Anatomy of a book;Children's books

27th March 1998 at 00:00
There may be more of a story than meets the eye, says Gwynneth Bailey

The next time you crack open a book for a storytelling session, look for the double yolks. There is a lot of untapped potential in the editorial features that are common to all books, not just picture books. These can inspire and delight your children as much as the text.

Teachers can make collections and comparisons of interesting jackets, endpapers (the text-free pages at the start and end of a book), title pages, dedications and blurbs, and ask the children to choose their favourites. The endpapers alone may spark off so many excited comments that it will be hard for you to begin the story. Below are some examples.

Jackets and spines

Publishers argue for months about what goes on the cover. Some are works of art.

The Big Big Sea by Martin Waddell (Walker pound;8.99, pound;4.99) has a cover by illustrator Jennifer Eachus that perfectly evokes the spirit of this bedtime story about a child's moonlit walk with her mother. The cover image, which is repeated inside with different composition and colour, captures the child's awe and wonder.

Blurbs

The blurb is the publisher's sales pitch. A successful blurb should make the child want to read on, while fairly representing the content of the book.

Jolly Roger by Colin McNaughton (Walker pound;5.99) has a tantalising build-up on the back cover that reads: "A rumbustious, piratical romp aboard the good ship The Golden Behind starring Roger, a swashbuckling nine-year-old malcontent, with a supporting cast of the dirtiest, smelliest, hairiest, scariest pirates the world has ever seen". Clever typography, evoking playbills from the Treasure Island era, also makes a contribution.

Endpapers

Some are fun, some informative; others sum up the feel of the book, and can be the starting point of discussion and written work about an unknown story, building up skills in prediction. Compare the opening and final endpapers in books such as the Katie Morag stories by Mairi Hedderwick (Bodley Head, pound;9.99, pound;4.50), which feature contrasting morning and evening maps of a Scottish island.

Dedications

Find the funniest, the saddest, the longest, the most mysterious. Leon and Bob by Simon James (Walker, pound;8.99) names 12 people - there must be another story there.

Other examples: "For Ellen and Adrienne, the mud queens"(Mrs Potter's Pig by Phyllis Root, Walker, pound;8.99, pound;4.99) "For two first-class teachers, Diana Mackay and Kate Markless" (First Class, by Rose Impey, Orchard, pound;7.99, pound;3.99) "For Annette, my best friend" (Thud! by Nick Butterworth, Collins, pound;9.99) "For Clio and Dearbhla, my two switchers" (Switchers by Kate Thompson, Bodley Head, pound;9.99) "For my wife Jane, who has always been a biggish sort of eagle" (Aquila by Andrew Norriss, Puffin, pound;3.99) "In memory of the lost children of Aberfan, 21st October 1966" (The Pied Piper by Helen Cresswell, Hodder, pound;3.50) Title pages

The examples below present more opportunities for predicting story content. Ask pupils for a story plan based on just the jacket, endpapers and title pages.

The title page of Jolly Roger (see previous page) features a giant skull-and-crossbones flag and draws us quickly into pirate territory, as do the illustrations.

Other examples: My Friend Whale by Simon James (Walker, pound;4.99) The Last Noo-Noo by Jill Murphy (Walker, pound;8.99, pound;4.99) Cap'n Teachum's Buried Treasure by Korky Paul and Peter Carter (OUP, pound;3.99) A Piece of String is a Wonderful Thing by Judy Hindley and Margaret Chamberlain (Walker Read and Wonder, pound;6.99, pound;4.99) Now read on

Don't forget to look at the publication date. Plop, the star of Jill Tomlinson's The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark (Mammoth pound;3.99), is 30 years old.

Once children learn to "read" all these features, they will easily spot the non-text elements of the story. See the classic example in Rosie's Walk by Pat Hutchins (Puffin pound;4.99): the words do not once mention the fated fox seen in the illustrations.

Gwynneth Bailey is language co-ordinator at Aldborough primary school, Norwich

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