The Best Picture Books I’ve Read This Month #1

IMG_6721

If authors are my rock-stars, children’s authors are my sword-swallowing, trapeze-balancing circus performers. I realise that may sound a little excessive, but stay with me! Writers of picture books manage to make something really difficult look completely effortless. Writing a picture book is something everyone thinks they could do, but – out of the handful who actually go ahead and try – only a few are actually successful in getting their books published (three out of 10,000 that are written was a statistic I read today). Mem Fox once famously likened writing a picture book to writing War and Peace in Haiku. This is bad news if you’re a writer trying to catch a break, but good news if you’re a parent and/ or Junior Primary Library Teacher like myself. It means that the standard for picture books that are published each year is, on the whole, incredibly high.

Both as a teacher and as a mum, I read a lot of picture books. Of course there are plenty of duds out there: books that a too wordy or too blatantly moralising; books that are clunky in their use of rhyme or just plain boring. Then there are those books that are special; books that I’m happy to read again and again. A good picture book can captivate the most restless child; mesmerising them with its rhythm or drawing them into the web of its story. A good picture book can fire a child’s imagination, enlarge their world, even trigger their empathy.

I’ve decided to start a regular series of posts, highlighting a small handful of the best picture books I’ve read that month. I will include both books I have discovered for the first time, and old favourites I am happy to return to. I hope that these reviews might give other parents and teachers some ideas of great books to enjoy with their kids. After all, sitting down with a child and a good picture book is always time well-spent!

The Day Louis Got Eaten
By John Fardell

IMG_6709

This book was given to us by a friend – I never would have chosen a story about a boy being eaten by a monster for my very sensitive then-four-year-old daughter. However, the fact that both she and her two-year-old brother love it is sound proof that it is much more funny than scary. The book’s title says it all: one day Louis gets eaten by a Gulper, which gets eaten by a Grabular, which gets eaten by an Undersnatch and so on. It’s up to his gutsy and resourceful sister to rescue him. This is a compelling tale, with a very sweet sibling relationship at it’s heart.

Why it’s worth reading:
It’s refreshing to see such a gloriously brave and inventive heroine, and kids will enjoy watching the improvements she makes to her bike in order to aid her quest. The illustrations are fantastically detailed and clever; the climactic scene features a wonderful cross-section of monsters-within-monsters like Russian nesting dolls.

Best suits ages: 3 – 7.

Tiddler: The story-telling fish
By Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

IMG_6714-0

Tiddler is a little fish with a big imagination: “He blew small bubbles but told tall tales.” Every morning he is late for school, and every morning he arrives with a far-fetched story to explain his tardiness. Most of his fishy classmates dismiss his tales of riding seahorses, diving with dolphins and battling squid, but Little Johnny Dory likes his stories and tells them to his granny, who in turn shares them with her friends. One day, Tiddler’s daydreaming lands him in the middle of the ocean, desperately lost and alone. There he is surprised to hear his own tales being told and realises that following the chain of stories to their source is the only way he will be able to find his way home. This is a fun book about the power of stories.

Why it’s worth reading:
Tiddler has a zippy, buoyant rhythm that makes it the perfect read-aloud book. This author/illustrator pair are the same team behind The Gruffalo. Make sure you take a moment to identify the “Gruffalo Fish” in one of the pictures.

Best suits ages: 3 – 7.

Peck Peck Peck
By Lucy Cousins

IMG_6715

What pre-schooler doesn’t relish the opportunity to poke a finger through holes punched in the pages of a book? Peck Peck Peck is The Very Hungry Caterpillar on a sugar high. Little Woodpecker sets off to practise his new pecking skills and it turns out that he’s a natural.

“PECK PECK PECK
a magazine,
a picture of Aunt Geraldine,
an armchair,
a teddy bear
and a book
called Jane Eyre.”

Lucy Cousins, author/illustrator of the Maisy series, possesses the perfect instinct for what will appeal to very young children. My toddler loves this book, but it has enough cheeky humour (“I pecked the loo.”) to earn some giggles from a bunch of less-easily-amused 8-year-olds.

Why it’s worth reading:
Holes. Lots and lots of holes showing all the places Little Woodpecker has pecked. The rhyming inventory of all the objects he’s put holes in is very entertaining.

Best suits ages: 2 – 6

What the Ladybird Heard
By Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks

IMG_6711

I’ve been doing an author study on Julia Donaldson with my junior primary classes this term, hence the inclusion of a second of her books (and it was tough to pick just two!). “Once upon a farm” lived the usual assortment of farm animals, that made the usual farm-animal noises. Except, of course, for the ladybird, who “said never a word.” But when that clever little ladybird observes two bad men plotting to steal the fine prize cow, it is up to her to devise a way of foiling their plans. No spoilers here, but let’s just say that her idea is both ingenious and hilarious, and the consequences for Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len are most satisfactory.

Why it’s worth reading:
Young kids are invariably fans of sounds in books, and this one has a barnyard full. The animal noises, combined with the easy rhyme makes this the kind of book that invites participation. My daughter knew the whole thing by heart after a few readings. The story is perfectly pitched to a junior primary level, with a simple but engaging plot and plenty of humour.

Best suits ages: 3 – 7.

Silver Buttons
By Bob Graham

IMG_6713

At 9.59 on Thursday morning, as Jodie is putting the finishing touches on her picture of a duck, her little brother takes his first steps. Meanwhile, all over the neighbourhood and beyond, people are busy living out both small and grand moments: a child is posting sticks and stones through a gate, a man is buying fresh bread from a baker, children are sailing boats in a fountain, a baby is born. The book’s opening pages display all the domestic minutiae of Jodie’s family life, before panning out to show her street, neighbourhood, local beach and finally the far horizon.

Why it’s worth reading:
It’s the detail of each scene – both in the written descriptions and the illustrations – that carries you along for the journey. The book would be a perfect and gentle launchpad to discussions on a whole range of topics, such as local and world events, and similarities and differences between people.

Best suits ages: 4 – 8.

What was the best picture book you read this month? I would love to hear!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s