7th September 2016

​How special schools found benefit in our books – to our surprise!

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​How special schools found benefit in our books – to our surprise! Cover Photo

Publisher Ann Scott explains how a series of picture books have gained popularity in SEN classrooms...

In 2009, I first published two of Patrick George’s picture books. Patrick and I set up our publishing company to promote what we saw as a gap in the market for Patrick’s quirky style of illustration, creating more challenging visuals than you’d typically expect to find in children’s books. We initially took orders from school libraries and art galleries and were nominated for an illustration award. Since then, and with 18 books published, we have reached out internationally and seen the books’ popularity grow, particularly for our ‘acetate’ series. Shortly after publication a teacher friend pointed out their validity in the classroom, but what I hadn’t anticipated was a slow but steady growth in interest in the SEN community.

One of the disadvantages of being a tiny publishing house is that you cannot match the marketing resources and budgets of the bigger publishers to make an immediate impact upon publication. However, on the flip-side this allows us to reintroduce our backlist to new audiences over a longer period of time. Over the past six years we have received enough positive feedback from parents and teachers of children with learning difficulties to make us want to find out why. We decided to take a small space at last year’s TES Special Education Needs Show. This was where I met Marilyn Tucknott (a consultant working with Local Authorities, schools, healthcare professionals and parents, and specialist in mental wellbeing in children), and Joanna Grace (a special educational needs and disabilities consultant and founder of The Sensory Project: jo.element42.org). Both were very enthusiastic about our books as were the teachers and parents who visited our stand and placed orders.

So why the attention? This was the question I too wanted to answer and, for the purposes of this article, I did some research. I interviewed an ASD SPD teacher, with ten years’ experience teaching children with ASD and speech and language difficulties, and an ASD SPD speech and language therapist. I also spent a day with Joanna Grace, author and lecturer of sensory stories and sensory coping strategies for children with ASD SPD and PMLD. All three have successfully used our books with their students.

I have thus learnt quite a lot in a short space of time: pictures are more effective than words; clear, contrasting images are great; concise text doesn’t overburden the child or the reader and a clear message reinforces what is being taught; illustrations that are inclusive of all ages and abilities don’t alienate; limited language input and a stimulating visual are good for discussion starters (with the more able students) and for eliciting language. I have learnt that repetition, consistency and clarity are all key to learning development.

The illustrations in all our books are bright, bold, uncluttered. The books are tactile and interactive (children love flipping the acetate back and forth, thus controlling the action) and the acetate page has the effect of ‘magically’ transforming the page underneath. This grabs their attention and is repeated throughout the book. While the books are designed for children, the imagery is not childish – which might alienate older children, and are therefore suitable from Early Years through to KS3.

A particularly popular book is ‘Oh No!’. On the face of it, a frivolous book, it portrays a series of light-hearted accidents such as a ball being kicked through a window or a drink being spilt. The transparent page between each double-page spread, when turned from right to left, makes an accident happen. There are no words printed on the page but an exclamation of ‘oh no!’ is appropriate as each ‘incident’ occurs. This is repeated throughout the book with some situations more fanciful than others. Charlotte Wilson, speech and language therapist at the Stone Bay Special School in Broadstairs, uses this book on a daily basis with her ASD, SLD students. She pointed out that for children with limited communication, ‘oh no!’ is an extremely powerful thing to say. It can be used when something is not right, when someone needs help or feels vulnerable. It is an initial step on the journey to communication. The pictures are clean, the visual clues are very clear and the repetition reinforces the learning.

A KS3 teacher used ‘Animal Rescue’ with enormous success in her classroom. She gave me the following feedback: “My KS3 pupils with complex learning difficulties were completely absorbed by ‘Animal Rescue’. Even those who rarely talk in class couldn’t wait to talk about the pictures and ideas. They were motivated to write and draw their own afterwards”. She went on to explain how difficult it can be to find the appropriate resources to teach more advanced topics such as environmental issues without overburdening the children with complicated language. In the book, the animal on each spread is first seen in an unnatural situation: a tiger skin rug, for example, or an elephant in a circus, but by turning the acetate page, the child can ‘rescue’ the animal and put it back into the wild. As well as communicating a sophisticated message with ease, issues such as respect, empathy and the environment can be introduced. Again, there are no words in this book.

Joanna Grace of The Sensory Project has included ‘Opposites’ as part of her travelling resource pack. She says: “I travel with a Patrick George book in my luggage whenever I present a Sensory Stories training day in a special education setting. The clear layout and concise text lends itself beautifully to supporting the understanding of learners with additional needs. I highly recommend them.”

Marilyn Tucknott, reviews our books on her website as follows:

“A delightful range of early years/Special Needs books with illustrations to delight the child and adult alike. A particular feature are the acetate pages that can be flipped between the right and left hand pages which are intended to amuse and provoke as children predict what will happen next. Great for storying and developing reasoning skills, particularly for those on the ASD spectrum.” (www.marilyntucknott.com)

So where do we go from here? Well, we have four more acetate books in the pipeline for publication in 2017, which we hope will catch the attention of both mainstream and SEN teachers and I shall continue looking for other avenues to explore. If you are intrigued by our books please visit our website patrickgeorge.com for more information!