Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Good Old Pooh

Good to see that Pooh Bear tops the list of children's favourite books as voted for by adults in a recent poll.

I did a small survey about children's reading as part of my Playwork course, its rather out of date now, but thought I would share it all the same.  It must have been written about 20 years ago!  How time flies.

The original was created on a Archimedes, so when transferring to PC charts have disappeared and I am not sure where original is, I also don't know how the formatting will display, but will have a go and see.

Children and Literature


In today's society children have many forms of entertainment.  Most children watch television and videos, play computer games, listen to music or play with expensive, technical toys.  ”Books have to compete with all these other very attractive forms of entertainment as well as older more traditional forms of play, For [our] children‘s attention and interest.•  (Bradman 1986).

This assignment aims to explore the world of children‘s books and assess their contemporary influence.  Looking at the role of literature in children‘s lives, the relationship with play and some of the psychology of reading, which books are popular and an analysis of their appeal.


A small survey of children‘s reading habits was carried out using a questionnaire (see Appendix 1).  Other information was gathered through background reading, visits to bookshops and libraries, also leaflets from book publishers.

Books became popular in the 18th Century when literacy levels increased, reading was mostly an upper to middle class pursuit.  The first children‘s picture book was published in 1647, the first book of nursery rhymes in 1744, but books were expensive and many booksellers hired them out.

The first children‘s books were educational and combined learning of letters with learning religion.  In the 17th century the first children's story books were written, but they were very serious and frightening, for example a book written by James Janeway, called A Token for Children, this was an account of the holy and exemplary lives and the deaths of young children, such books would never make the bookshops now.  In the mid 19th  century stories such as Alice in Wonderland and Wind in the Willows appeared, followed by Winnie the Pooh and Mary Poppins in the early 20th century.

Children‘s choice of books is now huge and choosing a book in the library or bookshop can be a time consuming task.  Despite all the press reports that children do not read, it seems that most children do still read for pleasure, the rise in production of children‘s books is proof of this.  It is probably true that children in contemporary society may not spend as long reading as their predecessors, they have many other forms of entertainment.

Books can be read for pleasure and relaxation or to find out information about something of interest, many children find great comfort in books.  ”Books will [also] become familiar friends in their own right if they are part of life from the start.•  (Body 1990).   Apart from the pleasure gained from books a child who reads or is read to enhances their development.  ”The child is exposed through reading, to the possibility of development of the following: the thought processes, the imagination, the intellect, vocabulary, language, social and emotional stimulation, knowledge, manual and visual perception.•  (Marshall 1988). 
Books are now available to help discuss traumatic events, such as hospital admission, death or abuse, ”These stories can help children to express fears and feelings when a sympathetic adult reads them aloud.•  (Morris 1994).  Books are available for children of all ages and provide a wealth of experiences.  ”Even books for the very young can broaden a child‘s experience and introduce her to things she has never encountered before and might not otherwise meet.•  (Bradman 1986).

Learning to read is a very important skill as the ability to read is needed for most activities in everyday life.  Reading is recognised by the National Curriculum and the Curriculum document states all children should have opportunity for ”The development of the ability to read, understand and respond to all types of writing, as well as the development of information retrieval strategies for the purposes of study.  (Cooling - see Appendix 2).  The Curriculum also recommends that children should be able to read without assistance by the age of 7.  (see Appendix 3).  Reading should be encouraged from an early age, but as with all areas of child development some children are ready earlier and progress quicker than others.   

”Learning is a relatively permanent change in behaviour as a result of experience.•  (Hardy & Heyes 1979).  Before a child is ready to read they should be able to, match pictures, match shapes, recognise the first letters of her name, and show an interest in learning letters or words.  Although children do not learn to read when they are babies, early introduction to books lays the foundations for reading.  From  a very early age babies listen to words and rhythms as people speak to them and recite nursery rhymes.  At 9 - 12 months babies will look at picture books, at 15 months they will look at a picture book with interest and at 2 to 3 years they will identify pictures.  Books help to lay the foundations of language, which a child needs to have grasped before tackling reading for themselves.  Most children begin to speak between 9 and 18 months, by the age of 2 can link two words together, progressing gradually to longer sentences by the age of 3½.

”Early or emergent reading is helped by encouraging children to understand that print has a meaning.•  (O‘Hagan & Smith 1993).  This can be done by labelling objects around the house and reading signs whilst outside.  First books need to be simple with bold pictures and little text.  As the child begins to appreciate language pictures can become more complicated and text increased.  Some children will be able to recognise words by the time they start school, others may not, but if they have been introduced to books at an early age and enjoy them, they should find the task of learning to read easier.  In schools children are usually taught to read using a reading scheme, such as Say the Sounds, Read with me or Key Words (see Appendix 4).  ”Children at seven to nine still need help and support in dealing with the technicalities of reading - coping with more complex and demanding words, more sophisticated use of punctuation and so on.•  (Body 1990).  Once a child has learned to read they will never forget.

Children will only read if books are made available to them.  Most bookshops have a children‘s department, often brightly decorated, with a selection of books for all ages, the larger the shop the better the selection.  Libraries have been around for centuries, but catered mostly for the gentry and clergymen.  Many monasteries had large libraries.  ”Children‘s libraries came onto the scene in 1878.  In 1882 The Library for Boys and Girls opened in Nottingham.•  (Guardian Education 1995).  ”During the Depression in the 1930‘s libraries were in great demand.  New branches continued to open up all over the country.  There were improvements to children‘s libraries, including the introduction of story hours, play readings, discussions and even film shows.•  (Guardian Education 1995).  The Public Libraries and Museum Act 1964 made public libraries a mandatory service to be provided by local authorities.  Most children‘s libraries hold story telling sessions and have friendly staff who are willing to give advice.  Schools have their own libraries which allow the children to borrow books for pleasure as well as the books used in class reading sessions.

The appearance of a book is very important in influencing choice, if it has a dull cover it will not be chosen.  Most children‘s books have brightly coloured covers with eye catching pictures.  If a child sees a picture of something they are interested in they will probably want to read the book to find out more.  Illustrations are also important in the presentation of a book.  Illustrations are used to; decorate the pages, enhance the text, interpret the text, increase visual perception, provide visual information, and externalise pictorially fears that cannot be expressed in words.  ”It has been suggested that 90% of what we learn is learned by sight and we tend to remember what we have seen.•  (Marshall 1988).

Children‘s literature has an effect on their play, particularly imaginary play.  Imaginary play occurs mostly between the ages of 2 and 7, just the age when children are having stories read to them and learning to read.  ”Children‘s play reflects their increasing experiences and imagination.•  (Hardy & Heyes 1979).  Many toys, such as Winnie the Pooh and Noddy evolved in books, before they were television programmes and toys.  On the other hand games, such as picture lotto can encourage reading skills, as the words are written under the picture.

As children get older they usually become interested in particular types of book, for example ghost stories, animal stories or adventure to name but a few.

In the survey carried out for this assignment children were asked about their favourite books ( for questionnaire see Appendix 1), the pie chart below summarises their answers.

Chart to show the favourite books of children aged 7 to 14, with Roald Dahl favourites broken down into titles

(Abbreviations:  George = George‘s Marvellous Medicine,  James = James and the Giant Peach,  Mr Fox = Fantastic Mr Fox,  Twits = The Twits,  Charlie = Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,  Witches = The Witches). 

Although this survey was quite small (25 children) it does appear to be quite representative of children‘s reading habits.  A recent survey of 4,000 children, conducted by The Library Association, Roald Dahl was the most popular author with his books taking the top five places.  Roald Dahl is also in the top six authors borrowed from public libraries.   ”Children of all ages seem to love Roald Dahl.•  (Bradman 1986).  This was apparent with the young children mentioning Roald Dahl as much as the older children.  Some of the older girls had progressed onto teenage fiction.  ”The appeal lies in the fact that the teenage novel has characters of a similar chronological age to the reader, in situations that both conceptually speak‘ to the minds and hearts of the teenager.•  (Marshall 1988).

”Dahl‘s stories seem objectionable to many adult readers, who find them a mixture of the glutinous and the cruel, but have an enormous and enthusiastic following among children themselves.•  (Carpenter & Pritchard 1984).  The first reason that Dahl‘s books appeal to children, is that they all involve children, (with the exception of The Twits) usually as the main character, which makes it easy to relate to.  Roald Dahl‘s stories are interesting, move quite quickly and have a humourous content, these factors hold the interest of the child.  ”In any novel , it is always the story itself that must initially appeal to readers, thereby arousing curiosity about what is going to happen next that can only be satisfied by getting to the end of the book.•  (Tucker 1981).

Following the survey I decided to read the three favourite Roald Dahl books; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Twits and The Witches.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory centres on Charlie Buckett, a child from a very poor family who are starving.  Charlie wins a ticket to visit Willy Wonkas Chocolate factory along with four spoilt children.  The other children are very greedy and naughty and all meet with accidents whilst touring the factory.  Charlie who is well behaved through out is rewarded for his good behaviour when Willy Wonka invites Charlie and his family to live in the factory and take over the running of the factory when he becomes too old.   ”The book proved to be a world best seller, but has attracted averse criticism for the supposed racism in the portrayal of the Oompa Loompas [pigmy people who work in the factory] and for the depiction of Charlies geriatric grandparents.•  (Carpenter & Pritchard 1984).  The story is a moral tale, where the poor child who has nothing is rewarded for his good and generous behaviour.  In 1964 Enid Blyton wrote ”Children‘s writers have definite responsibilities towards their young public.  For this reason they should be certain their stories have sound morals - children like them.  Right should always be right, and wrong should be wrong, the hero should be rewarded and the villain punished.•  Children enjoy the story because it is set in a sweet factory, they can relate to the characters and it is funny.

The Twits is a book a short stories about a husband and wife who play childish tricks on each other.  The couple are very ugly and are nasty to the birds and Muggle Wump monkeys.  In the end the birds and the monkeys get their own back.  Children find this book extremely funny and can describe the tricks blow by blow.  This book is written on a child's level, for a child's sense of humour.  Again there is a moral content.  The short stories cater for the child's attention span.

The Witches is a story about a boy who goes to live with his grandmother after the death of his parents.  His grandmother tells him many tales about witches who hunt down and harm children.  He actually finds himself in a conference room with all the witches in England, who give him a potion that turns him into a mouse.  Eventually, with the help of his grandmother, he gets hold of  some of the potion and slips it into the witches‘ food and turns them all into mice.  The mice are then all killed.  This story appeals as most children enjoy stories about witches.  Again it is funny to a child's sense of humour.  The moral content is obvious in the fact that the boy becomes the hero and eliminates the villains.

Although Roald Dahl‘s books follow a similar format children never tire of them.  He feeds their desire for fantasy and develops their imagination.

Literature plays a very valuable role in children‘s lives.  ”Children‘s literature is undeniably the first literary experience, where the readers experiences of what literature is, are laid down.  Books in childhood initiate children into literature.•  (Meek 1990).   The reports that children's reading is being killed by television and computers do not seem to be true, though time spent reading may have been reduced. 

Children in contemporary society have a wider choice of books than ever before, with the market still growing.  Whilst many areas are suffering the effects of the recession, children‘s book publishing is booming.

What are your favourite children's books?  Or another favourite topic of mine Children's TV.  Growing up in the 1970's was a cool time for Kids TV, well I think so anyway.


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