OK fess up, are you reading children’s fiction?

J._K._Rowling_at_the_White_House_2010-04-05_9Re-blogging from the website for my new children’s book:

“To even out the ratio children would have to be getting through a whopping nine books for every one book read by an adult. Someone, somewhere, is reading a lot of kids fiction…” read more here:

OK fess up, are you reading children’s fiction?.

Unusual and Interesting Books

vintage syle photograph book shelvesReading is ‘in’ now, in a way that it just wasn’t when I was a kid. Primarily thanks to Harry Potter, there’s now a huge portion of the population of kids reading regularly. As a result there are some writers/book series that have become famous, to the extent that it can be difficult to track down something that an avid reader won’t have heard of. With this in mind I thought I’d put together a wee selection of the less well known, but no less brilliant, books that we stock here at Fun Junction, there’s a fair age-range here so please take the time to scroll to the end of this post. Quick disclaimer: our Perth shop has a smaller book section than our Crieff shop so some of these titles might not always be in stock through in Perth (where web orders are processed), we’ll do our best though.

So without further ado here’s the list (in no particular order):

strange case of origami yoda‘The Strange Case of Origami Yoda’ by Tom Angleberger: This is the first in a series of books about a boy called Dwight, who has a little trouble making friends and who makes an origami Yoda finger puppet that hands out (surprisingly accurate) advice to his class-mates. This helps him develop friendships and build a circle of friends. It’s a great story overall but will go down especially well with kids who relate Dwight’s struggles (that’ll be a lot of kids, we all worry about making friends at some point). The books in this series are also designed to be really readable with heaps of illustrations and doodles to liven up the pages for children who might ordinarily struggle a bit keeping their attention up with ‘normal’ chapter books. You can grab a copy over here.

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Man On in The Moon Simon Bartram Bob Bill ‘Man on the moon: A day in the life of Bob’ (by Simon Bartram): This book is another start to a series of books. Here we meet Bob who goes to the moon every day to keep it tidy for the tourists yet seems oblivious to the alien goings-on all around him. This is a great book for observation games and is just generally a lot of fun. Bartram has been pretty busy and has written a bundle of books with a similar whimsical look and feel which I’ll add to our web-site at a later date. In the mean time you can pick up a copy of ‘Man on the Moon’ here.

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Traction man is here‘Traction Man Is Here’ (by Mini Grey): This is another whimsical and unusual picture book which has spurred on a resulting series of books. The main character is ‘Traction Man’ a super-hero-slash-action-man (toy) who gets into all kinds of unusual adventures in a way that would be similar to toy story if the style weren’t so different. There’s something comfortable and homely yet adventurous and exciting about the traction man stories that will definitely have kids coming back for more. I’ll get more Traction Man titles on our web site soon but you can get hold of a copy of ‘Traction Man is Here’ over here right now.

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jake-7048‘Jake’s Bones’ (by Jake McGowan-Lowe): This is a brilliant book based on the blog of a twelve year-old naturalist and bone collector called Jake McGowan-Lowe. I came across this book when Jake did a talk about his book at our local library, my eldest son (he’s 5) loved it and has been raking under bushes for bones every time we’ve gone for a walk since. Jake seems genuinely passionate about his subject and this passion is clear to see in his book. And come on, how many twelve-year-olds have you heard of that are published authors? Here’s his twitter account, if you’re looking for help identifying a bone (he’s a very helpful young lad and my son Logan has already been clued in on the anatomy of a rabbit hip bone thanks to Jake’s twitter). I’ve added Jake’s book to our web site if you’re looking for a copy.

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madame Pamplemousse incredible edibles‘Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles’ (by Rupert Kingfisher): This is another book that starts a series, in Rupert Kingfisher’s Madame Pamplemousse collection children will encounter many magical and peculiar adventures. In ‘…Incredible Edibles’ we meet Madeline who stumbles across the strangest little food shop you could ever imagine all prepared by Madame Pamplemousse, ingredients include T-Rex tongues, Great Squid Tentacle in Jasmine-Scented Jelly, Scorpion Tails in Smoked Garlic Oil and Pterodactyl Bacon. These books have a slight Roald Dahl feel with a French twist and are guaranteed to entertain any child. Here’s the link if you’d like to buy a copy just now (I’ll get more of the series added onto the web-site soon).

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I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You Ally Carter‘I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You’ (Book 1 of the ‘Gallagher Girls’ series of spy academy books by Ally Carter): This next one is for older children/teens and it brings something quite different to the table. The Gallagher academy may claim to be a school for geniuses but all is not what it seems; for starters they get advanced martial arts in PE and extra credit for cracking CIA codes, the Gallagher academy is a school for spies. But what does a trainee spy do when she meets a boy she likes, all her training will be put to the test as she faces the difficulties of having a ‘normal’ relationship with a boy can never know the truth about her or her school. This is teen fiction with a very distinctive spin on it and is likely to appeal especially to girls who are a little tired of the typical high-school romance books that they’ll have encountered. As with the other book series mentioned I’ll add more of the Gallagher Girls series soon but for the time being you can get hold of a copy of book 1 by clicking on this link.

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That’s just a small sample of the kind of books we try to keep in stock at Fun Junction, to be honest we have a lot of fun picking out new titles and we never really pay much attention to ‘top trending titles’ mentioned by our suppliers. We try to keep things fresh and interesting. I hope you got something out of this list and I’m always on the lookout for new titles to get into the shop so if there are any unusual/different books that have really stood out to you please let me know in the comments below (or over on twitter). As always thanks for reading, Cheers, John

How to sound like: Eeyore

eyore donkey winnie the pooh voice disneyOn the request of Marrianne, this week I’ll be going over Eeyore’s voice. Consider this fair warning, Eeyore’s voice is deep so you’ll have to get in touch with the lower parts of your vocal register. OK so without further ado lets start.

The first thing to point out is that Eeyore’s accent differs from Tigger and Pooh’s. Winnie the Pooh has a kind of transatlantic accent whilst Tigger’s voice just sounds like almost an accentless American (if that makes sense), albeit with a pile of lisps and growls thrown in. Eeyore on the other hand has a very obvious southern American accent (think Foghorn Leghorn the rooster, without the ‘Ah Say…Ah say…’). To get to something approximating Eeyore you simply take this accent and drop it as low in tone as you can get.

Once you’ve got there the next step is to get the pacing right. Typically Eeyore’s voice goes up in the middle of a sentence, it’s almost as though something cheerful is about to happen, only for him to drop back down again to a kind of wallowing tone. Overall this should set you in good stead and get you sounding a lot like everyone’s favourite melancholic donkey. The only extra thing I can think to add is Eeyore’s common phrases: “It figures…”, “Thanks for noticin’ me”, “…which I doubt.” (usually preceded by something cheerful) and “Ohhhhkaaaayy”.

Finally here’s a wee exercise to try out your Eeyore voice. He rarely gets long stretches of dialogue so to save you from having to jump between voices too much I’ve picked a few Eeyore quotes to have a go at (I found these over at winnie-pooh.org :

Eeyore: “I’m not asking anybody…I’m just telling everybody. We can look for the North Pole, or we can play ‘Here we go gathering Nuts in May’ with the end part of an ants’ nest. It’s all the same to me.”

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Eeyore: “Good morning, Pooh Bear…If it is a good morning…Which I doubt.”

Pooh: “Why, what’s the matter?”

Eeyore: “Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.”

Pooh: “Can’t all what?”

Eeyore: “Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.”

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Rabbit: “Eeyore, what are you doing there?”

Eeyore: “I’ll give you three guesses, Rabbit. Digging holes in the ground? Wrong. Leaping from branch to branch of a young oak tree? Wrong. Waiting for somebody to help me out of the river? Right. Give Rabbit time, and he’ll always get the answer.”

Pooh: But, Eeyore…what can we – I mean, how shall we – do you think if we -“

Eeyore: “Yes…One of those would be just the thing. Thank you, Pooh.”

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Hope you are enjoying these, I’d love to hear how people are getting on, just pop a comment in the box bellow. Thanks for reading/listening, Cheers, John

eeyore winnie the pooh piglet tigget rabbit toy figures

Here’s Eeyore looking uncharacteristically perky with some of his friends, you can buy the figure here and practice your Eeyore voice

UPDATE 13.02.14 : My ‘How to sound like’ posts are getting a lot of interest and it occurred to me that people might like a message recorded by Pooh, Tigger or Eeyore (can do Rabbit and Owl too if asked). If you’d like this message me on twitter and I’ll see what I can do 🙂

How to sound like: Winnie the pooh

winnie the pooh standing and smilingIn light of my previous posts ‘How to play‘ and ‘5 Hints for Telling a Good Story‘ I thought I might go through some of my favourite character voices for you to try out at home. I know I said in ‘How to play’ that you shouldn’t choose a character that your child knows well but there’s nothing wrong with experimenting a bit. Just remember not to use it too often, especially if you get really good at it, because you could end up spending the foreseeable future as Winnie the Pooh .

OK lets get started, first of all try the giggle; Pooh’s giggle is very distinctive and it’s a signature sound that instantly helps you to sound more like him. Even if you speak in a vaguely transatlantic accent (a kind of Americanised English or Anglicised American accent) and do this giggle it’ll help you sound like him. It takes the form of a kind of breathy ‘hoe hoo’ with your tongue slightly raised at the back of your throat and a tightening of the muscles at the back.

The same ‘hoe’ sound can be used before ‘bother’ but this time you deepen the tone at the ‘o’ and then make a kind of grumbling sound as you say ‘bother’. In fact if you use the same breathy element to the first word of anything you say it should get you well on your way to sounding like Pooh.

The next thing to remember is that Pooh doesn’t rush his speech, he takes lots of breaks as he goes through a sentence. Some of these breaks are simply a holding-on to the sound of a word but sometimes there’s a genuine pause in which you’ll occasionally hear a sort of lip-smacking sound. An easy way to work this one into speech is to just imagine that you’re eating something sticky, perhaps sucking on a couple of toffees.

Lastly don’t forget to vary your pitch, Pooh seems to vary his unpredictably so I wouldn’t worry too much about anything specific, just keep it fairly low and jump it up and down every now and then to keep it interesting.

That’s about it, if it helps let me know. I’m also open to requests. If it’s a voice I can do I’ll put together a wee guide like this one. As always thanks for reading, and feel free to add any comments in the box below. Cheers, John

winnie the pooh tigger eeyore piglet rabbit toys

Pictured here are toy figures from Bullyland, you can pick some up here and practice your Pooh voice

UPDATE 13.02.14 : My ‘How to sound like’ posts are getting a lot of interest and it occurred to me that people might like a message recorded by Pooh, Tigger or Eeyore (can do Rabbit and Owl too if asked). If you’d like this message me on twitter and I’ll see what I can do 🙂

jack-reusen-cover-front2ONE LAST THING: I’m also a children’s author. The Jack Reusen series is about a boy who accidentally tears holes between his world and a magical one called ‘Fey’. A host of weird creatures make their way into Jack’s world, along with them comes a girl who can turn into a polar bear. Despite her fearsome power she’s lost, scared and alone and seeks Jack out to help her find her way home. In the process of trying to undo the damage he has done Jack discovers that more sinister forces are interested in Jack’s world too, will Jack be able to close up the breaches between worlds in time? Please, please take a look at the official site if you have the time (I’d really appreciate it).

5 Hints for Telling a Good Story

how to read to childrenFancy finding a way of having more fun reading stories to your kids? I read stories to my kids regularly, at least one a night and often more than that but apparently a lot of parents don’t do this (if Disney’s survey statistics are to believed I’m actually in the minority). I wrote about this issue in a blog post a few months ago so if you pop over to that you’ll see all the details and statistics, not to mention several arguments explaining the benefits of reading to your children (here’s the link). Given that I’ve already said my piece about the positive aspects of reading I thought today’s post could work as a guide to helping you and your kids enjoy the time you spend reading with them. You probably already do most of what follows but if you are unfamiliar with reading to you kids then hopefully this list can go some way to making it a much more enjoyable experience:

1) First off, think about the books you’re going to be reading. You shouldn’t read stories to your children that you yourself find boring or tedious. In fact your boredom will effect the way you read, leading to a boring and tedious delivery that your kids will tire of quickly. In short a book you don’t like will become a book none of you likes. Instead pick something you can get excited about, the excitement in your voice will catch attention and make the story instantly more engaging.

2) Drop any fear you have of being seen as ‘silly’, you’re a parent so that ship has already sailed; you have years ahead of you filled with your kids seeing you as out-of-touch, embarrassing or ridiculous, so give up any notion that you can still be ‘cool’ (at least in their eyes) and just get on with it. What you can be is fun, engaging and entertaining. Some of this leads on from 1, and it’s extremely important. You’ll need to give up to silliness if you want reading to become a shared (and enjoyable) activity. This saves it from becoming a chore which sees you spending your whole time just wrestling to get your kids to sit and listen.

3) Learn how to change your voice, even if only a little. From my experience most stories seem to have at most about 4 or 5 main speaking characters (though there are obviously a few exceptions). Keeping this in mind try and figure out some way of making four or five voices which are distinct from each other and your normal speaking voice (since you’ll be narrating in that). If you’re not good at imitating accents don’t do accents, it’ll just distract you, just change the tone and find different ways of talking by graduating between your ‘telephone voice’ and your more relaxed everyday accent.

4) Move your body and make eye contact with your kids. It’s not too hard to remember a few words in a row that you’ve just read. I find the simplest thing is to focus on dialogue; authors go to great lengths to keep dialogue short and snappy so it’s a great place to start breaking your gaze away from the book. You can then use expression and gestures to emphasise the character you’re playing. This way even if you find it hard to alter your voice you can have a second shot at distinguishing between characters through body language.

5) Read often and develop some favourites. If your child loves a particular book go with it and instead of getting bored with the repetition use it test your memorisation skills. This is actually a simple way of developing the skills described in 3) and 4) as you’ll come to know the characters better and find subtle ways of tweeking the way you play them. Repetition will also build your confidence, making it easier for you to adapt to new stories that come along.

That’s about it, it might never get you on Jackanory (or is that cbeebies bedtime stories now?) but it should make story time a lot more fun. This list is far from exhaustive so I’d love to hear any hints or tips you have for making story time more fun. Thanks again for popping over to my blog, Cheers, John

Oh and one last thing, try to encourage your child(ren) to tell a story along with the pictures too, even if they’re not readers yet, they’ll start to see how much fun it could be to read for themselves. Just as the repetition helps you, so too will your child(ren) pick up the story and eventually make it their own. Logan went through a phase where he could recite The Graffalo word for word (he couldn’t read at that stage, he rust remembered the story). He eventually started telling the story without the pictures in the book to help him. I’m not sure if there are any studies to support this but certainly from personal experience, reading to your children has a massive impact on their ability to retain text and recognise variation in tone at a very young age. Both pretty handy skills.

Reading to your kids (apparently less than 30% of us do it)

Some of the boys' favouritesAccording to Disney, in the UK, less than 1/3 of us read to our kids every day. Even if this number were 50% I’d be a bit shocked. Of course I can see how this comes about, and I’m not going to admonish those parents who aren’t reading to their kids every day here. We all parent in our own way and I’m not going to say that reading stories to your kids is the be-all and end-all of being a good parent, but it can be an important part of it.

I do read to my kids every night, the only times I don’t are when they’ve fallen asleep in the car after a long trip, then I just carry them up to bed but even then Logan sometimes wakes up and asks why he hasn’t had his story. I also read to them whenever they ask me to, Alexander (he’s 2) often brings me a book and jumps up on my knee expectantly. It’s normal for me because I was read to in a similar way as a kid, my parents had fun reading, getting really involved in stories and by doing so they got me involved in them too. As a result I enjoy reading a lot, learning to read was like getting the keys to thousands of new worlds full of adventure, mystery and magic and I think this is had a big part to play in the grades I got in school.

the boy who livedI think that an enjoyment of reading can lead to higher reading speed, getting really caught up in a story makes you read faster, and the more times you get caught up in this way the faster you’ll get, it’s like mental exercise. The thing is you’ll then read everything fast because you’ve developed your reading speed to be faster. I think that higher reading speed can be a major factor in whether a child will actually do their homework. Just think about it, if you know that your homework typically takes you about 3 hours a night why would you bother? You’ve spent all day at school, had your tea and now you’ve to spend your whole evening doing homework. It’s just not going to happen, and if it does it’s unfair on the child: we wouldn’t get right back into our work for 3 hours after tea, why should our kids? Kids need a chance to play and see their friends and, you know, be kids. If, however, you read quickly then homework could be an hour (or less) a night, which is much easier to fit in.

When I was a kid my friends consisted of fast readers and kids who just didn’t do homework. For those of us who were fast readers we managed to have social lives etc. whilst still getting our homework done and I think that it benefited us a lot. Reading well and reading fast lets kids live normal lives and still do well in school and there is little doubt that reading to children has a dramatically positive effect on a child’s literacy development, so we really help our kids out in the long-run if we sit down for 10-20 minutes a night and read them a story. Just one study (pulled from thousands that turned up on a google scholar search) which can be found here has this to say in its closing remarks:

“Findings reported in the CELLreview indicate that there is empirical support for the contention that “it is never too early to begin reading to infants and toddlers.” Age of onset of reading to very young children was associated with differences in the study participants early literacy and language development: The younger the children were read to, the better were their literacy and language skills. The sizes of effect were, however, small to medium in nearly all the analyses. The frequency of early reading onset also was related to the literacy and language outcomes, albeit not as strongly as the age of onset of reading.” (Dunst, Simkus and Hamby 2012)
poohDisney has set up a ‘Story Telling Academy‘ to help parents and children to get the most out of the experience of reading stories. The advice on the site is good but it’s the kind of advice that you’ll see replicated from many sources (teachers, developmental psychologists, those who work in language development fields, etc.). It’s not advice about how to read but instead advice about how to read in a way that catches a child’s attention. I’ve been reading Logan a story every night since he was maybe about 18months to 2 years and Alexander has been getting it since he was even younger, as he’s shared a room with Logan since he was about 1. I’m now pretty good at keeping them interested in what I’m reading, with this in mind I thought I might do a wee once a week aside post with a reading tip of the week (I’ll follow this post with one). I won’t claim that my advice will be radically different to what you’ll find on the Disney site but I’ll try and respond to questions and comments so hopefully it will give people some extra assistance (if they feel they need it).

However, I also thought it would be good to find out how many people genuinely struggle when reading to their kids, either due to time constraints or simply through lack of confidence. I’d love to hear about your experiences in reading to your kids and see if Disney’s findings are really an accurate representation of the population. After all 70% of us can’t really be skipping bed-time stories, surely?