Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler are my favourite pairing of author and illustrator in children’s literature. I was captivated from the first time we read ‘The Gruffalo’ to our small son.

I perhaps got a little obsessive. When I found that they had collaborated on many other children’s books I felt like I had hit the jackpot. For a few months, every time we went to the library I would scope out the ‘D’ section looking for any of their books that we hadn’t yet read. It led us to read other great books that Julia Donaldson has written, but were illustrated by other artists (especially a few by David Roberts: ‘Tyrannosaurus Drip’ and ‘Jack and the Flummflumm Tree’). We also came across the ‘Pip and Posy’ series which Axel Scheffler authorstrated, which will probably get it’s own blog post in the future.

At one point I placed an online order for about 10 Donaldson/Scheffler books (some for us, some for gifts) and I’m pretty sure I was much more excited when they arrived than any of the kids were. I still love many of their books because at heart each of us is a young kid and we love the magical world we are taken to by the rhythmic and rhyming words and engaging pictures.

But more than that many of the story lines have a subtle moral or lesson for us. They often highlight a truth about human nature, even though very few characters are actually humans.

The Gruffalo

This classic story is about a plucky mouse who evades some dangerous situations with his quick thinking. It is entertaining the first time and the 50th time your child asks you to read it.This was one of the first picture books we ever owned for our kids. We read it over and over, most nights before bed for months. Even though it doesn’t get as much of run now (because we have more books to choose from and less time to spend one on one with each kid) I’m sure I could recite it pretty well.

Room on the Broom

This is still my favourite book from Donaldson and Scheffler. It follows the tale of a clumsy witch as she generously shares her broomstick. Her generosity lands her in trouble and she needs help from those whom she once helped.

Again it is etched into my memory after hundreds of readings. I actually remember one time my son split his head open and we had to take him to Emergency, as the doctors were looking at him and deciding how best to fix him up I was reciting this book to him to calm him down. This book has one of my all time favourite lines from a kid’s book: “Buzz off, that’s my witch”.

The Gruffalo’s Child

With all of the characters from ‘The Gruffalo’ making an appearance you would think this sequel could be redundant or too similar – but that is not the case. This is a great story about listening to your parents.

 

 

The Scarecrow’s Wife

A fantastic story about two scarecrows who love each other and want to plan the perfect wedding. It is fun and funny and the leading couple are endearing and lovable. 

We had this one from the library ages ago, but we have it again and all the kids are super excited about it. Our 2 yr old is learning to ‘read’ it herself.

Stick Man

This entertaining story follows the misfortune of a stick man who is trying to get back to his family. My husband gets a little upset when he sees men/fathers in children’s literature or media being portrayed as buffoons or worse. So it is really lovely when you come across a story that shows a father desperate to be with his family.

 

The Smartest Giant in Town

The tale of George, a giant, who wants to be better but just can’t stop himself being generous and kind. He finds different ways to help those he meets who are having troubles. 

It is a sweet one that will help you talk to kids about helping the needy.

Tabby McTat

Tabby McTat is a busker’s cat who falls into a different life after losing his owner. This is a unique book with great rhymes.

 

 

Tiddler

Another great book. I really do love the way the underwater world is illustrated.

It has one sweet part that reminds me of ‘Finding Nemo’ where a message is passed from creature to creature underwater.

hamilton’s Hats

This is one book that has a very obvious purpose: to help children practice patience.

It is still really lovely to see the story unfold.

 

 

Monkey Puzzle

This is really good for younger children. The story of a child looking for its Mum is something that seems to draw in kids. It has a clever ending which little kids love to predict.

 

 

A Squash and a Squeeze

I think this is the first book Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler collaborated on. It is a funny tale of a little old woman with a problem I completely sympathise with. She learns that sometimes what you’ve got is enough – a lesson I am trying to come to terms with.

 

 

Zog

A fun book about the training dragons need to endure to be good at their ‘job’.  Zog tries his very best to be a good dragon and in the process meets an unlikely friend.

There is a sequel called ‘Zog and the Flying Doctors’ that we are yet to read.

Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book

This book is not structured in the typical fashion of beginning-middle-end, instead it cleverly introduces kids to a variety of different types of books and characters they might bump into in the literary world. 

The variety in this book makes it very entertaining.

The Snail and the Whale

I really like this one. The story of an unlikely pairing who help each other, one who wants something and one who needs to be saved. It is a great book for a kid that doesn’t recognise the value of their talents and strengths.

superworm

Superworm is so versatile. he can help lots of others with their problems by ‘being’ something different.

But when Superworm gets into trouble, who will help him?

 

The Highway Rat

It is unusual for Julia Donaldson to have a ‘baddie’ as a protagonist. But the Highway Rat is certainly a ‘baddie’. He rides around taking food from travellers to feed his greed. Fortunately for everyone else the Rat meets a very clever duck.

 

 

I have found that my local library has most of these books and I’m sure yours will too. But any of these books would make an excellent gift for a child aged 2-5 – or even older.

www.juliadonaldson.co.uk

axelscheffler.com – has some great colouring PDFs

Fibonacci Zoo, by Tom Robinson

Mr 7 at our place considers himself a bit of a mathematician: we recently had a book called ‘Number Places’ that he whipped through as they had been doing that at school. So when I saw the name of this book I thought, this could be a great picture book for him. A fun way to introduce the Fibonacci sequence to a kid, perhaps.

The story pretty is pretty thin and is obvious in how it introduces the Fibonacci sequence, but I guess when teaching kids about number patterns you don’t want to make it too cryptic.

For my boy it was great. He was really interested in learning the pattern and the section at the end that helped us notice the Fibonacci sequence in the world around us, particularly in our own bodies.

I looked up the publisher Arbordale Publishing, as I hadn’t heard of them before.  The publish lots of books that have an educational element. They also had heaps of additional resources for parents and teachers. This is a little section to parents from their additional resources:

Two of the most important gifts you can give your child are the love of reading and the desire to learn. Those passions are instilled in your child long before he or she steps into a classroom. Many adults enjoy reading historical fiction novels . . . fun to read but also to learn (or remember) about historical events. Not only does Arbordale publish stories that are fun to read and that can be used as bedtime books or quiet “lap” reading books, but each story has non-fiction facts woven through the story or has some underlying educational component to sneak in “learning.” Use the “For Creative Minds” section in the book
itself and these activities to expand on your child’s interest or curiosity in the subject. They are designed to introduce a subject so you don’t need to be an expert (but you will probably look like one to your child!). Pick and choose the activities to help make learning fun!

Now we will be looking out for more of these same books. A great way to expose kids to educational concepts in a storybook form. Yay!

 

Holiday Booking

When planning our 11-day family trip to Bali I was determined to pack light. Everyone had one pair of shoes, a set of bathers, a couple of pairs of shorts and T-shirts, the girls each had one dress. It was the baby the required the most luggage space with nappies, food, wipes, etc. I did not want to spend my ‘holiday’ (I use that term loosely) keeping track of a bunch of stuff that only got used once.  Also with only 2 adults to carry things (one of whom was usually carrying a baby) we really had to minimise.

So when I thought about what books to take I was really conflicted. Books are a big part of our life but they are heavy, they take up space and they might only get used a few times. I realised I would have to be really selective when choosing what to take.

My first thought was: paperback only. Much lighter. So I looked through our bookshelves to see what paperbacks we had. Next I needed to choose books that would please as many age groups as possible. We took some classics:  ‘The Cat in the Hat’, ‘Wombat Stew’ and ‘Possum Magic’, which worked out fantastically well as a gift to our babysitter for her son.  We also took colouring books and a word search book, which came in really handy.

But then we have one independent reader who can sail through a short kids paperback in a few hours, so we’d need something just for him.

A friend recommended the ‘Billy is a Dragon’ series which were happily in paperback, so two of them went in the luggage. They were a real hit with our Mr 7. However after he finished both of those 36 hours into our trip I was super glad I had broken all my rules and packed a heavy, hard cover book that really got us through the holiday.

And that book was …..(drum roll): ‘Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls’. I had previously given this book as a gift while waiting for our reservation at the library to become available. That happened the day we were leaving for Bali, and I couldn’t leave it at home after waiting for so many weeks, and I was so glad we packed it. What a terrific book for boys and girls.

Each page is a short bio of females figures from ancient and modern history. They are written in such a way that primary school aged children can easily understand the ‘story’ of each woman’s life: the challenges they faced, the goals they achieved, the characteristics they demonstrated.  Each bio is accompanied by an exquisite portrait of the subject, which helps to keep a non-reader’s attention.

This book is a must for all young children. My kids loved it!

 

Encyclopaedia Brown, by Donald J. Sobol

If you have a 5-8 year old independent reader who loves a mystery or detective-style book, here is a great series that doesn’t get talked about much.

So many books for young independent readers lean heavily on bums, toilets, poo, farts and underwear for their main material. Parents will be familiar with the high-class literary masterpiece ‘Captain Underpants’ with characters such as Professor Pippy Pee-Pee Pooppypants (a.k.a. Tippy Tinkletrousers), Wedgy Woman, The Turbo Toilet 2000 and Dr. Diaper. As a parent trying to promote reading I felt quite conflicted about borrowing these books. I had the internal debate: “At least they’re reading” vs “Is this why I taught my kid to read? So they could read about toilets?”.

‘Encyclopedia Brown’ is a great series that might help you break through the flow of toilet-themed books to really interest your young reader.

As a young child I found Encyclopedia Brown in the school library. I remember it being one of the first series (the other being ‘The Baby-sitters’ Club’) that I memorised the author’s name so I could look for un-read books every time we went to library class. I don’t remember ever having a copy at home until I picked one up at a garage sale as a nostalgic teenager. I held onto that copy for years until I had a child old enough for me to read it too.

I started reading it to my 5 yr old as he was learning to read himself. I remember a few times I would read the chapter/case to him and he would tell me the ‘solve’ before we read it from the back of the book. When I asked how he knew the answer he told me he had read it the night before. (That is a proud moment for a mum, realising that  your child wants to read so much they will sneak a torch into their bed so they can read when they are meant to be asleep.)

I jumped online to try find more of the series for him and discovered that there are new, updated releases available. But me, a now nostalgic adult, wanted originals. I managed to find someone selling a set of 10 or so books for $ah-hem – thank you eBay.

Encyclopedia Brown is a 10 yr old boy detective.  You might compare him to other male protagonists like Zac Power or Jack Stalwart. The original stories were written in the 1960’s, so they are really different to the more recent books a young reader might be interested in. There are no mobile phones, no computers,  no gadgets or gizmos. In fact Encyclopedia takes the bus, rides his bike to the scene of the ‘crime’ and has camp outs with his friends.

They have been a favourite for over a year for my now Mr 7. If you have an inquisitive, curious, code breaking, mystery solving, spy-wannabe at your house, do yourself a favour and give these a try.

The Crown Affair, by Jeanie Franz Ransom

The day we borrowed ‘The Crown Affair’  from the library, for some reason, I had to have a lie down at lunch time – maybe it was morning sickness. So my lovely husband did the lunch-time reading while the kids ate. From the bedroom I could hear the story and I noticed that it sounded nothing like any other kid’s book we had ever read, it sounded very mature so I wondered if the kids were actually listening. Later when I had a chance to read it to them I realised that they were totally engaged in the story, and over the next few weeks as we read it multiple times, I began to see why and I really started to like it myself.

‘The Crown Affair’ is told from the point of view of Joe Dumpty, a private investigator, and as such it has the feel of and old-time detective/mystery novel. This gives the book a completely different tone than your average children’s book. However the other characters are very familiar to children and this helps children relate to the story.

Joe is on the case of a missing crown and follows a number of leads with the help of Spider. They investigate several leads before confronting their prime suspect. My kids love this kind of thing. They like to think they can work out the puzzle or crack the code, so solving a case is right up their alley.  The little look in their eye when they think they know what is about to happen, and then it does work out, just as they predicted, is a really cute moment.

So while this book is a picture book, it is not really suited to very young children. To get the most out of this book a child does really need to be able to follow a story line, so perhaps 4-5 yrs.

If you really like this book as much as we did there is great news, it is actually a sequel to ‘What Really Happened to Humpty’.

Even better there is an awesome learning resources PDF for ‘What Really Happened to Humpty’.

Raising Boys, by Steve Biddulph

When I started my blog I intended it to be an avenue for me to share my experiences in reading to my children. I wanted to share the wonderful, funny, touching, learning, trying and special moments we have had selecting and reading children’s books. Recently, however, I thought I would share some of the books I have read the have influenced me as a parent.

I’m not sure if there is much more to say about ‘Raising Boys’ that hasn’t already been said. it is  fantastic resource for parents. It has been around for a few decades now and Steve Biddulph is a prolific and extremely well-known figure in parenting and child psychology. I understand that each parent has their own values and personality, but I find that for me Steve Biddulph talks a lot of sense.

Mercifully, I heard about this book early on in the parenting game. Our first child was a son and in an effort to be intentional parents we went along to a seminar that Steve Biddulph gave about this book and it really opened our eyes to the way a child develops and the influence a father and a mother have on their boy. The book addresses difficult topics and you finish the book with great hope and enthusiasm in your own parenting abilities.

You might be thinking: great, but only have girls. Never fear, there is an excellent book called ‘Raising Girls’ for you. And it similarly explores the stages of development and importantly to me, it explains the influence a father has on his daughter and the influence a mother has.

 

 

 

Steve Biddulph has also recently (as in the last few months) released a new book for parents of girls called ’10 Things Girls Most Need’. I have onlyjust finished reading it and will post a longer review of it once I get to read it for myself.

 

 

My Rhinoceros, by Jon Agee

Not much to say about his book other than we absolutely love it. Do yourself a favour and reserve it from your library – or even buy it – it’s that good.

The pictures are quite simple, not overwhelming or intricate, which is great for young readers. The story is fun and funny and will keep your interest.

It also has a couple of my all time favourite lines from a kid’s book: “How pathetic” and “maybe it was a clunker”.

Just be prepared, your 3 year old may want to read this again and again and again and again and again.

Lucy’s Book, by Natalie Jane Prior and Cheryl Orsini

This is one of my most anticipated reads so far this year. I started seeing this book through a great Australian blog I follow: Children’s Books Daily, by the wonderful teacher/librarian/mother Megan Daley. If you aren’t yet following her blog, perhaps you’d love it. Megan recently and tragically lost her husband, and I have been holding back this post until I felt like the time was right, and now I realise that for her the time will never feel right again. So in support of her love of books and promotion of children’s literature I have decided to go ahead with the post.

When Megan started being really excited about a new book release I paid attention and looked into it. ‘Lucy’s Book’ is centred around Lucy who has a favourite library book. Her librarian, Mrs Bruce, is based on Megan Daley, down to the pink streak in her hair. A children’s picture book that focuses on a child who loves to read books from the library is something I want my kids to experience.

As you know I’m big on borrowing from the library as opposed to buying books for my own kids, so my immediate thought was to try get ‘Lucy’s Book’ from the local library. I jumped onto the catalogue and could see that the book was not yet at the library, but it had been ordered. So I used one of my favourite functions of the library: the reservation system. I reserved one of the ordered copies ensuring that we would be the very first family to borrow it. Then a few days later on our regular trip to the library it was there waiting for us. I was so ridiculously excited, definitely more than the kids were.

When we got home and had a chance to read it we loved it. The illustrations are wonderful. They are soft and such a lovely colour palette. Lucy is a sweet character that I hope my kids can relate to: a child excited about ‘their’ library books.

 

Billie B Brown, by Sally Rippin

When you read really great picture books to your kids regularly you can get a little spoilt. Often the pictures are really amazing, and the story lines can be unique and quirky. You can get books that have rhyming, or word plays that make it interesting for the grown up too.

So when your child begins to outgrow just a picture book and is interested in short chapter books it can be a bit difficult to get excited. They feel formulaic, repetitive and predictable: the main character encounters a new situation/emotion, they make a bad choice, they realise they need to change – voila – happy ending. But I’m going to tell you why you should be excited about short chapter books like the Billie B Brown series, and how to get the most out them.

For those from my generation ‘Billie B Brown’ is what a child reads after Dr Seuss but before they are ready for the Baby-sitters Club. They are 4 short chapters that can often be read by an adult in around 10 mins. Billie is a spunky primary school girl who faces the normal problems kids face. She has a best friend, Jack, a baby brother, Noah, and she has friends and frenemies to deal with.

After reading a fair few of these now I am beginning to see the similarities. The opening gives us three clues and then asks you to guess what the B in Billie B Brown stands for. Also in the first chapter we are introduced to Jack, Billie’s best friend and neighbour. The story often focuses on a new situation at school or home. There might be a school excursion or a new friend, there might be a special event or celebration. Billie gets herself into a pickle that she has a ‘super-duper’ idea to get herself out of.

So for a parent this is can be boring and repetitive. I sometimes find myself tuning out as we read. Adults value originality and, when reading for entertainment, they also like surprises and twists.  But when I look at my 4 1/2 year old daughter as I read Billie B Brown she is totally invested in the story, and upon reflection I think I know why.

For a young child who is learning to read short chapter books, the Billie B Brown series is a great starting point on the road to chapter books. They have the ideal ratio of text to pictures for those graduating from picture books. Also while the books could easily be read altogether, it is divided up into 4 chapters, giving the young reader a sense that they are progressing through the story.

The predictability in the story line makes it easier for my daughter to get through the book. She feels safe when reading difficult situations (like Billie getting lost at the zoo) because she knows in the end things will work out fine. There is no way she could read about a child that gets lost at the zoo – forever. She knows that Billie’s parents will always have her back. They are heroes in my daughter’s eyes. She knows Jack will always forgive Billie and Billie will always look out for Jack.

It’s also useful to me as a parent that Billie encounters new situations or new problems that she has to deal with.  It’s also really great for my kids to see that Billie doesn’t always get things right first time around, but she is able to pull through. She also has to deal with emotions like jealousy and regret. So by reading Billie B Brown together I get an opportunity to talk to my kids about how they would handle a similar awkward social moment, or new emotion, or life fail, or bad decision.

The Billie B Brown series also has one important feature to help young independent readers. When a grown-up reads with a child they can help the child engage by asking questions, eg, what is going to happen next? How does [main character] feel? etc. In Billie B Brown there are questions addressed to the reader as they go along. So even when the child reads by themselves they are getting a prompt to think about the story and predict solutions and outcomes.

Billie B Brown is a great literary friend to my daughter. Billie takes action, she works out her problems and she learns. My daughter wants to be Billie B Brown (her words), and that is fine by me. When Billie makes a school project from pipe cleaners, glue and icy-pole sticks, we did too. When Billie pretends to play animal hospital at school, my little wanna-be-vet was along for the ride. My only warning for parents is that there is a story where Billie cuts her own hair.

If your child isn’t in to Billie B Brown there are other series out there that might grab your child’s interest. For my son it was Zac Power (kid secret agent who always wins and is super cool) and Jack Stalwart (same-same but more chapters). So after some initial hesitation and reluctance because of my own adult tastes and expectations, I have really come around to this type of book for my kids.

The Girl and the Bicycle, by Mark Pett/How to Read a Book With No Words

When I first borrowed ‘The Girl and the Bicycle’ from the library I had no idea how memorable and influential it was going to be for our family. Many times I have found myself tearing up as we progress through this sweet and touching tale. It is a wonderfully illustrated work of art that will stay with you and your kids for years to come. The illustrations are so good in fact that this book does not require text to assist the reader to understand the meaning of the story.

The story is based around a determined young girl, her tag-along brother and a friendly neighbour – oh, and of course a bike. We follow the girl on her quest for the bike and learn a valuable lesson about work and kindness. While the illustrations are clear enough for children as young as 3 to follow, you and your child will get more out of this book if you share it together.

There are parents and kids that steer away from children’s book that have no words, and occasionally I can be guilty of this if I’m not drawn to the illustrations (pun intended). If you find yourself in this category you MUST make an exception for this terrific book. And to help you out here are a few pointers on how to read a book with no words to your child.

1 Choose the book wisely

I would give this advice whether a book has words or not. Make sure you are excited to read it, your child will pick up on your excitement and respond.

2 Ask questions

Again this will aid your child whether the book has words or not. Your child’s age and personality will dictate what type of questions you ask, but really try to use questions that start with a ‘what’, ‘who’, ‘where’, ‘why’ or ‘how’. These questions will not lead to a yes or  no answer, but instead will encourage your child to think about what they are seeing and how this new picture progresses the story. For example some questions I ask when we read this book are: “What is she thinking?” and “What is he saying?” and “Why is she doing that?”

3 Know when to lead and when to follow

Some children really need to be lead along through a book like this, others with a very active imagination might get on the wrong track, as a parent you need to learn how to guide and gently help the child understand the story. While your child might not get all the small subtle nuances of the story the first time around, make sure they understand enough of what’s going on to move to the next picture.

But if your child is understanding the story and following well enough, let them lead you. Sit back and admire your clever, sweet child as they experience the joy that comes from a wonderfully well told story.