After taking early retirement from teaching Mathematics to A level, I tried to find some storybooks containing very simple words, so that I could help a 5 year old learn the connections between letters and sounds. I could not find any such books and I soon realised that I would have to make my own. I wrote a few stories about two bears. I called the bears Tig and Ted. I began with three letter CVC words and then gradually introduced words with digraphs into the stories. I sent the stories to publishers but no one wanted them. I tried to illustrate them but I could not draw bears.
1998 - 2007
Then, in 1998, my son acquired two kittens. I started on the stories again, only this time I wrote about two kittens. I called them Jelly and Bean. I also found that I could draw cats and kittens, so I made some black and white drawings to illustrate them.
Also in 1998, the new Labour government brought out the National Literacy Strategy. I could hardly believe that my stories fitted its phonic progression. The National Literacy Strategy also published forty-five high-frequency words for children to learn in the Reception Year at school. So I started writing and drawing again to include these forty-five words.
I volunteered as a helper at my grandchildren's infant school in Harrogate. I showed the class teacher my material and she liked it. I started to make A3 sized 'big books' for her to use. She used them for teaching the whole class about letter/sound correspondences. Other teachers in the school used them too. I then wrote and illustrated other 'big books' which covered the phonics to be taught in Years 1 and 2 in the order shown in the National Literacy Strategy. I introduced one new digraph in each book and l used them cumulatively. The Year 1 and 2 teachers at the school began using these too.
I learnt how to make A5 size small books. We used these at the school with the children who were struggling to read. These small books were discovered by the Special Educational Needs advisory teachers in North Yorkshire and Leeds. These advisory teachers recommended them to other local schools. My husband and I began making these small books at home. When we could afford to have them printed commercially, we rented storage facilities for warehousing. Between 2000 and 2005, schools in all areas of the United Kingdom began to use the books with children who were struggling to read. Schools in other countries began using them with pupils who were learning English as a second language. We set up the company Jelly and Bean Ltd in January 2006. We moved to business premises in January 2007.
Meanwhile, the Rose Report had been published in 2006. This report advised schools that children should be taught to read using systematic synthetic phonics and that they should be given phonically 'decodable' books. Even though our books had been devised to complement the analytic phonic philosophy of the National Literacy Strategy, the way in which I had introduced the letters and sounds fitted the synthetic phonic recommendations and more schools in the UK began to use them.
2007 - 2011
In the autumn of 2007 the Department of Education launched the free synthetic phonic programme Letters and Sounds. The phonic progression of Letters and Sounds was not the same as that of the National Literacy Strategy. Children were now to be taught one spelling of each of the 44 phonemes (sounds) of the English language in the Reception Year. All the vowel letter/sound correspondences, other than those of the single letters 'a, e, i, o, u', had been taught in Years 1 and 2 in the National Literacy Strategy era. This was a big addition to the curriculum for the Reception Year. Until then children had only been expected to learn the specific high-frequency words 'see, look, for, play, away, day, like', which contained vowel digraphs.
In practical terms, this new initiative meant that the order of introduction of vowel digraphs and trigraphs in our books was not the same as the order set out in Letters and Sounds. Alterations were necessary.
By revising the language and vocabulary in the books and republishing them in different series I brought the use of phonics in the stories more into line with the phonic progression of Letters and Sounds so that the books could be used with this programme. The government did not provide any books as resources for Letters and Sounds. It only gave teachers guidance about the teaching of phonics. This meant that they were free to use any books and resources available to them which had similar phonic progressions.
All the commercial synthetic phonic programmes available at the time introduced letters and sounds in a different order, and there were very few books available for the Reception Year. This meant that there was a good demand for our books and the number of schools using them grew larger. I wrote the First Words Series in 2010 to accommodate this demand for early books.
I also wrote new stories for Years 1 and 2. Follifoot Farm Series 1, Follifoot Farm Series 2, and the Early Vowels Combinations Series were published in 2011. Follifoot Farm Series 3, which was inspired by Joe Greenwood, when he was aged 11, was published in 2013.
2011 - 2021
in 2011, the new Conservative government tightened up the criteria for synthetic phonic programmes. They made it mandatory for primary schools in England to teach children to read by the synthetic phonic method of 'phonics, first and fast'.
In 2012, they introduced the Phonic Screening Check for all children in Year 1. This assessment was to check that children were able to phonically decode written words and non-words. The results are reported annually.
Also in 2012, James Greenwood joined the company. He devised the Tom and Bella characters for our books. We published three series of books for the Reception Year about the playful and amusing incidents between this pair of children during 2013.
In 2015 we added Tom and Bella Series 4 for children in Year 1.
During the next couple of years we added volumes of writing activities to accompany almost all the books.
In 2019 we added the My First Animals Series for children in the Reception Year even though the letter/sound correspondences in 'lions, tigers, elephants, giraffes and crocodiles' did not fit the phonic sequence of Phase 3.
In 2020 we published Alfie's Adventure. This was one long story about a young elephant lost in Africa. We published it as a series in six chapters in separate books.
2021 - 2022
In 2021, the Conservative government announced that it intended to withdraw Letters and Sounds as a phonic teaching programme, saying that it was 'not fit for purpose' because it did not train teachers or provide resources and support. Commercial companies were invited into a validation process to provide teaching programmes with training, resources and support for teachers including fully matched decodable phonic reading books. We did not apply to become such a provider, because we were not in a position to provide training, lesson plans or support for teachers. Our books were always simply resources for children learning to read.
However, we added Vowel Graphemes Sets 1 and 2 to our collection of books for teachers to use when they were introducing the vowel graphemes of Phonic Phase 3, or for children to use as independent reading books. In these books the vowels with the spellings 'ee, ai, oo, oa, ar, er, or, oo, ow, ur, oi, igh, air, ear, ay, ea' are introduced in separate stories one at a time.
In January 2022 we published the Alfie and Harpo Series. These are six separate stories about Alfie and his friend Harpo playing down by the river. The vocabulary in the stories consolidates the work of Phonic Phase 3 and uses some of the letter/sound correspondences of Phonic Phase 5.
At the end of March 2022, the Department for Education removed Letters and Sounds as an official synthetic phonic teaching programme. There are now 31 different validated synthetic phonic teaching programmes, each having its own set of more than 100 'fully matched decodable' books. Jelly and Bean books are not fully matched to the phonic progressions of any of them.
The school inspectorate is overseeing this government policy in England ensuring that schools keep fidelity to their chosen programme. In practical terms, this means that there is no longer a place for a reading scheme that does not exactly match a specific programme in its introduction of letters and sounds. The letters and sounds ('y' and 'ea') in the names of our characters (Jelly, Bean, Lotty) are not introduced in any of the programmes until pupils reach the final phase (Phase 5). We have decided not to change these names, and we first use them in our books in the Red Book-band (Phase 3). We have also decided to keep our original set of introductory letters (a, c, t, m, h, o, n) and our sequence of introduction for the first 18 letters (Phase 2) in our Starter Books A and B, because the nouns and joining words were chosen with care to ensure that children understood them. We have also not introduced sentences, capital letters and punctuation or the 'tricky' words 'I, go, to' in our books for the Pink Book-band.
For the past 23 years we have provided reading books and writing activities for children learning to read. Our books have been purchased by over 4000 schools and thousands more parents. The combination of phonics and high-frequency words in our books has worked very well for these children. We are now making our books available on Amazon for anyone to purchase. However, one of the constraints of the Amazon system is that books must have more than 24 pages. This means that we are publishing Jelly and Bean books with three or more stories in each book, rather than a series of books with one story in each.
We have uploaded our stories for Phonic Phases 2, 3 and 4 for the Pink, Red and Yellow book-bands for children in the Reception Year. Some children will need these books for reading practice in Year 1. We have also uploaded our books for Phonic Phase 5 in the Blue, Green and Orange book-bands. Some children will need these books for reading practice in Year 2. We have also made sure that all the phonic content to be taught in Year 1 is included in the books. There is information for teachers about the phonic and high-frequency word content of each book on our Teaching Guides page.
Marlene Greenwood. February 2023