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.
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.
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.
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?”
Hello, I’m Claire. You may have seen me sharing my excitement about children’s books over on Instagram during the last six months. If so, thanks for following along and welcome to the new venture- a blog! I have procrastinated long and hard about this but with a few gentle nudges in the right direction here I am and I’m very excited to enter this brave new world.
I haven’t shared a lot about me over on instagram so here’s a little more about how I came to have a book obsession. Continue reading “Welcome!”