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Amazing Baby: Rainbow Fun

It’s time to have some rainbow fun! Let’s meet the colours, one by one”

This bright little book is part of the Amazing Baby range of books and toys.

It’s a board book, and each page has a circle cut out of it of ever decreasing size.  Each one is a colour of the rainbow, has an object and a line of a poem.

see the red flowers growing from the ground…

watch the orange fish swimming round and round”

This is a bright, well-designed and educational book.  The last page acts like a baby plenary, going back over the colours with a nice bright rainbow in the centre.  It’s got such potential, it is irksome that indigo and violet have been subsumed into a single page as ‘purple’.  If you are going to teach the colours of the rainbow, why teach them wrongly? To be fair, purple is a more useful colour and word to learn, but it is something that will need un-learning later on.

In addition, neither the title of the series, the book, or any of the lines in it use capital letters.  Rainbow fun may be aimed at babies of 6 months plus but visually there is no need to avoid capital letters.  I suspect the argument is that when learning letter shapes it is better to start with lower case, but realistically babies of 6 months are not learning their letters.  What they will be doing is seeing the words on the page and can only be helped by seeing the appropriate large shape at the start of each sentence.  It’s a minor thing, but a niggle.

A really good little book, but could have been better.

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Eyes, nose, toes Peekaboo!

This is a great baby book from Dorling Kindersley.

On each left hand page is a photograph of a baby and a question, for example, “Where are Dinosaur’s toes?”  On the right is a picture of the dinosaur with a blanket over his feet.  This partially cut-out page flips open to show his toes, which are made of padded sparkly material and very squishable.  You can see the fully unfolded page below.

After you find Dolly’s eyes, Teddy’s nose, Rabbit’s ears, and Dinosaur’s toes, on the final page is a baby with her hands over her eyes who flips open to say ‘Peekaboo!’.  The end of the book invites you to point to your own eyes, nose, ears and toes.

These are very popular with babies and toddlers and it is easy to see why.  The photos and text are on a plain white background, minimising fuss and creating strong contrasts.  The toys photographed are beautiful objects in their own right (the doll has little knitted fingers covering her eyes) and the baby pictures will encourage children to engage and interact with the book.  The flaps are also nearly a whole page in size making them robust and also easy to fix if they do come loose.  It is short, simple, and well-designed.

The simple text and questions and the invitation to point to your own features at the end makes this an idea way for babies to enjoy learning about themselves.

Dorling Kindersley rarely disappoint, and this series (there are a number of others) is no exception.  Pretty, fun, and educational: an ideal early book.

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Why books?

I’m assuming if you are reading this you are already someone who reads with your child.  So in a way, this post may be redundant.  But it does no harm to remind ourselves why reading is so important.  When the days are busy, particularly when you have more than one child at home, reading can be sidelined.  If you’re not asked, sometimes it’s difficult to be the one who takes the book off the shelf and makes that suggestion.

So, why should we read with our children?  Here are lots of good reasons:

1. Bonding

Note the use of ‘with’, not ‘to’.  Reading is a bonding activity which two (or more!) people do together.  When you read with someone, you are sharing an experience.  If nothing else, reading is an excuse (as if one were needed!) to cuddle up on a chair and do something productive.  Some children are not naturally cuddly, in which case a book can be a great excuse for getting close together.  Snuggling up also helps to associate positive feelings with books and reading – you could even have a special ‘story chair’ or cushion!

2. Learning ‘book’ rules

Children don’t arrive in this world with an innate knowledge of how books work.  Reading helps teach them which bit is the cover, where to find a title, how to read from left to right, how to turn pages… This may be the era of Kindles and iPads and the internet but books are still going to have a place in the world, the classroom and the workplace for a while to come.

3. Have experiences of the wider world in your own home

Unless you are rich and blessed with infinite amounts of free time, you cannot regularly take children to the city, the countryside, the farm, the zoo, the beach, and on holiday.  But by reading about them you can give children at least a taste of what’s out there, giving them the vocabulary and a sense of what to expect.

4. Vocabulary

The more words children are exposed to at a young age, the larger their vocabulary as they grow – fairly obvious, really!  But it’s not always easy to vary your own language on a day-to-day basis.  Reading exposes children (and you) to more words than you might otherwise use.  (Read Click Clack Moo and your toddler may even drop ‘ultimatum’ into casual conversation!)

5. Exposing them to written language

To write well, children have to learn the difference between spoken and written language rules.  Literacy teaching these days tries to explain this (which is frankly pretty difficult, even at secondary level, and should really be left well alone) but the easiest way is to make sure that children get just as much exposure to the written word as they do to the spoken.

6. Narrative structure

Even books without words can teach children about narrative structure and understanding the basics of organising a text.  Readers learn about beginnings, middles and endings, about what makes something full of suspense, and when something seems unfinished.

7. Cultural heritage

Language and culture are closely interlinked.  Through reading children can learn about their own culture and about cultures different from their own.  They can also form a new culture based on the books you’ve shared as a family.  This will become something you refer back to in years to come, so be prepared for “Mum, do you remember that book? What was it called?” Many fond memories are based in books.

8. Logical thinking skills

Even picture books for very young children require interpretation and consideration.  Reading helps to develop  these logical thinking skills and through asking the right questions you can take this even further.  Instead of asking closed (yes or no, or ‘point-to-the-object’ questions), ask open questions: “how do you think this character feels?” or “what do you think will happen next?”

9. You can comment and interact

Children’s television often shows stories, and you can buy plenty of audio books, but nothing beats reading ‘live’.  The reason is that televisions can’t listen.  They can’t vary their pace to suit your child.  They won’t stop and explain the difficult words, or repeat things that sound interesting.   Even if you think your reading voice is awful, it is better than anything else because it is yours.

10. Show them that books are important

Giving books a place in your life shows your child that you respect books and that they are valued.  When you give books a special home like a shelf, or a box, when you treat them carefully and look after them, and of course when you read them, you are demonstrating that these strange cardboad things are important.

11. Learning lifeskills

Books are a great way to teach specific skills or to prepare for particular experiences.  There are lots of books about potty-training, eating, going to bed, going to the zoo, going to the dentist, seeing the doctor, losing a pet, etc.  They can be really effective at helping children deal with new situations or difficulties.

12. Concentration

Learning to sit quietly and listen is great preparation for school.  Enjoying and concentrating on pictures whilst listening to the words is a good antidote to the frenetic busy life that most toddlers lead – and to the lively television that they watch!  That said, don’t push it.  Don’t force a child to sit still and listen or you will just put them off. Always make reading pleasurable, and if they won’t sit still, try another day.

13. Bedtime routine

Reading a story at bedtime is a great way to wind-down before bed.  Most children sleep better with a consistent bedtime routine; a book is a lovely way to end the day and to calm them down.  Choose your books wisely, however.  For the sensitive, books about monsters or scary happenings are best avoided, and for the excitable, read something sedate. For some suggestions, have a look at the books listed under the ‘bedtime’ category.

14. Speech, language and communication skills

Books both model good communication skills and develop them by allowing you to interact as you read together.  And it’s no surprise that children who are read to tend to develop better speech skills that those that aren’t.  The exposure to language makes a real difference to how children express themselves.

15. Word recognition

Reading begins as a passive activity – with being read to.  Listening to you read a book, children start to recognise the visual image of the words.  Although most teaching of reading is now based on phonics, most children read at least some words by recognising the outline of the word on the page.

16. Phonological awareness

Reading together helps children understand the sounds that make up language.  And the more clearly you read the better.  It doesn’t matter what your accent is, but slowing down and making each sound as clear as possible will help children when they come to learning how to spell.

17. Appreciating good writing

The best way of learning the difference between good and bad writing, and, as importantly, what kinds of writing they do and don’t like, is for children to experience as much of it as possible.  It doesn’t matter how many reports, information texts and leaflets about tourism in the Maldives they are told to produce at school, what will shape their knowledge – and hopefully love – of literature is the books they have read.  From Julia Donaldson to Jane Austen or Jack Kerouac.  From Eric Carle to Charles Dickens – via Roald Dahl.

DON’T STOP DOING IT.

When your child learns to read, it is not a sign that you should stop reading to them.  Hearing you read will improve their own confidence and skills and allow them to appreciate more difficult texts.  It will encourage them to get better at reading and will continue the enjoyment of that shared experience with you.  Even teenagers in school enjoy having books read to them, so don’t stop until you have to – perhaps when they leave for college!

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Topsy and Tim: The New Baby

Topsy and Tim first appeared in 1960 and there are now over 130 titles.  These were all relaunched in 2003, so although their names now seem outdated the books now look contemporary once more (this bookworm remembers puzzling over Topsy and Tim as a child when they had to put their clothes into wire shopping baskets at the swimming pool, a practice which was long dead even in the 1980s!).

Most of the titles deal with things that children are likely to deal with in real life, such as visiting the dentist, going swimming, or <shudder> “Topsy and Tim have itchy heads”…  This one, clearly, is designed for young children who are about to welcome a new sibling.

In simple terms this is not an exciting book.  Topsy and Tim visit their friend Tony, whose Mum is pregnant.  They bring some clothes over for the baby and feel her tummy.  Later, at school, Tony announces that he has a baby brother called Jack, and a few days after he comes home from the hospital Topsy and Tim goes to visit him.  They witness the basics of baby care, give the little one a cuddle, and then go home.  The simple text is fairly dull and pedestrian.

However, there is much more to this little book than meets the eye, as it creates a great deal of potential for discussion with children old enough to explore ideas.  For toddlers, simple information such as the baby will need feeding, changing, bathing and be likely to cry “a lot” is sufficient.  However, more complex issues are also addressed.  At the beginning, Topsy says “I hope it’s a girl”.  It isn’t – but it gives parents a chance to talk about the surprise of the baby’s gender.   When the baby cries, they talk about why, and Tony’s Mum eventually feeds Jack.  Bottle feeding is still more common in books so it is nice that in this edition Tony’s Mum is actually breastfeeding.  While she is doing this Tony asks for a drink as well, and gets some cartons of orange juice, showing the difference between what babies and bigger children eat and drink.   At bathtime Tony refuses to help, and is drawn looking rather sullen, but when Jack cries he joins in and cheers the baby up by sprinkling water on his toes.  This results in a big hug from his Mum.  As Topsy and Tim leave, Topsy says how lucky Tony is to have a little brother – and Tim replies that Jack is lucky to have a big brother like Tony.

Despite its simplicity, this is a very good book for those looking for something to help their child understand that a new sibling is arriving.  It is both realistic and positive, and allows for a lot of exploratory chat about a momentous event in any young child’s life.