Everyone has been saying it in every single medium. In the newspapers, on television, on the radio (to which I listen all day long and always have) and on the social media. Above all on there....Twitter is awash with people saying it, and I've said it before myself. These are strange times. The Pandemic, Covid-19, Corona, whatever you're calling it, has changed life for every single one of us in extraordinary ways we had never imagined.
One of the things that's changed is: for once, I haven't had any recent children's books to review. No one has sent me any. In normal times, I might have requested one from a friendly publisher but frankly, this time, I haven't got the mental space to take on new stuff. My head is full of a) the news b) thoughts about my family and friends c) thoughts about my next novel, which I hope to have done some fairly solid work on by the time I come out of self-isolation.
But I wouldn't want to leave a blank space where a review should be, so I went to the little box where I keep the best and most beloved books that I used to read to my daughters. I chose three.
The first is called A Peaceable Kingdom and it's by Alice and Martin Provensen. It is long out of print and it's an Abecedarius which combines mythical and real animals. It's a Shaker alphabet, so the austerity and wonderfully understated colours of the Shaker aesthetic run through the book, which is completely enchanting.
I've chosen the N page because it shows the lovely row of houses in the background and the birds combined with Cuttlefish and Spider make a really unusual combination. This yoking together of the animals and birds and insects is striking. The A page reads: Alligator, Beetle, Porcupine, Whale..... don't ask why. Just because and because they make a wonderful spread.
Anyone with brilliant eyesight might be able to make out other strange combinations below. I apologise for the quality of all these photographs!
The date in the front of the book is 1974. My daughter Sophie was 3 at the time and it's a Christmas present for her. She loved it and I loved reading it to her.
The date in the front of this book is 1978. Jenny, to whom this book was given, was only one year old when we bought it, but the heroine is called Jenny, I had to have it. I guess it was a couple of years before we actually read it to her but Sophie liked it too...when Jenny was born, Sophie was very nearly 6, going on 45. Maurice Sendak is the towering genius of children's book illustration in my opinion and this very small format book has a dolls' house in it, where the inhabitants come to life and invite Jenny in...how could anyone resist?
Finally, there's the best book I know for teaching small children to read. Arnold Lobel's Mouse Tales. He is better known for the Frog and Toad series which is still in print and still a great favourite. But to me, Mouse Tales is his masterpiece. I wish I had a fiver for every time I read this aloud. The story below tells of a mouse who goes to visit his granny. It's a very long way to her house and in the course of the journey, he changes his footwear several times. In the end, he comes across someone who's selling feet. He buys a new pair and when he gets to his granny's house, she admires his new feet.
"What fine new feet you have!" she says and that always made us roar with laughter.
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