January 2016 ReviewsPosted by Max 17 Jan, 2016 05:05PM
Rabbityness by Jo Empson, published by Child’s Play
Our nearly three year old daughter loves rabbits. For her second birthday she asked for a Peter Rabbit themed party, which included a home-made Peter cake, a radish and carrot banner and Beatrix Potter character cupcakes. Her fondness for rabbits was furthered by visits to a nearby petting farm, where we’ve spent many hours feeding rabbits, rare breed chickens, muddy pigs, goats, hamsters and, when it’s in the mood, a grumpy llama.
One of her current favourite picturebooks is Jo Empson’s Rabbityness in which, amid an initially grey canvas, we meet Rabbit. We are told he enjoys doing 'rabbity' things, like sleeping, burrowing and hopping around in the two-tone world. But as we soon learn, from the pages filled with musical notes and splashes of bright purples, lime greens and vibrant fuchsias that follow, Rabbit loves to do 'unrabbity' things too – painting and making music.
She is amused as we see a huge trumpet-like instrument that Rabbit blows to produce his melodic cacophony. We then see Rabbit face on, smiling at us amid his latest creation. Our daughter likes to point out how Rabbit’s love of art has left him covered with paint, splattered over his cheeks and ears. Rabbit is loved. We read that ‘all the other rabbits caught his happiness’, and that ‘he filled the woods with colour and music’.
Suddenly, on a page that is stark and empty, devoid of movement and sound except for a few falling leaves, we learn that Rabbit has disappeared. “Oh no! Where’s he gone?” our daughter asks. The rabbits are sad and can’t find him anywhere. The woods turn ‘quiet and grey’, and a deep, dark hole appears, which we’re told is ‘all that Rabbit had left’.
Deep down in the hole, the other rabbits find he has left them some gifts: ‘Lots of things to make colour and music’. Inspired by their absent friend, the rabbits ‘filled the woods with colour and music once again’, with strings of art hanging between tree branches, adorning the wood in waves of colour like a grove of Nepalese prayer flags.
Rabbityness is a beautiful, unusual and impactful picturebook that weaves together several important themes: The value of individualism and originality; the benefits to oneself and others of stepping outside a comfort zone; and encouraging children to celebrate differences. It would also be a sensitive and ideal choice when a child has experienced loss (perhaps to be read alongside Grandad’s Island by Benji Davies, reviewed here).
Rabbityness was shortlisted for the 2013 Waterstones Children's Book Prize.
January 2016 ReviewsPosted by Max 10 Jan, 2016 09:01PM
It's never too early for babies and young children to enjoy books. Board books are an ideal way to introduce the very youngest readers to words, pictures and great stories. There are many hundreds of grab, chew and spill-proof board books available; some that reproduce old and modern classics, others that focus on sensory discovery through contrast colours and textures.
Our daughter, who is nearly three, continues to love her board book collection, which began when she was just a week old. She still enjoys dipping into them, especially in the morning while tucked up in bed and, recently, sharing them with our three month old daughter, who is taking a keen interest. Below are 10 of her favourites, starting with those for the youngest readers.
Hello, Animals! by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Emily Bolam (Bloomsbury)
This was our older daughter's first board book, and is a prominent feature in some of our most cherished early photos of her - wide-eyed with awe as she gazes at the colour-contrasting black and white animals. On each page, an animal gives the reader a happy greeting, along with a pair of associated words ("Hello, Zebra! Clip, clop"), and a splash of bright colour. Part of a series, Hello, Bugs! was also much enjoyed.
Row, Row, Row Your Boat by Annie Kubler (Child's Play)
This was one of the books we received as part of our BookStart pack, a wonderful charitable scheme where every new baby born in the UK receives at least one book to start their collection. Helpful as part of teaching the traditional song, it contains sweet illustrations of happy babies playing together, and the variety of children featured makes it a good example of a picturebook that promotes diversity.
Bunny and Bee Can't Sleep by Sam Williams (Boxer Books)
This is probably the book we read more times than any other in our older daughter's first six months. The beautiful opening pages show a huge treehouse and the words "Here is a house. A house in a tree", followed by the tale of two friends who want to get to sleep but are kept awake by noisy night creatures. When morning comes, they all give a big yawn and curl up together on the treehouse porch swing. Its soothing, soporific rhythm made it an ideal choice at nap time.
That's not my fairy! by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells (Usborne)
This is one of the groundbreaking and prolific series that began more than a decade ago, great as both a touch and feel book and for learning a wide range of adjectives. In this one, we meet a group of fairies who all have features to examine (bumpy slippers, fluffy wings, frizzy hair), none of whom is 'my fairy' except for the last "That's my fairy! Her wand is so sparkly".
Where's Spot? by Eric Hill (Penguin)
First published in 1980, this was one of my faviourites as a child, and has been one of our daughter's most enjoyed. The tale of mummy dog in search of her pup is enduring and endearing. As Sally looks for Spot, she needs our help to open the cardboard flaps and look behind cupboard doors, under the piano, in the box and under the rug, before eventually finding him hiding in a wicker basket. It seems with this book that the more it's been loved, the fewer flaps remain.
Honk honk! Baa baa! by Petr Horacek (Walker)
This is a tactile tour of animals and their sounds, beautifully illustrated by one of our favourite picturebook creators. Petr Horacek's clearly apparent love of the natural world is one of the defining features of his work, seen as clearly here as it is in other books of his that we love (including Puffin Peter, one of our 5 books of 2015). This is 'flip flap' fun from the very first reading days.
The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (Macmillan)
Available as a board book, and many other formats, this is the tale of a mouse's perilous "stroll through the deep, dark woods". Its famous author/illustrator partnership brilliantly blends the rhythm and energy of the words with illustrations that are full of life to produce a pitch-perfect modern classic. A family favourite that our daughter now loves to recite aloud.
Going Swimming by Sarah Garland (Frances Lincoln)
This is one of a charming series of books that helps prepare young toddlers for activities of everyday life, with easy language and traditional style illustration. Here we follow a family outing to the swimming pool, which was helpful before and since our daughter's first splash.
The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (Puffin)
One of the world's most famous and recognisable picturebooks this tale of a caterpillar with an amazing appetite continues to delight. First published in 1970, this board book edition is perfectly suited to the reader's task of following the caterpillar's trail through his extraordinary feast - from salami to cherry pie - before the big reveal of his metamorphosis from chrysalis to butterfly. A special book that reminds us of an afternoon our daughter enjoyed with her 90 year old great-Grampa reading this and other books.
Walter's Wonderful Web by Tim Hopgood (Macmillan)
This story of a little spider's efforts to build a wind-proof web is told through bold, fun illustration and an easy to follow narrative full of alliteration. It helpfully offers a learning opportunity too, through a clever incorporation of shapes and adjectives. Ideally suited to reading alongside another Tim Hopgood favourite, Wow! Said the Owl, with its focus on colours.
January 2016 ReviewsPosted by Max 07 Jan, 2016 09:12AMOh Dear, Geoffrery!
by Gemma O'Neill, published by Templar Books
All the rain recently has meant our outdoor family fun was somewhat limited to a few quick dashes to the park in between downpours. And with rain comes mud and puddles - perilous for our pushchair but a delight for our toddler. She's enjoyed all the splashing and squelching almost as much as riding in her favourite blue swing.
But as she's keen to point out to us when we read Emma O'Neill's tale of Geoffrey the clumsy giraffe, he doesn't enjoy his experience of puddles and mud one bit.
We first meet Geoffrey as he tries in earnest to make friends with the meerkats, rhinos, elephants and zebras, who are all so much closer to the ground than he is. Wobbling, teetering, 'bending and buckling', Geoffrey is the butt of the others' jokes and jeers.
Despondent, his day takes a turn when some monkeys ask if they can climb his long neck to reach the treetops. Geoffrey eagerly obliges, much to the monkeys' delight. Then, standing tall with pride, the birds in the trees tweet their delight as they greet their tall new companion, who shares their view from the trees' lofty branches.
The story is perfectly aligned to beautiful illustrations, which bring movement and life to the pages - the droplets of water and clouds of sand dancing and billowing off the page, and a final double page of the twinkling night sky. This is a charming tale, reminding us that, if we keep looking, we can all find a way to be ourselves, help others, and bring happiness to new friends.
January 2016 ReviewsPosted by Max 03 Jan, 2016 07:42PM
A Great Big Cuddle, Written by Michael Rosen, Illustrated by Chris Riddell, published by Walker Books
This week, when we asked our nearly three year old daughter if she'd like to read A Great Big Cuddle, she replied "yay, poems!" We like to think that this reaction is what the creators of this magnificent book were hoping for.
The combined literary alchemy of two Children's Laureates (words by Michael Rosen and illustrations by Chris Riddell), is fully realised in this original compendium of "Poems for the Very Young". This is a book of drum beating rhythm, stomping feet, clapping hands, and laughing out loud.
At 73 pages it might seem a bit daunting to read the whole book in one sitting. Although it is one that could be dipped into, we have found great value in enjoying the flow and music of the book as a whole. Our daughter has been captivated every time, and is yet to ask us to stop reading it part way through.
Favourite poems include:
"Music", an irresistible movement catalyst, with its opening lines:
"Gruff and Dave", about a grumpy and jumpy dog and his new friend, a jumpy and grumpy frog.
"Let me do it", which perfectly conveys the longing of a toddler for independence in a world they don't yet fully understand.
This is the picturebook equivalent of a winter's day tucked up in bed with hot tea and toast, taking part in a display of verbal gymnastics, going on a wild tour of menageries and monsters and, indeed, having a great big cuddle, all combined.