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Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The truth about ‘Peggy’ (or: Choosing picture books for Christmas)

When talking with some early childhood teachers recently we began musing about what gives a book ‘kid appeal’ in this electronic age?
We used Peggy, by Anna Walker (Scholastic Books, 2012) as a test case. Now, Peggy is a black chook whom we first meet peering out the window of her ‘small house in a quiet street’. With gentle pastel tones and varied image framing, the author/illustrator engages us with Peggy’s daily routines – until, one blustery day, Peggy is swept up over the rooftops, into a bewildering city environment. She does ‘see things she’d never seen before’, but is greatly relieved to find her way back home – although, later, she ‘sometimes caught the train to the city’.
So, why does Peggy work so well with children and adults alike?
·         Peggy is an endearing character
·         She goes on adventures that engage readers and listeners emotionally in her journey
·         There is quirkiness in having a chook as the star of the story
·         The changing visual perspectives keep our eye curious and connected to the story
·         The picture text tells a tale way beyond the sparse word text, requiring viewers to unpack the humorous visual asides
·         &, it’s good fun!
I guess, the message is, when choosing picture books for children, whether for the classroom or under the tree, keep in mind the need for:
·         Humour and action
·         A story with enough tension to make us want to find out what happens
·         A word and picture story that’s worth re-visiting.
Works of great literary merit deserve accolades, but they won’t all necessarily win a chuckle of delight from a receiving child.
While every child is different and ‘age rules’ are somewhat risky, here is a rough guide:
Infants and toddlers tend to enjoy a book with one main character, a straightforward story and fairly literal illustrations, like Alison Lester’s Noni the Pony (Allen & Unwin, 2010).
As they turn 3 & 4, children are likely to expect books to entertain, so The Tall Man and the twelve babies, by Tom Niland Champion, Kilmeny Niland and Deborah Niland might hit the spot.
As they enter school, children are often ready for a ‘real story’ with many characters and more complex dialogue, such as Louie the pirate chef, (that’s ‘chef’, not ‘chief’)by Simon Mitchell & Ben Wood (Working Title Press, 2010).
Then, youngsters enjoy the zany and absurd such as Jackie French & Bruce Whatley’s Queen Victoria’s Underpants (Angus & Robertson, 2011) and Aaron Blabey’s ‘dark’ but intriguing titles, including The ghost of Miss Annabel Spoon (Viking, 2011).
What then, I hear you ask?
Well, I’m dedicated to getting children ‘hooked on books’, so I try to connect them with novelists I think they’ll like and titles that will make them want to read the series – starting with Tolkien’s The Hobbit as a pathway to the Lord of the Rings, the Our Australian Girls series (Puffin Books) and/or the fantasy novels of Isobelle Carmody, Lian Tanner and Emily Rodda.
And get ready to read to, read with and talk about good books to build that love of reading for life!

Jenni Connor


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