few weeks ago we took our daughters to London for the first time. In
advance, we'd read lots of wonderful picturebooks featuring the
"Big Ben!!" exclaimed our three year old with glee and a beaming smile when we saw the bell tower standing tall above the trees from our viewpoint in Trafalgar Square. The Square's huge lions, Nelson's Column, Horse Guards Parade, black taxis - all ten times more exciting for her in person because she'd seen them depicted first on paper.
Below are four of our favourite picturebooks set in London.
The Queen's Hat by Steve Antony, published by Hodder Children's Books
This royal romp through London is a feast for the eyes, celebrating London's most recognisable monuments with dazzling detail and a patriotic palate of red, white and blue. We follow the path of the Queen's hat as it whooshes on the wind across the capital, chased by all the queen's men. From Buckingham Palace, to swinging round the London Eye and floating up to the top of Big Ben, the guards (and their daring and acrobatic monarch) try in vain to get back control of the windswept headpiece.
Each page features an impressively accurate illustrated landmark, and an array of often amusing 'Where's Wally?' style micro-stories. Our favourite pages include the cacophonous scene of London Zoo, with guards and animals stampeding after the queen who surges ahead on giraffe-back, and the scene of the guards and their Queen scaling the dizzy heights of Big Ben, with one guard clinging onto the hour hand of the clock-face.
Finally, reaching Kensington Palace, the Queen, her guards and her hat float down Mary Poppins-style to a regal pram, the hat landing gently on its infant passenger's head. As the Queen, her restored hat and her grandson take a well earned stroll on the final page, a butler follows with the offer of a very British cup of tea.
L is for London by Paul Thurlby, published by Hodder Children's Books
Paul Thurlby's highly distinctive 'retro-modern' style is showcased brilliantly in this alphabetised picturebook love-letter to London. From Abbey Road to London Zoo, the best of London (and Londoners) is portrayed through bold block colours and a matt finish that's reminiscent of the portfolio of a 1960s advertising agency.
It's a celebration of London's iconic diversity, stereotypes and history, too: From bridges old (Tower) and new (Millennium), red phone boxes and Foyles Books, the pink chested man reading the paper in the park, the punk rocker queuing (a classic British pastime) alongside Shakespeare and a Wimbledon tennis pro. This is a book of art, which would be equally at home on a Shoreditch coffee table as in a child's bedroom.
Maisy goes to London by Lucy Cousins, published by Walker Books
Reading a book from Lucy Cousins' Maisy series is a wonderful way to prepare for firsts - whether its a first trip to the cinema, the swimming pool, or the capital. Each scene is filled with Cousins' trademark primary colours and menagerie of animals.
London is depicted in probably just the way that a child would see it - not focusing on the history, scale or architecture, but on the more immediate impact of the 'flashing lights' of Piccadilly Circus, the joyful play and carnival atmosphere of the riverbank, and the seemingly endless descent of the escalator to the underground train. Reading this was a great way to prepare our young children for a visit to the capital and its noisy "Honk! Honk! Honk!".
A Possum's Tail by Gabby Dawnay (words) and Alex Barrow (Illustrations), published by Tate Books
This is a delightfully whimsical, rhyming tale of a boy's walk to and from London Zoo in London circa 1940 - with illustrative echos of the Madeline series. The double page spreads are packed with detail, allowing the reader to follow the boy's footsteps through classic London scenes, whether the pomp and formality of Buckingham Palace or the diversity of life at a street market.
A highlight is a bird's eye (or in this case, a balloon's eye) view of London, which is quite beautiful.