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“Reading is much more than the decoding of black marks upon a page; it is a quest for meaning and one which requires the reader to be an active participant.” (Cox, 1991:133)
Most children love to hear stories. There is a gradual process by which children see that there is a definite relationship between the telling of a story and the written word. Eventually the child will start to behave like a reader from the amount of stories that they have listened to over the years as they will know that there is a sequence to a story, know that illustrations contain essential information about the story and will most importantly enjoy and read a range of picture and story books as they get older. If there is a positive attitude to books from a parent or teacher then the child will develop the same attitude and will then find reading an easy progression of literacy skills.
Reading stories can not only help a child with their language and literacy skills they can also be used in other curriculum subjects such as they can be used in for example; art and design by getting the children to design pictures based on what they have read in the story, geography can be used if the story is about different countries as the teacher can then base her lessons on teaching the children about those countries which can also be linked to history as the children could be taught about the historical aspect of those countries or of the world in general.
This is all linked to curriculum documents such as the Early Years Foundation Stage 0-5, National Curriculum 5-11 and the Primary National Strategy.
In the EYFS it states children aged 40-60 months should “enjoy an increasing range of books, show an understanding of the elements of stories such as main character, sequence of events and openings, and how information can be found in non-fiction texts to answer questions about where, who, why and how.” (DfES, 2007, The Early Years Foundation Stage Curriculum Guidance, London, DfES). This shows how important stories are for children especially at this early stage in their education for their language development, writing skills and imagination.
Stories may have emotional benefits within the text which gives the children enjoyment, develops their feelings and imagination and they include themes and issues that relate closely to the children. Having relevant issues within the story it can sometimes resolve certain problems which the children might have. For example The Littlest Dinosaur by Michael Foreman confronts making friends and that being different is a good thing and we may not be good at everything but that does not make us useless like the Littlest Dinosaur felt as there will always be something we do well at. Children will relate to this and from this the teacher can then introduce a discussion on their feelings of the book and what they feel are their strengths, which gets them to open up.
“It is easy to assume that the characters we meet in books are a reflection of people in real life; they give the illusion of being so. A reader might identify with a character they recognise as being ‘just like me’.” (Gamble N & Yates S, 2008, Exploring Children’s Literature, London, Sage.)
In Alfie Gives a Hand by Shirley Hughes, children will most likely relate to Alfie in that he was nervous going to a birthday party and took with him a security blanket which most children will have at some time during their childhood and find it hard to be apart from. Therefore this story shows children that it’s okay to be nervous and having a security toy is alright but there may come a time that you need to put it down but you can still have fun without it providing an emotional benefit.
“For young children realistic fiction tends to be about everyday experience. The conflicts in these stories are often concerned with developing independence or growing up.” (Gamble & Yates, 2008: 131)
“Illustrations in children’s books are extremely important as they reinforce the text and provide important clues to enable understanding.” (Snaith M, 2007, Children’s Care Learning and Development, London, Heinemann). The illustrations in both the books I have chosen help to reinforce the story by helping to describe what the characters and settings surrounding them are like. The illustrations inside a picture book such as the two I have chosen help to build upon the child’s imagination. The text within the book can help with this too to some extent depending on particular children so by providing the children with pictures it helps those who struggle to imagine the story without, therefore benefiting them. “Picture books are not simply privileged reading for or with children. They make reading for all a distinctive kind of imaginative looking.” (Meek M, 1991)
Teachers can also use these story books to bring up issues/themes within the classroom which the children might not have experienced to give them an insight into it and answer any questions which the children may have about the certain issue/theme resulting in the children receiving another emotional benefit from the story.
Alfie Gives a Hand is written in un-intrusive third person narrative which gives the reader the opportunity to make their own opinions and judgement on the story without being told what to think. This is important in stories as an emotional benefit as the children are allowed to believe what they want and perhaps therefore confronting a relevant issue raised in the story in their own way.
Stories can also contain cultural benefits which can extend children’s knowledge and understanding of the world by giving access to different cultures, such as in the story of Pocahontas we learn about two different cultures and even though they may live differently, they are both the same, which shows children that everyone is equal and everyone should be treated equally as this is important for children to acknowledge.
“For the young reader an information story can be a bridge from existing experiences to new ones” (Gamble & Yates, 2008: 48) and Margaret Mallet writes, ‘the security of a familiar narrative framework helps consolidate knowledge gained from experience while opening up new ideas and possibilities.’ (1999: 38)
As the story of Pocahontas is based on a real life story it not only provides the children with enjoyment from what seems like a fairy tale love story it also provides them with knowledge what life was like in the time of Pocahontas and John Smith. However, it does supply the children with an image of fantasy with the fact that the tree talks to Pocahontas, which is an example of low fantasy as the majority of the story is linked to real life.
For pupils new to the country, books with cultural benefits can help them learn about traditions and values of the culture they have moved into and pupils can learn about new traditions from the new pupil. An example of this is the story Topsy and Tim Meet New Friends. Topsy and Tim learn all about Jinder and her family’s traditions, cultures and language which give children reading the book an insight to other people’s cultures.
From these stories teachers can then relate their lesson plans on the different cultures and traditions such as cooking different foods, celebrating festivals from around the world. These books have some many opportunities to teach children about other people’s lives.
“The use of narrative tests in schools for early readers has a long and honourable history. In many ways the chronological, time based ordering of events centring around characters is perhaps quite close to how we all see life. Thus, narrative texts present few disjunctions and difficulties to those coming new to reading.” (Graham & Kelly, 2008: 156)
Topsy and Tim Meet New Friends relates to this statement as by providing a story close to reality means that children will acknowledge that although Topsy and Tim are not actually real people the people they represent are and the children may know people similar or might even be in the same situation as Topsy and Tim with new neighbours.
“Realism in fiction means that everything in the story including characters, setting and plot could happen to real people living in our world. People act like people and animals behave like animals.”(Gamble and Yates, 2008: 130)
By having illustrations in this story children are given an idea of what people from other cultures wear which makes it easier for younger children to understand rather than just having the text to explain. Illustrations also explain any misconceptions children have about people from other cultures, if they can see them in a book they realise what they first thought was most probably inaccurate.
Stories also contain language benefits which develops children’s understanding of new vocabulary, they get to experience story language for example ‘Once upon a time…,’ experience narrative structure, and experience figurative language e.g. metaphor, onomatopoeia.
“Fairy tales were originally intended for adults and children. They were passed down orally to amuse and to convey cultural information that influences behaviour, such as where it is safe to travel and where it is dangerous to go. Fairy tales are found in most cultures and many derive from the oldest stories ever told. Some modern fairy tales could be included in the more recently categorised genre of ‘fantasy’.” (DCSF, No Date)
Beauty and the Beast is an example of a fairy tale which helps children to develop their story language and as Bettelheim suggests “fairy story is important because existential anxieties are taken seriously and children are offered solutions that they can understand ‘and they lived happily ever after does not fool the child into thinking eternal life is possible but helps to make reality more acceptable.’”(1988: 10)
After reading a fairy tale to children the teacher can base the learning on the structure of a fairy tale and what needs to be included. This can then lead onto the children writing their own fairy tale which enables the children to put into practice what they have learnt about this genre of story which therefore benefits their language development.
The Continuum Encyclopaedia of Children’s Literature defines fantasy as ‘a special case of fiction that breaks down one or more of the rules that govern “real” life as we ordinarily define it and so invents an altered reality that must be true to rules of its own.’ (Bernice et al, 2003, cited in Gamble & Yates, 2008: 117)
Beauty and the Beast is an example of a fantasy story as it provides the reader with a chance to escape from reality and use their imagination to explore a new world.
In fantasy the narrative structure is normally either the quest or voyage/return structure. Beauty and the Beast is an example of voyage/return as Belle and her father stumble unexpectedly into an unfamiliar surrounding but it is also relates to the quest structure as in the end it is quest for love and breaking of a spell. This provides children with an engaging storyline and exciting turn of events which they did not necessarily expect.
This story is also an example of high fantasy in that “the alternative world is entered through a portal in the primary world. This type of fantasy enables the writer to make a direct comparison between the two worlds.” (Gamble and Yates, 2008: 122) This is because although everything seems realistic before Belle enters the Beast’s castle as soon as she enters she is transported into a magical realm.
This not only gives the writer the opportunity to compare the two worlds it also gives the readers i.e. the children a chance to make their own comparisons, which could be used to enhance and improve their descriptive writing of each of the worlds and how they differ.
“Most writers are very careful with the language of their books, especially in picture books, where each word counts and is going to be read by teacher, parent or child scores of times. However you must also ensure that you have included books that offer rich images, simile, metaphor, personification and alliteration.” (Graham J & Kelly A, 2008: 94) Each Peach Pear Plum is a good example of this as it provides children with rhyme which makes the read easier for children who are not as confident and therefore the children are then able to gain confidence in reading from this genre of book. “The fact that rhyming texts strengthen appreciation of onset and rime, so important to literacy development, makes them of central importance for the struggling reader.” (Graham & Kelly, 2008: 156)
“If children are to develop their knowledge and skills in reading and studying literature, they need to have access to a wide range of texts.” (Gamble and Yates, 2008: 177)
From learning about the value of stories for children it has enabled to grasp the importance of reading to children and the many benefits certain books have and how they benefit children in different ways – not every child will respond to a book in the same way – as they all have their views and opinions.
It is therefore essential to use all different type of genres in our teaching as different genres help children in different areas of their learning and not one type is more important than another.
By providing a range of story books in our classrooms and in our planning it provides a child with more than just language and literacy development as I said at the beginning books can be used in a range of other subjects to develop the children’s learning in these areas to provide the children with a holistic approach to their learning.
By reading a wide range of texts to children and getting them to read them for themselves allows the children to experience a variety of ways books are written and stories are told. This then hopefully gets them to enjoy reading for pleasure by having at least one or two favourite genres but do not mind reading other at the same time. If children tend to read the same types of books all the time it can prevent them when it comes to writing stories as they only know of one sort which is why as teachers our aim is to encourage children to read as by providing a positive attitude to reading then the outcomes will be somewhat more effective.
References and Bibliography
- Cox, B. (1991), Cox on Cox, An English Curriculum for the 1990s, London: Hodder and Stoughton
- DCSF, The National Strategies on Fairy Tales, Available at: www.nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/102721?uc=force_uj (accessed: 24/11/09)
- DfES, (2007) The Early Years Foundation Stage, Nottingham: DfES
- DfES, (2000) National Curriculum for English, London: DfES
- Gamble N & Yates S, (2008), Exploring Children’s Literature, London: Sage
- Graham J & Kelly A, (2008), Reading under control, London: Routledge
- Mallet M, 1999, Young Researchers, London: Routledge Falmer
- Snaith M, (2007), Children’s Care Learning and Development, London: Heinemann
- Adamson, J. and Adamson, G. (1990) Topsy and Tim Meet New Friends, London: Blackie Children’s Books
- Ahlberg, A. And Ahlberg, J. (1978) Each Peach Pear Plum, London: Kestrel/Viking
- Disney W (2003), Beauty and the Beast, London: Ladybird Books Ltd
- Disney W, (1995) Pocahontas, London: Ladybird Books Ltd
- Foreman M, (2009), The Littlest Dinosaur, London: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
- Hughes S, (1996) Alfie Gives a Hand, London: Ted Smart
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