When I was small we had a book called Frog and Toad are Friends, written by Arnold Lobel. It was one of my favourites. I remember well being read it by my dad and so it is one of the books I bought for my own children. I ordered it in English from our local book shop here in Germany and excitedly awaited its arrival.
When it came, it was bigger than I imagined and had a quote from Julia Donaldson on the front (“I hugely admire and envy Arnold Lobel”) alongside the HarperCollins sticker saying “Essential Picture Book Classics”. Yes, I thought to myself, they’ll love this book. I announced to the boys that I had a special book for them. We sat down to read it. They were not impressed.
Room on The Broom and Stick Man were just as popular in this house as The Gruffalo ever was. The Gruffalo has sold millions and millions of copies worldwide. There’s a film and a CD and merchandise of every type. The Gruffalo is a sensation. Our boys like it, but they were never wild about it.
What I am trying to say is that favourites become favourites for reasons known best to the person hearing the story. Yes, there are common themes that children love. At the end of the day though they all have their own taste in stories, characters, rhyming schemes and illustrations, even if they can’t articulate much more than yelling “Again!” as soon as you reach the last page of the book.
Our house is falling down with books, both our own and the children’s one. Firm favourites in this house in the 3 to 6 years age bracket include this lot:
The Sleep Book by Dr. Seuss
A rhyme from beginning to end, this book is a challenge first and then a joy to read aloud. It is an ideal bedtime story being, as it is, all about people all over the world going to sleep.
Just Like My Dad and Just Like My Mum, both by David Melling
As the name suggests, these books are about the child being just like his dad/mum. They are witty and cute in their language. I found myself relating to a lot of the bits about the little lion being just like his dad.
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
If you ask me (obviously you didn’t so I am going to tell you anyway) this book should be on all primary school
curriculums curriculae curricula, along with how to make plurals of Latin words. The book tells the story, in a nice, child-friendly way, of how the world basically went to ruin and nature was killed off because of consumerism. Don’t bother with the film. The book is much better and to the point.
The Book With No Pictures by B. J. Novak
The Book With No Pictures is the Ronseal Quick Drying Woodstain of books. It is a book which has no pictures in it. Why, you might ask, do children love it? Read it and see. Or look up the author reading it aloud on YouTube. That’s what made us buy the book.
With all the choice they have and all the stories they have heard, I wasn’t sure what it is about these particular story books that captured the boys’ imagination so much. So I asked them.
Over to you, boys.
“I liked in The Book With No Pictures that there are funny words and tongue twisters that make absolutely no sense. It makes grown ups say silly words like “I’m a robot monkey” or “badonkey face”.”
“In Just Like My Dad and in Just Like My Mum I like the funny things that the dad did and the mum did silly things too and the boy did everything better than his mum and his dad.”
“With The Book With No Pictures we made our parents say silly things”.
“The Lorax was a bit sad but I like the funny words. The Once-ler cut down all the trees and made the air so that the animals couldn’t breathe”.
“In The Sleep Book I liked the funny people and how they sleep and what they do and the rhymes and the names”.
When I asked them about my own favourite, Frog and Toad Are Friends, this is what they had to say.
“Never read it”.
“What? I don’t know that book”.
“I don’t remember the story”.
I’m not offended. Tastes differ. I just happen to have the same taste as Julia Donaldson and HarperCollins.