While the twitter trend of #childrensbookweek ended earlier this month, for us at Ransom Publishing, every week is Children’s Book Week. Two weeks since our last blog, and we are still knee deep in Lilac books, finding the best ways for each book to be used in helping children learn to read.
For those of you who may have missed our last blog entry, Lilac books are the earliest stage of the Book Band system and help children get used to the idea of narrative through illustrations alone. Lilac books contain no text aside from their titles. They are some of the most creative storybooks we have come across, and I believe this is created through a perfect balance of simplicity and complexity. Sounds easy, right? Here’s what I mean:
If you’re teaching children to follow book narratives from left to right, it should be a simple story that can be told in pictures alone. No one would expect to find Tolstoy’s War and Peace in Lilac book form. But at the same time, the illustrations need to be complex enough to provide discussion points, helping teachers and parents to test whether their child has understood the story and its characters. Lilac books also tend to have a wider message about the world, implicit in its illustrations, which can be drawn out and discussed with children.
Take, for example, my personal favourite: Footpath Flowers by JonArno Lawson (Walker Books). Its simple narrative follows a little girl who, walking with her distracted father in a city, finds flowers in unlikely places and then passes them on in random acts of kindness. The beautiful illustrations by Sydney Smith provide the story’s depth: with each flower the little girl finds, and with each act of kindness it provides, the initial black-and-white illustrations become rich with colour. This is just one example of the numerous ways this book provokes us to consider the world around us.
Without this complexity, these Lilac books wouldn’t make such an impact on adult readers as well as children. The more you stare at a Lilac book, the more the illustrations will give back. Keep an eye out for background characters who may reappear, or an illustrator’s use of facial expressions.
Overall, what we have learnt about Lilac books is that, because they demand such creativity, no two books are the same, and it can be difficult to work out how best to use them in the classroom. For this reason, we are working hard to put together detailed teacher’s notes, to help focus guided reading on what we think are the best parts of each individual Lilac book.
These lilac books will also soon be available to order as a book-banded pack, complete with complementary guided reading notes.
Image from Footpath Flowers by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith (Walker Books)