Sunday 24 May 2015

Baby Book Club: Around the World

On a sunny day a few weeks ago, when we had a group of Culturebaby's older friends visiting, I finally got round to setting up an outdoor tactile geography activity for them to explore together. I've been planning this one ever since I found a lovely laminated cloth map amongst the rolls of fabric in a haberdasher's shop and discovered that Safari Toobs do a couple of brilliant sets of landmark models. It was really satisfying to watch the children work together to discover where the buildings and historic landmarks should be situated and then cluster them together in the correct locations on the map. We even cracked open the fossils and animals to add them into the mix and played games; encouraging the children to stand in warm spots, cold climates and locate oceans and mountains. 
Culturebaby is beginning to understand the concept of a map and has started to sketch out mazes and routes in a spatial way. This sort of activity seemed to work well for her to explore basic geographical ideas. She clearly enjoyed it enough that when another friend visited later in the day, she got the activity back out for him to see too. She's also a big fan of miniature world play and these models have also really helped her to become familiar with the names and construction of iconic buildings and we also used the map to talk about family members who are currently elsewhere in the world.
Since I've had children, I've also become more aware of not only the authors and illustrators but also the publishers of the books we read and love. Finding a great new publisher is like discovering the taste for a new cuisine which - Boom! - becomes an instant favourite and you want to savour more on the menu. We've recently been treated to a fabulous pair: Gecko Press and Minedition - each of which specialise in bringing books from around the world, published in other languages and countries, to an English speaking audience in the UK. It feels like such a treat to be able to experience literature that children elsewhere are growing up with daily, and being privy to the iconic images of their childhoods - from Switzerland and Italy, to New Zealand and Hong Kong - that otherwise we might never have the chance to do. Ultimately I hope to use these (already much thumbed) titles to talk about their places of origin too.

Culturetot, as any followers of our #5litaday bedtime selections will know, is a very big fan of her pair of board books from Minedition: Squares by Japanese author and illustrator Yusuke Yonezu and Peekaboo by Italian artist Giuliano Ferri. Squares is a stunningly crafted die-cut book in bold colours. It introduces the concept of shape and explores squares and rectangles in everyday life through surprise transformations of a simple form to an object on every page. Four squares become a window, two rectangles become candles... or pencils. It's a beautiful design. The sort of thing you'd find in the Tate bookshop.

Likewise, Ferri's Peekaboo is an exquisitely illustrated and predominantly wordless board book for the youngest child. Culturetot loves the game of peekaboo and was delighted to discover a book with a whole host of cheeky little animals, eyes covered ready to play her favoured game. With flaps as paws, used to uncover faces throughout and a surprise mirror at the coda, this book has been selected most days and it certainly appears to have a good deal of mileage left. It is also a great book for Culturebaby to 'read' to her sister. I wasn't surprised to discover that author Ferri works with young people with disabilities, using animation and comic theatre as therapy.

Another original title which arrived this week, and which both girls have enjoyed in equal measure, is the quirky Help! The Wolf is Coming! from French pair Ramadier and Bourgeau. Culturebaby adores anything smacking of the fairytale; she loves the simple tales of Red Riding Hood and chums and she relishes any opportunity to be scared by a sly old fox or a hungry wolf - so long as they are firmly put in their place by the end. This interesting title is an interactive book in which a wolf is in hot pursuit and the reader needs to follow the instructions (tip the book, shake, quick turn the page...) to lose the sinister little chap. Combining play and the joint pleasure of enjoying a book with others, this title has certainly landed in the 'again, again!' category for both girls.

Finally, two titles for slightly older readers. Firstly brand new title The Paradise Bird.  From Swiss author and illustrator Marcus Pfister, comes a sweet story celebrating the joy in life and the delight that can come when we open our minds to a colourful influence from outside our own experience. The ravens are bored. Not much happens and they struggle to feel motivated. Then into their monochrome world crashes a comedian; a technicolour paradise bird, who makes them laugh, dance, sing and embrace their own croaky language. It's rather a heartwarming idea, and a useful lesson in being open minded and learning from those who may seem different to us.

Then from Austrian author Heinz Janisch is a really unusual offering. Janisch has been awarded, amongst others, the Austrian State Prize for Poetry, and here he teams up with celebrated German illustrator Wolf Erlbruch to produce a volume of 21 (extremely) short stories The King and the Sea. Culturebaby and I read it together and she certainly enjoyed some of the extracts, but I can see why this picture book is aimed at 8+. Its messages are deep and profound. It could easily benefit an adult audience just as much as the older child. In each tiny tale, the king attempts to rule over an element of nature and is unable to overcome each with their powerful diversity. The rain continues to fall, the clouds to move, and the sea fails to heed the orders of a Canute-like crown-bearing human. This little king sees his limits and learns from nature - from the trees to the sky. He understands that the trumpet must be used not ordered to deliver its sound and the pencil must be handled to produce great value. It's an original book that is rather reminiscent of The Little Prince. One to ponder and re-read.

Disclaimer: The books mentioned and the Safari Toobs were sent to us, on request, for review purposes. The map was our own purchase. Similar material can be found in fabric shops and market stalls. All the titles are available for purchase in the UK.

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