In our family compound, plans were afoot for a shared chicken house for a rather long time.
S. had been cutting steel and welding in between the school and kindy drop-offs for months. Finally, in September, four point-of-lay hens and four chicks came to roost.
In preparation for the chickens’ arrival, I’d bought Keith Graves’ Chicken Big when I spied it in a bookstore.
It sat for weeks in the cupboard. Things were moving slowly on the chicken palazzo front.
When we finally broke it out and read it to the kids, it was love at first sight: peals of laughter; reading it cover to cover repeatedly and literally (there are cartoons on the back cover); imitations of the characters over breakfast; and fragments of text as family code.
It is a book that’s a lot of fun. It’s a classic story about not belonging, and trying to find one’s community. Even if that community is kind of nuts, and thick, and…well, you have to read this book. I’m sniggering to myself just thinking about some of the phrasing and images.
One of the greatest joys of having children is how I’ve rediscovered the fabulous embrace of public libraries.
It’s a constant enjoyment because the kids are moving through the stacks as they get older and their tastes change.
6.5yo E.’s already dipping into the occasional graphic novel and moving into short novels. I’m finding new authors to catch up on (most recently, Neil Gaiman – I know, I know, I’ve never read Gaiman, but that’s another post). 4yo G. is starting to recognise words and sound them out; he’s moving on from the cardboard books to relatively long narrative picture books.
The other weekend, I had the added delight of discovering Spork by Kyo Maclear. The book was on constant rotation when it came home. Usually, little G. eases into the ‘new books’ from the library every week but, with Spork, he was a fan from Day 1. Every night, he’d flip through other books and choose some, but he’d always go to this one and drop it on the bed’s ‘to-read’ pile.
When I saw the author’s name I did a double-take. I know Kyo Maclear. She’s an academic in Asian Canadian Studies. I had read her research, and had colleagues who mentioned Kyo with regularity.
Seeing her turn up as a children’s book author was an absolute thrill. There’s something about finding academics with lives that spill outside of universities that makes me feel better about the world.
One of the best things about immersing myself in the kids’ books is the opportunity to appreciate the illustrations and formats.
Many times, I’ll be reading to one or other of the kids and the first thing I’ll say on opening the covers is: “I love the way this book is drawn.”
I must say it a lot because E. has commented once that I “always say that”. I didn’t think I always said it, but I know I often say it.
Before I even thought of having kids, I was collecting kids’ books where I fell in love with the illustrations and images. One of the first I bought was Charles Fuge’s Bush Vark’s First Day Out. Another was The Gnole (by Alan ‘Butterfly Ball’ Aldridge, Steven Boyett, and Maxine Miller.
There’s such a mix of media and range of styles in children’s books, and I must admit to being attracted to the illustrations that have a studied simplicity about them.
When I pulled Ruth Green’s Noisy Neighbours from the library bag (the kids choose their own books most of the time), I was immediately enamoured of the bold, block-printy aesthetic.
The timelessness of the Dr Seuss books lend themselves to intergenerational bonding, and I can see how they retain their appeal.
Perhaps strangely, we never really had that many of these books read to us – or to read – as we grew up.
The one book I did have, a gift from someone in my family, was The Lorax. It’s a book I packed with us at each house move, and it has come to Victoria as well. Considering it was stored away haphazardly in the Brisbane suburbs for almost thirty years, it’s in fine form. The only damage it has suffered has been recently at the hands of my kids: impatient fingers at the spine as they try to get it out of the shelves, sticky fingers swishing past a page and tearing off the tip. Small things. But things that remind me it’s now the property of the next generation, who will enjoy it for just about as long as I had it in storage.
Our kids have a set of Seuss books that are getting a workout these days. Each has their favourites, and the eldest is now starting to read the simplest ones by herself (i.e. Hop on Pop). They often quote Seussisms to us and each other.
In keeping with my ‘bargain bin’ reviews (see previous one of Tyrannosaurus Drip), this one features Philip Yates and G. Brian Karas’ Ten Little Mummies: An Egyptian Counting Book (2003).
While the idea of a hieroglyphic counting book is beguiling, and this was my first thought about its contents, this book is a standard 1-10 counting book, but with a great twist on typical children’s themes.
The number of farmyard, vehicle, jungle or housey counting books is huge. We’ve been through so many of this type from the library, and ditto to styles of alphabet books.
Having a book that is clever and playful, with a satisfying rhyming rhythm and endearing images is a real bonus.
The kids’ bookshelves are jammed with gorgeously illustrated, lovingly gifted books. Some of the ones that are most requested and best ‘value’ are those we buy on sale in the big bins at the back of the shop. Tyrannosaurus Drip (written by Julia “The Gruffalo” Donaldson and illustrated by David Roberts) is one of these. I probably ask to have it as often as the children do, and both of them (aged 5 and 2.5) are fans of the book. The book is about a baby duckbill dinosaur who ends up in the wrong nest, and realises just how out of place he is as a pacifist plant-eater among war-mongering carnivores. Being rejected from his ‘family’, however, gives him the freedom to find his real home. One of the reasons I picked this book up in the first place was because of Roberts’ illustrations. They’re wonderful drawings, infused with witty details and expressions; the colours are strikingly bright. I loved the Tyrannosaurus family’s nasty red sharpness contrasted with the duckbills’ soothing green whorls. Donaldson’s writing offers the usual high standard of rhythm and fun.
I’ve always had a cherished collection of childhood books (including a big hardcover book of The Lorax by Dr Seuss), and discovering a heap of new books with their fantastic, gorgeous images is one of the delights of reading with the kids. We are weekly library visitors, alternating the two city council places between which we are happily sandwiched. Both of them love books and having stories read to them. I find it soul-nourishing to see them so enamoured of books/reading. It makes me think that, no matter what they may face in their lives, having this love of narrative and enjoying an imaginative interior life will always stand them in good stead.
I almost started up a blog that presented reviews and recommendations of the kids’ books that our family has loved, but reality kicked in and I deleted it. There was no way I was going to post there regularly. I have trouble enough with this one and Academia 101 (poor, neglected Academia 101 [ETA 5 Feb 2012: which I ended up killing because I started up The Research Whisperer with Jonathan O’Donnell in June 2011]).
Right now, however, I can’t resist posting about my latest favourite.
On the way to meeting a friend for lunch yesterday, I found myself browsing around the Hill of Content bookshop (which is an excellent place to wander and feed the mind and empty the wallet…). They have a great selection of children’s books at the back of the store, and I felt compelled to have a look. Just for fun.
And I found The Lonely Beast by Chris Judge. I loved it on sight, before I’d even read it. Here’s one of the images from the book:
The story is an engaging and sweet one, understated yet richly illustrated. It’s a tale of exploration, bravery, and trying to find like-minded friends. I’ve just downloaded some Beast wallpaper for my desktop; I’ve turned into a fan. The Lonely Beast is Judge’s first children’s book.
The irony of all this is that E. is actually scared of the book; she said it’s because of the Beast’s claw-like hands. I have read it to her twice, but the fact that she won’t be left alone in the room with the book indicates that maybe – just maybe – it’ll be much more my favourite than hers. For the moment.