Monday, 20 November 2017

Review: 'I Want To Go First!' by Richard Byrne

In my relentless pursuit of books I've recently started entering pretty much every competition I come across to win children's books. Recently, this effort did pay off when I won a signed copy of Richard Byrne's latest picture book, 'I Want To Go First!'

I've been reading Byrne's books for a while now, picking them up at the library every time I spot a new one, so it's great to finally have one to call my own. Er, the kids' own, I mean. I really love the way he plays with the book format - many readers will be familiar with his brilliant use of the gutter in 'This Book Just Ate My Dog!' This new title is no exception - it is gleefully meta, drawing attention to the fact it is a book and encouraging the readers to join in the story.

On the first page we are welcomed to the 'Front-Of-The-Book Nature Reserve' and we are then introduced to a family of elephants on their way to the 'Back-Of-The-Book Watering Hole'. Elphie, the smallest elephant, wants to lead the way but the rules dictate that the biggest elephant goes first. So he cleverly enlists the help of the reader to get him to the front of the line.

This is a fantastic story for reading aloud, and for encouraging interaction. With every page, Elphie asks the readers to squeak, growl, wobble the book and so on to distract his brothers and sisters so that he can jump the queue. I was a little worried how Ezra, my 1 year old, would understand the concept of the story, but I enlisted the help of my 5-year-old Eleanor who enthusiastically joined in with the noises and actions and he couldn't stop laughing at it! Hopefully the more familiar he gets with the story the more he'll understand it and start joining in.

Eleanor, as usual, read the book in her head first, and when I said it was more for reading aloud, said, "but it's funny in my head too!" She loved the fact that there was an elephant with her name, and that all the names began with E - she's very big on alliteration (she chose her brother's name!!). I don't often get to read aloud to her now she's so confident at reading to herself, so this was a fantastic chance to have a family read-together!

Does Elphie make it to the front of the line? I'll leave you to find out for yourself!

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum and Kids Love To Read #kltr hosted by Laura's Lovely Blog and The Inspiration Edit.

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Thursday, 16 November 2017

The Self-Policing Of Gendered School Uniforms

"You got your cardigan dirty yesterday so you'll need to wear your jumper today."

"But I don't want to wear my jumper! People will say I look like a boy!"

This was the conversation I had with Eleanor yesterday morning as she got ready for school. Actually, it's pretty much verbatim the conversation we have every time her cardigan is dirty.

This week the Church of England issued guidance to schools saying children should be free to dress up however they wish, not just adhering to gender 'rules'. I am so happy that the Church has taken this stance - I know some have accused them of hypocrisy given the in-fighting they've had over female clergy and LGBT issues but as far as I'm concerned any progress is good progress. The guidance acknowledges childhood as a safe space to play around with gender roles and work out what they really mean and I think that's fantastic.

The thing is, I think school staff know this on the whole, but, because of the messages surrounding them in our society, children are pretty ruthless in policing gender norms. And not just in terms of play - it's something I've noticed in terms of school uniform.

Our school does not specify particular items of uniform as being for boys or for girls.There is no reference in the policy to boys or girls at all, even when discussing the summer options of shorts or dresses, or when talking about hairstyles. (Long hair must be tied back - I was annoyed at first but then realised it's a nit thing.) I'm aware that other schools do still specify different uniforms for boys and girls so I was relieved to see our school was more forward-thinking than that.

And yet Eleanor will often say that she's had comments from other children when wearing the 'wrong' uniform for her gender. Admittedly she does tend to embellish the truth, but I believe that comments do occur, even if not as regularly as she makes out. I was expecting it when she wore trousers instead of a skirt, but since when was a jumper just for boys? And, for that matter, why are cardigans seen as just for girls? I don't think I've ever seen a boy in a school cardigan.

Then there are shoes. When she first started school there were no options for practical, hard-wearing shoes that covered the whole foot in the girls' section so she wore boys' shoes. We have to walk nearly a mile to school and live in Yorkshire, Mary-Janes won't cut it for keeping her feet warm and dry. But then she got comments, and that bothered her, so I was relieved this year to find Clarks had introduced a token pair of trainer-style shoes with scuff bars in the girls' section. They even have patent straps to 'pretty' them up a bit which was important to Eleanor. But guess what? She still says she gets comments about them being boys' shoes.

I don't really know what the answer is here. If even at a school with a non-gendered uniform list the children still decide what's for girls and what's for boys, what can we do? I'm a bit tired of parroting the same old phrases - "I wear trousers and jumpers, so they're not just for boys. They're not boys' shoes, they're your shoes. There's no such thing as clothes for girls and clothes for boys. Etc etc etc." How many more times do I have to say them before my daughter is comfortable standing up for herself on this? And why the heck should she have to?

I'm really encouraged to see progress happening in what is on offer for boys and girls to wear. I love that shops are starting to see the benefits of not dividing clothes up along gender lines for kids, and I'm happy that the growing number of parents speaking up about this are being listened to. What I wasn't expecting, perhaps few of us were, is how long it'll take for this new 'gender-neutral' ethos to trickle down to the very children who are impacted.

I'm not blaming the kids at all. The urge to find rules in everyday life and enforce them is strong in children, it helps them make sense of the world at a time when it's hard to understand nuance. And where they see patterns (of behaviour, dress etc) they will jump to rules. It just makes me realise what I'm up against. Even if all schools stop gendering uniforms, even if all shops stop dividing their clothes between boys and girls, how long will it take for this culture to fade away amongst children?

Have you come against similar issues with school uniform?

Monday, 13 November 2017

Review: 'Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans' by Jessie Miller and Barbara Bakos

This morning I woke up to news that the Archbishop of Canterbury has called on schools and nurseries to allow children to dress up how they choose, regardless of gender stereotypes. I'm really happy about this, and may write more about it later in the week. But it also reminded me of a picture book I had waiting to review.

When we received a copy of 'Pirates in Classroom 3' from Maverick Books, they also sent a copy of 'Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans'. Written by Jessie Miller and illustrated by Barbara Bakos, it is the story of a fashion-conscious rooster with a penchant for online shopping. When his new pair of skinny jeans arrives early, he can't wait to show them off to the other animals on the farm.

The other animals, however, are unimpressed and make fun of poor rooster. He hides away until he decides that he doesn't need their approval, he's happy wearing his new jeans and being himself.

I really love the message of this story. It champions the individual and encourages children to dress for themselves and find happiness within rather than looking to other people's opinions for validation. It's also a good reminder not to judge others and to accept, and even applaud, other people's differences - as the other farm animals eventually do.

It's also fantastic to read a story featuring a male character who loves fashion. While skinny jeans aren't necessarily 'girly' they are framed as a clear style choice, and the way the rooster admires them is out of the ordinary for the depiction of boys and men in books. He admires the colours and sparkly stitching, and proclaims, "my bum looks fantastic!" And at the end of the book he purchases a much more flamboyant item - I won't spoil the ending for you though! It's great to have a book celebrating a male character who steps outside the box and loves all things sartorial.

In terms of readability, the text is great - it's written in rhyming couplets which always goes down well with children. I like how there are a few little jokes in there about online shopping that no doubt will go over the kids' heads but will make the adult reader smile!

The illustrations are very bright, bold and cheerful. I particularly liked the little chicks that popped up throughout the book, adding another level of detail to spot as the book becomes more familiar. The farmyard setting is always a winner with children - I've mentioned before that Ezra loves animal-themed books and this one is no exception. He really enjoyed pointing out all the different animals and making their noises - and was very excited by the 'cock-a-doodle-doo' which he loves to emulate!

I really recommend this book. It would be great for a little boy with a sense of style, to affirm that that's OK and it's good to enjoy the clothes you wear. But really it's a story for everyone - a lesson in acceptance and in daring to be different. I don't think there's anyone who wouldn't benefit from that message!

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of the book for the purposes of this review, but all words and opinions are my own.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Monday, 6 November 2017

Review: 'Pirates in Classroom 3' by Alison Donald and Ben Whitehouse

Ezra is rather fascinated with pirates at the moment. I think it's down to catching bits of 'Swashbuckle' on TV - if he so much as sees a picture or hears the word 'pirate' he'll swing his arm and say 'arrr!' It's rather cute!

The lovely people at Maverick Books sent me some lovely books recently and I was excited to see a pirate-themed one, 'Pirates in Classroom 3' by Alison Donald and Ben Whitehouse. I knew straight away Ezra would love it!

It's a really fun story - a class of young children are one day visited by a pirate searching for treasure and go off on a little adventure with him to find the loot he's after. I love how, although the main child character is a boy, the story shows both boys and girls enthusiastically joining in with the adventure.

Eleanor got to the book before me so was the first to test it out. She really enjoyed it, said it was very funny and that her favourite bit was, "the bad pirate who said really funny things!" Being set in a classroom, it's a really good story for older preschoolers and younger school-age children who could imagine themselves going on an adventure from their own classroom.

When I read it with Ezra there was a lot of enthusiastic arrr-ing going on! As he's still quite small the story went over his head, but he absolutely loved the pictures - once we had read it, he kept turning the pages over to look at the little details in each spread. I particularly liked how expressive the faces were - even though the illustration style is quite simple, you could still spot a range of different expressions. So as Ezra pointed at the different children I could talk about their emotions - "that girl looks excited! That boy looks a bit scared."

We really enjoyed 'Pirates in Classroom 3' and definitely think it's one we'll read over and over - so I'd better improve my dodgy pirate voice!!

DISCLAIMER: I was given one copy of the book for the purposes of this review, but all words and opinions are my own. Well, apart from the ones that were my child's!

Linking up with 'Read With Me' hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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