Playing by the book

Reviews of kids' books and the crazy, fun stuff they inspire us to do

Help your child love reading

Posted on | September 4, 2014 | 17 Comments

Seeing as you’re reading this blog I’m willing to bet that you hope the children in your life will develop a love of reading.

But is hope good enough?

What practical steps can you take to encourage a lifelong passion for books?

indexHelp your Child Love Reading: A Parent’s Guide by Alison David provides interesting, forthright answers to this question. It is written in an accessible, encouraging way, full of clear lists of “Dos and Don’ts” and real-life Q&As from parents looking for reading advice.

David outlines concrete suggestions to help create a reading culture within your family, with targeted strategies for each age range; 4 core chapters focus on the 0-4s, 5-7s, 8-11, and finally 12-16s. The focus is solely on reading for enjoyment and is not about the technicalities of learning to read. And it is about reading for pleasure in a family setting; whilst teachers and librarians may also want to read this book, it is written primarily with the parent in mind.

The most important message for me in David’s book is about a glorious side effect of promoting an enthusiastic reading culture at home; reading acts as family glue, enabling better, deeper and easier relations between parent and child. She rightly quotes from research showing the benefits to the child who loves reading. Not only does that child have an enriched interior world, enlivened imagination, strengthened empathy and better self-understanding, there is also a measurable positive impact on that child’s academic achievement. Yet it is David’s novel focus on family reading as a tool for building strong families that I found most exciting; it’s a message I hadn’t heard loudly before, but one which really resonated with me.

A key plank of David’s approach to helping your child love reading is the restriction of screen time. I am 100% with her on this (for my family it has been a very deliberate decision to have no TV, no smart phone, no Wii or tablet at home), but I do wonder if some families may find the vigour of her arguments unpalatable, or at least (perceived to be) impractical and a challenge to follow through. Again I’m with David who believes parents can and should set firm boundaries (though where these are located will vary from family to family) and I hope parents who read this book will feel empowered to do so. I’d love to hear what you think about screentime and its interaction with reading.

Another area where David argues very clearly for a particular strategy (and one I haven’t seen so enthusiastically promoted in other reading-for-pleasure books) is when it comes to co-reading. Co-reading, ie where parent and child alternate reading aloud, is clearly something David and her son have enjoyed and so it is no surprise she strongly recommends it. I, however, don’t share her position on this.

Co-reading has always been an unpleasant experience for me and my kids (I shall admit that more often than not I have “forgotten” to make M and J do their reading aloud set by school). When I read aloud to my girls I want it to be an unadulterated pleasure for them, and asking them to read a paragraph or a chapter aloud before I continue strikes me as punitary. Of course IF your child wants to read aloud, be happy to listen to them, but I’d debate with David as to how essential it is as a device to foster a love for reading.

[If anyone can point me to research showing reading aloud having a beneficial impact on learning to read and/or becoming an avid reader I'd be most grateful if you would share it. I can see it as a useful tool for monitoring a child's progress whilst they are learning the mechanics, but my kids are living examples of it not being as necessary as some would have us believe. Could reading aloud regularly to your kids be just as beneficial in helping them learn to read as making them read aloud themselves?]

As a mother to a son David is keen to stress that a love of reading can be fostered equally well in boys as in girls, despite widespread misconceptions to the contrary. I’m delighted to see this tackled head on in her book, but it then comes as a disappointment that gender stereotypes in family reading for pleasure do appear elsewhere: there is a focus on what the mother can/should do in the family.

Whilst Dads/spouses are mentioned on the odd occasion, I would strongly argue that both parents can and should be at the heart of making the family home a hotbed for reading. One particular case in point is when David discusses strategies for reading to siblings of different ages. At no point does she suggest what seems to me the easiest and best solution for everyone involved; that one parent read to one child whilst the other reads to the second child. Why should spouses miss out on the “relationship glue”? If you’re arguing a family should think structurally and boldly about screentime, I think you could also encourage them to think about managing reading time so that the every member of the family can be involved, and not just the mother. Yes one parent or the other may work late, but this book is partly about blue-sky thinking, and about deciding what matters to you as a family – about making the effort to create time for reading… or not.

Help your Child Love Reading is a thought-provoking and supportive read. Whilst it doesn’t include a bibliography or further reading section for adults wanting to read more (there are plenty of interesting, well written books about promoting reading for pleasure out there, although few of them have been written – like this one – specifically for parents in the UK), it does contain a list of children’s books, sorted by age, which David has found very useful in supporting her son develop the reading bug. It’s great to see her include poetry and non-fiction, and to read how passionate she is about reading in all its guises including comics, newspapers and magazines.

I ended David’s book feeling bolstered, hopeful AND also armed with real-life strategies to help my children love reading. Perhaps this book should be given to every set of new parents by their midwife, so more parents can be equally encourage and enthused?

Mix it Up! And let the wonder in

Posted on | September 1, 2014 | 8 Comments

When M was about 9 months old she was sat in a bath and became transfixed by the steady trickle of water coming from the tap. Time and time again she tried to grab the stream of water and was utterly puzzled: Why wasn’t it possible to hold onto the solid-appearing rod of glinting water? I had a moment of delight and clarity as I watched M explore this ‘illusion’. As an adult I of course know a liquid cannot be held onto like a solid can, but when and how had I learned this? Here were M learning it right in front of my eyes and it felt like a moment of brilliant revelation, an instant when one of the secrets of how the world works was revealed.

mix-it-up_9781452137353_350Hervé Tullet‘s Mix it Up! allows us all to experience the same thrill of discovery, the buzz that comes from a lightbulb moment; it takes us back to the very bare bones of colour theory and shows us magic at our own fingertips. That mixing yellow and blue should give us a total different colour… well that’s pretty cool if you think about it.

Listeners and readers are invited into a wide open, imaginative space where their physical interaction with the book (tipping it, tapping it, slamming it shut) has the power to transform the pages. On one level we know it is an illusion, but the way the book addresses us directly and apparently responds to our commands instils a thrilling sense of both powerfulness and playfulness.


This books shows paint as your friend and as such is a fabulous doorway into the world of art.

This book makes scientists of its readers and listeners, asking the to predict what is going to happen and then making it so.

Mix it Up!‘s simplicity is deceptive and will be enjoyed by older children and playful adults, even if they’ve long since learned all they technically need to know about primary and secondary colours. A worthy follow-up to Press Here, this unadorned, uncomplicated book will cast a spell over you and allow you to see again some of the wonder around you.

Inspired by the page in Tullet’s book which shows a hand amongst paint-covered fingerprints we draw around our hands and cut out hand templates. These we temporarily stuck to a sheet of card (using masking tape).


Next we went wild with finger painting, starting with three bowls of primary colours (soaked into sponges so that the paint stuck to our fingers more evenly)…


…before mixing the primary colours to make secondary colours.



When the paper was full of prints I then carefully removed the hand templates to leave white shadows.


We used the now-covered-in-fingerprints hand templates to stick on a second sheet of white paper, creating an “opposite” image to the hand shadows.

Both are now up on the walls in the girls’ room. I think they make very effective pieces of art but perhaps more importantly, the process was hugely enjoyable.


Whilst we painted we listened to:

  • Mix It Up by The Marvelettes
  • This Too Shall Pass by OK Go – for the playfulness and final scenes with paint I think Tullet would approve of.
  • Mixing Up by Yo Gabba Gabba!

  • Other activities which would go well with reading Mix it Up! include:

  • Using sweet wrappers to change the way you view the world (and learn about mixing colours as you go) – using this tutorial from Mylittle3andme.
  • Adding shaving foam into the mix to give mixing colours a different sensory slant – using this tutorial from Nurture Store.
  • Combining science and colour mixing, by getting coloured water to move from two cups to third, all by itself – using this tutorial on All for Kids.

  • What do you take for granted but have recently see with new eyes?

    Disclosure: A free review copy of Mix it Up! was sent to me by the publishers.

    36 books to look out for this autumn!

    Posted on | August 28, 2014 | 14 Comments

    I love a good bit of juicy anticipation and so today I bring you a round-up of the books being published this autumn which I’m most looking forward to reading.

    Out in September

    Bears Don’t Read by Emma Chichester Clark (Harper Collins)
    How to Hide a Lion from Grandma by Helen Stephens (Alison Green Books)
    A World of Your Own by Laura Carlin (Phaidon)
    The New Small Person by Lauren Child (Puffin)
    Is there a dog in this book? by Viviane Schwarz (Walker)
    The Fairytale Hairdresser and Father Christmas Paperback by Abie Longstaff (Picture Corgi)
    The Moon Child by Cate Cain (Templar)
    Terror Kid by Benjamin Zephaniah (Hot Key)


    How to Write a Story by Simon Cheshire (Bloomsbury)
    The Giant Game of Sculpture by Hervé Tullet (Phaidon)


    Out in October

    I am the Wolf…and Here I Come! by Bénédicte Guettier (Gecko Press)
    Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle (Chronicle Kids)
    How the Library (not the Prince) saved Rapunzel by Wendy Meddour, illustrated by Rebecca Ashdown Petrie (Frances Lincoln)
    Snow by Sam Usher (Templar)
    Wall by Tom Clohosy Cole (Templar)
    Woozy the Wizard: A Spell to Get Well Paperback by Elli Woollard and Al Murphy (Faber)


    How to Train Your Dragon: A Journal for Heroes by Cressida Cowell (Hodder)
    The Adventures of Hermes by Murielle Szac, translated by Mika Provata-Carlone (Pushkin)
    The No. 1 Car Spotter Goes to School by Atinuke, illustrated by Warwick Johnson Cadwell (Walker)
    The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett (Bloomsbury)
    A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond (Hodder)
    The Rising by Tom Moorhouse (OUP)


    The Snow Merchant by Sam Gayton, with new illustrations by Chris Riddell (Andersen)
    How to be a Space Explorer by Lonely Planet Kids (Lonely Planet)
    Book by John Agard, illustrated by Neil Packer (Walker)
    Atlas of Adventures by Lucy Letherland (WideEyed)
    The Dolls’ House Colouring Book by Emily Sutton (V&A)
    Gravity by Jason Chin (Andersen)
    Star Cat: Book 1 by James Turner (David Fickling)


    Out in November

    Claude Sets Sail by Alex T Smith (Hodder)
    Pigsticks and Harold and the Tuptown Thief Paperback by Alex Milway (Walker)
    Les Miserables retold by Marcia Williams (Walker)
    Papercraft Christmas Paperback by Ellen Giggenbach (Templar)
    Write and Draw Your Own Comics by Louie Stowell (Usborne)
    The Story of Britain by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom (Franklin Watts)


    I’m also really looking forward to a new novel from Mal Peet, The Murdstone Trilogy – though this is being marketed as an adult book.

    Dates for publication listed here may be subject to change. A couple of these books have already been released in the US, but will be making their UK début this Autumn.

    What new book are you most looking forward to reading this autumn?

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