The Book Power series offers primary teachers and student teachers practical advice on approaching literacy through literature with different age groups. The quality of the books chosen is of paramount importance if they are to inspire a deep response. Book Power, Year 2 suggests a rich range of activities round eight books including Michael Foreman’s Mia’s Story, David Conway and Jude Daly’s Lila and the Secret of Rain and The Puffin Book of Fantastic First Poems which is edited by June Crebbin. Not all of the ideas for extending enjoyment and insight will be new to experienced teachers, but the book reminds us about what works well with particular kinds of text. Talk and discussion about books, termed ‘booktalk’ by Aidan Chambers in Tell Me: Children Reading and Talk, is of great importance; the writers argue convincingly that by engaging in this kind of talk regularly children get better at sharing and defending their opinions and explaining their ‘puzzles’. Of course opinions have to be honed into informed views and a return to the text for evidence is part of becoming a sensitive reader of literature.
Other promising strategies described include retellings of stories, role play and drama. Visualising techniques – making mind pictures of characters and places as a way of moving into a fictional world – are also well explained and exemplified. When it comes to poetry, ‘it needs to be lifted off the page and given voice’. So the authors give examples of children being prepared in groups to perform poems. These active explorations – role play, presentations and so on – make it much more likely that children will become able to develop their understanding of a text when they come to write about it. Children are sometimes less enthusiastic about preparing a written response. Uninspiring tasks make for dull writing! So the authors make it clear that the writing activities need to be imaginative and appealing. Part of this book’s appeal is its visual character: there are helpful and interesting photographs of children at work and examples of children’s writing and drawing. Less forward young writers in particular often gain confidence through starting with annotated drawings. Bunting et al term these annotated drawings ‘creative re-interpretations of the text’. Multimodal in character, they involve design as well as drawing and writing. Where a child chooses to draw a character or scene from a book, teachers can encourage them to pull on the language of the text when crafting the annotations.
Although the authors concentrate on picture books, stories and poems, some themes give rise to informational kinds of thinking and writing and there are suggestions about presenting information, for example about a country, in a chart format. Setting up contexts for shared writing, whether it is fiction or informational in character, can also help enthuse. Using the ICT approaches included here, for example highlighting particular parts of the text on the interactive whiteboard fits well with modern practice. Collaborative planning of a piece of writing can be a springboard to the children’s individual efforts, perhaps involving selecting from and shaping the annotations. This reinforces the idea that writing benefits from snatching at thoughts, getting them down and then editing them. It shows that editing and shaping can be a creative process.
The activities set out in the author study which explores some of Emily Gravett’s picture books, could be applied to children’s work on other authors. In fact all the suggestions in the book can be amended and adapted to inspire work with texts other than those included here. What comes through again and again in this book is the need to use imaginative and enjoyable activities as a way of getting children engaged, while always returning to the text to support developing ideas and opinions.