Millie’s Marvellous Hat: a multipurpose picture book

This week we take a look at a really versatile picture book that you can use across the school and for a variety of literacy units.

Millie’s Marvellous Hat

Millie’s Marvellous Hat by Satoshi Kitamura is one of the most versatile picture books  I use in the classroom. Not only is it a great story, but Kitamura has created illustrations which bring the text alive.

The plot

On her way home, Millie passes a hat shop and spots a hat that makes her head turn. This is a shop that could have featured in Mr Benn; full of hats with feathers, frills and fripperies! Now Millie, despite wanting the ‘Marvellous Hat’ with the colourful feathers, cannot afford the £599.99 price tag (perhaps she should read our thrifty blog)! The quick thinking shopkeeper offers Millie a solution by giving her ‘the most marvellous hat’ of any size, shape or colour she wishes for and so opens up a world of imagination.


Millie’s Marvellous Hat is a book that encourages the far-fetched. You can have a hat for every occasion: for the way you feel; to show who you are; to reflect what you like… It’s a great book for an assembly based around ‘it’s ok to be different’. Millie’s Marvelous Hat works across the whole school and is a great text to use with all classes on a transition day.

Great credentials

Not surprisingly Millie’s Marvellous Hat was shortlisted for the Greenaway award in 2010. Although it didn’t win, being shortlisted indicates the quality of both the text and illustrations.

Literacy units of work

If you like the sound of Millie’s Marvellous Hat then it sits with stories by significant authors and stories with familiar settings. Furthermore, because it is so imaginative, it is also an ideal text to use for analysing stories with imaginary setting It is superb for work on description and lends itself to making hats in DT. There is so much you can do with Millie’s Marvellous Hat. 

Charlotte Reed – Primary English Consultant

Versatile Picture Fiction

I love a picture book, you know this. I’m obsessed by them, I own hundreds of them, but why?

One of the most important things for me in the classroom is that I can get as much as possible from one picture fiction book because, here’s a secret,  *Checks who is looking* I’m a bit lazy. I like one book to work really hard for me so I don’t have to sort through loads. This also helps with time.  I don’t have all the time in the world to be searching for books and nor, I guess, do you.

Here are some of my top favourite books which are really versatile and could take you all term to explore fully!

Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You 
This is a superb botanical study of the creatures that feature in the Spiderwick Chronicles.  This gives a new non-narrative dimension to the stories for upper KS2 – think top trumps cards for each creature, wanted posters, reports and explanations.

Archie’s War by Marcia Williams
With the 100 year anniversary of the start of WW1 next year this picture fiction book is perfect to use in KS2.  A story in scrapbook form, this has the potential to cover every single text type you might meet during the year.  It would be the perfect basis to start children’s own scrapbooks to record key moments in their lives. With a strong link to autobiography the book has examples of letters, newspaper reports, postcards and many other text types.

The Rabbit Problem by Emily Gravett
Fancy explaining the Fibonacci sequence to small children?  This picture fiction book could help you out!  What happens when you start with two rabbits in a field?!  The book is a calendar and in every month there is something new –  and a new text type to look at.  Starting with January and one very lonely rabbit who sends an invitation for friends to come and join the party!  With brilliant links to maths, this book is a great all rounder you could use in KS1 or KS2.  There are instructions, invitations, autobiography, measurements, order forms, catalogues and many, many other types of writing.  You will discover new things every time you open it, a great investment – but buy the hardback if possible; you will see why at the end of the book.


Don’t you love it when the books do the hard work for you?  Cue me sat on the sofa, cocktail in hand…

Charlotte Reed – A Very Lazy Primary English Consultant

Picture this

The Big Draw is the world’s biggest celebration of drawing. It has grown into a month-long festival throughout October all over the UK. In this blogpost we celebrate those talented people without whom books would not be the same. 

“Yes, that’s right, children, the illustrator draws the pictures.”

How often is that heard in a primary classroom?  Is that all the illustrator does?

Here at Coventry English HQ we know there’s more to it than that. Good illustrators take words and bring them to visual life, adding their own special idiosyncrasies and quirks. We’ve chosen a few of our favourites to share with you.

Picture books transport us to worlds beyond our imagination. We love illustrators like Satoshi Kitamura, who is able to capture emotions seamlessly in colour and with pace. In Angry Arthur the whirlwind of destruction throws you across the page, while in Millie’s Marvellous Hat the riot of colour and detail invites you to sit, look, stay a while and ponder.  This is what we want in a book, one that excites emotion and gives us something to think about.

Jeannie Baker‘s books use collage to tell their tales. In Window the story of environmental change is told by looking through the same window over a period of 24 years. Written text is minimal – reserved for birthday cards on the window ledge, vehicle signs and advertising hoardings. Two narratives can be read in this text though: the story of a boy growing up and the story of an environment changing over time. In this text images reign – they tell the story, with words used only to fill in any gaps left by the images.

Christian Birmingham’s illustrations work in a more traditional illustrative manner, of supporting the role of words in telling a story. The Impressionist quality of Birmingham’s style makes his drawings ideal companions for traditional tales and children’s classics. Lavish versions of Sleeping Beauty (retold by Adele Geras) and The Snow Queen (retold by Naomi Lewis) owe much of their allure to the stunning artwork produced by Birmingham, which transports the reader to imagined worlds inhabited by witches, princesses, heroes and magic. Our blogpost To Infinity and Beyond features more on Christian Birmingham.

We love to share picture books with children, but we also know that the adult wants some entertainment too. One of our favourite illustrators is the fabulous Emily Gravett.  Her earlier books are particularly good for grown-up giggles, for example Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears. Children love the story, and adults sharing the book will feel just as entertained, as Emily inventively uses everything from the ‘nibbled’ cover to the back pages and even the publisher information to add to the story.  You have to devour every element of the book to get the most out of it, and will want to return again and again to lift flaps and unfold maps. You’ll find something new every time.

In recent years a lot of these picture books have made a long-awaited venture into KS2. Books like Flotsam by David Weisner, Varmints written by Helen Ward and illustrated by Marc Craste, and The Arrival by Shaun Tan, have introduced KS2 children to the world of the beautiful, the unexpected and the strange – visual texts to stimulate thinking and provoke writing. Children move from ‘But there are hardly any words!’ to fascination and real depth of thought.

The amount of thought that goes into an illustration will never be obvious to us readers, and that surely is a measure of its success. How long does it take to choose the right colour, composition, expression? Illustrations don’t just show the author’s narrative but can also interpret their thoughts and feelings. Just think of Michael Rosen’s Sad Book illustrated by Quentin Blake, a masterpiece of empathy. The illustrations hold your hand through the text, giving you more when you need it and leaving it blank when you don’t.

So no, they don’t just draw the pictures.

Take a look at our collections of picture books for Foundation StageKey Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 on Pinterest for lots more beautiful books.

 Originally published on 12th October, 2012

To infinity and beyond…


Ah, the mysteries of space… astronauts adventuring to the moon, giant asteroids about to crash to earth, little green men intent on invasion. Glowing planets and shimmering stars with a beauty almost beyond description. The subject of space has always captivated children’s imagination. Who hasn’t hidden behind a sofa at one point in their childhood, terrified but magnetically drawn to the terrors faced by a brave Dr. Who, and then recreated the episode in the playground the following week? Or is that just us in the English Team?

Thursday 4th October sees the start of World Space Week, an opportunity to celebrate advances in space science. It is, therefore, the perfect time to enjoy the wealth of children’s literature that fires the imagination and turns us all into little Dr Whos.

1. 5,4,3,2,1 LIFT OFF! Shaking from side to side, the astronaut hangs onto the edges of her rocket. Pulling her grazed knees in tight, silver foil crumples and glued-on yoghurt pot headlamps slide to the floor…   Climbing into a cardboard box to embark on a lunar mission is a regular event in Early Years classrooms up and down the country. Indeed, not just classrooms; the living rooms and back gardens of the nation have been transformed into lunar landscapes since the Apollo Missions of the 1960s and 1970s. Jill Murphy’s Whatever Next! captures this popular piece of imaginative play beautifully. Play before bath-time; dressing-up in a spacesuit of wellies and a colander; and the typical parental refrain of ‘Whatever next!’ in response to Baby Bear’s ‘imagined’ adventure to the moon make this a story with a familiar setting – even if it is an imagined moonscape.

2. The theme of child as lunar explorer is enjoyed again in The Way back Home by Oliver Jeffers. In this picture book a little boy ventures into space in an aeroplane. His moon landing is accidental – he runs out of petrol. He’s not alone for long, as a young Martian has an engine fault in his vehicle and he too crash lands on the moon. In a series of events reminiscent of ‘let’s pretend’, a solution is found to their shared plight and the new friends find their ‘Way Back Home’.

3. The Usborne Book of Planets – weren’t Usborne books great? They taught you all the things you wanted to find out that weren’t taught at school. Charlotte bought hers on a primary school trip to Jodrell Bank where she went to see the giant telescope and look at the planets.

4.Fast forward a few years to Charlotte’s NQT year and the desperate search for a book to use for her first ever class assembly.  The saviour? Dr Xargles Book of Earthlets. A genius book, full of the usual Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross humour with great illustrations, and when isn’t a group of Year 6 children dressed as babies hilarious?  It made for some great instructional manual writing too. Who said picture books were only for the Early Years?

5. How can we not mention Cosmic by Frank Cotterill Boyce, little known script writer of the Olympics opening ceremony and general genius. He is one of Charlotte’s current long running author crushes – has she mentioned that she has met him? (Only a few times – the rest of the team)  Cosmic is a simple comedic tale that could happen to any of us (!) and shows the power of one small lie that gets out of hand.  It’s a great book for Year 6.  On the first day of secondary school, the unusually tall 12 year old Liam is mistaken for the new teacher and so begins a hilarious series of events. We are sure the moral isn’t ‘tell a lie and you get to drive a Porsche and go to space’, but it should be, it’s good to dream and sometimes those big dreams come true!

6. The Clangers, by Oliver Postgate. It’s an old one but a good ‘un. Inspired by the space explorations of the 1960s and originating from another old favourite series of children’s books, Noggin the Nog, this BBC animated series from the early 70s featured the Clangers, a family of creatures living on a hollow planet far, far away, nourished by blue string pudding and green soup harvested from volcanoes by the Soup Dragon. Those of us old enough to remember were captivated by these strange little creatures who spoke only in whistles, meaning that you could make up your own dialogue. Cue lots of storytellng, the putting on of plays, cartoons drawn and stories written. A forerunner of Talk for Writing perhaps?

7. Rebecca’s World. Terry Nation’s classic sci-fi adventure to a forbidden planet is unique and delightfully imaginative, both in plot and setting. Many an evening was spent by English Team members in their younger days, staring at the stars and willing themselves to be transported, like Rebecca, to a more colourful world. Never has it failed to capture the imagination of the classes we’ve taught over the years. The characters are so vivid they jump off the page – a rather un-heroic superhero in a threadbare costume, a man with an endless layer of coats and the most painful feet in the world and, finally, a spy who is inept with disguises and not terribly good at spying. Together they make a great team, embarking on a mighty quest to save the last tree from extinction. This is ‘off the wall’ imagination at its best and, like all great children’s books, equally enjoyable for adults.

8. In last month’s blogpost Neil Armstrong: celebrate his legacy with a picture book we celebrated the life of this courageous adventurer and the impact he has had on our imagination by taking a look at Mark Haddon’s book The Sea of Tranquillity, beautifully illustrated by Christian Birmingham.  This beautiful picture book is an autobiographical account of Mark Haddon’s childhood – growing up as a little boy fascinated by space and the lunar missions.

What are your favourite space texts? Take a look at our space-themed Pinterest board. Even more suggestions here from Steve Cole, the author of Astrosaurs, with his top ten of space books.

Rachel Clarke – Director, Primary English Education Consultancy Limited

Originally published on LoveToReadToMyClass.Wordpress.Com 28th September, 2012 


What a difference a Dahl makes

The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives.  She went on olden day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad.  She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling.  She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.’                       Matilda, Roald Dahl

Didn’t Dahl capture in four sentences exactly why we all love reading and what we want for the children we teach? For me, growing up in a rather lovely little village reading Ballet Shoes and MalloryTowers, The Twits was a rather rude awakening into another world.  A world where I laughed out loud, was it because the rather prim and proper Miss Wigmore on reading Dahl’s The Twits to us had to say the word Twit? A lot. Or was it because it was downright funny?  What a revolting couple they were but didn’t you think deep down they deserved each other?  Dahl got what made children laugh, what made them want to read on.  Short chapters, a fast pace, quality illustrations from Quentin Blake and dirty, foul-smelling descriptions of human functions described in multi-layered detail that your teacher read to you.  Glorious.  I think it is also why I can’t to this day eat spaghetti, wriggly, squiggly, wormy spaghetti.  That’s Dahl’s legacy to me!

Charlotte Reed

‘The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.

She whips a pistol from her knickers.’

A disaffected youth turning to crime? A gritty novel set in downtown Coventry? No, just a normal, everyday event for Little Red Riding Hood – according to Roald Dahl. His comic versions of popular traditional tales, Revolting Rhymes, were written initially as a sort of joke, and were published in 1982.

The collection of six extended poems turns the sweet world of charming princes and plucky heroes on its head, and gives children what they really love – naughty, subversive, rude, laugh-out-loud stories that they think grown-ups probably wouldn’t approve of. In the world of Revolting Rhymes, an Ugly Sister has her head cut off by the Prince, Snow White devises a way to win at gambling, Goldilocks comes to a very sticky end and the Three Little Pigs are saved by a knife-wielding Red Riding Hood. Every class I have shared them with has absolutely adored them, and would ask to hear them again and again, and perform them along with me. And of course, Dahl’s use of words such as ‘knickers’ always ensured an eager audience just waiting to hear their teacher say it.

The book has become part of my teachers toolkit: something I know will never fail to amuse, enthuse and inspire children. And I can’t help but snort with laughter at:

‘It made the Ugly Sisters wince

To see her dancing with the Prince.

She held him very tight and pressed

Herself against his manly chest.’

If you want to hear the great man read Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf aloud, try the Poetry Archive site.

Julia Etheridge

Sharing was a large part of my life as a child. My sister is just 14 months younger than me and so growing up was a shared endeavour. We shared toys, books and our bedroom. After being tucked up in the evening we were allowed to read for an hour before ‘lights out’. And being a pair of book worms we never missed an opportunity to bury our noses in a good book or two.

Back in the late 1970s the ‘must have’ book for any self-respecting member of our primary school was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I remember going to town with my parents and my sister and buying Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. They were to be shared. To be owned by both of us. I’m certain though, that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was mine and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator was my sister’s (I suspect that my sister will dispute this!) Ownership aside, we loved those books – and particularly Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I have such clear memories of lying in my bed, reading Charlie and thinking myself very clever indeed for understanding what Veruca Salt and her mother found so difficult to comprehend – square sweets that look round.

“He took the key from his pocket, and unlocked the door, and flung it open … and suddenly … at the sound of the door opening, all the rows of little square sweets looked quickly round to see who was coming in. The tiny faces actually turned towards the door and stared at Mr Wonka.

‘There you are!’ he cried triumphantly. ‘They’re looking round! There’s no argument about it! They are square sweets that look round!'”

Rachel Clarke – Director, Primary English Education Consultancy Limited.

So what of today’s young readers? Well, Dahl’s books still fly off the shelves of libraries and book shops. They can be seen in classrooms across the country. Roald Dahl has influenced a new generation of anarchic children’s writers such as Andy Stanton and David Walliams.

On Thursday 13th September we celebrate Roald Dahl Day. His legacy can be felt in each of our reviews and we write with some certainty that his writing has touched you too. So, what’s your favourite Dahl?

Originally published on Love ToReadToMyClass.Wordpress.Com 7th September 2012.

Neil Armstrong: Celebrate his legacy with a picture book


At some point in every child’s primary school career they will learn about the Earth, Moon and Space. It’s a topic that excites and one that I’ve enjoyed teaching many times over the years. Alongside the science of our solar system there’s usually an opportunity to look at the exploration of space, the journeys that have taken place and the possibilities for the future. Like many other primary school teachers I’ve often combined the topic of space with biography writing, knowing that the life of Neil Armstrong inspires so many children to read and write. It comes as no surprise then at how saddened I was to hear of his passing earlier this week.

As a modern-day adventurer, Armstrong leaves an incredible legacy for children: showing how dedication, team work and bravery can lead to phenomenal results. He was a quiet man, who never exploited his celebrity, instead choosing a life of teaching and learning at the University of Cincinnati. To a generation of children (and particularly boys) growing up in the 1960s and 1970s he was a hero – an icon who shaped their play, inspired their reading and shaped their aspirations.

As one of those children touched by the achievements of the Apollo 11 team the first book that I reached for on hearing of Neil Armstrong’s death was The Sea of Tranquility by Mark Haddon, illustrated by Christian Birmingham. This beautiful picture book is an autobiographical account of Mark Haddon’s childhood – growing up as a little boy fascinated by space and the lunar missions.

Christian Birmingham’s beautiful illustrations capture the young Mark Haddon making a scrapbook called The Journey to the Moon; playing with a model space rocket; gazing out of his bedroom window at the moon. It is though, the carefully placed references in the visual text that make this book for me. On the first page Haddon is pictured wearing a blue and white striped t-shirt with a red pocket. Later in the text he is seen saluting for a photograph next to this t-shirt – now being used as a flag – as he ‘claims’ the snow-covered garden. In the same image we see an echo of the lunar landing in Haddon’s bootprints left in the snow. The t-shirt motif is used again later in the text – but where I shall leave for you to discover yourself.

Neil Armstrong has taken his last step on the Earth but his incredible journey to the moon remains an inspiration to children all over the world. He will continue to be a figure children want to read about and write biographies about. The Sea of Tranquility provides an autobiographical account showing them just how much Armstrong’s adventure to the moon inspired a generation of children who might just be their mums and dads.

Years ago there was a little boy who had the solar system on the wall” Mark Haddon

Rachel Clarke – Director, Primary English Education Consultancy Limited

Mark Haddon is best known as the author of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.”

Mark Haddon’s thoughts about The Sea of Tranquility

The Sea of Tranquility –

We have written about Christian Birmingham here.

First published 27th August, 2012.