Thursday, 1 November 2012

Baby Book Club

Children's books are wonderful. Many are joyful, funny, moral and beautiful. Some are works of art in their own right. Having a baby is a perfect excuse to dip back into childhood favourites and share them with my little one. In addition to the rediscovery of treasured copies from my childhood, the champion charity shopping mother has been on the rampage across the north, leaving empty shelves in her wake. She has amassed a spectacular collection for Culturebaby to read over the next few years. It is clear that she's teetering on the edge of addiction but it's one I'll support any day. There's so much amazing stuff out there for babies, both classic and new, that there is always something wonderful to discover. So it truly felt like Christmas the day another package of books from the lovely people at Macmillan publishing arrived at our door for us to review.

I always try to include a little in my posts on the value of a topic, and books seem pretty self explanatory. That said, I've come across some interesting little bits of research recently that are worth sharing. Firstly, I was pleased to see that my mighty bookshelves were vindicated by this interesting post by Michael Rosen highlighting evidence that the single factor of a home having 500 books in it gives children an extra 3 years of education, independent of their parents' education, occupation and class. If you have books around you, you might not only read them but browse, discuss them, debate the topics as a family and so on...

Secondly, I read in a lovely book on childhood education by Dr Jenn Berman called Superbaby, that in addition to being a great way to bond with your child and foster a lifelong love of reading, opening a world of creativity and imagination, and producing a better attention span and memory and better listening, reading and writing skills; reading just three picture books each week has been shown to increase vocabulary by 15-40%. Of course she goes further and recommends three a day... This book also has some good advice for how to read with your baby and tips on activities to help them grow to love literature.

Then today, in the new Montessori book Learning Together by Kathi Hughes, I was reminded of the fact that understanding far exceeds spoken language for a long time, and furthermore that research shows the importance of fathers modeling interest in books as well as mothers - there is apparently a clear link between how often a father reads to an infant in the first year and his child's interest in books later.

Finally, and worryingly, a recent survey has shown that 2/3 of people do not read to their babies. The survey, carried out on more than 500 parents of babies by ICM and the Fatherhood Institute on behalf of the charity Booktrust, found that 64% of parents were not reading with their babies at seven months, and that 57% did not own a single book until they received their pack of free titles from Booktrust's Bookstart programme. We've seen with Culturebaby that it's never too early to start. She loves books and plays with them alongside her toys. We were surprised at how young she was when she started to turn pages and look through books alone too. She crawls over to her book baskets and helps herself to one (or ten) that she fancies. This has at times led to chaos in the library (when she transferred the entire contents of one box to another and then to the floor), but I'm sure they'll forgive such a cute vandal... For some great very first books for babies in black and white see my earlier post here.

So on to our bag of literary goodies; what a lovely selection! They were, however, not all for babies so we recruited a number of little helpers to review the books with us. I'm a firm believer that building a great childrens' library takes time, so of course, we'll be hanging on to these for the future...
Here's what we thought:
  1. For baby: Poppy Cat Whoosh by Lara Jones - This lovely board book is part of a range of (noisy) additions to the popular Poppy Cat series, which has sold over a million worldwide. I hadn't realised this, but its author and illustrator Lara Jones died in 2010. She was an artist, whose wish was to recreate in her illustrations the magic and joy of being a child and to capture the essence of a child’s delight in discovering new experiences. Given the popularity of the Poppy Cat brand, it is clear that she was successful, and it was interesting to hear older children of 5 or 6 talk about how appealing the illustrations were and how much they liked the 'childlike' drawings. Culturebaby currently has rather a penchant for pressing buttons and so she was delighted with this bright and joyful boardbook with its button producing an old-school plane sound...
  2. For the 18 month year old: Beep Beep by Samantha Meredith - This magnet book was an absolute hit with Culturebaby's toddler friend, so much so he asked for it the next time he came to visit. The pages are bright with lots to discuss and observe, a story runs throughout alongside facts, questions and puzzles, there are two large fold-out play scenes and six large magnets. I hadn't quite realised how vehicle mad toddler boys can be and this was completely perfect for him. It was, however, also a favourite with the six year old, for whom the questions and things to spot were very engaging. She declared it a nine out of ten, losing highest honours only because the back page in our copy really needed to be magnetic too. You can't argue with that...
  3. For supervised toddlers: My Big Book of Ghosts by Kate Daubney and Maggie Bateson and Funny Faces in the Jungle by Jannie Ho are both fun and brilliantly engineered pop up books that will appeal to a range of ages. With rather appropriate timing for the season, My Big Book of Ghosts follows the everyday life of a (rather cute) family of ghosts. There is a mouse to spot on every page and a range of pop-ups and moving mechanisms that left Culturebaby laughing and squealing with delight - especially where the ghosts disappear from the bus (much to the surprise of other passengers). Similarly, Funny Faces in the Jungle becomes a clever set of masks complete with pop-up surprises. Culturebaby loved it when I peered through the eyes of the animals, replicated their noises and operated their jaws. Again the book can be enjoyed on several levels - the older children thought it was great for their own imaginative play. However, beware little paws - our noisy frog has lost his tongue!
  4. For the child in us all: I am absolutely in love with the artist Matteo Pericoli's London for Children and refuse to accept it's just for kids. It's a must for any London lover's coffee table. The author walked 40 miles from Hammersmith Bridge to Greenwich on each side of the Thames. It took him two weeks and more than 6000 photographs. The result was two sets of 12 metre long drawings, which he has adapted and condensed (to a smaller stretch of the Thames) and coloured in beautiful and vibrant tones for children. The resulting book is, in fact, two books (back to back) and is filled with this amazing artwork, alongside interesting facts about the buildings and sites along the way. Pericoli has really captured the essence of London - the river is very much the heart, playground and viewing platform for London - and his tour of the banks is perfect for families to go and observe first hand. It is the sort of book which could be taken on a day out, examined before or after a trip or would breathe life into a history project for school kids. I found it hard to decide which age this book would most appeal to and concluded 7-11 perhaps, but I called in our six year old friend with a penchant for history and she loved it. In fact, she sat on the sofa and read most of it there and then, picking out interestings facts and sharing them with us. And then I called in Culture Grandad, who loves sketching and painting himself. He found it just as gripping. I literally can't wait to share this beautiful little work of art with Culturebaby. Children or no children, go and get a copy...



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