For last week’s book+activity session I held at the girls’ school we read and played aliens. First up was a new book by Sue Hendra, Wanda’s Space Party.
For Wanda’s birthday treat, her friend, the alien, takes Wanda to his planet for a special space party. Wanda is amazed by all the new things she sees on the way to the party and the different ways things are done on her friend’s planet. But will she like the what her friend has prepared for her birthday celebration? Or will alien customs be all a little too… well, alien for Wanda?
With her trademark gorgeously bright, bold, modern and zingy illustrations (which look oh so ripe for adaptation to tv animation – think Octonauts, which has a not dissimilar aesthetic) Sue Hendra has written a lovely story about differences and similarities across customs and cultures. Kids will enjoy the apparently far-out traditions on the alien’s planet (such as brushing your toes instead of your teeth before you go to bed). On a more serious note, it provides an easy route in to talking about how we’re not all the same, and that such differences are enriching rather than threatening.
Next we read Colin McNaughton’s The Aliens are Coming (I think originally recommended by a reader of this blog, but I can’t track down who it was – thank you to whoever you are!).
An alien invasion has been launched. All sorts of aliens are heading this way; wobbly ones, two-headed ones, ones that have eyeballs stuck on stalks, the list goes on… It’s a terrifying prospect! But as the aliens approach and catch sight of us, the readers, what do they do? What do they see? Who is more frightened? Us or them?
This book is so much fun to read aloud! It’s told in rollicking rhyme so the words just bounce along and the illustrations are hilarious (even when trying to be scary). The yuck factor is just right (with squelching, smelly gases and some burping) and the denouement is perfect – [spoiler alert] the penultimate page has a mirror in it, so we can see what the aliens see… and what they see is enough to stop the attack and get them retreating back to outer space. The listening kids emerge as the victors, more mighty and powerful than a whole host of extra terrestrial life forms. Hurray!
For our session at school we had several different activities on offer after reading the books (all photos below are from the dry run I did at home with M and J as I’m not allowed to take photos in school). Kids could make alien spaceships out of foil plates and plastic bowls, decorated with permanent pens and stickers.
They could choose to make aliens out of (homemade) playdough.
There was the chance to make Wanda style aliens out of pingpong balls using this very lovely tutorial from Sue Hendra herself.
I’ve been doing book+activity sessions at the girls’ infant school on a regular basis since September. I’m a volunteer, and - this is the most important thing - you could be too! Have you ever thought about offering to read to classes at your kids’ school? At a local playgroup or Rainbows/beavers group?
Most schools/organisations will be delighted to have a parent volunteer and it’s a hugely rewarding way to spread your love of books. By volunteering, kids get to see “normal” adults loving books. They may not see this at home, and whilst having a teacher enthusiastic about reading for pleasure is definitely what I want for all kids, my experience has been that kids are especially delighted to see an adult who is not a teacher (and therefore has no obligation to do what they are doing) enthuse about books. It gives books a new legitimacy. It shows a respect for books that kids may not have seen before.
Since September experience has taught me that the books (and crafts) which work well at home are not necessarily the same as those which work well in school. Here are a selection of tips for choosing books which will work well in a group setting:
Other tips for reading to groups include
A whole host of us on Twitter came up with this selection of tips. My thanks to @MsTick68, @BhamLibrarian, @lainasparetime, @Tracy_SBT, @theliteracytree, @Alibrarylady, @madgiemadge, @StoryPhones, @simon1972, @ClicketyBooksEd, @aitcheldee, @MrsBrownsBooks and @CazApr1 for sharing all their ideas with me.
So much for the “how” of choosing books to read to groups of kids. But what about the “why”?
I recently took the Bookstart 20 pledge, to share at least 20 books with children this year. Volunteering at the girls’ school is an important way for me to share books with kids who may not be growing up in such a book-rich environment as my girls. Spreading a love of books brings brightness to my days. It makes me hugely happy, but what would make me even happier is if one of you felt inspired to approach your local school/club/playgroup to offer to read. It could change your life. It will definitely enrich the lives of others.
Disclosure: I received my copy of Wanda’s Space Party from the publishers. This review, however, reflects my own and honest opinion.