Firstly we'd like to introduce a new book for 2016 from Sean Taylor and illustrated by Emily Hughes, whose stunning work Culturebaby was fortunate enough to peruse in its developmental phase last summer. A Brave Bear is a beautiful portrait of a father and child who set out together on a simple adventure. Full of joy and fun, the story also charts the progression of little bear's growing bravery with such a solid support to guide him, pick him up when he falls, comfort him, carry him and give him the self confidence to conquer challenges himself. The writing is beautiful and uplifting and the illustrations are exquisite. At bedtime on a recent holiday, two year old Culturetot begged Daddy to take her on an adventure (round the surrounding site), and, no matter the time, he did. This gorgeous book encapsulates that excitement in simple discoveries, the joy of quality time alone with a parent and the optimism such devotion can bring: "On the way home, the sun was glowing. The air was glowing... Even tomorrow was glowing".
This theme of the importance of quality time and passing on the awe and wonder of life from generation to generation continues with When Dad Showed Me the Universe by Ulf Stark and illustrated by Eva Eriksson. It was originally a popular Swedish classic and this English volume from Gecko press (which specialises in English versions of curiously good books they discover from around the world) is a really original read about a father who really wants to show his son the Universe. Keen to make it a special occasion and daring adventure, the surprise is kept as such until all streetlights are left behind and in the wilderness the Dad lifts up his child to reveal to true magnificence of the night sky. Peppered with scientific facts which betray the passion of the father for science, and humorous interludes, this story is rather unusual. On the face of it, it is a great adventure with a father and a comic ending. But it is also rather more interesting for older readers too. The father with his head in the clouds fails to see the mess on the ground he wades into; he worries that a great adventure has been ruined because it contains such a moment. The delight and message, of course, is that even if the best made plans are imperfect for the child, both the intimacy and wonder of sharing a parent's passions are utterly unforgettable.
A humorous caricature, and one of Culturedad's all time favourite picture books, is the ingenious Anthony Browne's irreverent and distinctively illustrated My Dad. The book begins "He's all right my Dad..." and goes on to list a cocktail of attributes from the normal to the fantastical. The book oozes pride in a father figure, who no doubt inspired this author we know and love. It is catchy, quirky and memorable. We've bought it several times as a present for the men in our lives.
There's always space on our picturebook shelves for the simple and heartwarming. There are numerous Dad portraits like this around, but one of the cutest is Walsh and Abbot's I Love Dad, which depicts a day in the life of a toddler dragon, hanging out with his Dad. Nobody compares; no one can provide so much fun and entertainment "...make a bedtime story so fantastic, a lion's roar so drastic, a plastic man's kung-fu kick so slick". Its a lovely reminder that little people find joy in the simplest of things. It's about being present.
Culturebaby's current laugh-out-loud favourite is Mabbitt and Blunt's new This is NOT a Bedtime Story. Disatisfied with a repetition of the usual and rather mundane pink kitten tale, Sophie surprises her father with a dramatic revision of the bedtime story inspired by items around her room and featuring lions, helicopters and robot dinosaurs. Recovering from his shock, Dad gets rather into the swing of things. This delightfully subversive depiction of the importance of story time with a parent, the need for space for imagination and creativity and a challenge about what a girl might like to read, is really fun. Culturebaby has demanded this one at least five times in the last couple of days. I even found Grandad perched on the bottom stair reading it, with both girls chuckling beside him.
We've also been enjoying a new read from Michelle Robinson and Nick East. Goodnight Spaceman features two little boys who dream of joining their dad on his adventures in space. In his introductory letter to readers, Tim Peake the astronaut, says "I see my two young sons looking up at those same stars and I remember experiencing the early feelings of wonder and excitement that I now see on their faces... I hope it may inspire a new generation of boys and girls to look up at the stars and not just ask questions, but to go and seek answers of their own." This cute picture book is both informative and smacks of pride at the career of a much loved father. But perhaps it is also useful for children whose father is at times or always rather more distant than they might like.
Next is a much loved classic The Railway Children, retold in the simplest of forms by the wonderful Usborne and their picture book collection. With beautiful illustrations from Alan Marks, E. Nesbit's tale of a family struggling at the arrest of their father, the resilience and optimism of children and the way in which they help to save him, is made accessible to the very young. It's also an important tale to include in a selection of stories about fathers. There will be times in every child's life when their father might feel weak or vulnerable, suffer shocks and familes may experience hardship. It's a good message that children can play a part in the recovery - and save others through their own strength and love.
Finally, I've selected a trio of wonderful books about grandfathers. For many of us, these important paternal figures will feature strongly in our young lives, and navigating this relationship and the process of eventual loss is a lifechanging one. In the tale of Peter and the Wolf (a favourite is Ian Beck's edition), the grandfather is the father figure in Peter's life. In a dangerous environment he tries to protect his cheeky and disobedient charge from a wolf who gobbles up the household duck and is eventually captured by Peter. Thundering out his necessary discipline in the serious tones of the bassoon, this role of parent as protector is an crucial depiction. We adore the narrated musical version of this tale, and we've been particularly loving the Royal Ballet's dvd of their production as part of a set of four ballets for children.
A recent discovery in our local library is the tear-jerking My Grandpa by Marta Altes. Depicting the process of aging and how a child might deal with the changes they encounter in a much loved relative, this little and expressively illustrated book stays with the reader. At times Grandad behaves like an old man, sometimes like a child; he loses things and at times the child must be his eyes. But then there are the times for adventure, cuddles and the passing on of history. The book oozes with emotion and would prepare any child in a similar situation to continue to love unconditionally - just as they themselves are loved.
Finally, one of my absolute favourite books of the last year is the beautiful Grandad's Island. It is hard to read - I haven't seen many adults make it through without tears - but it is also one of the most uplifting depictions of handling the loss of a loved one that I've ever encountered. Syd loves his Grandad and spends a lot of time with him, but then one day Grandad takes Syd on a journey to a wonderful island. Here Grandad no longer needs his stick, renovates a little house, and participates in a range of wonderful adventures. Eventually Grandad breaks the news that he will be staying on the Island and Syd must return. Along with the brilliant book Rabbityness, this is a must read for any child dealing with the loss of a loved one - or needing a reminder that even when distant, our loved ones always remain near to us.
With apologies to international readers, we can only offer this prize as a hard copy to entrants from the UK.