A celebration of parenting with Katrina Roe

Tag Archives: children’s books

I know that purveyors of parenting wisdom always say that the hallmark of good parenting is consistency, consistency, consistency, but this week I decided, on a whim, to let my eldest daughter break one of our family rules.  That rule is ‘no reading at the table’.  Yesterday morning I was eating my porridge when I looked up to see Caillie’s head buried in a book, while her oats sat completely neglected in their bowl.  She was totaImagelly absorbed in a Billie B. Brown book.  For those who aren’t familiar with Billie B. Brown, they’re really short chapter books, designed specifically to help early readers transition into independent reading.
 
Why did I bend the rules on this occasion?
 
It’s the first time I’ve ever seen Birdy sit down, uninterrupted and read a book with chapters from cover to cover.  When kids first learn to read they’ll often choose picture books they already know, or they’ll read bits then skip ahead, trying to glean tidbits of information about the story from the combination of key words and pictures.  But this was the first time I’ve seen Birdy read a longer format book without stopping, without needing help or without skipping ahead to work out what happens.  And it just happened to be on the first day of BOOK WEEK!
 
I know it’s tempting to think that once a child can read to themselves, we can just hand over the reigns and leave them to it, but I think it’s important to continue reading aloud with your child.  It’s a lovely treat to be read to.  It’s the quality time spent together, the physical closeness, the soothing quality of listening to the familiar comfort of the parent’s voice.  But having Mum and Dad continuing to read aloud also enables the child to tackle a wider range of material and read at different levels.
 
For example, on her own, Birdy can only read picture books or short chapter books, but together we’ve been reading the latest Tania Abbey adventure by Penny Reeve, called More than a Mouse.  That book is probably aimed at a 9 or 10 year old.  One of the characters in the story is involved in a really serious car accident.  If a six year old was reading that content in their own head, it would be way too heavy, but when we read it together and we talk it through, she can handle it.

One of the challenges of this new phase of independent reading is that parents need to be aware of exactly what their kids are reading.  Especially once your kids get into upper primary and early high school, there can be some very challenging material in kids’ books.  But unlike movies, there’s no rating system to indicate the content. So just as you wouldn’t put on a movie without knowing anything about it, you need to be continuing to read with your child or reading what they’re reading so you’re aware of some of the issues they might be coming across in books.  All of us who are parents need to be children’s literature experts as well… as if we don’t have enough pressure on us already!

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My husband and I have tried very hard to nurture a love of reading in Birdy and I think it’s safe to say we’ve been successful. It’s possible we may have even overdone it just slightly.  Birdy came home incredibly excited after her kindy class had their first official visit to the school library.  She wasn’t just looking forward to going to the library, she told us that she had been ‘shivering’ all day because she was ‘just sooo excited’ about borrowing her first book. So we may have a future library monitor in the making.

We haven’t really seen any reading progress in the first few weeks of school, but I think the nervous anticipation is partly about realising that they are learning to read and that soon they will be able to read books by themselves.  I’ve actually put my hand up to be one of the parents who help out with reading in class.  I’ve only done it once so far but already it’s been a great way to suss out what goes on in the classroom.  (I know who all the naughty kids are now and who are the smartypants as well.)  But it’s been amazing to see the huge variation in what kindy kids know when they start school.  Some of the children know all their letters and what sounds they make, and some also understand the concept of sounding out words, whereas other children still can’t recognise all the letters of the alphabet.

 Most of us know that the best thing we can do for our kids is to read to them every day.  Generally we do that before bed to help children wind down, but sometimes, if mums and dads are a wee bit tired and want the kids in bed as soon as humanly possible so they can have that glass of red and catch up on the latest episode of Rafters or whatever people watch these days, we might be a tad more inclined to pick the absolute shortest book we can find or, dare I say it, even skip over the story a little?  Whole pages have been known to disappear from The Cat in the Hat on a Friday night.  I mean seriously, how long is that book?

So if we want to make reading time a fun time, rather than an ‘I’m-so-over-it-I-just-want-you-asleep’ time, we should probably try to read at other times of the day, as well as at bedtime. That way we might be more inclined to talk about the pictures, help them understand the story, do the silly voices and all the other things that make reading time fun.  And while small kids are often quite happy to read the same stories again and again, they also get excited about new books.  So take the time to go the library once a week or buy a new book to mark a special occasion.  When I was a kid, Mum never gave me money for lollies, but when the Ashton Scholastic catalogue came to school, we went nuts!  There may not have been money for treats or new clothes, but there was always money and time for books.  We could even get out of washing up if we stuck our head in a book, that’s how much importance my Mum placed on reading.

Something I was surprised to learn as a new parent is that children actually need to see you reading too.  Just reading aloud to them isn’t enough, they need to see you absorbed in a book or a magazine.  It’s like eating.  It’s all in the modelling.  You can’t offer your child a carrot stick and then sit down and eat a Mars Bar in front of them.  You need to show your child that reading is enjoyable and important by making time to sit down and read for pleasure.

On the flip side, if you don’t have time to read a story, words are everywhere so just read whatever is around you.  Point out words on traffic signs and bus advertisements and menus.  You’ll be sending your child a message that reading is a life skill, not just a form of entertainment.

I’ve heard some parents say their child just isn’t interested in books.  I wonder if they just haven’t found the right type of book for that child. Talk to a librarian or their teacher about what might work.  Some boys just love really simple books with pictures of trucks and cars and motorbikes and not too many words.  Finally, and I realise this might sound a little “out there”, one way to make books more absorbing is to bring the characters to life by talking about them as if they’re real.  “Charlie and Lola live in London.” Or “Wendy the Chicken had to go to hospital too.”  Books are most compelling when we care about the characters and what happens to them, so talk about them as if they’re your child’s friends.  One day they’ll probably say, “Mum, Moonface isn’t real, silly”, but until then… make it work for you.

What are your tips for teaching kids to read and nuturing a love of books?  Do you have any fave books your children loved to read again and again?  Do you find yourself sometimes rushing through stories at bedtime?  Do you have trouble finding time to read for yourself?


BY ALEESAH DARLISON, Children’s author


Is there such a thing as guilt free motherhood?

I don’t know about you, but I feel guilty about loads of things about my kids. I want them to be well-rounded and happy. I want them to be polite and liked by others. I want them to be thoughtful and unaffected.

And if they’re not, it’s a reflection on me, isn’t it?  For isn’t it my responsibility as a mother to ensure my kids turn out just right?  It’s a huge responsibility, this thing we call ‘Motherhood’ and we all strive so hard to be absolutely perfect at it. But are we expecting too much from our children and ourselves?

I gave up full time work in corporate marketing seven-and-a-half years ago, a few weeks prior to the birth of my first child. I was determined to be a full time mum and thought that by becoming one, I would give my children the greatest chance possible to grow up to be the best kind of adult.

What I didn’t count on was my in-built need for mental stimulation that went way beyond changing dirty nappies or cleaning up baby vomit. Sure, the dirty nappies and vomit cleaning-up didn’t take their toll for a while. At first, I was delighted (and completely unprepared) for anything my new baby did.  But by about nine months into this motherhood gig, though I loved my son dearly and we did everything together and I remember saying he was my ‘best friend’ (surely a sign there was something wrong!), there were times when he slept for hours on end and the housework just wouldn’t cut it as something that fulfilled my life’s purpose.

My mind kept wandering back to that latent desire I’d always had: to be a writer. And, while he slept it was a perfect time for me to research that historical novel I’d always wanted to write. Some nights while his father minded him, I could even slip into the State Library to delightedly trawl for hours through roll after roll of micro-film, piecing together the potted history of colonial ancestors from old newspapers. Then, after several hours, I’d skip home just in time for the midnight breastfeed. It was all timed perfectly. Motherhood and a few hours of freedom. Who could ask for more?

Now the years have flown by and my writing career has surprisingly taken off. I’m finding it’s demanding more and more of my time. So, too, are my three children.

Who comes first?

I’d like to say it’s always them, but sometimes it’s not. And here’s where the guilt creeps in… Am I being selfish for occasionally putting myself first?

Sometimes they have to go to daycare or after-school care because I’m working. The guilt on those days is horrendous. It’s not made any better by the fact that my two-year-old daughter cries most mornings when I drop her off at daycare. Though several minutes later she’s perfectly fine, it’s the crying when I leave that makes me feel depressed and guilty. Am I damaging her irreparably? Or is she just ‘putting it on’? I don’t think I’ll ever know.

It’s even harder to juggle everything in school holidays, because I try to spend more time with them but the work doesn’t slow down. The emails keep coming, demanding to be answered. The deadlines march ever closer, demanding that I write that manuscript I’ve been paid an advance for.

One way I try to cope is by limiting any unnecessary time I have away from them. It’s not easy. Most events I attend take place while the kids are at school (or daycare, which is only three days a week). Any night time activities take place after they are in bed anyway so I don’t feel so much that they are missing out.  And when I am with them, I try to remember that there is more to life than ironing and washing and cleaning. That time with them can be spent playing board games, reading books, drawing, going on trips to the zoo or the beach and so on.

If we have take away some nights because I’ve spent time playing with them instead of cooking a fancy meal, then so be it.  If I didn’t bring the washing in from the line and it gets soaked from the rain (again) because I was reading with them by the fire, then so be it.  Life’s too short to worry about these things, anyway.  At least this way, the time spent with my kids is as special as it can be.

I need to work for that good feeling inside me. That sense of achievement and worth. And I want to work. I love writing and expressing myself and seeing my books illustrated and published. So, I must keep doing it.

If I could have my kids stay the ages they are now – 7, 5, and 2, life would be perfect. But wishes like that don’t come true and life is never perfect, so I guess all I can do is make the most of the age they are now and the ages they will be in the future.

Aleesah Darlison writes picture books and novels for children. She also reviews books for The Sun Herald.  Her first picture book, Puggle’s Problem, was released in July. Her junior series for girls aged 7 plus, Totally Twins: Musical Mayhem, was released in September. The series follows the adventures of identical twins, Persephone (she’s the sensible one) and Portia (she’s the messy one) Pinchgut and is written in diary format by Persephone.  To find out more about Aleesah, visit her website here.

Next stop on Aleesah’s blog tour is the Squiggle Mum blog, where Aleesah will be talking about the joys and challenges of writing for children.

Is your motherhood guilt-free?  Do you struggle to combine your work with your motherhood? Do you crave more mental stimulation?  What choices have you made and are you happy with the balance you’ve achieved?


Photo by Lisa Jay

Photo by Lisa Jay

Did you know it’s children’s book week?  I’ve always loved children’s books, but I’ve recently joined a children’s writer’s group so I’m particularly engrossed in them at the moment.  Part of the reason I’m so passionate about kid’s books is that young children read their books over and over and over again.  So what they read can have a profound influence on them.  And because it’s something you do together, (at least with young kids) it should also be enjoyable for the parent as well.  So I thought I’d  share some of my ideas about what makes a good children’s book and conversely what doesn’t.

Things that really turn me off a children’s book

–       Any book that’s too gimmicky always sets off warning bells in my head.  There’s a place for pop-ups and shiny things, and books that change colour, and they can help get kids interested in reading, but those books are often very light on content.

–       Any book that doesn’t have an author’s name on the front cover sends me into cold shivers.  They’re usually mass-produced, written by some 22 year old in-house copywriter for a publishing house, and the standard of writing can be really appalling.

–       Books that are connected to a TV series can also be hit and miss.  Some of the better ones are Maisy, Spot and Charlie and Lola while some of the Banana’s in Pajamas and The Wiggles books are very average, but they’re such strong brands they could publish anything and it would sell.

Things I look for in a great children’s book

–       Good stories equip children to deal with real life.  So the characters should learn something, or achieve something or find solutions to their problems. I really hate books where things just work out by accident, because that tells kids that they’re powerless to deal with the situations they face.

–       But books are also an opportunity to learn about things you have no experience of.  Often the best books take children to another place (whether it be the moon, the African jungle or an Aboriginal community), or teach them to walk inside another person’s shoes.

–       Children love stories with a sense of adventure – nearly all the children’s books that have endured over the generations have an adventurous spirit.

–       I look for vocabulary that extends the child, including words they can’t say yet.

–       The pictures and words should work together, and build on each other, but not be the same.

–       If they’re starting to read to themselves, then repetition is good for building confidence.

–       Also don’t forget the vast majority of our kid’s books come from overseas so support Australian authors by buying books that originate in Australia and reflect our culture.

What is your all-time favourite chlildren’s book?  Which one drives you mad?  What do you look for in a book when you’re choosing it for your child?  Who’s your favourite children’s author or illustrator and why?

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