Barbara Murray (text), and Sarah Hardy (illustrator), Anna Ant’s Antics and Other Stories, Little Steps. May 2018, 32 pp., RRP $24.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781925545975
The debate between which is most suitable to teach reading – phonics or whole language – rages on, but the Australian Curriculum recommends phonemic awareness and synthetic phonics are included in all primary schools’ literacy programs.
As a former Year One Teacher and Teacher Librarian, I understand how important it is for young children to be taught plenty of strategies when beginning to read, and my opinion has always been – why not both? Being exposed to rich and high-quality children’s literature and learning within a language rich and stimulating environment is just as important as being able to decode phonetically; it all contributes to developing young readers who are capable and yet who also love books and reading.
Anna Ant’s Antics is the third of four books that have been written by Barbara Murray, the co-author of Sound Waves, which is a program that offers a whole school phonemic approach to spelling. It is a convenient resource for teachers – with ten short stories, each one emphasising one of the first 10 vowel sounds often represented in writing by the letters a, e, i, o, u, ai, ee, i_e, oa and ar. It begins with two instructional pages, which explain phonemic awareness and synthetic phonics, as well as how to ‘get the most’ from the stories, before the first of the two-page stories commence.
I believe that this book and the others in the range could be useful to explicitly introduce and teach the 43 sounds of Australian spoken English, however, this is a book written for teachers, and not for children. While the illustrations are indeed quite beautiful, and highly detailed, the stories are not particularly memorable. Constructing a story with an emphasis on a particular sound obviously limits possibilities for the author, and this is evident in some of the tales – including Ethel and Eric Egghead’s Eggy Experience -where an egg ends up on the floor as well as on Eric’s head (?) and Uncle Unwin’s Ugly Undies, which will make young readers giggle, but is really quite strange.
As one reading resource used among a wide range of other literature, Anna Ant’s Antics is a title that teachers may find useful. However, with so many other beautiful and engaging children’s picture books available, it is definitely one for the classroom, and not for story time or bedtime reading. It is best suited for beginning readers, aged 4-6.
Reviewed by Kay Oddone