Virtual Storytime – Stacks of Alpacas by Matt Cosgrove

Children’s Book Week Review

Link to Catalogue record for A Stack of Alpacas

A Stack of Alpacas by Matt Cosgrove

Smashing and splashing! Jumping and thumping! Fighting and biting! Macca is looking after his nieces and nephew and they are nothing but TROUBLE! How will Uncle Macca tame this unruly trio?

This book was in the Notable list for Book of the Year: Early Childhood.

I always enjoy Matt Cosgrove’s books and this is no exception. I think one of the things I like best about his book is how much fun they are which makes them deceptive because they are also so beneficial for children’s brains.

Print Awareness

Print awareness is an awareness of how words work on a page. It is one of the best indicators of future reading success and one of the six early literacy skills:

  • Print Motivation
  • Print Awareness
  • Letter Knowledge
  • Vocabulary
  • Phonological Awareness
  • Narrative Skills

Print awareness is about understanding that text, print, has meaning. It is learning through our environment by seeing print around us. Seeing print around us is what we call a print rich environment for instance a child who has a sign on their door with their name on it, seeing books and newspapers around the house, seeing signs or posters on walls, alphabet signs, and the all important one – being read to and seeing print on a page. One of the first parts of this is understanding that print is different from pictures or other items on the page.

Print awareness includes an understanding of how books work – for English language books this includes reading from left to right and top to bottom. In addition, it involves how to hold a book, how to open a book, that there is a title on the front cover and the author will be there too, and how to tell where a story starts or where the writing on the page starts.

Children who grow up in print-rich environments and have spent lots of time looking at books and interacting with them will get to school with an understanding of how books work in preparation for independent reading.

The reason I bring up print awareness is that, as mentioned in the video, this book is an excellent example of how text type, font, and size can impact the way to develop print awareness. Three ways to help children develop print awareness is exposing them to book with print that moves around the page (so they can show they understand how text works even when it isn’t set in stone like in an adult book that is nothing but text), large, clear fonts (so they can follow along and interact with the book without reading), and different text sizes and types (so they can show that they understand that just because text might look different it is still text).

The text in this book achieves all three. It’s a great book to share with children to help them develop print awareness.

Illustrations

I really enjoy Matt Cosgrove’s illustration style which looks to me to be mostly made up of coloured pencil drawings but it’s the positioning that I find really works in his books. He often uses each side of the page for different pictures instead of a double-page illustration but he also splits up the page into mini sections.

For instance, a page that says Macca loves to take naps has three different sections of illustrations all showing the reader that Macca really loves to take naps. On another page however these different sections might also be used to show different parts of the story – a page with two different bits of information (that Macca’s nephews fight and are noisy). This is partnered with white backgrounds so there is no disconnect between the different parts of the story even if they are happening on the same page while also making it easier for the reader to follow the important information. Sometimes the picture also has a coloured background but always on pages where the words and picture are one piece of information.

Matt Cosgrove always manages to inject a lot of excellent details into the facial expressions of his alpacas. It’s easy to spend lots of time looking at, what appear to be, simple illustrations because there is so much detail and little things that you might miss on the first viewing.

Rhyming

Rhyming is amazing, oh, let me count the ways ­čÖé

One of my favourite things about rhyming is this…a word is made up of two parts the onset (the first sound) and the rime (the rest of the word) and when we rhyme it’s because the two rimes sound the same. Yes, I am that much of a dork that this little bit of language amuses me to no end.

Rhyming forms the basis of spelling as all spelling really is is hearing the sounds (er, ight, tion, eight, sh, ch, a, a-e, etc.) and applying the rules you know to them and there you go – spelling. Rhyming is also a great way to play with language and kids will have a go at it and make up all sorts of words that rhyme together.

What rhymes with orange you ask an adult – nothing.
What rhymes with orange you ask a kid – storange, borange, shhhhhlorange, bumorange, etc.

These fanciful rhymings are showing an understanding of what rhyme is and are an important step in understanding language and sounds so it’s always good to get in on the fun and make up some of your own.

As children get older they start to leave behind the nonsense words and focus on formal rhyming but this is based on what they have learned when they were practising and their vocabulary.

Rhyming in books is amazing because it models everything above but also because it’s fun to read and often sets up a rhythm to the text. It gives us a clue where to put emphasis:

Reece rubbed and wiped.
Roo scrubbed and swiped.

We put the emphasis on those rhyming words and in this book that is also assisted by the use of text font and size and discussed above.

Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
Sugar is sweet.
And so are you.

The rhyme here is also the pay off just like it is in different parts of the book. 

Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is the process of creating a word that phonetically imitates, resembles, or suggests the sound that it describes. (Wikipedia)

Onomatopoeia are words like

BOOM! BANG! CRASH! WOOOOOOOOO! Ribbit, roar, baa, moo, etc.

And this book is full of onomatopoeia. But you may be wondering why that’s important it’s because these sounds are part of what they call sound symbolism which is the idea that certain sounds relate to certain word meanings. In the case of onomatopoeia the meaning is completely tied to the sounds in the word which is why in different languages the onomatopoeia for the sound of a clock will differ based on the language that is spoken. In English we commonly use tick tock but in tik tik in Hindi and di da in Chinese. And sound symbolism plays and important role in early language development. In addition, onomatopoeia are a great way of playing with language both in the deliver of meaning and in the tone, intonation, pitch and cadence in which we say the word.

You will have heard the way my niece and I made some of the sounds loud or quiet depending on the meaning of that word.

Activities

Matt Cosgrove’s website is full of amazing things you can colour/make/cut/enjoy that relate to his alpacas.

Series

As I mentioned in the video this book is part of the Alpaca series, with Alpacas with Maracas the National Simultaneous Storytime book in 2019. If you want more Macca and Al check out the other books below.

Link to Catalogue record for Macca the Alpaca
Link to Catalogue record for Macca's Makeover
Link to Catalogue record for Macca's Christmas Crackers
Link to Catalogue record for Alpacas with Maracas