Saturday, 22 June 2013

Top Ten for Baby A

This one is for my old friend Brad. Eschewing my gentle one book per week blogging approach, he has demanded a list straight up. Brad is a man of immense talents, and is also the only person I know of who has cooked a kidney and broccoli pizza and claimed to enjoy it. I am pretty sure his Baby A will be a demanding, discerning and esoteric reader, so I hope this helps feed her need to read.

Baby A is 16 months, so the list is a little skewed towards the younger ones, and I have avoided books already covered in the blog. I apologise for having no Australian ones. The ones I remember loving as a child are all for older children (guess I’ve forgotten the ones I read when I was two!). Suggestions welcome.

This list for slightly younger ones functioned as a bit of a farewell for us. I’m not allowed to read Peepo any more, The Baby’s Catalogue is a distant memory, Brown Bear sits sadly on the shelf and Maisy Tidies Up only gets rare outings.

Here is our top ten for littler ones, anyway:

Peepo by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
The gentle rhythms of Peepo are in my opinion wonderful for supporting language development. The pictures are intricate and full of little details for children to explore. It is also one of those book families that you wish you belonged to. Baby A needs to be bought all books by these two authors, they are completely wonderful. The Baby’s Catalogue is another must-have. Baby H wanted to look at the pictures of highchairs all day.

When We Went to The Park by Shirley Hughes
This is the one I’ve chosen to represent Hughes’ nursery collection, which is all great. This one is particularly special to us because it contains ice-cream. Again, Shirley Hughes books should be bought and stashed for later whenever seen (I have found lots in charity shops).

Maisy Tidies Up by Lucy Cousins
Again, a representative tome. I love the Maisy books because they read like documentaries; observing Maisy’s strange life in which she is seemingly a child-mouse but lives alone and is totally self-governing. Something about the way they are written makes me feel like David Attenborough. We can recite this one in its entirety, and it also seems to have made H rather keen on window-cleaning, which can be no bad thing.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. Illustrations by Clement Hurd
Will put them to sleep. Enough said.

Anno’s Counting Book by Mitsumasa Anno
This comes with an ironclad guarantee that the young reader will blossom into a Nobel-prize winning theoretical physicist (this being one of Brad’s specifications for the Baby A reading list). There is no text, only illustrations that evolve through the book, demonstrating mathematical concepts in real life and showing how much maths youngsters have already unknowingly mastered. Apparently you can teach trigonometry from it, should you be so minded and so able.

You Choose by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodheart
I loathe this book. I really, really loathe it, and its sister Just Imagine. There is only a certain number of times you can read any book before the loathing sets in. But H is passionate about it still and I cannot in all honesty leave it off our top ten. It is good value, too, as it is the sort of book that ages with them, and about which you can have increasingly complex discussions (if you haven’t secretly set fire to it after the nine hundred thousandth iteration).

Husherbye by John Burningham
Again, this is here to represent a completely brilliant author, who is again one you should compulsively seek out and acquire at jumble sales. I am really dazzled by the complexity, the darkness, the range of moods and the humour that he can get into books for such young children. And, once your child has gazed upon the poor single mother cat with nowhere for her kittens to sleep, you can guarantee that he or she will not grow into a nasty ruthless Tory.

The Tiger Who Came for Tea by Judith Kerr
Complete classic. Baby A will be humiliated at playdates if she doesn’t read it. I like thinking about what the tiger represented to the author. I also really love the 60s clothes and furniture. And the Dad’s a bit of a good sort, I reckon.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See by Bill Martin Jr
The perfect book for learning colours. I never tire of looking at the Purple Cat with the green eyes. A wonderful singsong rhythm too, great for speech development.

Doing the Washing by Sarah Garland
Sarah Garland is brilliant. H at just under Baby A’s age was fundamentally and unswervingly focused on washing-machines, so this was a dream come true for him. The family are lovely and happy and they have great times together. When you look at the washing machine, though, it is either broken or an antique piece that I don’t understand. Its relationship with the bath is unnerving.

H comment: I have chosen his favourite bit of Tiger Who Came for Tea, when they go out to the cafe:  ‘What they have Mummy? They have sausages! And chips! And ICE-CREAM!’.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

We’re Going On a Bear Hunt

Written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury.

H and I and some of our friends saw a production of this using puppetry at the Little Angels Theatre in Islington this weekend. For me, it was bittersweet. H was utterly awe-struck by the whole theatre experience. He shouted in breathless fear at the actors, begged them to stop the bear hunt, warned his friend (little girl about half his size, at least twice as brave), and marvelled at the gloved hands doing the puppetry. I felt that here was the exact point at which I no longer had anything left of my baby. He is now a proper little boy with an imagination that will lead him on his own path into the world.

It is a beautiful book, too. Most of all I love the watercolours of the river and mud and forest scenes, which are done in a palette of streaky, milky greys and browns that exactly evoke the gentle light and the cool skies of an English walk.

Michael Rosen has written that the story is based on a folk song. The plot is simple: repeated obstacles in the landscape, family forges through, finds bear, bear chases them all the way home, where they take shelter under a lovely pink duvet. The story can be recited in its entirety after two or three readings, and H and I often tell it to each other on the bus (we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we’ll have to go through it!).

Apparently, the book is also really properly scary. I don’t quite get it, because I have no imagination and nothing ever scared me much as a child. H, however, actually visibly quivers in fear as the family race home and forget to shut the door on the bear and have to sprint back down to slam it just in time.

Definitely a classic, and forever enhanced for us by the wonderful puppet show.

H comment: We not go on bear hunt, Mummy. No, we aren’t. No. Go another day. Bit scared.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Doing the Garden

By Sarah Garland

The mother in Doing the Garden is not me. She is super relaxed and they all fall asleep on the kitchen floor at the end. I, in contrast, am mainly tense and have to admit that sleeping on the floor might not always be advisable under health and safety regulations over at ours. Also, I go to quite impressive lengths (tickling, embarrassing singing, provision of unsuitable snacks) to ensure that H stays awake until I have him ensconced in his cot and can drink tea alone in silence during that most sacred of all times, nap time. I have a feeling that if the Doing the Garden mother and I met, she might go on a lot about baby-wearing, baby-led weaning and cloth nappies. All worthy topics, none interesting (to me).

Yet H and I love this book and the others we have read by Sarah Garland. Garland is great at depicting that feeling of being in a lovely mother-child bubble, in which mundane experiences like going to the garden centre are full of joy, and in which you are usually a public spectacle due to various messes, impractical amounts of equipment and loudly surreal toddlerish conversations. I love that at the checkout the baby is wielding an enormous stone garden gnome, the mother is whacking a bystander with a large tree, and the shop assistant is scowling with that older-woman disapproval we mothers know so well.

The illustrations are brilliant: they tell most of the story, with just a few sentences of text. I still haven’t tired of looking at the kitchen on the last page. A beautiful big Aga, a toy helicopter, wellie boots, cat and dog, dying plant. It speaks of a cosy existence in which the reading child can imagine complete safety and happy day after happy day.

H comment: ‘that lady doin’ the numbers, Mummy’ (yes he has located the only machine in the entire book, the till at the garden centre, and we have analysed its function extensively).