Learn-to-read Treasure Hunts by Steve Cohen

This book is unfortunately, and ridiculously, out of print but it is sometimes possible to find a good second hand copy for just a couple of pounds. It is a brilliant book for helping to teach young children to read, interesting them in written text and rewarding them for their efforts. This book deserves to be reprinted.

The book contains 50 treasure hunts each with 3 or 4 clues printed on perforated pages ready for you to just tear out and hide around the home. The first clues contain few words with illustrations to aid comprehension and get successively more difficult with more words and fewer picture clues as your child gains confidence in reading. There is a review page at the end of each hunt to revise new words and a sticker sheet to reward your child.

The book is written for a US audience and there are minor lexical changes you might want to make. Also the book mentions items common in many people’s homes, you may find you need to rewrite some items (we don’t have a TV so I would scribble that out and write ‘radio’ for instance).

My daughter absolutely loved these hunts when she was about 4 years old and would often attempt to write her own. I loved that she was learning to read with minimal involvement from me!

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The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

This is the story of Milo, a boy who is bored of the world, who understands nothing and is interested in even less. It is his magical journey through the fantasy lands of Wisdom and Ignorance to find Rhyme and Reason. The Phantom Tollbooth is often compared to The Wizard of Oz but perhaps better compared to Alice in Wonderland in its puns and word play. Very intelligent and very funny, it is regarded as a modern American classic. It was one of my favourite books as a child, I have just finished reading it to my daughter and I still love it. At 7 she didn’t pick up on all the allusions but it just gets better with every re-reading.

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Punctuation Takes a Vacation

The punctuation marks in Mr Wight’s class feel under appreciated and decide to go on holiday (oh, okay, vacation) and the children miss them, but it’s okay because they send postcards and when they return everyone lives happily ever after!

This is a lovely book. It answers the question, ‘What’s the point of punctuation?’. Aiming to build awareness rather than lecture, it leads children to discover for themselves the role of each punctuation mark, with a quick description of their usage at the end. It’s illustrated beautifully.

I find it difficult to give age recommendations for books. My daughter (aged 7) loves it. I (aged mid 30s) love it. It’d be particularly useful for children in years 1-3ish of primary school.

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The Incredible Book Eating Boy: Oliver Jeffers

The book eating boy eats books. He devours them mouthful by mouthful. He becomes famous for consuming books but eventually he has to give up eating them and discovers reading!

This book was recommended to us when Lyra was about 4 years old. She already loved books and libraries, she loved being read to and loved looking at picture books on her own, but she couldn’t read. It annoyed her that she couldn’t read. I would read this book to her and she would laugh at the book eating boy. Then I would tell her how, as a baby, she used to chew books and I’d show her the toothmarks she’d left on some of my favourites and tell her that one day she would be able to read just like the book eating boy. A lovely book with lovely illustrations. A book that Lyra now loves to read on her own.

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If the World Were a Village

There are 6.7 billion people on this planet and when we try to talk about issues affecting people’s lives we can get lost in the numbers. But if we imagine the whole world as a village of just 100 people, it’s easier to understand.  That’s what this book does. It tells us that in this global village:

22 people speak Chinese

20 earn less than 65p a day

13 cannot read or write

only 34 always have enough to eat

25 have a TV in their homes

and much more.

The book looks at issues of education and economics, religion, languages, food distribution and energy use and puts this information in terms that are more easily understood.

An interesting factual book which will provide the basis of many discussions. Aimed at children it is in fact a book for everyone.

I’m recommending this for EFL for the rather flimsy reason that it has some nice uses of the 2nd conditional, it is not aimed at EFL and there is a lot of advanced vocabulary but with some changes it could be a useful, non-Anglo-centric, resource for more advanced conversation classes.

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Classic Myths to Read Aloud:

Why read ancient myths and legends to children? Because our culture refers to them all the time, they’ve inspired artists, poets, novelists, psychiatrists… Because in English we use words and phrases that have come from these stories e.g ‘fury’, ‘adonis’, ‘nemesis’, ‘the midas touch’, ‘the Trojan horse’, ‘the achilles’ heel’, ‘narcissism’, ‘oedipus complex’…Because they are very good stories.

There are lots of collections of Greek and Roman myths for children, you can buy illustrated versions and cartoon versions. You could read adult versions but you might find yourself hastily editing as you read. Or you could get this book which deals rather tastefully with all that sex and death, includes pronunciation guides for certain words within the text and follows each story with an afterword about the roots of English words and their origin in Greek or Latin.

It’s a lovely book.

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Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference

What difference does a comma make here: ‘Becky walked on, her head a little higher than usual’, ‘Becky walked on her head, a little higher than usual’? Look at the pictures, read the sentence aloud and listen to the difference the comma makes to intonation.

This is a good introduction to punctuation. Intended to raise awareness, it doesn’t list rules or offer exercises, it doesn’t lecture or correct. Each double page spread illustrates a sentence differently punctuated inviting readers to analyse the differences themselves. The pictures are lovely and the differences are often funny. My daughter loves this book.

 Children begin to look at punctuation in year two of primary school. It is also useful for introducing punctuation in EFL teaching.

The Stinky Cheese Man And Other Fairly Stupid Tales: Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith

We were in our favourite second-hand bookshop the other week browsing quietly, I was involved in the linguistics section when Lyra’s laughter broke the reverential silence of the store and didn’t stop. I found her between the stacks holding her tummy, laughing hysterically, holding this book.

How to describe it? It is a book of fairy tales which have broken free, the characters interacting with the narrator and each other, upsetting the book as they wander into the title page and throughout the stories. Tales you thought you knew get twisted and turned. It’s a book, I think, for children who’ve read quite a bit and know the conventions of books and what to expect. It’s a book that breaks those conventions.

I can’t guarantee that your child will experience the book with such hilarity….turns out Lyra was running a temperature and two days later developed chicken pox. But it was this book that she chose to accompany us to the hospital and now the pox has all but gone she still loves this book and it is still making her laugh.

The Reading Bug

How can you get a reluctant reader to read? What if you know nothing of the phonics they are taught in school? Paul Jennings has the answers. He’s a best selling author and teacher, and he knows what he’s talking about.