We all know that developing a reading habit early on in life brings enormous benefits. Equally, children who don’t have books in their world will be at a great disadvantage as they get older.
I’ve always admired the incredible work BookTrust does in its aim to get every single child reading, so when I was asked to take on the role of Writer-Illustrator in Residence, it seemed like a wonderful opportunity to be involved actively in the organisation’s mission.
Being an illustrator first and foremost, I was keen to use my time with BookTrust to celebrate the vital role illustrations play in helping children become readers.
We read images long before we decode words, as a rule, and I’m fascinated by the intense connection that young children can have with imagery. So much so, that certain book illustrations encountered as an infant will never be forgotten.
By looking in detail at some great titles, talking about the way illustrators go about their work, suggesting fun ways to share picture books, and holding drawalongs for children and adults alike, my goals were to draw attention to just how rewarding and enjoyable it can be to engage with illustration, and to encourage everyone to read more picture books, naturally!
There are so many brilliant ways that picture books can be used in early years settings. My ‘Shark in the Park’ books, in particular, seem to lend themselves to loads of related activities.
They have simple rhyming texts that are very easy for children to grasp and join in with, so there is always a lot of verbal interaction during a reading session.
And there’s a certain amount of guessing to do as regards what will happen in the stories, which keeps the children involved.
The boy in the stories has a telescope through which he looks in various directions: left, right, up, down and so on. It’s great to have the children mimic his actions, with an imaginary telescope, or even better, with one that they’ve made themselves.
This is very often followed up with a ‘shark in the park’ hunt in the playground, or a trip to an actual park nearby, where little paper or card sharks will have been dotted around for the children to discover for themselves.
Or they might make a list of a certain number of other interesting things that they spot through their telescopes.
I’m sure that, with a little thought, similarly enjoyable activities can be extracted from most good picture books.
I think the key is to take a book with uncomplicated, easily decipherable imagery that the children can relate to, and of course, a story that will engage and hold the children’s interest.
By the end of my time in this role with BookTrust, I will be happy if I have opened some eyes to the vital role picture books have to play in child development.
The work illustrators do is sometimes taken for granted. I hope to have given an insight into the thought and care that goes into creating images in children’s books - pictures that might stay with you a lifetime.
It will be terrific if I’ve been able to encourage children with their own picture-making via my drawalongs, and a bonus if I’ve inspired some adults to pick up a pencil again and have a go too, because drawing is for everyone.
Above all, I’m hoping I will have led a parent or carer who might have hesitated before, to discover for themselves what a wonderful thing it is to share a picture book with a child.
Nick Sharratt is an illustrator, author, and outgoing Writer-Illustrator in Residence at BookTrust. Nick’s blogs and videos will be up on BookTrust’s website (booktrust.org.uk) permanently, as a resource for anyone to access, alongside those of other writers and illustrators in residence.
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