Wrigglers, wanderers, stampers and shy children... reading different stories to different listeners

Published on: 29 October 2020

Here's to the wriggly children, the wander-offers, the join-inners and the shy ones! Jane Porter and Maisie Paradise Shearring have won the Little Rebels Award 2020 with their book The Boy Who Loved Everyone. They share their book recommendations for children who listen to stories in all sorts of ways...

Illustration from The Boy Who Loved Everyone by Jane Porter and Maisie Paradise Shearring

Jane Porter: Winning the Little Rebels Award 2020 has made me and Maisie Paradise Shearring so proud. We are both quiet rebels at heart, and we’re very happy that our book, The Boy Who Loved Everyone, is helping with the simple radical act of spreading love through the world.

The story was inspired by my weekly visits to a local nursery, which sadly are still on hold because of Covid-19. There’s one thing I have REALLY missed in 2020 – and that’s reading stories out loud to children. I hope to get back to my visits soon, but in the meantime I’ve enjoyed thinking about some of the books the group particularly responded to – and some new ones that I just KNOW they’re going to love once I’m able to go back in and read to them again.

Children listen to stories in all sorts of different ways – some sit quietly, some like to listen while they’re moving around. Some like to join in loudly – others put their hands over their ears because the noise is too much! So here are my and Maisie Paradise Shearring’s storytime recommendations for ALL sorts of children…

For wriggly children...

Jane: There’s a lot of wriggling in Alphonse, There Is Mud On The Ceiling by Daisy Hirst – not to mention a bit of squiggling too. And a squirrel called Squilliam. As well as being absolutely hilarious, this book has lots of opportunities for lively children to join in with wriggling, as well as some ‘Raars’ and ‘Yaroos’. I also love the fact that it’s set in a flat, and the big adventure is camping on the balcony.

For children who are shy about joining in…

Jane: Band Together by Chloe Douglass is the sweetest story about a shy, guitar-playing duck whose quiet existence is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of a band in a broken-down van. Duck is torn between wanting to join in and not quite being able to make the leap – something I often felt as a child. After some hesitation, Duck plucks up the courage to go onstage with his new friends.

Maisie: I think Carson Ellis' book Home is an amazing book which encourages the reader to consider what home is and who might belong/live in each home. It is a mix of homes, some very real, but also some that are more magical - one on the moon and in a shoe! The book begins by introducing the reader to who lives in each home, but continues by asking questions of the reader, "who in the world lives here, and why?" This gives children the opportunity to imagine the inhabitant, and if they like, they can share their ideas too. It's a book that encourages joining in, but in a quiet way!

…and for children who can’t WAIT to join in

Jane: Nothing beats a story with a catchy refrain – most children LOVE to join in with shouting these out. Of all the books I have read at nursery over the years, one of the biggest hits has been I Am Not An Elephant by Karl Newson, and its predecessor I Am Not A Tiger. Both of these ended with cries of ‘again, again!’, and have the gift of allowing the child to feel clever, while having a lot of fun joining in. 

Illustration by Kate AlizadehIllustration by Kate Alizadeh

For stampy children who want to do the actions, not just sit and listen

Maisie: Clap, Clap by Madalena Matoso: I love Madalena Matoso's work. This one is a counting book where each page is a sound. The sounds are more unusual than some sound-based books - for example there's the sound of a butterfly’s wings, someone lifting weights and an accordion. I think it encourages children to think about the everyday sounds around them. Also, what is especially great is that the book as an object itself can be used in a very active way. My favourite page is the cheese toastie maker sizzling away, where you can close the book to toast the sandwich! Brilliantly designed, with bright bold colours and plenty of white space, it's a really great book to read with a group of children where everyone can join in and see all the details. 

For children that wander off when you're reading

Maisie: Hilda and the Runaway Baby by Daisy Hirst is about a curious baby who notices things around him and is always wandering off! In the story the baby ends up meeting Hilda, a very large and helpful red pig. I won't give away the whole plot, but I hope the children wandering away will see themselves in the runaway baby. The story has a really strong read aloud quality, I think Daisy is a brilliant writer! The illustrations are really funny, there are some great big scenes with lots of extra things to spot. 

For children with BIG ambitions

Jane: Astro Girl by Ken Wilson-Max is a wonderful picture book for encouraging children to believe they can do anything. It’s a beautifully tender portrait of a father-daughter relationship, with lots of playful games and activities to share – and an empowering ending when it turns out that Mum is a real-life astronaut.

For children who like to identify with the characters

Jane: I’ve noticed that children often really like to identify – sometimes really very strongly and passionately - with a particular character in a story. This could of course apply to thousands of stories, but one that particularly provoked this reaction at nursery was The Cow Who Climbed A Tree by Gemma Merino – this drawing from my diary shows how (I particularly liked ‘I’m a branch on the tree’)! It’s also a terrific story about believing in yourself, no matter what anyone says.

 A page from Jane Porter's diary showing her reading 'The Cow Who Climbed A Tree'

A page from Jane Porter's diary showing her reading 'The Cow Who Climbed A Tree'

For children that tell everyone they love them

Jane: I can’t not mention The Boy Who Loved Everyone, can I? This story was inspired by a real boy at the nursery I visit. It started to take shape when I noticed the different effect his words had on different people, big and small. Maisie Paradise Shearring came to the nursery to make sketches for the illustrations, and when I first showed them to the children, they LOVED seeing all the wonderful tiny details that were so familiar to them. It’s made me and Maisie very happy to hear that it’s a favourite book for lots of children all over the country, and that they too are enjoying all those real-life details.

Thankyou to everyone involved in the Little Rebels award, and we’d also like to recommend ALL the other books on the shortlist!

The Boy Who Loved Everyone by Jane Porter and Maisie Paradise Shearring

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