Be brave, be ridiculous and be curious
Leilah's bio here
When I started collecting niblings, my mission as an auntie (and as a bookseller), was obvious – I would be the coolest relative because I would always have the best books to hand, and there wasn’t any doubt in my mind that they wouldn’t all become book-loving little darlings, and so far, so good. I was already a fan of picture books, and now my multiple-copy purchasing was entirely justified.
At the bookshop, I often encounter customers who find choosing a picture book an overwhelming task. (and that’s ok, because it really is.) The dilemma usually plays out like this: Do you stick to the tried and tested classics? The Funnybones? The Forgetful Cats? The Tigers that Come to Tea…? Or do you take a punt on something shiny and new that promises fart jokes galore? or ‘glitter on every page’? Can you really go wrong with anything that has been so successful that it has spawned its own range of accompanying plush toys…?
Cover appeal and familiarity are perfectly valid reasons to choose a picture book. And my goodness, I know that most of the time people are spending their money on these books with a tearaway toddler in tow... I’d like to share with you a few more reasons, and from books that have arrived in more recent years, as these are the ones I have my hands on every day. Let’s start with a list of 10 messages that you might want to share with a small person, and a book suggestion that fits the bill:
With beautifully vivid illustrations, and a rhythmic rhyme in every book, Rob Biddulph always delivers a pitch-perfect story with a marvellous message. There’s lots in here about friendship and the value of it, but it’s the honest confession of a bear called Boris that turns this story of losing something into finding something better…
Illustrator: David Roberts
David Roberts provides plenty of visual humour as a backdrop to this kick-ass story of a young girl with a determined spirit and a thirst for knowledge. There aren’t many storybooks around for little future scientists, but this is the book that I wanted to show my nieces so that they could learn that, whatever their ambitions, curiosity can lead them forward.
Matt Carr is a new talent on the picture book scene, and his debut Superbat is some serious bookshop eye candy. His super-bold style coupled with retro-comic-superhero flavours grabbed my attention, and his tale of a little bat proving just how super he is melted my heart.
Though it starts with a bear in a bee costume with less than honest intentions for some prized honey, what emerges is a story of kindness and tolerance, which more than withstands the multiple re-reads demanded of it. Nadia’s bold and engaging style make this a perfect book to share at bedtime.
See the wonder in nature and care for it
The story of a little robot and his little robot dog and a highly unusual botanical discovery. With a breath-taking double fold-out spread, and a sweet message about the wonder of nature, this is lovely little gem.
‘Girls are clever, tough and bold and brave and strong and true. We’re just as good as boys, you know. We can be heroes, too.’ Hooray for Steven Lenton! (He gets bonus recommendation points for making this particular no-nonsense, smart-thinking princess a book-lover, of course.)
Illustrator: Jim Field
Rachel Bright’s story of a little mouse confronting his fears and finding an unlikely friend is an absolute joy to share. It’s made all the more magic by superstar illustrator Jim Field, whose talent for comically expressive animals and clever perspectives makes this award-winning author/illustrator pairing so delightful.
Embrace what you aren't
A simple and endearing story that quietly influences young readers to be better grown-ups – and to like vegetables too if you’re lucky. It’s OK to be different. It’s OK to like different. With kindness and acceptance, we can build bridges (in Colin’s case, as a carrot baton, quite literally.) Perfect in board book for the littlest readers!
Illustrator: Jim Field
Another shout for illustrator Jim Field. This is the second in the ‘Oi!’ trilogy that began with Oi Frog!, and will continue with Oi Cat! later this year. Buy them all, of course, but I’ve given this one a special shout because Kes Gray rhymes cheetahs with fajitas, and the final punchline never fails to raise a snigger from browsing customers.
Illustrator: Neal Layton
Andy Stanton’s best known for his brilliant Mr Gum series for young independent readers, but this supremely silly and slightly surreal story of a sibling challenge that snowballs in the most hilarious fashion is my favourite picture book of 2016. Neal Layton’s scribbly style and photographic collages are a perfect fit, too. My sister works with early years, and insists that this book always hits the spot for a successful class read. “I’ve perfected the art of covering the bottom with my finger.” she recently told me, whilst beaming over the rim of her tea mug. Hoover up the last copies in hardback, or pre-order the paperback edition for giggles in July.