Monday, 25 January 2010

A new baby and a new reading adventure

This is a post to chime in a new arrival on the literary scene - my two week old niece. She is the most beautiful baby and has brought so much joy to our family as she is the first baby to be born since I arrived 25 years ago. As the granddaughter, daughter and niece of three women who live, breathe and devour books she has no choice - she has to love reading. It is a legacy that we will bestow (force) upon her and over the past two weeks I have already been dreaming about trips to the library, bookshop and theatre with her.

My sister, I should add, claims that she is Librarian in Chief - oho, how I laugh at this weak assertion. I am planning my literary coup as I write this. She has no idea.

Some of my earliest memories are trips to the library in Chichester, reading with my mother and reading with my sister (who always did excellent voices). There are so many fantastic children's books that I want to read to my niece (if I can send my sister on a fool's errand), many of which I still know off by heart.

I can recite Each Peach Pear Plum in its entirety - not the sexiest party trick, but a party trick nevertheless. One of my ultimate favourites (and I still have this) was The Jolly Postman and, for my favourite time of year, The Jolly Christmas Postman. These lead me on to Burglar Bill, Peace at Last and the First Picture Book by Althea which my sister and I obsessed over. It is now out of print (published in 1978) and it is the most extraordinary book of illustrations and stories. We still have our copy at our mother's house in safe-keeping where it is falling apart. We go through it together now and when I look at a particular illustration of some hedgehogs in leaves I truly feel like I am at home. I am small again and joy and wonder can be found in a simple picture.

My ultimate favourite picture book has to be the very cool feminine tract Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole. I vividly remember my mum giving it to me, and she has called me her Princess Smartypants ever since (she always was sarcastic). Smartypants does not want to get married, why should she? She is rich, beautiful and can do anything. But her father orders that she has to find a husband and a string of weedy, dweeby, wimpy Prince's try to woo Smartypants by completing the tasks that she sets them. Of course, they can't. Her man-eating slugs attack them, her glass tower is too slippery and she is far too good at out roller-skating them at her roller disco. But then Prince Charming turns up and he can do the lot. Will she succumb and marry him? Babette Cole also wrote Prince Cinders which is equally as fantastic and witty. These will definitely be on my niece's bookshelves.

It is so exciting to think of all the book discoveries that she will make, to watch her find joy in words and stories and also to learn from her. Sometimes I feel that as adults we forget to see things for the first time, we miss simple pleasures and we find it too easy to speed through reading experiences. There are few, if any, books that I have revisted over and over again as an adult but I still open my picture books when I go home and I must have read some of them hundreds of times. Obviously, it is easier and more fleeting to read a 20 page, rhyming picture book again and again than it is to read a 400 page novel but the memory of reading those first books is somehow more lasting, prominent, comforting and, ultimately, exciting.

I wonder which will be my niece's favourite and which will be her worst. One of my sister's favourite was Dogger which absolutely scarred me for life as I couldn't bear the thought of losing my cuddly toy. I only hope I don't have to read this to baby at bedtime, although I think the Librarian in Chief will make sure it is on the nursery shelf.

What books were on your nursery shelf? Any that you absolutely hated? Do you still read your favourites? It would be great to know as I am on the hunt for the best picture books around to usurp my sister and steal the Chief Librarian crown - it's going to be a difficult task but I'm not called Smartypants for nothing.


  1. The Snail and the Whale is my favourite at the moment (By Julia Donaldson). When I was a child it was a book called "But Where is the Green Parrot?" which is now out of print. I am also haunted by the memory of a book I was given when my mum was expecting my little sister. It was about a girl who's mum was pregnant. Her dad was a glazier so they fitted a window into mum's tummy so they could watch the baby grow. When the baby was born they called her Dot becaus that was what she looked like at first. Its only since I got pregnant myself that the book started to haunt me rather than be a vague memory. I've never met anyone else who knows of this book!

  2. Congratulations on the new family member! The adventures of Spot are very popular with babies and children below one.

  3. Congratulations on the new addition to your family! And I am impressed by your party trick - Each Peach Pear Plum was my favorite book when I was quite small, but I don't have it memorized anymore. I get muddled around Jack and Jill - I think it's Jack and Jill in a ditch, I spy the Wicked Witch? And then I can't remember what happens after that though at some point they spy the bears again and ultimately there is PIE FOR EVERYONE.

  4. Congratulations on becoming an aunt! I loved reading your post. Passing on a love of books is one of the best parts of having little ones in the family and within circles of friends. Why oh why haven't I picked up a copy of The Jolly Postman? I almost always thumb through a copy while my kids pick out a book but I never purchase one. That will have to change!

  5. Hi, as someone who enjoys your blog but alas has little time for commenting due to the needs of my wee children , I am going to break my silence briefly and suggest Graham Oakley's Church Mice series of childrens' books. My sister and I loved the detailed pictures, the dry humour and the Englishness of the subject matter. They are all out of print now except for the first in the series "The Church Mouse"
    which I see is available at bookdepository. You can get other church mice titles on ebay, but they are becoming a tiny bit collectable, so avoid the pristine first editions and they should be affordable. These are books which I love as much in adulthood, as I did as a child. I think secretly one of the reasons I wanted to have children was to share these books with a new generation!!!

  6. Wonderful! I haven't come across that Princess book but I am a big fan of Each Peach. My favourite picture book is Oliver Jeffer's Lost and Found.

  7. Lovely! The Ahlbergs' Bye Bye Baby was another great favourite here when our children were small.

  8. Dani, I remember 'But Where is the Green Parrot' too! I think my mother may have burned our copy after having to read it endlessly with three children...

    Meg and Mog were also big favourites, and Garth Pig although maybe that's for slightly older children, I can't remember.

    I was also very fond of The Laughing Dragon by Kenneth Mahood - it's out of print now but I think you can find copies quite cheaply. The pictures are gorgeous. It's about a dragon who hatches out of the emperor of Japan's breakfast egg but keeps laughing and setting fire to things, which proves inconvenient...

    Sorry, getting a bit carried away. I'm expecting my first baby in a couple of weeks so it's a subject on my mind, and while she doesn't yet have any nappies or anywhere to sleep, she does have a pile of books quietly piling up. Enjoy your time with your niece!

    Best wishes


  9. I am so happy you are an auntie too and I am no longer the only one boring everyone's socks off with photos of my boys (or obviously girl, in your case)!

    Georgie's current favourite is The Snail and the Whale, about a snail that goes travelling around the world on the back of a whale and rediscovers himself! When I worked as a children's librarian I also loved Bob Robber and Dancing Jane about a boy with no heart who learns to's so sad but beautiful!

    There is actually, however, no better children's book than The Jolly much fun was it opening all of those letters?!

  10. Oh AND you have to read her A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, Little Women...all of my childhood favourites!

  11. Ooh, the Jolly Postman, well remembered Rachel, I had forgotten about that. I never had a copy but loved reading it at school.

  12. Hehe - and I just did the word verification on this post and the word I had to type in was "auntiste" - I like that! Naomi, the auntiste...

  13. oh how precious! congratulations on your little peach of a niece.

    I love love loved 'There's a hippopotamus on my roof and he's eating cake'! It combined my true loves - the colours pink and purple, and cake.


  14. Congratulations on the new arrival! How exciting to have another person to share your love of books with!

  15. I absolutely LOVED Each Peach Pear Plum, which I can also recite off by heart! I also loved The Tiger who Came For Tea and Shirley Hughes' Two Shoes, New Shoes and Tom and Lucy's Christmas. Oh, The Jolly Postman, The Very Hungry Caterpiller, There's a Hippopotamus On Our Roof Eating Cake ... So many! These books certainly instigated my love of reading, and thinking of them just makes me smile! My mother refuses to part with these and other favourite children's books of me and my sister (who was obssessed with a book called My Brown Bear Barney) so I want to start buying them for myself!

  16. Sweet post! I'm so happy for you and can appreciate your infectious enthusiasm as I love planning which books I am going to introduce my nephews and baby cousin to (I have reading Dr Seuss aloud down to a tee). The Jolly Postman is one that I've been planning on buying now that oldest nephew is older than two and when his new little brother is born next month we are sending him the complete Peter Rabbit boxset.

    For your niece, The Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman is a must:

    My favourite as a child was Dogger (your sister has great taste!) and Mog's Christmas, both of which I still have and read. When my grandmother reread them over and over to me she perhaps missed parts to quicken the process and I would always point out that she had skipped a part.

  17. What a lovely post! You have mentioned so many of my favourites and some others have come up in the comments too... lots of great memories! I loved Each Peach Pear Plum, the Tiger who Came to Tea, Dogger, Burglar Bill, all of the books about Alfie (but especially Alfie Gets in First), Peepo, Mog the Forgetful Cat, and also Winnie the Pooh and the Raymond Briggs books. I also liked the Miffy books so much that I named my toy dog after her - even though the dog bore absolutely no resemblance to Miffy whatsoever, which really I didn't realise until I was about 14!
    What lovely news, congratulations to everybody!

  18. Love Each Peach and Jolly Postman, so you're off to a good start!
    For really little ones I recommend Sandra Boynton (she has lots of good ones, but I especially liked But Not The Hippopotamus).

    And are Robert Munsch books popular over here? Really funny (and addictive for kids) picture books.

  19. Dani - But Where is the Green Parrot! I had forgotten all about that - I am now desperate to find a copy as I can vividly see it in my mind. The book about Dot seems very subversive!

    Mrs B - Spot the dog is a classic!

    Jenny - you are right! And the PIE FOR EVERYONE line has to be shouted.

    Book Psmith - The Jolly Postman is wonderful - we should all have a copy for ourselves!

    Merenia - thank you for commenting. And THANK YOU for reminding me of the 4 church mouse books that are safely tucked away at my mothers house. I too love the dry humour.

  20. Verity - I think every child in the UK was read Each Peach!

    Cornflower - I have not heard of that Ahlberg, thanks for the tip!

    Helen - Meg and Mog is a great series. Good luck with your new baby! It is such an exciting time for you and I am glad that the library is going to be well stocked!

    Rachel - The Snail and the Whale it is. But I already bore you with photos of my cat - now I can give you twice the dose with pics of my niece as well!

    Verity - that spooky word verification tool!

    Aimee - pink, purple and cake sounds like the perfect combination for a little girls book! My niece certainly is a perfect peach!

  21. Dot - I know, I am so excited about reading to her.

    Escaping into a book - yay, another Each Peach fan! The Tiger who Came to Tea always worried me a little!

    Claire - I can't believe you love Dogger as well! How it haunted me!

    Jane - Peepo was fantastic. And the Miffy books are great as well. I loved the Alfie book where they got locked outside. Can't remember the title though.

    Writerspet - thanks for the suggestions! I will look out for those authors.

  22. Congratulations on becoming an aunt! I just became one for the first time last Tuesday, and I strongly suspect I'm going to be just as enthused in buying books for my new nephew as you are for your niece.

    Princess Smartypants is a wonderful book! I loved the Eloise books as a child, and still do, as a matter of fact. Eloise is a must-have for any girl, I think!

  23. makedoandread - congratulations on also becoming an aunt! You must get Burglar Bill for your nephew if you haven't already! I will take a look at the Eloise books - thanks for the advice! Enjoy your children's book hunting!

  24. my daughter loved Dogger too as did her teacher. My son liked Timid Tim and the Cuggy thief & I loved the illustrations. In the same token I loved " Guess how much I love you ?"( little nut brown hare ) we would stretch our arms out as far as we could and shout " THIS MUCH ! "

    I adored being read The Little Princess when I was young

  25. I so enjoyed reading this post. Your anticipation and joy in passing on your love of books and reading is wonderful!

    The first baby in 25 years - that's really special, so many congratulations on becoming an aunt - it really is the most wonderful relationship. I have 2 nieces and one nephew, 3 great-nieces and one great-nephew! Favourites with the eldest were The Jolly Postman, Raymond Briggs and the Ahlbergs' books. The younger ones now are very much into Charlie & Lola!

    I adored all of Beatrix Potter's little menagerie (still do), Winnie the Pooh and The Church Mouse of course.

    Enjoy your book-hunting!


  26. Ahhh congratulations! (you can say that when you become an auntie right?)

    I still have all of my favourite children's books, quite a few that are mentioned above actually, but my absolute FAVOURITE was Possum Magic by Mem Fox.

    “Once upon a time, but not very long ago, deep in the Australian bush, there lived two possums. Their names were Hush and Grandma Poss. Grandma Poss made bush magic…”

    Possums, Vegemite sandwiches and beautiful illustrations.. what more could you want!

  27. You will be the best of Aunts!

    Books were not a staple in our house and I only remember my mother reading to me once. Isn't that shocking! Your niece is a very lucky young lady to be surrounded by such prolific readers.

    Working in a library (the path took me there despite my beginnings), I love flipping through children's books and drinking in the gorgeous artwork. This one is a favourite, AY Craft is an amazing illustrator.

  28. My daughter is now almost 3, but since she was quite small we have both enjoyed the Ahlberg's 'The Baby's Catalogue'. There is no story as such; which makes it ideal for babies as you can just dip in and talk about the pictures. My daughter's favourite page is 'accidents' whereas I prefer 'Teas'.
    When your neice is older some Judith Kerr books are a must, including the Tiger that came to tea' (more tea - a bit of a theme emerging) and some of the Mog the Cat tales.
    And make sure your neice gets her first 'Bookstart' pack ( her library or health visitor - it's free and they usaully have some lovely books inside. Happy book sharing!

  29. Since you are the same age as my daughter many of the books you remember were our favourites too. We used to spend hours upon hours upon hours looking and reading books together. I would much rather sit cuddled together reading than playing and she did too. I wrote about Dogger recently on my blog. Other favourites was Alpaca, The Baby's Catalogue, Aunt Nina's Visit, Sally's Secret. Do you remember those?

  30. Ohsovintage - I LOVED Alpaca! Which is odd as I didn't like Dogger and they have similar themes. The Baby's Catalogue was great as my sister and I would go through methodically choosing our favourites on each page.

    Anonymous - Mog the Cat is brilliant - my tabby looks like Mog! Thanks for the tip about Bookstart - that's great!

    Darlene - she might not think she is lucky when she is interested in other things and we try to make her read all the time!

    The Book Shelf Project - it would be good to add an Australian book to the library so I will look out for Possum Magic.

    Cottage Garden - Beatrix Potter is a firm favourite in our family and the copies that my sister and I shared were our mother and aunt's so we will be passing them down.

    Bad Penny - another Dogger fan?! Oh dear, looks like I am in the minority. Guess How Much I Love You is lovely and the illustrations are perfect.

  31. Would you believe that I only discovered Princess Smartypants last year? Fortunately the two girls I read to (9 and 6) still find it as amusing as I do and regularly ask for re-reads. Another in a similar vein is The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch, which is described briefly here: fun reading!