Tim Minchin’s When I Grow Up

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Illustrated by Steve Antony

“When I grow up, I will be

tall enough to reach

the branches that

I have to reach

to climb the trees you get to climb

when you’re grown up.” 

When I Grow Up

When I Grow Up is a brilliant collaboration between musician/comedian Tim Minchin and award-winning illustrator Steve Antony. Teaming lyrics from Minchin’s Matilda the Musical with Antony’s amazing artwork is a bit of a dream combination. When I Grow Up is already a beautiful song that looks at adult’s lives from a child’s point of view. It’s very moving and hopeful and of course a joy to see performed. To take these lyrics and give them a new life as the words in a picture book could have been a risky business. It was always going to need the vision of an artist who could bring a different perspective whilst keeping the original spirit of the song. Steve Antony brings all this and more.

Dream Combinations

With illustrations that have all the life you would wish to see on a West End stage, When I Grow Up fills the reader’s imagination from the start with books tumbling from shelves, pillow fights, soaring dragons and cartwheels. Dandelion clocks drift by as we can take our time together to explore everything that’s going on around us. There are moments of laughter and excitement throughout the book as well as pages that provide pause for thought. They make each other even better, another dream combination for us to enjoy.


Alongside the wonderful illustrations, the text brings extra aspect of movement to the book, but one that will be easy for younger children to follow. Broken into bite sized chunks, they are written in different ways: they step, zigzag, change in size and move in curves. They are clear to read and great fun to follow.

When I Grow Up is a book to fill your face with a big grin and your heart with gladness. And maybe even inspire a bit of contemplation from its older readers. One to read again and again and again.









Thanks to Scholastic for inviting me to be part of this blog tour and sending me a copy of such a lovely book.




The Legend of Podkin One-Ear

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Written by Kieran Larwood & Illustrated by David Wyatt

“Crunch, crunch. Crunch, crunch. The sound of heavy footsteps, trudging through knee-deep snow, echoes through the night’s silence.

A thick white blanket covers the wide slopes of the band of hills known as the Razorback downs. Moonlight dances over it, glinting here and there in drifts of sparkles, as if someone has sprinkled the whole scene with diamond dust. 

It is perfect- untouched except for one spidery line of tracks leading down from the hills towards the frosted woodland beneath.”

Bramblemas Eve

It’s Bramblemas Eve. Rabbits are gathered together in the longburrow at Thornwood Warren, feasting and celebrating the season. A travelling bard arrives and someone requests a story about legendary rabbit hero Podkin One-Ear, which the bard promises to tell. This tale will be different to any told before. He promises it will be different because it will be true.

The bard’s story takes us back to another Bramblemas Eve when Podkin, his older sister Paz and little brother Pook were children, the sons and daughter of a warrior chieftain and part of a happy home. When their warren is attacked and torn apart by the dreaded Gorm, Podkin, Paz and Pook are forced to leave their family and run for their lives.

A Children’s Classic

The adventure that follows is beautifully delivered and about as deserving of the accolade children’s classic as you’re likely to get. The sense of anticipation created by the arrival of the bard and the staging of the story makes it irresistible. Kieran Larwood has a knack of delivering to the reader at the perfect pace, allowing us to be swept along at points and pause to reflect at others. He creates an incredible new world,  and you’ll wonder how you ever did without it. David Wyatt’s illustration adds an extra dimension too. They are simply lovely. Take the time to enjoy them.

A Touch of Old Magic for a New Generation

The Legend of Podkin One-Ear reminded me of my old childhood favourites in all the best ways. I felt like I was back there, experiencing the same depth of light and shade I get from Tolkien’s Shire- an unexpected and absolute thrill! There’s something here of Kenneth Grahame’s way of making a new character feel like an old friend and there’s also a touch of CS Lewis’s old magic. I cannot think of another book that has taken me back to these feelings so vividly whilst delivering something so completely original.

Probably my favourite book of the year so far. Should be read aloud in all primary schools across the land. Every child should have the chance to enjoy a story like this. You never know, it might inspire the next generation of story tellers.


Hope by Rhian Ivory

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“I climb up and lean over the ferry rail, looking down into the grim, grey sea. I’ve ruined everything.”

Hope Alone

When Hope fails her audition to get into drama college in Dublin, she has no back up plan. It seems all her friends are sorted and that Hope is alone. We join Hope for the summer between school and sixth form college as she struggles to control her anger, manage her grief for her father and regain her lost confidence.

During the course of the book, Hope gains new perspective through the people she meets. Riley is a chance encounter on the ferry back from Dublin who likes Hope and is keen to keep in touch with her. Their texts are a key part of the story and a wonderful insight into how Hope is doing. There’s also Pryia. Hope meets her while volunteering to help the Singing Medicine Team her mum’s set up at the local hospital. Pryia recognises something of herself in Hope, but it’s up to Hope to decide whether she has the courage to accept herself for who she is.

A Beautiful and Unique Read

Hope gifts the reader with the poetry and complexities of real life. As with her previous book The Boy who Drew the Future, Rhian Ivory takes a full cast of characters and allows each and every one to shine in their own way, from Hope herself to her mum, her granddad, and right through to the children she meets in the hospital. We get to know Hope and her world so well that we are able to go deeper and really understand and appreciate her story. The only rub here is that we miss her all the more when the book ends.

Hope: a beautiful and unique read and a must for fans of contemporary YA fiction.



Thanks so much to Firefly Press for sending me this wonderful book!



Simply the Quest by Maz Evans

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“The scream tore through the dawn like a razor blade through toilet paper. Elliot Hooper was the first to respond- if you can call burbling ‘whargihghplfm?’ a response.

Before he entirely knew where he was- or even who he was- another scream shattered the February morning.”

Marvellous MG

Simply the Quest is Maz Evans’ second book in her marvellous middle grade series and follows the roaring success of last year’s Who Let the Gods Out. As before, Maz Evans writes with bags of charisma and knows how to engage her readers. From the start, we’re hooked!

Twelve year old Elliot is back at home living with several Greek Gods and the newly mortal Virgo. Pressure is mounting to find the remaining chaos stones before the dreaded Thanatos. This is hero territory and there are adventures to be had! Alongside this, Elliot is caring for his mum who continues to be unwell. We also see the introduction of contact with dad who has been absent for ten years.

When it comes to storytelling, Maz Evans is an expert. She mingles Ancient Greek Gods with the modern life of a thirteen year old boy, blends brilliantly funny content with sometimes heart-wrenching depth of feeling. Together they make each other even better.

Simply the Quest in the Classroom

I would recommend upper key stage two teachers explore the humour around the Gods in Simply the Quest through art. Art and parody have a long history and there are many examples online of famous artworks that have been given a modern-day twist.

Looking at classic sculpture of Greek Gods and comparing with Maz Evans’ less traditional written descriptions is a great way of developing talk around a class reader.  Children could go on to create updated versions of the Gods in Simply the Quest or come up with their own for a different deity. Following a process from discussion to drawing to sculpting of a final piece can then lead into written work, stop frame animation or drama quite easily. For more detail on how to go about planning this or constructing the final piece, please ask and I’ll be happy to help.

Simply the Quest is a great book that opens up many possibilities for audiences of all ages. A wonderful and memorable read.




Connecting Art and Reading for Pleasure

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Teachers’ Resources

Connecting art and stories can be a fantastic way to follow and document a whole class response to your shared reading book. It isn’t expensive or tricky to resource and provides new insight that you can use to share points of view, make predictions, express reactions and reflect on events. I’ve created six easy activities you can incorporate into your teaching and have now added teachers’ notes and resources to make your lives easier. Click on the images to view and download the PDFs.

Teachers’ Planning Notes

Information about the activities and brief notes on teaching them.

Art and Reading- Thinking Like an Artist

Worksheet with abstract images to help children understand expression in art and how to access it.


Viewfinder- Notes

Worksheet to support Viewfinder activity. Includes instructions and space to note-take creatively.


Viewfinder- Descriptive Piece

Worksheet for use in bringing notes together and drawing a descriptive piece from different character points of view.

Chapter Checker

Grid for chapter by chapter visual responses. Questions around margin to support activity.

Planning Palettes

Resource to create a restricted colour palette based on the text.

I hope these work well for you. I’d love to know how they go down in class. Beccy

Six Ways of Teaching Art & Reading for Pleasure

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Connecting Art and Reading for Pleasure

*Update 25.8.17: resources for these activities can be found here*

I wrote recently about the need to connect art and reading more in primary schools. Art and Stories are made for each other. Drawing can and should be a really useful element of our English curriculum, especially when used alongside whole class reading books.

Art is naturally brilliant at being cross-curricular: it is almost always created in a response to something else. It looks both inside and out; it can be the mirror or the window. Art gives us the opportunity to deeply immerse ourselves in the subject matter of our choosing. In other words, it’s a great match with reading for pleasure.

Six Easy Activities

Connecting art and stories can be a fantastic way to follow and document a whole class response to your shared reading book. It isn’t expensive or tricky to resource and provides new insight that you can use to share points of view, make predictions, express reactions and reflect on events. I’ve created six easy activities you can incorporate into your teaching*.

Planning Palettes

Creating a restricted colour palette in response to an event in the book. The children will need an empty ‘palette’. Something like this is perfect:

Children will also need a wide range of colours to choose from. Read a short excerpt of the class reader and ask the class to picture it, deciding which colours are key to the scene. This would work very well with Emma Carroll’s Letters from the Lighthouse, at the point early on where Olive and Suki are caught up in the London Bombings. This is a highly visual scene with plenty of information to be inferred. This can result in interesting discussions, especially around unexpected colours and their justifications.

Finished palettes can lead into successful painting projects. They can also be collaged together as a visual record of this point in the book. Or both. Compile them in different ways and photograph, or colour photocopy (if you’re allowed).


Chapter Checker

Abstract artist Kandinsky used art as a visual expression of emotion in response to music. Encouraging your class to use abstract marks in response to your class reader may sound a bit unusual but it can be brilliant. Based on Kandinsky’s Trente 1937, you’d need to create a grid with the same number of squares as you have chapters in your book- or as close as possible. Each chapter culminates in a thumbnail drawing. Some children will want to be more literal than others (and they should be allowed to be) but this works best when visual clues are given through shape and colour rather than drawing actual scenes.

Trente 1937

Compare, contrast and evaluate at the end of the book to see if these artworks can be ‘read’ or if they remind the class of specific points in the book or particular feelings they had at the time.

Arty Annotation

Annotating with notes and highlighters is a well established part of the English curriculum in many schools and this is a spin on that. Choose your page, or give different pages from a key chapter. I’d want to do this with a juicy mystery such as Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens or Siobhan Dowd’s The London Eye Mystery. In chapter five of Jolly Foul Play there’s a lot of action around a bonfire that ends in murder! Ask the children to pick out characters’ movements, key objects, important words and map or draw them straight onto their page.

By clue-finding straight on top of their information, the children are able to access the text quickly and express their opinions without having that awful fear of the blank page. This can become part of your evidence in a class investigation and makes a fab class display.


This is a great one to use if you want to essentially press pause at an important moment in the text and examine it in a bit more depth from a particular character’s point of view. This would be perfect to use with Ross Montgomery’s Perijee and Me, from about page 22 to 24, describing the arrival of Perijee.

Read the excerpt at least twice, allowing one time to be pure listening without note taking. Pause in between to allow children to write key words, sketch, create colour swatches, as they feel necessary. Encourage the children to become the protagonist- in this case Caitlin- and look around her surroundings, take in the weather, the time of day and the details the author shares with us, building towards a completed drawing of the scene from Caitlin’s point of view. Once this is completed take a second look, this time seeing through Perijee’s eyes to produce a different view of the scene.

Afterwards, take time to reflect on both the pictures and the preparation the class did. What words and colours were used in note taking? What prompted you to think of them? How do the views differ in composition and feel?

The Big Class Reader Sketchbook

As you bring an artistic response into your class reading, you may find children are inspired to do a bit more. This is a good way to share the reading for pleasure joy at home and also to make non-fiction links to your text. Creating a sketchbook or scrapbook response to your class reader can be great. As well as compiling drawings, colour palettes, word art and other good stuff to do with your class book at school, encourage children to keep their eyes open at home for interesting and relevant snippets. Newspaper clippings, drawings, photographs, anything on the theme goes.

The perfect opportunity to go a bit bonkers

The children can see where their thoughts take them. Can you imagine how wonderfully crazy you could get compiling a sketchbook for Maz Evan’s Who Let the Gods Out? How much fun it would be to reflect back on? This I would love to see! When completed, these are great resources to use next year or to put in your school library.

Final Composition

Once the book is finished, it’s time for the children to produce their final composition. You may have already prepped them for this or you might like to introduce it at the end, bringing together all their completed artwork. The children plan and produce a final piece based on their favourite part of the book using techniques learnt. You could then have a final exhibition with a private view for parents and really celebrate reading for pleasure.

Good luck and please let me know how you get on.

*Teaching Notes:

  1. If you’re going to do a demonstration for any of these activities, be aware that children are going to copy your drawing style and you may lose their individual responses. Chances are, they think you’re great and will want to impress you by following your lead. This is lovely in sentiment but sometimes a demo can give the message that there’s a wrong or right way, which of course in art there isn’t. These activities are good opportunities to see how children get on following verbal instructions.
  2. You’re already a reading teacher, now it’s time to be a drawing teacher! Get stuck in and have a go and above all avoid making any negative comments about your own art skills! Join in where you can and make it truly a whole class event.


Please let me know if you need any further resources. I’m in the process of creating three boards: drawing techniques, easy paint and print methods,  and multimedia ideas for the classroom. I will upload these to my site as soon as they are completed.



Never Mind the Bestsellers…

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…Here’s the Alternative Kids’ Lit Reading List!

The Lesser Known Movers and Shakers of Children’s Literature

Summer holidays and book recommendation posts go together. To be read piles usually consist of the most recent bestsellers to come to your particular genre of choice. I could tell you about these books but the chances are you already know.

So here’s something different. A few forgotten (and free) Victorian children’s books that will rock your world because:

  • Out of the five authors featured, four are women.
  • One could arguably be described as the first author writing in a YA LGBT genre.
  • One is a comic genius whose stories are as fresh and funny as anything you’ll pick up today.
  • One defied all odds: was blinded as a child and escaped Ireland’s Great Hunger before going on to write many children’s books.
  • One was the childhood favourite of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, with both ‘using’ it to influence major parts of their most famous books.

If you’re an adult who likes children’s literature, you need to know these books. If there was a family tree for children’s literature, these guys would be the movers and shakers, there just as it was all getting going. If they’d been late 20th Century musicians, they would have been in the audience for the Sex Pistols at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall in the summer of ’76. Legends and influencers the lot of them and well worth your time.

A Sweet Girl Graduate by L.T Meade (1891)

“You are a clever girl, Prissie, and I’m going to be proud of you. I don’t hold with the present craze about women’s education. But I feel somehow that I shall be proud of you.”

Elizabeth Thomasina Meade Smith: feminist and original YA author. She wrote many books in her lifetime and can be seen as a forerunner in LGBT fiction. She was a bit of a marvel.

A Sweet Girl Graduate is right there at the start of women in higher education, sharing it as a fiction and encouraging its readers to think about this world. It’s diverse too. Protagonist Priscilla, unlike the other girls at her college, is poor and struggles to make ends meet. She is quiet, hard-working, has a “careworn” face older than her years and a “too serious mouth”. For anyone out there who rolls their eyes each time they are told yet another  YA female protagonist is extraordinarily beautiful (without knowing it of course), I give you the reassuringly normal Priscilla and her true depth of character as a square peg in a round hole.

Priscilla expects life at her all-girls’ college to be all about study, but soon discovers that forming and maintaining relationships with the other young women there is equally as time-consuming. There is a spirit of intimacy between the girls that’s been described as an early depiction of lesbian relationships. This is a brilliant read and a much-needed insight into late Victorian social history from a woman’s perspective.

Free online text with illustrations 

Holiday House by Catherine Sinclair  (1839)

If you read just one of these books, make it Holiday House.

Sinclair introduces us to Harry and Laura, the Victorian answer to Horrid Henry. They live comfortably in Edinburgh with their doting uncle and grandmother. They are stringently policed by the formidable Mrs Crabtree whose old-fashioned methods of  ruling with an iron fist hold no truck with the children or their guardians. Like Blyton’s hopeless village policemen, she doesn’t have a chance against her young opponents and goes off regularly, like a kettle left too long on the heat.

The first half of Holiday House is a chronicle of Harry and Laura’s amazingly naughty escapades that they happily never learn from. Sinclair’s voice is everything: she writes with a humour similar to the much later PG Wodehouse. Socks will be laughed off. These adventures would go down well in any Key Stage Two classroom today.

Be warned though: the second half of the book drops off into the more usual moral tale and leaves behind the pioneering style of the first half. Sinclair later spoke of regretting this move and wished she could rewrite it. My advice is read up to chapter ten and stop. Even so, this is a classic that should be more widely enjoyed today.

Free online text here.

The Cuckoo Clock by Mrs Molesworth (1877)


Griselda and the Cuckoo Inside the Clock

Mrs Molesworth was using inanimate objects to travel to magical lands long before Enid Blyton ever wrote about her wishing chair. A wonderful story from the start in which a young girl (Griselda) comes to live with elderly relatives and senses something unusual about the house. It turns out she is right in this first impression as there is magic in the air. Young Griselda finds that the cuckoo in the cuckoo clock can come to life and the clock has the power to take her to fantastic lands. A story of magic and finding new friends mixed with a nice bit of Victorian didacticism, as you would expect.

Link to free online text with illustrations

Granny’s Wonderful Chair by Frances Browne (1857)

Talking of magical chairs, here’s another. Back in 1857 Frances Browne was using this as the key form of transport in her latest book Granny’s Wonderful Chair. In it, Snowflower leaves home to travel to a fine palace where she tells her fairy stories to the lords and ladies present.

It’s a sweet book that will touch your heart and gets even more poignant when put into context. Frances Browne was a remarkable woman who was born in Donegal with no benefit of family wealth. She was blinded by smallpox as a young child but wouldn’t let this hold her back. She loved writing and particularly enjoyed the fairy stories her mother told her. Browne was forced to leave Ireland because of The Great Hunger in 1847 and when you read Granny’s Wonderful Chair you’ll most likely notice references to morality in relation to greed and hunger. This is a beautiful piece of story telling that rings through so clearly that the author might well be reading it aloud to you.

Free online text with illustrations

 The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald (1872)

Princess Irene Explores the Castle

Young Princess Irene lives a lonely life in a castle in the mountains with only her nursemaid for company. One rainy day she is forced to play inside and stumbles upon a series of strange rooms and a beautiful woman who says she is Irene’s great great grandmother. Irene’s world takes a magical turn from here as her adventures take her under the mountains and into the world of goblins, although always under the protective gaze of her newly found relative that no one else believes exists.

Ring any bells? It should do. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S Lewis and The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien were heavily influenced by it. Both authors cited The Princess and the Goblin as a favourite childhood book and a big influence on their own stories. You’ll spot even more things in common as you read. A fascinating book with the pleasing extra of having an extremely old lady in a position of agency and central to the plot. Best mentally visualised in Japanese Anime style, because it’s that wildly imaginative and distinctive.

Free online text with illustrations

Top image credited  to The National Library of Scotland, with thanks.

Paula Harrison The Darkest Dream Guest Post

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Robyn Silver: The Darkest Dream


I’m delighted to have Paula Harrison stopping by the blog today! Paula is here in celebration of the release of her new book Robyn Silver: The Darkest Dream. This is the second story in a wonderful adventure series and you can follow this link to read my review from earlier in the week.

Paula is sharing a guest post today that will give lucky readers some extra insight into her latest book.


Five random things you didn’t know about Robyn Silver: The Darkest Dream

  1. Robyn was born when the clock struck midnight which is why she can see monsters that other people can’t see. Luckily she meets two other people who were also born at midnight. Being the only one to see monsters would be pretty terrifying!
  2. The most ridiculous monster in the book is the mimicus which looks like an enormous pale jelly with eyes that can spring out on stalks from any part of its body. The mimicus can also copy people’s voices which is how it got its name.
  3. Weapons made from silver are the most effective against the monsters. But knowledge is also a powerful weapon in this story. Robyn, Nora and Aiden need to discover the truth about what’s terrorising their town and for this they have to raid an enemy’s library.
  4. Robyn has four brothers and sisters. Her sister Sammie, who is fourteen, is the person who annoys her most in the whole world.
  5. Grimdean House is where Robyn and her friends do their training. There is a Mortal Clock on the side of the tower which contains the power to awaken new monster hunters… when the clock strikes midnight

Paula Harrison

Paula Harrison is the best-selling children’s author of The Rescue Princesses series. Her books have sold over one million copies worldwide. Paula wanted to be a writer from a young age but spent many happy years as a primary school teacher first.


Thanks so much to Paula for visiting today and to Olivia at Scholastic for sending me this lovely book.

The Robyn Silver Series by Paula Harrison

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This Friday I’m lucky enough to have Paula Harrison stopping by with an exclusive guest post for fans of the Robyn Silver series. For those of you who don’t know the books already, I’ve reviewed them below and added some really brilliant links to resources to use in class. Enjoy!

Robyn Silver: The Midnight Chimes

Until last year, Robyn Silver was an ordinary ten year old girl living in an ordinary town doing ordinary everyday things. The middle child of five, Robyn was used to being a little overlooked and the greatest danger in her life was missing out on the last slice of pizza at the dinner table.

That is, as I said, until last year…

In Robyn Silver: The Midnight Chimes, released last September, Robyn’s life is transformed by the discovery that she is a Chime Child: one who through the circumstances of her birth can see monsters. And suddenly with the waking of these powers, she finds herself having to protect those around her from things they cannot see. Robyn has a choice: does she ignore this strange new world or does she become a secret hero?

Luckily for Robyn, she’s not alone. Alongside best friends and fellow Chimes Nora and Aiden, Robyn is trained by the mysterious Mr Cryptorum and (the frankly magnificent) Miss Smiting. Together they strive to keep the town safe from unseen invaders of a beastly kind.

Paula Harrison merges the fantastic with the everyday, making it tantalisingly easy for middle grade readers to let their imaginations run absolute riot. Children will be enchanted by the premise, excited by the action (there is so much here to keep kids glued to the story) and asking for more!

Robyn is far too marvellous to be contained in just one story and this July sees the plucky heroine return for another adventure:

Robyn Silver: The Darkest Dream

“Fettle cleared his throat and began reading: ‘At 12:53 on Wednesday 9th March, the Grand Master of the Clocks measured a spike in dark energy readings. This matched a similar but smaller spike last December, and after many calculations he believes that a monster of significant power is about to rise here in Wendleton.'”

Robyn’s got more experience of dealing with the vast and scary monster community this time round, and boy, is she going to need it! If Mr Fettle from the International Federation of Chimes is to be believed, something wicked is heading for the town. There are even more deliciously scary monsters to battle, but with The Federation watching every move it isn’t going to be easy.

In The Darkest Dream, we share in even more of Robyn’s world as she develops her skills as a Chime and continues to be a smart cookie and a bright and brilliant role model for readers.

Robyn Silver in Class

The Robyn Silver series are the sort of book that make children want to write as well as read, so I was delighted to find a wide range of terrific resources over on the Scholastic site to go with the Robyn Silver books. Children can use templates to draw their own wishes, make a monster compendium and complete a crossword amongst other activities. Here’s the link.

I’d also really recommend you check out Paula Harrison’s Five Writing Tips over on YouTube: link here. I love Paula’s approach and can’t wait to share it in class. It’s very accessible and Paula also shares that she uses drawing as part of the writing process: something I would love to see schools encouraging more of in lessons.


Thanks so much to Scholastic for sending me these fabulous books!


Stories & Art Should be Connected- So Why Isn’t it Happening?

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1979: top year at Stivichall Infant School, Coventry, one afternoon. My teacher asks me to do a painting of the unflinching Mrs Blue-Hat of  Shelia McCullagh’s book series One, Two, Three and Away. She’s proved too much for one of my class mates and a replacement is needed for display. Despite having my eye on Jennifer Yellow-Hat, I’m more than happy to do this. I love art and this is my chance to show I’m good at it. I complete a big, bold vision in blacks and blues on buff sugar paper. My teacher likes it and it makes the display.

Connecting Art and Stories

I so clearly remember that afternoon and what my picture looked like. Using our reading books as our inspiration was something we often did at primary school. We read and we listened to stories; we thought about them and together we talked about them. We painted and drew freely, visualising them within an A3 framework.

When I was about  nine or ten, we read The Hobbit. We were halfway through the book and the teacher asked us all to paint a scene we’d enjoyed. Mine (I recall) was of Bilbo Baggins being dangled upside-down and poked in the belly by one of the soon to be turned to stone trolls. In the background I added poster paint glints of a rising sun. Nearby were the other two trolls arguing. I’m not entirely sure it was a very accomplished piece (in fact, I’m almost entirely sure my Bilbo Baggins was for some reason a real dead ringer for Captain Caveman) but I do remember spending that whole lovely long lesson caught up in the magic of the story and trying my best to re-imagine every last detail. We loved our class readers and wanted to spend time with them and we were given the space in which to do this.

A Common Bond

Years later, I trained and worked as a secondary art teacher before I became a primary practitioner. I transferred down with anticipation of creativity without bounds and space for stories and pictures. I was told straight off that I needed to find another main subject because I wouldn’t get anywhere with art. Opportunities were few and far between for educators and pupils, I was to discover.

Although big budget projects were something most children got to experience at some point (and that was brilliant), the bread and butter of art- the drawing and painting I’d grown up with – was becoming a more and more elusive part of the curriculum. Class teachers were often not part of it at all. The bond of a teacher sharing a book with their class and being able to enrich it with art wasn’t just vanishing though, it was being swept under the carpet. It became, and still is seen as a waste of learning time with no measurable benefit.

The Primary Curriculum

A lot of us have direct experience of this. I was pulled up in a literacy lesson observation for allowing my Year Fives to illustrate their written work. I was told it wasn’t writing and had nothing to do with it. That the children would rush their writing in order to do the art. I disagreed: by illustrating, they could explore the text through use of a different language. The children had enjoyed their writing and now could explore ideas,become more proficient and enjoy contributing to a great cultural history of words and art in collaboration. They were engaged in their reflection of the written work and contributing creatively to the school environment. And yep, the bold type relates to our current national curriculum.

Means and Minds

I wished I’d said this. In reality I just nodded a lot and didn’t illustrate another extended write. Looking back though, what was implied was that children don’t like writing and that art is an excuse to not do it. This is not just a shame, but also a self-fulfilling prophecy. Children pick up on this stuff.

The primary curriculum offers many possibilities if we let it. Observe, review and revisit can easily be used in relation to enriching our class readers. With The Hobbit all those years ago as one tiny example, we were observing: observing our own relationship with the story. We were reviewing the scenes we’d listened to and choosing our own to depict. By revisiting the story and applying and expanding our own knowledge and abilities, we owned a world of imagination. We have curriculum guidelines now, but they are open to interpretation and can allow us to adapt them to our own children’s needs. We have the means and the minds to justify what we do.

A Thousand Genius Lesson Ideas

Last week I asked my Year Six class how they would want to respond to a book if they could choose a way. Overwhelmingly, they wanted to draw. They wanted to do art about their books in wonderful and imaginative ways. They wanted to picture their favourite book character at different points in their lives: imagine a teenage Dumbledore or Matilda as an old lady. How cool is that? They just wanted to draw with thought and then see it on the wall afterwards. They had a thousand genius lessons at their fingertips that they’d always wanted to experience.

Children haven’t changed. They want to be read to and they want to draw about it. Regularly. Not in ‘Golden Time’. Not during wet break. With value and worth attached. As teachers and leaders, we ‘re working so hard to encourage reading for pleasure, to move away from reading as an assessed task or even worse a punishment. With art, and in particular drawing and painting, we need to do a really different job: step back from art as a treat or reward and lose the given ‘hobby’ tag. Bring art and literature back together and let them meet in the middle.

Making Art and Stories Happen

As an enthusiastic amateur artist and long-time promoter of reading for pleasure, I’m going to be doing my best to champion this and encourage more art back into the primary classroom in connection with the brilliant books you’re all reading to your classes. Nothing expensive or hard to resource, but relevant though, and hopefully also  enjoyable, valuable, reflective, individual, inspiring and memorable. I’ll be looking at the amazing children’s books I’ve reviewed and giving you art plans you can bring to your teaching. Please let me know of any books you’d like me to focus on as a priority and I’d be more than happy to do that. Let’s reconnect art and stories in the primary classroom.