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reading long books

Books + Ideas, Children — August 2020

Getting Helen started on new books can be difficult, so it's a lot easier when she reads longer ones. She read Carole Satyamurti's retelling of the Mahabharata, which is 900 pages long and took her nearly three weeks, and then launched straight into Stephen Fry's Mythos, which kept her out of mischief for six days. And now she's started on Gustav Schwab's Gods and Heroes of Ancient Greece. more

reading at seven and a half

Books + Ideas, Children — July 2020

Helen is rarely an avid reader. If she gets stuck into something she'll go through it eagerly, and she can reread books or entire series she loves, but otherwise she'll pretty much never sit down and start reading if there's playing to be done instead. Most of her reading is done in bed, before going to sleep or (in these days without school) on waking up.

The major constraint on her reading is scariness, which includes broader emotional stress - Hugh and Jonathan parting in Brother Dusty-Feet (which I had to read the last chapters of to her) was almost as bad as Pheasant being shot in The Animals of Farthing Wood (which she abandoned). Once she knows a book she's usually ok to read it again (though she's stalled at "Riddles in the Dark" in The Hobbit, which I've read to her). more

reading history

Books + Ideas, Children — March 2020

Helen complained that she wasn't doing any history. I had to break it to her that reading books on the First and Second World Wars, a historical novel set in Tudor London, and a loosely fictionalised art history survey counted as doing history, and that if she were to study history at Oxford it would actually be described as "reading history" - and probably wouldn't involve re-enactments of the Great Fire of London. more

reading at seven

Books + Ideas, Children — January 2020

The last six months have been dominated by a few series and rereading of favourite books, but have also seen Helen tackling her first really solid novels.

Books that Helen has read and reread include Alf Prøysen's Mrs Pepperpot Stories (a chance secondhand dicovery), Pamela Travers' Mary Poppins books, and Hans Magnus Enzensberger's The Number Devil. more

an Archipelago subscription

Books + Ideas — October 2019

I've been reading books published by Archipelago Books for some time, but a few months ago, in a fit of madness, I became a subscribing member, which means I get all their new books, roughly one a month. more

reading at six and a half

Books + Ideas, Children — June 2019

The last couple of months have seen an explosion not in the scope of Helen's reading but in the amount of time she spends reading. She'll almost always prefer friends or games, but she can read for an hour at a stretch in the right circumstances. (When I was in Year 1, I used to sit and read in the playground while everyone else ran around. I'm glad Helen is more sociable than that!) more

Oxford Reading Spree

Books + Ideas, Children — May 2019

I snuck into the Oxford Reading Spree, a one-day conference for teachers on books and reading, which I knew about because it was being run at my daughter's school and organised by one of the teachers there. more

favourite picturebooks

Books + Ideas, Children — April 2019

Helen is still going back and rereading them by herself, but we're slowly moving out of picturebook age and I can't see us buying many more. So now seems like a good time to offer up a list of our favourites. These are some of the ones we loved, and which we read and reread and will probably keep. They are in no particular order below, but grouped to make my commentary easier. Most of them are classics, but there are a few lesser known books and authors in there. (I will cover non-fiction in a separate post.)

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reading complexity

Books + Ideas, Children — March 2019

Learning to read is not something that ever finishes. I'm still learning new words and improving my understanding of morphology, etymology, syntax, style, and so forth. But Helen can read now, in the sense that the problems she faces reading are mostly the same ones an adult faces, albeit at higher frequency and in a different mix, rather than the basic decoding she was struggling with a year ago. more

text complexity metrics - Lexiles + ATOS book levels

Books + Ideas, Children — February 2019

There are many different metrics for measuring text complexity. The two I find most interesting are Lexiles and ATOS Book Levels, because there are online tools that give these measures for many popular children's books. (The Lexile scheme seems to have better coverage of American books and the ATOS one of British books.)

These tools should be used with caution, perhaps for comparisons of books in the same genres and styles — or working out which of an author's books it might be best to start with. They may help parents (or teachers) who are trying to vary what they offer children, perhaps supplementing graded readers, but they can't replace a librarian or an experienced teacher. Apart from any other concerns, these metrics offer no guide to quality!

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I am Ashurbanipal

Books + Ideas — February 2019

While Camilla was doing a choir conducting course, Helen and I went to a fantastic Ashurbanipal exhibition at the British Museum. For a while I was afraid she was going to insist on reading every word on every board and caption. Eventually she got tired and let me read them to her instead, but we were there until the exhibition closed and she must have read almost half the text in it.

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Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
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even in hunting scenes, Ashurbanipal is depicted with a stylus in his belt; he was proud of being able to read and write Akkadian and Sumerian

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don't make your child read

Books + Ideas, Children — October 2018

If your school tells you your child is supposed to read to you four times a week, but they don't want to do that or don't like doing that, don't make them read. more

reading at 5¾

Books + Ideas, Children — October 2018

I got a new kindle for my birthday, so I deleted everything off the old one except the children's books, renamed it, and voila! Helen now has a kindle. And she read her first book on it - Roald Dahl's The Twits - pretty much in one sitting. more

graded readers

Books + Ideas, Children — July 2018

Helen's school uses Oxford Reading Tree graded readers, as do apparently 80% of English schools. ("Nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM.") I mostly ignored these when she brought them home, since she was happy to read them at school and we had more interesting things to read, so I missed the clear "Stage N" on the back covers and it was a while before I realised these were graded into quite narrow bands. more

reading at five and a half

Books + Ideas, Children — July 2018

An update on Helen's reading, following on from reading at five. more

my formal early education failures

Books + Ideas, Children — June 2018

My plans for formal early years teaching all came to nothing. more

there's more to literacy than being able to read

Books + Ideas, Children — June 2018

It's amazing how fast, once you can read, literacy becomes part of your life, and it becomes almost impossible to stop yourself reading text if its in front of you. more

reading at age five

Books + Ideas, Children — March 2018

These book updates now cover the books Helen is reading herself (with a bit of support) as well as the books I am reading to her. more

books books books

Books + Ideas, Children — January 2018

Helen got 33 books for Christmas and her birthday: 8 from me, 9 from Camilla, and 16 from friends and family. Helen and I have also given everyone books for Christmas and birthdays more

reading takeoff

Books + Ideas, Children — December 2017

We have take-off with the reading! Helen was doing some of the words in the easier books I read her, but a couple of weeks ago there was quite an abrupt shift: now she's reading the books and I'm helping with the harder words, or when she gets stuck. The major constraint now is motivation, and how fast she gets tired - I can almost see her thinking as she puzzles out words. more

books approaching five

Books + Ideas, Children — November 2017

This will probably be my last book update before Helen is reading herself, though I expect to be reading to her for a long time as well. (She's at the point where she can, if motivated, puzzle out pretty much anything with sensible orthography, and with the early reader books — Russell Hoban's Frances books are current favourites — I'm now helping her with the hard words rather than getting her to read one or two words.) Here are some of the books we've enjoyed since my last update. more

learning to read at Larkrise

Books + Ideas, Children — October 2017

Helen's school is pretty keen on getting the children reading. more

Greek mythology for children

Books + Ideas, Children — June 2017

I started reading Greek mythology with Helen a few months before we visited Crete and the Cyclades, beginning with the D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, which she picked after I read her one story from that and one from the D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths. more

book update at four

Books + Ideas, Children — March 2017

We're into short novel and chapter book territory now, so I thought I'd give an update on what I've been reading with Helen. The first short novel Helen really got into was Otfried Preussler's The Robber Hotzenplotz, which we started on Boxing Day (it was the Christmas present of one of her cousins) but finished the next day, she was so excited by it. more

book update, approaching four

Books + Ideas, Children — November 2016

An update on the books I've been reading with Helen. more

books at three and a half

Books + Ideas, Children — July 2016

Somehow I missed doing a book round-up at three, so here's one at three and a half more

the Story Museum

Children, Oxford — August 2015

I finally got around to taking Helen to the Story Museum. This is all about stories and learning from them, and runs regularly changing exhibitions. Last summer Helen seemed too young at one and a half to appreciate their 26 Characters exhibition (though it ran until February and if I'd thought about it again I'd probably have taken her then). The downside is the price: it's £7.50 for an adult and £5 for a child, so that was £12.50 for me and Helen. But there's a lot of fun stuff and we ended up staying there from 1pm to 5pm when they shut (including maybe an hour for afternoon tea in their cafe), so I'd have to say it's worth that. more

toddler book update (two years old)

Books + Ideas, Children — March 2015

Following on from the previous post on baby/toddler books, some of Helen's favourite books - the ones that have been read dozens of times - at two years and two months more

baby + toddler books

Books + Ideas, Children — August 2014

This is by no means comprehensive, but I thought I'd write a bit about some of the books we and Helen have enjoyed most over the last year or so. Some of these have been given to us or recommended to us by friends and family, some of them I found reading online reviews and lists. more

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