It is my unwavering belief that picture books help children to make sense of the world around them. If they are finding something difficult there is almost certainly a book that will help them out with it. Friendships can be one of the most difficult things for our little ones to navigate through. One day someone is your best friend, the next they don’t want to know you, the day after that they want to be your friend and it’s your turn to play it cool. Its all so tricky. There are gazillions of books about friendships and it’s a theme I plan to revisit many, many times but for today I thought I would champion some of the most interesting books I have recently discovered that show the reality of friendships and could help children to view friendship in a new way.
If you, like me, have a little one going to nursery or school for the first time this September (blub), or if they are starting a new school, or if the summer holidays have been so long and lovely that your children have just forgotten all the fun things about school and seem a bit reluctant to go back then broaching the subject can be a tricky. Why not try one of these books to help them reflect on their feelings about school, start a converstaion about what they are looking forward to and give them the opportunity to share anything they might be nervous about.
As many of you know, a little book habit began on instagram. And it is instagram that was solely responsible for me buying this book. Published in the U.S. before the U.K. I had seen so many people raving about it and showing pictures of it and I completely fell for the hype. Luckily, now I have my very own copy, I can see that they were all right.
Nibbles himself is totally loveable from the start; a sunny, funny little monster that is not in the least scary, other than for the fact that he could cause your book collection some serious damage! He happily eats his way through three well known fairy tales (Goldilocks, Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk) and ends up as part of the story, changing the outcome. Not all the characters are happy about this but if your little reader is familiar with the originals they are bound to find it hilarious.
One of the most exciting things about this book is that it has made use of various techniques- flaps, holes in the pages and even books within books- which makes it even more irrestistable for little ones. Mine literally can’t keep her hands off it! And thankfully the quality is really good and they have all proven to be very sturdy so no problems here with over zealous fingers tearing anything. Everything has been really painstakingly planned and carefully thought out so that a hole on a page reveals something which ever way the page is turned (my particular favourite is Little Red Riding’s furious face peeping through to the next page) and definitely add something to the telling of the story rather than being a gimmick.
All in all, this is a book that you won’t regret buying. It would make a beautiful present as it really is a bit more special than your average picture book (this is not taking anything away from ordinary picture books; as you know, I love them!) and has been written, illustrated, designed and published to the highest standard. It appeals equally to boys and girls and to a wider age range than usual because of its paper engineering and twists on old favourites. If you have been tempted, make the leap. I haven’t regretted it and I bet you won’t either.
Book habit rating: Beg, borrow or buy? BUY!
I really love instagram but there are times when I feel like I’m not really doing the books justice when I feature them on there, so I have decided that I’m going to try something new. Enter the new hashtag #bookhabitweeklypick.
It was tough picking which book woud go first but after a weekend where I finally felt like we were beginning to see some signs of spring I chose Emily Hughes’ beautiful ‘The Little Gardner’.
When I bought this book it was just a chance encounter. I didn’t flick through the pages, I hadn’t heard of it before or read anything by the author I just saw the cover and thought it looked interesting. I’m so glad I did. It has become a well-loved book in our house for both me and the little Magpie (my daughter, currently 3 and a half).
The text is simple, repetitive and gentle. It guides you through the story of a tiny gardner (perhaps some kind of fairy folk, although he doesn’t seem to possess any magical powers) and his friendly worm. Between them they try everything to keep the garden beautiful but it is just too much for them. After realising that the job is too big, the gardner wishes for help and then falls into a deep slumber for a month. When he awakes he finds that the universe has granted his wish (nearby children have cleared and planted while he slept). Where once it was overgrown and dangerous there are now flowering plants and new wildlife.
Part fairy tale, part fable, this story puts a great emphasis on the qualities of trying hard, perseverance, asking for help and most of all having hope. The text is used sparingly and all the emotions and extra details come from the intricately beautiful illustrations. Every time we look at them we find another hidden detail that we haven’t spotted before and this helps to keep the book exciting for little ones. The colour palette is more muted than many children’s books but it really adds to the atmosphere of the story and makes the garden transformation more visual and exciting at the end.
Emily Hughes is a really special talent and has a style which is instantly recognisable. If you haven’t given her books a try yet I would urge you to track them down and give them a whirl. They are truly magical and timeless and would easily earn their place on the most beautiful bookshelf.
If you have already enjoyed ‘The Little Gardner’ or would like to look out for more of her work, Emily Hughes has also published ‘Wild’ and has recently illustrated ‘A Brave Bear’ written by Sean Taylor.
A lot of the time, when people read with their children they do it to help them with their literacy skills and there is no doubt that works but to me reading is so much more than that. Reading benefits every part of who they are. Social skills, problem solving, patience, motivation, empathy, understanding of relationships can all be developed by simply picking up a book and diving in. And if you manage to help your child develop a love of reading then it is something that will be with them for their entire life, and that’s not something you can say about a lot of things. Being a child can be hard work but when they immerse themselves in a book they can really switch off. Not just the older children either. If my three year old is having a bad day a book can really break into her mood and it can be like pressing the reset button. This does not always work but is well worth a try! Below are just a few of my thoughts on what books can do for us and our children and not one of them is anything to with literacy. (Please remember that all of these also apply to adults reading books as well!)
Books can cleverly take something scary and make it funny.
Books can make you feel as though you are not alone.
Books can make you laugh when you want to cry.
Books can transport you to a million places when you can’t leave the house.
Books can make you see things from a different point of view.
Books can help you find an answer to a question noone else can answer.
Books can make you believe in magic.
Books can make you think for yourself.
Books can give you goals and dreams.
Books can turn an ordinary day into a magnificent adventure.
Books can be something different each time you read them.
With all the amazing choice in the picture book market these days, it is sometimes easy to forget the stories which have been around for hundreds of years. While some people believe that an over reliance on fairy tales might lead our children to develop some negative stereotypes, I’m sure that as part of a well balanced selection they can be taken at face value as the magical, exciting stories that they are. Once children get to school there is no doubt that they will be exposed to lots of them, the repetition and simple structures make the traditional story an important tool in a developing a child’s literacy. I think there is also a case to be made that many of these stories have become a part of our culture, in an age of technology where the latest fad may seem quite alien to other family members, a story like these can sweep aside age differences and give different generations a common narrative that they can enjoy together.
That being said, there are so many versions of each story that the qualiy can vary massively; some are whittled down to their bare bones or are produced without much thought or feeling while others are beautifully and thoughtfully written. It can be difficult to find a really good quality edition of some of the favourites we want to share with our children. Below I have selected books that I own which I feel really bring the traditional story to life in some way, be it through illustration, the use of language or giving a twist on the original story. I hope that you find something new here to look out for and if you know of a good one that’s been missed off the list please fill me in- I’m always on the look out for a new book!
Traditonal and Wonderful
Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Emma Chichester Clark
Those of you familiar with the Blue Kangaroo books will recognise this author/illustrator but I have to confess that this book is my absolute favourite of hers. The illustrations are so beautiful and rich with detail that they will straightaway catch your eye and capture your imagination. Emma has also put lots of thought into the story adding interesting vocabulary and extra little repeated phrases which makes it really enjoyable to read aloud, especially the dialogue she creates for Goldilocks. The text is on the long side but never boring and I’m sure it is a version which will have you revisiting it again and again. Oh and the endpapers have to have a special mention because they are just amazing!
The Gingerbread Boy by Paul Galdone
This book could not be more different from the Goldilocks above. It is illustrated in a very simple way whoch reminds me a bit of a woodcut. It uses mostly muted colours and has a rustic, countryside feel to it. However, it really does capture the spirit of the Gingerbread boy for me. Some people find it a bit more challenging to read as ‘Gingerbread Boy’ doesn’t fit into the rhyme quite as well but the children I have read it to (in school and at home) have never seemed to mind. Add to that some extra characters on the cast list eg a barn full of threshers and a field full of mowers, and there is plenty of discussion to be had about when this story is set and what those words actually mean. However, the stand out page for me is the one where the fox eats the the gingerbread boy and the illustration shows the gingerbread boy’s head peeping out from between his jaws as it’s being swallowed. I have never met a child who doesn’t love that combination of wicked and funny and it really gives the end of the story an extra bit of excitement.
The Gigantic Turnip by Aleksei Tolstoy and Niamh Sharkey
I’ve owned this book for a long time and I still get excited about looking at it because the illustrations are so good. The text is faithful to the traditional story and really repetetive which again reinforces the structure for the children listening to it and gives them plenty of opportunities for joining in and being actively involved in ‘reading’ it. The old man and the old woman are completely adorable which has you rooting for them from the beginning and the muted colours are used really cleverly to create a slightly dark atmsophere around the farm. I enjoy lots of the stories published by ‘Barefoot Books’ but this one has really stood the test of time for me and I’m confident it would do the same for any little bookworm.
Hare and Tortoise Retold by Alison Murray
I recently went on a book binge and this is new to my collection but I already love it. The illustrations flick between anatomical style pages labelling the features of each animal, maps and more traditional layouts which contribute towards telling the story. The text is gentle enough that you feel sorry for hare rather than totally disliking him and each animal has their own little refrain which gets the children joining in quickly. I also love the care she has taken over the verbs she has chosen to describe each character and can imagine it boosting vocabulary if read several times- tootle, race, chase, wander are just some of the examples. All in all a big thumbs up for this one, a lovely retelling of a classic that everyone should know.
Classics with a twist
These have been around for many years (as a child my sister and I were obsessed with Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes and could recite many of them off by heart after a particularly bookish summer holiday) and are a fun way to mix things up and explore the stereotypes which can make us wary of this genre of books. Best read once your child has a solid understanding of the original, they are usually given a comic slant and are great fun for both the reather and the audience.
The Fairytale Hairdresser series by Abie Longstaff and Lauren Beard
My daughter chose this one and it has to be said it didn’t appeal to me straight away. Firstly, it is super girly with glittery pages and the theme which links all the books together is a hairdresser/ matchmaker from what I can tell (I have to admit I have only read two of them so far- the Rapunzel one and the Beauty and the Beast one) with quite a lot of mentioning of make overs, styling and such. However, the characters do seem to be more diverse than the usual stories. Also, it did emphasise the message of looking at the person inside rather than external appearances with the beast. Anyway, if you have a daughter of a certain age they will probably love this. Plus, as I said in a previous post, it’s important to let them make their own book choices as well as feeding them the ones we love and for my daughter this fitted that criteria perfectly.
The three little wolves and the big bad pig by Eugene Trivizas and Helen Oxenberry
This works equally well with a class full of children or as a bedtime story. It is quite wordy but so fun that even quite young children can keep going to the end without losing concentration. The big bad pig is just about as mean as a picture character can get, the houses the wolves build become more and more elaborate (think concrete, steel girders and all manner of equipment, appealing to those children who love a construction theme) and so does the pig’s method of getting in. While the beginning is quite dark, the ending is truly magical and actually a lot less hair raising than the original and carries a great message of thinking about things in different ways to solve problems. The illustrations are detailed and beautiful- it’s Helen Oxenberry so you can just imagine how perfect they are. It will also appeal to children who might think they have grown out of the traditional stories genre as the vocabulary is challenging and clever. Big thumbs up for this one!
Prince Cinders by Babette Cole
Of the books I’m featuring, this one is furthesy from its original form and it’s a real breath of fresh air. It features a wimpy Prince Cinders, a rubbish fairy that gets the spells wrong, a proposing princess and three hairy big brother princes who are eventually turned into house fairies and bare more than a passing resemblance to Freddy Mercury in the music video where he’s doing the hoovering. Children of all ages will enjoy this book but it’s probably best aimed at slightly older children so that they get the full force of the humour behind this book. A classic for a very good reason and perfect if you want to do something to balance out the stereotyping in the classic version.
I’d love to know what your favourite traditional story was as a child and whether you enjoy reading fairy tales to your children or intentionally steer them away. My final thought is from Albert Einstein:
“If you want your child to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
Lately my daughter came home from nursery with her ‘Next Steps in Learning’ one of them mentioned retelling familiar stories. This is something she loves to do and that’s probably because she has always been read to. But did you know that it is the rereading of the same books over and over again which helps young minds to absorb the structure of stories so that it becomes part of their everyday vocabulary, then their play and eventually one day their writing? Which means it doesn’t matter too much if you have access to hundreds of books or a carefully selected few, if you read them together regularly this will have a positive affect on your child’s use of language. Great news, hey?
I don’t know about you but it seems to be getting to that time of year again where everyone is having babies. And with that comes the task of buying presents for the little bundle of joy. It’s something I love to do but as the mountains of baby clothes and toys pile up isn’t it nice to be the person who picks out something that will last beyond the first twelve months? That’s where books come into their own as a well chosen book, even a board book, can be treasured long after the first birthday. In fact the chosen few may even be passed on to younger siblings or even generations of children and grandchildren. My mum saved a couple of my old favourites and I love sharing them with my little girl.
But what should we be looking for in a good book for a baby? Well, it needs to be visually appealing, have some element of the familiar about it (either the setting, characters or something else that the baby can start to recognise and relate to) and some element of playing with words. This may come in the form of rhyme, repetitive phrases or fun words that they can gurgle along to and try to imitate. Most importantly, it needs to be fun for the person who has to read it aloud (many, MANY times) so that they want to keep reading it and the baby gets to hear it over and over again.
Feeling inspired? Well, I have done some pretty extensive research and here is my guide to eight of the best books for babies. Every one of these can be found on my own bookshelves and my reviews are not sponsored, they are just books that I know babies love. All you need to do is pick your favourite, buy it, wrap it up beautifully and then open up the world of books for the next age of bookworms…
Part 1- The classics
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see? Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle.
This book will always have a special place in my heart as it is the first book I ever read to my baby when she was just a couple of weeks old. When I was changing her nappy I used to wedge it between the changing mat and the wall for her to look at and, due to the high contrast pictures, she was mesmerised. The sentences are repetitive which make it easy for children to join in with and repeat (once they are a bit older!) and it also focuses on key vocabulary building with colours and animals. Perfect for a sibling to read to their new baby brother or sister. No wonder it’s still going strong almost fifty years after it was first published.
We’re going on a bear hunt. Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury
Every child will associate with the excitement of going on an adventure with their family and whether you choose to believe it was all in the imagination or you think there really was a bear you will find yourself sucked into the story. It has beautiful, atmospheric illustrations, lots of opportunities for making pre-language sounds and a repeated verse to join in with. A staple of any nursery book shelf.
The tiger who came to tea. Judith Kerr
A whimsical tale of what happens when Sophie and her mother open the door one day and find a hungry tiger there. (Don’t worry, this tiger isn’t frightening- unless you count the cost of the food it makes its way through). It has a lovely gentle tone and the illustrations are classically beautiful which is part of the reason it has stayed a favourite with young children for decades.
Each peach pear plum. Janet and Allan Ahlberg
This was one of my favourites as a young child and if I really think about it I can still recite most of it by heart, so it gets a big tick for repetitive, rhyming, memorable language! It cleverly weaves a tale using familiar fairy tale characters so that children can transfer what they know from one book into another. The illustrations are really detailed so that as the child gets older they can start to spot different things in them and it ends with everyone on a big finale page so you can recap what happened and who everyone is. It was tough to pick just one of the Ahlberg books but this one just shades it for me because it grows with the child as they get older and will be read and loved for many years.
Part 2- The Quirky
What a wonderful world. Illustrated by Tim Hopgood
This is the book I have recently been giving to new babies, including my new baby niece. It is different enough that they probably won’t be given it by anyone else, beautiful to look at and really embodies all the sentiment you feel when a new baby arrives. It uses the lyrics from the famous song sung by Louis Armstrong (written by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss) and has such a feel-good, positive message that no one will be able to resist it.
Orange pear apple bear. Emily Gravett
In my opinion a work of total genius. Each page contains the same four words in different orders to tell the story. The illustrations are so clever- comical, sensitive, beautiful. I don’t know how she came up with the idea but its perfect for tiny ones and their limited attention span as it can be read very quickly or you can linger over each page, depending what mood your baby is in! The epitome of short but sweet.
Part 3- Recent finds
Shh! We have a plan. Chris Haughton
Stunning to look at with a simple, pared back style of writing and a repeated phrase, this one is a winner with the littlies. This book also has the added appeal of making the smallest character the cleverest. I also loved that the moral of the story is that kindness and quietness is often the best tactic. Again, it was hard to pick just one book from this author, any would be suitable as a baby gift but this one just shades it for me because it is soooo eye catching!
Where bear? Sophy Henn
High contrast illustrations aplenty in this gorgeous book about a bear and his boy. There is lots of repetition, plenty to talk about within every picture (many of which you may want to pull out of the book and frame for your walls) and if you happened to have a white teddy to go with it, this would be a perfect gift. Also great for when little fingers are able to point as they can find the bear and the boy on every page. Stylish enough to grace any nursery bookshelf and one that I am always happy to read aloud again.
Well, now you’ve seen my pick of the books for babies, I’d love to know what you think. Is there something glaring that I have missed out? Comment below, I’m always excited to read your recommends and add them to my reading list.
Hooray for World Book Day! The day of the year where:
a) parents hurriedly try to find/ make/ buy a costume for their children, while…
b) teachers carefully plan opportunities for their classes to love books even more whilst managing a pack of excited children in fancy dress, dressed as (in my case) a giant red crayon and…
c) children get giddy because their teacher is dressed as a giant red crayon and they get to be superheroes/ princesses/ animals for the day.
It has its critics but for all that, I still love it. Continue reading “World Book Day 2016”
Whilst browsing Instagram this morning I saw a beautifully illustrated quote on Chris Riddell’s feed which said “I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children.” He was quoting Neil Gaiman. It really set me thinking. Is it really snobbery and foolishness that makes us believe some books are better for our children than others or is there a good reason why we carefully select some books for our children and push others away? Continue reading “Is there such a thing as a bad book?”