A taste of childhood: A year in Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem

img_7911Recently it was my little magpie’s birthday (she is known as the magpie because she is constantly hopping around and has always had an eye for anything sparkly). It had been an exceptionally busy week with me going back to school after the summer holidays and her starting at her new school nursery and so I had had to be very organised with all the birthday planning and it wasn’t until less than a week to go that I realised I had almost forgotten something very important- her birthday book. She couldn’t have a birthday without a book so I started to think about all the things on my ‘To buy’ list which she might like and scrolling through instagram and all my favourite book accounts to see if there was something she would love. As a looked down my feed I saw the ‘Brambly Hedge’ account pop up with ‘Autumn Story’ and I knew it would be perfect.

img_7915As it happened I bought the ‘A year in Brambly Hedge’ box set. The little magpie is very interested in seasons at the moment and so the fact that there is a story for each season is perfect. But also there was a little selfish part of me that wanted the books for myself because I remembered reading them and being in love with the intricate illustrations when I was little. For anyone who has not come across these books before they are as quintessentially British as any Beatrix Potter or AA Milne story. They follow the lives of a community of mice, shrews and voles who live in the hedgerows, trees and bushes of the English countryside.

img_7910The author has taken time to give each of the characters its own personality and they are often featured across the different books so you feel like you get to know them a little bit. They have quite a lot of text in each book but all the stories are exciting- a surprise birthday picnic for Spring, a riverside wedding in Summer, a little mouse lost in the woods in autumn (my favourite) and a Snow Ball in winter- but it’s the illustrations that really draw you in. They are so detailed and as a result the more you look at them the more you notice. What I loved when I was little, and still love now, are the intricate cross sections of the trees where you feel like you can look inside their houses and see the little creatures busy in their homes. I spent many hours looking at these and they still fascinate me today.

img_7911As English animal stories go, these books have all the warmth of a tea party at Pooh corner, mixed in with the adventures of Peter Rabbit but because they were written much more recently (the 1980s) the language is easier for our modern day children to understand. If you are a fan of AA Milne and Beatrix Potter, these should be on your radar! It’s also worth mentioning that they are the perfect size for little fingers as they are small hardbacks which all come in a presentation box. They look so lovely on their shelf- is it just me or does everyone find a set of books like this really satisfying?

Does anyone else have fond memories of these books? My favourite of all was ‘The Secret Staircase’ (I think I might have to save that for ‘book of the week’ one week) but I find them all captivating. I’d be really interested to know if these books ever made it further afield than Britain. Did anyone growing up in another country read these as a child? Drop me a comment below, I love hearing from you!

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Weekly pick: The Little Gardener

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’.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

Best books for babies

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.