Category Archives: Teachers and Parents

Your Mind is Like the Sky / The Go Yogi! Card Set

 

Your Mind is Like the Sky
Bronwen Ballard and Laura Carling
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Psychologist and mindfulness teacher, Bronwen Ballard has written a book to introduce children to mindfulness. She uses similes and metaphorical language to show that our difficult thoughts and feelings are an integral part of everyone’s life and demonstrating that we all have the power to deal with them.
Sometimes she says, the mind can be like a clear blue sky but at other times it might be ‘fizzy, stormy, black and crackly’; or perhaps a ‘bit grey’.
Thoughts come and go constantly; they’re likened to the clouds – sometimes positive, pleasant white ones but at other times they become dark and negative.

For example ‘raincloud’ thoughts may well make one feel sad, cross, irritated, confused perhaps.

However there are ways to deal with them, even those that seem at first to be overwhelming and this is what the second part of the narrative discusses. The important thing to do is to acknowledge the thought but realise it’s only one of many, many in the entire sky of your mind and that way you can let that dark thought slip gently away.

The more one practices being mindful, the easier it becomes to take control and choose which thoughts to attend to.

The main narrative ends on an upbeat note reminding the young reader that, like the sky, his/her mind is bursting with amazing thoughts each one different in shape, colour and size.

There are two final spreads aimed at adults explaining concisely what mindfulness is and offering some basic ideas to try together at home.

Award-wining illustrator Laura Carlin’s soft focus, smudgy, mixed media illustrations are the ideal complement to Bronwen’s gentle narrative. Together they offer parents and carers a really helpful book to help youngsters overcome their worries.

The Go Yogi! Card Set
Emma Hughes and John Smisson
Singing Dragon

Using little humans rather than animals this time, the author, very experienced yoga teacher, Emma Hughes and illustrator, John Smisson, of the Go Yogi! book have created a set of 50 cards of popular yoga poses; and Emma has written an accompanying explanatory booklet.

The latter briefly gives the benefits of yoga for children, sets some ground rules to use and talks about how to work with a group, the names of the poses, some words on pranayama and suggests ways the cards might be used in a session – in games or for storytelling being two ideas.

It’s concise and especially useful for those who aren’t practiced in teaching yoga to children. One proviso though, I was taught that young children (under 7) should not attempt headstands as the skull may not be fully hardened.

The ‘flash cards’ themselves have a child showing a yoga asana (pose), (or in the case of paired poses, two children) set against a brightly coloured background on one side, while the reverse side shows how to get into the pose. Each card has a coloured border that suggests a possible emotional or physical benefit doing the pose might bring. Orange signifies energising; green is for calming; red for strengthening and yellow for balancing.

All in all, and I speak from experience as a specialist early years teacher and teacher of yoga to children (and adults), this little box is a real treasure for those wanting to introduce yoga to young children. I thoroughly recommend it.

Forest School and Autism

Forest School and Autism
Michael James
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Let me say from the outset, wearing my early years teacher’s hat, I’m a firm believer in the benefits of Forest School for all children be they neuro-typical or with an autistic spectrum condition, so I was excited to receive this book, the first of its kind on Forest School and Autism.

The author, Michael James has a wealth of experience of Forest School and now runs his own Forest School in Somerset; his enthusiasm shines through in everything he says.

Having provided background chapters on both Forest School, its principles and practice, and autism (wherein he asserts crucially, ‘In order to offer autism-inclusive practice, you must view each autistic person as an individual.’), Michael goes on to discuss with the help of case studies, the positive impact of Forest School on health; its sensory benefits and the opportunities it can offer for the learning of new skills. Fun however, so the author asserts, is a primary objective.

Sensitivity and positive relationships lie at the heart of the whole of Forest School practice and the importance of empathy is paramount.

So too is observation, which is the biggest responsibility of all practitioners; how otherwise can effective communication between learners and practitioners (who need to be clear, sensitive and frequently literal) take place (each can learn from the other) and true developmental learning take place?

Crucial to the success of an inclusive practice is preparation – preparation at the outset of a course of sessions – coupled with on-going reflection and further preparation. A chapter is allocated to this and a summary of its key points, such as the importance of individual learning programmes, is given at the end. Indeed a useful summary of key points concludes the other chapters too.

This most definitely is a book to be recommended for all Forest School practitioners rather than only those who work with learners who have ASC. After all, our connection with nature enhances our humanity and focussing on a child’s strengths, abilities, sensory preferences and likes is beneficial to every learner.

Mindful Little Yogis

Mindful Little Yogis
Nicola Harvey, illustrated by John Smisson
Singing Dragon

The author of Mindful Little Yogis is an education writer and children’s mindfulness practitioner and the book is based on her experiences as a teacher working with children in both primary and secondary schools with a range of learning abilities and needs. Several years ago around 20% of children were identified as having special educational needs and the number is rising, making additional demands on classroom teachers in both mainstream and special schools. Nicola stresses the importance of these children receiving consistent positive messages from all adults be they parents, carers, teachers, teaching assistants, therapists.

She advocates using mindfulness techniques to help build self-assurance and describes the STAR model: ‘STOP. Take a breath. And. Relax.’ that provides a framework, a four part developmental tool.

Then follows a section on mindful breathing, giving guidance on a range of sensory breathing techniques that I know from experience work very well with young children and those with additional needs.
The same is true of Animal Breathing (children I know especially love lion’s breath, bee breath and snake breath); Shape Breathing techniques and the use of sound, and body flow are explored next.

Part two ‘AND …’ comprises a range of self-regulation activities, grounding and sensory yoga games. There are also sections on emotional intelligence, using music as therapy and much more. I especially like the emphasis Nicola puts on positivity throughout.

With illustrations by John Smisson, this is a smashing book for all children of all abilities in all places for all times. With our increasingly pressurised education system all schools would do well to include some of these techniques and activities in their daily schedule.

Thera-Build with LEGO® / Art Therapy Cards for Children

Thera-Build with LEGO®
Alyson Thomsen
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Alyson Thomsen was a senior teacher and since creating and developing the Thera-Build methodology, runs a business consultancy for schools, families and others interested in using LEGO® bricks with children therapeutically.

Purposeful play with these bricks aims to develop social competence, reduce stress, boost self-esteem and confidence.

As a teacher I have used LEGO® bricks across the curriculum, but never as a therapeutic tool. However I was pleased to discover that I share with Alyson some basic underlying educational principles, most notably vital the importance of play in children’s development be that social, emotional or academic; and the crucial role of adult as facilitator – flexible and enthusiastic – in the learning process.

Drawing on her wealth of experience, Alyson provides in this book a veritable treasure trove of ideas for using LEGO®, a resource loved by so many children, in a therapeutic way, as well as giving readers an introduction to the brain science behind her methods, a wealth of advice that includes both the strategies for, and practicalities of, using the materials. and much more.

Not only will this inspiring book be a great resource for those working in schools and for parents, even more importantly, it has the potential to result in extremely positive outcomes for children.

Art Therapy Cards for Children
Elitsa Velikova
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

This resource comprises a box containing 22 stimulus cards (105x 150cm) and an accompanying explanatory book, and could be used for anyone (art therapists, social workers, psychologists, teachers and counsellors) who works with children and perhaps parents. The author, Elitsa Velikova, is an art therapist and psychologist with extensive experience, and is also Director of the Arts and Therapy Institute in Sofia (Bulgaria)

The cards offer creative art therapy opportunities for primary school age children and encompass four themes: feelings and emotions, relationships with family and friends, the body and imagination.
There are opportunities for exploring in both two and three dimensions and all the materials required are listed in the booklet.

Each card provides a different prompt, for instance, ‘Draw a person in the rain using pastels or pencils’ (feelings); ‘Create a nest and a bird with clay’ (relationships); or ‘draw or create a happiness machine (imagination). All are illustrated in bright collage style.
The booklet explains each prompt and its aim(s), the materials needed and how a child might benefit from experiencing the activity.

A useful resource but it could I think, have been even more so, especially for teachers and other non-specialists in art therapy, to have at least the materials needed listed on the reverse of each card.

All About Ben / The Giant from Nowhere

All About Ben
Dorothy Markham & Aileen O’Donnell
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Here’s a little book for children from around five to the age of Ben, the narrator who is eight, particularly those who have attachment issues, but equally for children who have a Ben character in their lives either as a friend, member of their peer group or relation. It aims to help children like Ben understand their feelings and emotions and how these cause them to behave in certain ways; and to develop the confidence to open up to an adult who can help them manage all their different parts.

Ben introduces himself, part by part: his action parts and nine feeling parts.

He goes on to talk about and give examples of, how different situations cause him to feel different parts – when playing with friends he feels his happy part whereas falling out with a friend brings his hurt part into play;

when he helps others he feels his caring part; and it’s the combination of all these different parts that makes him who he is.

Readers are then asked about their own feeling parts to add to Ben’s lists and we learn how feeling parts affect action parts (cause and effect) – which is important for children’s self understanding.

The final pages are devoted to the crucial roles of talking and listening (including the role of a trusted adult) in the development of a secure, integrated, happy and confident person able to understand and manage his/her emotions.

Reassuring and helpful, this is a useful book to have in primary school classrooms.

The Giant from Nowhere
Frances Dickens and Peter Hughes
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

When the Giant from Nowhere sets out to find a place with some company, little does he know that his sheer size is going to cause him problems. So it is in the little village of Somewhere. Its residents are terrified when he appears in their midst, and tell him in no uncertain terms to go away. His angry response causes damage to their homes and the Giant departs.

The villagers then decide to hunt him down and put him on trial. After a newspaper report and a police search, the Giant is found and eventually a little boy succeeds in getting him to answer some questions.

A trial follows and the defendant pleads guilty. The boy speaks up for him and the judge decides on a community sentence.

To reveal what happens thereafter would spoil the ending but suffice it to say all ends happily for everybody.

This is an insiders and outsiders story that should encourage plenty of discussion on such themes as empathy, mutual understanding and inclusivity.

A class of primary children could have fun acting it out in addition to participating in some of the activities included at the back of the book.

Can I Tell You About … Auditory Processing Disorder / Forgiveness?

Can I Tell You About … Auditory Processing Disorder?
Alyson Mountjoy, illustrated by Kelly Davies
Can I Tell You About … Forgiveness?
Liz Gulliford, illustrated by Rosy Salaman
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

These are two recent additions to the excellent Can I Tell You About series aimed at primary school audiences, their families, teachers and others who work with them.

Each illustrated book has a child narrator, and in the Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) book it’s Amy who herself has the disorder. After an explanatory introduction for adults, she talks about how the condition affects her; how she got her diagnosis and how she is supported both in school and at home.

We also learn that APD isn’t the same for all those affected: one of her friends, Tom has the condition too but has different challenges to cope with. Amy’s dad also has APD but received his diagnosis after his daughter.

One of the most important things for teachers to know is the emotional strain that children like Amy are under and in addition to this being a helpful book for young readers, it’s one teachers should read too.

Amy herself ends on an upbeat note: having described both her own and Tom’s particular strengths she says, “Work hard, believe in yourself, and you can make your dreams come true too.” How adults can help a child make this so are listed in the final pages.

Forgiveness, as author Liz Gulliford states in her introduction, is a complex, frequently misunderstood concept. It’s one that she has researched for many years. Liz feels it’s important for children not to be made to apologise automatically after a dispute between classmates for instance, something that can happen in schools or between siblings at home

Here she uses Joseph as her narrator and together with his family offers a story designed to stimulate discussion on forgiveness at home and school.
Joseph talks about different scenarios – his best friend telling others something Joseph confided in him, thus breaking his trust in Billy.

He then goes on to talk of an instance when he took his sister’s ball without asking and lost it, which required not only Joelle’s forgiveness, but also self-forgiveness on his own part.

There’s also the important consideration of another of Joseph’s school friends, George who is being bullied. Perhaps forgiveness in this instance is not appropriate in case the perpetrator then goes on to bully another child. Could a degree of compassionate concern, at least from Joseph be better?

These are some of the ideas explored in this book that will certainly be a valuable resource in starting explorations of forgiveness in PSHE lessons at KS2. To this end the final pages are devoted to notes and key learning points.

I Am Human: A Book of Empathy / Let’s Talk About When Someone Dies

I Am Human: A Book of Empathy
Susan Verde and Peter H.Reynolds
Abrams Books

The team who gave us I am Yoga and I am Peace now explore what it means to be human.

Humans have a playful side and find joy in relationships, we hear; but on the negative side sadness brings a heavy heart. This though, is countered by a reminder that part of being human is the ability to make choices.
Positive actions – such as compassion and helping others, being fair and treating all people equally, bring a feeling of connectedness with fellow humans.

In keeping with the child narrator’s mood, Reynolds changes his colour palette from bright to a dull bluish grey as the actions switch from positive to negative.

Yes, we’re all flawed human beings who make mistakes but Susan Verde and Peter Reynold’s little book of empathy is perfect for starting a discussion with young children about making good choices. To this end, there’s also a loving-kindness meditation to share.

Let’s Talk About When Someone Dies
Molly Potter and Sarah Jennings
Featherstone (Bloomsbury)

Most young children will bring up the subject of death either at home or in school, or both, and many adults are unsure of how to engage in a discussion about it. This book, written in child-friendly language by a teacher, will for those adults especially, prove extremely helpful.

Each double spread – there are a thirteen in all – takes a different aspect and almost all start with a question such as ‘Are there different words for death?’; ‘What might you feel when someone dies?’ …

‘What do people believe happens after death?’ and, the only one that isn’t prefaced by a question, “To remember a person who has died, you could …’.
There’s a brief ‘It’s important to know’ paragraph at the end of most sections and Sarah Jennings has provided bright, appealing illustrations (often including speech bubbles).

The tone of the entire book – both verbal and visual – is spot on for the primary audience and is suitable for those of all faiths or none.

Storytelling and Story-Reading in Early Years

Storytelling and Story-Reading in Early Years
Mary Medlicott
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

That Mary Medicott, herself a professional storyteller and trainer, is passionate about the power of story is evident in this her latest book.
Like myself she believes that story time is for young children THE most important learning experience we offer them and should be part and parcel of their everyday experience. For one little girl I saw last Sunday it certainly was. I sat listening to a dad sharing a picture book (Percy the Park Keeper -The Treasure Hunt) with his young daughter outside a cafe. The experience was magical, not only for the two of them but also for the early years teacher part of me as I watched her slip from his lap saying “I’m going to ask that big rabbit if he knows where my bead is.” She walked over to talk to a huge decorated hare statue at the doorway, whispered something and went back to her dad who then continued with the story.

Drawing on her thirty plus years of experience she offers advice and support for anyone who wants to help youngsters from 2 to 5 further their imaginative development, enhance their language growth, listening skills, emergent literacy and reading achievement, and encourage them to create mental pictures, all of which are furthered by the sharing of stories either from a book or through a telling.

Having stated her case for the importance of story, she discusses the vast variety of stories available including personal stories, both children’s and adults’, picture book stories, nursery rhymes and chants, and traditional tales from a wide range of cultures.

For those who are less confident about themselves as storytellers, Mary talks in detail about various aspects of preparation for a story session, all of which help to make the whole experience enjoyable for both audience and story sharer whether they choose to tell the story or read a picture book. The importance of treating children as collaborators or even co-creators in the story process is discussed: ‘Children like being asked to think,’ says the author – yes they most certainly do.

There is a chapter on ‘props’ and their use; these can help enhance audience involvement both during the story and after in discussion.

Teamwork and involving all staff to their mutual benefit is another aspect covered, as is what staff members other than the storyteller are doing during the story sharing session; all adults should be involved and sitting among the children.

Children’s responses is the subject of another chapter be that through discussion, artistic interpretation and/ or their own scribed words.

Some of my favourite writers on young children and story, including Eileen Colwell, Betty Rosen, Vivian Gussin Paley and Tricia Lee, are referenced and key elements of their practice discussed, the latter two in the final ‘Consolidating’ chapter.

There are also two appendices, the first providing versions of stories, rhymes and action chants referred to in the main narrative; these can be used directly or in the case of the stories, adapted by the particular teller. The second offers a selection of tried and tested picture books and traditional tales – a good starting point for those new to the whole business of story sharing.

I’d strongly recommend this book (love Rosamund Bird’s cover images) for all early years educators and those who train them; in fact anyone who wants to draw all young children into those magical worlds of ‘Once upon a time’, worlds that offer as yet unimagined experiences that have the power to enthral, transport and inspire.

Stewart’s Tree

Stewart’s Tree
Cathy Campbell
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Subtitled ‘A book for Brothers and Sisters When a Baby Dies Shortly after Birth’, this little picture book is intended to help explain sibling loss to young children.

Ellen has been waiting for a new baby – ‘something special’ but her new brother Stewart is very weak and never makes it back home. He’s been ‘lost’ is how her Granny puts it.

Ellen searches all over the house for Stewart even in the washing machine,

wondering perhaps, if he’s gone to the moon in his spaceship.

Her parents then help her to understand the new baby has died and isn’t going to come back.

Together they plant a cherry tree for Stewart, so they will always have a special place to remember him.

The book concludes with a guide to bereavement aimed at adults, written by qualified clinicians; this includes some suggested activities.

Sensitively told and illustrated, with gentle touches of humour, this is a book that one hopes few people will have need of, but it could prove invaluable to those families unfortunate enough to suffer such a bereavement. Schools, nurseries and children’s centres should certainly keep a copy on their shelves.

Sitting on a Chicken

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Sitting on a Chicken
Michael Chissick, illustrated by Sarah Peacock
Singing Dragon
What a wonderful title! What a wonderful book, but one would expect no less from yoga teacher and writer Michael Chissick. Its subtitle ‘the best ever 52 yoga games to teach in schools’ pretty much sums up the whole thing and right from the introduction (don’t skip that) you know you’re in the hands of a highly experienced expert. Many of the games included will be familiar to those who work with children and probably to children themselves but Chissick has cleverly transformed them by adding a yogic element.
The book is divided into three sections: the first, an introduction, explains how to structure a lesson and showcases Chissick’s visual timetable which he considers key to the whole thing.

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Most teachers, though perhaps not yoga teachers will be familiar with visual timetables, particularly if they’ve worked with children on the autism spectrum.
Next comes the core of the book, essentially the games – the ‘What’ – matching your learning objectives with a game; the ‘When’ – putting games into the relevant stage of a lesson. (From Key Stage 1 and beyond a lesson has seven stages, for nursery and reception children, a lesson is divided into four parts, for at least the first couple of terms); and ‘How‘ – the actual teaching of the games. This in particular is a veritable treasure trove of ideas.
It’s broken down into sections: beginning games, sequences – essentially adaptations of the sun salutation or surya namaskar sequence, development games and finally calming games leading into relaxation; the one used here is the ladybird relaxation.
There’s a short sub-section for working with nursery and reception groups.
This is a must have for the primary teachers’ bookshelf and for anyone who works to bring children and yoga together.

Striker, Slow Down!

How often do we ask children to ‘calm down’ or ‘slow down’? Fairly frequently I suggest. Now here’s a little book to help subtitled “A calming book for children who are always on the go‘:

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Striker, Slow Down!
Emma Hughes and John Smisson
Singing Dragon
Striker the kitten, like many young children, leads a frenetic life, dashing from one activity to the next, never stopping or slowing down, despite frequent pleas from his mum and dad.

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Seemingly the only times he stays put are mealtimes and when he’s fast asleep. Now if you’re the parent of a whirlwind-type youngster, this will surely resonate.
One day though, the inevitable happens: Striker’s rushing results in a bumped head. Only then is he ready to sit down quietly with his mum, and start to relax.

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Those of us who work with young children know it’s not as simple as that. I do know however, that regular short sessions, be they of yoga, breathing, listening to a meditative story or whatever, do lead to calmer youngsters who can spend short spells being relaxed and peaceful in mind and body.
This little book is written in rhyme (creaking slightly once or twice) and Emma Hughes, the author, is herself a yoga teacher so obviously knows things don’t happen overnight as the book might suggest. However, if it does nothing more than set adults and young children off on the calming path, then it will have served its purpose.
For a start, take time to sit quietly together, share the book and enjoy the bright, bold, appropriately uncluttered illustrations.

The Ultimate Peter Rabbit / The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots

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The Ultimate Peter Rabbit
Camilla Hallinan
DK
2016 is the year of celebrations for the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s birth. As part of these celebrations this large book, subtitled ‘A Visual Guide to the World of Peter Rabbit’ first published in 2002, is re-issued in an updated version.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit has a special place in my heart: it’s the book I learned to read with. I can still recall, after having it read aloud as a bedtime story countless times, that age five, I realized I could read it myself. The joy of matching the words in my head with those on the page is something I’ll never forget and then to go to infant school shortly after and be given Janet & John books to learn to read with, was to say the least insulting; fortunately I didn’t associate those with ‘real reading’ rather something to ‘do’ to keep my teachers happy. At home I continued with Jemima Puddleduck, The Tale of Tom Kitten, The Flopsy Bunnies and all the other wonders from the pen of Beatrix Potter.
Herein Camilla Hallinan brings us a veritable treasure trove of illustrations, original Potter sketches, memorabilia, specially commissioned photos and more.

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It’s the kind of book you start dipping into and then realize you’ve just spent ages lost in its delights. Delights including spreads on the other wonderful books that followed Peter Rabbit starting with The Tailor of Gloucester and going right through to The Tale of Little Pig Robinson finally completed in 1930.
What a fascinating mix of natural history, art and history. I love the timeline that takes us right back to 1893
when Beatrix Potter first told her Peter Rabbit story to 5 year old Noel Moore in a picture letter, right up to 2016 with commemorative coins, stamps, a musical and the publication of a rediscovered story.
All in all, a marvellous book for anyone with an interest in, or memories of, an early childhood populated by Peter Rabbit and his friends. Happy hours of nostalgic browsing guaranteed.

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The Tale of Kitty-In-Boots
Beatrix Potter and Quentin Blake
Frederick Warne
This story was rediscovered a couple of years back when Jo Hanks, a publisher at Penguin Random House Children’s, came across an out-of-print literary history about Beatrix Potter from the early 1970’s. In the book, Hanks found both a reference to a letter that Potter had sent her publisher in 1914, referring to a story about ‘a well-behaved prim black Kitty cat, who leads a double life’, and an unedited manuscript of the tale. Digging around in the V&A archive, Jo Hanks found there were in fact three manuscripts and letters showing Potter’s intentions to complete the work on the story– something that never happened until in 2015 Quentin Blake was offered (and accepted) the task of providing the illustrations for this book.
That serious black cat, Kitty …

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has an alter ego as the air-gun wielding, Norfolk jacket and boots wearing, night poacher.
While another cat impersonates her she embarks on a poaching trip that goes decidedly wrong when she comes up against none other than Mr Tod having crash-landed into one of his traps; and as a result learns an important lesson.

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Those readers familiar with Potter’s stories will delight in guest appearances from other famous characters such as Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and a buck rabbit wearing a blue coat who bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain naughty young rabbit previously spotted stealing radishes from the garden of Mr McGregor.

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Potter’s writing style in this book seems quite unlike that in her other stories and Quentin Blake’s illustrations are altogether more scribbly than the mannered ones of Potter; so this book, which is also much larger than the format of the original iconic series, has a rather different feel to it. I’m fascinated, but still making up my mind. Kitty-in-Boots won’t win the author many new fans but it will surely be of interest to her countless established ones.

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They All Saw a Cat / Picture This

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Brendan Wenzel
Chronicle Books
A cat is a cat, is a cat, no matter what. Right? Perhaps not. The world looks different depending on the lenses through which we view it, surely? I certainly think so. It’s a wonderfully philosophical consideration brilliantly demonstrated by author/illustrator Brendan Wenzel in this creative, thought-provoking mixed media exploration of observation, imagination and perspectives, which begins thus:
‘The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears and paws …’. The child sees the cat, the dog sees the cat – sleek and slinky, the fox sees the cat – chunky and stubby, the fish sees the cat thus …

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and the mouse – well the mouse sees an alarmingly jaggedy, predatory monster, and the bee sees a pointillist image. On walks the cat and is seen by the bird, the flea, the snake, the worm and the bat …

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A dozen sightings, every one through different lenses, lenses which create shifts between texture, colour and tone, underlined after all twelve sightings by ‘YES, THEY ALL SAW A CAT!’

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We’re then told ‘The cat knew them all, and they knew the cat.’ –a lengthy discussion might ensue from this statement alone. But wait, we’re not quite done yet; the cat walks on and comes to the water: imagine what it saw …
Wenzel uses a range of painterly styles borrowed from impressionism, pointillism and others to make readers think about how perception, art and emotion are intricately linked. But that’s not all: the use of italics and capitals and the patterned structure of the narrative all contribute to the impact of the whole.
This is a book that can be used right across the age range from early years to adult students of art and philosophy: what a wonderful way to help the young to begin to understand and give credence to other people’s viewpoints.

The manner in which emotions are engaged and affected by the visual composition of images is explored in the revised and extended edition of a fascinating and insightful book first published 25 years ago:

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Picture This
Molly Bang
Chronicle Books
In the first hundred or so pages, Molly Bang takes the story of Little Red Riding Hood and shows how different placement of cut paper shapes and colours on the page work together to help create and build up emotionally charged scenes, our perceptions of which are bound by the context of our own experience. Why does a triangle placed on a flat base give us a feeling of stability whereas diagonal shapes make us feel tense?

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How come we feel more scared looking at pointed shapes, and more secure or comforted looking at rounded shapes or curves? These questions are explored as are others of colour choice and combination.
In the second, much shorter (new to the revised edition) section of the book, the author takes her story When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry, and using four pictures from it, looks at how she created four distinct feelings – one per illustration – of Fury, Sadness, Expectancy and Contentment/contemplation and uses them to explore the principles she’s looked at in the first part. And the final pages invite readers to create and analyse a picture of their own. Perhaps but first I’m off to take another look at some picture books starting with Bethan Woollvin’s Little Red.

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Secret, Secret & Mouse’s Best Day Ever

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Secret, Secret
Daisy Law
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
In this rhyming contemplation of secrets of all kinds, the child narrator takes readers and listeners through many different kinds of situations and secrets that children may experience. Having worked in various roles in education for over thirty years (and had children disclose to me) I know and appreciate just how difficult it may be for some children, in certain situations to have the confidence to open up and talk about certain things that are troubling them.
Subtle in its approach, this little book explores – with child and floppy bunny creature friends –

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a variety of secrets be they sad, happy, crazy, new, old …

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quiet, loud, the really scary, make your insides stone-cold kind, or these …

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To keep or tell, that is the question when it comes to secrets.
All children need to develop emotional intelligence: this book is a very helpful tool to use to this end; it deserves a place in primary classrooms, children’s centres, in fact anywhere that children are cared for and their well-being of vital importance.
One splendid way to help a stressed child is through reflexology and here is a picture book that embodies some basic techniques in the pursuit of well-being:

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Mouse’s Best Day Ever
Susan Quayle and Melissa Muldoon
Singing Dragon
The book features half a dozen characters: main protagonist Mouse (representing the solar plexus reflex point),

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together with Hare, (representing lungs and chest reflexes), Otter (representing the lymphatic system), Squirrel (head, sinus, teeth, eyes and ear reflexes), Mole (reflexes of the digestive system) and Snake who represents the nervous system, back and spine reflexes. Told through a gentle rhyming text, and pen and ink illustrations,

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the story is designed to accompany a sequence of reflexology moves aimed at calming a child’s peevish mind and thus helping to improve general health. At the same time it facilitates the cementing of a bond between child and adult, soothing a youngster at bedtime, when stressed or unwell. Additionally it might be used to re-inforce names of parts of the feet and legs; and to help children begin to understand the interconnectedness of various parts of their bodies. (The latter is something mentioned in the foreword by Spiros Dimitrakoulas, Chair of Reflexology in Europe Network.)
Instructions are given on how to use the book at the beginning, and instructions for each reflexology move is given at the top of each verso page throughout the story.

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Not Today, Celeste!

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Not Today, Celeste!
Liza Stevens
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
This story, told through a dog narrator, Celeste, explores in a very accessible manner, the subject of depression and its effects on the depressed person and others. Herein it’s Celeste’s owner Rupert who is suddenly overcome by depression. Here’s how Rupert and Celeste used to be …

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One day however, when out walking together, Celeste notices a change in her owner: is it Celeste’s imagination or has Rupert really undergone a change? It looks like the latter …

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Despite the fact that Rupert tries to convince himself, and Celeste, that everything is fine, they both know it isn’t. A worried Celeste does her level best to cheer up Rupert but to no avail and soon, she becomes very sad and scared. Fortunately, neighbours Lily and Henry notice the change in Celeste and the narrator tries to tell all. After that Lily helps both Celeste and Rupert to come to terms with ‘His poorly feelings’: Celeste spends some time playing next door while Lily talks to Rupert and then Lily gives some helpful coping advice to Celeste.
Eventually, Rupert does start to feel better; and safe in the knowledge that it’s not her fault, Celeste is prepared for moving on with his funny and ‘very, very brave’ human.

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In itself this is a moving story; but it also presents the tricky topic of depression and how it affects others in a way (with dog as storyteller) that allows children to think about the subject matter through a narrative distancing device. The final spread is ‘A Guide for Parents, Carers and Professionals’ written by a specialist in child and adolescent mental health and emotional wellbeing outlining the important issues when talking to children who may be dealing with depression in someone they know: essentially these are that talking about it is fine; that the child or children are still loved unconditionally and not to blame; that it is OK to seek help; that there is nothing to be afraid of; that it can and will get better with treatment. All in all, a thoroughly useful book, delightfully illustrated and subtly conveyed in both words and pictures. (Don’t suffer in silence: ask for help…)

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Connor the Conker & Little Meerkat

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Connor the Conker and the Breezy Day
Rachel Lloyd
Singing Dragon
Connor is a conker residing with his family – mum, dad and two siblings – in Horse Chestnut Town. It’s a particularly breezy day when we meet him and he’s eager to demonstrate his balancing on one leg, (without any wibble wobbles, is the aim). The wind is very playful though and that makes Connor get the sneezes unbalancing him; but that’s no problem because Connor knows how to roll and land safely without spilling himself: in fact it’s rather fun so he does a whole lot more rolling …

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right into a friend and on through the town and oops! Straight in the river so it’s fortunate that he also knows how to swim, though he’s always up for a bit more learning, so he tries backstroke too as the fish suggests.
While on his back, Connor decides it’s time he went home so off he goes; but first he has a last lovely stretch – in all directions …

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I’m a yoga teacher rather than a teacher of pilates about which I know comparatively little. I do know however, that story is a fantastic medium for working with young children and that the author Rachel Lloyd has a dance background and is a Pilates Master Trainer who is clearly passionate about its practice. Her positivity and what she says in the helpful notes at the back resonate with me completely. There are also photographic sequences and instructions for teaching each of Connor’s Pilates activities – equally helpful and empowering: and unsurprisingly, very similar to yoga asanas and sequences.

In similar format, and also recommended for early years and KS1 classes, as well as home use, is:

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Little Meerkat’s Big Panic
Jane Evans and Izzy Bean
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
This one’s subtitled ‘A Story About Learning New Ways to Feel Calm’ and don’t we all need those right now.
When we meet Little Meerkat he’s faced with the prospect of ‘a very important job’ and today’s the day: his vital role is to act as ‘Lookout Meerkat’ and keep watch over the whole Meerkat gang. Simple eh?

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Well, not really because it means he has to stay wide awake and alert so that in the event of unwelcome potential harm in the form of snakes, large birds and other predators, he can sound the “Danger, danger, danger!’ alert. So how do you think he feels about that? It’s a question asked of listeners to the story.
Now most of us are familiar with that wobbly legs, heart thumping, hyper breathing that kicks in all too easily on such occasions, making it hard to focus on the task in hand and that is exactly how Little Meerkat feels on this important, right of passage day.
Off go his fellow Meerkats for some fun and games safe in the knowledge that there’s a watchful Meerkat at the ready just in case …

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Soon though our little watcher begins to feel drowsy on account of the heat and he dozes off – just for a very short while – but he awakes to discover all the other Meerkats have vanished. Little Meerkat’s in such a panic he can’t get his words out properly and Small Elephant gets a very convoluted message when the two come face to face. Fortunately the elephant has a good imagination and is able to understand and empathise with how his friend might feel right then; and soon both are frantically searching high and low – to no avail.
Along swings Mini Monkey and providentially he has some breathing techniques to pass on: Just what the others need to make them feel nice and calm.

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(And yes, they definitely work – I know from experience.)
And do the friends manage to discover the whereabouts of the missing Meerkats? Certainly they do; but first Little Meerkat has to tell the story from his viewpoint: then a plan is suggested, put into action and …

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There are his fellow Meerkats safe and sound in the ‘safe place’ just where they should be, if only the one on lookout had been able to stay calm and remember …
The final pages of this enjoyable, but very vital book explain simply some ways of keeping calm, as well as discussing the triune brain (not using this word however, other than in the adults’ information section.) And, I’m pleased to say, the author points out that everyone is different: what one brain likes may not suit another person (or meerkat) when it comes to relaxation techniques.

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Once Upon a Touch …

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Once Upon a Touch …
Mary Atkinson and Sandra Hooper
Singing Dragon
A number of years ago while working as an early years teacher in  outer London, I participated in an excellent massage course given by Mia Elmsater (and several follow up courses). From this first, I think, UK course of its kind, developed the Massage in Schools Programme (MISP). I then introduced peer massage into my school and one I moved on to. So, my own experience tells me that the narrative method documented herein – ‘Story Massage for Children’ yields enormous benefits and is a tool well worth every primary teacher acquiring. To this end, two experienced MISP trainers have put together this book.
It comprises a short introduction followed by three brief sections that outline the benefits of story massage for children and offer guidelines on how to use same. Here the importance of respect is stressed as well as taking into account the needs of individuals.
We are then introduced to the ten massage strokes that are the bedrock of the whole programme; and clear, illustrated details of how to do each stroke (and some variations) is given.

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The main part of the book ‘Story Massage in Action’ contains over 30 story/rhyme massages that draw on these basic strokes, and this is divided into six sections. The first contains well know tales and nursery rhymes with the visual symbols for each massage stroke to be used.

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The second section has six seasonal offerings; the third ‘In Your Imagination’ has a musical interlude, a pirate encounter, a visit to the fair, a balloon ride, an aeroplane flight and a circus trip. The remaining two are topic related and wide ranging.
Having read and absorbed this excellent little book, adults should be in a strong position to try the approach perhaps with their own children in the first instance knowing they have the tools to be confident and sensitive in providing, calming relaxing massage sessions for the young.
Once they become confident in using ideas from the book, readers can begin to choose stories and rhymes for themselves to add to their repertoire of story massages; many well-known picture books, traditional tales and nursery rhymes work well.

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