Books My Toddler Loves

Books My Toddler Loves

Where Bear?

FriendshipPosted by Max 14 Feb, 2016 04:53PM

Where Bear?
by Sophy Henn published by Puffin

In recent weeks, having just moved house, and as our older daughter turns three, books with themes of home and growing up have had particular resonance.

Where Bear?, Sophy Henn's marvelous and visually distinct debut, has become a perfect choice, especially suited to a variety of times of change.

Bear and the boy have been friends since they were both little. Now they've grown up and bear is too big and bearish to live in the boy's house any more. So begins the search for bear's new home. Although both of them agree that bear needs to find a new home, their search seems futile - bear isn't happy with any of the boy's ideas.

Would bear like to live in a toy shop? There are bears there. No says bear. "Then where, bear?" What about the circus, the jungle, a cave? None of these is suitable. We all enjoy the rhythm of the tale, echoing the boy's response to the bear's reluctance "where bear?"

Then, while enjoying an ice lolly, the pair realise that bear likes the cold. What about the Arctic? At last, bear is happy and the boy is happy. Boy goes home, and the two speak on the phone, growing up through the years.

We see them older now, and bear now has a family of his own. They agree to meet again and go somewhere. "But where, bear?" A clue to their destination is revealed in a charming final page.

With its gentle exploration of what home is, finding one's place and growing up, this is a great big bear hug of a book, content rich and perfectly matched by warm, matte illustrations.

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Monkey and the Little One

FriendshipPosted by Max 12 Nov, 2015 07:32PM

Monkey key and the Little One by Claire Alexander, published by Egmont Books

Before the arrival of our second daughter we often wondered how our older daughter (who is just over two and a half) would respond to the arrival of a sibling. It's now seven weeks since our youngest arrived and, to our great relief and delight, so far so good.

Inevitably, there have been a few moments when our oldest's enthusiasm and usual sweet response to her new sister have been tested. As well as reassurance, cuddles and extra attention, picturebooks have played an important role in helping her adjust to this momentous change in her and our lives.

We've written already about the books that we read with her to help prepare her for our new baby. Since her birth, other books that centre on new arrivals and sibling relationships have also played a role. Of these, a favourite is Monkey and the Little One, a tale of initially unrequited affection, about two creatures who struggle to speak each other's language.

Monkey is happy - whether reading quietly alone, swimming in the tranquil lake, or relaxing in a hammock. From nowhere, a mouse appears. This Little One gets in the way, copies what monkey does, and interrupts the routine. Monkey asks the mouse to leave. The mouse doesn't seem to understand, and instead continues to impose, even keeping Monkey awake all night with 'loud music'. The mouse tries to make amends with a flower and a jam sandwich, but Monkey shouts at the Little One to GO AWAY! The mouse understands and without a word it leaves.

Monkey returns to his routine, but "somehow it didn't seem the same anymore". He realises he'd kind of enjoyed mouse's company and resolves to find her. After searching far and wide he traces her to the field of flowers and they share a jam sandwich together. In fact, they realise they have a lot in common and enjoy each other's company. In a final illustration, we see them sheltering and holding hands in the rain, smiles on their faces, as they keep dry together.

This is a tender picturebook whose messages are as gentle and sweet as its illustrations. It's an ideal choice for reading to a young child when a new sibling arrives, or when significant change has come into their lives. It's an additional bonus that our daughter's nickname for her baby sister is Little One.

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Hooray for Hat!

FriendshipPosted by Max 04 Oct, 2015 04:49PM

Hooray for Hat! by Brian Won, published by Andersen Press

In the words of our daughter, Hooray for Hat is a book that is "grumpy, so sad and then all friends and happy."

Brian Won's colourful and vibrant illustrations depict this tale of sharing and friendship, where a surprise hat in a box helps to turn any frown upside down.

It begins when elephant wakes up in a grump, cleverly expressed with fierce downward eyebrows and a dark scribble above his head. The doorbell rings and he stomps downstairs shouting "Go away, I'm grumpy!" Yet on opening the door he finds a large box wrapped in a huge red ribbon - an instantly irresistible curiosity.

As we turn the page we're met with a double page spread of the now-beaming elephant, adorned with his gift - a multi-level hat extraordinaire. "Hooray for Hat!" we all sing together.

Now in a happy mood, he wants to show his friends. However, he finds that each of them, in turn, wants him to "Go away, I'm grumpy!" - that is until he shares with them a piece of his hat to wear: "Hooray for Hat!"

Our daughter enjoyed this book from her very first read - it's told with simple language and a clear narrative, perfectly matched by a bright colour palette and highly expressive animals.


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Ernie's Big Mess

FriendshipPosted by Max 11 Sep, 2015 11:21AM

Ernie's Big Mess, by Sarah Roberts and illustrated by Joe Mattieu, published by Random House (1981)

The first song our daughter sang was ABC, learned after quite a few viewings of the 'Sesame Street Alphabet' song, which she adores. Even now, when she wants to watch a little Sesame Street, she asks for "ABCs", her shorthand for a visit to the wondrous world created by the Children's Television Workshop.

As a child growing up in the UK, her access to Sesame Street is generally limited to the classic episodes and clips available online. These were, at the time and even now, groundbreaking in their portrayal of inclusiveness, integration, welfare and community.

We're glad that, as well as the inevitable contemporary influence of Frozen and Minions, she enjoys the stories of Ernie, Grover and co, and the show's morally grounded classic songs, such as "We all sing with the same voice".

As a child, I had a collection of Sesame Street books from a "Start to Read" series. These short, toddler sized hardback picturebooks capture the warm, sentimental mood of the show through colourful illustration and gentle fable. It was with great delight that I discovered them in a box a few months ago, including my favourite - Ernie's Big Mess.

The friendship of Bert and Ernie is a famously fractious one. Here, the juxtaposition of the ultra neat, serious Bert with the fun loving, messy Ernie, results in an angry Bert shouting at his old pal for all the mess he's made, telling him he wished he lived on his own. Later that evening, Ernie packs his belongings and takes to the streets, searching for somewhere else to sleep.

Although his neighbours are kind and try to accommodate him, he's forced to move on: Big Bird's nest is too pointy and hard, Grover's bed too small, and Oscar doesn't want to let him near his rubbish bin.

Meanwhile, Bert, feeling regretful that his friend has been hurt by his harsh words, is out looking for him, unable to sleep. When eventually he finds him asleep on the ground he says sorry and welcomes him back to their home, only for Ernie's suitcase to unlatch and pour out a mountain of clutter.

Happily, the friendship between this unlikely pair holds firm and all is forgiven.

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The Storm Whale

FriendshipPosted by Max 02 Sep, 2015 08:38AM

The Storm Whale by Benji Davies, published by Simon & Schuster UK

The rain-soaked title page of Benji Davies' wondrous book features the motto of Denys Watkins-Pitchford, a prolific picturebook writer, illustrator and naturalist who wrote under the pseudonym "BB" (he was winner of the 1942 Carnegie Medal for British children's books). It reads:

The wonder of the world
The beauty and the power,
The shapes of things,
Their colours, lights and shades,
These I saw.
Look ye also while life lasts.


These lines, apparently found by his father on a Cumbrian gravestone, appear on title page of BB's book 'The Little Grey Men', a tale of three gnomes in search of a missing friend set against the backdrop of four seasons in the English countryside. On re-reading 'The Storm Whale' for this review (and having already reviewed on this site 'On Sudden Hill' and 'Grandad's Island'), it's fun to speculate on the intended connection made by Benji Davies to BB through the citation of his motto. One certainty is that both BB and BD are able to convey, through their illustrations, the wonder, colour, and beauty of nature.

While 'On Sudden Hill' captures the warm, long summers of childhood, and 'Grandad's Island'' depicts a kaleidoscopic cacophony of sounds and colours from the jungle, 'The Storm Whale' focuses on a salty landscape of raw, wind-swept rocks and the cold beauty of the sea.

Davies' immersive tableaux feel like they've been frozen in time - as if snapshots of scenes otherwise full of movement - whether it's birds diving into the sea, a toy windmill on the beach mid-spin, or a boy mid-stride with both feet off the ground. Each page is packed with details that seem to tell their own stories - the antics of six cats, the fishing net standing on its end in the sand, the small boy who never removes his woollen hat, the tea and chocolate chip biscuits neatly set out on a tray.

The words are minimalist yet rich: "Noi lived with his dad and six cats by the sea" reads the opening line, and we see Noi examining an arrangement of leaves, shells, stones and a stick while his dad looks out across their seafront garden from their ramshackle house. We hear how Noi's dad leaves early every day for work on his fishing boat. We and Noi watch his dad leave and are told "He wouldn't be home again till dark". When Noi discovers a little whale washed up on his shore, he helps him back to his house and makes him feel at home - playing him an LP of Handel's 'Water Music', bathing him in their tub, and telling him stories about the island.

We then see his dad approaching the house, his yellow mac shining out in the dark of the night, and Noi's worried eyes appearing in the window. Although he manages to keep his secret at first, his dad discovers the whale before long. His dad isn't angry though, and we see a tender moment as the dad comforts his son, noticing a loneliness in Noi that he'd been too busy to see, and explains they have to take the whale back to the water. A wonderful double page spread follows, of Noi and his dad out at sea, in matching yellow macs in their tiny boat, as the whale disappears below the dark waves.

Happily, this shared experience seems to trigger a renewed bond between Noi and his dad, and the final scenes depict them together, first in the kitchen with Noi painting a picture of the whale as his dad prepares food, and then hand in hand as they climb up to the clifftop for a picnic just in time to see the little whale splashing in the sea with its parent, while two seagulls tussle over a jam sandwich.

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