The Tiny Woman’s Coat
Walker Books, 2021
28pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
A storm is brewing and the tiny woman realises she will need a coat to stay dry and warm. But where will she get the cloth, the scissors, the thread, the needle, the buttons?
On the surface this is a lovely story about friendship and co-operation in the tiny woman’s community but to those who understand how little children learn to read it is so much more than that.
When I started my initial teacher ed course in New Zealand in 1970, Joy Cowley was the leading author behind the Ready to Read series, a collection of basal readers that was used in junior classrooms in every school in New Zealand for reading instruction. In the 70s there would have been few Kiwi children who were unfamiliar with Early in the Morning , Grandma Comes to Stay and The Fire Engine, and the thrill of moving from red to yellow, blue and green levels before starting on ‘chapter books” like The Donkey’s Egg or The Hungry Lambs. The series was revolutionary in its approach to teaching children to read because it used natural language rather than phonics or controlled vocabulary, drawing on the research on world leaders in early literacy like Sylvia Ashton-Warner and Dr Marie Clay. She then went on to be the talent behind the Storybox Library series with titles like Mrs Wishy Washy and The Kick-a-Lot Shoes.
And it is her knowledge and experience of how children learn that underpins this story so that they can experience “real reading” and consolidate their belief that they can be “real” readers. To start with the tiny woman wonders where she will get the cloth for her coat, focusing the reader’s attention of the sorts of things that will be needed to construct it so they can draw on their own experience to suggest the items that will be required. Then each “chapter” starts with the repeated statement and question… “The tiny woman wanted a coat. “Where will I get some…” leaving the reader to suggest what the next word might be and possible solutions. All the while the sky is changing building the anticipation of whether she will get her coat completed before the storm hits.
While there are hundreds of stories written and published for our youngest readers every year, there are few that are so deeply rooted in understanding those early reading behaviours and which consolidate our children’s expectations of being readers as well as those by this author. While the world has clearly moved on from the scenario of Grandma arriving in a Vickers Viscount (after 50+ years I still remember the theme of the stories) , the process of learning to read remains the same, and this is the perfect support to that.