Monday, 16 July 2018

The Ten Best Baby Books We Own (in English)

I recently finished a very good book (this one), which helped me re-focus on the joy of reading aloud with the children, even when they are too young for stories, but can delight in the rhythms and cadences of words. Sarah Mackenzie points out that the most important thing is to help your child feel connected to you, and bonding through books is the best!

The only hiccough with very small children is that many books aimed for them are counting/colour/animal primers, and unless the illustrations are REALLY captivating, you will soon want to pull your eyes and ears out. But children also want to read them over and over again. Which is a problem.

So, ideally, what we need are books that can withstand 34909285687 readings in a row, and that's a pretty tall order. No adult book is ever submitted to that kind of scrutiny! But that is not even all! The other things you need are books that are short enough to keep the one year-old interested, with beautiful enough images to keep the 2 and 4 year-olds looking, and language that gives enough pleasure to the adult reader that s/he won't mind going straight back to the beginning at the end.

So, without further ado, I present to you, the ten books in our house which come closest to accomplishing this feat (in the order they appear on my shelves, so pretty random!):

1 - Whose Toes Are Those? - Jabari Asim


This is a very sweet book, completely delightful, and the images are gorgeous. It's in pretty constant demand in our house, and I don't mind one bit!

NB: It's an American book, so at one point, it talks about going "all the way to England", which is obviously not that impressive for us, but no-one batted an eyelid.

2 - Barnyard Dance - Sandra Boynton


I wouldn't say the illustrations are the most beautiful I have ever seen, but this book is pure fun, and I dare you to pretend like you don't want to join in the dance just a teensy bit!

3 - Peepo - Janet and Allan Ahlberg


The Ahlbergs are fabulous at creating books that you just want to look at that little bit longer, because of all the sweet details in every image. This one actually encourages you to do just that, and it's a pretty good antidote to the 327594382 re-readings which WILL happen.

4 - Each Peach Pear Plum - Janet and Allan Ahlberg


Another Ahlberg masterpiece. Even the very small children with no knowledge of the fairy tales they refer to, love looking for the hidden characters, and it keeps the book delightful for the older ones when they suddenly "get" the references.

5 - Monkey And Me - Emily Gravett


I love Emily Gravett. She has the ability to tell stories in very few words, the drawings are absolutely delightful but also sparse. I don't know how she does it! 

NB: As you can see from the title, the book is not perfectly grammatically correct - she's reproducing the language pattern of a child - but if that is enough to keep you from it, then it's your loss!

6 - Where's Bear - Emily Gravett

Stock photo

This was Jude's number one absolute favourite for the longest time. This is another example of Emily Gravett's genius, with even simpler language.
Her books are some of the ones I always seek out, because I know she will not disappoint. I would have added Matilda's Cat to this top 10, except we don't actually own it, we just borrow it from the library. A lot.

7 - Oi Frog - Kes Gray


Hilarious, lots of fun details, the kids will be reciting it along in no time. Plus, it draws attention to the mechanics of rhyming. What's not to love!
Actually, one thing: the author has since written 2 or 3 more on exactly the same pattern, and that is a bit annoying. But just get the original one and ignore the rest!

8 - Sheep in a Jeep - Nancy Shaw


I see a bit of a pattern here, because this is another example of a book with very simple language used beautifully and paired with lovely illustrations with lots of details that keep you looking. Also, I still chuckle a bit at the end, and that is no mean feat, because I have read this book A LOT.

9 - Goodnight Moon - Margaret Wise Brown


Of course. All children are completely and universally mesmerised by this book. And it IS lovely to read. But really, you need to read this analysis of it by Raquel D'Apice on The Ugly Volvo, and this book will become the official funniest thing you own. Trust me and go read her piece.



This one is beautiful and will delight your children so much you won't mind re-reading again. 

Bonus - Little Miss Austen: Pride And Prejudice - Jennifer Adams


My children aren't actually that interested in this one but I am, so I don't care, and I'll keep reading it. And that's saying a lot for a counting primer.


Here you go. Now you can go read to your babies.

Coming soon:


Best picture books we own (in English)

Best picture books we own (in French)

Mais où sont passés les (bons) livres pour bébé ?

J’ai récemment cherché à compléter notre collection de livres pour tout petits (pour l’anniversaire de Mathilde – le reste de la famille en a assez que je ne leur donne que des idées de livres pour les anniversaires de mes enfants, du coup je suis obligée de les acheter moi-même, ma vie est clairement un enfer). 


Plein de livres!

J’ai trouvé plein de choses fantastiques (voir ici pour les meilleurs livres pour tout petits), mais j’ai bien dû me rendre à l’évidence, en français, il n’y avait rien de rien.




Alors, c’est sûr, je suis un peu difficile. Je cherche des livres très simples, avec des illustrations captivantes (jolies c’est mieux, mais intéressantes suffit), je ne veux pas juste une liste de mots sans dialogue, ni une histoire complexe. Juste des phrases qui font plaisir à lire (poétiques, super, mais rigolotes c’est très bien aussi), des répétitions ou des rimes pour aider le tout petit à remarquer les mots et puis quelque chose d’intéressant, pour que je survive aux huit mille inévitables relectures.

Les anglophones font ça très bien. Les francophones, franchement moins. 

C’est une vraie perte je trouve, parce que moi j’adore la façon dont les Anglais utilisent les nonsense poems, tous ces textes qui ont pour but de faire rire et/ou simplement d’encourager la dégustation des mots (la longue tradition des Lewis Caroll, Hilaire Belloc ou Spike Milligan) et à mon avis ça commence là, dans les jolis livres pour tout petits. Qui sont bien plus une préparation pour une vie passée à apprécier les livres que les livres qu’on voit partout, à tirettes, roulettes ou petites-puces-qui-font-de-la-musique. Parce que souvent le but de ces livres gadgets (qui ont plein d’avantages, hein, on est d’accord !) c’est de laisser l’enfant tout seul avec le livre. Des livres-jouets donc.

Où sont les livres qu’on lit avec son petit, pour partager ensemble le plaisir des mots ?

Dans toute ma collection (et j’ai une grande collection – j’ai un petit problème avec les livres pour enfants) j’ai réussi à en trouver trois qui correspondent à mes exigences. Et qui ne sont pas du tout au niveau de mes préférés en anglais. Ça fait pas beaucoup. Donc allez ! Auteurs ! Un petit effort !

Tutti Frutti – Modeste Madoré



Mes parents ont ramené ce livre de la Réunion et ça a été le premier livre auquel Jude a accroché. Une façon très mignonne d’introduire en même temps les noms des fruits et des expressions idiomatiques, avec en plus de jolies images pleines de détails.

Les Orteils n’ont pas de Nom - Jean Leroy



Un autre gros succès, jouant sur la répétition et un façon plus intéressante d’introduire du vocabulaire qu’un énième livre-liste.

La Moustache d’Eustache- Sandra Solinet



Simple et joli. L’idée est très sympa, même si encore une fois, on est très loin du niveau des anglais.

Mention Spéciale 1 : Limite bébé/ plus grand

Deux TRES jolis livres en ce qui concerne les illustrations, mais qui sont des traductions du japonais, donc la langue n’y est pas franchement remarquable, ce qui pousse leur intérêt vers les plus grands, puisque l’histoire prend le devant sur les mots.

La Pomme Rouge – Kazuo Iwamura



Légèrement plus simple que ses autres classiques (la série « La famille souris » est et reste un énorme succès chez nous) avec des dessins magnifiques, mais je ne l’ai pas vu en cartonné, ce qui rend la lecture avec les tout-petits plus difficile et ils ont moins accroché.

Bloub-Bloub-Bloub –Yuichi Kasano



Un livre mignon et rigolo, mais la traduction (ou l’original ?) rend le langage un peu maladroit et inutilement compliqué. Et encore une fois, je ne l’ai vu qu’en tout petit format, clairement conçu avec des apprentis-lecteurs en tête plutôt que de très jeunes enfants

Mention Spéciale 2 :

Deux livres avec des concepts rigolos, mais avec un petit bémol

Un Livre – Hervé Tullet



Mes garçons aiment beaucoup, mais le concept est ici largement plus important qu’une histoire, que les images ou que les mots. Limite livre-jouet donc.
Hervé Tullet a en plus l’air d’avoir décliné l’idée en 48 versions, ce qui m’agace toujours un peu.

Mes Petits Bobos - Mathilde Cabanas



Un concept mignon, mais les dessins n’ont pas grand intérêt, et encore une fois, c’est un livre tout petit, donc pas idéal.

NB : Je ne parle ici que de livres pour tout petits, les 0-2/3 ans, j’ai (et j’adore !) plein de livres en français pour les plus grands.

NBB : J’ai le même avec les poèmes pour enfants. Tout ce que j’ai trouvé en français était niais alors que j’ai un livre entier de petites perles en anglais. Du coup pour les poèmes à apprendre pour Morning Time, on est passé directement aux classiques.

NBBB : On refuse de lire en français des choses qui ont été écrites en anglais à l’origine, ce qui nous limite aussi, bien évidemment.

NBBBB: (cet étrange systeme que je viens d'inventer pour ajouter des notes en fin de page n'a aucun sens) si vous avez des livres a me conseiller qui remplissent mon énorme cahier des charges, n'hésitez SURTOUT PAS!!! Sharing is caring.

Monday, 9 July 2018

The State of the Homeschool - or What worked with Jude this year

Exceptionnellement, il existe une version en francais de ce billet, ici.

As I mentioned previously, a little bit by accident, a little bit out of eagerness and curiosity, this year turned out to be our first homeschool year. 

Theoretically I was all for holding off for a little while yet, but when around Christmas Jude started to work out how to read on his own, we ended up injecting a lot more formal education into his life. I think a lot of it has to do with his personality, he LOVES workbooks, and he is very willing to learn things by heart. I was also quite keen to see how I could manage our schedule so as to get everything done (babies, housework and teaching), so I decided to experiment with two "homeschool slots" in our routine which I was planning on keeping pretty low-key and spontaneous. And then I realised that *I* am neither of these things, and so we started things in earnest. 

It took a fair amount of fine-tuning, we definitely hit a point where I was just asking too much of both Jude and I, and it started to take the joy out. Which is why a couple of months ago I replaced the morning "homeschool slot" with "Morning Time" (light some candles, read the Bible, pray, say the poems we have learned so far, practise the one we are learning, read some favourite ones, then read as many books as we have time for) which involves Gabriel better, and definitely feels a lot more fun.


Typical activities during morning time


Literacy:

We started the year intending to mostly do fine-motor exercises, (following this method), play with quantities (we used this a fair amount), learn a few poems and do basic workbooks (did I mention Jude loves workbooks?) - this, and this for example.

After a while Jude could simply fly through all of this and not much was gained by continual repetition, so we upped the ante. My cousin (hi Meige!) suggested this method for learning to read and even sent us the book, because she is awesome. I tried to pace Jude a bit, but we are nearing the end of the book, so I got a bunch of early readers which we are practising on (here and here are some good examples).

In terms of teaching him how to write, I am entirely focused on the mechanics of writing (fine motor skills and spatial understanding on the page), we have finished this and have just started this one, so far so good.

Jude loves to write his own words however (he often uses the French phonemes - he is only learning to read in French so far - to form English words, which is quite fascinating) but I have very little to do with that, beyond deciphering them when he shows his work to me, and praising his efforts.



You get points if you work out what he was trying to write


Numeracy:

Simultaneously we decided to go with the Singapore method for maths, and got this book and workbook, but although doing the operations was pretty easy for Jude, the language element - which is pretty essential with Singapore - was way over his head, so we dropped it, and got a different workbook (this one, which Jude LOVED and was begging to do "one more exercise" all the time). We finished it pretty swiftly and just started this one, which looks promising. 
Simon likes to do extra maths exercises with Jude, but that is a very ad hoc business, as his crazy schedule rarely allows for it.

Other Stuff:

We would like to introduce a bit more music, but Simon is the musician in the family, and we haven't yet worked out how to make it a regular thing.


Matmi is pretty keen though


We have also been learning some poems, as there is no such thing as too early to have beautiful language in your head, and the boys absolutely love reciting them standing on the table - or singing them. We take them one at a time, alternate one in French and one in English, and just go very slowly (as in, we've only just started our fourth this year). We've learnt:

The Friendly Cow - R.L Stevenson
La Grenouille Qui Voulait Se Faire Aussi Grosse que le Boeuf - J. de la Fontaine
I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud - W. Wordsworth

and we have started the last tirade from Act 5, scene 6 of Cyrano de Bergerac - E. Rostand.

We also have this fabulous book, from which I take requests during morning time (if someone fancies doing something similar for French poems, please! I could use one!).

Finally, as part of our rosary group, the children do weekly (more or less!) liturgical year activities, and you know, lead a normal life, drawing, cutting, pasting, riding bikes, running around, painting themselves with mud and taking long walks in the woods!


And how to help out around the house, obviously


Overall, I am glad we went for it, I am glad we started figuring things out, and Jude seems none the worse for it. I don't know whether we will start Gabriel on a similar course *quite* that early nonetheless. It does occasionally feel a bit unnecessary and we don't know yet how eager Gabriel will be to do formal learning. At the moment he is pretty keen to get involved but we shall see how things evolve.