Here in the Parragon office we've been trying to recall our earliest memories of being read to as children.
I can remember how delighted I was to receive a box-set of short stories about frogs on my fifth birthday. I sat with my Grandad and made him read every book to me, one after another. They even had to drag me away to blow out the candles on my cake! The thing is it’s not just the books that we have fond memories of; it’s the people who read them to us.
The British PM David Cameron recently was quoted urging parents to read to their children more:
“Try to read to your children every night, however busy you are in life”*
Some may question the importance of doing this with toddlers and babies, who don’t fully understand the story concept, but the amazing truth is, children are never too young to be read to. In fact, studies show that the earlier babies are exposed to reading, the more they will enjoy reading and learning - and the better they will perform in school.
But more than just being a way of encouraging development, reading is a great way to interact and communicate with babies right from the start: stimulating their curiosity about life in a fun and engaging way.
Our vibrant new interactive range of books 'Little Learners' ('Little Me' in Australia), is aimed at children aged 0-3. When we were developing the series, we were lucky to have educational consultant Geraldine Taylor on hand to advise us. Here are Geraldine’s top tips for enjoying books with little ones:
• How pictures help:
Learning to read is part of a young child’s drive to make sense of more and more details. They need to have fun looking at lots of features in pictures before they can see that the letter a is different from the letter d, for example.
Later, when children are learning to read with their teachers at nursery and school, they will be reading books with only a few works on each page. It’s pictures, and the stories and rhymes that we read to children, that inspire them to want to learn to read for themselves.
• Words and pictures:
At first, children see words as black squiggle patterns on the page. It’s helpful to explain that we call these squiggles words and that they tell us what to say. It’s the words that tell you the story, and one day, when your child can read, the words will tell them the story, too.
• Talk and more talk:
Talking is a skill fundamental to life and learning, especially reading. Children need a stock of words they understand and use. Take the time to talk together all you can! Talking about stories, rhymes and the pictures on the page is great for developing this skill.
• What’s that sound?
Being able to listen, interpret and respond to what we hear is another vital life skill, and essential for reading, too. Our alphabetic reading system is built on being able to tell one sound from another. Play lots of listening games with your toddler (ssssh, close your eyes, what can you hear?), and have fun with sound effects. Go out listening and talk about what you hear in the garden, on a walk, at home. Story and rhyme books are ideal to develop listening skills, as they introduce sound effects for the characters – especially the animals!
* Source: London Evening Standard, 2012 http://bit.ly/zmN8nf
(Huge thanks to Laura Baker from our children's team for letting us have an exclusive look into her day-to-day life at Parragon!)
My day starts, as I’m sure it does for most people, with the cheery jingle of my email application opening and the whoosh of new emails downloading. I read through them and deal with them as much as I can (flag, file or delete to keep my inbox and mind clear, as I learned in a useful course on email management many years ago!). Several of these emails are reminders of upcoming dates when material, such as book covers, is needed for sales, so I update my schedule, calendar and project list. Things are always changing, and we’re juggling dozens of book projects at a time, so just keeping on top of everything is a big part of the job!
Once I feel organized and on top of things, I’m ready to get down to business. Today starts with checking some proofs that have come in from the repro house (where a book is prepared for print once it’s left us) for a new picture book that I’ve been working on. I check for about the hundredth time that there are no typos, that all the text is in the right place and that all the copyright and branding information is correct, and I pass the proofs on to the designer to check that the colours are printing properly and everything looks as it should. The proofs pass our inspection, and the email with our approval is sent to the production controller. The book is now on its way to the printer, and I can’t wait to see it in print!
Next, I’m on to a couple of touch-and-feel books that haven’t yet gone into production. The text and illustrations are in place, so I print the pages out and send them in three different directions: to a proofreader to check the UK text, an Americanizer to show us any places where the text needs to change for the US audience and an educational consultant for a final check that all the words, pictures and concepts are suited to the age range.
Once the print-outs are in the post, it’s on to checking some board books that have come in from the printer. These are advance copies that we get before thousands of them get printed – so it’s a last-chance check! Luckily, all looks good. Huge sigh of relief!
It’s eleven o’clock, so I settle in with a cup of tea to read through some manuscripts that have come in from an author for a new series of four picture books. I know these books could be huge sellers, so I want to get the stories just right. I read through them several times, jotting down comments and suggestions. It’s important that the stories are sweet, emotive and exciting for both the child listening and the parent who will be reading them aloud – again and again and again! I brainstorm with the designers, to be sure that the stories will lend themselves well to illustrations. I ring the author, who is very responsive and comes up with some other exciting ideas too, so it’s back in his hands for the next draft.
After a busy morning, it’s off to the gym to work out and rejuvenate myself for a just-as-busy afternoon…
This afternoon I’m settling into a big project. For nearly the past year, one of the designers and I have been working on a 224-page craft book. We’ve come up with the book plan for what types of crafts would be included, we’ve chatted with two craft makers and had them create the crafts, we’ve done a photoshoot of the finished products, I’ve had an author write up the instructions and add some fun titles and introductions, we’ve had the book designed and illustrated where necessary, proofread, checked by the craft makers, checked by a consultant to ensure everything works and is right for the age group… Phew! This afternoon we’re inputting the comments from the proofreader, consultant and craft makers, and doing our own final check.
I get my head down and go chapter by chapter, stopping only a few times for emails and to discuss with a designer some art samples that have come in from an illustrator for a new picture book (a fun break!). By the end of the day, with a few butterflies fluttering in my stomach, the designer and I place print-outs of the full 224-page craft book on the senior commissioning editor’s desk, ready for her check and the sign-off of the Head of Children’s before this goes into production. Fingers crossed they like it!
Finally, a few final emails, and I’m off for the day, feeling good about a productive one and looking forward to the proofs and advances and manuscripts and art samples we might see tomorrow…
What does “comfort food” mean to you, and what is its role in healing? Sometimes when we’re sick or broken (per below, we literally mean “broken”!) food can act as medicine, providing vitamins and nutrients to help our bodies get well. Sometimes, it’s about mental health: food makes us feel better! Our intrepid roving reporter Sarah Purvis recently learned that sometimes, when you fail to respond to a medical emergency the first time around, you get a second chance through food…Read on for her story and a wonderful recipe!
I have, what a nurse called, a ‘tender disposition’ and this was on display just recently when, on the last of his hang gliding lessons, my husband unfortunately landed badly and broke his arm. There was no blood gushing from a deep wound, there were no bones protruding from his right limb, but for some reason my mind went into overdrive mode recreating a scene from a zombie movie, and within seconds of reaching my husband’s side I passed out. This is embarrassing for me to admit. My poor husband really could have done with some support – and I failed to deliver. I regained my composure quickly and was able to hand over my broken husband to the amazing staff in the ER to literally mend.
Fast forward a week and the patient is doing very well. He has most of the movement back in his arm already thanks to the numerous exercises he was given to do to prevent his arm seizing up. And of course, to encourage healthy bone growth and general well-being, we’ve boosted areas of our diet to include more foods that contain iron, calcium, and vitamins. For dinners, this often means steak with oven roasted potato wedges, tuna with roasted vegetable couscous, pork stir fry with black beans and pak choi and, probably the best, Fisherman’s Pie. Not only is it very easy to make, it’s also packed with a heap of nutrition. I added some chunks of salmon filet, a boiled egg and some frozen peas for a little variety. The husband with a broken arm is also optional – you don’t necessarily need one of these in order to make this dish!
Serves 6. Ingredients:
900g/2 lb white fish filets, skinned
150 ml/5 fl oz dry white wine
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley, tarragon or dill
175g/6 oz small mushrooms, sliced
70g/ 2½ oz butter, plus extra for greasing and for the mashed potato
175g/6 oz cooked peeled prawns / shrimp
40g/1½ oz plain flour
125 ml/4 fl oz double cream
900g/2 lb potatoes, peeled and cut into even-sized chunks
salt and pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Grease a 1.7-litre/3-pint baking dish with butter.
2. Fold the fish fillets in half and place in the dish. Season well with salt and pepper, pour over the wine and scatter over the herbs.
3. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes until the fish starts to flake. Strain off the liquid and reserve for the sauce. Increase the oven temperature to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7.
4. Sauté the mushrooms in a frying pan with 15g/½ oz of the butter and spoon over the fish. Scatter over the prawns.
5. Heat the remaining butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour. Cook for a few minutes without browning, remove from the heat, then add the reserved cooking liquid gradually, stirring well between each addition.
6. Return to the heat and gently bring to the boil, still stirring to ensure a smooth sauce. Add the cream and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour over the fish in the dish and smooth over the surface.
7. Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in a large pan of boiling salted water for 15-20 minutes. Drain well and mash with a potato masher until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper and add the remaining butter, stirring until melted.
9. Pile or pipe the mash onto the fish and sauce and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown.
She was engaged to a Rockefeller, her social circle included famous actors and socialites, and she lived so extravagantly that she thought nothing of spending an entire paycheck on a party or purse. If she were a modern-day star like Rihanna or Lindsay Lohan, we wouldn’t be surprised by this story: we’ve heard it before. But what if I told you this colorful character was Margaret Wise Brown, author of such famous children’s books as Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny?
Margaret Wise Brown did indeed live a wild and interesting life, prompting last week’s question from a great Slate article: Do childish people write better children’s books? Drawing on Brown’s rich life history and extensive back catalog, we’d certainly say yes in her case. Brown’s approach to writing children’s books was innovative in itself and she actually prided herself on her ability to see life from a child’s perspective – especially given that she didn’t have children herself.
How did she do it? First, Brown taught at the legendary Bank Street Elementary School in New York, where she was able to interact with children’s learning processes and where she began to develop the idea that children wanted to hear stories about characters like themselves, not just fairytales and fables. She began to develop a feel for a child’s creative mind, and she used this to fuel her writing.
Most importantly, Brown believed that the key to successful children's writing was to make it physically accessible to children in the first place. Throughout her career and her wild, fantastic life, she fought to make sure books were available to children through any means possible. She tried to get her publishers at the time to place stories on the backs of cereal boxes, and she supported the idea of creating affordable “value” products that anyone could find in any store.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of Brown’s death. As a book publisher founded on the idea that everyone should have access to affordable, entertaining, useful books, Parragon was especially pleased to have the opportunity to publish some of Brown’s back catalog (starting with Count to Ten With a Mouse and Goodnight Little One, out now). We’re grateful for Brown’s childlike vision, and the story of her life only makes her all the more fascinating!