In a fascinating report * on research into children’s cognitive development carried out since 1967, the crucial role of pretend play in helping children understand cognition itself is emphasised. Researchers Usha Goswami of the University of Cambridge and Peter Bryant of the University of Oxford describe pretend play as the ‘earliest manifestation of a child’s developing ability to characterise their own cognitive relation to knowledge’.
Picture books, in all the extensive variety of their metarepresentations, afford ample possibilities for small children to detach themselves from the immediate world and enter the symbolic world of pretend play as they read alone or share books with adults, siblings or friends. Such ‘social partners can use language to help young children to understand pretend situations’ say the researchers and this will not be news to those BfK readers who have shared books with the very young. As the researchers also point out: ‘Shared socio-dramatic play provides a large number of opportunities for reflecting upon one’s own and others’ desires, beliefs and emotions.’
All the more reason then to safeguard the use of picture books in schools from ‘phonics fever’ as Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen has warned: ‘Those crucial years of four to six are when the picture book is the ideal reading and sharing material. These years have become clogged with anxiety, reading schemes, programmes, panic and the obsessive attention to individual letters.’
But can we rely on primary teachers to go on promoting the use of picture books? In the article ‘Teachers as Readers’ in this issue of BfK, the UKLA Children’s Literature Special Interest Group reports that over half of the 1200 teachers questioned in a survey (62%) were only able to name one, two or no picture fiction writers. 24% named no picture fiction authors/illustrators, whilst 10% named six. Clearly more must be done to ensure that picture books are not ignored because they are not known about.
Books for Keeps Briefing
BfK’s Briefing page is entirely missing from this issue of the magazine and indeed, has taken up less and less room in recent issues. Space in the print magazine has always been at a premium and the flexibility and immediacy of the web means that it now makes sense to feature most news items on our website www.booksforkeeps.co.uk. We welcome items for inclusion but please edit press releases so that they read as news items. They are more likely to be posted promptly!
I should, however, like to take this print opportunity to extend BfK’s warm congratulations to Jane Nissen who has won the Eleanor Farjeon Award for distinguished services to children’s books. She created Jane Nissen Books nine years ago to ‘bring books from the 20th century back into print, where they still have relevance for the 21st century’. Alison Uttley’s A Traveller in Time, a recent Jane Nissen title and one of the greatest children’s books ever, is the subject of Brian Alderson’s ‘Classics in Short’ on the back page of this issue.
* ‘Children’s Cognitive Development and Learning’, Primary Review Research Briefing 2/1a.