The Rainbow Library

ReaditDaddy’s wonderful campaign encouraging parents to read to their children has really caught the book blogging community’s imagination. The basic premise is to support and encourage people to read aloud to their children, and to work with other agencies to raise awareness. ReaditDaddy is busy blogging, reviewing and spreading the word and twitter seems full of positivity and commitment for the project.

I spent yesterday pondering how best to join in and support the campaign. I already read (a lot) to Mollie and we visit the library every week. I am passionate about the power of language and a strong believer in the importance of positive, quality books in childhood but I didn’t know what I could offer to the project other than a blog of support. I spent a lovely morning browsing blogs and reading around the project. I got learning and I got inspired.

Here are a few of the things that chimed with me when I read them.

The lovely Clara Vulliamy said:
“And if you hang onto only one thing:
of course they will love the books, they love the person reading them!”
And “Books aren’t ‘good for you’ like vegetables – they’re wild creatures you’re letting loose.”

I love that! ‘Wild creatures you’re letting loose.’ That really caught my imagination… and so began my cunning plan.

Catherine from Story Snug commented that
“My only New Year’s resolution (which I haven’t managed as much as I would have liked!) is also to read more in front of my daughter, I want to be a better role model so that she knows that I also enjoy reading and it is not something that I just do with her.”
Sold! Any excuse! I will read more in front of Mollie. That is something I can actively change.

And then I found this blog from Library Mice
“But I can’t help thinking that if each newborn had a book fairy, we wouldn’t face the dreadful reality of children not being able to read, and not being able to enjoy books.”

What a perfect point. So many children don’t have a bookcase of their own, don’t get read to every day, don’t get taken to the library, don’t have access to brilliant books that teach them about the world and their potential in it. What a better place the world would be if all children did have a book fairy who could perhaps resolve some of that. How could I set some books wild and become a book fairy???

So my pledge for readitdaddy’s campaign is to set up a book box library at the local nursery where children can borrow a book and take it home to read. It just so happens that tomorrow is International Book Giving Day and I’ve already bought a few Catherine Rayner books to give to the nursery. Yesterday I ran the idea past the nursery and today I raided the shops.

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The nursery has a catchment area that reaches into local deprived areas. The majority of children don’t have access to a wide range of books outside of the nursery. They don’t have great language skills and they don’t have great role models. This is where Readitdaddy’s campaign needs to be reaching. It also means there were a few things to think about when putting it all together.

• The books might not get returned.
Hey ho. I’m setting books loose into this library and if they don’t come back then a child has a book in their home that they wouldn’t otherwise have had access to. I’m all fine with that prospect.

• The books might make it home but there might not be someone there who is willing, or able, to read it to them.
To counter this I have tried to include lots of books with pictures that tell a story and board books that children can explore independently.

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• The children (or parents) might not be interested.
I’ve tried to include really great books that will give children and adults a taste of wonderful language and illustration.

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But I’m very aware that these will be far removed from the day to day experience of a lot of the children. I’ve included some tv tie-in books to appeal to what they know and encourage the children to have a look. They might not have books at home but they’ll certainly know who Fireman Sam is.

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I have labelled all the books to say they belong to the Rainbow library and added a little notebook where staff and parents can keep a record of the books they take home. And now, the Rainbow Library is ready to rock.

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I’ve made a long-term commitment to the nursery to supply books for the library and support the running and use of it. In addition, I plan to monitor the books and see which children aren’t using the library, then I will go in to the nursery for an hour a week and read with those children.

Mission on!

How can you help?
Perhaps you could donate a book? Are you a children’s author or illustrator? Maybe you could donate one of your books. A book blogger? Maybe you could donate a review book? A publisher? Maybe you could send some review books this way. I promise that all review copies will be donated to Rainbow Library. A parent? Maybe you could sort out some books your child has grown out of and donate them?
Or… Perhaps you could become a book fairy and start your own book box library?
Perhaps you’ve done something similar and can offer me any advice or words of wisdom?

Tomorrow I will take the books to the nursery and set them loose. I’ll keep you posted!

Update: To keep up with the Rainbow Library, hop over to my RhinoReads blog where I review big books for little people.

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Summer survived

Eight weeks of summer holidays survived. And enjoyed! Now Mollie is back at nursery and we have all settled into new routines, influenced by our summer holiday learnings.

Inspired by the circus and olympics, Mollie now goes to gymnastic lessons every week. She is learning how to swing on the bar and balance on the beam and is loving it. In 5 weeks she has grown in confidence, strength and balance and is so proud of herself. Ballet and gymnastics have become central to Mollie’s days. She watches and recreates Strictly, puts on shows for her nursery teachers and dresses up in dancing clothes and sighs at my lack of flexibility.

In the hour between nursery and gymnastics we go to the library. We sit on the dinosaur rug and look through the train book box. We read books together and explore the pictures and discover new authors. Mollie has an Elmer book bag that is always overflowing and a new Elmer library card to match – the observant and inspiring librarians presented it to her when they spotted her bag, how about that for going the extra mile!

The library books have been sneaking into our lives since the summer holidays, inspiring and teaching us. Mollie discovered information books and is now soaking up books about the body and doctors and ballet, teaching us all with her incredible ability to remember new information.

Emily Gravett’s Spells introduced us to the Babbit. A crazy half bird half rabbit that has become a family favourite. Every family has them, the little sayings that sneak into the vocabulary and end up as part of family life. In our house they all seem to creep in from the literature we share and our playing with language. And now the Babbit, and the tickling and giggling that accompanies the word, is part of us. Emily Gravett is a genius.

The joy Mollie still finds in board books has reminded me that she is still little, even though she doesn’t sound it when she is bossing me about trying to recreate the positions in the ballet book. She is still little, but she is getting over her fear of spider webs – because Emily Brown puts her hands on cobwebs in Cressida Cowell’s Emily Brown and the Thing.

Books can teach us so many things.

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Soon it will be time to start looking at schools for Mollie and asking the questions about gym clubs and school libraries and phonics tests. But I’m less worried about Mollie’s learning at school now. I’ve seen her be inspired, follow something she loves and grow in confidence. I’ve seen her love of books and words develop. And I’ve seen us embrace it all as a family and change our routines to support her.

Perhaps those eight long weeks will have a longer lasting impact than any of us initially imagined.

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Learning through play

On Mollie’s last day of nursery one of the mums asked me what I was planning over the holidays. When I told her I was going to start teaching Mollie to read, she looked genuinely shocked. “Won’t she be bored at school if she can already read?”

Her reaction surprised me.

Perhaps she has an idealised vision of children sat beautifully in a school library, or the book corner of a classroom, enjoying a diverse selection of stories and rhymes with Miss Honey. In reality, there is no school library because it has been turned into a computer room. The books from the book corner have been locked in the teacher’s cupboard because the government suggests that children shouldn’t have classroom access to books beyond their phonics level. There is no time to interact with books because the children haven’t done their Phonics session. Miss Honey is turning bitter, frustrated by a system that she knows won’t work.

So no, I’m not worried that Mollie will be bored if she can already read by the time she goes to school. I’m worried that she’ll be bored by the rote learning of phonics every day. I’m worried that if we don’t teach her at home, she might not learn to read at all. Because she might learn to ‘read’ phonetically but will be lost with the words that don’t fit the mould. Because she might learn to ‘read’ words but wont necessarily comprehend their meaning and relation to story, picture, life. Because she might be put off by the pretend words, the learning from lists, the dull dried version of learning that is currently being prescribed to our children. I want her to experience the joy of language, the magic of words and stories and imagination. And if the government have their way I don’t think that will be easy at school, even with the Miss Honeys of teaching.

This letter from an Early Years Consultant to Michael Rosen shows how sad the situation has become.

I believe that children learn to read through immersion in words and language and books and drama and songs and stories. Through play. Through having fun.

In the first two weeks of the summer holiday we have had fun. A lot of this fun has helped Mollie learn to read. Without her even noticing. And that’s how children learn. No need for huge budgets and plans and rules, restrictions and tests. Just fun.

We turned a dog walk in the field into a Bear Hunt. And then into a trek through Our Jungle. We spotted strange beetles, took pictures and looked them up – in a book! We read books of poems and laughed at the silly ones and made up songs and nonsense smonsense rhymes. Mollie noticed that the words in the worm poem were written down in a wiggly worm line. We read stories together and Mollie pointed out that the word ‘splash’ in The Pig In The Pond sounded like a splash.

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We went to WHSmiths to choose new books with Mollie’s birthday giftcard (Thank you Lucy and Charlie.) There was only half a shelf of children’s books and they were too high for Mollie to reach. (Well done ‘Smiths!) But we didn’t let that put us off. We got lots down and looked at them on the floor. We looked through the pictures and talked about titles and authors and what the books might be about and what other books the authors and illustrators had created. Mollie chose three to buy.

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One of her chosen few was The Singing Mermaid. It is about a mermaid that goes to sing in a circus. We had seen the circus arrive at our local park just days before. So we went to the circus and had a magical time. Then we bought a programme and we spent time looking through it together and used it to explain all the fun of our circus trip to Mummy K and Grandma and Grandad.

We went to a charity shop and found a book of fairytales that another little boy or girl had loved before. We played shops and Mummy K made the big bottle for collecting copper coins into Mollie’s book money bottle, for the next charity shop trip.

And in two weeks of fun the closest we got to a phonics lesson was playing with foam letters in the bath.

Summer Survival (or using my daughter to live out my dreams)

It is nearly time for The Summer Holidays. Mollie has one week left at nursery and then eight weeks off. EIGHT! Bye bye writing time. Bye reading time. See ya sanity.

Eight weeks.

I need a project. Something that Mollie and I can do together. Something sanity saving that we can do on the inevitable deluge of rainy days. Something that wont need space or silence, ’cause there certainly won’t be much of that, but will provide sustenance for my book cravings.

I’ve got it! I will encourage hers!

Mollie has just turned three. She loves books. Hooray! She has loved books since she was alert enough to notice them. Exploring books and reading together is a big part of our family life. Mollie has a bedtime story (or six) every night and crammed bookshelves that she delves into during the day. She enjoys making up crazy and hilarious stories and songs and generally playing with words.
I think she’s got the book bug!
My wife and I both grew up with (and through) books and I want to encourage Mollie’s interest and empower her with the ability to read.

So here’s my Plan for Summer Holidays Survival

I will take her book shopping.
To real bookshops. Where she can touch and smell the books and look at the pictures and discover new authors and illustrators. Where she can see first hand the difference between new books and books that have been loved by others- and might have secret surprises scrawled inside the covers. Where she can start choosing her own books to bring home and devour.

I will take her to the library.
I have fond memories of the children’s section of the library where I grew up. It had a magical feel to it. It felt like freedom and peace and potential. It was exciting and full of unexplored words and worlds. I would devour fiction, explore craft books for inspiration, touch and smell all the books.
Our local library is small but has a wonderful children’s section. There’s a great range of books and enough space for the children to explore them. There’s a chair in the shape of a rocket that the kids can sit inside with their books. There is story time and singing time. And there are librarians who are kind and knowledgeable and passionate about books.
Libraries are incredible resources and we need to use them before we lose them. We’ve been taking Mollie to the library since she was a baby, but if I’m honest, I don’t take her often enough now that she goes to nursery. So we will go and we will see what we can learn.

We’ll read together.
I truly believe that learning to read involves more than phonics. It’s about instilling a love of words, books and pictures. It’s learning the connections between words and pictures, words and other words, words and their meanings.
So yes, I’ll teach her phonics, but I’ll also teach her about books and words and illustrations and rhymes and typography and authors and illustrators and drama and singing. Michael Rosen is very articulate about this on his blog here.
I like him. I think I’ll get Mollie some more of his books.

I will make her a virtual library
After a Twitter exchange with Gillian Stern about her daughter’s reading progression from Maisy to Marquez, I started thinking about Mollie’s love for books and how quickly she is progressing. That led me to think about all the books she has read and loved in her little life, how she favours some and asks for others when she’s in a particular mood. I often wish I’d kept a book journal when I was younger, so Mollie’s Library is my attempt to use my daughter to live out my dream – parental prerogative!

And for me…

I will turn this…

…into something that resembles this…

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Beautiful, isn’t it. I want a rainbow bookcase!
It’s Shelley Harris’ fault. She started it! “@shelleywriter: Here’s some book porn from my blog: http://t.co/cRJyNRVe

Ok, my bookshelves are tucked in under my stairs and are currently part my books, part Kerry’s records and part Mollies ‘art stuff’, but I WILL make it into a beautiful rainbow. You see if I don’t. In fact, you can see that I’ve already had a little test at the top of my shelves. I jumped in without proper planning and had to sit back and contemplate a bit more. But I’ll get there.

Updates on The Summer Project(s) to follow.