Saturday, January 14, 2017

From Picture Books to 'Real' Books

A recent review of a book for older children described the book as 'a completely humorous fantasy adventure that is great for young readers transitioning from picture books to "real" books.' This draws attention to an important stage in the process of learning to read.

Children are introduced to books by being shown attractive volumes of brightly coloured pictures, often with pages of stiff card, sometimes very small and sometimes very large. Beginning with the letters of the alphabet in big and colourful font, text is introduced as single word captions, typically with the names of familiar animals or objects. As the child progresses in age and reading ability, the text expands and the pictures grow fewer and smaller, but there is a stage before the pictures disappear altogether when the text has expanded to become complete stories.

At this stage of reading development many children are still reading with a parent, sometimes at bedtime, with mum or dad still doing some or all of the reading. With this in mind, the reviewer continued: 'Each chapter is a complete story in itself which is perfect for its target audience.' A complete story is to be preferred in setting a young mind to rest, especially if the ending is a happy one. Perhaps best of all is where the same familiar characters have an adventure that is completed in each chapter.

The young person who has browsed through many picture books may still need an occasional picture to help focus the imagination. As another reviewer recorded of the same children's book: 'Interspersed within the book are a series of clever black and white line drawings to add an interesting and fun dimension.' At only one picture in each chapter, and devoid of colour, illustration is almost eliminated, but enough remains to answer the question: 'What does s/he look like?' before the sleepy head falls back on the pillow.

To ask how long should a bedtime story last might seem like asking how long is a piece of string, but some guidelines can be deduced. Reading for half an hour at 100 words a minute suggests a story length of 3000 words. Allowing for some parents being a little more generous with their time, or being faster readers, might indicate a range of say, 3000 to 5000 words. This is perhaps the ideal chapter length for books at this transitory stage in reading progress, a stage just before the pictures disappear altogether and the maturing mind can weave its pictures from the text alone.

Saint George, Rusty Knight, and Monster Tamer is a series of nine self-contained historical short stories which introduces George, a hapless knight who has an unusual skill for monster taming, and which, with wit and delightful aplomb takes the young reader on an adventurous journey though some significant moments in history.

Historical Novel Society, February 2016

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