Baby Books

It’s never too early to start reading with your child. They may not grasp the finer nuances of Crime and Punishment at six months, but that’s no reason not to introduce them to the world of books. To that end, we’ve compiled two lists of books, to read to, and with, your baby. They’re not exhaustive lists, by any means, but every book here is tried and tested, and much-loved. Pull up a softly lit reading chair, and dig in.

Reading with Your Baby

Reading is one of life’s great pleasures, so why wouldn’t you want to pass it down to your children? Books are tactile things, and the sooner you can get your baby used to what they look like, and smell like, the better. A word to the wise, though: once your baby gets to four or five months, they’ll want to get involved with turning the pages / putting the entire book in their mouth. Board books are a great way to read with your child without their ripping out a page of your much-treasured Each Peach Pear Plum.

 

the tiger who came to tea

Mog, and The Tiger Who Came to Tea

Judith Kerr, who died earlier this year, was a prolific children’s author. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is a great choice for older readers, but our favourites for reading with babies and young children are The Tiger Who Came to Tea, and the Mog series. Gentle and funny, with lovely pictures, they’re classics for a reason.

 

giraffes can't dance

Giraffes Can’t Dance

By Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees, Giraffes Can’t Dance tells the story of Gerald the giraffe, who can’t dance… Or can he? Absolutely charming, all in rhyme, and with delightful pictures on every page, this is a must-read.

 

what the ladybird heardWhat the Ladybird Heard

Julia Donaldson is another hugely prolific writer, and is a former children’s laureate. There are lots of books to choose from, but What the Ladybird Heard is our pick for this list. More great pictures, and an exciting and funny story. The lesson will go over babies’ heads, of course, but it’s perfect comfort food for adults too.

 

the worm and the birdThe Worm and the Bird

A bit of a curveball here. Coralie Bickford-Smith’s The Worm and the Bird is what the internet would describe as a big mood. Beautiful, engrossing pictures throughout, and fairly light on text. It’s not the cheeriest read, and some parents will want to avoid, but it has a poetic simplicity that we love, and children can get lost in the pictures.

 

baby orcaBaby Orca

A proper “baby book” to finish off this first list. Baby Orca, illustrated by Yu-hsuan Huang, is simple and fun, a finger puppet book which describes the life of a little orca. Visually stimulating and engaging, babies love it. Also check out other puppet books in the series.

 

Reading to Your Baby

What’s the point of reading books my baby won’t even understand? Well, your baby likes your voice, and it’s never a bad time to get them used to how a story sounds – its rhythms and patterns. It’s great for their development, and it’s a wonderful bonding experience. If you have the voice and the intonation for it, you could read absolutely anything – the dictionary and the phone book come to mind – but why not read something you’ll enjoy too?

 

pooh sticksWinnie-the-Pooh

A. A. Milne was well-known in his own lifetime as a “serious” novelist and playwright. What has survived and flourished in the decades since his death, though, is Winnie-the-Pooh. And for good reason. It’s impossible to top the Pooh books and poems for sheer inventiveness, wit, and charm.

 

the wind in the willowsThe Wind in the Willows

Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows was a big influence on Milne’s writing in Pooh, and there are some similarities in the characters, but nothing can match the poetry of The Wind in the Willows. The language ebbs and flows, taking us through all four seasons, down by the riverbank and beyond. As with the Pooh books, the best illustrations are by E. H. Shepard.

 

the bfgThe BFG

There are, of course, lots of Roald Dahl books we could have picked, but The BFG might have the best words. Delumptious, gruncious, squibbling and rotsome. Gobblefunk, whizzpopping, schnozzles and snozzcumbers. It’s a delight.

 

harry potterHarry Potter

We couldn’t not mention this, could we? It’s great to read, though. You can do the voices and everything. It’s impossible to unpick, but somewhere there’s a formula in here for the most addictive book series there is. I’ll say it – J. K. Rowling is a genius. One word of warning: as they go on, they get longer and longer, and creepier and creepier. You might want to stop before you get to the end (if you can tear yourself away), or you’ll risk not finishing until your child is thirty-five.

 

alice in wonderlandAlice in Wonderland

Another classic to round off. Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are perfect, weird, mad stories. More great words, more great flowing passages, more great characters, and plenty more opportunities for silly voices. They’ve got it all in spades.

 

The Skylarks’ War – Hilary McKay

Rating: 5 stars

the skylarks' war.jpg

My secret trick for dealing with winter blues: children’s fiction, both classics like The Secret Garden and Ballet Shoes, and modern classics in the making like Five Children on the Western Front (Costa Children’s Book Award winner 2014). I’ve been delighted during this winter’s long, dark evenings not just to reread some of my old favourites, but to find some new treasures, like this year’s Costa Children’s Book winner, The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay. Hilary McKay had already won the Guardian Fiction Prize for her first novel, The Exiles, the Smarties Prize for The Exiles in Love and the Costa Award for Saffy’s Angel.

And The Skylarks’ War is a very worthy second Costa winner for Ms McKay, another fine work which I’m sure children will enjoy for many years to come, and one which parents will delight in reading alongside their youngsters.

It’s a simple tale, beautifully told, of Clarry and her older brother Peter, who spend their summers staying in Cornwall with their grandparents and much-loved older cousin Rupert. Each September brings a return to normal humdrum life with Rupert and Peter at boarding school, while Clarry is stuck at home. Her father is often out, and when he is in he seldom seems to notice her presence; and when he does it never seems to be in a favourable light, seeing no need for her to receive a good education. Instead she is sent to

Miss Pinkses’ Academy for Young Ladies …. bare walls, shabby paint and dark windows … ‘It’s those three rooms at the top,’ said Clarry’s suddenly ruthless brother, pointing (while Clarry lurked miserably behind). ‘She’s been going there for years, ever since she was six, and she has never learned a useful thing. Sewing handkerchief cases, that’s all she did last term!’

When Peter’s school friend Simon Bonnington comes into their lives with his sister Vanessa, Clarry sees that there might be another way for her to live, and secretly applies to take the entrance test at Vanessa’s grammar school, much to her father’s annoyance and disappointment when he learns that she has been awarded a place.

In August 1914 Rupert enlists as soon as he possibly can with his school friend Michael and they go off to France together; Peter will never be able to follow them, having badly damaged his leg jumping from a moving train in the summer of 1912, in the hope of avoiding being sent to boarding school. Instead Peter leaves school and goes to Oxford on a scholarship, and encourages young Clarry to apply for a place as soon as she is old enough.

McKay writes brilliantly about the difficulties faced by young people during the First World War, whether it’s men struggling to be themselves at school, then being forced to grow up rapidly in the trenches of France, or women – particularly intelligent, clear-minded young women like Clarry and Vanessa – wanting to find a new way forward in life, despite the low expectations for girls at the time. The Skylarks’ War is realistic in that while Peter becomes a professor, Clarry is a teacher, enjoying her life, but clearly capable of doing just as much as her older brother. And it’s Clarry who, during the war, has to learn to run the household, cook and clean, as staff gradually leave her father’s house for war work.

This is no fairy tale, a happy-endings-all-around children’s book: Clarry and Peter’s father remains a remote and distant figure, attending neither Peter’s final school speech day nor either child’s Oxford graduation, and he is clearly not part of their adult lives; much-loved friends and relatives are dead – characters we have come to love and appreciate. The Skylarks’ War is a wonderful work, which I’m sure will stand the test of time, and will be added to my own personal set of “essential rereading” books.

Daisy Chapter and VerseReviewed by Daisy

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