This month we are very proud to publish We Are Not Frogs by Michael Morpurgo and Sam Usher, one of our picture books with a few added bonuses. The first bonus is that in addition to the story there is a counting activity on every spread with things to spot in numbers from 1 to 10 – plus a fiendish 22 FROGS to count on the last spread!
We were keen to add a counting activity to the book to help children reinforce the numbers 1 to 10 and also to encourage parents and children to pore over the artwork together. This ties into the second bonus in the book – the fact it is typeset in our unique super-readable font and layout to help parents or carers with dyslexia or visual stress share the story with their little ones too. Our thinking goes that parents who are nervous of books may benefit from a little encouragement to pile in and start discussing the pictures, and they have just as much – or little – chance of spotting all 22 croakers as their children!
If you’re a booky person, it’s likely that you’re already sold on the idea that sharing picture books with children is a powerful thing to do. But lots of people live and work in scenarios where a lack of time, money or other consideration has seen reading to children sidelined, whether at home or in childcare or education. To quote Michael Rosen, ‘Enormous effort goes into putting people off doing these things: libraries close, early years work in schools focusses more and more on ‘decoding’ and less and less on frequent reading and re-reading of books … the multi-billion dollar front-running media of the day – TV, tablets and videos – say, ‘Watch-me!’, 24 hours a day.’
Michael blogged his thoughts on the benefits of sharing picture books here; here’s our round-up of some key benefits.
Reading to your child provides positive reinforcement of the value of reading. A child whose first experience of reading is snuggling up to a parent or carer to listen to a story is a child who is much more likely to view reading as a good thing than one who meets reading first as a task in the classroom.
Another huge positive is the boost reading offers to language development. Time spent reading aloud is time your child is exposed to rich language. It’s important to remember that language is not a passive function; giving children the chance to develop their use of speech is important too. Picture books provide the perfect opportunity for conversation and shared fun with words. Discuss what’s going on in the pictures, encourage your child to join in with the reading, stop and let your child complete a rhyme or shout out a familiar line. Their memory will also be boosted, and rhyme will support their growing awareness of sounds and how these work.
“A child whose first experience of reading is snuggling up to a parent or carer … is much more likely to view reading as a good thing …”
Watching and listening to you read teaches your child the core concept of books – that we look at printed pages to unlock a story. As the child gets bigger and the stories they can access more complex they will also begin to perceive that stories have meaning that is larger than simply a sequence of events. From a relatively young age they will begin to create links to their own life, ‘spotting’ people they know in books, or noticing that they look different from a particular child in a picture. They will move from seeing books as a thing to crow with pleasure over to seeing that sometimes stories can be a little bit sad or a little bit scary or a little bit silly too – that they move us in different ways. Then they will begin to use books to help understand the world, develop empathy and so on. ‘That happened to us too,’ or ‘That was a naughty thing to do and I wouldn’t do it because it made her mummy sad’.
As they grow even older, children will begin to notice that you look at marks on the page and transform these into words – the core concept of written language.
“[Children] will move from seeing books as a thing to crow with pleasure over to seeing that … they move us in different ways.”
By helping you to turn pages, a baby develops fine motor skills, and also something harder to define but vitally important – the knowledge that with every page turn there is something new to discover, and that the story moves on in this manner. They learn to remember what has come before and then to predict what will come next; as they grow as book-lovers they begin to see humour and interest in books that confound or play with this sequence of events.
When a child returns again and again to the same book, it’s because they are developing understanding of how story works via the story of that specific book and they want to explore it again and again. On a subconscious level they are pinning it down in their heads, the better to examine it from all angles. They are becoming readers, and also thinkers engaging with an ever-broadening world.
As with all our Picture Squirrels, We Are Not Frogs aims to extend these benefits to more families. Of course, it is also what Michael Morpurgo calls ‘an all-singing, all-dancing kind of a book,’ full of froggy (and toady!) fun. Michael is an enormous supporter of Barrington Stoke and we were so happy to be able to pair him with Sam Usher, who created stunning artwork for Michelle Magorian’s gorgeous Little Gem The Smile last year and since then has gone on to co-create Nosy Crow’s high profile charity project Refuge. Michael and Sam have never worked together before and Michael is full of praise for his young collaborator, describing the illustrations as ‘full of light and life, every page a sheer delight.’ We concur and we hope they help more families get the reading bug.