Spooky stories: Things that go bump in the night

So, it’s Halloween. The time of the year when it’s legitimate to knock on the doors of strangers and demand they hand over the goodies or risk a trick.It may not sound like it, but I do quite like Halloween. I like the focus on children, the fun and the inevitable hauls of sticky sweets and far-from healthy treats. I am though, no expert in ‘doing Halloween with style and panache’. I may just about scrape out a pumpkin and buy a few ‘funsize’ chocolate bars for those inevitable ‘after dark visitors’ but that is just about as far as my Halloween preparations and celebrations go. Charlotte, my fellow founder of Primary English was  brilliant at making any event one to remember; and her efforts for Halloween were simply ‘spooktacular’. So, today I revisit an old blog post by Charlotte where she shared her passion for spooky books.

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Look again!


A picture book with good illustrations gives a book longevity, it enables you to return again and again and revisit a familiar tale.  When did you last really look at the pictures, take another look, see something new?  Share that book with a child and they will see something you haven’t even spotted yet.  Some books just cry out to be revisited. Some books wink at the adult reader (‘See, I put that in especially for you,’ they say – see below, from Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett). 

“Picture books can be deceptive.  There may be more to them than first meets the eye.  Good picture books deal with important human issues and can convey quite complex ideas despite their economic use of words.”
Badderley & Eddershaw 1994

 When I am looking for quality picture books my first stop is always the Greenaway shortlists. The Kate Greenaway Medal was established by The Library association in 1955 and has been drawing our eye to high quality picture books ever since.  These days the medal  is awarded by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).  The shortlists for this year have just been announced.  The award itself offers exciting opportunities for children to shadow the awards, get to know the books and share their thoughts.  There is an official shadowing scheme that schools can get involved in, a safe place for groups to create their own shadowing website and share their opinions on the selected books with others.

Over on Pinterest you can find collections of our favourite books for Foundation StageKey Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 alongside themed collections of books, books about about Lost Toys for example.

 “…picture books are often given less attention than books aimed at older children…This attitude is puzzling.  Illustrations bring the text to life, and aid understanding of the story, prompting questions and responses to the tale.”

Booktrusted News 2004

5 questions to ask when looking at picture books:

1) What is your eye drawn to first in the picture?
2) Does the picture describe just what is happening in the text or does it add more information?
3) How much has the illustrator involved you in telling the story?  How much is left to your imagination?
4) What are your first impressions when you look at this page?
5) Describe how you read the images and text.  How do your eyes travel across the page?

“A picture book is text, illustrations, total design; an experience for a child.  As an art form it hinges on the interdependence of pictures and words, on the simultaneous display of two facing pages, and on the drama of the turning page.” 
Bader 1976

5 activity ideas to use with picture books:

1) Give the children one illustration from a book and ask them to think of a title.
2) What is happening outside of the picture?  Photocopy one page and get the children to extend the illustration.
3) Imagine you are in the picture – what can you see, smell, hear, touch and taste?
4) Let the children look at a page for one minute, then ask them to draw and write everything they remember.
5) Wrap a selection of books in cellophane and ask the children to predict what each one is about and sort them into groups to see if they can see patterns or themes.

More about quality illustrators can be found here.

Charlotte Reed – 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 LoveToReadToMyClass.Wordpress.com 12th October, 2012