Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell

A true classic of a book! And one that has kept us entertained from when Rosie was really quite little. We have both the standard board book and the pop-up book and I must say I think the pop-up is just brilliant. It really enhances the book. They're simple pop-ups but that's why they work really well with the story - it's simple too!
The premise of the book is straightforward. The narrator has written to the zoo asking for a pet and the zoo keeps sending him animals, lion, snake, monkey etc until at last they send a puppy and all is well. It's silly but lovely and is helpful in getting a young child to learn their animals. Of course you can also supplement the reading with some animal noises. I think it's the book Rosie learnt to roar like a lion from...
This should be part of a child's first library really. And it's suitable from around 12 months so you'd get a lot of use out of it. The pop-up version is pretty sturdy so it should survive, although I probably wouldn't leave them alone with it for too long and if you have a child who enjoys ripping paper then it won't survive!

The publisher, Macmillan have also just launched an iPad app of Dear Zoo and it looks fab! Unfortunately I don't currently own an iPad so I can't test it out just yet!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Biscuit Bear by Mini Grey

I have to dedicate a post to Biscuit Bear by Mini Grey because I've been reading it non-stop to Rosie for the last month. It was every morning and every night but it's calmed down now! She got obsessed with it. Thank goodness it's a brilliant picture book and can stand being re-read so much. The girl's got good taste!

It's kind of a retelling of the Gingerbread Man tale with a clever twist. The artwork's amazing and has some great details that you only spot after the fiftieth reading. I really love the biscuits on the duvet cover and bits like that.

It tells the story of a little boy who makes a biscuit bear with his mother and then isn't allowed to eat it. When all is quiet in the dead of night the biscuit bear gets up and because no-one else is awake he decides to make some more friends. Biscuit Bear's circus is born and they all have a lot of fun... until the dog decides to join in. Biscuit Bear decides to leave and seek safety in the local bakery display window where he will never be eaten. A very satisfying tale!

It reads really well and I love the text nearly as much as the artwork. The only quibble I have with the whole book is the fact that Biscuit Bear makes his biscuit friends out of 'butter, flour and milk'. But I guess he's young and has never made biscuits before!

I think this book works for a two year old who wants to be told slightly more complicated stories but needs something quite simple which will quickly grab their imagination.

We've enjoyed quite a few of Mini Grey's books. She's a fabulous picture book author and illustrator. We love Egg Drop (although Rosie did drop a couple of fresh eggs on the floor the other day and I think I'm blaming the book for that!). And 'The Dish and the Spoon' is classic and worth getting. And the Traction Man series is cool. She's just brill!

We have even made our own biscuit bear to add a little extra curricular fun to the tale! Although Rosie seemed to think it would be fine to eat Biscuit Bear!!

Step 1. Stirring the mix (I used Nigella's Christmas biscuit recipe - mainly because I wanted to try it out. I think there must be much simpler gingerbread men recipes out there!).

Step 2. Making the biscuit bears - a slightly fiddly job which we found a bit hard to agree on!

Step 3. Biscuit Bear is ready to go into the oven - yummy! Can you see which one is the real biscuit bear?!

Step 4. Ok, so Rosie seems to have forgotten about how the real Biscuit Bear actually wanted to stay alive and not be eaten. Oh well (big sigh!).

We bought our biscuit bear cutter from Blackheath Cooks in Blackheath Standard, South-East London. I'm not sure if they do mail order but they're very nice people so give them a call!

Monday, 5 December 2011

My Dad and My Mum by Anthony Browne

We love these books! They're actually perfect presents for father's and mother's day but we got them for Rosie's birthday and have been enjoying them ever since!

It's a pretty simple concept but executed in a very clever way. You wouldn't really expect anything less from Anthony Browne! Both parents are wearing slippers and dressing gowns throughout their respective books and look like they'll give a cuddle and a hug whenever it's required. Dad can do anything and 'he's all right, my dad' whilst Mum is also pretty talented but 'She's really, REALLY nice, my mum'.

The books are told from the child's perspective and how each parent can sing, cook, dance and basically do anything. One of my favourite pages is in the Mum book where she is sitting in a corporate office and is 'the big boss'. It subtly addresses the mum going out to work and having a successful career in a very clever way. The artwork is meticulous and full of clever details, thank goodness since I've now read this a few thousand times!

And maybe, just maybe, these books work really well because they address those crazy ambitions that we all have. I know I still mourn the fact that I'll never play at Wimbledon, perform with the Royal Ballet or become a professional ice skater! Those ambitions have to take second place once you have kids. Otherwise who knows what I might have become?! But the point is that until a certain age your child/children will think you are the best in the world.

Rosie really likes these and it's partly because she's at the age where she finds us fascinating and want to do everything we do (I don't think this stage lasts!). We've got the board book versions so they're prefect to slip under the buggy and whip out when you're trying to keep the wee scrap entertained.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Father Christmas Needs a Wee by Nicholas Allan

A funny, irreverent picture book from Nicholas Allan with counting, Christmas and toilet humour. What's not to like when you're winding your toddler up about Christmas, thinking about potty training and constantly counting things with her?!

I might do a Christmas books post as well but this really deserves its own post since we're reading it a lot at the moment.

The premise is very simple, Father Christmas goes from house to house drinking drinks which have been left out for him. Then he realises he's forgotten to leave the presents and has to go back, counting backwards as he goes. Eventually he's able to return home and rush to the loo but he's lost his key. Will Father Christmas get his wee?!

Lovely text, funny illustrations and a great ending make this a fantastic Christmas picture book. Enjoy!

Monday, 28 November 2011

Can You See Sassoon? by Sam Usher

This a lovely book that uses the same device as the Where's Wally books. Sassoon is a stripy snake who is hiding on each page. It has funny rhyming text and great detail in the artwork. Rosie calls Sassoon 'Bassoon' and takes great delight in finding him on each page. What she particularly likes is reading it with someone who hasn't read it before so she can show how clever she is by finding Sassoon before them!

The lovely details in the artwork make it a joy to read again (and again and again!) with the washing line animal underpants being a particular favourite of ours as well as the disgusting picnic - ham with custard? Although I actually think Rosie would like to try that, she looks quite thoughtful when I read it!

It ends with a whole page flap to reveal Sassoon in his full glory, perfect! This title has been nominated for the Kate Greenaway award 2012. We wish it luck and hope it makes it to the shortlist!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

I like peas by Lorena Siminovich

This book caught my attention the other week on a website and I decided that I had to have it. I am a big fan of vegetables and the carrot on the cover was bound to be a winner with me but what I really love about this book is the clever simplicity. It uses vegetables to talk about opposites, showing a cross-section of the carrots growing so you see above and below the ground.

The design and artwork on this series is lovely and I'm guessing it's aiming right at the heart of the grow your own, organic brigade. Well I'm not particularly from that ilk, more of a haphazard gardener who buys organic if it's on offer type of person, but I still love it. I might even have to buy the rest of the series!

Of course it's aimed at young babies but Rosie still seems to enjoy it. Although she will tend to pick it up and look at it on her own rather than bring it to me to read and it doesn't hold her attention for ages so I wouldn't really recommend buying it for a child above eighteen months/two years old.

The sturdy format and the nice big touch feel areas make it perfect for a younger baby to explore, tactiles can really help sensory development. This was really brought home to me when I noticed Rosie at around nine months touching different textures to see how they felt and experimenting with the rough, smooth and furry feel of them. It's so exciting when you can see a child learning and experimenting in front of you!

Monday, 21 November 2011

Mr Gumpy's Outing by John Burningham

This is just a beautiful picture book. The artwork is sublime and the story is lovely. Ah! enough said, I'm done!

Ok then for anyone who hasn't read it before, it's an oldie but that's part of the charm and the simple story and illustrations are timeless. Mr Gumpy lives in a house by a river and one morning decides to go on his boat, he gathers up many friends on his way and they all set off together. The culmination of the boat tipping over is beautifully set up and it's one of those books where the text and illustrations work seamlessly together to provide a great reading experience.

It's perfect from around 18 months/ 2 years and upwards. Rosie loves it and it's a book that she frequently requests, we tend to make the animal noises as we go through it - just because it's funny and my goat impressions are something pretty special.

If you're a big fan of John Burningham's artwork it might interest you to know that there's currently an exhibition of his work at the Fleming Gallery in London.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Egg Drop by Mini Grey

We love a Mini Grey book in our house, in fact Biscuit Bear is actually our favourite and I'm going to do a post on that soon. We're just waiting to make our own biscuit bears to photograph for the blog and then we'll be away!

Anyway Egg Drop! It's a cautionary tale of an egg who wanted to fly and thought that the simplest way would be to get up really high and jump. You can imagine the outcome. SPLAT!

Rosie adores this book, she calls it 'the Chicken one' and shakes her head at the egg when I read about its dream of flying. 'No egg, no!' There's nothing a toddler likes than being cleverer than someone or able to tell someone how to do something so I guess that's part of the satisfaction for her.

Then she really likes to discuss in depth why the egg shell can't be mended by chewing gum, nails and screws, string, sewing, plasters, sellotape or tomato soup (her personal favourite). And she's fascinated by the endpapers with the chicks hatching. I think we'll be taking a visit to a farm to watch an incubator next Spring!

It's a lovely book, quirky, fun, short text (good for 18 months plus I'd say) and incredible illustrations.

Monday, 14 November 2011

A child's first library

I recently had some lovely news that my friend in Birmingham had given birth to a little baby girl. So when it came round to getting them a present I went as usual to the shops to buy some clothes. I'm not sure why but this seems to be my default present for a little one. And then I stopped and thought, actually why not give the baby a selection of books that will be suitable for the first year and beyond? And so this is what I bought:

First up for those developing eyes and to help stimulate the senses I bought the Ladybird First Focus Cot book. Perfect to use in the pram as well. It's really good fun to use this book with a newborn since you can really see them getting excited by it!

Next I bought the Baby Touch Rhyme book - also from Ladybird. This can be used from around three months and with some lovely classic rhymes it's a great one to use with young babies. Nursery rhymes can really help with speech development since the lilting rhythm and the babbling nature of them are perfect for those little ears.

Then I also bought Where's Spot by Eric Hill, I know I've already written about this book but it's just great and should definitely be part of any first library!

And finally Each Peach Pear Plum, possibly my favourite children's book ever. It's the combination of brilliant text, lovely illustrations and the melding together of nursery rhymes and fairy tales in the cleverest way possible, it's practically perfect! But I shall be doing a blog post on it later so I won't go on too much.

So there you go. They're probably not what everyone would send and maybe a little safe and traditional but they are what I decided on. I hope the recipients like them!

Friday, 11 November 2011

The Gruffalo Magnet Book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

This might seem a bit strange, posting a blog about The Gruffalo Magnet book rather than the actual storybook. It's partly because it has seemed to be the most popular storybook in the UK for the past years so I don't think there is any need for me to tell you how good it is! But it's also because Rosie really loves the magnet book.

Now before I continue I am aware that it has an age warning on the back about not being suitable for under 36 months. This is due to the small magnets that they're worried children might swallow. But Rosie uses this book with me and when I am in the room with her. It's the same thing with sticker books, they all have age warnings on but we use them all the time, not necessarily putting the stickers where they should go, but she just loves using them and has done for the last eight months.

The Gruffalo Magnet book has just eight pages and several activities, including a noughts and crosses style game, a quiz and a 'make your own' monster activity as well as several scenes where the child can add various characters and different insects, animals and foliage. The scenes are the bits that Rosie loves since she can move the Gruffalo around and the mouse and I guess it kind of comes alive for her. All I know is that she can sit with it for a good ten minutes totally absorbed! You also get a mini Gruffalo book in the front of the case perfect if you don't have it already or want a handy handbag sized one. Ok, changing-bag sized, not everyone carries kids books around in their handbags!

It makes you realise how good Axel Scheffler's artwork is and the detail he puts in. Julia Donaldson's lovely text is also echoed throughout with key phrases on each page. All in all it's really good fun! Another lovely Gruffalo related thing is the film, it's got an all-star cast and is just brilliant, although a tiny bit scary for little ones. Rosie cried during the tense moments of the mouse nearly being eaten the first time she saw it but now begs to see it again!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr

Another classic picture book for this post. I can remember The Tiger Who Came to Tea from my childhood (and it was a while ago!).

It's one of the longest picture book texts that Rosie first managed to sit through and I think that's partly due to the imagination of the story and the familiarity of the setting. Rosie loves to serve tea and cake (yes I am training her to be my maid) although we don't generally have afternoon tea.

You probably know the story but I'll briefly recap. A mum and her daughter are having tea together when the doorbell rings and a tiger appears. He eats them out of house and home and drinks everything, even all the water out of the taps. I think it's that detail that is one of my favourite things, it captures perfectly a child's logic and imagination.

Then daddy comes home from work and takes them out for sausages and chips at the local cafe. Sophie is in her nightie and wellies - and has been envied by many children ever since! The next day they buy a big tin of tiger food but the tiger never comes back.

Judith Kerr is a really interesting author and I wish I'd got the chance to go to her talk at the Word Up festival in London the other week. Of course she's author of the Mog books too and I'm sure we'll be visiting them soon enough!

There's even a stage show of The Tiger Who Came to Tea and lots of resources online for teachers and extra activities to do with the book. It's a book that I think will grow with us since it works on many levels.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Where's Spot by Eric Hill

This is a recapping post because Where's Spot was for a long time our 'let's establish a bedtime routine book'. It has the right amount of narrative and novelty for a young baby to keep entertained and interested.

We read it every night before putting Rosie to bed from when she was around 6 months. At first we read my silver anniversary edition which is signed 'To Ruth from Eric Hill' but then the little blighter started to pull at the flaps. So we ordered a board book version and she pulled the flaps off that.

There's a lot that's clever about this book, it's a game of hide and seek - all children can relate to that. It has flaps to find the various characters. The text reads well and the little asides from the animals are fun to do in silly voices.

Once she was more interested in different books and could understand stories more we started to read other books as well but since we've read Where's Spot so many times it feels very special. It was the beginning of our reading adventures in a way!

Monday, 31 October 2011

Apps for a two year old

A slight deviation from my intended book theme but I wanted to write this blog post first! Like any young child Rosie has always been fascinated by phones and especially by my iphone. She loves watching videos (mainly of herself!) and looking at photos but she also loves a good app and we have quite a few that she really likes.

We use some TV character apps since Rosie loves her TV shows. In The Night Garden used to be a favourite but she now seems to have grown out of it but we do have the app and when she was in full on Iggle Piggle worship mode it came in very handy. The only thing is that all the activities require some good dexterity with fingers and until recently Rosie hasn't found it quite so easy. There are hiding games and washing games (with Makka Pakka).

Peppa Pig Parrot is another favourite at the moment - the matching pairs game is perfect for Rosie right now (she's two and a bit) and the other games are fun too although require a bit more help from an adult.

 We also have both the Ladybird Books Baby Touch apps and while they are a little pedestrian in their approach they also really hit the spot for a one year old, which is how old Rosie was when I bought the first one. I must confess I nearly always hit the 'play all as video' button since Rosie will just watch it transfixed and wave when instructed to the babies.

I have got the Ladybird Toddler First Words app as well but so far that hasn't gone down so well. I'm not sure why. Rosie knows all the words that are included and will say them and touch the objects, which then make a sound. I must say the cutlery sounds are quite incredible, it must have been very hard to find a sound for a knife! But she won't touch the words which is how you make the app say the words and she doesn't tend to swipe through. I would really like this app in French though, my husband speaks in French to Rosie at bathtime and it would be good to have something else to reinforce it and I can see this style of app being perfect.

Talking Tomcat is another one that has gone down quite well, although I don't think she enjoys it as much as we do!

And another app I had recommended to me was Baby TV which I did buy but I find it a bit too US based in its approach.

There are two apps I keep meaning to buy and use with Rosie but I think that maybe she's still a bit young and I just haven't got round to getting them yet. I've heard very good things about them though.
The first is Rumble in the Jungle based on the fab picture book with audio by Hugh Laurie (what's not to like?!).

The second is the Three Little Pigs and the Cinderella app from Nosy Crow. I've heard some very good things about both of these. Once I've got them and used them I might do a follow-up blog.

Finally I did download the Ladybird Me app which is an absolutely brilliant creation using the 'vintage' (as they're now known) Ladybird books and digitalising them - you can even record your own audio for them. The idea is that you buy the app and then add the books to it. It comes with 'The Zoo' for starters. In a way I think I love this more than Rosie does but I think she will enjoy it in the future.

So that's it. Apps we love and have used so far, probably not a very extensive or exciting list really. Are there any I'm missing or should have on here?

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Looking Back - First books for a newborn baby

Of course when you're holding your newborn baby in your arms your first thought isn't to read them a story! And it's quite a few months before you start to think about books but it really is never to early to start with the ritual of holding a book and turning the pages.

For newborn babies you can get some really lovely high contrast cloth books which help them focus their eyes and can capture their interest for ages. This First Focus Cloth Book from Ladybird is a classic that has been around for a very long time. It really works too! My daughter was completely transfixed by it when she was tiny. You can also attach it to the bars of your cot/buggy/baby gym.
This one by Jo Lodge for Baby Campbell Books is also a lovely example and a great first toy!

There are some great buggy books for this age group which can really help to soothe a young baby. I remember a fractious car journey which was saved by this book! This Baby Touch Star book is also from Ladybird.

The Amazing Baby range from Templar is well worth looking at for tiny babies as well. Although I'll cover them in another blog since they are more suited to slightly older babies.

It's also well worth building up your stock of nursery rhymes for newborns as well. Crooning a lullaby or nursery rhyme is a great way to soothe your baby and it's nicer for you if you have a selection to choose from, rather than just frantically singing 'Twinkle, Twinkle, little star' over and over again. Ok - so I've been there. At four in the morning it can be hard to dredge them up from your sleep-deprived memory!