In search of decent kids’ books

I’m new to the world of children’s books – or rather, returning after a rather long absence – and I have been impressed by what is out there at the moment… and keen to find more.

I started off in true PFB (Perfect First Born) fashion by reading my son books that were a bit too old for him. But they seemed to ‘overstimulate’ him (squawking and jerking around; it’s easy to spot after a while but at first you think, oh dear, he’ll be on the Ritalin in a few years) so now we’ve gone back to baby books, ie. anything with flaps to look under, and I’m saving the other ones for when he’s a bit older.

He also loves a bit of poetry, I think because babies respond to rhythm, and that is what poetry is all about. Plus it’s meant to be read aloud, so is a good way to appreciate it properly and entertain your baby at the same time.

Here are some of the children’s books I’ve either discovered or rediscovered lately. I would love to hear any recommendations of good authors & books…

John Brown, Rose & The Midnight Cat
Rose and her dog, John Brown, have lived together peacefully for years. One night a black cat appears at the window, and everything changes. You can get original 1970s copies on Amazon, which have a much finer print quality – the illustrations have a sort of dusky softness, a bit like moth’s wings. When read as a child, you pick up on the sadness of John Brown as he resists change. As an adult, the black cat becomes a metaphor for Rose’s death. Either way, it’s a beautiful story.

Owl Babies
Three owls wake up in the forest to find that their mother has gone. Will she return, and how will they cope in the meantime? I found my dog-eared copy in a charity shop, and it had obviously been popular with its former little owners, whose names are in the front. And I imagine more than one mum would choke up at the image of a mother owl flying through the dark forest to her babies.

Little Blue
A boy comes across a little blue girl on a walk. She tells him of her home, far away, and how she misses it. The mystery of Little Blue is revealed rather brilliantly, yet simply, at the end of the story. This book is written and illustrated by Australian author Gaye Chapman.

Goodnight Moon
A classic from the fifties, this was a childhood favourite of an American friend, who made me buy it from Daunts Bookshop in Marylebone. Soothing, soporific rhythms – ‘goodnight nobody, goodnight mush’ and the slowly darkening illustrations make it an obvious choice for bedtime (although sometimes it works too well and I almost put myself to sleep).

A Quiet Night in
Mrs Large wants a quiet night in with her husband, so decides to pack the children off to bed early. With limited success. The Large Family stories depict the way that children gradually take over, but in a nice way.

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes  
The name says it all really – ‘There was one little baby who was born far away, and another who was born on the very next day. And both of these babies – as everyone knows – had ten little fingers and ten little toes’. Beautiful illustrations by British illustrator Helen Oxenbury and words by Aussie children’s author/total legend Mem Fox.

And for the East London link, well, Victoria Park Books (pictured above) is a good local stockist of (mostly) children’s books. The owners, who live upstairs, hold a free reading at 11am on Friday mornings for anyone who wants to turn up.

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