Tyrannosaurus Drip

I have spent the last three weeks focusing on the dinosaur topic in the Nursery. I actually really struggled to find a good picture book to base our learning around. There are hundreds of dinosaur fiction books but too many of them lack a good story line that I could link back to our literacy carpet sessions. I was trying to explain to the children that Dinosaurs existed a long time ago, before humans were alive, but the majority of the picture books contained people and dinosaurs coexisting! In the end I reverted back to a very popular and faithful author, Julia Donaldson for her fun, but relatively realistic rhyming book.
Tyrannosaurus drip is a story of two opposing species of dinosaur, the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the duck-billed dinosaurs. Obviously the T-Rex eat meat (more specifically in this case the duck-billed dinosaurs) while the other group were herbivores. One day, however, a naughty little dinosaur steals a duck-billed egg and it ends up in the T-Rex nest. The story continues with a baby duck-bill growing up in the enemy camp, feeling confused that he doesn’t like the same things as his brothers and sisters. In the end Tyrannosaurus Drip ventures back to his tribe and saves the day, stopping the T-Rex’s from eating the duck-billed dinosaurs.
In order to create an exciting atmosphere in the classroom I made a dinosaur egg and planted it in the classroom. I included clues and we discussed what kind of egg it could be. This led into a small group number hunt for envelopes containing more detailed clues so that the children could work out which kind of dinosaur had left the egg behind. I also spent some time with small groups looking at the beginning of the T.Drip story. We examined the two types of dinosaur and the children thought of words to describe them. The language that came out of this activity was phenomenal! Some of the EAL children in my class were able to think of synonyms such as mean, nasty and horrible to describe the T-Rex, when normally they give me the two common adjectives – happy or sad! The children also spent some time predicting what would happen to the egg when it hatched in the wrong nest. However, one of my favourite language activities involved the children discussing what our class teddy would need if he was to become a palaeontologist. I showed the children this fun YouTube video about palaeontologists and we talked about the tools that teddy would need. The children talked in their partners and came up with their own interesting ideas to add to the list including: sun cream (because it’s hot), a scooter (so he could get to the dinosaur bones quickly), a blanket (in case he gets cold at night), a digger (to get rid of lots of sand), some toys (so that he doesn’t get bored) and a camera (so he could take pictures of the bones). It is so refreshing to let the children express themselves and decide on their own amazing ideas.
Some of the best numeracy activities involving dinosaurs was focused on the language of size. We looked at big, small, tall, short and long and short through a variety of practical activities using resources such as play dough, large Lego bricks, unifix, foot prints and the children themselves. Since teaching this language it’s great to hear the children independently comparing towers in the construction area and using the appropriate vocabulary. In our creative area we made paper plate dinosaurs, a tissue paper volcano and clay dinosaur eggs, but the Pinterest list is endless and there are loads of exciting ideas on there.
I love teaching the dinosaur topic to young children because they find it so exciting and it especially brings boys’ imaginations to life. However, I hope that more authors will create some picture books that have great stories as well as realistic characters.

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Dear Zoo – Rod Campbell

I have been away for a long time but now I am back with a family classic! Dear Zoo is a fantastically simple book, which is suitable for babies to 5 year olds. It has been reprinted in lots of different forms in order to appeal to the variety of ages, from board books to big books for the classroom.
Sometimes I think that the simplest ideas for children’s literature are the best, and they certainly seem to stand the test of time. This book was first published in 1982 and is still such a popular book.
I loved teaching with this book for the first time this year, and the children loved it too. The lift-the-flap style enables the children to use the clues to work out which animal could be hiding inside the zoo containers. The children were able to think of other animals that would be considered “too heavy” or “too fierce” and it also prompted good discussions about whether or not a lion or an elephant would be a good pet to keep at home. We also talked about our pets and what kind of qualities the perfect pet would have. The children drew pictures of their dream pet (most of them happened to be dogs!) and decided on their pet’s name.
We used this book to produce learning for the children to give to their new teachers in Reception as examples of fine motor, mark making and writing skills as well as their ability to use phonemes appropriately. It was a very obvious activity – we made our own Dear Zoo books! (I am now regretting not taking photos of some of the learning to post on here!) The children cut out animal pictures and their containers (which can be found in a Google image search) and created their own lift the flap books. Some of the animals are CVC words such as dog, but the children all attempted to sound out and write either the initial sound of the more complex words or even have a go at writing some of the other sounds they could hear. The results were fun and colourful personalised books that clearly showed the Reception teachers what the children were capable of either independently or with a small amount of adult support.
There are so many resources that can support the topic of animals (wild or zoo) in all of the areas of the early years curriculum, for example animal counters (you can buy these here) or sorting animals between wild and farm. I was focusing on the Development Matters statement “beginning to represent numbers using pictures and marks on paper” and so the children used our sorting dogs and a set of dice to calculate how many dogs they could fit in their dog basket and then drew them onto their own dog basket. This gave them a problem to solve and a reason to record numbers and they were all keen to take part.
There is no doubt that this book is a children’s classic but I think people are often looking for something new to replace the ‘old’, I think I realised through teaching with this book that sometimes the classics can’t be replaced.

The Selfish Giant – Oscar Wilde

My parents are moving house and are clearing out their loft, which has resulted in a trip down memory lane each time I visit them. Recently, I came across ‘The Selfish Giant’ and was instantly taken back to my childhood. This story evoked many emotions as well as a memory of the spark that had ignited my love for books.
The original book was actually published in 1888, but I was read a version that was abridged by ‘Picture Puffins’ (which you can buy here). Random House books recently published a new version, illustrated by Alexis Deacon, which has made the book more accessible for younger readers. Find their version here.
Random House’s blurb reads: “The Selfish Giant has a beautiful garden, but he won’t let any of the children play in it. Winter comes and never leaves, until the power of love brings Spring and joy into the Giant’s garden and his heart…”
The underlying moral of the beautiful tale is obviously to share, but also to get joy from others’ happiness. The Giant’s life becomes bleak when he doesn’t share it with others, his garden remains in winter and he is lonely. The comparison between the darkness and emptiness when the Giant has bricked himself in to his ‘castle’ and then the light and happiness when the Spring emerges as the children return to his garden is so clear, especially in Alexis Deacon’s illustrations.
I haven’t used this book at school, however I think it would be perfect during a Fairytale theme, and probably best used as a tool for Philosophy for Children (I will explain this further below) or during circle time. There are clear opportunities, with children from Reception and Key Stage 1, for discussion around loneliness, isolation, selflessness and forgiveness. I must also point out that the Giant passes away at the end of the story, so it is important to be sensitive to this issue if you are aware of any illness or death that is affecting your class outside of the school.
Philosophy for Children (P4C) is a great way of encouraging discussion, the ability to listen to others, the formation of opinions and also the opportunity to enter into amicable debates with others. The children are given a stimulus (for example a picture, a video or a story) and they are encouraged to think of words and feelings that the stimulus evokes in them. Over the course of the session these words are converted into questions that can then prompt a discussion in the classroom. The children have a real ownership over their debate, by voting for the question that they most want to talk about and by responding to others’ ideas. A stimulus such as The Selfish Giant will definitely bring about interesting themes and questions, usually ideas that the teacher isn’t even able to predict! In order to teach P4C properly it is best to do a training day, the course that I have done is through a company called Osiris, who can hold staff training inset days or whose courses you can attend.
I am so thrilled that I have come across this book again, and will definitely read it with my children when I have them, although I would probably wait until they are School age. It is a timeless classic, which has been brought up to date in the most recent Random House publication. I guarantee that your child(ren) will have their curiosity, morality and emotional maturity provoked.

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Eliot Jones, Midnight Superhero – Anne Cottringer and Alex T. Smith

Superheroes have always been popular, especially with little boys and the general market for them in toys and film is huge. Many Early Years and Key Stage 1 teachers have found themselves planning in a Superhero themed topic, in order to grab the interests of the children in their class and inspire the boys who may already be waning in their enthusiasm for learning. I have found, from experience, that this topic can be very frustrating – without the right stimulus and classroom ethos the children can get far too involved with their role play as Superheroes and the actual learning opportunities can be lost. However, with a book that gives them direction and ideas to extend their learning it can be really exciting and productive.
Eliot Jones, Midnight Superhero, is one of the superhero books that can do just that. Amazon’s book description reads: “By day, Eliot is a quiet boy who likes to read and play with his toys. But when the clock strikes midnight, Eliot is transformed into a hero! When he’s not showing off his super swimming skills or wowing the crowds with his expert-lion taming, you can find him assisting the Queen. But one day Eliot receives an urgent messae from the world’s Most Important Scientists: a giant meteor is hurtling towards Earth. Will Eliot be able to rise to the challenge and save the world from destruction in the nick of time?”
Again, there is the opportunity in this book for the children to resolve a problem for the main character (What could Eliot do to stop the meteor?) but along the way there are so many opportunities for discussion and for the children to use their imaginations. Scholastic have even produced a ‘hints and tips’ guide for parents to use when reading the book with their children at home, find the PDF here. The questions may seem straight forward, but the kind of talk it promotes in young children is so important. Through these questions they are beginning to formulate their own opinions, apply events from a story to their lives and even decide their own ending to a story.
I think this book is great for use in the classroom because it doesn’t depict a Superhero with an arch enemy who needs to resort to violence in order to save the world, instead the protagonist is an intelligent, skilled little boy with lots of ambition. It also shows him during the day as someone who is quiet, who reads books and plays nicely, rather than someone who shouts, screams and fights. This is useful when setting up classroom guidelines around the kind of superhero role play that is expected and encouraged! Also, Eliot doesn’t necessarily have those superhero powers that are unattainable, such as invisibility or super-strength (although these ideas are fun when the children are thinking of their own ideas for superpowers) but he does have skills that enable him to rescue and save, such as code cracking, lion taming, flying jets, and generally being very clever and brave.
Literacy activities that can be paired with a Superhero theme include using those code cracking skills to find things around the outside area or in the classroom – this reading activity can be differentiated depending on the ability of the children, for example it could be a basic instruction that they have to decode phonetically such as ‘in the pit’ or it could be a sentence that they have to order so that it makes grammatical sense. Obviously this can be adapted so that the children are writing their own clues for other children to follow. The book also links to space, which is another topic that children find fascinating, so the children can find out about meteors and asteroids through websites such as the kids NASA site. Linking superheroes with space also opens up opportunities for more focused role play as the children can design and build their own rocket and reenact space travel.
I would highly recommend this book to reception or year 1 teachers looking for Superhero inspiration, or parents of boys who are obsessed with the ‘fighting’ aspect of superhero play. I found that it was a positive influence, detracting from the negative Superhero stereotypes and focusing on important skills and talents that the children could actually develop themselves. Also it’s funny and entertaining with great pictures, what more could you want from a picture book!

The Odd Egg – Emily Gravett

I was first shown this book by an amazing former colleague who taught me a LOT in my first few years of teaching.
It is absolutely brilliant and fits in really well with Easter so I thought I would get it in early for any of you thinking about planning next term or Easter holiday ideas.
Goodreads’ book description says: When Duck finds an egg of his own he’s delighted: it’s the most beautiful egg in the world! But all the other birds think it’s a very odd egg indeed and everyone’s in for a BIG surprise when the egg hatches.
Just like the other books I have reviewed, this book is full of learning opportunities. The kids are fuelled by the suspense of finding out what might be inside duck’s egg, and so I often leave the ending until later in the week. This means that the children have yet another chance to use their imaginations, take ownership of the book and ‘write’ their own versions of the story. One of my favourite pieces of writing in response to ‘what do you think is inside the egg?’ was a beautiful drawing of lots of little baby ducks inside one giant egg with the phonetic label “lotz ov duks”! I have also made ‘cut page’ books with the children, in which they can choose which birds they want in their story and are able to retell their own version. Also, for a truly brilliant example of ‘role-play reading’ please go to this YouTube clip, which demonstrates a very young child whose love for a book has grown because she feels can read it all by herself!
Another area of learning that this book opens up is Science or Understanding the World. We found out about all the different animals that lay eggs, such as tortoises, platypus’, fish, frogs, crocodiles, dinosaurs etc. The children were genuinely amazed with their discoveries! (There is a really old fashioned YouTube video called “Chickens aren’t the only ones” which is quite good at highlighting the variety of animals that lay eggs). We also took the opportunity to have an incubator from living eggs. They provide ten eggs and you keep them for two weeks, observing them as they hatch and then looking after the baby chicks. The children found this experience absolutely fascinating, but if I do it again I would adopt the chickens and rehouse them at school, as they do seem very squashed in their incubator. It was amazing though, providing the children the opportunity to watch new life emerging and for them to fully understand where chickens and eggs actually come from (in south london, lots of children think that Tesco create the eggs!). If I was a parent, a farm trip would be far more practical than an incubator, and Easter time is the perfect time of year to make a visit to your local farm as they will have lots of newly born animals, possibly including baby chicks.
Obviously there are also lots of Easter-themed activities that can be linked to this book. We made paper mâché eggs (and attempted to faberge them!), created treasure hunts to find eggs in the outside area, made chocolate nests, used ping pong balls and egg boxes to learn doubling and halving, and the list goes on…..
So if you are looking for a fun, Easter(ish) themed book, I cannot recommend it enough. You might have noticed that the books I tend to love contain a big question mark at some point in the book, which allows the children to develop and use their imagination as well as extend their communication skills. This book provide that opportunity as well as the chance for the children to express their sense of humour, which is a privilege to watch!

The Magic Paintbrush- Julia Donaldson

As it was Multi-Cultural Book Day last week and it was Chinese New Year on Friday, I thought I would share a book that fits into both of these areas.
Julia Donaldson is obviously a hugely well known children’s author and I’m sure most of you with kids have at least a couple of hers on the bookshelf, but I thought this book may be less well known to you. As always, this book is entertaining, full of rhyme and of underlying morals but this book is also based on a traditional Chinese folk tale.
The blurb states: “With her magic paintbrush, Shen can paint steaming pots full of fish and oysters to feed the hungry people in her village. When the evil emperor commands Shen to paint gold for him, she is determined to keep her promise to paint only for the poor.”
The children loved the rhyme in the story and became involved in guessing the different things that Shen would paint for the poor people who needed help, but most of the discussion and paired talk occurred when the main character is faced with a problem. Shen is captured by the rich Emperor and locked in a prison cell, she is told that she must paint a tree full of money and then she shall be set free. During this part of the story the children were excitedly thinking of things that they could paint with the magic paintbrush so that Shen could escape from the mean Emperor. This activity is similar to what I did when using the book ‘Bear Hunt’, as the children suddenly have ownership of the story and can use their imaginations to decide what happens next. This also fed really well into some emergent writing and mark making as the children were keen to get down their ideas and also begin to use their newly acquired knowledge of the phonetic sounds. I had children drawing pictures of doors, keys, holes and tools that they would paint to help Shen out of her problematic situation. Later in the week we returned to the book and put ourselves in Shen’s shoes. What would we paint if we could paint anything and it would become real? Would we paint something that could be shared? Or would we choose something selfish just for us? (Just a side note but I was observed by an Ofsted inspector using this book, and he was thoroughly impressed with the discussion and imaginative thinking that was inspired in such young children).
Other activities linked to this book have included using props from the story in the role play corner- I had a Chinese restaurant anyway so it fitted in nicely. We also used ‘magic paintbrushes’ on the playground outside, using gross motor skills to paint our ideas, and obviously lots of Chinese New Year activities like making paper lanterns, eating noodles, using chopsticks and rice to develop fine motor skills and making Chinese tea light holders using clay. The children learnt loads about Chinese culture through these activities and the story, but they were also able to notice similarities to their culture as well.
Julia Donaldson has made a video about this book, promoting its use in the classroom as a whole group drama session, which would be better for Key stage 1 classes. View the video here
On the whole I thought this book was perfect for the topic of Chinese New Year and although I used it with nursery aged children, it could easily be developed and looked into more deeply with older Key Stage 1 children.

A Colour of His Own – Leo Lionni

This book is beautifully simple.
I usually teach with this story during the autumn term when we are looking at colour and change. The book explores the different colours that animals have and the change that occurs during the seasons and so it fits perfectly.
The story is of a sad chameleon. The blurb states “Elephants are gray. Pigs are pink. Only the chameleon has no color of his own. From award winning artist Leo Lionni, comes a gentle tale of a chameleon who, in search of his own colour, finds a true friend.”
The chameleon is frustrated because all the other animals have their own colour, but his is constantly changing. As he moves from place to place his camouflaged skin changes too, and all he wants is to have his own colour. He tries to sit on a leaf forever, but then autumn comes and the leaves change and fall. Finally, he bumps into another chameleon and explains his problems. The chameleons decide to stick together, and they live happily ever after because together, they have a colour of their own.
This book has so many teaching opportunities, especially in the Early Years classroom. Obviously it is a moral tale about friendship, but the children also learn lots when using it as a stimulus for writing. One of my favourite activities is making books with the children using pictures from the story. By this point in Reception the children are learning phase 2 in their phonics (if you haven’t come across phonics yet this is when they are learning the individual letter sounds and are beginning to put them together to make short words such as p/i/g). The animals and colours in this book are perfect for this stage in the children’s writing as they feel confident sounding out the words, and you can even begin to model simple sentences like “I am a pig” to challenge them. They love making their own books because then they have ownership of the stories and are able to read them to others because they know what they have written!
Also, because the illustrations in this book are so beautiful, it’s great for the children to use different painting techniques to create their own chameleon art. I have made stencils for the children to sponge paint or given them oil pastels and then washed over with water colours. And, due to the references in the book of the different seasons, it opens up all kinds of art opportunities when thinking about autumnal changes.
It is important to note that the book is not strictly correct when it refers to the constant changes of a chameleon, as in fact chameleons usually only change colour when in a state of alert, as a kind of defence mechanism against predators. I usually share a non fiction book with the children to teach this, such as Chameleons are Cool by Martin Jenkins (buy it here).

I realise that I have talked a lot about teaching during this post, but if you are a parent of a little reader, all of these activities can be done at home too!

Also, I feel I should definitely point out the lovely book artwork that is on my header. It is not mine, I have borrowed it from an artist, and you can actually purchase the pictures to frame on your wall. They are by the artist Jane Mount and you can by them from Ideal Bookshelf. You can even have your own custom ideal bookshelves made, which I think would be beautiful for a child’s bedroom, or just an adult book-lover’s wall!

Calm Down Boris! – Sam Lloyd

I first saw this book in action when I returned to one of my Reception classes after an afternoon of planning to find them transfixed on the supply teacher and her ingenious book.
This book works best if you really get into the role, the children love seeing you demonstrating the freedom that they feel everyday. Boris is the furry puppet that is attached to the book and he is quite excitable and overly affectionate. The blurb reads: “Boris gets so carried away. He gives tickly kisses and scares off all the other little monsters with his enthusiasm. How will he ever make friends?”
Throughout the book Boris gets up to mischief here and there and he always tries to make up for it with kisses. In the end he saves the day and rectifies his friendships by scaring off a naughty dog.
Although I have read this with older children, I noticed the best age group for this is between two and three. Children of this age will understand the humour and enjoy the amount of interaction that this book offers. I have also read this with children who are learning English as an additional language, again the interaction offers them the opportunity to join in and follow a simple story line as well as feeling at ease with the cheeky character.
I think it is such a canny idea to combine a bright colourful book with a fluffy puppet full of character, and others obviously think so too because there is now a range of puppet books by Sam Lloyd. (Find them here)

Not a Box – Antoinette Portis

I LOVE this book!
It was the first picture book that I bought as an adult, when I had just qualified as a teacher, and every time I return to it, I wonder why I haven’t read it to every other adult I know. Yes, I mean adults! This book teaches us such an important lesson.
The text is simple, a conversation between an adult and a child, but the pictures tell the true story: the disparity between an adult’s simple assumptions and a child’s vivid imagination. It also reminds me that some of the best play occurs on a blank canvas.
The rabbit (or child character) in the story has a cardboard box and throughout the story he positions himself in and around the box. The pages alternate between the adults perspective and the child’s perspective. The adult just sees the rabbit and the box, whereas the rabbit shows what he has transformed the box into during his play. The pictures are beautifully simple, with clean lines and exciting ideas.
I think this book is perfect for excitable nursery aged children, I can’t wait to fill a room with different sized boxes and see what my own children (when I have them) get up to.
I have read this book to classes many times, but I haven’t used this book as inspiration for a topic at school. Although just writing this is causing me to consider hosting a cardboard box day at school!

Anthony Browne – Bear Hunt

Although this book was published before I was born it is still one I return to year after year!
The blurb reads “This story is all about a very clever white bear and his magic pencil. Everything Bear draws becomes real! He draws a circle and it becomes a hole through which he can escape. He even draws a rope that he can swing on. And when two bear hunters are after him, his magic pencil comes in very handy!”
The pictures are bright and contain ‘dramatic irony’ at the children’s level, for example the bear walks through the jungle ignorant of the fact that the hunters are hiding in the bushes. The children find this really exciting, a kind of “He’s behind you!” tension that encourages an active involvement in the story.
However, the best part of the book for me is the amount of speech it encourages in the classroom. When I used this book with my nursery class I was blown away by the imaginative ideas and thoughts it provoked in 60 three year olds. Every time the Bear got out his magic pencil they excitedly discussed what he could be drawing, and often thought of ideas that hadn’t even occurred to me! Towards the end of the story the Bear finds himself stuck in a hole underground. Some of my favourite ideas that the children thought that the Bear should draw were “a rocket to blast out of the hole”, “a dolphin who could swim out”, and “a lasso to hook and climb out of the hole”. Along with the rich language that comes out of the text, it also supports the children’s emergent writing and representation. They can put their imaginative ideas to paper and create their own ending to the story (Anthony Browne actually used children’s ideas in his book ‘Bear’s magic pencil’, which he developed with during his time as Children’s Laureate).
I should note that the hunters do carry guns in the illustrations, but there is no hint of use and they use much more child-friendly methods of attempting to catch the bear. I found that some of my older Reception children wanted to discuss what the hunters are doing and whether it is right for people to capture wild animals, which provoked further independent thought.
Overall, I think this book has a beautiful simplicity that allows children to become ‘role-play readers’ if looking at the book independently, or inventive storytellers if taking a deeper look.