Book reviews - Red Robin Books

Red Robin Books produce a wonderful range of books and learning materials aimed at teachers and parents with young children. In-service training, workshops and seminars are available. The resources below are packed with inspirational ideas which can be used in schools, Early Years settings and at home. All these resources can be purchased from the Red Robin website

Hey, Who's in the Loo? by Harmen van Straaten

Oh dear - the animals are desperate for the loo! This is wonderfully depicted on the front cover as we see the animals standing with their legs crossed - who's in the loo? First, along comes Bear... but there's someone in the loo. Then Pig - and, no, he's not jumping the queue. More and more animals come along but the door remains firmly shut. Hilarious rhyming text accompanies delightful drawings of the increasingly anxious animals until finally... out steps a little boy with a book. Do the animals want to read it too? NO! A lovely celebration of the joy of books.

The Joy of Reading: How to Develop a Child's Love of Reading by Neil Griffiths

For those of us who love reading, and have always done so, it can be hard to understand that not everyone automatically finds the same joy. However, as Neil so ably shows in this DVD, there's plenty that can be done at home to encourage reading. With tips and advice from the author of many superb picture books this DVD highlights the best ways to help improve skills, develop confidence and increase your child’s enjoyment of reading. But above all, it will give your child the best chance of loving reading for the rest of their lives. The enclosed double-sided card gives 10 tips on both becoming a better storyteller and how to help your child love reading; put this up to remind you. Neil is a renowned storyteller, so you can be sure you are getting the best possible advice.

Damson the Donkey by Neil Griffiths

One day, Adam Greenwood spots two large ears appearing above the grass in their orchard - it's a donkey. The Greenwood children are determined to keep the donkey, called Damson, even though their parents say no initially. But Damson doesn't want to stay put - she takes herself off all over the place, including to the local school, supermarket and country show. Finally, she returns home after one of her jaunts and there's a lovely surprise in store for everyone. Delightfully illustrated by Janette Louden, this is a fun and happy family/animal story.

Farmer Falgu Goes Kite Flying by Chitra Soundar

Farmer Falgu's trips are never straightforward. In this, the fourth book of the popular series, he is on his way to the annual kite-flying festival with his daughter, Eila. But kites are hard to keep hold of, especially when more and more people joing Farmer Falgu and Eila on their cart. Will our clever Farmer Falgu come up with a solution to make his daughter happy? Chitra Soundar's beautiful tale is complemented by Kanika Nair's colourful illustrations that bring alive the annual kite flying festival of Rajasthan, and those who take part. Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip finds our farmer in need of a break from his noisy farm... but will he find the silence he craves? Soon, he finds he has lots of company and definitely not the silence he craves... or does he really? A wonderfully told story which is perfect to read aloud, and to encourage children to join in.

Farmer Falgu Goes to Market by Chitra Soundar

One thing after another goes wrong when Farmer Falgu sets off to market in this evocative story stunningly illustrated in a rich tapestry of colours by Kanika Nair. Falgu never gives up - he's a great character, full of quiet determination. Of course, he and his oxen do finally reach their destination, although not the wares not quite intact! Also in this highly enjoyable series is Farmer Falgu Goes to the Kumbh Mela. This is a touching story of kindness based around the Kumbh Mela, the Festival of the Pot. This colourful series really evokes the sights and sounds of India, giving children an insight into the culture of the country.


Sandscape 2: High Street, Building Site, Garden

Sandscapes is an award winning themed play and learn scenery collection ideal for all sand trays. Each of the sets contains three highly durable plastic double-sided  scenescapes and twelve activity cards. Use them with whole classes, small groups, on table tops and even as scenery for your storysacks. Each scene is full of activity and there are plenty of opportunities for discussion and extension work.  


Sandscape 3: Farmyard, Zoo, Seaside

Encourage children's imaginations and make the most of that popular resource, the sandpit, with these colourful scenes. Each pack comes with a set of resource cards, four for each topic, which are packed with inspiration. They include fiction and non-fiction books to use, other resources, whole class and small group activities. Most Early Years settings will have equipment available to supplement these sandscapes, especially model animals. The scenes could also be used successfully as the basis for wall displays, giving a really colourful and inspiring focus.


Sandscape 4: Airport, Garage, Harbour

The transport theme of this pack can be extended with resources readily available in the classroom - model cars, planes and boats are readily available. The harbour scene brings lots more opportunity, with the chance to introduce water play. The durable glossy cards give lots of ideas for using the scenes. The thematic links on each card show the learning areas which can be supported. These are a very affordable resource which could be used with one or two children (perhaps by a childminder) or by a whole class. A super way to develop imagination and creative play.

role play

The Three Bears (Inspirational Role Play) 

Recreate this traditional tale in your classroom or pre-school setting. Called 'Inspirational Role Play' these packs certainly live up to their name. For those of us perhaps less gifted on the imagination front, these are a godsend. Absolutely packed with - that word again - inspiration, there are masses of ideas. Most of the features are common to all the packs, so please look at all my reviews to get a full picture of what they offer. I have tried to pick out a different feature in each review. The first clever feature is a OHP transparency, so you can project the outline to create the role-play area - in this pack, you will find a cottage and room settings for inside the house. There are 40+ sheets of ideas related to the story and 20+ props to bring the story to life. Buy all the Role Play sets through this link.
recycling centre cover

Recycling Centre (Inspirational Role Play)

This is a really important topic and ideal to introduce to young children so that recycling becomes second nature to them. The impact of this well thought-out pack will stay with children for many years and hopefully they will take the ideas home too. There are ideas of various places to visit to ensure the work has the greatest impact, and suggested visitors. There are lists of props and resources and a suggested plan - all these help teachers to visualise the role play area. One of the most interesting ideas is the sheet on sensory fun - there are lots of ideas to use with recycled materials! Children are used to using recycled items for imaginative and creative play so this is a great way to extend that learning opportunity.   
play at home

Play at Home

The first thing that caught my eye with this set was the CD of household sounds - it's packed with 53 sounds that could be used in all manner of ways - try a quiz on noises for starters. It's a great way to add realism to your home corner and will amuse children. The second CD contains copies of all the resources for photocopying. So many key skills are learnt at home and this role play pack develops these through a range of inspirational ideas. It suggests creating just one room and gives ideas for a range of rooms. Another practical feature is the sheet of props which children can make - this is just one of many pages of useful ideas. Another unbelievably wide range of ideas - you will be amazed!

role play

Garden Centre

This is what the publisher tells us about these super packs, which all contain the following: - "Hundreds of ideas; Inspirational; Easy to use; Perfect for learning through play. The packs include: Over 80 inspirational resource sheets for role play; A CD rom for easy duplication; and a CD of simple sing along songs"  All these resources come in a plastic A4 wallet. This pack is particularly good for linking Indoor and outdoor play of course and would make a great Spring Term topic as all curriculum areas are covered. The structured activities included have plenty of ideas to keep interest alive throughout the term and the pack includes resources to support these activities. There's even a menu for the restuarant - perhaps this will link with the Cafe role play pack! 
role play

The Post Office

Another super pack which contains enough material for a whole term's work, and you can see how the Early Learning Goals are addressed using the helpful sheet enclosed. Introductory ideas ensure you get the best out of the pack, and there are over 80 sheets with a range of ideas. A really helpful idea in these packs is the inclusion of sample letters home in a range of languages, including Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Urdu, Gujarati and Turkish. These accompany ideas on getting parents involved.
role play


The sheets are colour coded to help find them (although the packs are neat and easy to store, I think I would keep any pack currently in use in a ring binder). The blue sheets in this pack have a range of songs to enjoy which helpfully include the actions too.  The activities are ideal to encourage children's language development - often, they forget shyness as they become engrossed in role play and the activities give adults plenty of opportunity to initiate discussion. There is a sheet of ideas for developing speaking and listening and also a list of appropriate vocabulary. I hope you will agree with me, when you look at the ideas contained in every one of these packs, that they really are inspiraional  - and excellent value for money.

 role play

Pet Shop 

Just to give you an idea of the whole range of activities (and remember, every pack has 80 sheets of ideas) here are a few from this pack: Royal Opening of the Pet Shop; Pet Show; Pet Passport; money-off vouchers; special offer posters; tidiest pet shop competition and much more. Almost all children love pets, so this role play will have great appeal and can be used as a very valuable opportunity ot discuss the responsibilities of pet ownership.The CD with songs and music introduces an additional element and learning opportunity. 
role play

Air Travel

Children today are becoming increasingly familiar with air travel. Ths would be a super resource to use in a summer term when many children are preparing for holidays. Each pack contains a list of fiction and non fiction books to enhance the role play. Ideally, collect appropriate books and have a classroom display to encourage the children to read relevant books - and encourage them to suggest additional books too. Writing skills are not forgotten either - there are ideas for emergent writing, developing the love of writing and writing and book ideas.
Walter's windy washing line 

 Walter's Windy Washing Line by Neil Griffiths

The forecast says it's going to be a very windy day - but too late! All Walter's washing has blown off the line. As Walter retrieves the washing from his neighbour's garden there are endless opportunities to exploring number and the book shows brilliantly how numbers really are all arond us. There's weighing and measuring being done, timetables to work out and lots of other numbers in the pictures to discuss. But all ends well... or does it? To make best use of this pack, this is available as a BIG book. Walter's Windy Washing Line
Walter's Resource Pack The Activity Resource Guide accompanies Walter's Windy Washing Line and covers all key Maths objectives for Foundation and Key Stages One and Two. It is absolutely amazing to me that so many activities can be carried out from one book - inspired. There is a particular focus on number lines, a key element in the National Numeracy Strategy. This is a fantastic resource for teachers and the presentation makes it simple to create inspiring lesson plans. All the activities are linked to the curriculum. The overview sections show how the activities address topics within the curriculum and are an excellent aid to planning. The pack includes 10 free Activity Resource Cards.  This truly is an amazing resource for teachers and children will be enthused by the approach and the way it relates maths to everyday life. 

 Books for Teachers

Stories Can Be Counted On! by Neil Griffiths

This book is subtitled 'Ideas for developing mathematics through story'  and it is full of inspirational ideas to help parents and teachers use stories to help develop an understanding of number. The book explores ways to use stories to support the maths Early Learning Goals and early stages of the National Curriculum. It also supports all other areas of the Early Years curriculum. Topics are supported by learning activities, role play ideas, preparation, extension activities covered, goals  and, of course, extensive lists of suitable books to address each topic. To take one example - 'Count on Stories' includes role play and mime, cards to enhance learning, mathematical vocabulary and book lists. The back of the book contains a wonderful collection of finger puppet templates to copy, which really help to bring teaching to life - these are a great resource. There is so much in this book, it is hard to do it justice in a short review - I strongly recommend you get hold of a copy and help the children in your care really enjoy their mathematical learning and establish a strong base for the future, as well as seeing maths as fun.



The Outdoor Classroom by Hilary Harriman

Making good use of outside space is a key issue in education at the moment. This book will inspire those who have not yet used the outdoors and give fresh ideas to those already using their outside space. It shows how each of the Six Areas of Learning can be taught outdoors (with many of the ideas transferable inside). To take just one example of the huge range of activities, Mathematical development includes picnics, patterns, building, washing day, market day, gardening and more... Full of practical lesson ideas and lists of useful resources, there is a wealth of information here, including lesson plans and case studies. Children need to discover, explore and investigate the world around them and the ideas here encourage that. Illustrated throughout by colour photos, showing the ideas in action, this book deserves a place in every staffroom. 


Are You Sitting Comfortably? Then I'll Begin by Neil Griffiths

Reading together and sharing books is a vital part of childhood, but sadly, one which seems to be dying out with the advent of so many other distractions. Neil Griffiths is passionate about story-telling, so let him share with you his techniques for making storytime a valued part of every day. he gives advice on choosing stories; the art of storytelling; talking about what you have read; how to involve children; and storytime at school and at home. We are not all blessed with the art of being natural storytellers and I, for one, found  invaluable the tips on what makes a good storyteller, not least for their simplicity - using the book as a prop and the importance of facial expressions, for example. This would be a brilliant addition to a staffroom library whilst being equally useful for parents wanting to extend their storytelling skills. Find out more about Neil and StorySacks at 

Sand and Water Play: a Space to Learn -  by Anne Pratt 

This is a great resource for use in Early Years, whether in reception class, nursery or for childminders - all of whom will find inspiration here. Parents too, will find it full of inspirational ideas - there is opportunity for water play in our homes, and many of us have sandpits in the garden or local park. The opening of the book acknowledges that often sand and water play are assigned to a dark corner of the room, as having little real value - its purpose is to overcome that and it succeeds brilliantly. Plenty of practical ideas - what to use, planning and rules for safety - are followed by a series of well thought activities, all mapped to the Early Learning Goals. Clearly laid out, with a list of resources, activities and books (really helpful mentions of books to support the topic) to complement the activity, everything is here to plan a successful lesson. Here are some of the ideas to give an indication of the wide range of the ideas - bathing the baby; creating ponds; cold seas and lands; an undersea garden and going to the circus.  A practical yet inspiring guide that merits a place in all Early Years settings.

We have also reviewed Neil Griffiths' wonderful picture books for children - to find these, look at the Picture Books review pages.

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