Our Key Authors are the selection of books we have analysed and chosen to be part of the core curriculum we use at Our Monkey Club. These authors and their books help us to extend our children’s literacy skills due to their skills as a writer and storyteller. We have many favourite books within our Key Authors and recently our practitioners spent time during lockdown reading and analysing the learning potential in many of our books. While we have always been aware of the themes and concepts in our stories, having the chance to reflect on the learning opportunities contained in the books really highlighted the experiences we could offer our children. When I asked the practitioners about their favourite books to read with our children, they were quick to share examples which included some classic favourites, Key Authors we read daily and also some new and exciting releases.
Renay from our Swadlincote setting started our discussion and said “Classic favourite! ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’… so much you can do from it, like actually going on a bear hunt.. kids love it, they are familiar with the story, share their ideas and at times they have made up their own bear hunt by using helicopters to get over the forest and all sorts!” This Micheal Rosen classic book is one many of us can recite word for word. Amy Cartwright even once wrote a special story for one of our children to help them use the toilet called ‘Going on a Poo Hunt’. Not only did it do the trick for the child, but it had all of the staff howling with laughter! One of my favourite memories from practice is sitting reading this story with a 3 year old boy who stopped me in my tracks saying “You can go under it.” I asked him how he would go under the river and he said he would get scuba diving gear and walk along the bottom. I responded pointing out you would still be in and therefore going through it so he said you could dig a tunnel underneath and then you would go under it. I conceded quickly as I could tell I was going to be intellectually beaten by a 3 year old and asked him how else he could travel passed the river. Quickly he suggested a helicopter could solve the problem of going over it and there started a very long conversation imagining all the possibilities that would allow us to travel over or under the various obstacles. It’s a book that just keeps giving and I especially love the last page as we explore where the bear is going and how he is feeling now. Its wonderful to watch the children decide if he is sad because he’s alone or hungry or whether he just wanted to play and children have their own ideas about what the bear thought.
Another staple in all children’s lives for many decades is Eric Carle’s ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’. I still remember the huge display in my infant school hall when I was a very young child. The beautiful illustrations and simple story allow all children to understand the complex and often daunting process of change. Suhayla, our Assistant Manager at the Burton site said “Children become really engaged with the fun features like the holes in the fruits. It’s such a simple yet effective story that supports children to understand ‘growth’ and ‘change’ in a safe way through the caterpillar using anthropomorphism to create human type characteristics and behaviours accessible by the children. It also supports them to recognise how fascinating change can be and how positive it is for the caterpillar and can be for them as they grow up. Essentially it’s looking at growth and ‘rebirth’ through change as the underlying theme and also allows children to explore the life cycle enhancing children’s understanding of sequencing. He even managed to include mathematics, days of the week and health and unhealthy food groups! All in a few short sentences.
I asked Megan, an apprentice that has just started with Our Monkey Club, what she has enjoyed reading and she told me that she’s been reading some of the ‘Elmer’ books with Bella at our Swadlincote setting and that the original Elmer book stuck out for her. “It’s a classic book and I enjoyed sharing the experience with her as it brought back memories for me reading it as a child, so it was nice to see how much she enjoyed it too. I’ve learned she has a trajectory schema so she enjoys the journey aspect of the book, but I also like the message of the book that we are all unique in our own way and you shouldn’t try and change who you are. You should just be yourself which is an important message for children as they are developing.”
Jessica is currently working at our Donisthorpe site and loves ‘A Squash and A Squeeze’ by Julia Donaldson. She loves the rhymes and the concepts contained within the story. Anthropomorphism let’s children think about how the animals feel when they get kicked out of the house and silliness of what they do in the house such as tapping out a jig. Jessica noted the many opportunities for numbers, space and measure and loved that the moral of the story was that the grass isn’t always greener! Julia Donaldson is one of our favourite Key Authors for so many of her books.
Lauren particularly loves ‘The Gruffalo’ because it contains lots of rhyming in the story and repetition which the children enjoy taking part in when listening to the story. Lauren recognised the importance of exploring how the different animals may be feeling when the gruffalo comes and the author plays with each character’s perception of the events and allows the child to see the different layers in knowledge, understanding and how these are manipulated by the mouse. This is a very complex book as each character has a different understanding of the situation and exploring all of this perspectives is fascinating.
‘Stickman’ is one of Melissa’s favourites from Julia Donaldson because lots of children that have a trajectory schema (exploring lines) love this story as he is going on a journey. Lots of rhyming, repeated refrains and phrases help all of the children to get involved and explore literary constructions that underpin language development. However the children are again most interested in the feelings and emotions expressed exploring how his family feel when he hasn’t returned home. The children also become interested in the different uses for ‘stick’ man throughout the story and how he expresses he’s not any of them and he is an individual in his own right and not something to be used! Children also get excited towards the end when they notice Santa is also involved and talk about their experiences and ideas on how Santa gets in to their house with special keys and sharing their own versions of Santas routines. ‘Room on the Broom’ is another great story for rhythm, rhyme and repeated refrains which underpin language development and the understanding and creation of narratives. Suhayla finds that this story is great for acting out and creates props such as a broom to engage the children in the story structure and language as they retell the narrative. She finds that it supports children’s understanding and acceptance of others as individuals with their own interests, wants and needs that makes them unique and that these should be recognised, respected and valued. This is an importance life skill and we see our children explore how to form and support a community within a few short pages. Oh and of course the children love the dragon and anticipate his emergence every time with glee!
Interestingly, ‘The Snail and The Whale’ became Ollie’s favourite as Lisa, from our Donisthorpe site, read him stories during last years lock down. Melissa explains that the snail takes the journey with the whale to explore the world which includes different environments, weathers and the different animals in their natural habitats too. Ultimately the whale ends up beached in a bay and the snail saves him which shows that anyone, no matter how small, can have an impact on others and the world around them. For Ollie, he was within his home for months as a very small child and couldn’t see the world outside of his home so this book allowed him a window into the world and a range of experiences he just couldn’t access at the time. Again, this is a great story for those with trajectory schema as they go on a journey, this time across the entire world!
Julia Donaldson has been writing for many years now and our practitioners have been reading her most recent books to their own children too. Melissa loves to read ‘Night Monkey Day Monkey’ to her daughter Bella which explores the different worlds in which both monkeys live and the comparisons of the perceptions of both monkeys and their experiences of the world as what one monkey fears, the other one loves. This recognition that their experiences of the world has influenced both their understanding and their emotional response to events again explains complex psychological and social processes in a story that is accessible to a 3 year old! During the story they learn about each other’s opposite worlds and how to explore things that are new and different.
Kirsty, our Manager at the Donisthorpe centre, has been reading ‘The Smeds and The Smoos’, another Julia Donaldson book, with her boys and the children at the centre. This book delicately and effectively tackles many complex ideas that are important for our world at the moment such as similarities and differences between people and how these can be accepted and celebrated! Julia Donaldson’s ability to condense complex issues into fun, amusing and exciting stories with literary constructions that enhance and extend children’s literacy skills within 30ish pages is outstanding.
While we obviously love Julia Donaldson, there are so many modern authors and illustrators that are producing amazing books for our children to experience. Kirsty’s two young boys love The Dinosaur that Popped Christmas’ by Tom Fletcher which explores the simple and child pleasing premise that what goes in, must come out!
The Manager of Swadlincote and Our Monkey Club Director, Michelle, loves ‘Don’t wake the bear hare’ as it is a massive favourite with the children. She particularly enjoys watching the children predict what might happen if the bear wakes up and building the anticipation is all part of effective storytelling, using intonation, rhythm and pace to keep the children on the edge of their seats. The presentation of the sentences and the illustrations help to guide the intonation needed for the children to experience the excitement and makes it enjoyable to read and easy to listen to. Michelle also loves that the illustrations are fun with lots of extra bits of forest detail and additional creatures to provoke rich discussions with the children exploring the forest community and environment. Of course, the party at the end provides a warm sense of coming together at the end too and who doesn’t love a good party! Asking Michelle to name one book is always going to be difficult after 20 years reading stories with children and she explained that she loves ‘Peace at Last’ by Jill Murray for its many opportunities to explore feelings and emotions, families and homes and of course the noises the house and its inhabitants make to keep daddy bear awake. This book is amazing for exploring sounds both identifying and making sounds which are essential skills to underpin language and literacy development. ‘Dear Zoo’ by Rod Campbell is another one of her favourites for our youngest children as they search for the animals behind the flaps but it can be used to explore but more complex concepts with our older children as the child tries to find their perfect pet from the varied and often dangerous zoo animals!
When I asked a group of over a thousand Nursery Owners what they enjoyed reading to their children some of their favourites were ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ by Judith Kerr which is an amazing story about a tiger that’s eats all the food in the child’s house when he visits for tea. The bit that always confuses me is that he drinks all the water in the tap but the solutions to where to eat their own tea becomes the café at the end of their street which miraculously has water still! Julia Donaldson’s books were again touted such as ‘Monkey Puzzle’ and ‘Paper Dolls’ but some of my favourites appeared in the comments. ‘Some Dogs Do’ by Jez Alborough is a wonderful look at emotions and the impact of others on our emotional world and the last page always makes me smile. Another owner talked about ‘Giraffes Can’t Dance’ by Giles Andreae which is a beautiful tale about accepting your individuality and the differences between you and those around you. It is a great lesson in learning how to celebrate being you and always reminds me of Elmer. The joy Gerald feels when he learns to dance hints at the freedom we can experience when we feel happy within ourselves and often sparks off a dancing party at Our Monkey Club too!
We all have our favourite childrens books, either from our own childhood or from reading to our children and grandchildren. I would love to hear about yours.