Penny Smith takes a step back to look at why, how and which…
Big books range in size from 30 x 36 cms to 50 x 36 cms. The text and illustrations in these books have been significantly enlarged so that both can be fully appreciated by children sitting at a distance. As a result the children can experience the same close involvement they enjoy with normal format books – indeed the large size of the book and its impact on young children has the effect of `sucking’ them into the story in a way that could be paralleled with an adult getting lost in a film on the big screen.
Using a Big Book
Before each new big book is read, discussion with the children can centre around the title, possible storyline and other books written by the same author or on similar themes or topics. During a first reading the teacher may ask the group to look at the illustrations as cues to the storyline or to predict, from their own previous experience or knowledge of books, how the text might develop. Hence the sessions are not only a pleasurable way of sharing books with children, but offer the teacher a means of demonstrating some of the strategies children can draw upon in their independent reading.
The first reading of a book may be by the teacher, but afterwards, when the book is re-read, the children can readily join in with repetitive phrases or key words.
The greatest advantage of the big book over its conventionalized counterpart is that once the text is familiar to the children it provides the teacher with a way of discussing publicly how we go about working with print and inducing the children to participate in the problem-solving process.
By pointing carefully to the text as s/he reads, the teacher demonstrates the left to right orientation of the print and talks naturally about the spaces between words and punctuation. The children can be asked to pick familiar words or phrases and shown how to use a variety of strategies for working out unfamiliar words, e.g. re-reading, reading on or looking at the initial letter.
Big books also present a very efficient way of making a range of texts known to children which later they can tackle independently. Most of the publishers producing big book material offer books in a small format for individual reading sessions, either at home or at school, together with tapes which the children not only enjoy listening to but which consolidate their knowledge of the text.
Big Book Options
Initially the ‘Storychest’ range of big books (from Arnold Wheaton) was one of the few sources of such material. A number of these are very popular with children, but they all follow a similar format and style. Today there are more and more publishers producing enlarged texts reflecting greater variety in content, style and genre. Worthy of special attention are `Storytime Giants’ (from Oliver and Boyd) and `Tadpole Books’ (from Kingscourt Publishing Ltd).
`Storytime Giants’ are enlarged versions of already established and well-loved picture books with 12 titles available in the present series including Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Alex’s Bed by Mary Dickinson and The Lighthousekeeper’s Lunch by Ronda and David Armitage. The stories are, of course, excellent, well-written and beautifully illustrated since they are by some of the most prominent authors/illustrators currently working in the field of children’s books. They’re of a significantly higher quality than some of the other big book materials which have their origins in a theory about `shared reading’ rather than a tried and tested children’s picture book.
The print in some of these enlarged format books is still too small (e.g. The Big Sneeze by Ruth Brown) or too dense (e.g. The Bossing of Josie by Ronda and David Armitage) for whole class reading and this is something the publishers should consider when reprinting. In the meantime they’re still valuable for four or five children to pore over as a group. Particular favourites with most children are Oscar Got the Blame by Tony Ross and the Ahlberg’s Each Peach Pear Plum. But, competitively priced at between £7 and £8, all are worth their place in the classroom.
Non-Fiction Big Books
The more expensive `Tadpole Books’ now offer the widest range of big book material including stories, traditional tales, poems, rhymes (traditional and modern) and, perhaps of most interest, non-fiction big books. The non-fiction books are informative, clearly laid out under headings and illustrated with high-quality colour photographs. Topics covered include The Life of a Duck by Josephine Croser, Tadpole Diary by David Drew and A Checkup with the Doctor by Katherine A Smith. As well as providing a starting point for discussion and further study by the children, these books can be used by the teacher to demonstrate the use of a contents page, index and glossary of terms. Tapes of non-fiction texts, although not presently available, would also be useful in helping children to read the hooks independently and aid their retrieval of information-publishers, please note!
As an invaluable aid for the teacher of beginning readers, BIG BOOKS ARE HERE TO STAY.
Penny Smith is a Lecturer in Language at Thames Polytechnic, London.
Details of the books mentioned
`Storytime Giants’, Oliver & Boyd:
Each Peach Pear Plum, 0 05 004406 0, £7.50
The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch, 0 05 004387 0, £7.50
The Bossing of Josie, 0 05 004388 9, £7.50
Alex’s Bed, 0 05 004389 7, £7.50
Oscar Got the Blame, 0 05 004405 2, £6.95
Further details from Oliver & Boyd, Longman House, Burnt Mill, Harlow, Essex CM20 2JE
`Tadpole Books’, Kingscourt Publishing Ltd:
The Life of a Duck, 0 947212 310, £ 13.95
Tadpole Diary, 0 454 014619, £14.95
A Checkup with the Doctor, 0 947212 29 9, £13.95
Catalogue available from Tadpole Books, London House, 271-273 King Street, Hammersmith. London W6 9LZ.