Back in October, I sat down with my Year 3 & 4 Book Club to show them this year’s shortlist for the Coventry Inspiration Book Awards Telling Tales category. I read the blurb for each book, and the children voted on whether it made them want to read on. Votes were counted and covers were revealed, and cover votes were counted too.
There were ooohs and ahhhhs as the books appeared out of my bags and were displayed in front of them. All until the final book was pulled out; Where The Bugaboo Lives by Sean Taylor.
“Is that supposed to be in there Miss?” “I don’t want to read that one.”“It’s just a picture book.”“We’re too old for picture books.”
I raised an eyebrow, looked at the book, and asked “How do you know? Have you all read this one?” and received a chorus of no’s. “You can just tell from the cover Miss. “ “It’s a picture book.”
Where The Bugaboo Lives received just 2 votes for it’s cover. “What is it about the cover that makes you want to read it?” “I think my baby brother would like it.” and “I want to know what a Bugaboo is.”
“Ok, so looking at the votes, just based on the cover and the blurb, only two of you want to read this book, but all of you want to read The Wilderness War by Julia Green.” Cue lots of nods. Of the eight books, it is probably the one that looks the most grown up.
“How about we read this one today (Bugaboo) as a group, and vote, then we can share out the other books for you to read over the next week?”
There were sighs, a huff, an eye roll and a “let’s get it over with.” And for the next 15 minutes the Library was filled with laughter as they discovered the choices they had to make to read the book. They argued over whether to take the uphill path or the downhill path. They unanimously agreed to skip the final choice, and then they all chorused “Again!” But the bell rang.
“Can we read it again next week Miss?” I laughed, “I don’t know we’ve got time, there are seven other books to look at too.” “Please Miss…”
Twelve Year 3&4 children looked at me. Twelve children. Ten of whom were totally put off by the cover, because it looked like a picture book. It looked too easy. Twelve children cheered when I said, “If we have time.”
Three weeks in a row we read Where The Bugaboo Lives, discovering all of the different stories within the book, following all of the different paths. We’d spend ten minutes discussing the book they’d read over the week, and then we’d go into the valley again.
On the fourth week, I had to say no, we had to spend more time with the other seven books. We had a long discussion about Grey Island, Red Boat by Ian Beck and Hilda & The Troll by Luke Pearson which all of them had read.
Those who’d read the other books said why they’d enjoyed them (or not, which is allowed), and they were given to children who hadn’t read them yet.
I then told the group about the Book Bout, a competition where we would have to showcase one of the books in a way that would make other children want to read it. “I can’t guarantee which book we will get, but I can request the one we’d like to present.”
“Where The Bugaboo Lives.” So, from a book they hadn’t wanted to read, it had become their firm favourite. It was the one they wanted to shout about and get others reading. Why?
“It’s not just a picture book, it’s so much more!” “It’s a really fun book to share with your friends.” “There are 12 different stories depending on the choices you make.”
And then, there’s this.
“We have to make choices all the time, and sometimes they’re difficult because both choices are scary. This book reminds us that we always have our friends and family to help us. We don’t have to face the choices on our own.”
So that’s why we’re championing Where The Bugaboo Lives by Sean Taylor, with fabulous illustrations by Neal Layton at the Primary Book Bout this coming Thursday. And it’s why I’ll be voting for it every week in the Telling Tales category.
We all judge books by their covers, but this proves why we should always take a look inside too, before making up our minds.
But why did it happen? I’ve thought about this, a lot. As parents, we want the best for our children, and in school, we want the best for the children we teach. In the same way children move up through reading schemes, showing they are making progress with their reading ability, they also want to show their friends and families that they’re reading bigger, and somehow, better books because they are ‘proper chapter books’, which seems to downgrade the value of picture books.
I remember a child saying “Room on a Broom? That’s for babies!” when a friend in his class (then Year 4 picked it up). I asked him if he’d read it as a baby. “Well no, my mum read it to me. Babies can’t read.” Which opened up a big conversation about why we stop choosing picture books, when if they’re just for babies, they have words in them that babies can’t read. It came down to what their peers thought of them.
When I explained that Room on the Broom had a Lexile of 720, they were shocked. “How?” “Read it, then see if you can tell me why.” And they did. “It’s actually a pretty complicated story, about kindness, trust and friendship Miss.” More than just a book for babies then.
I’ve a child in Year 5 who regularly borrows picture books, so she can share them with her little brother. I watched two children from the same class share a wordless picture book during a wet play time this week. They were animated and laughing. Their conversation was a joy to eavesdrop.
We have fantastic authors and illustrators creating picture books targeted at much older children. I know I wouldn’t have settled down in the rocking chair with Neil Gaiman’s Wolves in the Wall when my son was a toddler, or Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.
We had PGCE students come into almost every class this week to deliver an afternoon based on Flotsam by David Weisner. The children all loved it. It can be targeted to meet the needs of any child at any age, because, being wordless, the only barrier to the story is the child’s own vocabulary and imagination.
If I go in my son’s bedroom he still has a whole bookshelf full of his favourite picture books. Don’t tell anyone I told you, but if he’s feeling particularly ill or upset, he’ll look through them, and read a few. They’re familiar, comforting and they still bring him pleasure.
And that’s why every classroom and child’s bedroom should have picture books on their shelves. They encourage sharing, and conversation, they can be familiar and comforting or challenging and questioning. But they are, without doubt, a vital part of any bookcase.