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It’s been some time since I’ve written about particularly good books for small kids, and I must apologise (especially to Kim) for being somewhat remiss in this area during the last few months.

For me, there is something very gratifying about sharing a compelling book with my kids. It quickly brings me back to my own childhood years by helping me relate to my children on their level. This book ticks all these boxes.

There’s No Such Thing as a Ghostie (Cressida Cowell and Holly Swain)

“But when they turned round… THERE WAS NOBODY THERE”

In this book, a young queen and her best friend do battle with the arrogant Sergeant Rock-Hard of Her Majesty’s Guard as he leads them through the castle in an effort to convince them that there’s no such thing as a ghostie. Little does he know… It’s full of delightfully poetic snippets: a Prime Minister that bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain 1980’s British PM; regular alliteration – “ghostly, ghastly feet”, “creepy, creaky staircase”, very accessible colourful drawings, and (of course) plenty of ghosties hanging around in the background. Near the end of the book, the reader is enjoined to open a trunk bearing an alarming secret. It’s one of those books in which you and your kids discover something new every time you re-read it for them.

If you know of other children’s books that really deserve a read, please let me know.

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Some time ago, I wrote about five books for small children that my kids and I absolutely love. I now would like to add another book to this list.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury)

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

Oh no! We forgot to shut the door!

The premise of the book is quite simple. A dad brings his three kids into the countryside with the aim of finding a bear. The group are totally unprepared for what lies ahead as they clamber past all sorts of obstacles during their quest. (I can relate very much to the dad in this book). Much to their surprise, they find a bear, and what follows is an exiting race back home with the grizzly on their tail. It’s got everything: repetition, actions, fear and humour. The drawings are superb, particularly as the kids reach the entrance to the cave. I was amazed by how quickly my toddler kids picked up the narrative and were able to recite the whole story verbatim.

Here’s an additional treat: in the following video, Michael Rosen himself plays out the tale. It’s interesting to watch as I use a very different style when reading the story to my kids.

If you know of other small children’s books that really deserve a read, please let me know.

One of the great things about being a parent is that every evening I get a chance to read night-time stories to young children. These books vary greatly in quality. Many children’s books (particularly the ones with toys and teddy-bears on the cover) are insipid, formulaic, manufactured and quite forgettable . Kids get bored by them just as much as we grown ups do. However there are some books that I still love reading to my younger ones whenever I get a chance.

So, in no particular order, here goes:

1) Hairy Mclary from Donaldson’s Dairy (Lynley Dodd)

Hairy McLary from Donaldson’s Dairy

“Out of the gate and off for a walk went Hairy Mclary from Donaldson’s Dairy”

This is a terrific little book about a gang of dogs who get more than they bargained for when they all head off for a walk down town. The drawings are superb, the rhythm in the lines is mesmerising and the “MEEEOOOWFFZZZZ” twist in the end has kids jumping with delight. Very soon, even small kids can recite the lines of the book along with you. Superb. (I am indebted to Teuchter for introducing me to this book..)

2) The Gruffalo (Julia Donaldson)

The Gruffalo

“Silly old snake, doesn’t he know, there’s no such thing as a Gruffal…”

This extremely well-illustrated book recounts the adventures of a clever little mouse, beset on all sides by predators, and how he manages to outwit them all. The book is written in a gentle, rhythmic verse that is a pleasure to read out loud. Three quite similar stories are recounted before the plot twists and the mouse is confronted with the monster of his nightmares. What happens after this is an act of genius on the part of the mouse. I always shout out the Gruffalo’s lines in a very angry gruff voice – my kids love it.

3) Some Dogs Do (Jez Alborough)

Some Dogs Do

“His paws just lifted off the ground”

This is a rhyming story about a small dog named Sid who discovers one day that he can fly. When he tries to tell his friends in school, nobody will believe him. The miserable pup is comforted by his parents, who let him into a secret. I particularly like the drawings of Sid’s face – the faraway stare – when he is confronted by opposition on all sides. It’s a captivating, delightful tale that the kids want me to read again and again.

4) Green Eggs and Ham (Dr. Seuss)

Green Eggs and Ham

“That Sam-I-Am, That Sam-I-Am! I do not like that Sam-I-Am”!

No list of good children’s books would be complete without a title from Dr. Seuss. This story tells the tale of a grown-up creature who is pestered by the much smaller and younger Sam into eating a seemingly disgusting meal of green eggs and ham. Despite his protestations, Sam never gives in and finally the adult takes a bite. The whole tale is a reversal of the usual story where an adult is forcing a child to eat something that the kid doesn’t like the look of. Like many of the tales here, the story is recursive, repetitive, rhythmic and rhyming. Soon the child will be reciting the tale along with you.

5) How to Catch a Star (Oliver Jeffers)

How to catch a star

“Once there was a boy and the boy loved stars very much”

This story concerns a small boy who wants to catch a star from the sky so that they can be friends and have fun together. He tries reaching for it and climbing trees to get it, but to no avail. Eventually he is drawn to the sea-shore where he finds what he is looking for. This is a wonderfully creative tale that talks volumes about the ways small children see the world. The simple cartoons that complement the story genuinely add to the tale. As an adult you can’t but help feeling for the little boy as he tries to understand a mystery of life.

What makes these books special?

All of these stories are quite similar in that they blend poetry, colour, artistic detail and repetition into a coherent whole. All of the storys take about 3 to 5 minutes to recite. Neither are they “fluffy”: They grapple with quite deep topics concerning relations with adults, friendship, fear, disappointment and making sense of the world. If you are a parent of young kids or are wondering what to give your young niece or nephew for their next birthday, I would wholeheartedly recommend all five titles.

Do you know of any other children’s books that you would add to this list?

I’ve been reading my daughter the tale of Rumplestiltskin over the last day or so. Man, it’s wild! For anyone not familiar with the story, here it is in a nutshell.

A miller foolishly tells a king that his daughter can turn straw into gold.

The king gets interested, siezes the girl, locks her in a room full of straw and tells her upon pain of death, that all the straw needs to be turned into gold before dawn the next day.

An elf appears and for a small fee, offers to do the job. Offer is accepted and hey presto – the straw is converted into gold by the elf.

The king is impressed, but rather than let the poor girl go, he brings her to an even bigger room full of straw, and the nightmare for the girl continues for another few days, with the rooms getting bigger and bigger each time. Every time, the elf saves the day, but the poor girl is eventually obliged to promise her first-born child to him in return for a room full of gold.

Get, this: the girl then marries the king. It’s her reward no less.

She has a baby, the elf comes back looking for the kid, she refuses. The elf then proposes that if she can discover his name in 3 days, she can keep the kid. At the last minute she finds out that his name is Rumplestiltskin (a messenger hears him sing his name as he dances around his house), and when she tells him his name, the angry elf puts his foot through the floor before he leaves and is never seen again.

Now who exactly is the bad guy here? That king is a complete psychopath! I mean, imagine marrying someone who has just threatened to kill you if you can’t do something that should be impossible to do! And, like, what the hell is Rumplestiltskin doing, loudly singing his name outside when so much is at stake? Idiot.

So what was the moral of this tale? “The bigger the bastard you are, the greater the rewards”? “All men are bastards”? “Keep your father away from the drink, because he might say something really stupid”? Possibly all these are lessons to be gained from the story, but should we really be telling our kids this? 🙂

Still though, it makes a welcome change from “Prince Charming”…

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