Tickled Pink as a Puffalunk

Becoming a parent has made going to bookshops even more exciting than they used to be, and believe me, I was a bookshop junkie. I could not leave one without desperately needing this or that book (usually at least three). Nowadays, I have an even better excuse for buying books in the form of an increasingly precocious three-and-a-half-year-old.

I think children’s sections in bookshops cater to precisely the kind of browsing you engage in for the genre. They’re often laid out on shelves, front facing, without any proper organisation so that you’re forced to lift out every book behind the first row. However, unlike with adult books, you don’t need to read the synopsis. Most of the time, you just need the cover and the title to tell you whether or not it’s something you like. Of course the shelves are usually cluttered with the prevalent popular titles, but once in a while, with a bit of digging, you find a gem you’ve not come across before.

The Tickle Tree_Cover

So it was with The Tickle Tree by Chae Strathie and Poly Bernatene. We were at the airport on the way to my granny’s 100th birthday celebration in Kuala Lumpur and had only ten minutes to spare. Bernatene’s fantastical cover called to me from behind a copy of Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back. I must say, I have a predilection for this sort of imagery (yes, I am a Tim Burton and Gaudi fan).

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Yet I also love Strathie’s imaginative words and don’t even mind that it’s a bit difficult to read in some places because of the way the words dance around the page.

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The book revels in the gloriousness of fantasy and questions one’s ability to see beyond the everyday. It asks if the reader has seen such things as “giant galumphs”, “marvellous musical meeps”, “luminous frinks” and “boomjangles”. Then tantalises by saying if you haven’t, it’ll tell you how. Interspersing the “boring” images of an ordinary village when it does this is quite clever, I think.

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I’m quite a stickler for good endings and, unlike with adult books, it’s not difficult to accomplish in children’s books. The Tickle Tree ends by revealing that all these wonderful things are waiting for you……”in your dreams” is such a fabulous ending. Perfect for bedtime!

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Rediscovering Your Wild Thing

Probably one of the top five benefits of becoming a parent is being able to experience childhood all over again albeit from a secondary point of view. It’s okay to jump in muddy puddles with undisguised glee (as long as you have an actual child with you). It’s perfectly acceptable to go hunting for worms and spiders. It’s a good thing to have more fun with the play dough/Lego/bubbles than your toddler. For me, it’s being able to read all the children’s books I want, especially those I missed out on when I was a child.

Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are is a classic in every way. The illustrations, story and words are just as poetic and entrancing today as they were fifty years ago. It’s almost a travesty that I’ve never read it before. So obviously it was imperative to get it for Iris. It doesn’t teach any overt lessons. Instead it is a book that empathises with anyone who has ever had one of those days.

Everyone, child or adult alike, can relate to Max’s desire to be a beast sometimes. Every mother will relate to Max’s who sends him to his room without dinner.

Where the Wild Things Are

It is childish escapism that takes Max to a different world where he sees the “wild things” and becomes king of them.

Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are

I firmly believe this trick also won Sir Anthony Hopkins his Oscar for creeping the whole world out as Hannibal Lecter.

We’ve all been there, indulging in our ids, if only in our imagination. So Max does that, becoming king of the wild things and romping, stomping and howling to his heart’s desire.

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He mimics his mum by sending them to bed without dinner.

In my mind, I think Max realises, at this point, some of the complexity of being a parent and both sympathises and longs for his mum, who has also relented and brought him something to eat.

Where the Wild Things Are

This quickly brings him back, body and mind, to the loving security of home.

Where the Wild Things Are

At some point, when I’ve got my craft on, we will be making these awesome toilet paper roll puppets!

 

Not Just a Goldfish

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Gillian Shields and Dan Taylor’s Dogfish is such a joy to read for so many reasons. Another of my earliest purchases for Iris, I was initially drawn to it for the illustrations and the title, because honestly, everyone judges a book by its cover, especially children’s books.

Unlike with adult books, it is not only easy but essential to read through a kid’s book before buying (see my earlier post Say What?!). Dogfish is safe, hilarious, succinct and has some excellent lessons in pet care, reading people’s emotions on their faces and contentment.

I also really love the earthy colours and mid-century décor of the kid and mum’s apartment. When a book has few words, the font used stands out even more so it’s imperative that the right one is chosen. Although the digital reading by former Dr Who, David Tennant that came with the book in a CD could possibly come in handy, I’ve only ever played it for Iris once. Unless you have a child who is going to sit there and keep playing it while looking at the words to teach him/herself to read, there’s not that much point to it, in my opinion. They can’t ask the CD, after all, what is an “irritated but sorrowful” look can they?

A boy has a goldfish, but wants a dog.

"Everyone has a dog...except me."

“Everyone has a dog…except me.”

He tries persuading his mum, using logic and his “hypnotising eyes”.

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Unfortunately his mum is much too wise and even more logical: “Well, if you can’t have what you want, you could try to want what you have.” I love this mum.

"Irritated but sorrowful"

"Hypnotising eyes"

“Hypnotising eyes”

So he turns his mind to making his goldfish into the best pet a boy could have – a dogfish!

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And everyone is “utterly, totally, blissfully happy”.

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Tractor Book of Awesomeness

Now I know my childhood was fairly privileged in that I had lots of toys, watched all the important shows (e.g. Muppets, Electric Company and He-Man) and got to eat flavoured ice in tubes. However, I did NOT have one of these books, which I am now convinced would have immured me from all my teenage angst. This and lots of chocolate.

Usborne’s Wind-Up Tractor Book was part of Iris’s Christmas bounty and probably the best buy from my first BookDepository.com 25-hour sale. I’m going to need the pictures to tell you just how brilliant this “book” is.

You definitely can’t do this with an e-book!

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Seriously, any book that comes with its own wind-up tractor cannot be anything other than totally awesome, am I right?

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There are three mini-stories and the standees to go with them.

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There’s even instructions for each standee, which are made of thick cardboard (but I wouldn’t leave a toddler alone with them).

Now for the epitome of cool:

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There are tracks on the book itself for the tractor to run in! Oh-my-good-books! How undeniably amazing is that? After several readings of the simple stories, kids can act it out all by themselves. Or they could make up their own stories.

Check out the video of it in action: Tractor in Trouble.

 

 

 

 

Pop It Up!

The pop-up books I remember from childhood were pretty much like the series of David A. Carter books we inherited from my nieces. Don’t get me wrong, they are not terribly complicated but awesome nonetheless and manage to turn pretty much anything into a bug. On an aside, the “helpful” tip I got in one parenting book about allowing your child to destroy a pop-up book so that you can mend it and show them how things need to be treasured, is complete bollocks, especially if you’re a book lover like I am. It will not only completely rip into your heart to see such wonderful paper creations destroyed, without malice, but still destroyed. It is also a really, really big pain to fix them. So do not allow children under 3 to handle a pop-up alone.

Anyway, as I was saying, I hadn’t been bowled over with the genre until I came across this:

Oh Baby, the places you'll go

Be still my paper-loving heart. I was in love! Of course at the time Iris was only 1.5 so I passed on this version and got her the abridged one, which she also managed to annihilate. However, from then I’ve discovered more and more wonders in the world of paper engineering. (That’s the actual term for someone who designs a pop-up book! Talk about best job in the world! Your job is to play with paper! OMG!)

In my newfound pop-up loving fervour, I came across an article listing Jan Pieńkowski’s Haunted House as the ultimate and original pop-up book. So of course I had to get it. I was not disappointed.

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While the cartoonish illustrations make a somewhat scary topic funny and unlikely to leave you with visions of clawing hands at your window, they still pack a good bit of scariness in them.

There is hardly any text, just one line per spread. This not only makes it a great quick read for that “just one more book puhleeease!”, it is also great for pre-reading kids to enjoy by themselves.

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I can’t imagine how fabulous it was when it came out in 1979 as it’s still pretty amazing today. Every spread is packed with pop-up creatures, pull tabs to reveal ghouls and spaghetti monsters, and wheels that create a psychedelic cupboard.

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Three years old is just about the right time for kids to really enjoy more complex pop-up books because they’ve gained the manual dexterity and consciousness to treat them with the necessary care.

I’m already salivating about the next purchase I’m going to make – a Robert Sabuda book! Now which one……

A Girl After My Own Obsessions

Almost every woman I know has iterated, “Please kill me if I become like my mother,” or something to that effect. Now as a mum, however, I take devilish delight in seeing my offspring take on little bits of me.

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Julia Donaldson (The Gruffalo) and Nick Sharratt (Shark in the Park) have teamed up several times to excellent effect. Honestly though, I wasn’t sure about Chocolate Mouse for Greedy Goose, at first.

I love that it’s succinct, just one line a page and the rhymes are easier on the tongue than some of Donaldson’s other works. Each animal is given a page and food-related rhyme and Sharratt’s illustrations are, as usual, refreshingly bold and very expressive for such simplicity of lines.

It also manages to include the concepts of logic,

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healthy eating,

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manners,

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competition and

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compromise!

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But then at the end when helpful pup suggests washing up, they all go to sleep instead.

Most people close to me will say I’m a bit obsessed with cleanliness. Okay, a lot obsessed. So naturally whenever I read it to Iris I would always add a “that’s not good” at the end, referring to them not cleaning up.

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Lo and behold, a few weeks ago, we picked up this book again after a few months’ hiatus and when I reached the end, Iris refused to let me turn to the last page. She then changed the story to say they all washed up. She even added washing hand actions like a proper obsessive-compulsive! Needless to say I was howling with laughter and husband was amused but a bit afraid. Just a bit.

Now if she becomes anything near what a horrible, cantankerous, emotional jabberwocky I was as a teenager…………boarding school anyone?

All Grown Up

I realise my daughter is only three, but it still gets to me every time she matures in some way or learns something new. Just the other day I nearly got teary when she used the word “delicate” correctly. And now that she’s started school, moments of “I wish she wouldn’t grow up so quickly” are coming fast and heavy.

Iris had been very happy in our Singapore day care from 3 to 25 months, but having stayed at home with me for the past year, I was worried there might be some separation anxiety when she started pre-kindergarten last week. So I brought her to see her new school three months ago and talked up all the positive things about school (playground, painting, making friends, etc). I even bought her this book in December.

 

Jane Godwin and Anna Walker’s Starting School is an excellent aid in introducing the idea of school. Iris loved it from the first reading and kept me reading it to her for weeks.

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I love the diversity presented and that a child’s negative feelings such as fear and being overwhelmed are very subtly dealt with.

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I love the feel of the pages too. Flexible yet sturdy with a lovely smell. Yes, I’m a stationery geek.

Of course, I really needn’t have worried at all.

“Why can’t I go to school now?”

“Because they’re all on holiday.”

Pouty pause.

“I’m very sad I can’t go to school now.”

Yeesh.

As the time neared, it was getting more apparent that I was the one suffering from pre-school stress. I checked off her list of necessities, bought everything, prepared a special lunch and on the morning of her first day yelled at husband for not getting us to school at least 15 minutes early.

Then when I said I was leaving she went, “Awwww…” gave me a cursory sad face, a hug and then scampered off.

An hour later I got a call to say, “Not that we’re  not loving having her, but Iris isn’t supposed to be here today?”

I had failed to remember in a letter from January 2013 (and never repeated in any other correspondence) that children attending three days’ of school would go in Wednesday to Friday and not, Monday to Wednesday.

Is there such a thing as pre-dementia for mothers of pre-schoolers?