Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Cuckoo! by Fiona Roberton

Cuckoo! is an innocent little story that promises noisy fun and a sweet as can be main character. It's about a little chick who's also chic in his grey, black and white. Not long after he hatches from his egg the other chicks realise that he speaks differently from them and they can't understand a word he's saying. More specifically, he says 'cuckoo' and they say 'Tootooweet'. It all gets too confusing and the story unfolds as Cuckoo goes in search of someone who can understand him.

His search leads him to some entertaining encounters with a parade of animals who all speak different languages (i.e. make different sounds), but none of them speaks the same as him.  He even tries a stint at a language school to learn to speak like the other animals but that doesn't work out either. Disappointed and exhausted he seeks refuge on a rooftop when he hears the sound of 'cuckoo'.  It eventually leads him to a baby and his toy Cuckoo. It's a big movie moment when the baby looks at him and says 'cuckoo' and he is finally understood.

This is a tale about being different and being accepted.  It will get you making lots and lots of animal noises when read aloud, although I think my favorite is the rabbit twosome who communicate by thumping their feet. E may not have grasped the parallelism of the baby's toy cuckoo but he understood that Cuckoo made a different noise from everyone else and that in the end the baby is able to understand him. His final word on it all: 'that baby is Cuckoo's friend!'. I think that pretty much sums it up!

Give Cuckoo! a look along with some of Roberton's other titles: The Perfect Present and Wanted: The Perfect Pet. Her illustrations are fresh, modern and so very pleasing to the eye.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

For the love of reading ...

In light of the recent World Book Day activity I've decided it's high time to talk a bit about why I think it's so important to read aloud with children, and how to make your home a book friendly environment. There are five key things that I put into place early on at our house:

1. Start reading early and make it a habit.

I started from about 3 weeks with E and at the beginning it was more about the ritual than the books. I started with a lap edition of Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. I read it so many times that the mouse, the little house, the mittens, the mush and the bunny all morphed into one.  E was none the wiser at the outset but as the year went by he came to recognise the characters and connect the story with bedtime. Even now he still pulls it out from time to time and I will always associate this classic book with his baby days.

2. Reading aloud with your child can happen at any time during the day.

It's a popular misnomer to refer to children's books as simply bedtime stories. I absolutely advocate reading books each night before bed but there's no need to confine your reading experience to that time slot. Over time, as E's naps got shorter and our days got longer, I realised that books naturally made their way into other parts of our day. Mealtimes are great for reading and I try to keep a stash in my bag too for when we go out. Reading books has also been one of the more positive surprises from our recent experience with potty training. 

3. Keep books in accessible places around your home.

We have book baskets around our house and it means that E is never far from a book. It's not an elaborate set up but it means we can reach for a book at the table, in the living room, in the bathroom or in his bedroom.  The baskets are all within his reach so that he can easily flip through the titles on his own. As adults we mostly recognize books by reading their spine but young children know books by their covers so make them accessible.

4. Make reading fun.

It's important that children associate reading with pleasure. In our house we do this by talking about the books, drawing pictures of different characters and doing basic craft projects (like building a rocket out of a box) based on the stories we're reading.  E really enjoys going to plays as well that are based on books we've read. Another tip I'll share is about books you don't like.  There's no point in reading something you can't muster a bit of enthusiasm about.  If it sounds dull to you it will sound dull to the child and that dullness will be associated with reading.  I freely admit that if I get completely sick of a book I'll put it away for a bit (yes, I'll hide it) and give us all a break until we can revisit it refreshed and enthusiastic.

5. Don't force a new book. Let your child discover books for themselves and let them choose the titles they want to read.

A question we've debated in our house is how best to introduce a new book.  My husband excitedly purchased a book by a very well known children's author only to have E reject it week after week.  It's kind of like forcing kids to eat their vegetables. It doesn't really work. Instead, we left this book in the basket so E could pick it up at his leisure and after about 10 months or so he finally decided to give it a go. We've been reading it daily for several weeks now.

All in all I urge you to read as much as you can in the time you have and you'll do your child a world of good.  You'll also build memories that will outlast even the most amazing storybook. If you'd like to read more about the benefits of reading aloud and how to instill good reading habits in children of various ages then one book I can recommend is the Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.  If you have any other resources or tips to recommend then please leave a comment!