A World of Beautiful Books

Favourite books from the past two years…

It’s World Book Day today. Listening to all the children on the radio heading to school dressed as stick men, mermaids, wizards and bears, it got me rifling through all of Munchkin’s books and digging out some old favourites from when she was too small to talk, but old enough to love the sound of a story. When you’re small and tired, and needing comfort, nothing beats the rhythmic rise of fall of a familiar sentence, the sight of colourful pictures and the soothing tone of a well-known voice reading well-known words.

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As with everything with children, there are phases in their lives when only one book will do, when it’s unthinkable to leave a copy at home if you go out for the day, when reserve copies are bought just in case, when you know all the words without ever having consciously learnt them, and when the safe familiarity of a possum, or a patchwork elephant seems to make everything else disappear.

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So, this is our essentials list. The books that got us through long nights and poorly days, and the ones that will forever stay with me, their familiar lines etched in my brain.

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From top to bottom:

  1. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (Michael Rosen & Helen Oxenbury): Muchkin’s first real favourite book. It is still an old familiar if she needs comforting and it’s one of the first times I remember reading to her and feeling that she was there with me. Well before she could speak she would splash and swish and squelch along with me.
  2. Possum Magic (Mem Fox): A present from our Australian relatives, and a wonderful story about a invisible possum and her quest to be seen again. It takes you all over Australia, from Perth to Tasmania, and through every delicacy in the Aussie diet, from Vegemite to Lamingtons. I used to read this two or three times to Munchkin as she fell asleep, and I still know all the words.
  3. Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak): I cannot get over how special and beautiful this book is. The illustrations are worth framing and the story is so quirky and clever. The language is dreamy and childlike, and it feels like closing your eyes and waking in a magical world. This is another one I can recite by heart; its words just stick in mind.
  4. Elmer (David McKee): This is very special, because it’s all about being different and celebrating that difference. Elmer is a patchwork elephant in a herd of ordinary grey elephants, and the story follows his quest to understand his place in the world, and that his special gift is his difference and his humour. It’s a lovely story and beautifully illustrated.
  5. Hairy Mclary from Donaldson’s Dairy (Dame Lynley Dodd): Don’t read this if you’re drunk! It’s a mouthful and a half but it’s great fun, and as children get older the funny names become even funnier as they hear them and try to repeat them. All the different dogs are so cleverly created and it’s a simple, sweet little book.
  6. Owl Babies (Martin Waddell & Patrick Benson): This such a sweet little story about three owls waiting for their Mummy to come back in the middle of the night. It has resonated really strongly with Munchkin, who now reads along with it and enjoys the moment when Mummy returns, and it’s helped her to understand that Mummy will always come when she needs her.
  7. How to Hide a Lion (Helen Stephenson): A most glorious book, from this celebrated author, whose illustrations are so wonderful and clever. A simple, clever story, it teaches a valuable lesson about kindness and believing in people, and it is one of Munchkin’s most favourite books at the moment.

Special mention must also go to The First Book of Nature, a glorious beautiful book that organises the world of nature around the seasons, with pages filled with spring lambs, cherry blossom, night owls, duck ponds, snowy hills, rock pooling, making a den and autumn leaves. It is beautifully illustrated, filled with colour and warmth, with recipes for everything from crumble to compost, and was Munchkin’s favourite book for over a year. Even as an adult I love reading it, revelling in the little changes in the world outside – it has taught me about making hay and honey, about planting seeds and collecting leaves – it has been one of the best introductions to country life I could have asked for. Essential reading for any townie!

You can buy all these beautiful books at Octavia’s Bookshop in Cirencester (if you’re local), otherwise support your own local bookshop, such a valuable part of every community, and find your nearest here. And, if you need to buy online, do it through The Hive, an ingenious way to support local  booksellers while buying remotely. 

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