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Episode 1: My Grandfather’s Coat

This is one of my favourite picture books. I first found it in the library, and loved it so much that I just had to buy a copy. Sadly, it does not seem to be available in any New Zealand stores, so I bought it online.

Let me take you on a journey with me, as I ‘read’ ‘My Grandfather’s Coat’ to a hypothetical child.

My Grandfather’s Coat

Written by Jim Aylesworth, and illustrated by Barbara McClintock

Published by Scholastic Press, USA; 2014

 ‘Let us take a look at the cover of our book.’ Give the child a moment to study the cover.

‘What do you see?’ This gives the child an opportunity to describe the scene before them. Depending on what they say, you will very likely be able to ask them questions, for example:

What is the man doing?

How is the man feeling?

How do you know that is how he is feeling?

What do you think is going to happen?Do you recognise this flag?

Do you know where the man is standing?

What do you think of the man’s clothes?

Allow the children to express their thoughts and add some of your own.

You should be having a two-way conversation, not an adult delivering a lesson to a student.

Depending on the age of the child, you could use the cover as an opportunity to practise colour recognition (‘Show me the yellow buttons’, ‘What colour is the man’s scarf?’ or ‘Do you see anything green on this cover?’).

Number concept can also be developed: ‘Let us count the blue cotton reels. How many red cotton reels are there? How many more red reels are there than blue ones?’ Etc.

Use illustrations as a opportunity to determine your child’s level of vocabulary, and you will find opportunities for extending it.

                I.e. Do you know what these are (pointing to the needles in the bottom corners of the cover)? These are needles. People use them for sewing clothes. Nana can show you next time we visit her.

Surreptitiously, you are feeding the seed of general knowledge that is always a boon for academic achievement.

Often in books based in the past (history), illustrations and vocabulary will need to be explained, as children do not automatically understand that the past was different to life as they know it now.

Do your best to read with expression. If you can vary the pace, reading faster and a little louder (volume), when the story is exciting, the child’s attention will be seized. Reading even more slowly, or adjusting your voice to a lower tone/register, can add dramatic emphasis.

If you are able to assess the emotion that is being aroused by the story or character, and if you are able to ‘act out’ that emotion, you will find that your voice delivers the story in an exciting and gripping manner.

When I read ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’, I try to use a different tone, pace, volume or ‘voice’ (sometimes I mimic other people) for each part of the adventure. I do sometimes get caught out trying to remember how I read that part of the adventure when the family are returning home, and the pace of the story is escalated! While it is tricky for me, the kids love spotting the inconsistencies! The same applies to reading Dr Seuss’ ‘Mr Brown Can Moo! Can You?’

If you feel at a loss to know how to read expressively, take a look at some Youtube videos. There are quite a few where pictures are being read. Here are some lovely examples:

Read clearly, and more slowly than you would speak conversationally. If possible, try to avoid incorrect speech patterns (for example, pronounce the ‘th’ sound even if you do not do so conversationally). Children will learn to read it correctly and very importantly, spell it correctly, if you can help them with this while reading with them.

Do not be afraid to ‘put on the voices’. Kids love it if you can. My niece loves being read ‘The Three Little Pigs’, but I have to put on all the voices. I am usually hoarse at the end of the story!

Hannah loves when I put on high, squeaky voices for the little pigs, and a deep, husky voice for the big, bad wolf. We take deep breaths and growl out, “Little pig, little pig, let me in!” Then we get very loud and shrill when the pig cries out, “Nooooo!!!!! Not by the hairy of my chinny chin chin. I will not let you in!”

Getting back to the first page of the story:

Read the story on that page.

Give the child a chance to have a good look at the illustration and give feedback.

Check in with the child regarding vocabulary.

Discuss any aspects of the illustration or story that need extending.

Continue each page in this manner.

Most picture books are only 32 pages long, and have a maximum of 700 words. Most have only 400 to 500 words.

By reading picture books this way, you are utilising metacognition (facilitating the child’s learning through making them aware of their own thought processes, and probing them to ‘figure things out’ rather than you telling them).

My Grandfather’s Coat includes several interesting education paths:

Sequencing (the ability to remember where everything belongs, in its own particular location = order) – this story has a strong sequence. Once you have read the story, you can do either of the following:

a. For younger children, let them flip through the book and give you the story in their own words, using the pictures as their sequencing guide.

b. For older children – ask them to retell the story. Give them pointers if they struggle to remember the story, or if they get the order (sequence) muddled.

Subplot – the illustrations give a story-line that was not written in the text. See if the children can pick up on subplots. The ability to recognize a subplot is brilliant training in inference.

Repetitive phrases – these are great tools for training the memory. Children pick them up easily, and can be encouraged to recite them at the right time if you prompt them.

The repetitive phrases: ‘He snipped, and he clipped; and he stitched and he sewed…’along with ‘and he wore it, and he wore it; and little bit by little bit; he frayed it and he tore it; until at last he wore it out!’ can be an exciting refrain that young children will chant with great enthusiasm.

Reversed sequence – at the end of the story, the sequence is reversed. This is a great opportunity to see if your child can remember the story in order, and if they can reverse the order!

Rhythm – My Grandfather’s Coat has been carefully written with rhythm. Children love rhythm. Try to use the rhythm to give the story a ‘springy’ feel as you read it. If you get the rhythm right, it should feel like the words trip off your tongue.

The last page of the book contains the author and illustrator’s biographies as well as their dedications and in very small print at the bottom of the page, there are details of the media used by Barbara McClintock for the illustrations. Sharing information like this with your child enriches their reading experience (and yours!).

The back cover has come recycling prompts and a cookie recipe.

I think you can see why I love this book so much. It is an all-round winner. Fabulous text, magical illustrations and heaps of intellectual stimulation!

Happy reading!

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