Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Why I Give Books at Christmas

Peta Jinnath Andersen is an Online Consultant for Walker Books Australia. Her absolute, forever-and-ever favourite children's books are Guess How Much I Love YouA Bit LostHowl's Moving CastleA Wrinkle in Time, A Monster Calls, and Winnie-the-Pooh. 

I often give books as gifts. I know my way around a bookstore; I read widely and discuss current reads with almost anyone, such that I am also good at selecting books to suit another’s tastes. And yet, when I mentioned ordering a book for a friend this year, my mother was less than enthused.
“A book? Just a book? Can’t you get something nicer?”
“A book is nice, Mum.”
“A book is boring. Fine, get a book, but get something to go with it.”
“I think the book will be fine. It’s unusual, but it suits. There’s a reason I had to order it.” 
Later, in the same conversation, I mentioned that I give books in Christmas charity drives, as opposed to the more commonly gifted toys. Again, I was met with a rather lukewarm response.

It may seem like books are a boring gift; they do not light up, or play music, or shoot water. They are often small, without the grandeur of a large box or lots of wrapping. But a book! A book gives challenge, takes on gender and racial stereotypes, offers insight and hope and opportunities for thought. 

And if you think giving books to a charity drive is boring, or unfair to children in need of toys, consider: a book is a gift I can donate for an older child. Most toys donated are for children up to the age of twelve or so. Gifts for older children are more expensive; most of us can’t afford to donate an Xbox or a bicycle. But a book? A book is something an older child can read and relate to, especially if thoughtfully chosen. It’s a gift that won’t break within hours of opening, and one that can be passed around. It’s something that ensures those kids older than twelve also have something to smile about on Christmas day. 

If you’d like to donate books this Christmas, please consider choosing something in the junior fiction to young adult category. Picture books and titles for younger readers are also immensely useful, but there’s no dearth of gifting for younger children. Books like Ambelin Kwaymullina’s Tribe series, or Sue Lawson’s After, Elsbeth Edgar’s In the Wings and On Orchard Road, or Sue Whiting’s Portraits of Celina are all a marvellous starting point. 

Which books would you choose to give this Christmas?

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

On Reading With Children 1-2

Reading with a 1-2 year old can be tricky. They have shorter attention spans, are full of beans, and are too young to understand, on an intellectual level, the value of reading. (Sadly, “but this is good for you!” does not work on children younger than 8, and even then it’s a stretch.)

But there are ways to encourage reading. Set a good example – let the kids see you reading, let them see you discussing books. (This worked for me, as a child, and works very well on my four-year-old son.) And when it’s their turn to read, stack the deck a little:

-       select books that are high interest
-       set up a cozy reading nook – pillows and blankets, perhaps a chair fort
-       make sure the nook is away from distractions, such as toy shelves or the television

When it’s time to curl up with a book, let the children choose. Tired of reading the same thing over and over again? Set out a pile of Today Books, or Monday Books, and say that titles have to be chosen out of the pile. It’ll give adult readers a break, and help introduce kids to new fare.

Stuck for where to get started? Here are a few of our favourites:

Let's go to the baby animal farm. Follow the ducklings. Feed the lamb. What a day!

A vibrant picture book feature beautiful illustrations, and a combination of language and animal sounds to create a simple story that will engage younger readers.

Join Tom and his teddy bear Tilly for a journey across the high seas.

Fun and funny for the whole family, with gorgeous watercolour paintings to match the sweet text. And it comes with instructions on how to make a paper boat.

Babies wear all sorts of clothes - nappies, T-shirts, socks, trousers and hats. Helen Oxenbury's gorgeous illustrations capture the fun of getting dressed and babies' delight in everything they put on. No one draws babies like Helen Oxenbury. Her warm, affectionate depictions have been loved and cherished by children and adults around the world for over 30 years. In 1981, this groundbreaking little book was one of the most innovative board books ever published and is now considered a classic of the genre.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Last-Minute Picture Book Costumes for Halloween

Did Halloween creep up on you this year? Stuck for a costume? Try a few of our favourite picture book characters with this quick and easy how-to.

The Nutbrown Hares
Is Guess How Much I Love You? a favourite in your house? Try dressing up as everybody’s favourite father-son duo, the Nutbrown Hares. Pair a brown jumper with brown slacks or track pants, and add a set of ears. Don’t have ears lying around the house? A piece of cardboard (the inside of a cereal box works well), a brown texta, and a couple of slivers of sticky tape and you’re all set.

Where’s Wally?
If you have a few little explorers in your house this Halloween, celebrate with their adventurousness with a Where’s Wally? costume. Pick up a red-and-white striped shirt (or make one with an old tee and a red texta), don a pair of blue jeans, slip on some glasses, and you're ready to go. Want to go the whole hog? Take it a step further by adding a red beanie and one of Wally's accessories, such as a walking stick or binoculars. (Not into red and white? Pick up a black and yellow shirt and black jeans, and you've got an instant Odwal.)
Have a yen for a costume that’s just right? Try Goldilocks. A blonde wig and a dress, accompanied by a teddy bear or set of plastic bowls, and you’re all set. Or have a little fun, and try one of the variations listed in Allan and Jessica Ahlberg’s version of Goldilocks.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt Bear & Company
This one is especially easy if you have a few children. For the bear, start with a brown outfit (as with the Nutbrown Hares). Add a pair of beary ears – they can be cut out of cardboard, or fashioned out of any left over fabric that’s fuzzy and brown. Draw a black nose on to your bear with face paint (eyeliner also works in a pinch).

Next, get the whole family involved – sing the words to We're Going on a Bear Hunt as you walk about on Halloween. Or, if you’re so inclined, try matching the other members of your party to the characters in the book: all the outfits are fairly simple, and you probably already have the makings of the family costumes in your wardrobe.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

What Makes A Picture Book A Favourite Book?

Peta Jinnath Andersen is an Online Consultant for Walker Books Australia. Her absolute, forever-and-ever favourite children's books are Guess How Much I Love You, A Bit Lost, Howl's Moving Castle, A Wrinkle in Time, A Monster Calls, and Winnie-the-Pooh.

“I love you to the moon and back.” 

What is it that makes a book stay with us? What is it that we remember, specifically? Is it the prose, a
certain line? An illustration? Is it the memory of reading with someone in a favourite spot?

“I want my mummy!” 

The first picture book I read alone was Green Eggs and Ham. The first one I read to my son – and still read – was Owl Babies. (We even dressed up as Mummy Owl and Bill for Halloween one year.) The first one he read was Hug, swiftly followed by Tall. (Though it does help that these books have very, very few words.)


But how do we choose those first books? Is it that our parents or grandparents give them to us? Is it that we’re innately drawn to a concept, sound, or rhyme? My son had intense separation anxiety, and found Owl Babies soothing, because he could repeat “I want my mummy!” and feel vindicated. (He still tells me, sometimes, that he feels like the little owl and wants me to come home early.) And yet, I chose that book for him, only a few days after I learnt I was pregnant. My mother says I loved repeating the rhymes in Green Eggs and Ham, and playing with the rhythm of the text. At home, we read poetry and sing songs (like Guinea Pig Town and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt) for the rhythm, which my son has developed an appreciation thereof. Is that because of me, or is that because of him? Is it because I recall reading rhyme with my mother and shouting it to the sky in the park?

“What a beautiful day!” 

I’m sure there’s no concrete answer to what makes us love a given book. Book love is existential,
really – it’s unique and experiential and dependent on so, so many factors and ideas. But isn’t it marvellous to think about? To question why we might love a picture book? To think about creating memories with our children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren? Which books have stayed with you? Which books make you smile every time you think of them?

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Get Ready For Halloween With These Spooky Picture Books

Halloween is almost here! Enjoy the season with a few fun - and ghostly - picture books.

When a little ghost goes slip-sliding down the hallway, he suddenly hears ... a groan! Turns out it’s only a friendly mummy, who shuffles along with the ghost, until they encounter ... a monster! As the cautious explorers continue, they find a surprise at every turn - and add another adorably ghoulish friend to their tally. But you’ll never guess who is the scariest creature in the house!

And Then Comes Halloween, Tom Brenner and Holly Meade
As soon as geese fly south, children take autumn's cue to start their preparations: it’s almost Halloween! With poetic language and vivid collage illustrations, Tom Brenner and Holly Meade follow all the familiar rituals, from hanging paper skeletons to carving pumpkins, from costume-making to trick-or-treating. Halloween lovers will be eager to grab a bag or bucket and join them on this lively and lyrical journey.

Ever since Ben was a baby, his parents have concocted wild costumes for him on Halloween. He has been a magician’s rabbit (complete with a giant top hat), a bunch of grapes, even a slice of Swiss cheese. Ben has hated every one of these costumes. But now that he is seven, he decides to take matters into his own hands and construct a costume that makes this the best Halloween of all! The award-winning author of The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey and the illustrator of the Martha books have conjured a very amusing Halloween treat.

The witch has hidden a trick and a treat in her magical kitchen cupboards! Which one you find depends on how you open the doors. Whether it's frogspawn or popcorn, lollipops or rabbit plops, there are hilarious rhymes to discover inside in this innovative novelty book!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Leonard S. Marcus Discusses The Value of Picture Books

Leonard S. Marcus is the editor of Show Me A Story: Why Picture Books Matter. In compelling interviews, twenty-one top authors and illustrators reveal their inside stories on the art of creating picture books. Read more here.