Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Tag: shirley hughes

The children’s books that belong in room 101

I love books. Matilda and Henry love books. We have books in almost every room and if you sit down for more than 10 seconds you are likely to be handed a book to read. One of my very favourite things is reading a bedtime story to them. But sometimes I see Matilda walk around the corner carrying a book and my heart sinks, for in her hands is a book that is simply painful to read. A book that makes your ears bleed a little as you hear yourself reading it.

These books are destined to be lost very quickly, hidden in a bag at the back of the cupboard until you can get them out of the house and safely deposited at the charity shop where another lucky parent can experience the joy of reading them. Or wrapped up and given as a present at the next birthday party you attend, although that is of course a risky strategy if presents are opened at the party and your child realises what you’ve done.

So ladies and gentlemen I submit to you here the books that I think deserve to be put into room 101:

Frozen Disney bookAll books published by Disney; I’d potentially go as far as to say that any book that started as a film and then became a book should be in this category. These books are just another piece of merchandise that good old Disney can sell us along with all the other tat. The strategy seems to be to summarise a whole film into 20 pages or so in a writing style of a primary school student and then throw in lots of colourful pictures. Matilda received a Frozen one for Christmas (of course) and it’s just dreadful which is amazing considering that the film is so good (maybe it’s the lack of singing in the book).

The whole collection of Mr Men books; one of my earliest memories is being primary school age and watching a Mr Men cartoon featuring Mr Strong and loving it. I think I might even have had a Mr Strong bag I loved it so much, but this is definitely one childhood memory that should stay in the past. When Matilda was old enough I quite excitedly sat down to read her her first Mr Men book, one of those big moments as a parent where you share something you love with your child. But the puzzled look on her face said it all, the story had no flow to it and didn’t really make sense. The prose certainly wasn’t a patch on Shirley Hughes or Roald Dahl.Mr Men, Thomas and Friends books

Any book with wee or poo in the title; or any bodily fluid for that matter, when I sit down to read a bed time story do I really want to describe a dinosaur pooping Christmas? I have no doubt that were Henry and Matilda 2 or 3 years older they would think all the mentions of poo hilarious, but this trend to make children’s books disgusting just feels like cheap laughs.

Thankfully the books we read regularly tend to be a little bit more sophisticated, things like The Ladybird heard and Alfie’s new boots, they’re the ones the children take off the bookshelf time and time again. What about you, what books would you put into room 101?

Matilda’s book reviews; Shirley Hughes

One of the rights of a parent is to indulge their own childhood memories a little and this most definitely applies to choosing books. I love rediscovering books that I read as a child and introducing Matilda to them, however we both know that there is no guarantee she will like them. She won’t hesitate to tell me ‘no daddy’ and push a book away with a look of disgust when she doesn’t want to read something.

One thing we both agree on though is that Shirley Hughes rocks. If we were limited to just one author to read I think we’d both agree that Shirley is the best choice. Sure Janet and Allan Ahlberg might push her close (remember the Jolly Postman obsession?) but there is something about her books that have us coming back again and again.

For me it could be the nostalgia or that the stories that don’t involve TV characters, computers or mobile phones. They tell stories about a simpler time, perhaps a bit idealistic but definitely close to the Darling Buds of May way of life I dream of. But more than that the illustrations are beautiful, no need for the bold brash colours you often find in children’s books these days. They challenge the child to spot the details, revealing new things each time you read them.

A collage of Shirley Hughes

One particular favourite is Alfie gets in first, I love how she uses the spine of the book as the door he gets stuck behind. Which leaves him on one page and his mother outside on the other page. A simple concept but one that shows the story so well.

The prose is eloquent, understandable for a child without being dumbed down. Sometimes rhyming and rhythmic, others classic fiction. For me the rhyming books are probably her best but both are interesting to read which is always important.

Matilda loves Alfie, we have 2 or 3 books featuring him and they are extremely well read, some of them she can now tell you the story as we’ve read them so much.  There is one book where his sister Annie Rose is crying in her cot, for some reason this always bothers her and we have to talk about how she’s really ok and he parents are going to see her.

Matilda reading

The other favourites are the nursery collection which are more educational teaching things like colours and numbers. What I love is that colours are taught by showing a scene with lots of things in that colour. Yellow has a sun and a cat in the scene for example. It seems to really sink in with Matilda and she loves spotting each of the things in the picture.

We’ve now started moving onto the Lucy and Tom books which have a few more words to the story and so work well now she is a bit older. Looking at the other books she’s written it seems like we have more to come for older ages too.

So now you know who our favourite author is tell me about yours. Who do you like reading and more importantly who do your children like? Any tips for slightly older books also much appreciated.