In the contemporary world, we use electronic and multimedia forms, as well as the written word and images to create and communicate our messages. The Early Years Learning Framework's (EYLF) Outcome 5: 'Children are effective communicators' is about becoming skilled in using these forms, including developing more traditional skills and understandings for literacy and numeracy. However, this article focuses on the power of quality picture books to engage young children in learning for literacy and in rich conversations about being human and living together in this complex world. There is something special about the shared book experience that bonds adult and child, introduces children to their cultures' ways of telling stories and motivates children to persist with the business of learning to read and write for themselves.
When we read a book such as John Burningham's Husherbye to a baby, for example, we are creating an association between our voice, physical closeness and the experience of the book. The gently repeated refrain 'Husherbye' connects this little baby with all the young creatures who can't sleep. Mem Fox's Ten little fingers and ten little toes, on the other hand, creates a different kind of interaction – one that involves reader and listener in playing games with fingers and toes and planting a kiss on the nose.
Moving on with books
For older children we choose action-packed stories such as Pamela Allen's Grandpa and Thomas series. We draw children's attention to similarities between their own experience and the wild wind that blows the umbrella away on the beach. We read aloud with gusto and get them to join in, so they learn the vitality of onomatopoeic language – where words sound like what they’re describing; for example, 'I'll drive, said Thomas. Brm! Brm! Brm!'
When sharing Helen Oxenbury's We're going on a bear hunt, we talk about position words – up, over, under, through – and say the luscious descriptive words over and over – Swishy swashy! Squelch squelch! Just as importantly, we talk about being scared and what we can do to feel brave sometimes, and how lovely it is to have a family to snuggle with under the covers.
Children in the preschool years enjoy stories that deal with issues that concern them. Books such as Margaret Wild's Puffling and Lucy Goosey, which both portray a young bird anxious about leaving the nest, provide a story framework in which adults can celebrate childrens growing independence and reassure them that yes, they are capable and yes, they will be protected from harm.
At this stage, children are interested in characters, how they act and how we should judge their behaviour. Cecily Matthews' Cock-a-doodle-doo! invites a conversation about bossy Basil and timid Leonard, and how anyone can be a hero if they believe in themselves and find the things they do well. These stories encourage conversations about friendship, fun and fear, and trying new activities.
Sometimes, stories are just read so that the reader and listener can enjoy companionship and a quiet time together. On those occasions, the reader and listener might not 'talk' much at all. But nothing beats sustained, shared conversation for building relationships and developing thinking, feeling and learning. 'Good books' invite a special kind of conversation – a conversation about story and how it is made; about language and what it can do; about characters, behaviours, ideas and values; and about the world and how it works.
Fox, M. & Oxenbury, H. (2008). Ten little fingers and ten little toes. Hawthorn, Victoria: Penguin/Viking.
Allen, P. (2006). Grandpa and Thomas. Camberwell, Victoria: Penguin/Viking.
Matthews, C. (2008). Cock-a-doodle-doo. Surry Hills, NSW: Little Hare Books.
Oxenbury, H. & Rosen, M. (1989). We're going on a bear hunt. London: Walker Books.
Wild, M. & Vivas, J. (2008). Puffling. Malvern, SA: Omnibus books.
Wild, M. & James, A. (2007). Lucy Goosey. Surry Hills, NSW: Little Hare Books.
More information about delightful books for babies and young children is contained in reviews in Every Child magazine and on the ECA website: www.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au
Every Child magazine – vol. 15 no. 4, 2009, p. 14Don't forget, Every Child is tax deductible for early childhood professionals
Vol. 15 No. 4 2009
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