me think of all the things I want to achieve as a mother for Jasper.  I want him to be happy; I want him to remember that I had time to play with him; to join in with him and not just shout at him not to get dirty, to tidy his room or wash his hands in time for tea.  I want to give him the opportunities to try everything and find what it is that he really loves; to help him not be afraid to speak his mind and to have courage in his own convictions.  I want him to be well-mannered and considerate; to be open-minded and polite; to always try his best and approach everything positively.

As I thought about these things, I thought about my own mum.  My lovely mum.  I argue with my mum a lot.  Not seriously, we’ve always had a fiery relationship and we make-up as quickly as we’ve fallen out, usually several times in a minute.  I complain that she doesn’t listen, she complains that I’m too critical.  But whatever our disagreements, I know this.  Everything I want for Jasper is based on what she taught me; what she showed me to try to be.  She was never afraid to be different, she doesn’t follow a crowd. She’d wait in the car for hours with a baby for me to finish my piano lesson; she’d spend all her evenings in a freezing swimming pool (no doubt with us screaming) whilst we all took turns to have swimming lessons.  She played with us- really played.  In the late eighties when we were growing up, it was the time when all the risk-aversion was just starting.  Was it safe to play outside?  Should you really make dens in the wood?  My mum said yes and we had a fantastic childhood.

Long before we had the internet, she’d spent hours scouring bookshops and newspapers, looking for stories we’d enjoy.  She was a whirlwind – whizzing all over town in her white metro, giving her children the best chance she could.

And the thing about my mum?  Unlike me, she does it all with grace.  I’m a tad shouty, I’m volatile, I’m opinionated and I swear too much (although hopefully not in front of Jasper).  Whenever people meet my mum though, they always comment, no one fails to notice.  She smiles; she connects with everyone; she’s well spoken and she’s kind.  Although she speaks her mind, she’s careful not to offend.  She’s sweet; she’s thoughtful; she’s beautiful but she doesn’t know it.

My mum is Grace.

Pumpkin fun for young children

My son is 3 and he’s just starting to get really excited about Halloween.  Last year, we went to a party but he just saw it as a Imagechance to dress up, whereas this year, he’s been hunting for ghouls in the cupboard and ghosties lurking behind corners all week.

This morning (at 5am when he got up!) we decided to carve our pumpkins.  I’ve seen some fantastically intricate ones all over the internet; some are truly breath-taking and must have taken the creators hours upon hours of careful carving!

It got me thinking though.  Jasper was filled with enthusiasm and desperate to create his own spooky pumpkin but – although I am keen for kids to have a go and think health and safety has become utterly ludicrous – there was no way I was letting a 3 year old loose with a vegetable knife or even help me to carve.

So what could I do?  I wanted the pumpkins to be his, not mine but I also didn’t fancy a trip to a&e to have his fingers sewn back on.  That would be taking today’s gore a little too far.  After a little thinking, I came up with some ways to involve Jasper properly (but safely!).

Here are my top tips:

(1) The design

Halloween is all about the spooky so we played a little game to see who could pull the scariest face.  We experimented with sounds too – we howled like werewolves, cackled like witches and roared like monsters. ImageImage We pulled out our tongues, bared our teeth, scowled.  You name it, we did it! We then decided which was the scariest and decided that these would be the faces we tried to create on our pumpkins.  Then, with a dry-wipe pen (and after we’d done all the scraping), Jasper drew the design onto the pumpkin ready for me to carve.

(2) The scraping

The great thing for little ones with pumpkins is all the sensory fun they can have.  Inside the hard shell is a world of slime and string; hard, flat seeds buried in oozing flesh.  Wonderful at any time of year, but when you’re already in the spooky mood, the possibilities for exploring vocabulary in addition to experiencing different textures are immense.

ImageSo, Jasper had drawn the circle on the top of the pumpkin (he’d explained to me that it wasn’t a proper circle, the shape wasn’t correct and that because the pumpkin was bumpy, he had struggled to draw it!) and I’d carved around his shape.  He then tugged the lid off and we talked about why it was difficult to do even though I’d carved and he commented it was a bit like tugging vegetables out of the ground.  He thought it was funny that you had to tug a pumpkin lid off when you didn’t have just had to snip it off the plant in the first place (we’d grown our own earlier in the year!).  Then we scraped  the stringy bits, we scooped seeds with fingers – we essentially just had a great old time squashing and squeezing!

(3) The carving

Now, this is the part where I didn’t let him join in.  I don’t know, perhaps there are safe tools you can get so the kids can have a go themselves but as I said, all I had was a vegetable knife.  I didn’t want to lose the Halloween mood though, so I put some spooky music on (Ghostbusters, Monster etc) and Jasper had a boogie around the other side of the room pretending to be a vampire which is what he’s going to dress up as later, whilst I did the carving! When I’d finished, I lit the tea-lights and turned off the lights but I let him blow them out when we’d finished.

(4) The aftermath

Earlier in the week, we went to the woods to collect out autumn objects for out nature table.  They are still drying in the airing cupboard (check back soon to see the end result) but Jasper suggested we add the pumpkin seeds to the mix.  So when scraping, we sorted the seeds into one bowl and the flesh into another.  I’m sure we’re going to have a great time with the seeds – I’m thinking sorting, counting, planting, stacking…. but I didn’t want to just throw the flesh out either.  As we’d grown our own pumpkins, I was hoping to be able to use these for carving and cook the insides but they just didn’t last long enough so we ate those a while ago.  Our carving pumpkins are from the supermarket and when we’ve eaten them in previous years, they’ve been, although edible, bitter and stringy.  Perhaps they’re bred for tough carving flesh or carving – I don’t know!

ImageAnyway, I still wanted to do something with the insides, so I spread them all out thickly on a baking tray (you could use a bowl though or any container really) and buried some little toys, foil, money and keys underneath.  I blindfolded Jasper and he dig through the mix to see what he could find.  This was a brilliant activity for him thinking of the textures and shape of objects – what did it feel like?  What could it be if it was smooth, shiny, made of metal etc! It was particularly interesting when he found chunky bits of carved skin and had to squeeze to see whether it was pumpkin or the hidden treasure.

Happy Halloween everyone!

8 ways to have fun outdoors – our Monday wild time!

ImageLuckily, in Manchester, we haven’t been affected very much at all by the severe storm last night.  Yes, it’s a bit wet and yes, there are a few leaves blowing about the place, but that’s about it.  Let’s face it, it’s autumn and what better time is there than to get out there in the great outdoors and investigate the season?

We had a wonderful morning, full of adventure and excitement so here are our top tips for braving the weather (unless you’re in an area severely hit by the storm of course!) and having a good old time:

1.        Embrace the weather

In my opinion, if you hang around waiting for a sunny day especially if you live in Manchester, you might wait for years before you ever get outside.  Nature is different all through the year and even within a season, depending on how late the winter frost disappeared, how wet the summer was and whether the squirrels have already hidden all the conkers you were searching for – so why not just get out there and enjoy it?  Stick on your waterproofs, pull your wellies up, fill a flask with warming hot chocolate and just get out there! We decided, that as the rain was pretty torrential, we would try to taste it.  Did the rain taste different when it filtered through the canopy of trees ahead?  How did it feel when it rushed into your mouth when a sudden gust of wind thrust a load into your mouth?  What if you lick it off your hand?  Jasper and I lay on the floor (yes in the dirt!) looking at the sky, mouths open and just let the rain fall in.  Not only did this really give us the chance to really think about rain, but we had a great time watching the clouds blow across the sky and watch the odd bit of sunshine stream in through the treetops, lighting up the woodland floor.

2.       Go on a treasure hunt


Who can resist a treasure hunt, especially when you discover all sorts of autumn treasures to fill your nature table when back at home?  Last night, I drew maps of the woodland (from memory so they were pretty sketchy and certainly not to scale) and Jasper and I used the landmarks to navigate our way through the paths.  I had found pictures of horse chestnut, oak and fir trees together with photographs of their leaves (or needles!) and nuts.  We searched for the various objects and collected them up, noting that some leaves were still a vibrant green, some were brown and withered and others, according to Jasper, had been “munched” at! We found tonnes of acorns and oak leaves, but although we found plenty of horse chestnut leaves and conker shells, the conkers themselves had vanished.  We decided that either the squirrels had scurried away with them all or children had already found them.  We thought it was more likely to have been the children as the floor was littered with acorns.  No pine cones though – we’ll have to hunt again next time!

3.       Make friends with the dirt


It saddens me that people are so frightened of dirt.  A bit of dirt (to me!) is a good thing – it helps you build an immunity; it’s a great way to explore texture (think about how different mud feels when it’s slippy and slidy to when it’s cracked and caked on your hands).  It’s like the ultimate play-dough.  If you’re that worried, take a few baby-wipes, making sure of course to bin them or take them home again, but let’s be honest, that’s what hot baths are for!  Jasper and I found a steep hill which we thought we’d have a go at climbing.  It was caked in oozing mud, there were hardly any foot-holes but we had a go anyway.  Of course we slid right back down again until Jasper found some tree roots we could grab onto to pull ourselves up.  Nature is a fantastic way to introduce children to problem-solving skills and encourage that ‘have-a-go’ personality and if you’re more bothered about a bit of dirt, you miss all those fantastic opportunities.  Trust me, once you’ve face palmed a muddy puddle, you don’t mind so much anymore!

 4.       Make a den


Nature is full of hidden places to make dens – under fallen trees, inside caves (as long as they aren’t likely to fill with water) and the autumn/winter time is the perfect time to build one.  Snuggle up and listen to the rain drumming outside whilst wrapping your muddy hands around a mug of hot chocolate.  Knowing the woods quite well, I knew there weren’t too many natural den making places around although there were some sheltered areas, so we took a waterproof sheet, some tarpaulin and string.  We found heavy objects to weigh the sheet down and arrange the tarpaulin around a fallen tree, fastening it with some string.  Again, we made sure to take it all away with us.  It’s currently stinking out the boot of the car but I’m sure we’ll get plenty more den making fun out of it!


5.       Be a big kid!


I’m a firm believer that modelling behaviour makes all the difference with children.  How can we expect our children to try anything or even enjoy anything unless we’re prepared to have a go ourselves?  Kids are so intuitive and they pick up everything from the people around them so if we want them to get back to nature, we have to do it ourselves.  With this in mind, I decided to have a go at mud-sliding.  I haven’t had so much fun in years.  Pretty soon, Jasper joined in too and the 2 of us were rolling round in the mud, squelching, sliding – having a ball much to the bemusement of some local joggers.  We also found a rope swing.  It was quite high up and Jasper was a little reluctant at first to have a go.  I jumped on, slipped and landed right on my bottom in a huge patch of mud.  This was all the encouragement Jasper needed.  He did fall, opened his mouth and started to cry a bit – but then when he saw me giggling my head off (I knew he wasn’t hurt, I checked first!) he joined in and was desperate to get right back on again.


 6.       Chase each other


There’s nothing as exhilarating as running just because you can.  Not because you need to be at work, back for the delivery-man or for any other reason at all.  Just because you want to feel the fresh air in your lungs and the wind in your hair.  This was my favourite bit of the morning; running around with my son and hearing him laugh.  Not just giggle, or find something slightly amusing but laugh with pure joy and freedom.

 7.       Play pooh-sticks

If you need a bit of a rest, why not find a bridge and throw some leaves and twigs into the water?  Jasper and I spent a fabulous half an hour which ended up with him investigating all about density and current flow.  We talked about the way the stream might take the sticks and the adventures they might have.  Yes, it’s a calmer activity, less wild but still marvelling at everything the outdoors has to offer us!

 8.       Splash!

As adults, we spend so much time telling our children not to splash in the puddles.  “Don’t get wet, make sure the water doesn’t go over your wellies, make sure you don’t splash me!” I do this myself.  All the time.  But this morning, it was so wet and there were puddles everywhere (and of course, I was covered in mud anyway) and I just thought why not?! And it was ace.  We charged through brooks, investigated who could make the biggest splash.  Jasper had a stick which he decided was his “grabber” and he used it to pretend to help him jump from one side of a gigantic puddle to the “island” at the other side.  Once he realised, he could splash to his heart’s content, the narrative and imagination he used in his play was phenomenal. 

And isn’t that just the thing with nature?  It takes away the boundaries, it gives us the freedom to express ourselves, to play, to be filled with enjoyment and develop a sense of adventure.  So yes, I know it’s wet but that doesn’t mean it has to be miserable.  Get out there and have fun.  I’d love to know how you get on!



Five minute Friday: Together. In an age of social media, why are we less connected than ever?

Happiness in Learning

I haven’t seen these challenges Lisa Jo Baker but have today found her wonderful encouraging site through the equally encouraging Called to be Home.  I’m not a Christian myself but I find the posts on Called to be Home inspirational and love reading about the activities and learning that goes on in her household.

Challenge:  To write for 5 minutes, unedited about the word given.  This week the topic is:  TOGETHER

Anyway, timer is ready to start so here goes…

Together is a word that conjures up ideas of closeness:  A family snuggled together on a couch, babes in their mother’s arms, solidarity, loyalty.  It suggests a united stance, a bond.  Connectedness.

Yet it can so easily hide the truth, the sadness behind.  We talk about families who have stayed together, somewhat of a rarity in these days of broken homes, but we constantly hear stories on the news…

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Five minute Friday: Together. In an age of social media, why are we less connected than ever?

I haven’t seen these challenges Lisa Jo Baker but have today found her wonderful encouraging site through the equally encouraging Called to be Home.  I’m not a Christian myself but I find the posts on Called to be Home inspirational and love reading about the activities and learning that goes on in her household.

Challenge:  To write for 5 minutes, unedited about the word given.  This week the topic is:  TOGETHER

Anyway, timer is ready to start so here goes…

Together is a word that conjures up ideas of closeness:  A family snuggled together on a couch, babes in their mother’s arms, solidarity, loyalty.  It suggests a united stance, a bond.  Connectedness.

Yet it can so easily hide the truth, the sadness behind.  We talk about families who have stayed together, somewhat of a rarity in these days of broken homes, but we constantly hear stories on the news about families who never eat together.  I read recently that 25% of British families don’t have a dining table.  Now of course they might eat at the breakfast bar or on the couch (although then of course, the tv is likely to be blaring out) but the reality is that so many families don’t sit together.  In days gone by, the family would make the effort to sit together at meal times.  It was the one time when everyone could catch up with everyone else.  What happened in everyone’s day?  Did anyone hear about that story on the news?  Who was really proud of an achievement or upset about something?  Cynicism leads me to believe that even if a lot of families were to sit together, most would communicate more through their mobile phones in a series of lols and winky faces rather than engage in any quality discussion with the family.

I hear shouts of, “But we talk all the time, we live together for goodness’ sake.  So what if we don’t eat together – our mouths are full, we wouldn’t chat!” But in an ever time deficient society, parents, spouses, children so often seem to pass each other like ships in the night.  Ships that are perhaps on opposite sides of a vast ocean.

Kids don’t want to be seen with their parents and parents sadly, don’t often want to be seen with their kids.  In lots of authorities in England, half term starts today and I have heard desperate cries from many parents.  “Why do they need a break?  They have only just gone back after the summer! Roll on a-week-on-monday!”

Have we forgotten what together means?  Do so many of us spend so little quality time together that the mere suggestion of it frightens us so we avoid it at all costs.  How ironic that with the boom in technology, the constantly expanding network of social media and other means of staying connected, that we are actually less together than ever!