Monday 11 February 2013

Review: Ant and Bee by Angela Banner

The much beloved Ant and Bee are back! These delightful and much-loved characters are instantly recognisable to many parents and grandparents today. Ant and Bee teach children to read via word recognition and encourage story sharing with siblings and parents. First published in 1950, Ant and Bee were in print for over 40 years.

Back at the beginning of January 2011 I started what I intended to be a new semi-regular feature called My Life That Books Built, in which I would write about the books that I loved when I was younger. As with many of my blogging plans, this quickly became an occasional feature, and more recently something that I have used as a subject for guest posts from visiting authors.  I do still intend to add to this with my own reading memories, but when it comes to my early years as a reader there are very few books I can remember. 

One of these I used as my first My Life That Books Built post, and was Little Jacko and the Wolf People, with words by Margaret Greaves and pictures by Jill McDonald, and I also remember being very fond of Maurice Sendak's classic Where The Wild Things Are. However, the only other books I can remember reading as a small child are Angela Banner's Ant and Bee books. I have been wanting to write a post about these for some time, but the copies I had as a child have been long lost - as the eldest of five children I would guess that most of my picture books got passed down (but not Little Jacko - I still own and treasure my original copy). However, I did not want to write an Ant and Bee post without copies to refer to, as nostalgia can have a funny effect on memory. Imagine my delight when I recently received a press release from Egmont, announcing that they would be releasing new editions of Angela Banner's books, and thanks to the lovely people there I was soon the owner of the first three re-issued volumes.

On 4th February Egmont published Ant and Bee, More Ant and Bee and More and More Ant and Bee. These books were first published in the 1950s, but new editions came out occasionally, even up to the early 1990s I believe. However, you will be forgiven for not having heard of these, although judging by the excited tweets that appeared following Egmont's announcement, there are a huge number of adults out there who learned to read with the help of Ant and Bee.

As a secondary school teacher I know very little about teaching young children how to read, so I'm not really able to judge these books in that respect. The first book focuses on three-letter words, the idea being that "grown-up read the black words, but the shorter, simpler red words are for the children to call out." Each three-letter word is introduced with its own page and accompanying image, and is then built into the story on the next pages. These words then continue to appear throughout the story, with the expectation that children will start to recognise them. And to add another element - the new words are introduced in alphabetical order, starting with Ant and then Bee, and in this first book finishing off with Zoo. This does lend itself to an occasionally surreal nature to the story, but kids will love it anyway. And with nigh on 100 pages in the book there is also a sense of achievement when reaching the end. The book is also wallet sized, so will fit neatly into an adult's pocket, handbag, etc.

Following on from Ant and Bee, we have More Ant and Bee and More and More Ant and Bee, featuring four- and five-letter words respectively. They also include many of the words learned in the previous volume(s), making them great for linking back to the earlier stories.

Egmont have announced that three more Ant and Bee volumes will be published later in the year: Around the World Ant and Bee; Happy Birthday Ant and Bee; and Ant and Bee and the Rainbow, although I'm hoping that there will be even more to come as my personal favourite from when I was little was Ant and Bee and the Secret.


  1. Lol the book cover was awesome hope that the contents were also awesome to read

  2. Without having seen them and only vaguely remembering them from when I was little (curse you memory!), mixed in with the remains of a PGCE in Primary teaching, I think the general idea behind them is word recognition.

    Whereas for the last few years Phonics has been the be all and end all of teaching children to read, before that it was all about spelling out words and word recognition. So with word recognition, instead of sounding phonically 'a-n-d', you'd just recognise 'and', and that would be part of you learning to read. If I'm right (and not just building on out of date research I read through whilst studying :p ), these sort of books are having a bit of a comeback at the moment because Phonics has been shown to not work 100% of the time for 100% of kids, so word recognition is getting some of it's lustre back.

    Which is all very well and good but really, it's just nice to see old favourites coming back ;) Looking forward to reading more of your Life That Books Built reviews, maybe I'll have more 'oh yeah!' memory moments - thanks for kickstarting one today!

  3. I just stated something that's probably as a teacher already well-known to you - sorry, dodo moment, typed before I thought.

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