Norman the Slug with the Silly Shell by Sue Hendra is the first children’s book I learned off by heart. Not because I think it’s a particularly fine piece of literature, but because it was the first – and if I’m honest, the only – book Daughter would have me read ‘on repeat’. That alone earns it a place in our household’s hall of fame.
I wrote the following on the 1st May 2012 – Daughter was one.
“Norman the slug idolises the snails and their wonderful shells. He longs to join in with their games, but can’t because his squishy body is unstackable. Norman takes it on himself to fashion his own shell from an old donut. Having done so, he inadvertently saves the lives of his new friends.
Daughter adored this book. After having read it to her three times, she snatched it off me and made Husband read it to her too. After her nap, it was the first thing she went for, stroking Norman on all the pages, finally kissing the cover.To begin with, keeping her attention on anything other than the shiny front page was difficult but after a single read through she was hooked.
The ‘moral’ of this story is somewhat ambiguous. I took it to be an overwhelmingly positive one – Norman wanted a shell and used his imagination to create one – the old Back to the Future mantra of, “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything”. There are those, however, who will inevitably say that it’s a book about needing to conform in order to have friends. Until Norman gets a shell, no one is interested in being his friend but once he matches the rest of his peers, he is accepted. I suppose how you take it depends on your world view.”
I stand by my original assessment. And Daughter continued with her love for this tale.
And when she finally grew away from it, Son took up the mantle of Number One Norman Fan. It’s been nearly eight years since this book entered our home and I don’t think a week has gone by without my reading it.
Friends have even gone so far as to make us Norman-themed toys and decor…
Happily, Sue Hendra has also written a large number of other books. Again, these are stories my children love and which they would heartily recommend. They’re all different – all bright and colourful and very fun.
Which Sue Hendra is your favourite?
Plant the Tiny Seed by Christie Matheson is a really fun introduction to gardening, and is one of those books which call for a high degree of interaction between reader and listener – something I absolutely love.
Told in verse and requiring lots of finger actions, this is a fantastically fun little gem of a book. Beginning with the page above and ending with a row of flowers, there are all kinds of things to giggle at in between.
There isn’t a great deal more to be said about this book – lots of bright illustrations, few well-chosen words… it’s a delight to read to small people.
It’s definitely one I would recommend getting a copy of and just trying for yourself.
Have you read Plant the Tiny Seed by Christie Matheson? Did you like it as much as me?
What do you do if your bookworm child can’t read yet, but desperately wants to try (and succeed) without adult help? You give them Korgi by Christian Slade.
Whilst the introduction to the characters of these comics contain a handful of words, the story itself is told entirely through glorious artwork. The plot follows Ivy and her faithful companion, Sprout, as they adventure in the fairy realm.
The books are full of humour and adventure, are beautifully illustrated and can be enjoyed by everyone – young and old. I’ve spoken before about how a great story doesn’t have an age limit and this definitely falls into that category – there are so many details in the pictures that you can simply scan for the story, or spend longer, looking for clues to the overriding plot.
Since we received these books and I took pictures, Slade has released the fourth episode of the series and I’m currently eagerly awaiting its arrival.
I’d love to learn more about similar books – stories without words, or great fantasy comics for kids – if you know of any?
Rosy’s Garden by Satomi Ichikawa should be a classic. I know that’s a pretty bold statement, but bear with me…
I happened upon our copy in a charity shop when Daughter was around two and ever since, we’ve read it regularly. In itself, this isn’t at all unusual. The difference between Rosy’s Garden and just about every other book, though, is that I have never once thought, “Oh, not again…” Time after time, this has been eagerly brought to me and time after time I’ve said – just as eagerly – “Ooh, good choice!”
At its core, the book chronicles the titular character’s summer holiday at her grandmother’s house. There’s no singular main event, nor is it a series of Milly-Molly-Mandy- esque episodes as I had first presumed on finding the book. The best description I can think of to describe the layout is a journal-cross-scrapbook. There are little notes about flower names, the language of flowers, how to make rose water, how Granny and Grandpa met, how to gather seeds…
I think that’s what I love most about the book – the little snippets of information that is genuinely new and interesting. There are so very many books about planting a seed that grows into a flower but so few about the culture that surrounds our gardens and the things we plant. This book perfectly fills that gap.
And perfect as the writing is, the illustrations still manage to make it even better. Some of them look like botanical prints, they’re so accurate. But at the same time there’s so much character and warmth in them – so many details to spot.
The more I write about this book, the more I could write so I’m going to leave things here, before I get carried away. I maintain what I said though – this really should be a classic.
What’s your list of ‘would-be’ children’s classics?
We’re pretty big on books about emotions in our house, which is why it came as quite a surprise when I hadn’t heard of this little beauty, lent to me by a friend.
Feelings by Libby Walden and Richard Jones is a wonderful book of short verses which explain our emotions. Whilst it has a similar vibe to A Great Big Cuddle, Feelings uses slightly more complex language and references a lot of things from the wider world. Whilst it might be tempting to say that this is a good alternative for older children, I think that would be underselling it – the fact that it’s poetry, and beautiful, means that anyone can enjoy it.
I really love the colour palette that the artist has used, and I love the cut-out of the child at the heart of the book – specifically the way the that on the left, you can see the layers of different emotions building up, one page at a time.
And it’s a small thing, but the pages are really thick and it just feels good to turn them. They’re matt too, and incredibly tactile. As an object, before you even open the first page, it’s just begging to be picked up. The only other book that I’ve ever wanted to stroke quite this much has been The Restless Girls by Jessie Burton, but I’ll get to that another day…
Are there any books you enjoy which just feel inviting?
I first took The Wooden Dragon by Joan Aiken and Bee Willey out of the library in 2013 when we lived near Bury St Edmunds and it, or its Aberdeenshire counterpart, has been coming home with us regularly ever since.
The story is a lovely one, about discovering how to use your strengths to overcome your fears, and how, no matter what your abilities are, there’s scope to help others.
Set in the autumn, the illustrations are full of really rich textures, and earthy colours which match the tone of the prose perfectly. I really love how no surface is just one flat shade, but instead, is composed of layers of different colours. No one could ever say that the illustrations are ‘realistic’ – they’re heavily stylised – but they’re so lively and full of character that they feel very real.
This is a wonderful book in which the power of stories helps the protagonist overcome the difficulties in their narrative. I’m a sucker for this plot, which I guess makes sense, given how many times reading books has rescued me. 😉
Ironically, for one of my favourite children’s books – I know, I say that about all of them! – I don’t have a lot to write about The Library by Sarah Stewart and David Small.
That’s not because it’s not deserving of praise, mind you. The Library is an absolutely amazing story about defying social convention and indulging your passions. Also, it’s essentially about our house, which increasingly looks like a bookshop exploded in the centre of it and is still expanding…
The reason I don’t have an awful lot to say about the book is because it tells its own story so neatly and succinctly in verse, that I feel as if I’m doing it a disservice by paraphrasing.
In short, it’s one you need to get hold of, and read and savour…