Sunday, 9 October 2011

what I'm reading (out loud)

ONE of the reasons I don't read as much as I used to, as I said in yesterday's post, is that having kids doesn't exactly leave you with hours on end to curl up with a book. But actually that wasn't strictly true. I still read a lot: just mostly aloud, and about space and dinosaurs.
Bedtime favourites come and go with my son, but there are a handful of books that have become particularly trusted old friends: some have been loved for years, while others were simply intensely right for their time. And now he's four and learning to read for himself, good stories read aloud seem to have become if anything an important respite from plodding through Biff, Chip and sodding Kipper.
So leaving aside the standard preschool books everyone has (anything by Julia Donaldson, and classic nursery tales) these are the ones we wouldn't have been without.

1. Night Night, by Marie Birkinshaw. The first book I ever read him as a baby, this is unashamed pro-sleep propoganda, with added liftable flaps. Wildly popular until the puppy chewed all the corners off it. So we moved on to...
2. Trucks (author's name lost in mists of time). An old friend of mine visiting from San Francisco gave him this touchy-feely board book of trucks. This is how my son learned words like 'articulated' before 'granny'. It was rehomed (with another truck-loving baby) only after an undignified struggle, when he was three.
3. I Took The Moon For A Walk, by Carolyn Curtis. My sister gave us this: it's a magical, singsong rhyming story about a little boy walking through the night, and we read it so often I knew it by heart. On long car journeys, he would instantly fall asleep if I started reciting it. Just looking at the cover makes me feel nostalgic and we still read it now.
4. The Elephant and the Bad Baby, by Raymond Briggs. I loved this as a child too: a gallumphing elephant, with a baby on board, pinches things from a series of shops - the butcher, the baker, the greengrocer - presumably unfathomable to kids raised on Tesco's. The moral of the story, somewhat subversively, is not 'don't shoplift' but 'always say please'.
5. The Tiger Who Came To Tea, by Judith Kerr. Apparently there's a whole literary subculture devoted to figuring out what the tiger who barges into a little girl's teatime is an allegory for (the Nazis invading Poland? the mother's lover, smuggled in while Daddy's out working?). But my son just liked the way the tiger slurps everything.
6. Volcanoes (Usborne Beginners series), Stephanie Turnbull. I can't remember when or why the obsession with volcanoes started, but it feels like forever. A non-fiction children's book answering all the questions I frankly couldn't about what how and why volcanoes erupt, still much loved. (Honourable mentions too for I Wonder Why the Wind Blows, by Anita Ganeri and How the World Works, by Christiane Dorion which also explain natural phenomena in child-friendly ways).
7. I Am Absolutely Too Small For School, by Lauren Child. Most of the Charlie and Lola books were popular but he read this one over and over again during his first fortnight at school. It deals brilliantly with the little things children actually worry about, like who to sit next to at lunch. I'd buy it for any child in the summer before starting school.
8. My Dad: Anthony Browne. That surprisngly rare thing, a book that's unashamedly upbeat about fathers. Excellent antidote to too much Daddy Pig, and a good one for encouraging fathers to read with kids.
9. Smelly Peter, Green Pea Eater by Steve Smallman. It's about a small boy who only eats peas, turns green, and farts a lot: sophisticated it ain't, but small boy heaven.
10. Monsters: An Owner's Guide, By Jonathan Emmett and Mark Oliver. About a flatpack monster who arrives in the post and trashes everything: I've bought several copies since for friends' children.
Both these last two, incidentally, were random finds in the library which became favourites - as Meg Rosoff's Jumpy Jack and Googily seems to be doing this week. I've not seen them in the major book chains, where the children's selection seems to be as safe and same-y now as the adults': an argument both for keeping libraries open if ever there was one, and of course for independent bookshops. (My favourite of which, incidentally, is the Crow On The Hill near where we used to live in south London: its owner hosts one of the best blogs on books around. And certainly the most sarcastic.)


  1. great list, my youngest now 8, also adored charlie and lola collection... also a big it was "we're going on a bear hunt" by Rosen and Oxenbury, and "Bear on a Bike" Blackstone and Harper - both had oodles of rhyming text; and great graphics.

  2. oh, I forgot, monkey puzzle, by donaldson and scheffler, its just perfect for reading out loud with added dramatic tone, though I admit I changed some of the wording for extra dramatic effect, to make it flow better, but overall another wonderful rhyming book

  3. I do love the Tiger who came to Tea. I've often wondered if it had a feminist-rebellion message: Mummy was too tired to cook Daddy his bloody tea, and had forgotten to go the shops, so she made the whole thing up. (She might have drunk all the beer, too).
    The Mog books, also by Judith Kerr, are wonderful too.

  4. Your list is great but greater is your link to the Crow on the Hill blog. An absolute finding!