Top Texts for October

This month’s Top Texts have been chosen by Mary Roche, a former primary teacher and lecturer in teacher education.

We are All Born Free

​This book needs to be in every classroom and home. To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which were compiled in 1948 – all thirty rights have been illustrated here in ‘We are All Born Free.’ Well-known picture book makers like John Burningham, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, Debi Gliori, Chris Riddell, Jane Ray, Satoshi Kitamura, Axel Sheffler, Polly Dunbar, and international illustrators like Alan Lee, Hong Sun Dam, and Jessica Souhami, among others, have used their unique styles of artwork to bring to life each of the rights. Amnesty has provided some teaching resources on their website, but the best thing a teacher could do is to take each page and discuss it with children. The illustrators have done their best to make each of the rights, and the issues they raise, as child-friendly as possible. Children have a right to know their rights. Discussing these rights in the safe context of a nurturing classroom environment will help them become more aware and, perhaps, more empathetic towards others less fortunate.

What is a Child?

What is a child? “A child is a small person,” Alemagna says. “They are only small for a little while, then they grow up. They grow without even thinking about it.” She goes on to reflect on what makes children unique. The text appears on the verso – the left hand side – while each recto (right hand side) has one of her distinctive illustrations. The images of children are not always attractive ones. They frown, pick their noses, look bored or petulant: but they invite us, adults and children alike, to discuss what makes childhood so special and so different from the world of grownups. “Children are like sponges. They soak everything in: bad moods, bad ideas, other people’s fears. They seem to forget, but then everything comes out again in their school bag, or under the covers, or in front of a book. Children want to be listened to with eyes wide open.” Children will feel affirmed by Alemagna’s assertion that, although they are physically small, they do not have small ideas. Even though we often seem to forget this, those of us who are teachers or parents, aunties or uncles, know that children’s ideas are often very big and very philosophical.

When I Coloured in the World

​In this book a child envisages a world that has no injustice or inequality. By using an eraser the child rubs out what is unfair or upsetting in the world and replaces it with a better or happier image. War is replaced by peace, darkness by light, illness by health, despair is replaced by hope, and drought by rain. This book was first published in Persian and was written by one of Iran’s most respected poets. It reminds us that, irrespective of where in the world we live, we want the same things: we want to be loved, to be safe and healthy, to be free and to be respected. The child narrator say, towards the end of the book: “I rubbed out the words old and age. Instead I used my orange pencil to write people. Orange People And all over the world, nobody minded at all whether somebody was old or young. They were just interested in each other.” There is great scope here for dialogue, critical thinking and, of course, rereading. The illustrations are delightful. Children usually want to return to this book again and again. We should let them. Teachers could use the book to discuss, with children, the kind of world we would like to live in, and what, together, we might be able to do to try to achieve that.


About this month's reviewer

October’s Top Texts have been chosen by Mary Roche. A former primary teacher and lecturer in teacher education, Mary built on her PhD research to write the book Developing Children’s Critical Thinking through Picturebooks (Routledge 2015) which received a UKLA Academic Book Award. Her ‘Critical Thinking and Book Talk’ (CT&BT) teaching approach is currently part of the Literacy support materials for the revised language curriculum in Ireland and is a prescribed text in several Initial Teacher Education colleges internationally. Mary provides teacher CPD and supports schools nationally in developing a school plan for using CT&BT. You can follow Mary on Twitter @marygtroche