Back to school…

Olive and Edie were not the only ones in our house “returning” to the classroom this month. Last Wednesday I switched on my computer and logged into my new classroom. It’s called ANGEL – Penn State University’s online learning portal. I’m enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Children’s Literature and last week was the first day of my first paper – The Art of the Picturebook.

Gotta love a paper which has this as the textbook!
Gotta love a paper which has this as the textbook!

After I graduated from university I went straight into the graduate teaching programme at Wellington College of Education – now part of the Education Department at Victoria University. Becoming a generalist primary school teacher required many areas of study – including the all important teaching of reading. In addition to the nuts and bolts of teaching reading we also had to take a course in literature for children. It’s in this class that I fell in love – again – with books for children.

Where_The_Wild_Things_Are_(book)_cover1 2 3 to the zooThe tunnel

Our teacher was excellent. Rod McGregor – a very tall, very dry and very intelligent former secondary school English teacher – reopened a world that I had left behind as I “grew up”, a world that welcomed me back with open arms. We’d talk about favourite books from our childhood, discuss all the different types of literature for children and also take turns reading aloud to each other. The only assignment I can remember was having to read as much children’s literature as we could and make brief reading responses in a journal. As you can probably guess I was something of a girly swot back then and for every reading response I carefully photocopied the cover of each book and then with watercolour pencils, painted in all the colours. I glued these into my journal next to the copious amounts I had written – is it any wonder I had no social life!!

One of the first books I wrote about in my journal.
One of the first books I wrote about in my journal.

Once let loose in my own classroom my favourite time of day soon became teacher reading and I grabbed any other opportunity to weave children’s literature into the curriculum. When we studied the water cycle in science, The Magic School Bus Visits the Waterworks was invaluable, as were the Horrible Histories series when we did a unit on Ancient Egypt.


Shirley Hughes beautiful story The Lion and the Unicorn provided much of the inspiration for a fantastic social studies unit we did on evacuees during World War Two, as did Michelle Magorian’s heartbreaking Goodnight Mr Tom.

Lion and the UnicornMr Tom

I began buying a lot of books for children – especially picturebooks, (the children in my class always got excited when “Miss G” had been shopping!) and I developed something of a reputation at work as the teacher who knew a lot about kids books. I was even asked to take part in a video produced by the teacher’s college on reading aloud to children. (I got a lovely message out of the blue a few weeks ago from one of the parents in Olive’s preschool class at Otari Montessori before we left New Zealand. He’s training to become a primary school teacher and his Facebook message said “I think I just watched you on a video about reading out loud to children” !)

This is the book that I read aloud in the video.
This is the book that I read aloud in the video.

I enrolled in a Diploma of Children’s Literature through Christchurch Teacher’s College and began the hard slog of working full time and studying – ugh! I loved the paper – funnily enough it, too,was all about picturebooks – but I didn’t love working and studying at the same time. So after completing that first paper I took what was meant to be a short break from studying…ahem…fourteen years later, I am declaring the break over!

I’m only a few days into the course but thus far I’m loving. It’s daunting to get my head around assignments and grades and deadlines again – and just getting to grips with the online learning platform was enough to induce a serious case of nerves – but every day it will get easier and my fellow classmates are very supportive. I might add another link to the read section of the blog and share some of the titles I’m reconnecting with and the new ones I am discovering.

Apparently Belgium is a rich source of talent in the picturebook making world. I'm kicking myself that I didn't buy more books when we lived there.
Apparently Belgium is a rich source of talent in the picturebook making world. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t buy more books when we lived there.

Thanks for all your words of support as I embark on this new challenge. I hope you will enjoy sharing the journey with me 🙂

7 Replies to “Back to school…”

  1. At last Chris a topic close to your heart and I know you will delight in all the aspects of the course. One of your mentioned titles Goodnight Mr. Tom can be downloaded on Youtube. The marvellous John Thaw plays the title role. I think it was one of his last films before his early death. Another lovely picture book I have here at home is The Velveteen Rabbit one of my all time favourites.
    Look forward to hearing more. Mum

  2. I am not a big fan of reading for myself but reading children’s books out loud to children I do love. It is not always easy to find the good books when you are used to reading them in Dutch. So if you have any more great books for 4 year old kids. I am keeping my eyes open here 🙂

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