Thanks to the new addition to the household I’m finally able to indulge in one of my great pleasures - children’s books. At the recent Canberra Lifeline Bookfair I spent hours (not kidding) scouring through the stacks of picture books looking for goodies. I certainly found some old favourites, and even discovered some new ones. It inspired me to share with you some of the books and authors I‘ve been reading recently.
The Berenstain Bears and The Spooky Old Tree
‘Three little Bears. One with a light. One with a stick. One with a rope’
I loved this book when I was little. Jan and Stan Berenstain wrote what has become an empire of children’s books. Often their Bears series is moralistic, and I’ve seen many that I wouldn’t be interested in. This one though, is a real charmer, as is the similar (but not quite as good) Bears in the Night. The story is simple: as the bears climb through the spooky old tree they gradually lose their belongings and gain the shivers. The language has a lovely rhythm and rhyming scheme, and is repetitive without being annoying. This makes it perfect both to read to young children, and for older children starting to read to themselves.
An old favourite who is still publishing - the delightful One Night At The Zoo was released in 2009. Kerr is best known for her first book The Tiger Who Came To Tea; it’s a great book - there is something slightly anarchic about this unexpected guest who proceeds to eat all the family’s food. It’s funny, appealing to a child’s sense of naughtiness. The Mog series are also deserving of a prime spot on the book shelf. Originally from Germany (yes, she also wrote When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit) she thought learning to read in English was very hard so she puts a lot of work into making the book accessible for early readers. It’s easy to focus on entertaining children with a book, but encouraging children’s confidence to read for themselves is so important. It’s lovely to have books that do both.
Emily Gravett is more of a newcomer, and if you thought the aforementioned Tiger was wicked, wait until you see what can happen in her books. She is most well known for The Odd Egg, in which a duck is teased by the other birds for not having an egg. When he finds an egg of his own he is delighted but then it hatches with unexpected - and for the other birds unfortunate - results. It’s fantastic. One of her newest offerings is a version of the three little pigs, in which she actually makes you feel sorry for the wolf. Gravett illustrates her own stories, and plot is often conveyed in the pictures. This makes them great for less confident readers as they can still get the punch lines purely from the illustration.
Last but certainly not least
Helen Nicoll and Jan Pieńkowski
The Meg books, about a witch, her cat (another Mog) and her friend Owl, were first published in the 70s. The stories are simple and the bright block-colour pictures are real eye catchers. Meg is an unsuccessful witch: none of her spells ever work, and sometimes they have disastrous, but funny, results. The books are short, but exuberant. There are about fifteen in this series, most of which I have never read, but I love the ones I remember. The author Helen Nicoll passed away recently, so we won’t see any new ones, but I think these books will remain popular for years to come.
It is one thing to pick the best new books, or old favourites, to read with your children. But more important is to just read to them, with whatever you choose. Who has ever met a child who doesn’t love a story? I’m sure I’ll get sick of reading the same book over and over, but it is such a precious gift to give your child. I could always do what my father did when he got sick of reading Harry By The Sea - turn it into a (much shorter than the book) song.