internet safety

Teaching Technology Safety

Do you have a child at primary school? Then it’s likely you’ll have been invited to an e-safety evening. Perhaps your child will have experienced an Internet Safety Day, or you’ll have signed a form with them about acceptable use of electronic devices. But how much of the information is actually absorbed? One of the best ways to teach is through story – narrative telling helps our brains to process information. By weaving information into a narrative, our brains are more likely to make a connection with it – likening it to our own experiences, inviting an emotional response. A narrative actually switches on biochemicals in our brain.

Last year an excellent title, Chicken Clicking by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross came into the marketplace, explaining how meeting strangers on the internet wasn’t necessarily a good move. This year, Troll Stinks! by the same team talks about sending nasty messages – trolling someone on the phone.

troll-stinks

Troll Stinks by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
In a subtle way, Chicken Clicking references the fairy tale canon, using inspiration from Chicken Licken to tell its tale. Troll Stinks is even more blatant in its reliance on the reader’s prior knowledge of the story The Three Billy Goats Gruff.

Billy, the goat, and his best friend Cyril, are playing with a mobile phone they’ve found. They take silly selfies, film funny things and generally have fun. Until they decide to send text messages to Troll. They’ve heard from Grandpa Gruff that trolls are bad, live under bridges and terrorize goats, so they send some rather mean messages to Troll. But when they decide to take a nasty picture of Troll and blast it all over the Internet, they stumble upon something rather surprising. And realise that being mean over the phone/through the virtual world is a horrible thing to do.

Of course, Jeanne Willis shows enormous imaginative flair in dealing with the subject, creating a really great story filled with humour and pace, all told in a rather delicious rhyme so that it’s easy to read aloud and easy to absorb. Andersen Press have enhanced her text superbly by pairing her with Tony Ross again – who himself adds intense detail and humour to each page and each situation, so that this a fun story rather than a heavy handed message.

Billy Goat hides the phone from his parents, knowing they wouldn’t allow it – and Tony Ross illustrates the goat parents with huge panache – a sumptuous living room complete with a portrait of an ancestral goat, and the newspaper strewn on the floor.

Throughout the book, Billy and Cyril’s attention is firmly fixated on the screen, with an intense stare – although one which doesn’t alienate the reader. The familiarity of Ross’s style (from his Horrid Henry illustrations) are morphed into goat characters here, in his own inimitable thorny style – one could almost imagine Henry holding the phone rather than Billy, but the enhanced billy goat grins and hooves make this even funnier than if it were people of course. And the denouement when it comes is equally well depicted. The goats look sheepish, their lesson is learnt. And not only that, but they turn to a more friendly, less electronic, game.

It’s filled with fun, pathos and drama.You can buy it here.

(Please note that the copy I reviewed was not final)

chicken-clicking

Chicken Clicking by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
If anything, the lesson in this book is even harsher, despite the illustrations being much softer.

Set firmly in a farmyard, a small mischievous chicken goes into the farmer’s house when he is asleep and browses the internet. She develops a tendency for buying goods, although is rather generous with her gifting. She loves the diamond watch she buys herself, and bags and shoes, but she also buys scooters for sheep, skates for the pigs, and sends the bull on holiday.

Her shopaholic-ism is an issue, but trouble begins when she seeks a friend online – sending pictures of herself and giving her name and age. In the end, she goes off to meet her lovely new friend, without telling her mother and father – and it turns out her new ‘friend’ has rather ill intentions. The ending of the book is brilliant for discussion with a young primary school reader – but if you’re clever, you’ll show the youngster the back page of the book which illustrates the young chick running to safety afterall!

This book too has Willis’ sharp snappy rhymes, which possess a perfect rhythmic scan. Tony Ross has gone to town on the illustrations here too. Deviating from his usual style, these are far more fluffy and innocent, as befits our protagonist chick – but it’s the humour that packs a punch, along with the internet message.

The chick buys the bull a holiday in Spain – Tony Ross illustrates him reclining on a beach, whilst next to him a small boy in swimming trunks waves a red towel. Chick’s overbuying in shoes and bags is depicted by Ross’s brilliant illustration of the farmer blaming his wife for the overspend.

This is a rather wonderful book, and with Troll Stinks!, a great pair of books that seems to nail the message of internet safety. Buy Chicken Clicking here.

Embarrassing Parents

It’s Father’s Day today, so for a little twist, I thought I’d feature tween books with embarrassing mums instead.

The omg blog

The OMG Blog by Karen McCombie

I was quite smitten with this slim gem of a book from the cover – which is a bit different and highly coveted by many of my readers. The book is about four secondary school girls who are thrown together for a school project, and find something in common: they all have embarrassing mums.

But far from being snipey, or menacing, this is a super little tale that shows how to make new friends, to work together and develop loyalty, as well as using empathy to be able to see parents in a new light.

Four girls meet in detention, and although seemingly different on the surface, take part in a blogging competition together. The one thing they have in common is their embarrassing mums – and they make a blog on the subject the ‘Our Mums – Grrr’ Blog – OMG. The blog is hugely successful, but will their mums discover who they’re writing about?

One of the most striking changes that happens to children in their early teens is the different way in which they view their parents. As science has shown, this is to do with conflict created by the development of the brain’s frontal lobes during adolescence, which for a short period of time means that teens can be more impulsive and are more susceptible to poorer judgement.

What makes this novel particularly clever is that the mothers (and families) aren’t out the ordinary – the embarrassment of the girls, and their frustration with their mothers, stem from small incidences that mothers do, from being too involved in their daughters’ school, to dressing and talking loudly, to befriending their children on social media. It’s tame, and yet real.

Karen McCombie is a skilful and experienced children’s writer, and she manages to create well-defined characters and a well-crafted story in quite a condensed novel. She also promotes online safety through careful writing, not preaching to her readership, but merely portraying how the internet can be used for good – an intelligent view of our current online world.

It’s a light-hearted novel, good for a quick read or for reluctant readers, with the main narrative interspersed with the girls’ blogs and the comments of their peers. As a parent, this is a reassuring read – it promotes good friendship, appreciation of family (no matter their quirks) and safe use of the online world. Highly recommended for age 9+ years. You can buy it here.

the parent problem

The Parent Problem by Anna Wilson

Another light-hearted, easy-to-read novel featuring a Year 8 girl called Skye Green, who is also mortified by her mother’s behaviour. Her mother wears bizarre clothing, dabbles in new hobbies, and invites the new neighbour’s son to babysit – even though he’s only a year older than Skye.

Told in the first person, and dotted with excerpts from Skye’s diary, the whole story is told from her own point of view, so that the reader is truly immersed in her life. Of course, that’s part of Skye’s problem – she’s extremely self-involved, and once Wilson adds to the mix Skye’s penchant for being impulsive and jumping to conclusions, it makes for some highly comic reading as the reader sees through her story.

The serious side is explored in Skye’s relationship with her best friend – as they move into adolescence it becomes apparent that loyalty towards each other is waivering as their interests start to differ, as well as their differing views on boys – one friend maturing before the other can be a tricky part of tweendom to navigate. Anna Wilson exploits every teen’s fear of losing friendship, and explores the perceived hurts and betrayals on both sides. There’s also a focus on bullying in today’s world, as Skye’s own embarrassing moments are filmed by her peers on their phones and shared widely. The perpetrators of this seem not to be punished though, merely threatened by others with their own embarrassing moments – perhaps this is truer to life than the adult world intervening.

Skye’s mother does intervene in her daughter’s best friend problems though, and helps her to navigate through – despite being embarrassing, it turns out mothers can be good listeners.

This is a comforting read – it doesn’t push any boundaries, but merely lays out friendship struggles and points to the perils of narcissism. When Skye finally sees beyond her own dramas, she embraces her family wholeheartedly.

There are many endearing and warming features about this book – from the boy next door, who is portrayed as far from perfect but completely adorable in his own way, to Skye’s obsession with books – she talks about what she’s reading and why she likes it – almost like a recommendation list within a book, which explores a breadth of reading and is good fun. This reader obviously particularly enjoyed that aspect. The interplay between school and home life is well depicted, as are themes of jealousy, younger siblings, and realising that parents are humans too. You can purchase it here.

 

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

goodbye stranger

Every so often a writer comes along who weaves magic with every book. Rebecca Stead’s books are insightful and compelling, her words flow off the page like cake batter into the tin. Her books are always unputdownable; and always ask questions.

So, it comes as no surprise to find that her latest follows suit. Set in New York, Goodbye Stranger tells three interlocking narratives: Bridge, a girl stepping into seventh grade (Year 7), and navigating her friendships, and pondering the question of life after miraculously living through a terrible car accident when she was eight years old; Sherm, who is coming to terms with the breakup of his grandparents’ long marriage and puzzling the meaning of love; and a third mystery strand told in the rare second-person narrative: “You paint your toenails. You don’t steal nail polish, though”. The three strands build together until all is revealed at the end of the book.

Topically dealing with internet safety, body image and of course the ever-present problems of friendship and peer pressure at this pivotal point of adolescence, Stead handles her young teens with emotional depth, wonderful empathy and adroitness. These are children with whom the reader immediately identifies, and wishes well. The reader waits on tenterhooks to see if everything will turn out alright. The dialogue sits well, and as always, New York springs to life under Stead’s pen.

All in all, this is the quintessential story for this age group – it discusses and makes you ponder what it means to be yourself – it pulls out arguments about identity. How much do we fit in with our peers or strike out on our own? How much of ourselves do we show to our parents or our friends? These are key questions of identity for this age group, and the book handles them responsibly without once becoming patronising.

As mentioned before the prose is idyllic – “Bridge woke to the sound of the cello. Her {mom’s} music reminded Bridge of picking wildflowers – she started with something thin and simple and then kept adding new sounds, all different shapes and colors, until she had something explosive. But in the mornings her mom tried to explode very quietly, so that the people downstairs didn’t get annoyed.”

Stead’s book is a pleasure to read from start to finish. I only wish I hadn’t read it so quickly! You can order your copy here.
For the 11+ years crowd.

Please note the book does contain a narrative about sending selfies of various poses by mobile phone.

Andersen Press very kindly sent me a copy of this book to review.