Tuesday, 7 August 2012

When pictures spoke louder than words...

When I tell people "I've loved reading all my life", I really mean it.  I was lucky enough to be born into a family of avid readers who were always eager to share their love of literature with me.  They read to me when I was too young to speak or even comprehend language.  I almost shocked my mother into crashing the car when I came out with my first complex sentence at 18 months old ("It's a poor shame for my wee daddy, away on the bus") and I believe the effort they made to read to me at a young age encouraged my speech to develop so early and sparked a passion for literature which would last a lifetime.  Books provide me with an unrivalled source of wisdom, inspiration, pleasure and comfort and I cannot thank my parents, aunt and uncle enough for introducing me to them.  To this day, I still appreciate the beauty, fun and exquisite joy contained between the covers of children's picture books and my old favourites still hold a special place in my heart (I think my poor parents can still recite them word for word!).  As I don't have any very young siblings, little cousins or nieces and nephews to shower with picture book presents, I thought I would share some of my favourites on my blog in the hope that I inspire someone else to gift a child with the pleasure of a really good book.

Peepo! by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Beautifully illustrated, like all Ahlberg books, Peepo! is based on Allan Ahlberg's own recollections from his early childhood and tells the story of a day in the life of a baby.  Holes on each page peek through to the next, keeping children engrossed and entertained whilst enabling them to see events from the baby's perspective.  His father sleeping late, his mother making breakfast, his older sisters out playing: daily events that all children are familiar with are infused with the imagination of childhood.  The repetitive rhyme of the narration allows children to participate in the "reading", whilst the descriptions of what the baby sees encourages them to spot individual details within the busy illustrations.  Recommended for children aged 0-3.  Find it on Amazon

Mog and Bunny by Judith Kerr

I would recommend all of Judith Kerr's Mog books, but I think Mog and Bunny was the first one I ever "read".  Mog is an adorably endearing absent-minded cat, who is "nice but not very clever" and looks remarkably like my own feline friend.  Any child with a love for animals or a beloved pet will relish the opportunity to imagine life from a cat's perspective as they follow Mog's misdeeds and adventures.  What I admire most about the Mog books is their refusal to shy away from serious topics.  Although I was much too old to be reading Mog books by the time the final book in the series, Goodbye Mog, was published in 2003, I was nonetheless saddened to hear of her demise.  The numerous books in the series enable to children to develop a strong affection for Mog, so Kerr's decision to depict her death was a brave one.  For many children, the loss of a family pet is their first experience of death and Kerr admirably makes this difficult topic accessible and comprehensible to children.  I struggled to find an age recommendation for the Mog books - one website suggests 3+ but the language and sentence structure are quite simple and I'm sure my parents started reading the books to me when I was about 2.  As with everything else, I suppose it depends on the child.  Find it on Amazon

Katie Morag and the Two Grandmothers by Mairi Hedderwick

The Katie Morag books are another series I adored and Katie Morag and the Two Grandmothers was always my favourite - I thought Granma Mainland was the most glamorous woman in the world and she looks a little like my own Granny who died when I was four.  The books are set on a fictional island off the west coast of Scotland and depict life in a small and rather isolated community, but they have been translated into various languages and it pleases me to think that these little Scottish books are being enjoyed by children across the world.  With labelled pictures of the small island, the books really provide children with a sense of the setting and enables them to enter into Katie Morag's life on a small island.  Feisty Katie Morag is an excellent character for a children's book: far more endearing and relatable than demure fairytale princesses.  And whilst scanning the wikipedia page for the Katie Morag books to refresh my memory, I discovered that Katie Morag's Grannie Island 'was widely hailed, as for example "a positive image, a celebration of the strength of women, and a challenge to gender stereotyping"'.  The author, Mairi Hedderwick, visited my school when I was in primary one, and though I don't recall a single word she said, I believe that was the first time I realised that you could create books as a job - and now, through publishing and someday through writing, I plan to make that job my own.  So thank you for everything, Mairi Hedderwick.  Recommended for children aged 3+.  Find it on Amazon

Angel Mae by Shirley Hughes

My aunt gave me Angel Mae when my mum was pregnant with my younger sister.  Part of Shirley Hughes's Tales from Trotter Street series, Angel Mae is the story of a little girl who experiences conflicting emotions regarding the imminent arrival of her new baby sibling, whilst dealing with the added pressure of performing the important role of the Angel Gave-You (Gabriel) in her school's Nativity play.  Hughes's illustrations are beautiful and her subject matter is an important issue in the life of many children: how to deal with the arrival of a younger sibling.  Hughes does not trivialise the child's experience: she recognises that children experience stressful events just as adults do.  Recommended for children aged 3+.  Find it on Amazon

The Jolly Postman (or Other People's Letters) by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Another Ahlberg book.  They're so brilliant, they deserve to be on the list twice.  The Jolly Postman may well be my all time favourite book for younger children.  The book is narrated in (often humorous) rhyme and it tells the story of a jolly postman who is delivering letters to various fairytale characters.  The Ahlbergs play with media by incorporating the letters into the book - six pages take the form of envelopes containing actual little letters!  Children can really participate in the story as they handle and read the letters for themselves, with the added fun of recognising their favourite fairytale characters.  Recommended for children aged 2 - 6.  Find it on Amazon

Maisie goes to Glasgow by Aileen Paterson

Another series of books about a tabby cat - this time a Scottish one.  I don't know how familiar the rest of the UK is with the Maisie books but if you've never read one you're missing out!  The stories are about the adventures of a kitten called Maisie who lives with her Granny in Morningside in Edinburgh whilst her daddy is off exploring the world.  Unlike Mog, Maisie is a cat with human characteristics - indeed, the whole world seems to be populated with cats instead of people.  The stories are detailed and entertaining and the illustrations are captivating.  For a Scottish child, there is the additional enjoyment of recognising the places Maisie visits and seeing them in a new light, infused with child-like imagination. I can't find an age recommendation for this one at all - I'd suggest 3+ or maybe a little older.  Find it on Amazon

Which picture books hold a special place in your heart?

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