Showing posts with label factual books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label factual books. Show all posts

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Cross-section books and why boys love them

Cross section books have been around for some time, but there is no doubt that the illustrative masters of this genre for children are Stephen Biesty and David Macauley.  Biesty has worked as a freelance illustrator since 1985, creating information books for adults and children. He lives in a small Somerset village with his wife and son.

His first major success came in the 1990s with his best-selling 'Incredible Cross-Sections' (published by Dorling Kindersley). This book has sold over 3.5 million copies and has been published in 16 languages. He has won a number of awards for his work including the 'The New York Times Best Illustrated Book Award' in 1993, and 'The UK Literacy Association Children's Book Award' in 2004 and again in 2012 for his latest book 'Into the Unknown'.

Another wonderful exponent of this genre is David Macaulay. His books include  'The Way Things Work', 'Castle' and 'The Way We Work', are other excellent examples in this genre. He is a British-born American author and illustrator. Now a resident of Norwich, Vermont, United States, he was educated at the Rhode Island School of Design.

His numerous awards include the Caldecott Medal, won for his book 'Black and White' in 1991, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for 'The Way Things Work' in 1989, and the MacArthur Fellows Program award in 2006.

Why do children love these books?

I want to illustrate why these books work using Stephen Biesty's most recent book 'Into the Unknown' (2011). The text was written by Stewart Ross and was published by Walker Books. It is one of my favourite books of this type. The book is a wonderful collection of stories and cross sections of 14 'Amazing Journeys'. The journeys include the epic travels of Marco Polo down the Silk Road to China in 1271-1274, David Livingstone exploring the Zambesi in 1858-1864, Captain Cook mapping Australia and the Pacific in 1768-1771, Umberto Nobile flying over the North Pole in 1928, Jacques Piccard's travels to the top of the Stratosphere by balloon in 1932 and then by submarine to a depth of almost 11,000 metres in the ocean in 1960. It is suited to boys (and some girls) aged 7-14 years.

As a child I loved books with cross-sections, maps and detailed diagrams or drawings - bodies, buildings, vehicles, the Earths' crust, mummies and so on.

There is something about a good cross section or diagram that got my brain whirring as a child and still does. And the same thing seems to happen for many boys.  Why? I think there are a bunch of reasons:

Cross sections teach you things - A cross section of a mountaineer's clothing and equipment offers an immediate sense that climbing Mount Everest must be VERY cold, heightening the sense of this amazing achievement. Seeing Biesty's drawings of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on their first ascent of Mount Everest in 1953 helps to make concrete the reality of their experience.

Cross sections and diagrams offer a better sense of size, quantity and significance - You can read about the famous crossing of the Indian Ocean by Chinese Admiral Zheng He in 1405-1407, but understanding the shear scale of his 'Treasure Fleet' becomes a jaw dropper when Biesty's fold out drawing of the largest fleet ever sailed by a single commander is revealed. Seeing 62 nine-masted treasure ships, 47 eight-masted horse ships, 48 seven-masted supply ships, 60 five-masted cannon carrying warships, 40 patrol boats and 20 water tankers helps you to visualize the shear scale and wonder of this phenomenon.


Cross sections stir the imagination - They encourage children to come up with their own ideas and to represent the learning that has been stimulated in new ways. After reading this book with one of my grandchildren aged nine, he raced off to find some cardboard to make up his own board game of the Hillary & Norgay ascent of Everest. We then had to play it and 'relive' the journey through the game. It had many novel elements. For example, if you failed to land on the spot where you received a critical rope, you were doomed not to make the descent safely. Spontaneous child-initiated activities of this type enrich the experience of the book, stimulate the imagination and reinforce learning.


Cross section books encourage boys (in particular) to revisit - A good cross section book will be looked at time and time again, and each time it will fire the imagination and increase the desire to learn once again. Even at my age, I never tire of revisiting diagrammatic representations of Apollo 11 and the first moon landing. The experience of growing up during the space race and seeing the Apollo 11 landing live on television, was one of life's great memories, and it floods back with new richness with Biesty's images.

Cross section books also help you to enrich and enliven previous learning & experience - My grandson and I had the chance to see and crawl through an exact replica of Captain Cook's famous ship the 'Endeavour' when he was six. As we looked at Biesty's cross section of the book yesterday we recalled where we had climbed, how low the roof had been and speculated about the exact location of the Captain's cabin.


 Summing up

Books that incorporate diagrams, cross-sections and maps have special interest for boys as readers and learners. They encourage them to read and use visual material to reinforce and enrich learning as well as stimulating their imagination and creativity.

Extras

Short video introduction to David Macaulay's work and the process he goes through to produce his works.



You might also like to read my previous post 'Making Reading Exciting for Boys'.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Make & Do Books: Engaging readers in different ways

My focus in this post is on books that engage children by getting them making, exploring or manipulating things. The books I mention are generally just as appealing for girls as boys. Books of this type can also sometimes act as 'breakthrough' books for boys to get them reading. I've written previously about the role of non-fiction, cross section and diagrammatic books,  science & technology, and generally how to make reading exciting for boys. 'Make and Do' books require a different type of comprehension to that used with narratives. In summary, why are they important? They require readers to:

Follow sequences
Comprehend specific instructions
Learn subject specific vocabulary
Become familiar with the language of instruction
Use their body, not just their heads
Be creative and use problem solving
Can encourage reluctant readers to read

'How Machines Work: The Interactive Guide to Simple Machines and Mechanisms' by Nick Arnold & Allan Sanders, published by Quarto Children's Books and distributed in Australia by Walker Books.

This book is a unique interactive guide to understanding simple machines and mechanisms. It introduces basic physics both in words and through models that the reader manipulates. It has 9 double-page spreads that introduce the reader to a key mechanical principle that you then put into practice by building one or more working models. The text and illustrations offer an easy to understand description of the mechanical principle and how to make a model that demonstrates it. This hands-on approach makes it easy to understand how these principles work and how they can be applied to everyday objects, such as cars, bicycles cranes and seesaws. Everything that you need is within, or attached to the book. The concept is brilliant

'The Book of Potentially Catastrophic Science: 50 Experiments for Daring Young Scientists' by Sean Connolly, published by Icon Books and distributed in Australia by Allen & Unwin.


I wanted this book as soon as I saw it.  Well, as soon as I saw the title!  The book is all about igniting interest in science. Sean Connolly achieves this with lively, hands-on activities that suggest excitement and "danger". Simple experiments that pop, ooze, surprise and teach will delight boys and girls in upper primary. He also leads the reader through the history of science, and uses simple experiments to demonstrate key scientific principles.

The reader can rediscover the wheel and axle with the ancient Sumerians, or perform an astounding experiment demonstrating the theory of angular momentum. Children can build a simple telescope like Galileo's and find the four moons he discovered orbiting Jupiter.  They can experiment safely with electricity and avoid the more risky approach of Ben Franklin with his Lightning experiment. They will also learn how to re-create the Hadron Collider in a microwave with marshmallows, calculator, and a ruler to demonstrate the speed of light. Or they might simply crush a can using Stephenson's steam can experiment. This is a wonderful book for children aged 9-12 years.

'The Lego Ideas Book' by Daniel Lipkowitz and published by DK Publishing 

If you have a box of Lego pieces resulting from your purchase of dozens of Lego sets, then you need this book. The book has 500 ideas for how you can make new things out of your box of Lego pieces. The book has six themed chapters—transportation, buildings, space, medieval history, adventure, and useful things to make. Each section has templates for models and ideas for how you might create your own. The book has 200 pages of tips and advice, illustrations and ideas.  It is well illustrated and beautifully designed. This book will keep children aged 7 to 70 years busy for hours.

'Sewing School: Hand-Sewing Projects Kids Will Love' by Amie Plumley & Andria Lisle and published by Storey Publishing.

Photo courtesy littlerockmamas.com
If you'd like some simple designs for sewing projects that don't require a machine, then this might just be the right book for you.  This beautifully designed book has 21 projects suitable for children aged 7 and up.  All of the ideas have been tested with kids and most only require basic hand stitches. The book has numerous illustrations and clear instructions as well as quotes from children who were part of the author's sewing camps where the ideas were developed and tested. 

The 150-page book has 12 chapters that cover basic instructions and foundational sewing skills. It then has a variety of projects arranged in categories. These include items to hug (e.g. blanket, pillow, doll), things to hold (e.g. wallet, tote, apron, pouch), gifts (e.g. coasters, pot holder, toy mouse), things to wear (e.g. hat, dolls dress), repairing clothes (e.g. patches, fixing rips, hems) and repairing soft toys (e.g. sewing eyes back on). Each project has step-by-step instructions at a reading level of about 7 years, photos of every step, and also a photo of the final project. The book also has some full-size patterns and instructions for how grownups can help.

'Usborne Complete Book of Art Ideas' by Fiona Watt and published by Usborne

The Usborne Art book has almost 300 pages of original ideas for painting, drawing and making collage. This fantastic book is ideal for children of varied (and minimal) artistic ability. It is also suitable for just about any age (but it's ideal for 7-12 year olds). The book will help children to explore varied artistic forms and materials, including chalk, pencil, paint and watercolour. It offers ideas that require the use of a wide variety of artistic techniques, including painting, drawing, sticking, ink, ripping, rubbing, smudging and colouring. Each of the many ideas is illustrated with very easy to follow step-by-step instructions. The book also offers tips on brushwork, mixing colours, thinning and thickening paint, how to shade and add patterns, using oil pastels, acrylics and more. 

'Children's Quick and Easy Cookbook' by Angela Wilkes and published by DK Publishing.  

The Children's Quick and Easy Cookbook has 60 simple recipes that children will enjoy. The recipes are easy enough for most children to use, and are mostly suitable for the whole family. It contains a mix of healthy snacks, full meals, and delicious treats and sweets. The meal recipes include pita pockets, falafel, pizzas, Turkish meatballs, tacos, Thai satay kebabs, lemon fish sticks, filled crepes, chicken curry and rice. There are also many wonderful sweets including simple baked bomb Alaska, Tiramisu, parfaits, carrot cake, cookies and many more.  

The book also outlines cooking techniques, good food hygiene, kitchen safety, and step-by-step instructions. Full colour photographs are used throughout the book 


The Dangerous Book for Boys. by Conn Iggulden & Hal Iggulden and published by Harper Collins

This book offers a range of ideas for making and doing things. For example, how to make the greatest paper plane in the world, building a tree house, all about dinosaurs, making a G0-cart, how to go fishing, juggling, all about Australian snakes, skimming stones and so on. This isn't a simple book (about grade 4-5 standard) but the content will help boys to 'stretch' themselves. It is also a great book for boys to read and 'do' with an adult. I've reviewed it in more detail here.



'The Daring Book for Girls' by Andrea J. Buchanan & Miriam Peskowitz and published by Harper Collins is a companion volume to 'The Dangerous Book for Boys'.

Like its predecessor, it is designed for children aged 7-12 years. It includes a mix of things to make and do, information about things that girls might like to know, biographical material, poetry etc. It has been produced again by Harper Collins and has a similar layout, size and range of contents. Even the cover is similar in design, to build on the success of the previous book. Andrea Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz have written the book. The Australian edition was released in 2008 and mirrors the US edition released by Harper Collins in 2007, but it includes some different Australian content.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ten great non-fiction books for children aged 5-12 years

I have written before on this blog about the importance of non-fiction books (see some links at the end of the post). In fact, some young readers find non-fiction more engaging than fiction. There have been some wonderful examples published in the last year. This post is simply a quick review of ten recently published books that younger children will find interesting and enjoyable. I have arranged them roughly in order of difficulty.

'Bilby Secrets' Edel Wignel, illustrated by Mark Jackson

This is a delightful non-fiction picture book that teaches us in narrative form about the life of the wonderful bilby, an Australian marsupial. It traces the events of a typical day for mother and baby, and the perils of native and feral animals as the baby Bilby tries to survive life in the Australian landscape. Edel Wignel's story keeps the reader interested, while Mark Jackson's brightly coloured illustrations add drama and detail to this piece of discovery learning in narrative form. Children aged 2-6 will love this book. It is also a great book for classroom-based units and learning. 

'Simpson and his Donkey' by Mark Greenwood & illustrated by Frané Lessac

Every Australian and English child who grew up in the 1950s to 70s in Australia would know of the story of Simpson and the donkey he used to retrieve wounded men on the WWI battlefields of the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. This was one of the greatest of all defeats for the forces of Britain, France and of course the Australian and New Zealand armed forces (the ANZACs). In the midst of the massacre of thousands of allied troops and the eight month siege of this isolated beachhead, a man and his donkey were responsible for saving many lives, before Simpson was eventually killed on yet another mission.

Mark Greenwood offers a moving story of John Simpson Kirkpatrick and how he and his donkey, Duffy, rescued over 300 men during the campaign at Gallipoli. It traces his life from his home in South Shields in Newcastle (England) and his journey from the Tyne Dock to Turkey. Informed by detailed research, the text includes a brief biography of the man, details of his work at Gallipoli and also the little known story of how one of the many he rescued was actually a childhood friend.

Frané Lessac's illustrations are a wonderful complement to the story and have strength of colour that is not controlled by conventions. There are skies of yellow, orange, aqua, purple and all shades of blue. Her unique style draws your eye deep into each plate; no details can easily be missed.

'Kubla Khan: Emperor of Everything' by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Robert Byrd

Kubla Khan is not well known and has often been mentioned historically only indirectly or in passing. Who was the man who Coleridge described in his famous poem 'Kubla Kahn'? This is the presumed grandson of Genghis Khan who reputedly built the imperial city of Beijing, and fathered a hundred or more children. History and legend suggest that he ruled over the greatest empire of the time, and that it was more advanced than previous civilisations in science, art and technology. The narrative text is engaging and should hold the interest of young readers, and Robert Byrd beautifully illustrates the book. Readers aged 7-9 years will enjoy this 42 page illustrated book.

'The Legend of Moondyne Joe' by Mark Greenwood & illustrated by Frané Lessac

The motivation for this story was a visit by the author to the Fremantle Prison near Perth Western Australia and the cell that was built especially for a bushranger who was difficult to keep incarcerated. Moondyne Joe was not known for gunfights or holding up stagecoaches in the early days of the colony. It was the convict bushranger's ability to escape each time he was placed behind bars that made him infamous. The early settlers admired him as he roamed the wooded valleys and winding creeks of the Moondyne Hills, wearing a kangaroo-skin cape and possum-skin slippers.

As with many of Greenwood's books he adds a glossary of terms and some notes on the convict era that increase the depth of the reader's experience of the book. The simple story is superbly illustrated by the paintings of Frané Lessac. This is another wonderful book that engages and teaches.

'You Can Draw Anything' by Kim Gamble

Kim Gamble is a well-known illustrator of Australian picture books. In this very accessible book he shows you how to draw just about anything you want to. Most how-to-draw books are either simple and recipe like or far too complex. The book offers principles and guidance for drawing many objects, including varied animals, people (bodies and faces), and landscapes including perspectives. He also offers techniques for shading and colouring. He intersperses the many diagrams and drawings with stories, jokes and examples that make the approach lots of fun, engaging and effective. It is ideal for children aged 7-10 years.

'Amazing Grace: An Adventure at Sea' by Stephanie Owen Reeder


This is a story about the courage of 16-year-old Grace Bussell. The year is 1876, when a steam ship, the 'Georgette', runs aground near Margaret River in Western Australia. On shore an ordinary 16 year old girl sees the unfolding drama and heads off on horseback with the family servant Sam Isaacs to try to help the stranded passengers. Grace and Sam head into the water with their horses and rescue many people. Using eyewitness accounts and other historical documents as well as some slight embellishment to fill in details to sustain the narrative, Stephanie Reeder brings this true story to life.  This wonderful story is an excellent follow on from Stephanie Reeder's previous book, 'Lost! A True Tale From the Bush'. This previous story was also a true story. It told the story of 3 children who became lost on their way home in 1864 and spent eight days alone. It was shortlisted in the 2010 CBCA children's literature awards.  
'The Boy from Bowral' by Robert Ingpen

Robert Ingpen is known primarily as an illustrator but he is also a fine writer with 13 works of fiction and over 20 non-fiction. His most recent book as writer and illustrator is 'The Boy from Bowral' which tells the biographical story of Australian cricketer Sir Donald Bradman who is the greatest cricketer of all time. Bradman is seen as a legend in any cricket playing nation and Ingpen provides a lucidly written and historically accurate picture of Bradman's early life in Bowral, his rise to prominence as a cricketer, and his sporting career. The images are drawings based primarily on existing photographs, so the keen cricket fan (like me) will feel that they recognise some of them. The cover (which wraps around to the back) is a wonderful sequence of images that appear like a series of video frames that capture the classic Bradman cover drive. I loved this book and any cricket following child or adult will also enjoy it.

'Into the Unknown' by Stewart Ross and illustrated by Stephen Biesty

This wonderful hard cover book from tells the story of 14 famous journeys throughout history, including 'Pytheas the Greek Sails to the Arctic Circle in 340BC', 'Admiral Zheng He Crosses the Indian Ocean in 1405-07', 'Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin Land on the Moon in 1969', 'Marco Polo Rides the Silk Road to China in 1271-74' and many more.

Each story has multiple drawings, maps and a giant fold out cross-section. Boys will read and look through this book for hours. You will also enjoy reading this exciting book to boys. There are many other 'cross-section' books by Stephen Biesty and others (here), including 'Egypt in Cross Section', 'Castles' and 'Rome'.

'Movie Maker' by Tim Grabham, Suridh Hassan, Dave Reeve and Clare Richards

'Movie Maker' is another wonderful resource from Walker Books designed for primary school aged children (7-12 years). It is a kit that contains ideas for making movies, and a handbook that shows you how armed simply with a video camera, you can make movies. The handbook talks about techniques like storyboarding, production, equipment, sound and lighting, design, special effects, how to vary camera shots and so on. It also includes some very cute aids such as a binocular mask, an adjustable frame, sample story boards, character props (e.g. glasses, moustache) and even authentic theatre tickets. All it doesn't include is the popcorn.


'The Book of Potentially Catastrophic Science: 50 Experiments for Daring Young Scientists' by Sean Connolly

I wanted this book as soon as I saw it.  Well, as soon as I saw the title!  The book is all about igniting interest in science. Sean Connolly achieves this with lively, hands-on activities that suggest excitement and "danger". Simple experiments that pop, ooze, surprise and teach will delight boys and girls in upper primary. He also leads the reader through the history of science, and uses simple experiments to demonstrate key scientific principles.

The reader can rediscover the wheel and axle with the ancient Sumerians, or perform an astounding experiment demonstrating the theory of angular momentum. Children can build a simple telescope like Galileo's and find the four moons he discovered orbiting Jupiter.  They can experiment safely with electricity and avoid the more risky approach of Ben Franklin with his Lightning experiment. They will also learn how to re-create the Hadron Collider in a microwave with marshmallows, calculator, and a ruler to demonstrate the speed of light. Or they might simply crush a can using Stephenson's steam can experiment. This is a wonderful book for children aged 9-12 years.

Related Posts

'Meet the Author: Mark Greenwood & Frané Lessac' HERE
'Author & Illustrator Focus: Robert Ingpen HERE
'Getting Boys into Books Through Non-Fiction' HERE
'Making Reading Exciting for Boys' HERE

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Why 'cross section' & diagrammatic books work with boys

 I was reading one of Stephen Biesty's most recent cross section books with my grandson aged 9 (almost) the other day - 'Into the Unknown' (2011) illustrated by Stephen Biesty and written by Stewart Ross. It is published by Walker Books. It has to be one of my favourite books of this type. The book is a wonderful collection of stories and cross sections of 14 'Amazing Journeys'. The journeys include the epic travels of Marco Polo down the Silk Road to China in 1271-1274, David Livingstone exploring the Zambesi in 1858-1864, Captain Cook mapping Australia and the Pacific in 1768-1771, Umberto Nobile flying over the North Pole in 1928, Jacques Piccard's travels to the top of the Stratosphere by balloon in 1932 and then by submarine to a depth of almost 11,000 metres in the ocean in 1960. It is suited for boys (and some girls) aged 7-14 years.

As a child I loved books with cross-sections, maps and detailed diagrams or drawings - bodies, buildings, vehicles, the Earths' crust, mummies and so on. David Macaulay's books, including  'The Way Things Work', 'Castle' and 'The Way We Work', are other excellent examples in this genre. My recent post 'Making Reading Exciting for Boys' covers some of this wonderful material. But why do they work?

There is something about a good cross section or diagram that got my brain whirring as a child (and still does). And the same thing seems to happen for many boys.  Why? I think there are a bunch of reasons:

Cross sections teach you things - A cross section of a mountaineer's clothing and equipment gives an immediate sense that climbing Mount Everest must be VERY cold, heightening the sense of this amazing achievement. Jacob already knew about Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay and the first ascent of Mount Everest in 1953, but seeing Biesty's drawings made concrete many of the things he heard or read previously, and opened his eyes to others he didn't know.

Cross sections and diagrams offer a better sense of size, quantity and significance - You can read about the famous crossing of the Indian Ocean by Chinese Admiral Zheng He in 1405-1407, but understanding the shear scale of his 'Treasure Fleet' becomes a jaw dropper when Biesty's fold out drawing of the largest fleet ever sailed by a single commander is revealed. Seeing 62 nine-masted treasure ships, 47 eight-masted horse ships, 48 seven-masted supply ships, 60 five-masted cannon carrying warships, 40 patrol boats and 20 water tankers helps you to visualize the shear scale and wonder of this phenomenon.


Cross sections stir the imagination - They encourage boys (and girls) to come up with their own ideas and to represent the learning that has been stimulated in new ways. As soon as Jacob finished reading the book with me he raced off to find some cardboard to make up his own board game of the Hillary & Norgay ascent of Everest. We then had to play it and 'relive' the journey through the game. It had many novel elements. For example, if you failed to land on the spot where you received a critical rope you were doomed not to make the descent safely. Spontaneous child-initiated activities of this type enrich the experience of the book, stimulate the imagination and reinforce learning.


Cross section books encourage boys (in particular) to revisit - A good cross section book will be looked at time and time again, and each time it will fire imagination and increase the desire to learn once again. Even at my age, I never tire of revisiting diagrammatic representations of Apollo 11 and the first moon landing. The experience of growing up during the space race and seeing the Apollo 11 landing live, was one of life's great memories, and it floods back with new richness with Biesty's images.

Cross section books also help you to enrich and enliven previous learning & experience - Jacob and I had the chance to see and crawl through an exact replica of Captain Cook's famous ship the 'Endeavour' when he was six. As we looked at Biesty's cross section of the book yesterday we recalled where we had climbed, how low the roof had been and speculated about the exact location of the Captain's cabin.



Summing up

Books that incorporate diagrams, cross-sections and maps have special interest for boys as readers and learners. They encourage them to read and use visual material to reinforce and enrich learning as well as stimulating their imagination and creativity. I would love to hear your recommendations for similar books.

Short video introduction to Stephen Biesty's book 'Stowaway'



For a full description of Stephen Biesty's work visit his website HERE

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Making Reading Exciting for Boys


I've written a number of posts on boys and book for this blog. In an earlier post, 'The Challenge of Boys and Reading' I suggested that one of the great priorities when sharing books with boys is to make it interesting, enjoyable and satisfying. Encounters with books should stimulate every boy's imagination, enjoyment, curiosity, knowledge, sense of fun, creativity, sense of adventure, enjoyment of language and offer opportunities to learn new things.  For too many boys, encounters with books speak of boredom, inadequacy and separation from fun. This feeds a sense of failure, frustration and lack of interest in reading. Our job as parents and teachers is to break this cycle.

The fundamentals

1. Boys are more likely to be attracted to books and reading when they offer opportunities to discover, experiment, explore, learn new things, make them laugh, consider the curious or unusual, help them to play, see how things work, share trivia, tricks and facts with other boys, explore the unknown, and generally do interesting things.

2. Boys need to understand the value of story and storytelling from an early age. This can be acquired through early books, the stories you share with them (anecdotes, memories, tall tales etc), traditional stories and fantasy. Until boys value story, they will struggle to cope with reading.

3. Fathers and mothers need to learn how to listen to and read with your sons. Reading to and with you should be enjoyable, not boring or a chore. See my previous post on this topic (here).

4. Fathers have a key role to play in boys' literacy and learning development (see my post on research in this area here).

5. Pretty much every act of reading is relational. For boys, if the book is connected with people with whom they share strong relationships, then they will read. If parents, significant community leaders and teachers that boys love and respect value reading then they will too.

6. Whoever reads to them and with them should keep the following in mind:

Choices - Help them to make good choices, including stuff they can read and that they'll find interesting.
Enjoyment - Make it seem important, interesting and fun, not just a task.
Forms - Introduce them to as many different forms of reading as possible.
Model - Make sure you enjoy it too! If you're bored, they'll be bored. If you're having fun, they will too.
Early intervention - Start early and do it often. Don't wait till your boy is seven before you start reading to and with him. It's not impossible by then but it's tougher. 
Giving boys support and getting help

For many boys the narrative form is the best way into literacy, but some boys are reluctant to read storybooks. Having said this, all humans love stories, even if only in non-book forms like anecdotes, yarns, ballads, songs, jokes, video games etc. Our aim as parents or teachers is to develop boys who can read every imaginable genre when it is appropriate to their needs. We want them to read in a sustained way written text presented in traditional print forms (e.g. books, magazines, letters), electronic forms, or in fact everyday text found anywhere within the child's world. So we should seek to explore any form of reading available and then gently push them to explore other forms of reading, as well as to read in more sustained ways and for all imaginable purposes.

Varied pathways into reading

I've written before about the need for varied 'Pathways to Literacy', but below I've tried to offer a range of ideas for boys aged from beginning readers to young teenagers. All are meant to offer an alternative pathway for pushing forward reluctant readers. They are roughly in order of increasing difficulty and age appropriateness, but some examples are relevant across all ages.

Introduce them to magazines - boys will love to flick through the pages of magazines on topics that interest them. Something like National Geographic is ideal (or a children's version of this type of magazine like 'Kids Almanac'). If they are expendable (e.g. old National Geographics), let them cut out interesting pictures and get them to make a book by sticking them in and then labelling them. Later you can write words for them that they dictate or you can encourage them from a very early age to try to 'write' (see my previous post on 'When do children start writing' here) words that go with the pictures.

Explore websites together - from about 3 years most boys will love to explore computers with you. Choose some simple websites (I list a few on the sidebar of this blog site), National Geographic Kids is worth a look. The Australian Museum has a great site called 'Wild Kids' where lots of facts and pictures can be found about animals - great fun to explore (and it's reading!). Show them how you open the site. Then explore the pages of the site pointing to and reading words. Don't make this a reading lesson, the text is peripheral to the exploration, images etc. But you are 'warming them up' to print. There are some greats sites to explore on sharks, reptiles etc.

Explore factual books together - boys love to learn new things. Borrow factual books from the library about space, dinosaurs, cars, trains, reptiles, sea creatures, insects, how things work etc. Boys will flick pages and look at pictures for ages. Sit with them and selectively draw attention to words. Perhaps use the book as a springboard to other activities (e.g. craft, drawing) and encourage the use of writing to label or supplement drawings. A brilliant example of this type of book is 'The Way Things Work' by David Macaulay (the author's website is also worth a visit here). This book explains with words, diagrams and pictures how things work, for example, electricity, pulleys, microscopes, smoke detectors etc. This can be flicked through or read. It isn't a simple book but is ideal for an older boy who isn't keen on stories but may respond to a more difficult factual book that will encourage him to read for more sustained periods. And this is one of our aims, to give them reading 'stamina'.

A sub-category of this approach is the use of 'key fact' books. Many boys will love books that offer a mix of drawings and pictures with facts about things that fascinate them. Some of these books use extended text, but others use short 'sharp' statement with good accompanying graphics or images. Popular topic areas with boys include:
  • Egyptology
  • Jet planes
  • Weather
  • Animals of all kinds
  • History
  • Sport
  • Science
  • Engineering
Here are a couple of examples:

A recently published book is 'Into the Unknown' by Stewart Ross with illustrations by the incredible Stephen Biesty. This wonderful hard cover book from Walker Books tells the story of 14 famous journeys throughout history, including 'Pytheas the Greek Sails to the Arctic Circle in 340BC', 'Admiral Zheng He Crosses the Indian Ocean in 1405-07', 'Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin Land on the Moon in 1969', 'Marco Polo Rides the Silk Road to China in 1271-74' and many more.

Each story has multiple drawings, maps and a giant fold out cross-section. Boys will read and look through this book for hours. You will also enjoy reading this exciting book to boys. There are many other 'cross-section' books by Stephen Biesty and others (here), including 'Egypt in Cross Section', 'Castles' and 'Rome'.

There is a sub-group in this category that present interesting short facts that boys love dipping into, showing to friends and revisiting again and again

1001 Unbelievable Facts, by Helen Otway (there is a whole series of '1001 Fact..' books, 'Backpack Books' published by DK)
100 Things You Should Know About Ancient Rome, by Fiona MacDonald
Dinosaurs (Pocket Series), produced as part of a series of non-fiction books by DK Publishing

There are also scientific books produced by major organizations like museums. A wonderful example is My Panda Book, by Stuart P. Levine. This is one of a series of books published in partnership with the Smithsonian.

A wonderful example of a fact book that my wife bought for me (and which I've shared with my grandson) is 'One Small Step'. This was produced to commemorate the first moon landing on July 20th 1969. The book is a replica of a scrapbook put together by a 12 year old boy whose grandad was working in the Houston Control Room on the day when man first made it to the moon. It’s a collection of Moon-landing memorabilia (e.g. space menus, certificates, transcript of the first steps exchange etc), photographs and so on. It also has more recent space science information, including the future of space travel.

Joke books - There are numerous joke books that boys will use for hours with family and friends. For some reluctant readers joke books are the place that they will drift to in order to avoid sustained reading. The aim isn't to allow this to happen, but these books if managed well can be a way to get boys reading more difficult material. There are lots of books of this type; the following are just a couple of examples.

Knock Knock Who's There: My First Knock Knock Book by Tad Hills is a great introduction to humour in books with answers under flaps.
The Everything Kids' Joke Book
, by Michael Dahl offers Jokes for upper Primary children (aged 7-12 years) plus a second section on how to write jokes.
The Family Joke Book, by Brad Taylor

Books that encourage boys to make and do things - there are many examples of books of this type. They show boys how to make simple things, conduct science experiments and so on. Places like the National Geographic stores can be a good place to look for books of this type. A well-known recent example is The Dangerous Book for Boys. This book offers a range of ideas for making and doing things. For example, how to make the greatest paper plane in the world, building a tree house, all about dinosaurs, making a G0-cart, how to go fishing, juggling, all about Australian snakes, skimming stones and so on. This isn't a simple book (about grade 4-5 standard) but the content will help boys to 'stretch' themselves. It is also a great book for boys to read and 'do' with an adult.


Graphic novels and comics - While this category often uses narrative, there are many good examples that are non-fiction. Whereas the comic is essentially a sequence of pictures with conversation and texts, the Graphic Novel is a more complex text.  Graphic novels use a combination of text and varied art. More recent examples also draw on music, sound, related web-based resources and so on.  They can include biographies, narratives, memoirs and journals, classic story retellings etc. For example, there are now graphic-novel editions of the works of Shakespeare, and many classics such as 'The Red Badge of Courage', 'Beowulf', 'Greek myths', 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' and even 'The Canterbury Tales'. Nicki Greenberg's 427 page 'Hamlet' offers us one of the most ambitious efforts I have seen as she presents (in fact she 'stages') Shakespeare's play as a graphic novel. Mind you, not many boys will find this accessible.

Most boys will prefer simpler examples of this form. For example, Raymond Briggs has used the format to powerful effect with works like 'When the Wind Blows' (1986) that tells of the impact of an atomic blast on an elderly British couple who approach the impending disaster as if they were simply trying to survive the Blitz of WWII.


Some people lump comics and graphic novels together but they are different forms. Whereas the graphic novel uses more extended text mixed with varied illustrations and images, the comic makes use of sequenced pictures and speech balloons. There is still a place for comic books (see my previous post on this here). There are also an emerging range of electronic comics that boys will enjoy including many classic comic series like 'Archie' but I doubt that this is the future of reading for many boys. Putting traditional comics online simply to read won't appeal in the same way that graphic novels will or gaming.

eBooks - I've written quite a bit in recent times about the limitations and opportunities of eBooks to help get boys into reading. While many of the earliest examples of electronic books are either simply novels for readers or picture books with more gadgets than words, boys like gadgets and some are more likely to look at an eBook than a traditional paper version.  Like any book, parents and teachers still need to give boys support in choosing and engaging with the text not just the gadgets.

There are a number of good examples that many boys will enjoy reading that I've reviewed previously (here, here & here). My recent favourite is 'The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore' by William Joyce (Moonbot Studios). It is a story about people who devote their lives to books and how books in turn enrich our lives. It is a poignant, humorous allegory about the power of story. It uses a variety of illustrative and animation techniques to create a moving story.  It is presented in a style that offers echoes of the great silent films of the past. It has so many features, but on the whole they don't necessarily distract from the story. The reader can repair books, descend deep into a great storm, learn the piano, become 'lost in a book', and fly through a magical world of words. There is a surprise on each page of this app which boys love.
 

Gaming - While parents who want their boys to read usually see video and computer games as the enemy of reading, some of the most popular games for boys and effectively games in which they create their own world and narratives. Many have asked whether gaming might have crossover impacts on reading in more conventional ways. You can read a report on this topic that explores the possibilities of gaming for reading here. I'm not yet convinced that encouraging gaming will lead to boys who read books as well, but for some boys it might just act as a bridge. I intend to blog on this at some future time when I think I have more to say on the topic.

Books for Boys - I've written a number of posts on good books for boys (including here, here & here), so I won't repeat them here, except to list just 12 wonderful books to read to and with boys. These books will rarely fail if you read them with boys aged 7-12 years and do it with excitement and passion.

'Boy: Tales of Childhood' by Roald Dahl (1984)
'Prince Caspian' by C.S. Lewis (1951)
'The Hobbit' by J.R. Tolkien (1937)
'Rowan of Rin' by Emily Rodda (1993)
'The Machine Gunners' by Robert Westall (1975)
'Strange Objects' by Gary Crewe (1990)
'The Pinballs' by Betsy Byars (1977)
'Watership Down' by Richard Adam (1972)
'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer' by Mark Twain (1876) 'A Wrinkle in Time' by Madeleine L'Engle (1962)
'The Wheel on the School' by Meindert DeJong (1972)
'Incident at Hawk's Hill' by Allan W. Eckert (1971)

A final comment on literature

As I've stressed above, while it isn't essential for children to begin reading via books or fiction, there is a critical place for traditional forms like children's literature because of the importance of narrative to people. What I'm saying is that while boys might start reading in many different ways, they shouldn't be allowed to avoid the narrative form. As I commented in the third part of a series of posts on the 'Power of Literature' (here) I believe that while it is possible to learn to read without a rich tradition of books and literature, I would argue that it isn’t possible without a foundation of narrative and story. Why? Expert in narrative Harold Rosen offers the perfect answer to my question:
Narratives in all their diversity and multiplicity make up the fabric of our lives; they are constitutive moments in the formation of our identities and our sense of community affiliation.
We build our relationships with one another, share our humanity through the stories we tell about our own lives and those that we have heard from others. So our aim in using factual forms of reading, and alternative forms like graphic novels and factual texts is of worth in it's own right, but it shouldn't completely replace rich narrative forms like literature.

Related posts

All my posts on boys and education (here)
Pam Allyn's excellent book 'Pam Allyn's Best Books for Boys' which I reviewed here.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Great Science & Technology Books for Children 3-12 years

'Science and technology' is an important book category for children interested in understanding the natural and man-made world. In this post I thought that I'd focus on a variety of good books in this category for children aged 3-12 years. There are a number of good reasons for this:

a) Some children are fascinated by science and find it more engaging than literature.
b) Boys have a particularly strong interest in books that show how things work, or which offer a different angle on understanding the world.
c) Through such books children are introduced to new written genres and new language.
d) These books also teach and encourage children to value problem solving, observation and learning.

In choosing such books I'd consider the following:
  • Look for varied genres, not just books that read like high school science texts.
  • Choose books that use a lot of visual literacy as well as words.
  • Look for books that use colour, drawing, diagrams and photographs.
  • Identify books that adopt innovative approaches to observation and inquiry.
Please note that the age categories below don't have 'hard' boundaries. For example, some preschool children will enjoy books from the 5-8 category and some of the preschool books will work with older children. As well, many children will enjoy the preschool books prior to age 3 years.

1. Books for preschool children


It's harder to find science and technology books for preschoolers but there are some good ones around.

Puggle (2009) by Catriona Hoy and Andrew Plant (Illustrator) - This story was stimulated by a visit by Catriona to the home of wildlife carers and a 'real life' orphaned echidna. The book tells the story of a baby echidna named Puggle who is taken to an animal refuge after his mother is hit by a car. The book traces Puggle's slow development from being helpless to being independent. It shows how it learns to suckle, how its body changes, being released into the wild. While the book is in a narrative form it communicates factual information about echidnas and has additional factual information on the end papers.

A seed is sleepy (2007) by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long (Illustrator) - This is a delightful picture book that describes how seeds germinate. Each double page features a different aspect of seeds with a poetic statement in large-size handwritten calligraphy. The book uses very simple narrative and poetic, for example 'a seed is clever'. Scientific information for each simple statement is offered on the back page. The botanical illustrations are outstanding watercolour plates. As it is an American book it uses imperial measurements not metric.

Let's try it out with towers and bridges: Hands-on early learning science activities (2003) by Simon, Seymour and Nicole Fauteux, and illustrated by Doug Cushman - This is one book from the 'Let's try it out' series that presents simple experiments with everyday materials. This book uses blocks, drinking straws, cardboard tubes and pieces of paper to show how buildings and bridges of different shapes can be made strong enough to withstand various forces. Australian readers may not be familiar with the introductory section about the American pioneers going west but this is a minor issue. Other books in the series can be found at the author's website: http://www.simonsayskids.com/

Where in the Wild?: Camouflaged creatures concealed…and revealed (2007) by David Schwartz and Yael Schy (text) and Dwight Kuhn (photos) - This is a lift the flap book which demonstrates how camouflage works for young children It uses a stunning visual format. Each page opening has a heading and poem on the left-hand side and a full-size colour photograph opposite. In each photograph is a well-camouflaged animal. The child can lift the flap to find out what the camouflaged creature is. On the reverse of each flap is extensive information about the creature. The animals are primarily North American and feature mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, and reptiles.

2. Books for children aged 5-8 years

Some of the above books are probably suitable for 5 and 6 year olds as well but there are many other wonderful books for this early school-aged group.

Bird's-eye View (2006) by Maria Gill and with photographs by Darryl Torrckler & Geoff Moon - Bird’s-eye View reveals what 13 New Zealand birds see in their natural environment. The idea came to the New Zealand author as she watched a hawk one day while driving her car. Could it see her? What do birds see? She was surprised to find only limited research on the topic. The book introduces the reader to the range of visual capabilities that a bird has compared with humans. Using recent avian-vision research a bird’s-eye view is shown in stunning panoramic images. This innovative book offers a new perspective on the way birds live. Sure to fascinate many children.

Bat loves the night (2001) by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Sarah Fox-Davies - This book uses a simple narrative to follow one night in the life of a Pipistrelle Bat, as it flies out between broken tiles, under trees and over bushes catching insects, before returning to its roost and its baby. Like many factual books for younger children it offers a secondary text that offer extra information on echolocation, food and roosting sites. The beautiful illustrations by Sarah Fox Davies add to the text. The book was reissued with an accompanying CD in 2008.

Robert Crowther's amazing pop-up house of inventions (2000) - Robert Crowther has been making incredible pop-up books for many years, including the well known 'The most amazing hide-and-seek alphabet book'. This book is an introduction to the history of technology, as he moves room by room through a house, including the kitchen, bathroom, living room, bedroom and garage. The reader lifts flaps, opens doors and turns dials to reveal when appliances, machines and other forms of technology were first invented or used.

Stephen Biesty's incredible cross-sections (1992) by Stephen Biesty (illustrator) and Richard J.C. Platt (author) C. - This fantastic book was one of the first to offer detailed cross-sections of various inventions. The large format book uses double-page pages spreads and cutaway drawing formats to reveal the inner workings of a building or vehicle. Captions are used to label relevant parts and explain the key components of each construction. The book includes castles, cathedrals, skyscrapers, coal mines, oil rigs, various ships, planes and trains. Boys will look at this book again and again. Richard Platt has also done many more books in the last 20 years (here).

The pebble in my pocket: A history of our Earth (1996) by Meredith Hooper and illustrated by Chris Coady - This books starts with a pebble small enough for a child to hold and describes geological processes from a time of volcanic activity 480 million years ago. It shows how things change as uplift and erosion of the Earth's crust, sedimentation, new cycles of uplift and erosion, and changes in living things over that time lead to constant change. The author uses simple but effective language that enables children to grasp the process of change on the Earth over millions of years.

The Emperor's Kingdom (2010) by Roger Kirkwood - This book tells of the life cycle of the Emperor Penguin. Using wonderful photographs, and an accompanying DVD it traces the cycle of life from February as they feed and build energy, April as they gather in colonies, May when the one egg is laid and the male takes responsibility to balance the egg in the freezing cold for 50 days before, June and July as the females journey to feed, the hatching and the return of the mothers. Told with simple text and stunning visual support.

3. Books for children aged 9-12 years

The Way We Work: Explore the Human Body Head to Toe (2009) by David Macaulay and Richard Walker - Macaulay changed the way we look at science books with his stunning first book 'The Way Things Work' (1988). His work communicates complex scientific and technological concepts in ways that young children can understand. His use of diagrams and visual material changed science for many children from a dull subject from a creative and engaging area of inquiry. He won the Caldecott medal for his book 'Black and White' in 1990.

This latest book has Macaulay turning his attention from technology to how the human body works. The 336 pages in double page spreads offer rich texts and (as usual) complex visuals. This is another wonderful example of how science can be made accessible for children.

The Usborne internet-linked science encyclopaedia (2000) by Kirsteen Rogers - This is a stunning comprehensive encyclopaedia that introduces a wide range of scientific topics to the young readers and in the process lists hundreds of excellent websites. It is beautifully produced, with many coloured illustrations and excellent well-written content. It is a stunning reference work for young and old. You can find the various websites mentioned in the book here.

Paper airplanes and super flyers (1996) by Neil Francis and illustrated by June Bradford - This book offers instructions on how to make gliders and paper aeroplanes, including fantastic stuff like how to add elevators, wing flaps and rudders. It also shows how to make parachutes, and kites and describes the principles of how they work.

How cool stuff works (2008) by Chris Woodford (and others) -

This excellent book examines the modern components behind a great deal of science and technology. It is divided into chapters with key verbs as headings (eg. 'Connect', 'Play', 'Move' and 'Survive'). It has full colour illustrations and graphics and is very well designed. Each page offers brief explanations of how new technology like MP3 players, voice recognition, microwave ovens, submersibles, virtual keyboards and pacemakers work.



'
One Small Step' (2009) by Jerry Stone - This is a wonderful recent example of a factual book about science. It was produced to commemorate the first moon landing on July 20th 1969. The book is a replica of a scrapbook put together by a 12 year old boy whose grandad was working in the Houston Control Room on the day when man first made it to the moon. It’s a collection of Moon-landing memorabilia (e.g. space menus, certificates, transcript of the first steps exchange etc), photographs and so on. It also has more recent space science information, including the future of space travel.

Related posts and resources

Previous post on 'Getting Boys into Reading Through Non-fiction' HERE

'Good Science Books for Children', Australian Academy of Science HERE

Usborne 'Quicklinks for Internet-linked Books' HERE