Thursday, 19 December 2013

Favourite Christmas picture books!

It's nearly Christmas so here are a few of my favourite Christmas picture books. There are loads out this year and we haven't got round to reading them all by any means, in fact most of these are from previous years!

One that I haven't read yet but I am wishing for in my stocking is Alfie's Christmas. It looks wonderful! I am fairly confident that Rosie is going to receive it so we will snuggle up together and share it on Christmas day!

One of our very favourite Christmas books is Father Christmas Needs a Wee. It's got counting, Christmas and funny rhymes - it truly is a Christmas cracker of a book! I don't know why but even as an adult I get very excited seeing Father Christmas' house depicted. This year Random House have published Father Christmas Comes Up Trumps which looks equally fun.

Angelina's Christmas is a really sweet story about the old village postman being home alone and old and how Angelina and Henry cheer him up. Angelina's world lends itself to Christmas anyway with the nostalgic and beautiful illustrations.

We got The Christmas Show by Rebecca Patterson out of our library a couple of weeks ago and it has resonated with us since Rosie was in her first nativity play last week. She wasn't quite as forgetful as the main character in this book though! It's a nice gentle story about a school putting on their Christmas play. I love Rebecca Patterson's artwork, it's cheeky and cute!

I love the poem The Night Before Christmas and this version illustrated by Christian Birmingham is really lovely. The book we have is rather small - I wish I'd got a larger version (if there is one!) but it's still really nice.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Books for a one year old featuring Peepo Baby by Georgie Birkett

I'm revisiting some of the younger books at the moment with my one year old. The one she currently can't get enough of is Peepo Baby illustrated by Georgie Birkett. This one is a Bookstart book so is probably very well known!
I think it really helps that this book has very sturdy flaps which my child can pull and tug at as much as she likes. They are actually half pages so short of the book falling to pieces they are going to stay on. She loves trying to make a 'woof woof' noise for the dog hiding under one of the flaps. It's more like a 'oof, oof' whistling noise that she does through her nose but I know what she's attempting!

Another winner for her at the moment is Peekaboo Baby by Mandy Ross and Kate Merritt. It's a game she loves anyway and the fact it's in a book and she can look under the flaps to find the baby is great fun. These flaps are stuck on and not so sturdy but sellotape is wonderful stuff!

We also really like Is This My Nose by Georgie Birkett. The lovely combination of the big fold out mirror at the end and the pointing to body parts always makes her giggle!

There are quite a few more books she likes but these are the ones I have really noticed her engaging with and enjoying.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Spaghetti with the Yeti by Adam and Charlotte Guillain, illustrated by Lee Wildish

This is a great fun, rollicking read of a picture book. It's well told and the illustrations are great too. Rosie was a bit tentative when we first read it, I think she thought it might be scary but it's definitely not! It's a bit silly and slapstick, I think Rosie particularly likes the final scene where the main character, George and the Yeti share a tin of spaghetti.
The story of George setting off from his bedroom with his backpack and a tin of spaghetti in search of a Yeti strikes a chord with Rosie because at the moment she is constantly in the world of make-believe. It's all, 'Mummy, pretend I'm this and you're that and then...'. Actually it can be quite exhausting because it all changes so quickly!

George toils up the mountain path in search of the elusive Yeti and each time he thinks he's finally found him it turns out to be another large monster-like creature who is appalled that he would think they are the Yeti. Each one of them has their own opinion on what the Yeti likes to eat and by the end of the story George is trailing a goat and lobster along with him, as well as other things.

It's a feel-good, funny story and we've been enjoying it very much!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Katie Morag by Mairi Hedderwick

Ok so I'm going to jump on the bandwagon and blog about Katie Morag. Partly because we have been very over-excited recently seeing Katie Morag on cbeebies! Last week was a very long week because every day Rosie would ask if Katie Morag was going to be on cbeebies that day and I had to keep replying 'not until sunday.' But finally we got there and were rewarded with a double episode to start us off. It was nice to see that they used stories from the books as the basis for the episodes.
I think our favourite out of all of these is The Grand Concert. Rosie particularly likes the bit at the end where Katie Morag's dress is the same as her friend's and she's really upset. She doesn't understand why she would be upset and it fascinates her! The two uncles Sven and Sean are good characters and fun to read about in this one as well.
Rosie loves a wedding (I think it might be something to do with having been a flower four times before she was three!) and so she likes the wedding story a lot as well. It's very sweet with Grandma Mainland marrying Neilly Beag and Grandad Island turning up to put a smile on Grannie Island's face. 
One of my favourites is Katie Morag and the Big Boy Cousins because Katie gets led astray by her naughty cousins and then is the sorriest of them all and makes them all make amends to Grannie Island. It also features the phrase 'Gee Whillickers' which I can't stop saying since I first read it. It's such a perfect exclamation!
The cbeebies episodes so far have been Katie Morag Delivers the Mail and Katie Morag and the Two Grandmothers. I like the fact they've chosen to dramatise rather than animate the stories, in fact it's interesting that Rosie's preferred shows at the moment feature real people rather than animation - Swashbuckle is her other favourite! 

So to conclude we love Katie Morag in storybook form and we are loving the TV show - at the moment!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Fairytale Hairdresser and Sleeping Beauty by Abie Longstaff, illustrated by Lauren Beard

Hooray! Another Kitty Lacey story. We were watching the post for this one since we'd been promised a copy and Rosie kept asking me everyday when it was going to arrive. But finally it did and we've been enjoying it greatly.
It follows the same format as the other Fairytale Hairdresser books in that Kitty Lacey (the hairdresser) comes across a fairytale character in need of some help and hey presto with a wave of her scissors she fixes the problem - and then it usually ends with a wedding, like all good fairytales.

In Sleeping Beauty the fairy godmothers turn up at Kitty Lacey's shop in need of some cheering up because their beloved princess Rose has been put under a sleeping spell by the wicked fairy. Thankfully Kitty has a handy prince doing some gardening for her who turns out to be Rose's true love. Together they battle their way through the thicket of thorns and put the situation to rights.

There are lots of quirky references to different fairytales and nursery rhyme characters throughout the book and I particularly like how they deal with the wicked fairy (I won't spoil it!). Basically it's fun, funky and fabulous! There are two books before this one: The Fairytale Hairdresser and The Fairytale Hairdresser and Cinderella. What will be next?!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Ladybird Classics: The Secret Garden; The Railway Children; The Little Princess; A Tale of Two Cities

I was given six boxes of my childhood books from my parent's attic the other day. Along with most of the Chalet School series (all my hard-earned pocket money went on them!), the Sadler Wells series by Lorna Hill (I'm still a little bit in love with Sebastian!), the Little House on the Prairie series and Swallows and Amazons there was a box with all the Ladybird Classics in. I thought that Rosie might now be at an age where she would enjoy listening to the stories and I was right, we've been working our way through The Secret Garden, The Railway Children, The Little Princess and A Tale of Two Cities.
Unfortunately only a handful of them are still in print but at least some of them still are. You can find them here. Now I know that this series is slightly contentious in that some people think that these classics should never be abridged to this extent and that children should wait until they are older to read the proper versions but I see them with slightly rose-tinted glasses due to reading them all when I was a child and I wanted to share them with my daughter. I know that some of them are cut down to a basic plot but I think they still work and of course when Rosie is older she will probably read the full versions. This is just a taster!
Some of the phrasing and words used are a little too old for her still and of course some of the content is way over her head (French Revolution?!) but she is enjoying them on her own level and we've been reading a little bit of one each night before bed. I think my favourite is still The Little Princess. It's opened up some interesting discussions, we've talked about how Sara is trying to be like the ideal of a princess rather than actually being one, how people used to have tiger skin rugs with the head still attached - this is quite hard to explain! And lots of different things beside this. I guess this is our precursor to chapter books and I think it's a very good stepping stone. That's not to say we've leaving picture books behind. We're having a great Julia Donaldson run at the moment - I may blog about that next!

Unfortunately only Alice in Wonderland, Black Beauty, Gulliver's Travels, Oliver Twist and Treasure Island are still in print but you can see from the picture above all the ones we will be reading!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Pip and Posy - The Little Puddle by Axel Scheffler

We've had the Pip and Posy app on my phone for quite a while now but for some reason we hadn't made it to the books themselves. By the by the app is brilliant - do download it if you can, it's full of puzzles and games.

Pip and Posy - The Little Puddle is a sweet picture book about two friends enjoying playing together and then one of them having a little accident! It's a lovely first picture book to read to children who are just starting to listen to stories. It's a bit young for Rosie really but she likes it. I wish we'd got this book when Rosie was potty training because it brings a great softly softly approach to the whole thing. It tells a very simple story and then leaves the child and adult to discuss what has happened. Of course the illustrations are completely gorgeous (it is Axel Scheffler after all). Rosie loves the fact that when Pip has to change he is a bit perturbed by the choice of dresses to wear but then happily wears one. The only niggle I had was that they end up in the bath (I thought he was just over to play?) but it does make for some very lovely pictures - of course it doesn't bother Rosie in the slightest!

I think we will be getting the rest of the series: The Super Scooter, The Big Balloon and The Snowy Day. And what is also nice is that Rosie's younger sister (just turned one) is becoming very interested in books and it won't be long before she will enjoy sitting and listening to a story and this level of text will be perfect for that.

Monday, 7 October 2013

A First Book of Fairy Tales - Mary Hoffman and Julie Downing

I was given this book at a recent event I spoke at by Sandra - a storyteller. I told her how I liked the Grace stories from Mary Hoffman and she very kindly gave me the book. What I didn't expect was how much Rosie was going to like the book. I know she loves fairytales - she acts out at least one a day, usually putting her own unique twist on it! But this has been our bedtime story book for the last few weeks and there are no signs it's going to flung aside for a while.
What I like is the variety of fairy tales and the fact that the sources are named and that they are true to the original tellings. The stories included are: Cinderella; The Selfish Giant; Rapunzel; Jack and the Beanstalk; Sleeping Beauty; The Little Mermaid; The Frog Prince; Beauty and the Beast; Diamonds and Toads; The Twelve Dancing Princesses; The Fisherman and his Wife; The Princess and the Pea; Rumpelstiltskin and The Snow Queen. Some of these are lesser known tales and it's great to see them in print. The only thing I would say is that because each tale has had to fit into around six pages sometimes the stories are a bit abrupt and jump around without explanation. It doesn't bother Rosie but it does me, a bit!

Our favourite at the moment is The Little Mermaid and it's the true version where the prince doesn't fall in love with her and she takes herself away to be foam (at the last minute being rescued by the spirits of the air). In this disneyfied world I like the fact that Rosie's first introduction to this story (and she should remember it since we've read it about a thousand times) is the proper one. I'm glad that the ending isn't happy and that we know the little mermaid is unhappy at not being loved by the prince. I don't think everything has to be sugar-coated for kids and I know that Rosie has taken this all in her stride and accepts the story for what it is. Sorry about the soap-box! I just become increasingly frustrated by all the pink, pretty and cute!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Win a copy of Baby It's You and Baby Let's Play by Ruth Redford (me!) and illustrated by Ami-Lou Sharpe

I going to derail my blog slightly here and talk about my own books - which are published today! Yipee!

They are called Baby It's You:
and Baby Let's Play:

They are baby activity books in the shape of board books with touch and feels elements for parent and baby to share together. I am very excited about them! You can buy the 0-6 month one here and the 6-12 month one here. And if you prefer to buy direct from the publisher rather than Amazon you can also find them here.

Each page has suggestions of activities that you might try with your young baby and also sweet illustrations and tactile patches so the baby can engage with the book. Things like making a treasure basket/box with everyday items that your baby can explore. One of the main things I've tried to do is make it as interactive as possible so the parent will be chatting to the baby the whole time using the book as a prompt.

When I conceived the idea and scribbled everything down it really didn't look a lot like it does today. See below!
So yes, I know my drawing is really quite awful but hopefully you can see what I was trying to get at. Anyway the publisher at Random House (who to my great fortune I know quite well and used to work for, no point denying that one!) could see my vision for these books and decided to commission them. 

After many creative meetings with the editorial department and designers we reached a look we were all happy with and the books were contracted to be published. But that's not really half the battle. Once a book is contracted all the internal wheels inside the publishing house need to start turning. The editor has to work with production to make sure the book is going to be to the highest standard possible and for the best value. They need to get projected sales figures from the sales department and from the foreign rights department and they generally need to get everyone on board and excited about the books. And at this point there wasn't really much I could do to help things along. I made a video showing how the book could be used by a parent and baby and it was used by the rights department to sell it to the international markets. I chipped in with a few unique selling points and a bit of copy where needed but that was about it.

But now they are published and I can do stuff! Like write this blog and use the twitter feed @BabyLetsPlay to promote activity fun with babies. I'm hopefully doing an event with Norwich Waterstones in a few weeks time. And if that goes well I will probably do more, please contact me if you'd like me to do one.

And if you'd like to win a copy of the books please put a comment why you'd like them in the boxes below and I will choose someone to receive them. (That seems dreadfully narcissistic but I can't think of how else to do it!)

Monday, 1 July 2013

Princess Grace by Mary Hoffman and illustrated by Cornelius van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu

When Rosie picked up Princess Grace in the library I inwardly sighed because it was another pink and sparkly title and I'm really trying to give her a good mixture of influences. But when we read it together I was pleasantly surprised.
It's the story of a girl called Grace who loves stories about princesses and then acting them out (pretty similar to Rosie really). Then one day at school they're told they are going to have a float in a parade to raise money for charity and two of the children will be chosen to be princesses. Grace starts to research what princess costume she might wear and the more she looks into it the more she realises that the life of a fairytale princess is really quite dull. So she asks her teacher for stories of more exciting princess and her teacher comes back with some great examples of warrior princesses and countries different variations of traditional fairytales such as Cinderella. Grace decides she would like to dress up as more exciting princess and her Nana offers to make it out of the Kente cloth that she has bought back from The Gambia.

The interjections of Grace's Nana and Ma throughout the story are very nicely done. Particularly Nana's 'There's more than one way to be pretty' which Grace later repeats when they ask if she's sure she wants her costume to be made out of the Kente cloth.

I don't usually prefer illustrations that look real (apart from Shirley Hughes) but I've really warmed to the artwork in this book and think some of the expressions captured are lovely. The cover is pink and sparkly as I mentioned and it's totally what made Rosie pick it up so I guess it works!

The character Grace stars in a series of books. The first one was called 'Amazing Grace' and was commended for the Kate Greenaway Medal. We're going to look out for that one next! Mary Hoffman also wrote an article for the Guardian explaining her reasons behind writing what a first glance seems to be another pink and sparkly book for girls. She has my heartfelt thanks!

Friday, 29 March 2013

You Can't Eat A Princess by Gillian Rogerson & Sarah McIntyre

This picture book ticks many boxes for us. Princess - yes (groan but actually I approve of Princess Spaghetti, she's ballsy and likes chocolate, it's all good). Aliens - yes (when we look at the night sky and we pick out what we can see Rosie also always mentions aliens, hmmm!). Chocolate - yes (we both love chocolate, who doesn't?). So I guess we were always going to love it. I also enjoy reading Sarah McIntyre's tweets and blog posts - partly because she's based in our old stomping ground around Greenwich.
It's Princess Spaghetti's birthday but her father, King Cupcake is missing. It turns out he's been kidnapped by aliens who are rather partial to a juicy human. It's down to the princess to rescue him in the Royal Rocket. Once she's located him she tries to persuade the aliens of the joy of chocolate instead of eating humans by inviting them to her birthday party.

This story was so successful the first time we read it that the next day we did a complete re-enactment of it before breakfast. For some reason I had to be nearly every character while Rosie directed me, but that's another blog post.

I love the text, I think it's imaginative and reads really well. And the illustrations are fab, except for the fact that they make me a bit hungry!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

A Child's Garden by Michael Foreman

This book is such a beautiful and hopeful story that even though it's a bit old for Rosie we have read it a lot.

Set in a war torn setting it tells the story of a little boy who sees a plant growing amongst the rubble and starts to water it. As the vine grows it provides shade and a place for children to play but then soldiers on the other side of the fence see it and demolish it. The winter comes and goes and with spring comes more new life, on the other side of the fence this time. A little girl tends her garden and the boy watches until suddenly he spies life his side of the fence and is able to nurture his garden once more. One day he hopes to be able to walk into the hills once more with all the other children and have peace. It's a lovely tale of hope and promise of a better future with children.

Although this is a bit old for a three year old and the concept of war and what the children are living in is beyond her comprehension (thank goodness). I think that it's important to try and establish how fortunate we are to live in our safe streets and lovely houses and be able to enjoy nature without even thinking about it.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Fancy Dress Farmyard by Nick Sharratt

'There's a party at the farmyard'! This is a fun vibrant picture book - it's actually a little young for my three and half year old but she still loves it. What's great is that it's suitable to read to both my children even with a three year age gap. It has rhyming text (tick for pre-speakers), bold contrasting colours (great for developing those eyes) and lots of interactivity (ideal for the 3 year old). Now to be perfectly honest the six month old doesn't do much more than sit on my knee and try to grab the book to shove in her mouth but I know that she is learning (deep down!) about what you do with a book and the great fun you can have with it.
The rhymes are short and not always that wonderful! But my three year old loves to finish them off for me or even recite them in total (sigh - yes it's one of those, we've read it every night for the last month. It's going to be time to hide it soon!). She also loves to shout out who is hiding beneath the fancy dress costume and when we lift the flap to reveal we make the animal noise, for the benefit of the 6 month old.

At the end of the book you lift the flaps of the barn and all the animals in their fancy dress are revealed. We then always have a heated discussion which goes like this:
'Mummy, which would you like to be?' 
'I'd like to be the pirate.'
'No, Mummy, you can be the princess or the fairy.'
'But I want to be the pirate.'
'Girls can't be pirates.' (shouting!)
'Girls can be anything they want to be.'
'No, you have to be the fairy.'
'Ok, but girls really can be anything they want.'
'And boys can too, ok?'
'No, mummy. I'm the princess and you're the fairy.' (pause) 'Daddy can be the pirate.' 

I think I've even been guilty of saying 'girl power' in one of these discussions before. I just cannot believe that my daughter can be so gender specific! It will get better won't it? I won't be having this argument when she's twelve (to pick an age randomly!). One of the first times we had this discussion she got so upset she started to cry about it. I don't think I ever envisaged having a daughter sobbing her heart out about not being a princess when I first had kids.

For all the crazy politics that go with this book it's definitely one of our current favourites and as I mentioned it is great to read with different aged children. 

Thursday, 31 January 2013

One Little Baby by Richard Dungworth and Jane Massey

I was sent this book for Rosie to share with her baby sister and we liked it so much I thought I'd do a blog post on it.

It's a simple picture book of a day in the life of a baby from waking up and getting dressed to going to the park, having tea and going to bed. There are the obligatory moments that every parent will recognise, the falling over with a bump and needing a cuddle, the tea on the head (spaghetti trailing down baby's face anyone?!), although this baby seems to go to sleep straight away. I'm going to read it straight away again to mine and see if they'll take the hint. All in all it's very very cute!

I love the delicate illustrations and how they stand out so beautifully on the page. The line work is fantastic and the restrained use of colour means it makes a lot more of an impact. The text is gently rhyming, almost how you would talk to your baby throughout the day (if you were a super-parent!) and compliments the illustrations beautifully.

It's a really nice first picture book to share with a baby or as we did with a toddler and a new baby.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Rosie's Magic Horse by Russell Hoban and Quentin Blake

I picked this book up partly because it's a Quentin Blake and - well you know, he's amazing! And I also picked it up because it had Rosie in the title. When I read it I was struck by the story and how imaginative it is. Since my Rosie has turned three her imagination has leapt ahead and I am consistently surprised and delighted by her crazy, wonderful games which she acts out with all kinds of weird and wonderful props and with a constant stream of consciousness burbling from her mouth!

It's a story that takes a lollipop stick that has been abandoned and turns it into a magic horse which a little girl uses to find treasure and rescue her family's fortunes. It's wonderfully told, the text is poetic and beautiful. The illustrations, as you'd expect, are spectacular and really work so well with the text.

This is a book that we will keep reading for many years and I hope that amongst the reams of toys that Rosie seems to have accumulated it will maybe remind her that you don't need much to find a story. A simple lolly stick will do!