Books mean the world to me. Actually, they mean more than that – they mean multiple, infinite worlds to me. The magic and beauty of books is that they transport the reader to other places – distant lands, times of past and future, alternate versions of reality or just differing perspectives of the reality we inhabit. Books offer possibility. They provoke imagination. Books mean so much to me that I will only add one to our digital library here at Montessori Child if I truly believe in its value.
The Home Grown Books series is one of the most valuable set of books for early readers that I have come across in many years. Each set in the series proudly proclaims; “We believe that children deserve reading material as rich as their imagination”. This is certainly reflected in the simple but imaginative stories and the impeccably beautiful illustrations in this series. The set was created by Kate Ryman – a reading specialist and dedicated mum – to (in her own words) create “early reading content that is visually stimulating, respects the intelligence of young learners and still engages mom and dad”. We feel proud and privileged that we were approached by Jessica, the creative director of Home Grown Books, to become an Australian stockist for these wonderful books.
The Home Grown Books range features four sets:
The Environmental Set - 7 titles: Earth, Fire, Air, Water, Habitats, In My Garden, Landscapes
The Adventuring Set – 7 titles: Submarine, Flying, What Comes Next?, A Place to Live, A Collection of Characters, Maps, Let’s Play a Game
The City & Country Set – 8 titles: Finger Painting, How to Make a Fort, Make Me a Pirate, My Walk, Night Light, Please Don’t Touch, Sledding, Strawberry Pie
The Play Set – 9 titles: A Day Out, Planet, Bake It, Band, Dress-up, One Sock Puppet, Garden, Animals, Instruments
Each set features a unique and striking illustrative style. These showcase different artistic genres – from pencil drawing to impressionist painting. The images are undeniably beautiful and may also act as a point of interest for a child to begin using those specific styles of expression.
Each book is small enough to be confidently held by little hands. They measure approximately 16 x 14cm (w x h). The pages are thick enough to feel sturdy and to turn easily! The books are visually striking enough to invite interest when placed on a bookshelf, but are small enough to fit snugly into book baskets or in smaller reading nooks. They also fit comfortably in most ‘reader bags’ so they are the perfect addition to a pre-school or early primary library. The books are intended for ages '3 plus' so they are ideal for a pre-school setting but are also appropriate for older children (6-9) who are looking to revise, remediate or strengthen their reading skills.
The text in the books ranges from single words to short phrases and then to full sentences weaving an ongoing story. Phonetic words do feature in some sets but the stories are not limited to phonetics. It is therefore important for Montessori teachers to note that these books are not meant as a replacement for the Pink/Blue Reading Series; they are intended as part of your reading library to promote positive explorations of text and story-telling. Early childhood educators can be confident that this series supports little ones in moving towards the Early Years Learning Framework’s Learning Outcome 5: Children are effective communicators.
But what is it that makes Home Grown Books so unique and so very ‘Montessori’? Well…
Montessori friendly topics.
Each book in each series focuses on a different topic, but each has a distinctly Montessori flavour to it! Books about ‘Practical Life’ work such as cooking and gardening feature prominently. Respect for the capacity of the child is inherent in titles that introduce reading maps or teach the precise nomenclature relating to different sea vessels. I particularly love that many of the books actually inspire activity. They will all inspire thought – and discussion if a parent or peer is by the child’s side – but several of them also very actively and directly promote meaningful activity. For instance, titles such as ‘Finger Painting’ and ‘Bake It’ walk through the steps that a child could then follow in his or her own version of this work!
Emphasis on reality.
Elements of imagination are incorporated into the books but every story is rooted in reality. There are no unreal ‘fantasy’ elements – no talking animals or magic spells – just the beauty and magic of reality. Nature, art and activity take centre stage in these reality-based stories. This makes them perfect for a Montessori early childhood environment where the wonder of reality trumps the distraction of fantasy.
The Montessori Cultural curriculum includes a look at art in theory and in practice. The Home Grown Books provide an ideal introduction to multiple artistic styles. As the child considers each illustration style the adult might introduce the name of that technique. The books are also the perfect provocation for artistic creation! The City & Country set might provide a child’s very first experiences with the idea of impressionist painting – why not then extend on this introduction by providing a canvas and some acrylics for the child to create his or her own impressions of the world!
A Montessori classroom does not look at ‘subjects’ as discrete, disconnected pockets of information. Instead they are treated as interconnected elements of the rich tapestry of life. This philosophy is perfectly reflected in the way that the Home Grown Books emphasise the harmony between art and language. Too many adults seem to believe that art and words are separate – that there is a sort of ‘left-brain’, ‘right-brain’ division between creativity and literacy. Adults often identify themselves as being ‘good at art’ or ‘good with words’ but rarely do they believe you can be both at once, or that one is connected to the other. I personally believe that these two elements are – and should be – closely interconnected. The beauty of the image reflects the meaning of the words; the beauty of the words reflect the meaning of the image! This is true in this series of books and should be true in life. This series does not choose between beautiful images or interesting words – it allows both to coexist in harmony, supporting and strengthening one another.
Attention to detail.
Such care has been taken to consider the placement of the words and images.Too many children’s books hide the words within the picture. When that happens the text sometimes getting lost amidst the visual information. Emergent and early readers need the opportunity to focus on the letters and words without visual distraction. This series always takes care to place the text on an empty page or space. The beautiful illustrations sit beside, or atop, the words but the two pieces of sensory input are not fighting for attention. They are coexisting harmoniously but each is allowed the undivided attention it deserves.
Care for the environment.
The books promote sustainable practices in more ways than one! Many of the books in the series focus on eco-friendly topics, such as gardening, but the books themselves are also printed on recycled paper using vegetable inks!
Supporting life-long learning.
The Home Grown Books are not only intended to inspire children – they are also extremely supportive of parents and educators. Each set is packaged in a folder that includes tips and tricks for the adults who are supporting emerging readers. These tips include an overview of early reading signs to help identify ‘Is my child ready?’ and a ‘Path to reading success’. The Home Grown Books website also features countless supportive resources for parents and educators. Their amazing online guide features wonderful videos showing strategies such as ‘taking a picture walk’, ‘introducing the pattern’ and ‘supported reading’. The online guide takes the adult through a series of ‘Next Steps’ to extend and build on the foundation of early reading. It also offers links to many additional resources that educate the adult about how to support the child’s process of acquiring reading skills. It is an invaluable resource that can directly support the use of the Home Grown Book series but will also help parents and educators more generally to encourage the child to engage in positive, joyful reading experiences. Access the full range of support services here at: http://homegrownbooksnyc.com/pages/resources-1