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…
The Gifts of Autism by Katherine Uher is a fairly rare thing – being one of only a handful of books I’ve come across so far which is both written specifically for children, and aims to highlight the positive aspects of autism.
Whilst other factual books exist about autism, they focus on parts of the condition which might result in a child feeling stigmatised or even inferior to their peers. This book, conversely, describes various autistic traits – as the title suggests – as gifts.
I always feel that you can tell the quality of an alphabet book by the choice of word for the letter Q and this didn’t disappoint – the word ‘Queen’ doesn’t make a tenuous appearance and the alternative word isn’t something entirely un-Q-related with the word ‘quite’ whacked in front. Whilst this might not seem like big praise, but you’d be amazed at how often the above happens, so full marks there!
The book also contains a section designed to encourage self-reflection with a focus on positive autistic traits – indeed, positive traits for anyone to possess. I really like this invitation to praise oneself in detail – whilst drawing in a book, or even drawing-at-all, might not be every child’s cup-of-tea, the art pages can still serve as cues to think about what makes us awesome. Autistic or not, self-praise is something that doesn’t happen nearly enough – particularly not in the UK, where we seem to be bound by some unwritten law to downplay our own achievements for fear of sounding like we’re boasting. I think we’d all feel a lot better if we took the time to acknowledge the things that make us great, whether we’re autistic or not.
I also feel like it’s important to add that this is an excellent book for any child. As I’ve said above, the vast majority books that I’ve found on autism focus on traits that are often perceived as negative, even if the book is trying to take a neutral, fact-based approach. If we want to live in a society which values everyone for the contributions they do make then we need to make sure we that we focus on this when we explain the world. By thinking about the gifts of autism, the condition becomes a lot less isolating and neurotypical children might begin to see their autistic peers in a more positive light. And a little understanding can go a very, very long way.
Do you know of any positive books on autism I might not have come across yet? I’d love to hear about them if you do!
Pass It On by Sophy Henn is a lovely little book about happiness, and how we can share our joy with others.
It covers the big, exciting things in life – like spotting a whale! – and the smaller things which bring joy from day-to-day like jumping in puddles.
The illustrations are fun and stylish, and the poem which forms the text of the book is nicely written, though at times, I feel like my accent works against me with the rhyme scheme and I can’t quite put my finger on why.
This is a great book to couple with those about more unpleasant feelings. If you’re looking to start a collection of stories which deal with emotions then this is definitely a nice one to keep in there. It’s easy to focus on the things a child might find difficult – sadness, anger, frustration and fear – and forget to provide examples of the more positive things in life. This isn’t a failing on our part – just a tendency to take for granted the ability to shine a light on the things that are good. I know this is something I’ve been guilty of in the past – trying to help my children navigate and accept their big feelings through stories but neglecting to remind them to celebrate the good they find along the way. I’m forever telling them that they can’t control what other people do, only their own actions and Pass It On is a really lovely reminder of the positive things that can happen when you make the decision to share what’s good in your life.
Which are your favourite books about being happy, and about sharing joy?