Rhythm 'n' shoes
Picture books with rhyming texts have been a powerful teaching resource for generations, providing accessible, exciting ways into reading.
Quality texts such as Janet and Allan Ahlberg's Each Peach, Pear, Plum help children take off as readers as they learn by heart the rhythmical text and the words on the page become meaningful. To follow are some more recent rhyming books, all ravishing.
Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, creators of The Gruffalo, have produced another winner in The Snail and the Whale (Macmillan Children's Books pound;10.99). Snail has an itchy foot, and develops an unusual adventurous friendship with Whale. The illustrations and bouncy rhyming text marry together superbly, and the book reads aloud brilliantly.
Read the Aesop fable, The Lion and the Mouse, then use The Snail and the Whale as a storyboard for partner or group writing: pupils choose two unlikely travelling companions, then devise a disaster scenario to be averted by the least likely character. Perfect throughout key stage 1 and into Year 3.
In Jez Alborough's Some Dogs Do (Walker Books pound;10.99), miracles DO happen. Many small children starting school are daunted by things adults ask of them. Try reading this book with Year 1 before PE lessons, to promote discussion of fears about climbing apparatus or balancing.
A Frog in the Bog by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Joan Rankin (Simon amp; Schuster pound;9.99) has an accumulative text (from one to five and back again). This extraordinary book will bear lots of repetitive reading in Year 1 to enable matching of pictures with text. Have fun creating other rhyming couplets for Frog to eat, displaying them with children's artwork.
Tanka Tanka Skunk! by Steve Webb (Hutchinson pound;10.99) has huge child appeal and is excellent for exploring pulse and rhythm across key stage 1.
The text, mostly a rhythmic build-up of animal names, demands performance, whether to an audience or daily in the classroom! Tanka (an elephant), Skunk and friends beat out the rhythm of their names on drums, resulting in a roller-coaster of sound. The vibrant artwork gives early readers easy access to the text on solo reads. This book is useful for syllable work, but above all it's one to perform. Compare and contrast with Martin Waddell's classic, The Happy Hedgehog Band (Walker Books pound;4.99).
Judy Hindley's Do Like a Duck Does, illustrated by Ivan Bates (Walker Books pound;10.99) employs robust bouncing rhyme. The splendidly funny illustrations demand careful exploration as Fox unsuccessfully pursues the ducklings. A great read-aloud text throughout KS1, it lends itself to dramatic performance, and would motivate creative writing, changing the foxduck scenario to cat and mouse, or spider and fly.
Pants by Giles Andreae and Nick Sharratt (Picture Corgi pound;5.99) is enormous fun for readers of many ages and a multiple award winner (Red House Children's Book Award age group award and Stockport Schools Book Award this year, Kate Greenaway Medal shortlist last year). Sharratt's wacky illustrations provide picture prompts for the happily predictable rhymes ("Funny pants, money pants, Wear them when it's sunny pants").
Make a frieze for which pupils can design bold, funky pants and make descriptive labels using wordprocessing, and use it for practising ordinal as well as cardinal numbers.
New Shoes by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain (pictured) (Andersen Press pound;9.99) will enchant the child who is just catching reading. Years 1 and 2 pupils will quickly grasp the format of the text and enjoy joining in. Use it to inspire exploration of different kinds of footwear: take an old shoe apart; trace around bare feet; create footprints with paint; design footwear for parties, beach, mountaineering and make 3-D models from thin card. Display with writing about buying new shoes, and invite another class to come and see the work and listen to a class rendering of the story.
For readers of all ages and abilities, remember the Dr Seuss books, recently republished (Collins, pound;4.99 each). This unique blend of rhyme, rhythm and repetition, combined with the funniest stories, craziest creatures and zaniest pictures, helps children learn to read. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish is a marathon, but children become determined to finish it and gain a huge sense of achievement.
Rhyming texts have a special magic when read aloud. Once pupils have favourites, read them again and again. Search them, for they will provide rich contexts for cross-curricular areas as well as language work, and the daily, shared enjoyment will develop strong bonds between pupils and teacher.
Gwynneth Bailey teaches at Aldborough primary school, Norwich