In my fit of gardening optimism, Finch and I went to the allotment to clean the greenhouse at the weekend. Okay, it didn’t go quite like that. I cleaned the greenhouse and Finch made obstacle courses for woodlice in the soil. Then Storm Brendan blew in and it seemed the best thing to do might be to snuggle up in the warm with a good book. Cue my annual tradition: my round up of the picture books we were bought, given, or borrowed in 2019 and LOVED.
Last year we enjoyed Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zummer’s collaboration on the fold-out book The Street Beneath My Feet. This year we have loved Yuval’s solo outing The Big Book of the Blue (pictured above) exploring the creatures who live under the sea. This has been most relished by Finch and my dad who have spent hours together pouring over the pages, exploring the details. It’s full of fun facts too which are simply pitched so that Finch has been able to sound out the sentences himself.
The Tide (pictured above) is by my lovely friend Clare Helen Welsh (I’m not biased at all!) and illustrated by Ashling Lindsay. It explores the topic of dementia through the eyes of a little girl whose grandfather is losing his memory. His memory is like the Tide, “sometimes near and close and full of life. Other times, far away and distant.” It’s a gentle introduction to a difficult subject which is only going to affect more and more of us. Deservedly, it won the North Somerset Teacher’s Award last year.
Six Dinner Sid (pictured above) by Inga Moore is an old classic which was around when I was a kid, and which I had to get for my lot. Sid manages to deceive the residents of Aristotle Street so that he gets six dinners a day. That is, until the fateful day when he gets a cold. It’s a brilliant story and makes Finch howl with glee at Sid’s craftiness.
The General (pictured above) by Michael Foreman and Janet Charters is another old classic about a general who learns to turn his back on war to embrace nature and beauty. Written in the midst of the cold war its message feels as appropriate as ever with all the recent sabre-rattling that’s been going on. And of course, Michael Foreman is a master-illustrator so the illustrations are just a feast for the eyes. The General is a masterclass in colour and design.
The Secret Sky Garden by Linda Sarah and Fiona Lumbers is about a little girl who creates a garden from a grey, disused car park in the city. Along the way she also makes a friend. This book has loads of great messages for children about being yourself, being positive, making room for nature in our modern lives, and building relationships.
I’ll be honest, we got the Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield for the illustrations. It’s a similar story to Mr Big by Ed Vere but doesn’t quite manage to match Vere’s incredible sense of pacing and light touch, however the illustrations are fantastic. It’s about a bear in a forest who learns to play the piano and ends up heading off for the city where he plays to sell-out theatres. It’s all about belonging and finding your place in the world, and there can never be enough stories to help children navigate that difficult terrain.
My Two Blankets by Irena Kobold and Freya Blackwood is one we bought with Wren in mind. It came out a few years ago and is fantastic. Cartwheel is a migrant and at first she struggles to settle into her new country. Everything is so different and strange, but with the help of a new friend she begins to find her place. It’s a gorgeous book and I can’t fathom why Freya Blackwood is not better known outside her native Australia. I remember mentioning her at my Picture Hooks interview and was met with blank looks. This story is particularly apt for Wren, whose current best friend at pre-school is a little Syrian girl. The fact that neither of them speak very good English doesn’t stop them from dressing up in all sorts of finery, and clattering around looking after their dollies together.
Looking After Daddy by Eve Coy is a sweet and tender story of a small girl ‘looking after’ her little boy, William (aka Daddy). The illustrations are stunning. It’s lovely to see more and more books like this, reflecting the reality of modern parenting. While there may not be lots of exclusively stay-at-home dads around us, I’d be pushed to name any families we know where both parents aren’t working. Certainly ‘daddy-days’ are a regular feature of my kids’ lives, especially with me working weekends.
In Tad by Benji Davies, Big Blub is the huge, grumpy fish who lives at the bottom of the pond and Tad is the littlest tadpole. Recently Tad has noticed that there are less and less of her tadpole brothers and sisters around. Could it be anything to do with Big Blub? Tad knows she must use all her wits to stay out of Big Blub’s way until one day he finds her and chases her through the water. It’s then that Tad has to make the biggest leap of her life, right out of the pond, finally discovering where all her brothers and sisters had gone. Benji Davies has really grown into his writing from his illustration roots and this is a lovely story about being the littlest and learning how to grow up. Of course, it being Benji Davies, the illustrations are fabulous, travelling from the murky depths of the pond, to the rainbow palette of the frog-filled forest at the end.
So there we go. There’s so many wonderful books out there, we really are spoilt for choice. These are just some of the treasures we’ve enjoyed.