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!)

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  • 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.’

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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?

 

 

Decline in imagination as number of lego figures rise?

Normally, I’m not a big fan of plastic toys as they tend to be designed with a particular purpose in my mind which seems to stifle rather than expand the imagination.  Lego is different though.  Not only does it develop fine motor skills but each brick is filled with endless possibilities.  It can be part of a rocket, a car, a castle or even a dog!

Yesterday my husband showed me an article which predicts that by 2016 lego figures will outnumber humans.  If scientists at the University of Virginia are correct, there could be 8 billions lego figures on the planet in 6 years time. 

Our house is full of lego.  And I mean full.  My husband has perhaps more lego than Jasper but as I’ve said already, I think it is fantastic.  Don’t get me wrong, I complain when pieces are sucked into my hoover or a brick slides up underneath my big toe nail but in an age when we are surrounding with technology and cheap plastic which seems to be used as a baby-sitter rather than to engage our children, I think it is great that we are embracing the more traditional toys.

However, I have this morning read a lot of comments on several articles about the increase in the lego figure population.  Hardly any of them seem to talk about the value of lego, building bricks etc as toys to develop the imagination together with thinking and problem skills.  Instead, I have seen comments from people determined to collect them all and display them in little cabinets; people who said they might get rid of all their bricks and models they have built in favour of these collectible items. 

Now, I’m not against collecting things.  Of course, I’m not.  What better way to develop patience, self-amusement and to learn the value of things?  But what I am against, in a world where everything has to be a gadget, is that lego instead of being filled with excitement, narrative and expansion of the soul, will become hidden behind a class shelf whilst we continue to play with our tablets.