Thursday, 13 September 2012

Children's books and magazines...


Thank you so much for all your feedback and enthusiasm about my husband's educational apps which I talked about in my last post - I was touched and delighted by your response.

I'd said at the end of that post that if you were interested I'd share some of our other favourite education-based things - not designed by my husband - and it seems some of you were. I have so many I'd love to write about, but I'll try to cram them all into one post so that it doesn't feel as though you've unwittingly subscribed to a parenting blog if you came here hoping only to find sewing (for those that did, the cat in the photo above is dreaming about birds made out of Tana lawn Liberty prints and if you return soon, I may be thinking along similar lines).

To give this post some context my children are 10 and 8. My daughter has been a bookworm since a very young age and my eight year old boy is dyslexic, but also adores reading - it's been a struggle to find things that aren't so text heavy that they overwhelm, but which don't patronise his intellect or wonderful vocabulary by using overly simplified text and storyline. I think many of the books below walk this thin line perfectly (although, I should say that over the summer, happily, something clicked for him and so although spelling is still a big issue, on a good day he can now enjoy tearing through a book as thick and text-heavy as my daughter - the books mentioned here don't necessarily reflect that).

So let's begin with magazines. Magazines, especially compared to books, feel expensive, so both children have requested many of these subscriptions from grandparents for birthdays and Christmases and it seems to be a gift that they really enjoy giving as it's appreciated throughout the year. These are our current favourites: Aquila magazine pictured above is a thought-provoking magazine which explores a different topic in each issue. Its content is pleasingly grown-up and covers everything from world issues to encouraging moral debate and its themes have often coincided with ones the children happen to be covering at school - this seems to cause a great deal of delight as they can bring their own knowledge and familiarity to it, whilst gathering new ideas at the same time, making it feel very relevant. It's more suited to an older child, perhaps 9-12.

Anorak and Puffin Post magazines
We're relatively new to Puffin Post. It produces two magazines to cover different age groups and we subscribe to both. Its focus, coming from Puffin, is very much on books and includes exerts, interviews, reviews and competitions, as well as opening itself up to its literary young readership who contribute with their own work and letters. It's a small, but densely packed magazine. A subscription also entitles you to choose 6 free books a year and the welcome pack includes a stuffed puffin, a pencil, lovely notepad and some other goodies which all arrive in a nice brown box. Puffin Post can't be bought in newsagents, you'd need to order it online.

Puffin Post page spread
Anorak magazine appeals to both children and they often sit reading it together. It has a home-produced feeling, but is printed on matt creamy paper that makes it feel very good quality. It's a melange of eccentric photo stories, bright artwork and amusing tit bits. It's doesn't feel overtly educational which I don't mind (although they claim to follow the national curriculum), but some of their phrasing of things jars with me slightly, but it's a wholesome version of a more throw-away magazine and we like it a lot. My children have saved, and still read, every issue we've bought for them. Anorak have a wonderful back-issues archive and I tend to hand-pick ones which I think will appeal from there or pick them up in the independent shops where we occasionally see it being stocked. They say on their website that it's intended for children aged 6-12.

Anorak Magazine
For an animal fix that's available from WH Smiths without the commitment of a subscription (although we do have one), National Geographic for Kids is wonderful and we've had this delivered for the last two years and it's still greeted with delight. Initially, it was my daughter's magazine, but it's now very much my son's, so I think it's probably aged at children age 6-10.


I've also been meaning to mention Aramazu for absolutely ages. My little boy had spent over two years struggling to learn to tell the time by the time we found Aramazu when he was aged 7. I ordered the book, not really expecting much and expecting even less when I began reading it. The book tells a story about time that turns conventional methods for learning it on their head and leaves any seasoned time-teller feeling slightly perplexed as they read through the first pages. However, by the middle of the book one begins to feel that the man who wrote it may just be a genius. I can still remember that the morning after the book arrived, my little boy woke very early and so I took the opportunity to take him downstairs and read through the Aramazu book together. It was amazing to both of us that after an hour of painless work using the Aramazu method he could read most times on the clock and by the end of the day, he could even tell the trickiest of times, such as 'seventeen minutes to three'. My little boy is not a willing card-writer, but that morning he asked if we could write to the Aramazu man and thank him for creating the book. For a child with dyslexia learning something with ease is an empowering and unaccustomed feeling and I still credit this book with kick-starting a more positive attitude toward his own abilities, but it's suitable for all as learning to tell the time seems to be a universal struggle for young children. The book requires that your child can count to 60, but if they can't yet do that, then there's a different book that can help them master some of the more basic times, provided they can count to 12. We bought the watch too, but really it's not necessary as after a week or two my son was happy reading the time on regular clock faces (there's a clock for practising with moveable hands within the book) and wanted something more grown-up looking.

I think I've mentioned the wonderfulness of Ed Emberley and his learn-to-draw books many times, but if you haven't read about them, I go ino more detail here. They're wonderful and suitable for ages 3 to adulthood!


Have you seen or read The Invention of Hugo Cabret? While there's probably several hundred books that I could tell you about that we've loved (you can read my review of Wonder here, for instance), it's this one that feels worth mentioning in this post and which stands out. It's a totally unique book - hugely thick, deliciously heavy and filled with hundreds of hand-drawn pictures which at times take over from the writing in telling the story. The mixture of picture and written text allows your child's imagination to take on the role of storyteller and become completely imersed in Hugo's world. If you haven't seen the film, that too is wonderful. It is so beautifully and uniquely shot that it feels completely in keeping with how special the book is. My guess is that the book would be appreciated by children from age 8 onward, but that there is no upper age limit. I don't know anyone who has read this and not loved it.


Over the last few years, while I've been searching for books for my son to read, I've found the following to be really good. I mention them not because they are the most outstanding works of fiction out there, but because they are so suited to a child who finds reading challenging, but who still wishes to become immersed in a complex storyline without feeling as though they are confined to reading material intended for much younger children.


We have always loved Allan Ahlberg and these stories, pictured above, are a demonstration of his genius at writing books for an older audience. They are quirky, without being affectedly so; have story lines full of adventure and intrigue; and make us howl with laughter as my son reads them out loud. The text, which is rich and varied, is broken into manageable chunks by the wonderful illustrations which help a slower reader retain a sense of the twists and turns in the storyline as they go.



Over the years we have built up a huge collection of Usborne's See Inside series of lift the flap books for older children, pictured above (I haven't put Amazon links as it feels too exhausting for so many titles). These books have intricate, detailed pictures and there is often an element of humour beneath the flaps. They really made up the core of my little boy's favoured independent reading material between the ages of five and seven. They cover subjects which he felt naturally interested in and the snippets of writing are factual and appealed to his sense of wanting to know minute details about castles, pirate ships, sea life and all the other subjects they cover. What made them so accessible for him is that when the writing appears it's just a few words at a time, so not overwhelming in any way, and once the words had been deciphered there was the reward of opening a tiny flap to reveal more pictures beneath.

 
Finally, my mother bought my son Michael Rosen's Poetry Anthology last Christmas and it is one of his most well-thumbed books. It is full of the most perfectly selected offerings that are both humourous and poignant and my little boy will suddenly give me a recital of one of them while I'm brushing my teeth or making the bed. He seems to very much enjoy getting just the right intonation and inflection in his voice. It's always a surprisingly sweet contrast to the side of him that is so utterly obsessed with football. Our favourites are Marbles by Michael Kavanagh and The Art Lesson by Trevor Harvey.
 
 

I would love to hear what your own children have loved or found useful, or even what you enjoyed yourself as a child, whether it's a book, magazine or even an app.

Florence x

23 comments:

  1. My nearly 13 year old moved on a year or two ago from Aquila to a magazine called How It Works, which is similar in ethos but better for the slightly older child. My nearly 10 year old daughter is now starting to enjoy it too. It covers science, environment, technology, transport, history and space. My husband and I love it too, and we cannot recommend it highly enough - I bet your children would enjoy it too! N xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Nancy - it's always nice to hear about what's the next step along. x

      Delete
  2. We love the Aramazu book too - when it arrived and I read it through I had one of those "why did no-one think of this before?!" moments! We also like the See Inside books too, and we have recently discovered the Basher Science range of books which my 9yr old son is really enjoying. We've only got 2 so far but I can see us having to get the whole set!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I haven't heard of Basher Science - I'll have to seek them out - thank you! x

      Delete
  3. I love posts like this, Rachel (comment above) has also told me about the Aramazu book so I think I will have to invest and see if it helps the penny drop for my seven year old. I like the look of Anorak, I will have to see if individual copies can be purchased. My children are 5 and 7 and have very different needs, my 7 year old loves reading and has happily made the jump to chapter books. His current faves are Roald Dahl, How to train your Dragon series and the Jack Stalwart books. My little miss needs a little more than a picture book but isn't ready for chapter books yet. I've been pondering this and think I'll give some Rupert a go - there's a bit of both in there. Also the Little Grey Rabbit books have just been reprinted (yey!) so some of those will definitely be going on her letter to Father Christmas.
    In terms of magazines, my favourite comes from our local Wildlife Trust. It issues Wildlife Watch on a quarterly basis and both my small people really enjoy it. Thanks for this post, I shall be paying close attention to the comments! xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My little boy loved the How to Train your Dragon books too - they're really unusual.

      I'll have to look into the Wildlife Watch magazine - I've been trying to find a magazine that focuses on the environment for my daughter, but completely failed in my search so far...perhaps this may have a little of that in there?

      x

      Delete
  4. Loving your posts this week. Have just ordered a 4set of the Allan Ahlberg books from Red House and will definitely look at the Aramazu book, both my 9 and 7 year old haven't completely grasped telling the time yet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So hope you love them when they arrive - the bits where the cat pops up to give his thoughts for a chapter really made us laugh.

      The Aramazu book is just wonderful - I really hope it works for you. x

      Delete
  5. I've enjoyed this post so much Florence, your blog contains such a wealth of gorgeous ideas, I always value the recommendation of seemingly like minded mothers. Since reading your blog I have purchased Wonder & the Ed Emberly books, and I'm now absolutely sold on a subsription for Aquila. So many of your ideas have made their way into my own home & family life. Thanks so much for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your lovely comment, Ruby - that's so nice to hear. x

      Delete
  6. The Aramazu book seems to be $40+ in the States, argh.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh no! That's awful. I wonder if Aramazu would post it to you from their UK site instead?

      Delete
  7. Hi Florence, can I recommend books by Margaret Mahy. She wrote some truly great books both for younger children and for teenagers.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I also loved reading this post. Your children are older than mine but I have a wish list on Amazon specifically for them that I add books to when I spot ones I think they'd like when they are older. I often add ones that you've mentioned! My daughters (4.5 and 3.5) are real book worms and are often to be found with a book in hand. I hope their little brother follows suit! They have a See Inside Your Body book, and both girls love it. Ellie (the eldest) went for a hearing test this week and was telling the consultant all about the parts of the ear she could see on the poster in his room!
    We are huge Allberg fans in this house too - I grew up with them and my girls are doing the same. They started with Peepo, Each Peach Pear Plum and the Baby Catalogue and are now loving The Jolly Postman and the Happy Families series. I'll have to look up the ones you have pictured above as I think Ellie would enjoy them.
    Has your son read any of Dick King Smith's books? They are in a similar format to the Allberg ones pictured and feature all sorts of lovely animal stories.
    I've been eyeing up the Puffin Post subscription for a couple of years now and I think that when Ellie turns five soon, I shall purchase one for her birthday. Thanks for reminding me about it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We actually still have The Jolly Postman on our shelves as I don't think they could ever be too old for the little letters it contains.

      Yes, he has a Dick King Smith box set, although for some reason doesn't read them as much as some others - my daughter loved them. Thank you for the recommendation.

      The Puffin Post is wonderful and they have a Freepost address which means that the children can send unlimited amounts of mail to them!

      Delete
  9. So glad Michael Rosen got a mention! I grew up in Highbury where he's a local hero and we would occasionally get a very special assembly at primary school when he'd come in to read to us. He's completely excellent.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Oh, I forgot to mention a book that I really loved when I was (much) younger that your son would probably really enjoy is Nicobobinus by Terry Jones. It has lots of illustrations and is a lovely story for a boy to read. I'm not sure it is in print anymore but there are lots of copies on eBay.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll look it up - thank you so much for returning with that!x

      Delete
    2. I've just found it for a penny, plus postage on Amazon, so have bought it - thank you! x

      Delete
    3. I hope he enjoys it. It's been many years since I read it and the only detail I can recall is that the little boy's legs are turned to gold at one point!

      Delete
  11. Thanks so much for this post. My son is a slow learner who at age 11 would still rather play (or do anything really) than sit and read...he really needs something to whet his appetite. I have ordered the Hugo book and am looking forward to sitting with him and letting him do his stuff! Thanks again for the top tips.

    ReplyDelete

Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x