Reading with Down’s Syndrome

I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to interview Jilly Smithson, an incredible women who has been teaching for sixteen years as well as having worked or volunteered with people with disabilities since she was eighteen. She is now the proud mother of two children, Emily and Tom with Down’s Syndrome. You may have read her inspiring and heartfelt story in the Guardian recently (I chose to adopt two babies with Down’s Syndrome as a single mother).  It’s a story which summons the feelings of awe, disbelief, respect and admiration all rolled into one. I’ve always felt that with the right approach reading can benefit everyone and for me Jilly is the ideal person to give advice on the ways in which reading can add to the life of any child with Down’s Syndrome so I asked her a few questions to try and get a better insight into the reading time she has with her children.

At what age did you start reading to your children?

From babies – it has always been part of their bedtime routine and there have always been books around the house for them to look at when they want.

What has been the greatest challenge for you as a mum trying to support your children to read?

Emily has a visual impairment so it has been hard to get her interested in the written word. She has enlarged texts from the visual impairment team but still prefers to listen to stories read by others.

What are their favourite books and why?

Emily likes touchy feely books and stories with rhyming. She especially likes the Blue Kangaroo series of books at the moment.

Tom likes books that have actions or things that he can do as he reads, eg. lift the flap book, press the sound button.

In what ways has reading added value to your lives as a family?

It is something we do altogether as a special time before bed. It was one way in which I helped Emily to bond with Tom when he first came home.

What have you found to be the best way to keep them interested in reading?

Lots of different books that do different things – sound books, touchy feely books, lift the flap books, books with DVDs. Visits to the library, book bus etc. To be honest they’ve always been interested in books.

What do you think your children enjoy most about reading?

The individual time they get with me! Books are also an activity they can do independently so it is something that they can do for themselves.

What’s the funniest memory you’ve had so far of reading with your children?

We read The Gruffalo touch book. Tom was very young, about 10 months old. Both children explored the different textures etc then when we came to the wart on the end of his nose, it was a sticky spot on the page, Tom’s face after he touched it was a picture!

Having taught and worked with people with many types of disabilities over the years and now a mum of two children with Down’s Syndrome, what advice would you give to other parents with children with Down’s syndrome with regards to helping them to read?

Just read little and often, have books always available and remember that children with Down’s Syndrome find learning to read phonetically very difficult. We use a lot of symbols around the house – they have a picture and the word so that the children are being exposed to the written word all the time.

What would be the best message about life a children’s book could teach your children?

That it is ok to be different. The books by Todd Parr are perfect for this. They cover difficult topics in a simple way for young children and have wonderfully bright illustrations.

A huge thank you to Jilly for your input which clearly demonstrates that reading with children is not just about what’s in the book, it’s also about bonding, interacting and sharing time. Reading remains pleasurable when you remove any expectations of what levels you think should be attained or what you are told should be attained. Learning to read is a very individual journey for every child and this is no different for children with Down’s Syndrome. It is more about helping children to find the ways in which reading can add to their lives to give them that purpose and desire to read.

Resource links recommended by Jilly:

Down’s Syndrome Education International (DSE) – See and Learn Language and Reading.

Down’s Syndrome Education International (DSE) – A Reading and Language Intervention for Children with Down Syndrome.

Books mentioned by Jilly:


CLICK TO BUY My First Gruffalo: Touch-and-Feel book by Julia Donaldson (author) & Axel Scheffler (illustrator); Published: MacMillan Children’s Books.

 


Blue Kangaroo series by Emma Chichester Clark (author/illustrator); Published: Andersen Press.
CLICK TO BUY I Love You, Blue Kangaroo!

 

Books by Todd Parr; Published: Little, Brown Young Readers such as:


CLICK TO BUY It’s Okay to be Different

 


CLICK TO BUY It’s Okay To Make Mistakes

 

 


CLICK TO BUY The Feelings Book

 

 

Note: some names in this blog have been changed.

NOTE: Books for Children Blog is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to  Amazon.co.uk

Rabbits & Bunnies in Picture Books

In the run up to Easter, I’ve found some super bunny themed picture books to pop in a bag with a chocolate egg for Easter. So hop on over and take a seat to choose your favourite one from my bunny line up.


What Small Rabbit HeardSheryl Webster (author) & Tim Warnes (illustrator); Published: OUP Oxford, 2 Sept 2010.

An adorable rabbit who just wants to play. Follow Small Rabbit having fun whilst his mum is running along behind him trying to keep up and look after him.

CLICK TO BUY What Small Rabbit Heard


The Rabbits John Marsden (author) & Shaun Tan (illustrator); cover design by Tony Gilevski; Published: Lothian Children’s Books, Hodder Children’s Books, 16 Sept 2010.

A picture book aimed at older children and adults depicting the effects of colonization on the environment. Although not a cheery bedtime read and this book has attracted much debate and criticism due to the subject matter it remains an extremely relevant topic in today’s political climate. The quirky illustrations successfully add to the impact of the message.

CLICK TO BUY The Rabbits


The Rhyming RabbitJulia Donaldson (author) & Lydia Monks (illustrator); Published: MacMillan Children’s Books, 24 May 2012.

A glittering publication filled with rhyme and a gentle story of how being yourself and being different is special. To successfully distinguish between the character’s rhymes and the story the text is written in part rhyme and part prose accompanied by clear and vibrant illustrations.

CLICK TO BUY The Rhyming Rabbit


The Black RabbitPhillipa Leathers (author/illustrator); Published: Walker Books, 6 Mar 2014.

I love the contemporary illustrations in this original rabbit and wolf tale. Rabbit is afraid of his own shadow but soon finds out that his shadow is his best friend.

CLICK TO BUY The Black Rabbit


That’s Not Funny Bunny!Bethany Rose Hines (author/illustrator); Published: Top That Publishing, 18 Feb 2015.

The message this story conveys is clear. Don’t try and be something you’re not, always be yourself. The lovable characters, text repetition and soft illustrations all help to make this an easy book to remember.

CLICK TO BUY That’s Not Funny Bunny (Picture Storybooks)


Big Bad BunnyMelanie Joyce (author) & Maurizia Rubino (illustrator); Published: Igloo Books Ltd, 1 Dec 2014.

A rhyming story about a new bunny in the wood who persists at creating havoc with his loud and rude behaviour but goodwill and kindness from the other creatures prevails in the end. A sweet story with bright illustrations. Sadly the rhyme at times feels a little out of sync but the message is spot on.

CLICK TO BUY Big, Bad Bunny (Picture Flats)


Lion vs RabbitAlex Latimer (author/illustrator); Publisher: Picture Corgi, 7 Feb 2013.

A brilliant and funny story which keeps you chuckling beyond the last page. Lion is a bully. So who is brave (or tricky) enough to stop him being mean? You don’t want to beat a bully with fists or weapons so it’s a delight to see how the clever rabbit thinks differently to the other animals and ends up out smarting the lion.

CLICK TO BUY Lion vs Rabbit

I won’t rabbit on anymore (oh groan) but don’t forget to carrot rate your books with Ralfy Rabbit (book by Emily MacKenzie).

Sources: Library or private copies.

 

NOTE: Books for Children Blog is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk.

 

Top Author Tips for Encouraging Reading

Reading leads

It’s no secret that the government has stepped up its reading initiatives throughout the country over the last few years following the revelation of the UK’s shocking literacy level results and we often see many famous authors at the forefront of these promotions. Obviously authors just want more people to read so more people buy their books, I hear you cry! Well yes…..and no. Yes because they want to make a living out of something they love to do but no because a child may love to read but that doesn’t mean they will necessarily like to read their books! Authors are pushing these campaigns because each one of them is continuously experiencing the true extent of how books can add value to anyone’s life. The strong link between the love of reading and writing is irrefutable and it is often by reading that a writer is inspired to create stories, just like those that inspired the writer to read in the first place. Writing fulfills the need to communicate and share that which inspires, uplifts and excites our minds, thoughts and perspectives and every kind of literature is bulging with words waiting to be understood.

Quote Margaret Mead

Reading leads everyone along an individual path. What better way is there to assimilate information about our world other than through reading? Whether it’s via a book, comics, newspapers, emails, letters or the internet, it is still the act of reading. Books give children the opportunity to absorb information for their own use. In my world I accept dragons and fairies but boot out all the unwanted zombies!

Quote Edmund Wilson

Twins can lead identical lives but their experience and perspectives will always be different. No two people experience the world in the same way just as no two people will interpret a book in the same way. Books are packed with information of knowledge and experience which is there for us to question and challenge and contribute uniquely to our lives.  This is how books nurture individuals and most importantly ones who can think for themselves. If everyone thought the same, the world would stagnate and never progress.

Quote Neil Gaiman

So I thought I would find out what the famous children’s authors are saying about reading and have summed up some of their top tips on ways to encourage children to read – from the mouths of those who know!

J. K. ROWLING: 

“The stories we love best do live in us forever.”

Sharing the experience has to be one of the best ways to encourage reading and finding the “right” book. #PotteritForward which was initiated by the MuggleNet fan site, has only added to the addictive magic of Harry Potter. The idea behind it is to leave post-it notes for the next reader giving their own real examples of what they have gained and what they will always remember from reading Harry Potter.

JULIA DONALDSON:

“Act the stories out a little bit with your child by taking turns to do the voices.”

Read interactively with your child. Julia Donaldson advises that reading rhyming stories with repeated sound patterns will help your child to decode and enable them to enjoy repeating the parts they know off by heart.

MICHAEL MORPURGO: 

“It’s not about testing and reading schemes, but about loving stories and passing on that passion to our children.”

Read as a family for pleasure. Make books easily accessible at home to show books are not just for education but also for pleasure. Show that you as a parent are interested in stories and love reading too.

FRANK COTTRELL BOYCE: 

“The joy of a bedtime story is the key to developing a love of reading in children.”

Make time for bedtime reading. Let’s face it, children go to bed early so some of us aren’t even home from work by then but this is exactly when bedtime stories can become even more special, something to look forward to, a time with mummy or daddy and a treat. So Frank Cottrell Boyce is saying find that precious time to regularly read with your children each week.

NEIL GAIMAN:  

“Libraries are about freedom. The freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication.”

The choice is theirs. Neil Gaiman sees a library as the heart of reading for pleasure, a place where a child should be permitted to read anything they like.

NICK HORNBY: 

Tell boys books are highly inappropriate.”

Break the rules with reading. A clever approach of reverse psychology could indeed encourage many a reluctant reader to find out what they’re missing out on!

DAVID WALLIAMS: 

“Books fire children’s imaginations like nothing else.”

Get your imagination talking. On 19 Aug 2015 Nicky Morgan (education secretary) and David Walliams launched a campaign to encourage fun book clubs to be set up in schools to help children share the stories and read them together for mutual enjoyment.

MICHAEL ROSEN:

Stop focusing on decoding and testing and encourage children “to lose themselves in a good story.”

Reading is fun and not just for school. Michael Rosen focuses on the danger that too much analysing could cause a fun activity to become something quite dull.

MO WILLEMS: 

“Forget about reading being healthy. It’s not broccoli. In fact, most children’s books are lies. And the bigger the lie the better the book – as long as it’s emotionally true.”

Reading is not like vegetables! So don’t make them devour a book because it’s morally correct or sound advice. Let them devour it because it’s gives them the enjoyment of experiencing something new. Then they will make up their own mind as to whether it’s good for them or not.

CHRIS RIDDELL: 

“I’m interested in illustration in all its forms, not only in books for children but in posters, prints and performance, as a way of drawing people into books and stories.”

“I want to help and encourage every school to do more for readers: if they have nowhere to read, create a space with a few books; if they have a bookshelf, have two; if they have a reading room, aim for a library!”

Reading is more than words. Voted in as the new children’s laureate, Chris Riddell will be bringing words and pictures together and campaigning for more time and space to be allocated to reading in schools.

If you would like to help a child to read check out the charity Beanstalk.

London Storytelling Events for May Half Term

Fun 1

Looking for ideas to keep the kids out of trouble this May half term? I thought I’d sneak in an extra blog this week to pull together some suggestions of exciting storytelling events (in no particular order) for those of you in and around London.

Paper Performances: Museum of London, Docklands

Monday 25th May 2015 – a free drop in session to design your own paper theatre to bring your stories to life.

Blown Away by Rob Biddulph: Discover Children’s Story Centre, Stratford

Saturday 30th May 2015 – An author, illustrator and book signing event from the winner of the Waterstones 2015 Children’s Book Prize.

Fulham Palace Fun Day: Fulham Palace SW6

Wednesday 29th May 2015 – Family drama, storytelling and dress up sessions.

A World of Stories: Horniman Museum & Gardens, Forest Hill, SE23

Every Sunday now until 31st May 2015 – interactive story session inspired by their exhibitions. Age 5+

Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs: Southbank Centre, SE1

Wednesday 27th May and Thursday 28th May 2015 – An adaptation of the award winning book by Giles Andreae and Russell Ayto.

Sam’s Pet Temper: Paddington Library, Westminster

Thursday 28th May 2015 – Canadian author, Sangeeta Bhadra tells the story of Sam’s Pet Temper followed by a craft session for 3-10 year olds.

Adventures in Wonderland: The Vaults, Waterloo

Permanent venue – step into Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland and experience it for yourself! Ages 5+

The One Dollar Horse, Shaping Stories: The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square

Saturday 23rd May 2015 – Meet Lauren St John, children’s author of The One Dollar Horse and create your own horse-inspired tales.

The Alice Look: V & A Museum of Childhood, E2

From now until 1 November 2015 – an exhibition of rare editions to inspired fashions showing how Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland has changed, adapted and influenced many trends throughout the world.

Greenwich Book Festival: University of Greenwich, SE10

Friday 22nd May – Sunday 24th May 2015 – Many events, workshops and activities from designing your own book cover with artist Alexandra Antenopolou, meeting the award-winning children’s illustrator Axel Scheffler or Steven Butler with Dennis the Menace to a puppet adaptation of Polly Dunbar’s book Flyaway Kate. Plus so much more so follow the link above!

The Paper Dolls: Little Angel Theatre, N1

From now until Sunday 28th June 2015 – a performance based on the book written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Rebecca Cobb and the Paper Dolls Crafty Day on Friday 29th May.

Roald Dahl’s The Twits: Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square

From now until Sunday 31st May 2015 – Theatrical performance of The Twits followed by a free storytelling workshop for 8-11 year olds.

There’s some great events there so let me know how you get on.