Encouraging literacy development in children – and book pack GIVEAWAY!

I am so excited about this post.

I know I’m supposed to act all cool, calm and collected. I’m supposed to casually mention in passing that oh, by the way, here’s a literacy expert I happened to chat with (okay, email) who gave valuable insights into something I’m really passionate about and here are his words but no biggie because like totally whatever.


I was recently contacted by Dymocks, who is hosting a Kids’ Festival of Fiction.

A Kids’ Festival of Fiction! As a lover of all things wordy and nerdy, that would have been enough to entice me. But when they suggested an interview with a literacy expert AND a book pack to give away, there was no stopping me.


HIP HIP HOORAY! Books, books, books!

Meet Ryan Spencer, Dymocks Literacy Expert and State Director of the Australian Literacy Educators’ Association. If that extra long title isn’t enough to impress you, perhaps the fact that he is a big fan of Oliver Jeffers will do it.

Here is what Ryan had to say about the benefits of encouraging early reading, what to do if you have an advanced reader, and how to encourage those who see reading as a chore.

When should you start reading to children?

Reading is a developmental process, which can look very different for different children, regardless of their age. Rather than judging progression by age, it’s important to think about learning to read as occurring in stages.

Readers in the emergent stage of reading are usually those who are just gaining an understanding of how a text works. They will display good book handling behaviours, they will know where the book begins and ends and they understand that print and pictures convey a message. In this stage readers can usually recognise a small number of high-frequency words (5-20 words) that occur regularly throughout a text.

When your child is displaying these reading behaviours, you can assist them by pointing out environmental print (words on signs, around the home, at the supermarket), talking about the meaning of favourite books at bedtime and making links between these stories and the child’s own experiences.


What are the benefits of starting early?    

Reading for pleasure from an early age provides a host of benefits.

  • Boosting brain power

Research shows that children aged between three and five who are read to by their parents have greater neuron activity on the left side of the brain, which helps develop literacy by controlling comprehension of words, language processing, and visual imagery. Listening to stories read by mum or dad actually changes a child’s brain biologically.

  • Improving self-esteem

We all want to help boost our child’s confidence. Reading together opens children up to new experiences, helps them to develop imagination and puts themselves in other people’s shoes. Sharing stories reinforces familiar events and teaches children about new experiences. This can help to lessen a child’s anxiety, allow them to discuss their worries and deal with transition.

  • Better language and communication skills

Early reading helps children with their emerging language skills. Encouraging toddlers to point at words and pictures is a fundamental pre-literacy activity. Reading to your child helps them learn new vocabulary and the differences between spoken and written language. Discussing stories improves their communication skills.

Scenario 1: my child is an advanced reader (she has just started prep and is reading chapter books on her own). How can I support and encourage her reading while her friends are still practising their ABCs?

Fluent readers, as the title suggests, are those who can identify most high-frequency words automatically. They tend to read from a wide range of different texts with little or no assistance. Readers at the fluent stage tend to use a range of different strategies to figure out unknown words, including skipping the word and allowing the wider context to convey the message, reading on for more information, and substituting the word with a word that would also make sense.

When you are reading with a fluent reader, it is useful to begin discussions about different types of texts, their purposes and the characteristics of how these texts are made up. For instance, when looking at graphic novels, you could talk about how the author uses images to represent different aspects of the story and the impact that text placement has on how this is displayed.

Scenario 2: my child is older and has always been a reluctant reader. How can I support and encourage her reading when it’s something she has come to loathe?

  • Let your child make the choice

Book choice is a vital component of the reading process. As adults, we very rarely read anything that we either don’t love or enjoy. If we read a book and it takes a while to get going or we lose interest, we simply put it down or lend it to a friend. Why then do we insist that children must read cover to cover something that they don’t necessarily enjoy or like? Often these imposed choices on children come from a place of love – we are trying to support the children in accessing a text that is at their reading level. It is often hard to let go and let children choose their own books. This is vital, however, for developing strong, self-sufficient readers.

  • Use technology to engage

eReaders are often the bridge that is needed to engage a reluctant reader with a new and different text. Many eReading apps and devices support graphic novels, comics, newspapers and magazines. You might find that reading with your child becomes a richer experience when there is a broad range of interesting books to choose from.

Personal question for you – what are your top five children’s picture story books?

I have many favourites, so it is very hard for me to narrow down my top five. I love Oliver Jeffers’ writing and illustration. My favourite book of his is Stuck (editor’s note: included in our family favourites). I love that Floyd can seem to get all manner of things stuck up the tree. My other current favourites are Thelma the Unicorn by Aaron Blabey, The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt (editor’s note: and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers!), Dog vs Cat by Chris Gall and the classic Zoo by Anthony Browne.

Thank you to Ryan! I appreciate your time, your words and your love of all things Oliver Jeffers-related.

And now for more excitement. It’s GIVEAWAY TIME!


Thanks to Dymocks, you have the opportunity to win this book pack, including these titles:

Pig the Pug – Aaron Blabey
Possum Magic – Mem Fox and Julie Vivas
The Day the Crayons Quit – Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers
The BFG – Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake
The 13-Storey Treehouse – Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton

This giveaway has now closed. Congratulations to Sonya – I hope you enjoy your books!

How to enter: please leave a comment below telling me which of these titles most tickles your fancy, and why.

(If you’d like some general tips on winning games of skill, head to my post on how to win 25-words-or-less competitions. And if you think that should read 25 words or fewer, check out this one as well.)

If you just can’t wait that long to get your hands on some great books, please note that Dymocks currently has a great range of children’s picture books at 3 for $30. Check out the range here – offer ends 30 April 2016. It includes many of our family’s favourite books, including The Wonky Donkey and Room on the Broom.

I’ll be back next week with a review of The Day the Crayons Quit to fuel your excitement. And to remind you to get your entries in before the competition closes!

{Here comes a whole lot of fine print stuff. Yawn. This competition is open to Australian entrants only, and delivery must be to an Australian address. This competition is based on skill. My judgement is final, and no correspondence will be entered into. Unless you have read any of these books and would like to discuss their contents. In which case, let’s correspond! The prize is one (1) copy of each of the following books: Pig the Pug, Possum Magic, The Day the Crayons Quit, The BFG and The 13-Storey Treehouse, forming a single prize pack valued at $74.95. Competition opens 9.00pm 21 March 2016 and closes 11.59pm 1 April 2016, AEDT. Yawn. The winner will be contacted and must respond within three days to claim their prize. The winner will be announced in an update to this post and on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram when the winner has confirmed. The prizes are provided by Dymocks and will be sent from Dymocks directly. Yawn. The end. Zzzzz.}

Please note: this is not a sponsored post. The team at Dymocks is kindly providing the book pack to give away, and also provided me with a copy of The Day the Crayons Quit to review and access to literacy expert Ryan Spencer. I have not received any payment for this post, nor for its promotion on social media.


So, over to you! Which of the titles in the book pack most tickles your fancy, and why?
And how have you approached literacy development in your household?


  1. says

    I’m excited too. As soon as I saw your blog post hit my email with the title over I came! Oh Em, what a great way to support and advise families! This is all such a great complement to all I could ever say or write as an experienced educator — it is FABULOUS. My one tip is this…for getting kids into literacy…read to them before they are born!! When our son and his wife were expected #1 child he knew that talking to the unborn child would be a way of getting him(turned out to be) accustomed to Daddy’s voice as well as his Mum’s. He said ‘but I feel a bit silly just talking’ and I suggested begin to read some of the picture books I had already given the unborn little one. He started that practice and when H was a baby, he already knew Daddy’s voice AND the stories. In fact, he lit up when those one were read to him. I think from memory they were My Dad and Goodnight Baby (it was 9 years ago!!) Each of the kids (now 4) continue to have stories read to them EVERY single night and the school age ones are voracious readers. The under school age ones model reading so well too. Love this post! Denyse x

  2. Sarah acheson says

    Possum magic, good excuses to eat lamingtons in Hobart, and pull out the photos of myself playing hush in a play at 9 years old!

  3. says

    Great advice, Em. I can’t believe your little one is reading chapter books already. What a little superstar just like her mumma. Hmmm now I would love ALL of those books, but I’m going to have to come back later with an awesome 25 words or less entry x

    • says

      Thanks Renee. That was supposed to be a general example, but yes, that first question is all my little girl. She loves reading. NO idea where she gets it from!

    • says

      Agreed. There are plenty of things in life that I don’t enjoy, and being forced to do them doesn’t make them any more fun. It’s probably the same with reading. (I say probably because I just can’t imagine it not being fun!)

  4. says

    Oh this is a wonderful post. Being a book nerd and born writer, I’ve always loved sharing books with the kids and I’m always buying new ones. My six year old is now starting to read on his own now and I’m no gonna lie – it’s piss-pantingly exciting to watch, as this whole new world opens up to him. My boys both love books and I like to think that I’ve passed the baton there. My oldest has also started writing his own stories too, which makes his writer-mummy literally explode with pride.

  5. says

    This is such great advice from Ryan. I know a lot of parents get caught up worrying about reading milestones but each child will learn differently at their own pace. My 4 year old loves reading to her little bro. She’s mostly just remembering the stories but she’s recognising more words every day, it’s amazing to watch :).

    • says

      That’s so wonderful. I knew that my love of reading would probably rub off on my kids, but it’s great to watch my daughter’s influence on my son as well.

  6. says

    I have 3 great avid readers, and 2 who “hate” reading. The 3 who love it, will read just about anything, the other two can be encouraged now that we have learned their preference for biography style books. One of the kids loves to read the newspaper. I don’t mind what they read, so long as they are reading. I hadn’t thought about using technology to encourage reading, I prefer them not to use things like the computer or iPad, but at least for one of our reluctant readers this could be really helpful. Thanks for the tips!

    • says

      Great work finding the preferences of the reluctant readers! That’s fantastic. I’m with you – not too fussy on what they read (although I detest the Mr Men and Little Miss books!) as long as they read. I’m glad Ryan’s tips may have helped. x

  7. says

    I’ve got an older child who doesn’t love reading and it hurts my feelings! I’m always encouraging her to try new books but it literally has to appeal by the second page or she’s done. Patience is not really her strong suit.
    As for the comp…

    I would like to win The day the crayons quit, because quite frankly, the way crayons break I’m surprised they haven’t quit earlier.

  8. says

    Gosh I love reading to my kids. Well I used to read to them all the time now days they are far too cool for that and they read to themselves! I miss reading Enid Blyton books to the girls we read the Naughtiest Girl in School Series and all the Boarding school ones! I think that was where I got a romantic notion that boarding school would be cool! I also loved reading The Famous Five and Harry Potter to my son (not a gender thing at all the girls weren’t interested in the Famous Five no dancing! and Harry Potter is still a bit too old for them!)

    What a cool project to be involved in!

    • says

      Thanks Cathy! It has been fun. I’ve been surprised reading Enid Blyton books again by how much smacking there is. I don’t recall it bothering me as a child, but it bothers me as a parent!

  9. says

    Mr 6 loves reading and being read to. We’ve started reading one of David Walliams books but I am thinking that maybe it might be a bit too old for him. I might have to check out the 3 for $30 deal and get him something new to read.

    I’d love the Andy Griffiths book. I loved his writing style as a child because it was quirky and so different from others aimed at my age.

    • says

      Me too! I adore that book. Can’t wait to read it with the kids, but my daughter is quite sensitive and I don’t think she’s ready to meet Bonecruncher and co just yet.

  10. says

    The BFG! So I can re read it! Growing up with an English teacher mum, books and reading is a huge part of our lives. My little nephew who is six has caught the bug too. You have to tell him to turn his torch off and go to sleep. It is so cute to watch him catch the bug.

    • says

      That is so cute! I remember hiding in my wardrobe to read late at night. Somehow I thought that was better than simply reading in bed. Why would my parents notice I was missing from bed?! Ha!

  11. says

    Such a great post Emily! As a teacher myself, I agree that book choice & technology can really help reluctant readers… And I also believe that it’s important for fluent readers to comprehend the advanced texts they are reading. Anyway – back to the awesome comp!!

    Pig the Pug is a favourite in my classroom – and as a dog loving family we would love a copy of our own!!

    • says

      It is important – great point. It’s one thing to recognise words and be able to read them. Another to understand what they all mean together.

  12. says

    Wonderful post!

    The Day the Crayons Quit as we haven’t heard of it before and my two under 4 are obsessed with drawing/scribbling with crayons and of course getting upset when they break!

  13. Keira says

    I jumped over to this interview when I read there’s a chance to receive “The Day The Crayons Quit”! That book sounds exactly like something that would inspire my kids. They love to read a lot of crazy stories! We’ve been through different seasons with books in our house but my approach has generally been to go at their pace and make sure that reading is something fun!

  14. gulseren ilhan says

    The BFG because it fosters imagination, the description and creative writing shape pictures and take the mind to a new world. its how i learned to dream big.

  15. Jo Howard says

    Thank you for such a great post. I’ve got the exact situation as scenario one and found the tips to be really helpful. We LOVE ‘the day the crayons quit’ (and for some unknown reason do not have it in our collection!! *gasp*). My fluent reader adores books that really use the pictures to help convey the story and this book does exactly that. They’re like a story on their own!

  16. Pam Parker says

    If I had to choose a title it would have to be Possum Magic. I am a long way from being familiar with books for littlies but would dearly love a package like this for my Great Grandson who is in the care of a wonderful foster mother, along with 2 other little boys.

    • says

      Thank you for commenting – I knew you were having trouble, so thanks for persisting! If you’d like more suggestions for the littlies, please let me know. I share reviews of children’s books often.

  17. says

    My entry:

    You have to be an Aussie, to be true blue, then Possum Magic must be read to you!


    PS My win…should I be that fortunate…would see me donating these books to a local library or family respite/care shelter where books are sorely needed.

  18. says

    great article! useful for me as I attempt to write my own children’s books.

    My answer to the comp:

    the day the crayons quit
    is the title I like best
    the way it leaves me wondering
    what do they give a rest?

  19. says

    The Day The Crayons Quit caught my eye. After reading your book review on this, I just know my son would love this storyline! Every time he uses his crayons, he seems to have a character for each colour. The ‘undressed’ Peach crayon would make him laugh; the Green crayons career in ‘colouring in green award’, would make me laugh :). It’s incredible to find a book that makes a small child and a big child (me) laugh together.

    Would love to win this book please!!!!

  20. Sonya says

    The 13-Storey-Treehouse, as my daughter has read a couple of books from this series and loved them, but for some reason she hasn’t read the first one yet!

  21. Julian N. says

    The Day the Crayons Quit, because our four-year-old son loves books and his thirst for them has cost us a lot in overdue library fines!

  22. says

    Most definitely Pig the Pug (and if I’m honest, all of them! )
    The day the crayons quit was an unexpected delight when my daughter borrowed it from the library. Definitely one for the home bookshelf!

  23. says

    I have fond and vivid memories of my mother reading The BFG to me as a kid. I still remember the voices, the funny phrasing and the made-up words. It was an amazing experience.

    I remember reading books to our kids from about day zero. Couldn’t help myself…. Now I watch as my daughter ‘reads’ to various toys and dolls and my son ‘reads’ to her. It’s quite amazing to watch.

  24. says

    There’s so many great titles I’ve written down from this post – thank you Em! I read to the kids every night since they were babies – I remember being told that was a great thing to do for you kids. They still love their books and I must admit I duck and cover when those Bookclub magazines come out from school because the list of requests is HUGE! It’s so much fun watching them learn how to read – my eldest is so busting to get it right!!

    ‘The day the crayons quit’ looks adorable!

    Let’s hope the crayons have such lovable characters, it has a Toy Story effect. Suddenly my kids take extra good care and put them AWAY!!

    • says

      You’re welcome! I love nothing more than curling up with my kids and reading. We went through all of the Dr Seuss books one afternoon. I think I kept reading them even after they fell asleep!

  25. says

    My husband does most of the reading to our son and has done since he was born. It’s a bonding activity for them. My sons favourite book isn’t in the pack though – he loves Hairy Maclary particularly the ones featuring Scarface Claw. I find it incredible that someone who can’t yet talk will hold his breath in anticipation when he knows Scarface is on the next page.

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