Everyone loves a list story and The Guardian delivers here as Puffin celebrates its 70th birthday by nominating 70 of the best children’s books.
Based on my quick glance at the categories, the only Aussie author to make the grade is Morris Gleitzman, who scores two mentions. Then again, this is a UK list, making Mr Gleitzman’s inclusion all the more impressive. And Paul Jennings does get a guernsey in the Puffin 70th birthday catalogue. Is it a coincidence that both these brilliant writers were born in the UK?
There are certainly some of our family favourites on the list. Lauren’s Child’s Lola is one of the most excellent and best characters ever. I’ll also admit to being surprised that a recent reading of Milly Molly Mandy was a big hit at my house, even though MMM is generations removed from the world my kids know. Simple stories of childhood are clearly timeless.
Last but not least, I doff my cap to Eric Carle. Wow. I love The Very Hungry Caterpillar but who’d have thought a copy would be sold somewhere on the planet every 30 seconds? That is phenomenal.
My daughter, the Little Monkey, has just started school. So far, so good. Her feedback consists of “great” and “all you do is play in Prep”. On the down side, she thinks attending school necessitates accelerated maturation. On a recent visit to the library she announced that she was too big for picture books and only interested in chapter books now. Then she armed herself with bundles of pink stuff about fairies and ballet dancers.
Much as I admire her ambition and determination (she doesn’t read yet), I was sad to hear this. I love picture books and I read to one or both of my children every night. As a result, I’m fairly familiar with the children’s bookshelves at the local libraries. We also have an extensive collection at home. Personally, I plan never to grow out of picture books.
Here are 25 books for little people that this big person never gets sick of reading and the kids don’t tire of hearing:
1. The Gruffalo – Julia Donaldson, illustrated Axel Scheffler (Small conquers big with smarts. A deserved award winner)
2. Dogzilla – Dav Pilkey (Punster heaven)
3. I am Not Sleepy & I Will Not Go To Bed – Lauren Child (Delicious use of language with house-faves Charlie & Lola)
4. The Kiss That Missed – David Melling (Fantastic illos and a fun story focused on a lost goodnight kiss)
5. Applesauce & the Christmas Miracle – Glenda Millard, illustrated Stephen Michael King (Beautiful. Hard to read without getting teary, esp. since the Victorian bushfires)
6. Vegetable Glue – Susan Chandler, illustrated Elena Odriozola (Healthy message made fun)
7. Jethro Byrde, Fairy Child – Bob Graham (Be kind)
8. Rose Meets Mr Wintergarten – Bob Graham (Light overpowers darkness)
9. Bim Bam Boom – Margaret Wild, illustrated Wayne Harris (Counting fun with great sound effects for the kids to do)
10. Ruby Makes A Friend – Tina Burke (Imaginary friends are cool)
11. Wombat Divine – Mem Fox, illustrated Kerry Argent (Finding your place at Christmas)
12. Amy & Louis – Libby Gleeson, illustrated Freya Blackwood (Friendship defies distance)
13. Rosie Sips Spiders – Alison Lester (Fave foods, games, jobs, beds, lists, gorgeous pix)
14. Splat: Explosive Adventures of a Fish Left Home Alone (series) – Terry Denton (Anarchic tales full of twists)
15. The Giant Jam Sandwich – John Vernon Lord (Co-operation saves a town. Zany pix)
16. Blue Hat, Green Hat – Sandra Boynton (Colours & humour. The kids used to laugh themselves silly.)
17. Dumb Bunnies Collection – Dav Pilkey (Every boy I know loves these.)
18. Yuk – Kes Gray, illustrated Nick Sharratt (Tomboy Daisy dresses herself for a wedding)
19. Where is the Green Sheep? – Mem Fox, illustrated Judy Horacek (Opposites and simple rhymes for toddlers)
20. The Waterhole – Graeme Base (Lush, mysterious illustrations and an environmental warning)
21. Millie – John Marsden, illustrated Sally Rippin (Love knows no limits)
22. Mannie & The Long Brave Day – Martine Murray, illustrated Sally Rippin (Courage and creativity)
23. We’re Going on A Bear Hunt – Michael Rosen (Fun to chant aloud)
24. Miss Lily’s Fabulous Pink Feather Boa – Margaret Wild, illustrated Kerry Argent (Friendship, loneliness and the horrors of a guilty conscience)
25. Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak (Classic adventure starring a boy with a temper and a wild imagination)
That’s just a taste. Get into a good children’s bookstore or library and you’ll find there’s hours of fun to be had.
Newsflash: The Little Monkey has decided she still likes picture books. Most excellent news!
I like to listen to people speak – not polished public speaking but everyday yammer. I listen for the slang they use, idiosyncratic phrasing and vocabulary that I don’t hear from other people.
Our fridge-freezer expired over the weekend and we had a repairman visit early today. He poked about briefly and pronounced the machine to be deceased. Mr Repairman hailed from Sri Lanka, spotted our reasonably new washing machine and then proceeded to lecture me on using it correctly. If you can imagine the sub-continental accent, the conversation went a bit like this:
Him: “You know you must use the proper setting for the whites. Use the machine correctly. By using the ‘whites’ setting you will not be needing bleach or anything like that and the clothes will be coming out whiter than white.”
Me: “We use cold water.”
Him: “Oh no! You must be using the correct setting and just normal powder. It will wash at 90 degrees and you will be very happy. I tell my wife ‘you must use the white setting’ as my singlets, they are cream. People seeing me work in my singlets will be thinking ‘you are a shabby man’. But aaah, no, she does not…”
Language and verbal mannerisms go a long way to making the voice of your characters authentic. It’s why Lauren Child’s Charlie & Lola books are such fun to read – the characters are coming to grips with adult language and misusing words deliciously.
So treat every conversation as a chance to tune in on language. Listening is research for every story you write.