Monday, 22 February 2016

Picture Books For All, by Pippa Goodhart

A lot of us are lucky enough to remember the joy of sitting snug in bed as a parent read us a bedtime picture book, and also know the joy of being that adult performing the picture book text for an eager child audience.  Those of us in the book world tend to have taken that relationship between an adult reading the text to a child who is looking carefully at the pictures while they listen for granted.

But there are many adults who find reading hard.  What if the adult can’t read the text?  Can’t enjoy that bond that comes from reading and sharing a book with their children? 

In recent years there has been a lot of work done to create what are known as high/low books (higher age interest level together with a lower age reading ability) to help children and adults who struggle to read books to themselves.  But nobody had given much thought to the parents who want to read to their children but find reading picture books out loud too much of a challenge. 

Designers often play with text in picture books, working it through illustrative images, varying font size and style to make it express the text meaning, sometimes expecting the reader to jump from text at the top of a spread to text at the bottom, then up to the top of the facing page.  All those things can work well for the able reader, but they become obstacles to reading if you are somebody who finds reading hard, perhaps because you are dyslexic and never learned to read fluently at school, perhaps because English isn’t your first language. 

So Barrington Stoke have come up with a series of picture books that are designed to be read easily by children and adults alike.  What makes them easier to read?

  • Pages that are a tinted cream background rather than the stark white that can make reading hard if you’re dyslexic.
  • Text laid out left to right, top to bottom.
  • A font that is clear, reader-friendly, and consistent.
  • Writing that doesn’t introduce made-up strange words that have to be worked out.

Does any of that that mean that these are dull books?  Far from it! 

These are rather sophisticated picture books, aimed at children of, say, seven plus.  Their stories challenge in a way that you might not want a book for the usual picture book audience of 2-5 year olds to be challenged.

‘All I Said Was’, by Michael Morpurgo and Ross Collins is a short tale, showing and telling how a boy who swapped his life for that of a pigeon begins to regret that swap when he gets mobbed by crows … but when he returns home, the pigeon who is now a boy won’t swap back.  Rather as the child in Roald Dahl’s Witches is left stuck as a mouse at the end of that book, this book too leaves a bleak and seemingly hopeless ending for the boy.  Food for thought, and a bit of thrilling horror, all in twelve spreads of illustration and a short text!

‘Wolf Man’ by Michael Rosen and Chris Mould plays with fear as a scary manic-looking Wolfman runs amok through a town, scaring even the army and the chief of police … until the tension is brilliantly cut with a typical Michael Rosen joke of a kind which children will find hilarious!  This book has slash marks, and real holes, in it’s cover, presumably made by the Wolfman’s claws.  Books can be exciting!

There are more of these Picture Squirrel books out there, all combining top illustrators and writers, all of them quality books.  Hooray that one publisher has woken up to the need for excellent accessible picture books for parents and children to share.

Do look at this whole series of books and more on the Barrington Stoke website by clicking here 


Michelle Robinson said...

This is a really great subject to read more about, thanks for posting this. I did a lot of work promoting adult literacy in Wales some years ago, so I've always been conscious of potential problems for adults reading aloud and bear that in mind when I write. Even confident readers don't like feeling tripped up when reading aloud. If you can help a reader to narrate easily and clearly, they and the child will enjoy the experience a lot more.

Pippa Goodhart said...

Exactly, Michelle. And if, on the other hand, you trip them up and make them look silly in front of their children, what are the chances of them trying again and making reading to them a habit? Pretty small, I should think.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know books like this existed! They'll be a godsend for young dyslexic readers and fantastic for encouraging parents who aren't confident to read aloud to their children. It's more of a problem than we think.

Pippa Goodhart said...

Yes, its such an obvious need, isn't it, and yet nobody I know of has tackled it properly before this Barrington Stoke series. They've got top illustrators and authors on board, and the series is growing (and, no, I don't have shares in them!).

Unknown said...

What a fabulous idea! They sound like a great read for anyone - but what a stroke of genius to think of the needs of the parents too!

Pippa Goodhart said...

And making them accessible to parents doesn't diminish them as excellent books for all, so the idea is an all-round winner.

Jonathan Allen said...

Lovely idea. And I'm glad a publisher tried it. I hope they make it work financially. I'd never thought about what it would be like not to be able to read to your kids, or them being better at reading than you. You would feel a bit inadequate probably, which would be such a shame. Well done Barrington Stoke.

Pippa Goodhart said...

Yes, not being able to read to your kids must, on the quiet, be a huge problem at a personal level. If book design can help, then its a simple solution and a great result. Well done, BS, indeed.

Abie Longstaff said...

These are lovely! Really great idea :)

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