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The theme for November 2022 is ‘Children’s Rights’. Sandie has chosen to write about ‘Malala’s Magic Pencil’, which will inspire agents of change in the PELT classroom.

‘Malala’s Magic Pencil’ tells the story of Malala Yousafzai, a young girl in Pakistan who dreamed of having a magic pencil, which could change her immediate world – bring pretty dresses for her mum and a new football for her brothers. But soon she realised there was no need for magic, her own words were enough to describe the difficulties she encountered as a girl in a country run by the denounced Pakistani Taliban and she became an active campaigner for girls’ rights to education. She survived an attempted assassination by the Taliban and the incident brought her further worldwide support and now recovered she has continued to campaign for educational rights. In 2014, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In ‘Malala’s Magic Pencil’, Malala Yousafzai’s words are illustrated by Kerascoët, the pen name for two French illustrators, Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset. It was published by Puffin Books in 2017.

Malala’s words, “Do you believe in magic?” start this autobiographical tale of her childhood, and she tells her story in the first person, “When I was younger …”. The uncomplicated water colour illustrations are adorned with gold, arabesque line drawings – the sweeping lines create icons that represent Malala’s life – a dove for peace, a microphone, a pencil and some paper.

Kerascoët’s illustrations are life-like representations of Malala’s world. We see and feel her emotions and what has prompted them, as the images not only support and synchronise what Malala’s words tell us, but expand on what she says to bring the reader into the tale. For example, the life-threatening attack is depicted across a double spread – an opening which is in full bleed, moving from black to dark, grey-blue, becoming the curtains at a window, which Malala is looking through. The attack requires some mediation here, a careful pause and some explanation maybe, with a question to prompt reflection on the impact such an attack might have had on Malala, but also on those who knew about her work.

The tale ends with Malala speaking at the United Nations. The double spread shows us that everyone is clapping, her family is there too. “… and every day I work to make my wish come true.” On the recto page she stands upright dressed in prink, with her finger raised, and the gold arabesque writing shows us what she says: One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.

Malala’s story is empowering for children around the world, but especially for girls. Malala is a role model and ‘Malala’s Magic Pencil’ can bring lots of meaningful opportunities into the language classroom for discovery and discussion en route to becoming budding activists in English.

Puffin have created an excellent teaching pack, originally for children in Key Stage 2 (aged 7+), the ideas would be very suitable for children learning English from around 10 years old. The activities focus on both the illustrations and the words and teachers can certainly use many of the ideas with little adaptation. The link is here:

A nice overview of some of the messages in the picturebook can be found here:

A youtube presentation by Malala of the picturebook is available here:

Finally for peritext enthusiasts, the endpapers are exquisite! A repeated pattern of mandalas, using the symbols of an open book and pencil, against a shiny gold background. These can be used to talk about why the illustrators selected these particular symbols. Then there is some useful back matter, with a letter from Malala and some autobiographical information with photos, which bring the tale to life and connect the children to a real Malala.

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The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2019 but there is still a general lack of awareness of these rights and a lack of focus on children’s rights in teacher education. Furthermore, although the rights are for every child everywhere and give children a voice, there are still many around the world who do not have enough food, live without an education and are forced to work.

Since 1989, a number of picturebooks have been published about children’s rights which provide teachers with an excellent resource for introducing children to their rights. The picturebooks appear in a variety of genres using different formats and media and include

autobiography, for example ‘Malala’s Magic Pencil’ (see Sandie’s post of 5 November)
information books such as ‘Children who changed the world’, by Marcia Williams and published by Walker Books in 2020 which tells the true stories of child activists
narrative where one or more rights from the UNCRC are conveyed through the storyline , for example, ‘You Can’ by Alexandra Strick and illustrated by Steve Antony published by Otter-Barry Books in 2021 which reinforces the message of children’s right to live happy, positive and fulfilling lives
verse such as ‘Freedom, We Sing’ (see PEPELT films January 2021) and ‘Every Child a Song, A celebration of children’s rights’ by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Marc Martin, published by Wren & Rook in 2020, which uses the metaphor of song to introduce children to the rights they are entitled to.

I (Gail) have chosen to write about an information book and a narrative. ‘For Every Child the rights of the child in words and pictures’ is a great picturebook to help children to become aware of their rights. The text is adapted by Caroline Castle and it was published by Red Fox in association with UNICEF in 2002. It has a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the 14 rights featured in the picturebook are explained in an afterword. Each right is presented on a double page spread and illustrated by a different artist from around the world in their own distinctive illustrative style. This picturebook can be used to encourage thinking and discussion about children’s rights, such as why each right is required, and which countries do or do not achieve the rights.

‘The Name Jar’ by Yangsook Choi published by Dragonfly Books in 2001 tells the story of Unhei and her family who move from Korea to America. Unhei is concerned that her classmates will not be able to pronounce her name. As she is anxious to fit in so she considers changing her name and her classmates help out by filling a glass jar with suggested names she could choose from. However, as the story unfolds, she comes to understand that her name has a special meaning and is part of her cultural identity. At the end of the story, she finds her voice and exercises her agency. She writes her name in both English and Korean on the board and helps her classmates pronounce it correctly. The story links well to Article 7 of the UNCRC ‘You have the right to have a name and a nationality’ and can be used to encourage children to find out the meaning and uniqueness of their own names and to think about naming conventions in different parts of the world. The book is quite text heavy so would be suitable for older primary learners of English. There is a read-aloud of the story by Yangsook Choi herself, here

Do tell us about picturebooks you have used to establish a children’s rights culture in your English language classrooms.

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Tatia (I) continues our theme of Children’s Rights and, like Gail, I would like to review a number of picturebooks. With the sharp rise in cost of living, poverty —silent or otherwise—is becoming a reality for an increasing number of adults and children. Hence, my chosen pictureboooks are narratives which focus on financial hardship and link to Article 27 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. I give a short synopsis of each book, an indication of language level, provide a few suggestions for using the book and some links to read-alouds and additional resources.

These picturebooks offer an excellent entry point to raising awareness in your PELT class of children depending on foodbanks, soup kitchens and/ or being homeless. What stands out is that all three books maintain a degree of cheerfulness and a sense of hope which contrast to the seriousness of the topic. Children learn that things are not always as they seem and so these picturebooks also offer a stepping stone for children to discuss how they and their school can help.

Book 1:‘The Invisible’, written and illustrated by Tom Percival (2021)

“The Invisible is the story of a young girl called Isabel and her family. They don’t have much, but they have what they need to get by. Until one day, there isn’t enough money to pay their rent and bills. It is the story of a girl who goes on to make a difference and it is the story of those who are overlooked in our society – who are made to feel invisible – and why everyone has a place here. We all belong. “ (Simon & Schuster)

suitable for more advanced primary learners
comprehension of low-frequency words is often supported by the illustrations
read & discuss message by author at the back of the book – are children surprised?
ask: do you think you need to be poor to understand what being poor is?
create: think of an event for all local children in your local community and make a poster with the necessary information
author video read-aloud:
excellent, very visual teaching pack by publisher / Tom Percival – includes activities to discuss feelings and the importance of the local community (

Book 2: ‘Still a Family’, written by Brenda Reeves Sturgis and illustrated by Jo-Shin Lee (2017)

“A little girl and her parents have lost their home and must live in a homeless shelter. Even worse, due to a common shelter policy, her dad must live in a men’s shelter, separated from her and her mom. Despite these circumstances, the family still finds time to be together. “ (Whitman & Co)

suitable across all levels as text is mostly short and word choices are generally carefully chosen to facilitate a younger audience
low-frequency words (verbs and nouns) such as bunk bed, tarp, cot or quilt are supported by illustrations
low-frequency adjectives such as snug, cozy, squishy or tattered offer opportunities to develop visual literacy by guessing the meaning
ask: how would you feel having the life as described in the story?
write, draw, tell: choose a name for the girl and her parents and continue the story in writing and / or drawing and then share their story.
author video read-aloud:
video read-aloud published by author with subtitles and pages only:

Book 3: ‘It’s a No-Money Day’, written and illustrated by Kate Milner (2019)

“Mum works really hard, but today there is no money left and no food in the cupboards. Forced to visit the local foodbank, Mum feels ashamed that they have to rely on the kindness of others. Maybe one day things will be different but for now together they brighten up even the darkest of days.” (Barrington Stoke)

suitable across all levels as text is short, some pages are wordless
illustrations: facial expressions, and choice of colours offer a starting point to develop visual literacy
low-frequency adjectives such as snug, cozy, squishy or tattered offer opportunities to develop visual literacy by guessing the meaning
ask: what would you do all day if you had no money? Do you know any activities that are available free of charge for children in your town / village?
ask: what kind of support could you give to your local foodbanks and the children who depend on them?
sample pages:
comprehensive teaching pack:

I hope you like these suggestions and do tell us about any picturebooks you have used to discuss poverty in your English language classrooms.

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In November we have chosen to discuss picturebooks that focus on children’s rights in some way. The last of our posts is by Anneta Sadowska, who, as ever brings us her fascinating experience of using picturebooks in the PELT classroom.

In her film, Anneta describes four picturebooks and the opportunities they provided for her to look at children’s rights with a focus on the right to a name ‘Children have the right to their own identity – an official record of who they are which includes their name, nationality and family relations (Articles 7 and 8 of the UNCRC).

What Anneta realised was that she needed to introduce the notion of children’s rights and what they are, before sharing the first picturebook ‘I have the right to be a child’ (words by Alain Serres, illustrated by Aurélia Fronty and translated by Helena Mixter), which enabled her learners to expand on their understanding of children’s rights generally.

The three picturebooks she shared for discussion and activities based on the right to a name were:

‘The name jar’ by Jansook Choi
‘Your name is a song’ written by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and illustrated by Luisa Uribe
‘Alma and how she got her name’ by Juana Martinez-Neal

Watch Anneta’s enthusiasm for the picturebooks she chose and the opportunities they afforded her for some very meaningful activities in English. Enjoy!