Review of small press and independent books.
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Oops, that 's what comes of typing withy a 16-month-od sitting on your knee! I was going to do a Top Three, but Pickleblossom has hidden her favourite book somehwere, so these are the other two!
Rod Campbell, Dear Zoo, Macmillan Children's Books 2009. I think a lot of people may know this one anyway, since it's been around in some form since the early 80s, but it's been recently reissued with new illustrations, although by the same author/artist: I've seen an older copy, and I definitely like the new ones better. This is a lift-the-flap board book (a version with paper pages also exists) where the zoo sends you a different suggestion for a pet on each page, and the flap you lift is the crate it comes in. There's a problem with each of the animals: the elephant is too big, the lion too fierce, the camel too grumpy... and they all get sent back until you get to the perfect pet on the last page.
Oh dear, I'd better come back to go on with this...
Phew, Little Troubleblossom has finally conked out in her high chair, half way through her second lunch - it's like looking after the unnatural offspring of Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger around here. Anyway, I was saying how much she likes Dear Zoo: apart from the giraffe, because I have no idea what sort of noise a giraffe makes and no-one can tell me, you can do noises for all the animals, and she loves going "RRRAAAAHH!" when you ask "What does the lion say?"
Pickleblossom's second choice is Debi Gliori, 'Where, oh where, is Baby Bear?', published by Orchard Books; I'm a bit unclear about year of publication, which is probably standardly 2001, because Pickleblossom's copy, published in 2008, is a special edition for Bookstart (that is, she got it free from the previous Government when she was 8 months old). There are several other Debi Gliori Mr. Bear books, but this is the only lift-the-flap board book that I know of. Mr. Bear goes to sleep under a tree, and wakes up to find that his baby's disappeared. He wanders through the countryside looking for Baby Bear - in the branches of a tree, under the roots of the tree, in the rushes round the pond - and under the flaps are the creatures who actually live in those places. Pickleblossom particularly likes the under-the-tree page, where you can open the doors and windows of the rabbits' house among the roots. I like the text, which rhymes and scans properly, and I love the way the flaps are printed on both sides, so that when lifted, they're still part of the picture.
I've now found Little Troubleblossom's favourite board book of all: 'I can say teddy' by Ann Locke and Louise Batchelor (Zero to Ten Ltd, 1998). Apparently Ann Locke is a children's speech specialist, who has selected words that are particularly easily and early learned by toddlers (Louise Batchelor drew the pictures). There is a single word on every page, demonstrated by a charming little girl in blue trousers and red shoes. The first two pages are 'teddy' and 'kiss', and Little Troubleblossom always has to kiss the teddy too, while the last word is 'bye-bye', so she waves to the little girl! She can recognise and say the names of almost all the pictures already (she's just turned sixteen months), so it obviously works.
I've just tracked it down on Bookfinder by entering the authors and title into my search engine:
http://www.bookfinder.com/dir/i/I_Can_S … 899883304/
see if this works!
It worked? Wonderful! I had a very annoying time finding it: 'Zero to Ten Ltd' didn't work at all, and I still don't know what it was doing on the cover, because now I have actually found the reference, they don't appear to be the publishers! Now I have found it, I see there are others, so I shall probably be going back to that, because our copy's got to go back to the library soon.
True, but libraries are very useful for trying books out that you might want to own later. We now know not to buy a large and splendid pop-up book called 'The Very Lazy Lion', because although Daddy and I thought it was super, Little Troubleblossom was frightened when the elephant's trunk reared up out of the page spread!
Well, 'I can say teddy' has gone back to the library, and this month's new favourites are:
1: Caroline Uff, 'Lulu's Busy Day'. The library ticket is stuck over most of the bibliographical details, though I can make out 'Orchard Books'. Rather less eventful than the average episode of 'The Archers', as Lulu draws a picture, plays with her blocks, goes to the playground... and eventually cleans her teeth (and Teddy's) and goes to bed, but Pickleblossom loves it to the extent that she's learned Lulu's name, and picks this book out of the pile and brings it to the chosen grown-up demanding "Lulu! Lulu!", whereupon the pictures are greeted with "Ball!" "Bricks!" "See-saw!" (it's actually a set of swings, but any play equipment that involves moving back and forth is 'see-saw' to Pickleblossom) or "Brush!" respectively. The pictures are well-proportioned with lots of clear, bright colours, which I approve of greatly; so many picture books for small children have such oddly stylised or erratically cartoonish illustrations that I can't work out how the child is supposed to know what the picture represents.
2: Nicola Smee, 2007, 'No Bed Without Ted', Bloomsbury Publishing. Another lift-the-flap board book, in which you help the young heroine look for her teddy before she can go to bed. Is he in the airing cupboard? No, it's full of snoozing cats! Is he in the drawer? No, it's full of dancing mice! Pickleblossom particularly likes the drawer, which slides out rather than lifting, and she happily announces "Mice! Mice!", but it does make this a book for adult supervision only, as frustrated little fingers are likely to pull the tab off trying to get the drawer in and out. All the animals, as the little girl finds them, join in the hunt for Ted, and eventually, when he's found and you lift the blanket-flap on the final page to show her sleeping contentedly with Ted (and a mouse), all the cats, dogs, mice and bunnies are asleep all around her, with two more mice bedded down in her slippers.
Just popping in to say how useful this thread is. My little grandchildren have birthdays shortly and will be one and three respectively. I feel out of touch with small people's writing, so this is getting me back into the right sort of thinking regarding potential birthday presents.
Thanks, Cathy, I'm really glad somebody's finding it useful!
It is indeed. It sounds as if Nicola Smee has combined the high points of several firm favourites - always a winning formula! Tell Troubleblossom I reckon she'd like
Peace at Last
Matilda's Restful Chair
We had 'Spot's Birthday Party' out of the library, but I'm certainly not recommending that: it's one of the kind that comes with a sort of keyboard of push-buttons, each of which supplies a sound-effect to be used during the story, rather like a game on 'I'm Sorry, I Haven't A Clue'. Maybe we'll try that again when she's older. Books with buttons that make noises are a great joy to Little Troubleblossom, but either they work, in which case they rapidly end up getting banned by maddened parents - 'See, hear, touch, taste and smell with Miffy', which has a button that plays a supposed 'lullaby', actually a hideously jarring and very loud electronic rendition of what is probably 'Rock-a-bye baby', is a particular culprit - or they don't work, like the apparently delightful 'Noisy Noisy Woof' in which the buttons producing all the animal noises are too stiff to be operated by little fingers, and then you end up with a very frustrated baby.
Bleagh. Ban all toys that make electronic noises, says I. Oh - except that gremlin thing that someone once left on a table in a history lecture which, 20 minutes into the complexities of the economics of the 1880s, sighed and said it was bored.
Bet that brought the house down.
Another visit to the library brings a new favourite. I had to read this to Little Troubleblossom three times on the go last night: every time we got to the end she said "Again!".
Lynn Breeze, 'Pickle and the Ball' - again, the library ticket's stuck all over the bibliographic details, though the publisher might be Kingfisher. I'll just nip off and look that up elsewhere...
Ah, here we are:
Lynn Breeze, 1998, 'Pickle and the Ball', Larousse Kingfisher Chambers.
Apparently it has three mates, 'Pickle and the Blanket', 'Pickle and the Box', and 'Pickle and the Blocks', which I may well have to go and buy. The eponymous Pickle is a charmingly drawn, virtually hairless, gender-neutral baby with a red sleepsuit and a delightfully expressive face. The pictures are very simple, just showing Pickle, Teddy, the ball and sometimes one other object against a quiet, patterned background, and there is a rhyming text describing what Pickle is doing with the ball. My own Pickle is particularly charmed with the second page-spread, which, following on from 'Throw the ball! Are you ready?', goes 'Catch the ball! Oops! Poor Teddy.' and shows the unfortunate Teddy flattened under the ball, which is twice his size - Little Troubleblossom repeats "Oops!" and giggles like a leaky tap.
I took this out of the library once before, when Little Troubleblossom was quite a lot younger, and although I was attracted by it, she wasn't interested then and only wanted touchy-feely books and bright patterns: now she can recognise things like ball, baby, chair and teddy, and say their names, books like this have suddenly developed a great deal more appeal.
Had to read it to her twice again today, and as well as wanting the whole book again, she says "Oops! Oops!" and turns studiously through the pages to the picture of poor Teddy getting flattened by the ball.
This week's favourite: Helen Oxenbury, 1981, 'Playing', in the 'Helen Oxenbury's Baby Board Books' range, Walker Books Ltd. I think everyone in the world in space who's ever had anything to do with a child has already heard of Helen Oxenbury - softly coloured pictures of simply but realistically drawn babies and children. This book has no words at all, but Little Troubleblossom reads it to herself, out loud. Each double-page spread has a picture of a plaything on the left-hand page, and of a baby in a gender-neutral red sleepsuit playing with it on the right-hand page, and each spread calls forth the appropriate response of "Bricks!", "Trolley!", "Bang!" (this one featuring an upturned saucepan, a whisk and a wooden spoon), "Box!", "Book!", "Teddy!" and "Ball!"
Two new joys from the library this month (aargh, cold toes... where has Little Troubleblossom hidden Mummy's slippers?). 'Baby's Busy World', published by Dorling Kindersley, 2005; can't give an author's name, because there's a kind of list of credits here rather than a single author, but 'Dorling Kindersley' is probably enough to identify it. This is a large-format board book, entirely made up of photographs of babies and babies' activities - different facial expressions on one page, parts of the body on another (happy shout of "Bum-bum!" from Pickleblossom at the sight of the crawling baby photographed from the rear), things that a baby might eat on another. At the moment (19 months), Pickleblossom adores photographs of other babies, to the extent that she keeps staggering up to us with the Argos catalogue, wanting to be shown the pictures of babies modelling on the baby equipment and toys pages, and this book has become a firm favourite.
Little Troubleblossom's second choice is definitely only for toddlers with a fine respect for books and a delicate touch! 'Magic Movers: Clara's Counting Tea Party' by Helen Stephens, 2008, Campbell Books, is a small-format board book with a very simple story, in which Clara and her friend Oliver have tea in the garden. The right-hand page of each spread is a 'magic' page, where the central image is printed on a set of louvres, and you pull the tab at the side to change the picture, so 'one table' becomes 'two chairs' and so on, up to 'nine ladybirds' becoming 'ten butterflies', while the left-hand page is a more complicated picture depicting the table and chairs being set out or the ladybirds and butterflies being looked at. Pickleblossom is just learning to count, and she also knows the names of most of the things depicted - she particularly likes the page where seven raspberries become eight strawberries, to the extent that this book is known as "Strawberries". There seem to be a lot of good counting books around, but this is the nicest I've come across.
Library day again today, so I'm sitting here in my dressing gown before Little Troubleblossom wakes up, making notes of the current favourites.
The one I've had to renew twice doesn't seem to have an author credited: it just says 'A Campbell Big Board Book' on the front. It's called 'Babies: a first word and picture book', published 2001 by Campbell Books, who are an imprint of Macmillan Children's Books. Photographs of babies and toddlers are among Pickleblossom's favourite things at the moment, and this is just a compendium of photographs, four to a page, with a short caption in very clear print under each one saying what the baby's doing, usually in the first person. They're grouped roughly by theme, working through the day from getting up to going to bed, so you start with 'Good morning!' under a beaming, blanket-swathed infant, and 'Daddy says hello' (which causes this book to be known to Pickleblossom as 'Kiss Daddy'), go on through 'I am eating my egg', 'I've got two bricks', 'Mummy washes my hair' and end up at bedtime, while the final page is a big mirror with the caption 'And what is this baby doing?' Pickleblossom loves saying what all the babies are doing, and now she's taking a keen interest in the captions, and wants to have the words pointed out and repeated to her.
This month's other favourite is 'Flora's Blanket' by Debi Gliori - going to have to go away and look up the bibliographic references for this...
Ah, got it: 2002, Orchard Books. Flora is a baby rabbit with very expressive ears, who can't sleep because she hasn't got her blanket: in the first picture, she's standing up in her cot, having thrown out all her toys, very much like somebody I know not all that far away from here. The whole rabbit family turns out to look for Flora's blanket, in more and more unlikely places, and Flora gets more and more tired till she finally dozes off in Daddy's arms, whereupon everyone goes back to bed and the errant blanket finally turns up in the one place nobody has thought to look.
The pictures in this are intricate and full of activity, which is what Pickleblossom likes at the moment (a year and three-quarters) - you can spot the carrots worked into the household furnishings, and the rabbit brother who's sloping off to read a book on just about every page while all the other rabbit siblings are diligently searching for the blanket. Flora herself is very appealing indeed - Little Troubleblossom has taken to her to the extent that she found another copy of this book while on a library visit with Grandma and Grandad, and brought it to them exclaiming "Flora! Flora blanket!"