Books for Teachers

Updated 5 September 2020

Children’s Picture Books: The Art of Visual StorytellingFront cover of Children's Picturebooks
Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles

Review by Jo Bowers, Principal Lecturer in Literacy in Primary Education, Cardiff Metropolitan University.

Children’s Picture Books: The Art of Visual Storytelling is the second edition of book that looks in depth at children’s picture books, from their early history and evolution, to their place in educational development. The authors are a perfect partnership for this book: Martin Salisbury is a Professor of illustration at Cambridge School of Art in Anglia Ruskin University and Morag Styles is Emeritus Professor at Homerton at the University of Cambridge. The knowledge and expertise in both illustrating picture books and children’s picture books in education meant I bought the first edition when it won the UKLA academic book award in 2013. Seven years later comes this excellent revised edition to keep the reader very much up-to-date in this highly productive and exciting sector of the publishing world. It includes new case studies focusing on different picture book illustrators so would make a fantastic companion to the first edition if you already have it.

The book is set out in eight chapters:

Chapter 1 is a brief history of the picture book from its conception with the invention of printing in the fifteenth century right up until today in the twenty-first century.

Chapter 2 looks at the uniqueness of the art of the picture book from both perspectives of making the art and the meaning of it. It explores the picture book as a work of art. This second edition also treats us to four new case studies of picture book artists from a range of cultural backgrounds describing their own experiences and methods of making art and explores a range of themes and styles of picture books.

Chapter 3 focuses on children’s responses to picture books. The chapter discusses the challenges that picture books offer. It gives a very good definition of visual literacy and how visual texts can support educational development. It then moves into a very comprehensive section looking at the different ways children respond to picture books.

Chapter 4 looks closely at the dynamic relationship between the words and pictures in picture books. It explores how the best and most satisfying picture books are often ones when this interplay works really well. Again, this second edition gives us new case studies to illustrate this.

Chapter 5 explores and discusses what themes are suitable for children’s picture books both subject matter and visual language again with two excellent updated case studies: one is Francesca Sanna’s The Journey, a picture book that pitches perfectly for children, to help understand the trauma of displacement through war. For teachers this is really useful as each theme explored includes lots of suggested picture books that deal with the subjects. So in the section on man’s humanity to man, there are books across the age ranges, for example, David McKee’s Tusk Tusk which can be used across the primary age range but also includes Pam Smy’s Thornhill which would sit at the upper KS2 age range.

Chapter 6 gives a fascinating insight into the mechanics and aesthetic characteristics of the print making process with a wonderful selection of images throughout the chapter to illustrate this.

Chapter 7 is a new chapter dedicated to what is now a highly popular genre of the picture book: non-fiction. I was delighted to see this extra chapter as non-fiction picture books are favourites of mine. Non-fiction covers a wide variety of styles and formats which makes this a very exciting kind of picture book. This chapter explores how complex subjects are explained with both beautiful and informative visuals and differing styles of prose. If, like me, you love a map book, you’ll love the section where Rachel Williams, shares how it was her passion for the ‘quirky, interesting and curious’ that brought us books like Maps when she worked at Big Picture Press. This was one of the first map books for children I bought and I have since grown this number comfortably into double figures!

Chapter 8 is a perfect final chapter all about getting published and the process. For anyone interested in pursuing this, this chapter is full of honest, comprehensive information on this subject, with everything you need to know in the current market.

The book filled is with illustrators and picture books from across the world so for any teacher wanting to develop their subject knowledge in this area it is highly recommended. It is also a book for everyone with a passion and interest in this genre of children’s literature. I can guarantee, whether you already have a love of children’s picture books or new to this genre, you will come away more inspired and excited and certainly with a lot more knowledge too.

Teaching Media in Primary Schools, Cary Bazalgette, ed.

Sage Publications    ISBN 9781849205764 £21.99

All primary teachers, English managers, advisors and consultants should read this book. Written in short, accessible chapters, it presents clearly the vital role of media studies in 21st century education. Rooted in best practice, a range of practitioner researchers, advisors and experienced media teachers present a compelling case for media education not just as an ‘add on’ to current literacy teaching, but as an integral part of language and communication in its own right.

It is divided into three sections – cultural, critical and creative learning. Each chapter’s opening states its argument as a chapter objective and concludes with Points for Practice, a range of practical ideas to try out in the classroom. The first section analyses children’s experiences in TV talk, social networking and film, all of which are part of everyday life for most pre-schoolers and young children. The reader is challenged to consider how, if this culture is allowed into the classroom, skills in reading image and film can be extended once formal education commences.

Section two considers the development of critical learning: analytical skills across a range of media. Very young children are able to understand plot, infer, deduce and comprehend layers of meaning in media text and this should be developed and extended in the classroom. The final section explores the creative potential of film for children, describing some successful projects which should inspire readers to try out the ideas in their own contexts.

The book also comments realistically on practical barriers – the blocking of social networking sites, film downloads and image banks by local authorities; software availability; cost implications and over-reaction to child protection. However, these barriers should not become excuses to avoid the debate. At the very least, readers should be prompted to start a dialogue about the role of media in primary education. At best, the moral imperative of the book’s debate should prompt action.

Gill Robins, English 4-11 Number 42, Summer 2011


Essentials of Literacy from 0-7 - A Whole Child Approach to Communication, Language and Literacy, Tina Bruce and Jenny Spratt

SAGE ISBN 9781849205993  £20.99

In the second edition of this highly accessible book, Tina Bruce and Jenny Spratt offer a no-nonsense guide to enabling literacy development in the very young. Supported with case studies and underpinned by a sound background in theories of child development simply explained, the book grew out of a joint project between academics and practitioners. The authors advocate a multi-sensory approach to literacy development within a rich language environment, outlining methods which will satisfy government requirements whilst simultaneously promoting the very best in early years practice, where the child is the focus.

A 'broad, rich and deep curriculum, across all areas of development and learning' provides the basis for the highly practical suggestions in the book which is designed in a user-friendly way. Each chapter begins by listing the main topics to be covered and ends with a brief summary, glossary of terms and suggested further reading. Captioned photographs, useful sub-headings and bullet-points make the book easy to use.

The pioneering work of Friedich Froebel lies behind much of the intrinsic concept of the book and prefaces several chapters that advocate the use of action songs, ranging from those wihch require the use of the whole body to those where more use is made of fine motor skills, those sung 'on the spot' and those where the children move around. As well as providing many examples of songs to use - and what to do with them - the reason why such songs are important is fully and clearly explained. This moves into chapters on nursery rhymes and the use of poetry cards, where spoken language begins to be linked with the written form. The chapter on mark-makinjg and writing reminds us of the link between reading and writing, the necessity for the development of physical co-ordination and the importance of caring adults acting as guides in this vital skill. We see how writing develops from drawing and the importance of children's names in writing this difficult language of ours.

The authors say that for experienced practitioners their book will be a re-affirmation, and this is true - all that excellent early years teachers hold dear is enshrined within its pages. The book would be particularly useful for trainees in any sphere of early years, those just beginning their careers and for experienced practitioners new to this younger age-group. Parents, too, would find this a useful practical guide to how best to encourage literacy development in their young children.

Pam Dowson, English 4-11 Number 43, Autumn 2011


BookPower Year 2 Literacy through Literature, Jane Bunting, Sue Ellis, Jenny Vernon

The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education ISBN 9781872267463 £15

This is an excellent practical guide to working creatively with books that both challenge and emotionally engage children. The eight books in the guide have been chosen because of the quality of their illustrations and the way in which the text and illustrations interrelate to help create meaning for the reader. The wide selection includes such books as the popular Man in the Moon by Simon Bartram, and Mia’s Story by Michael Foreman, which was inspired by a true story. Folk tales also feature in the collection namely A Fistful of Pearls and other tales from Iraq by Elizabeth Laird and Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe and children are encouraged to make connections between these tales and the traditional tales they know. Opportunities to play with language are made possible through the reading of the delightful anthology The Puffin Book of Fantastic Poems edited by June Crebbin.

An author study of Emily Gravett provides a close look at three of her books Meerkat Mail, Dogs, and Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears. Between them these outstanding books cover a wide range of themes which will address and interest children’s concerns from those dealing with experiences of family, difference, separation and loss as in Grace and Family by Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch, to tales of courage, perseverance, hope, endurance and compassion as in Lila and the Secret of Rain and The Princess and the White Bear King by Tanya Robyn Batt.

The Guide’s introduction has a rationale for using books as the core of a literacy programme and provides the reader with a clear overview of key teaching approaches and activities. There is a detailed and practical teaching sequence for each book supported by learning aims and key teaching approaches. The creative and imaginative activities outlined for each text are planned to encourage children to explore and respond to the books in depth through play, drama, drawing and ICT. Pre-writing opportunities include plenty of oracy and thinking activities to encourage deeper insights into the books. Examples of how to structure children’s responses are also given and cross-curricular links are made, where appropriate, as well as suggestions for extending the children’s learning.

The suggested time sequence for each book is invaluable for planning. I also like the inclusion of children’s work and illustrations of children sharing books and working together. These encourage practitioners to try out the ideas for themselves. Bookpower 2 is linked to clpe’s Power of Reading project. It should be bought for the staffroom, but I recommend it to teachers who wish to provide an enriched and effective literacy environment and experience for the children they teach.

Marion Hampton, English 4-11 No. 42, Summer 2011



Opening Doors to Famous Poetry and Prose: ideas and resources for accessing literary heritage works, Bob Cox

Crown House    978-184590896-6           £19.99.

The passion, depth of subject knowledge and meticulous attention to detail that Bob Cox has brought to English classes over a lengthy career, shine through in this book which aims to ‘open doors’ to ‘literacy heritage’ texts.1 The book collates 20 units of work based around such texts. Each unit follows the same structure and enquiry-based, pedagogic approach:

Access Strategies:- short extracts or linked activities carefully selected to ‘present the excitement of the text as a mystery to be solved, a puzzle to be explored, a fascination to be uncovered’. The ‘Dracula ’ unit for example (based on the extract from Bram Stoker’s book where the narrator meets the Count) suggests that, before being introduced to the text, the children are asked ‘to invent the face and hands of an evil character’ focusing on the same features Stoker includes: ‘ the nose, nostrils, hair, mouth, teeth, smile, ears, chin, cheeks, backs of hands, centre of palm and nails’ and then asked to consider their definition of ‘evil’ in a character in literature. Throughout the book, Cox stresses the central importance of these initial access strategies as ‘… it is often too late to enthuse about the originality of words and ideas when the opportunity to hook a reader has already been missed’.

Text revealed – Once hooked, children read the whole poem or extract.

Opening Questions: reading skills:-  Cox recommends a ‘Hardest question first pedagogy’ in order to enable children to ‘delve as deep as possible into the meaning and effect of the [text]’. Pupil independence and personal response is key to realising Cox’s goal of an ‘open-ended approach, relying on engagement and discovery’. On first glance these open questions (for example, ‘How does the mystery build through the poem’ ) may seem beyond many KS2 pupils. However, Cox suggests support questions and resources to use if necessary to make the challenge accessible to all. Further, his ‘excellent responses will… …’ sub-sections enable the teacher to draw on Cox’s literacy insights when steering pupil responses. One imagines that after working through a series of the units, both pupils and teachers will internalise this analytical approach and be able to apply it independently to future texts.

Contexts for writing:- According to Cox the best writing arises from ‘a complex interplay of the stimulus material, discussion, prior literacy acquisition and individual inspiration’ and he acknowledges that the last of these is often driven by the teacher. These sections therefore are deliberately open-ended, offering a range of suggested titles and foci for independent writing tasks inspired by the text, some very tightly scaffolded and others appropriate for those pupils who, inspired by the original text, are motivated to work more independently.

Beyond the limit (extension activities):- The writer biographies, related titles, internet resources and carefully selected film clips suggested in these sections are, in themselves, an inspiring treasure chest for the English teacher.

The appeal of this book, and the undoubted effectiveness of the pedagogies it promotes, rests on the author’s passion for, and knowledge of, English literature as well as his pedagogic subject knowledge amassed in the classroom and through educational research. Drawing on these attributes Cox has articulated a clear, pedagogical approach which enables the non-specialist (teacher and pupil) to make personal connections with texts which do indeed have the potential to inspire a sense of awe and wonder.

Dr. Frances Bodger, Lecturer in Primary Education, Department of Early Years and Primary Education UCL Institute of Education

Jumpstart! Drama: Games and Activities for Ages 5-11, Teresa Cremin, Roger McDonald, Emma Goff and Louise Blakemore

David Fulton    ISBN 9780415482486   £11.99

This book contains over forty activities that primary teachers can use to stimulate drama in the classroom. Some of the ideas are story-based, other use poetry as a stimulus, some relate to non-fiction work and others develop role play and drama. What I like about each book is that it is no-nonsense, practical and easy to access. At the start of each assignment you are given a suggested age range, and are told what you need and what the purpose of the exercise is. There follows a variety of activities, often including suggestions for extension work. The literature-based activities relate to popular texts, such as Skellig, The Highwayman, Angry Arthur, The Tunnel and Kensuke's Kingdom, and are ideal for busy teachers who wish to enhancfe their drama provision and appeal to a range of learning styles. It is highly recommended as a practical resource book.

Brenda Marshall, English 4-11 Number 37, Autumn 2009


Talking Beyond the Page: Reading and responding to picturebooks, edited by Janet Evans

Routledge   ISBN 9780415476966   £23.99

Written in three accessible sections, this book is a series of chapters examining multimodal texts and their place in contemporary primary education. The chapters, which reflect the specialisms of some of the world's leading researchers, combine to present a powerful, persuasive case for teaching visual literacy to all children, regardless of their ability to decode and understand the linear format of written text.

The first section analyses the aspects of a range of picture books to which a response could be made, including wordless and postmodern formats and graphic novels. This includes how meaning can be made from endpapers, frames, picture styles and other changes brought about by new technologies. The opening chapter, Frank Serafini's Understanding visual images in picturebooks is a good starting point for anyone interested in understanding the power of images and how to use them effectively to promote book talk.

A particular strength of this book is the wealth of practical examples provided, around which teachers could base their own exploration of a range of semiotic systems without compromising the rigour of their English teaching. Section Two suggests a range of responses, including the use of modelling, photography, colour boarding and story boarding to de-construct a book and structure a response. The examples quoted also demonstrate how clearly children can infer, deduce and understand multiple layers of meaning, long before they are able to apply these skills to written language. One chapter deals sensitively and in depth with the use of picture books for immigrant children, permitting them to develop an understanding of their new culture which can be shared, across language barriers, with other readers from multiple cultures.

The third section of the book takes the form of an exclusinge and inspiring interview with the master of the picturebook medium, Anthony Browne. It is a thoroughly absorbing account of the thought processes involved in the creation of his books and it is also a fascinating place to start reading the book if you remain unconvinced or uncertain about the power of pictures.

As the world in which children are growing up becomes increasingly image dominated, a secure grasp of visual grammar should be part of the toolkit of all teachers. So, this book should be read by all thinking practitioners, including student teachers, researchers, consultants and anyone involved in developing the literacy skills of children of all ages and abilities.

Gill Robins, English 4-11 Number 39, Summer 2010


Using Talk to Support Writing, Ros Fisher, Debra Myhill, Susan Jones and Shirley Larkin

Sage Publications Ltd.     ISBN 9781849201445       £20.99

This book represents a new departure in education literature by its demonstration of a powerful partnership between theory and practice in early writing. It is an outcome of the Talk to Text action research project centred on the University of Exeter and led by the co-authors. Its uniqueness rests not only in the effective collaboration between professional researchers and teachers, but also in the inspiring way that this collaboration is portrayed.

The opening chapters create a context by reviewing relevant research literature into early writing and describing how the Talk to Text action research project was facilitated. Methods of data collection are explained and the reader is invited to consider the relative merits of videoed lessons, classroom observations, analysis of writing samples and pupil interviews when reflecting on their own practice. Interludes from the teachers involved are woven into the text, including a Head outlining the positive impact that this project had on her staff.

The research takes a fresh, focused look at what actually happens when children talk before, during and after writing, and how talk can be used to develop specific writing skills. There are chapters on talk to generate ideas, the role of oral rehearsal, how to transform talk into writing and the value of metacognition in thinking about writing. Academic analysis is contextualised with lots of practical ideas and activities to use in the classroom, reflection interludes invite the reader to reflect on their own practice and pupils' response is given respectful consideration.

Although the project researched early writing and the book is intended for Primary ITT students, there is a great deal here to provoke reflection in Primary practitioners at all levels of experience. Maybe its greatest hidden strength lies in the successful linking of theory and practice which results from effective HEI and practitioner collaboration. So I would also recommend it to be read as a model of best practice in research partnership.

Gill Robins, English 4-11 Number 40, Autumn 2010


Teaching Early Reading and Phonics: Creative Approaches to Early Literacy, Kathleen Goouch and Andrew Lambirth

Sage  ISBN 9781842904224  £18.99

This book is not for the faint-hearted.  It is not a manual.  It will not tell you how to teach phonics.  Firmly rooted in socio-constructivist beliefs and values, it argues passionately for a ‘whole language – whole child’ approach to the teaching of reading.  Every page is permeated with the authors’ holistic learning philosophy, underpinned by a practical understanding of the need to translate philosophy into secure pedagogy.  And this is where the challenge lies for the reader – a significant challenge if you genuinely believe in the current political one dimensional, reductionist view of synthetic phonics.

Goouch and Lambirth argue cogently for a multi-dimensional approach in which children make meaning from a range of texts and each child’s social, cultural and personal experience informs the process of teaching and learning.  Teaching reading, they contend, is not just about transmitting phonic knowledge but about a classroom practice which fosters a lifelong love of reading.  The central chapters outline a wide, practical range of strategies for resourcing reading, creating varied routines and crafting vibrant environments, all of which should embrace children’s home and school interests.

Two areas of this book provoked deep thought.  The first was the encouragement of teachers to consider their own reading preferences (teachers with limited reading knowledge are often keen to adopt the narrow pedagogy of a single strategy approach) and also understand the need for all strands of reading to work in parallel – alphabetic and phonological knowledge, reading pleasure, how books work, vocabulary and language development and ranges of texts and authors.

The second area was the function and purpose of assessment.  The constricted approach of both SATs and APP, which reduces each child to a numeric value, is analysed and the case made for wider, formative assessment to include each child’s use of semantic, syntactic and grapho-phonic cues, positive and negative miscues, reading confidence, independence and reading interests.

This book should be read by everyone involved in teaching primary English.  Depending on your beliefs, it will be either an affirmative or challenging experience.  What this book will not do is leave you feeling comfortable – hopefully it will provoke you into engaging in the debate.

Gill Robins, English 4-11 Number 43, Autumn 2011


Encyclopedia of Primary Education, Dennis Hayes

David Fulton / Routledge    ISBN 9780415485180   £28.99

'Primary education is an extremely complex enterprise, whether considered in theoretical, practical or policy terms.' So, bearing in mind this comment from the foreword, is it possible to include all aspects of primary education in a single volume? Denis Hayes' coverage in the 467 page tome, of curriculum subjects and cross curricular work, of theories and policies and of important research studies and, crucially, their impact on everyday classroom practice is impressive. There is useful explanation of pedagogical terms and helpful accounts of the work of the many people who have contributed to our understanding of education in these important years of schooling. Yes - the history of education deserves some attention. And so Jerome Bruner, John Dewey, Susan Isaacs, Sybil Marshall, Jean Piaget, Christian Schiller, Waldorf Steiner, Ted Wragg and others deserve their succint coverage. The voice of an experienced and enthusiastic practitioner as well as scholar and researcher comes over as Hayes takes on current issues and the controversies that may sometimes frustrate but keep our minds in critical and reflective mode. Familiar but ever important questions are addressed: What is education for? What aspects of our culture should we pass on to the young?

Those of us particularly concerned with the English curriculum will find the entries on 'creative writing', 'stories' and 'phonics' of interest. The attention to affective aspects of children's development - to feelings and relationships - also appeals and is particularly evident in entries on 'awe and wonder', 'curiosity' and 'trust'. I was amused by the inclusion of an entry on 'wet playtime' which brings us down to earth! Of course if you take on something as ever changing as Primary Education, new editions are needed to keep up to date. There is, however, a core of wise information and comment here which will endure.

Margaret Mallett English 4-11 Number 39, Summer 2010


The Really Useful Literacy Book: Being Creative with Literacy in the Primary Classroom, Tony Martin, Chira Lovat, Glynis Purnell

Routledge Education    ISBN 9780415431651   £18.99

The subtitle of The Really Useful Literacy Book is Being Creative with Literacy in the Primary Classroom and it stands up to this description very well. In different ways it makes an excellent read for students and for experienced teachers. The book begins with a meaty chapter on 'The Big Ideas'. This explains theory in an accessible and straightforward way and I loved the models of how creative teaching, speaking and listening, reading and writing link together. The emphasis on how theory and research fit with ideas about purpose, coherence, engagement and the need to address pupils' interests is absolutely right for teachers of the 21st century. Experienced teachers will recognize what they value and appreciate the way that this chapter brings theory, research and practice together to articulate why it is important. For student teachers, it provides a solid cornerstone for thinking about what matters most in effective language and literacy teaching.

The remaining chapters give worked examples of lessons and topics from across the language curriculum, showing how each can be implemented and developed. With titles like 'Dance your way to a story', the chapters show the very best of integrated, exciting and responsive teaching. However, be warned: this is not a 'recipe book'. The lessons are not designed to be simply picked off the shelf and implemented at a moment's notice and without a moment's thought. Each chapter demands that the student or teacher 'works through' the big issues about purpose, teaching focus, content and background knowledge to adapt and modify the ideas and their implementatino to suit their own class. As a prompt for discussion with students, this is meaty stuff that will help them to understand and 'think around' what they see and do in the classroom. This is the truly creative bit of being creative with literacy - you have to think to use it, which is what creative teaching and learning are all about.

Lesley Waddell, English 4-11 Number 38, Spring 2010


Language and Literacy in the Early Years 0-7, Marian Whitehead

Sage Publications    ISBN 978184920080   £21.99

This fourth edition of Whitehead's book updates both research on early language development and best practice in Early Years settings. Regular summary boxes encourage reflection and simplify the location of strategic points, whilst key arguments are amply supported with examples from professional practice. It also demonstrates the range of skills that young children possess for handling language interactions in social settings and their intentionality in speaking, mark making and communicating.

Section one examines recent growth in knowledge about linguistics, language in social settings, early language acquisition and the part that language plays in thinking. the consideration of the role of multilingualism in early language acquisition is a particular strength of this section. The argument for welcoming varied languages and cultures into early years settings is persuasively made. Of equal strength is the analysis of a language interaction between a toddler and her parents in the light of contemporary understanding.

The two sections of this book are skilfully tied together as section two describes the world of the young child in storying, books and writing. But each topic is also firmly tied to the learning context by describing ways in which the world of the child can be brought into the most formal curriculum through understanding how children create narrative. The chapter on narrative and storying is particularly inspirational with its glimpse into the magical worlds of early learners.

This book should be read by all those involved in Early Years settings, in order to understand the moral imperative of creating environments whic recognise the uniquely individual social and cultural experiences that young children bring to formalised learning. The greatest strength of this text is the ability of the writer to annexe complex research to the compelling need for the practitioner to understand how young children both make meaning and use language to make new meaning as they learn to communicate in a range of modes.

Gill Robins, English 4-11 Number 41, Spring 2011

The Perfect SENCO, Natalie Packer

Independent thinking press ISBN 9781781351048 £9.99

This is a highly informative, up to date book, written concisely and clearly. The Perfect SENCO is one in a series of books addressing aspects of school identified as crucial by Ofsted. The role of the SENCO has changed quite considerably in recent years and is now regarded as central to the school improvement process. The SENCO will not only provide advice on carrying out statutory duties to identify, assess and make provision for children with special educational needs but will also give strategic direction and seek opportunities for development through coordinating provision, tracking progress and leading or developing others. The Perfect SENCO takes aspects of the role to look at in more detail in each chapter. It is very readable with frequent ‘top tips’, key aspects highlighted through bullet points and a really useful summary at the end of each chapter. I think that this would be a very valuable book for both newly appointed and experienced SENCOs either to read from cover to cover as I did, or to dip into to look at a particular area of practice. Highly recommended!
Jo Kilpatrick, teacher, Rumney Primary School, Cardiff
Online review 2013


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