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Bubblegum and my great aunt

...then Sally Lloyd-Jones sugared the pill by giving girls a handbag of adventures. But if pink and shiny does not appeal Michael Thorn, right, has some alternatives

I associate the early stages of reading with smog-filled London evenings and a great-aunt's living-room. We read comics together, ate toffees and even, on one occasion, had an illicit piece of bubblegum. I thought the old girl fairly batty, but she had the good sense to see that encouraging children to read was all about enticement.

Too often today the crucial early stages of learning to read are spoiled by pious strictures telling parents that they must spend exactly so many minutes a day reading a book with their child.

Children's publishers, authors and illustrators provide material for the early stages of reading so should a pink handbag not shake that bell there are plenty of others that will. A no-man's land between picture books and chapter books does not exist. When do picture books lose their appeal? Never, if Lauren Child or Anthony Browne have anything to do with it. When does a picture book become a chapter book? When Allan Ahlberg gets to work with Katharine McEwen (The Woman Who Won Things) or with Raymond Briggs (The Adventures of Bert and A Bit More Bert).

Some children will identify with visuals from their favourite TV programmes. My batty old aunt would not have batted an eyelid at starting me off with a board book from Balamory (Red Fox pound;3.99).

Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm primary, Hailsham, East Sussex

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