What I read | November / December 2020

[ my image - Upton, River Bure, Norfolk Broads, November 2020 ]

My best of 2020 | Picture Books

[ my image - South Wales December 2019 ]

I've reviewed and shared a lot of books this year.  Here, I'm going to pick out a selection of the best.  I'm not going to review them all over again for this, instead I'm going to share the brilliant cover illustrations.  You can find full reviews for all of these either on @allaboutstories on Facebook or here on the blog in my "What I read" posts from February, April, June, August and October.

What I read | September / October 2020

[my image - North York Moors, Cawthorn Roman Camp, September 2020]

Black Lives Matter | inspiring and empowering young children to talk about anti-racism through picture books

[Image from Teaching Tolerance at tolerance.org, helping teachers educate children to be active participants in a diverse democracy, and providing free resources to educators from early years onwards]

I will start by saying that  am no expert in this.  So what I am writing is inspired by the reading I have been doing.  And the selection of picture books I am sharing is by no means exhaustive, it's just what I had on my shelf.  But we've got to start somewhere.

Sources of information and inspiration

  • Wellness for all - anti-racism in the Early Years - https://wellnessforall.org.uk/2020/06/03/anti-racism-in-the-early-years/ - I'll start with this because it was the first article I was signposted to and it resonated with me.   It's a brilliant article, well thought out, showing us that we need to be anti-racist (as opposed to just not racist), educate ourselves about white privilege and talk about and celebrate differences and cultures.  We also need to recognise the rich experiences this adds to the lives of us all, so no token gestures of a book or a poster in the setting, we have a responsibility to recognise the unconscious bias that we all have within us and then do better, we mustn’t feel afraid to speak out in case we might get something wrong, rather we must start a discussion and raise awareness, summed up in this quote “I/we can do more than post on social media or talk behind closed doors, I am now understanding we can become allies to people of colour by standing alongside them and committing to anti-racism.”  As we talk about it we should be prepared to risk getting it wrong and learn from it rather than remain silent.
Here's a quote I liked - “The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.” Ljeoma Oluo

  • David Cahn on internalised racial superiority and the early years - https://childcarebrofessional.wordpress.com/2020/07/27/internalised-racial-superiority-and-the-early-years-yes-read-it/ - he sets the article out with an audience in mind - in his words “the campaign-y set” of early years educators who want to change things for the better, with the belief that we have the power and responsibility to make early childhood education and care the best it can be.  He says we must “learn to apply an anti-racist, intersectional lens to our lives as well as the work we set out to do”  But how? First, we must take the time to understand the issues and our own unconscious biases properly, get to know our families and communities, and embed an anti-racist ethos through all we do. 
  • Nursery world article Laura Henry Allain - https://www.nurseryworld.co.uk/opinion/article/actually-it-does-matter - the creator of JoJo and GranGran, the first animation in the UK featuring a black British family, talks about how change is needed, how we need to check our practice for diversity and inclusivity, and the tokenism of a few picture books.  She says that change must start with educators and our attitudes and beliefs, ensuring we as educators have time to reflect and recognise our own privileges and prejudices, or even unconscious racist behaviour.  The last bit is worth quoting, as she tells us that the Early Years are "where we can make a lasting difference to children’s view of race. This needs systematic change and the support of the Department for Education, Ofsted, and Government and shadow ministers. This includes the sector organisations and I am willing to work with them and others on this, exploring areas of initial qualifications, ongoing CPD and pedagogy practice and decolonising the EYFS. This means investment and not a one-off training day that ticks a box so that colleagues can say that they have done it. It is about ongoing dialogue, and respectful and honest conversations. We all need to stop, look and listen, for the sake of the children, in order that the next generation does not need to experience racism, and so that educators have the tools to effectively challenge racism and make sure that their practice is indeed anti-racist."

Action for Children, on their facebook page, give us some tips for talking to children about race.
  • Openly talk about race with your child. Adults often worry that talking about race will encourage racial bias in children, but the opposite is true. Silence about race reinforces racism by allowing children to draw on their own conclusions based on things they may not understand.
  • It is never too early to start talking positively to your child about race. At birth babies look equally at faces of all races. At three months babies look more at faces that match their caregivers, showing that skin colour is something that they recognise.
  • Be mindful. Recognise the books and toys you choose for your child. Are they reflective of the different kinds of people and cultures within our society? Introduce your child to cultural and racial differences through the toys they play with and the books they read.
  • It's OK to answer your child’s questions about why other people may look different to them ie gender, race, disability, etc. It is also OK to say ‘I’m not sure’ and come back to a topic when you have done your own learning, but ensure you do come back to it.
  • If you would like to know more about having conversations and learning about race with children, please visit:  https://www.embracerace.org/resources/teaching-and-talking-to-kids

Here are a few more links with information and resources - 

  • "a respect for diversity, which relates to the ethics of an encounter: such a relational ethics was foregrounded by Dahlberg and Moss (2005) in their discussion of ethics in early childhood education. (It may help to know that a relational ethic is knowing what the right thing to do would be);
  • a recognition of multiple perspectives and diverse paradigms – which means that there is more than one answer to most questions and that there are many ways of viewing and understanding the world, a point to which I shall return;
  • welcoming curiosity, uncertainty and subjectivity and accept the responsibility that they require of us; making sure that children know that they can ask questions and are entitled to a serious and meaningful response.
  • critical thinking which requires “introducing a critical attitude towards those things that are given to our present experience as if they were fixed or timeless, natural and unquestionable”. It means being able to challenge the sayings, values, practices of one’s time and received wisdom … What this means, put more simply, is that children should be enabled to question things that might seem obvious or right in terms of their experience."

    I also emailed my MP - they have the power to change legislation after all - to ask specifically what she was going to be doing to support #BlackLivesMatter and regarding decolonising the curriculum to address the lack of black British history / literature there.  Sadly not much forthcoming, but we live in hope.

    I think that's enough, I don't want to overwhelm...

    Picture books from my shelf

    This is not at all an exhaustive selection, there are many, many great picture books that we can share in order to start a conversation, lots of which can be found by looking at some of the resources I have linked to above.  Here are some of mine - 

    A bit of thinking and writing...
    I will finish by saying this.  I have been doing a lot of thinking...and one thing came to me while watching the great David Attenborough on the TV the other day.  There is a thread that is woven (or needs to be where it is missing) through a lot of the issues that we face today, from racism to climate change, to biodiversity loss, to the rise of the far right.  And that thread is empathy and kindness.  If we can make links (or be helped to make links by sensitive newspaper and TV headlines) between these issues, then we will begin to see how all life is connected, and then we will be able to see why we need to make changes.  Such as eating less chicken, not because we want to tell you what you cannot have, but because we will lose all the rainforest animals of South America, insects to pollinate crops and eventually the ability to grow plants for food.  Because just preaching (or ranting as I tend to do...) about what we need to change does not help a lot of people to change, but if we explain why, in a kind and empathetic way, and we foster kindness and empathy in our youngest children, we will begin to build those links in the hearts and minds of greater numbers of people.  And that will be how we begin to make change happen. 

    Thank you to my friend whose t-shirt today at work said "kindness matters".  Because it does. 💚

    And thank you to Hannah who talks through all this hard stuff with me and helps me understand a bit better 💚

    What I read | July / August 2020

    All the books I read, shared and enjoyed in July and August 2020.

    [My own image - mint fields at Bramerton, Norfolk, July 2020]

    Why I'm no longer talking to white people about race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. 
    The multi-award-winning bestseller from 2017 has hit the book charts again recently. I'm reading it now since it's been on my shelf for a few months recommended by my daughter. And because I want to understand more about race and racism in Britain, especially it's history and how it affects people today. And because I want to raise awareness of the issues around race and racism. And because I am trying to be actively anti-racist. The book grabs you right from the beginning as you discover so much that you didn't realise, going back a long time, about how our country treated people of colour, and still does, and the way it is ingrained in systems and in minds. It's understandably award-winning, and is essential reading for anyone who, like me, wants to see a fair, more equitable, empathetic and kind world. This quote from the Observer, sums it up nicely, “A wake-up call to a nation in denial about the structural and institutional racisms occurring in our homes, offices and communities” Please read it.

    Bloomsbury Publishing UK

    More on Twitter here - @renireni  @BloomsburyBooks

    What I read | May / June 2020

    [my image, the river Yare in May 2020]

    A compilation of all the books I read, reviewed, shared and loved in May and June 2020 (we're still in the coronavirus lockdown as I begin writing this at the start of May, I wonder where we will be at the end of June?).....it's the end of June....we might be able to get a haircut in a few days time....

    Books about...helping to save the planet

    This last few months we have been battling across the world a new virus that has, as I write, killed 260,000 and infected 3 million people worldwide already. [Update - I wrote this a few of weeks ago, and as of today, 8th June 2020 the virus has infected almost 7 million and killed almost 400,000 people.]  The coronavirus Covid-19, shocked individuals and governments with its virulence and effects on parts of our lives that we could not have imagined.  In the UK where I am, 21,678 people have died (at least) of the virus since the first case. BUT, I don't want to dwell on the sad bits, there is hope.  A vaccine will be found, hopefully we will get better at testing and tracing contacts of new cases, and we will be able to see our relatives again.  AND, the skies are clearer, the bird song is more obvious, there are less cars on the road, air pollution has improved, less planes are flying and people are finding new ways to connect, meet and socialise - who had even heard of Zoom before this...

    Meanwhile, the planet is still in a climate emergency.  The climate is not on hold like our furloughed jobs, the ice is still melting, the polar bears are still struggling, there are wild fires and extreme weather events.  But we can still, in these locked-down virus times, actively campaign for changes to policy, and make changes ourselves in our own homes and communities.  So I have picked a selection of books to inspire us, and to help us to inspire our children, as we hopefully join together across the world to save the planet from climate change.

    We are all Greta, Be Inspired to Save the World by Valentina Giannella and illustrated by Manuela Marazzi.  Thanks to Laurence King Publishers (@lkpchildrens, @LaurenceKingPub).

    Raising Awareness | Mental Health May

    Today, as it's Mental Health Awareness week in the UK, I'm featuring this from author Kay Hutchison (@37Therapies), https://kayhutchison.com/), who writes below about a few of her recommended ways to stay kind to yourself and stay well.

    It’s Mental Health Awareness week in the UK this week (and mental health awareness month in the US) and the theme in the UK is “kindness”.  I can’t think of a more important time to be kind to yourself. 
    So what can you do to shore up your mental health? Well perhaps one of the practical things we can all do is to at least take responsibility for ourselves and our well-being. If you’re not feeling good, let someone know about it.  Don’t suffer in silence. And in taking responsibility for ourselves, we will not only be helping keep ourselves safe but we will be more able to help others if they are going through difficult times. 
    Here are a few positive ways to be kind to yourself and stay well.

    What I read | March / April 2020

    (a woodland walk before the covid-19 lockdown, March 22nd 2020, my own image)

    All the books I read, shared and loved in March and April 2020


    Storytelling.  As I have learnt, it's a very different thing from picking up a picture book and reading it to the children.  Hawthorn Press have sent me two lovely books about storytelling - The Natural Storyteller by Georgiana Keable and Storytelling with Children by Nancy Mellon.

    The Natural Storyteller (wildlife tales for telling) is a collection of tales for telling.  As the author herself puts it "this book is a seed packet, full of amazing story seeds.

    Books about... feelings, mindfulness and wellbeing | Upside down books

    Upside down books have sent me some lovely new picture books.  Upside Down (@TriggerPub, www.triggerpublishing.com) publishes fiction and non-fiction books for children which encourage conversation around mental health and wellbeing. Their titles promote positivity, emotional intelligence and mindfulness for children, whilst being beautiful, age-appropriate and, most of all…enjoyable!  I highly recommend all these, or a look at their website or a browse in the local library.  We've really enjoyed all these books, and they will form a regular part of our story-sharing.

    Puppy in my head, a book about mindfulness by Elise Gravel

    What I read | January / February 2020

    (my image - Afan Valley, South Wales, December 2019)

    Movement - Your child's first language and some favourite picture books about movement and physical development

    I've been reading Sally Goddard Blythe's "Movement, your child's first language" from Hawthorn Press, so here's a short review, followed by some of my favourite picture books dealing with movement & physical development; and some of our favourite things to do and explore locally to get us moving.

    Book Review | Reclaim Early Childhood | Too much too soon

    Reclaim early Childhood - The philosophy, psychology and practice of Steiner-Waldorf Early years  by Sebastian and Tamara Suggate and Too much, too soon? Early learning and the erosion of childhood, edited by Richard House

    What I read | November / December 2019

    What I read in November and December 2019

    Blog Tour | Fred and Woody's Fantastic world

    What's down there? - a book about girl bodies for curious kids, and That's my Willy - a book about boy bodies for curious kids by Alex Waldron, published by Ruby Tuesday books.

    What I read | September / October 2019

    My bi-monthly round-up of all the books I read, reviewed, borrowed from the library, read to the children or just like the look of...!

    [my image, wherry on the River Bure, October 2019]

    Blog Tour | The ultimate survival guide to Monsters under the bed

    The Ultimate Survival Guide to monsters under the bed by Mitch Frost and Daron Parton.

    Blog Tour | Danny's Dream

    Danny's Dream by Ian Parker and Victor Margiotta

    A heart-warming story of "dreams coming true, although sometimes in the most unexpected ways", the story written by Victor Margiotta, and beautifully illustrated by Ian Parker, who paints with his mouth as he is unable to use his hands.  The advised age range is 3-8 but I'd probably start a little older having read it, and recommend it for age 5 and up, key stage 1 - it would be a lovely text to form a discussion about inclusivity and playground friendships, but we don't always need a topic or a theme to share stories, and this is a lovely story for anytime.

    What I read | July / August 2019

    A pictorial look at everything I read and reviewed in the past couple of months.

    [my image, Ormont-Dessus, Switzerland, August 2019]

    What I read | May / June 2019

    A pictorial look at all the books I read or reviewed over the past couple of months.

    [my image, Coltishall, Norfolk, June 2019]

    A Story Cafe | Rosie Revere Engineer

    This week at our Story Cafe we read Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts. 

    Image result for rosie revere engineer

    We start by singing the listening song - tune of Frere Jacque "Eyes are watching, ears are listening, lips are closed, hands are still, feet are very quiet, you should really try it, listening well, listening well."  

    Then we read Rosie Revere Engineer.  I have a small suitcase and I start by asking the children what they think might be in an engineer's tool case.  I have a hammer, a spanner, a tape measure, a pencil, a screwdriver, some nuts and bolts, and an apple.

    A Story Cafe | Yoga Stories

    This week our story cafe was all about Yoga and Mindfulness.  Twelve families and their children came along, to join in with the fun.

    Related image

    We start by singing the listening song - tune of Frere Jacque "Eyes are watching, ears are listening, lips are closed, hands are still, feet are very quiet, you should really try it, listening well, listening well."  We take off our shoes and socks so we can feel the earth beneath our feet and help us to balance.

    Then we have a little introduction to yoga and mindfulness - what is it and why?  Here's what we learnt-

    A Story Cafe | Jack Frost

    Today's story - Jack Frost by Kazuna Kohara.  It's been very cold and frosty here lately, so this time we are looking at a frosty, white, snowy story of friendship, cold weather, and warming up to new growth in Spring.

    A Story Cafe | Goat goes to playgroup

    Today's story - Goat goes to Playgroup by Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt.  A lovely rhyming story about all the things that Goat and his friends get up to at their new playgroup.

    Save Rang-tan

    This is a really important post, with a really important message.  Recently, we've been researching ethical and sustainable products for the home and for eating.  One of the big things we realised is that there is palm oil in so many things.  And palm oil is grown in countries where Orangutans live.  And in many of these places the rain forest home of the Orangutans is being destroyed to make way for huge palm oil plantations.  

    A Story Cafe | Phonics Special

    Today's story - Chocolate moose for Greedy Goose by Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharrat.  And Don't put your finger in the jelly Nelly by Nick Sharratt.  We are doing a phonics special Story Cafe today as lots f the children are off the school in September.  So this workshop is all about building skills for early reading (not encouraging parents to reach their children to read, but to help them encourage the skills they will need to be able to read when they are ready)

    We read Chocolate Moose for Greedy Goose and Don't put your finger in the jelly Nelly, which highlight rhyming and alliteration.

    A Story Cafe | The Little Red Hen

    Today's story - The Little Red Hen. It's a traditional tale which has been adapted many times. We read the ladybird board book version which is about a hen and her friends the cat, the rat and the pig.

    A Story Cafe | The Day the Crayons Quit

    We often get asked "when do I start to teach my child to write?"  So I've been thinking about this - and decided the answer is "Don't", BUT we do need to teach our children the skills they will need to be able to write when they are ready.   So this story cafe is all about skills for writing, and a perfect story to match is "The Day the Crayons Quit" by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers.

    Book Review | Almost Anything by Sophy Henn

    I was thrilled to open a parcel the other day to find another wonderful picture book by Sophy Henn, including then usual added extras - in this case a large piece of paper beautifully packaged with instructions to make a paper hat!  Yes... it is relevant to the story if you were wondering.

    Book Review | Willow Tree Books

    This month, I've been sent two brand new picture books from Willow Tree books, a new children's picture book imprint.  Two of the very first picture books from Willow Tree are "Cat & Dog" by Helen Oswald and Zoe Waring, and "Hattie Peck" by Emma Levey.

    Cat & Dog
    This is a great tale of friendship between the cat who sleeps all day and is awake at night, and the dog who sleeps all night and is awake all day.  They learn to accept their differences and get on... just about...  A lovely story with few words, but many messages, that children and their grown ups will enjoy over again.

    A Story Cafe | The Three Billy Goats Gruff

    I've been thinking about traditional tales lately, so this Story Cafe is based on The Three Billy Goats Gruff.  I chose the version by Nick Sharratt and Stephen Tucker, as the illustrations are simple, the story is gently rhyming, and there are added flaps for interest and to promote talk.

    A Story Cafe | Walking in a winter wonderland

    It's nearly Christmas, so this Story Cafe, we are reading Walking in a Winter Wonderland by Tim Hopgood.  It is very simply the song lyrics, beautifully illustrated.  But it got me thinking about all things Wintery - snowflakes, dressing up warm, mittens, pine trees, snow, the robin, the fox and the owl.

    We set up some wintry "invitations to play" - decorating the Christmas trees, small world on the tuff spot, white playdough with shaped cutters, and white pom poms with tweezers to pick up and move about.

    HALLOWEEN | Spooky story-telling

    I've been sent some spooky games to play in the run up to Halloween - Scary Bingo and Ghost Story Dice.

    Book Review | The British Museum

    Nosy Crow publishers have teamed up with the British Museum to create these really different picture books for young children, introducing early concepts, and using stunning images of objects and artefacts in the British Museum collections.

    Mixed up masterpieces takes images of museum pieces and puts them together in a flip-flap, mix-up, sturdy board book where the faces can be mixed and matched or put back together in up to 2000 combinations!  It's a great way to explore art from around the world.

    Book Review | Hortense and the Shadow

    Hortense and the Shadow by Natalia and Lauren O'Hara

    This is a gorgeous hardback debut picture book from sisters Natalia and Lauren O'Hara.  Natalia is the author and Lauren is the illustrator and they've used stories told to them by their Polish grandmother as inspiration.  The illustrations are stunning and although it is not written in rhyming text, you feel it is as it flows lyrically along through the pages.

    Review | Storytelling games

    We've been playing with story telling.  It's a really important part of literacy, even at age 0-5.  The very youngest children need to learn how to be creative, critical thinkers, working out what might happen next in a story, or filling in a missing rhyming word, or thinking of an ending or describing a character.

    We can read stories together and look at books together, but TELLING a story without a book is a different skill.

    So we've been playing with a game called Animals at Home, and with some space and fairy tale storytelling dice.

    Book Review | In the Woods

    I've been sent In the Woods by Thereza Rowe, from Thames and Hudson.

    Book Review | Dogger

    Dogger by Shirley Hughes

    Shirley Hughes is 90 this year and Dogger, one of her best loved picture books, is 40!  We read Dogger when my children were little, and over 40 years of publication, I expect thousands of children have shared this magical tale of a little boy who loses his most treasured possession and becomes re-united with it at the end of the story.

    A Story Cafe | Mr Big

    We shared Mr Big by Ed Vere at Story Cafe today.

    We shared the story on the carpet - Mr Big sat on my lap - a giant cuddly gorilla.  Lots of the children are off to big school in September so we're reading about friendship today.

    Review | dot | the happy mag for preschoolers

    dot.  My daughter loves design and follows and researches all things designy online.  She came across this the other day and knew it would interest me.  It's a magazine for under 5's and is refreshingly advert-free and brand-free.

    Here's what they say about themselves

    Picture books about | Potty Training

    Inspired to write this as there are lost of picture books out there to help very young children understand about potty training.  Something for children and parents to share at this time.

    Here are some of my favourites:

    A STORY CAFE | Sunk!

    We shared Sunk! by Rob Biddulph at Story Cafe today.