Oh Earl!

Quite apart from the usual nightmare of finding the right name for your child is the relaxing, fun activity of giving them nicknames. Iris has loads. From the usual Peanut, Pea, Baby, Monkey, etc to the not so often heard Bubbles, Chuchee and Fartex (given by Dad during her colicky phase, though if you ask me, it’s pot calling kettle). However, her first one, which came so naturally was Bobo. We have since come across this in various characters in books and film, just go the Wikipedia entry to see how widely it’s used! Of course, at the time, we thought it was pretty unique. Thus our delight when we came across Eileen and Marc Rosenthal’s I Must Have Bobo! and its sequel I’ll Save You Bobo!

I Must Have Bobo!

They’re both about a little boy named Willy who has a lovey (favourite toy/blanket), a monkey called Bobo. The problem is, his cat, Earl, also loves Bobo and is constantly trying to make off with it. Easy to read with a lovely sans serif font and clean drawings with a simple colour palette.

In I Must Have Bobo! Willy wakes up in a kerfuffle because he can’t find Bobo. He goes on to list all the things he needs Bobo for. Where is the monkey? Having a cuddle with Earl under the blanket. The day goes on and Earl keeps trying to steal Bobo away. Finally he succeeds and Willy goes on a hunt. He discovers them again in flagrante delicto on the sofa and very lovingly decides to curl up together with them. Earl, however, has other ideas.

I need Bobo!

Bobo are you there?

Where is that Bobo?  

For some reason, when Iris was about 20 months old, she developed an obsession with the sequel, I’ll Save You Bobo and not a night went by that she didn’t ask for it to be read, as can be seen by the wear on the book. She could memorise the words within a month and I used let her finish the last word of each sentence, which she was yell with absolute glee. This went on for several months. Then just as suddenly, her interest waned. Now, just as we hardly call her Bobo, she doesn’t remember her old flame either. It is still a great go-to book when she’s clamouring for one more and I want something short and sweet.

This time, Willy is reading about dinosaurs, or trying to at least what with a grey moggie clambering all over him. He then decides to write his own adventure story replete with a jungle, tigers, snakes and poisonous mushrooms. He makes a tent, of course, but Earl ruins it with his very ungainly attack. In retaliation, Willy writes a story where Earl is eaten by a snake. Earl, in turn, gives his own back at the end.





The saga continues with the Rosenthals’ latest in the Bobo series, Bobo the Sailor Man!


Gently Subversive

After the tornado of visitors, we went back to Singapore for two weeks as I was celebrating a, ahem, major school-leaving anniversary. Anyway, at the time there was public uproar over the removal of three children’s books from the National Library and the National Library Board’s (NLB) subsequent announcement that the books would also be destroyed. I shan’t go into too much detail but you can read more about it here http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-28243356 and here http://news.asiaone.com/news/singapore/and-tango-makes-it-big-book-debate.

My main grouse with NLB was three-fold.

1. Why, when other government agencies are happy to ignore the public, do they have to get in a tizzy over one ridiculous, outspoken twit?

2. By removing the books they are displaying a weakness and lack of competence. The book was previously reviewed and allowed in 2009! To then retract that earlier decision damages their future credibility as an authority.

3. Did they have to have such an absolutely unnecessarily extreme initial reaction as to not only remove them from the shelves but to want to destroy the books as well?! This, in my mind, is what caused the most upset. After all, the government had not actually banned the books, the NLB just deemed them unsuitable, so why not offer them to someone else or put them in a reserve section?

Thankfully, for the sanity of everyone involved, the NLB revoked the decision to destroy the books and put them in the “adult” section. This incident, however, is quite representative of my birth country. Yes, many, many “daddy issues”. It was thus very amusing and refreshing for me to find this gem of local children’s writing when I visited one of the very, very few indie bookshops in Singapore, Books Actually.


Juno by Lynette Wan and Dexian Feng is about a race of creatures called Kummies who lived in a Clementine tree on a fruit farm. Every Kummy was just like the other and they did the same thing every day: collect pretty seeds to display and ugly ones to keep in the backroom.


All except one Kummy named Juno. He not only looked different from all the other Kummies, he also did something very strange. Instead of keeping the seeds, he buried them in the ground! The cheek! Although he became a social outcast and the subject of much whispering, Juno remained meek and resolute, hoping that some day the other Kummies would understand him.


Then Juno fell very ill. The other Kummies only noticed his absence when the farm began to deteriorate and there were no more seeds to collect and needed someone to turn to for an alternative voice. Once Juno got all the Kummies planting seeds instead of keeping them in jars, the plants started growing and everyone was happy and happy to change.


I think more Junos are needed, not just in Singapore but in the world. Less beating of breasts and shouting from hilltops and more working quietly but steadfastly to change the status quo. Of course, at the moment, I have some doubts as to whether Iris will be such a Kummy. She is after all prancing around the house belting out Disney’s latest earworm-inducing composition at the very top of her surprisingly large voice.

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).

The Tickle Tree_p1

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.

The Tickle Tree_p5

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.

The Tickle Tree_p7

The Tickle Tree_p9

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!

The Tickle Tree_p20

The Tickle Tree_p22

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.

Where the Wild Things Are

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


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”.


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!


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

Dogfish_The End

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!

Tractor Book_cover

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

Tractor Book_p2

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

Tractor Book_p3

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:

Tractor Book_p4     Tractor Book_p12

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.


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.

Haunted House - gorilla

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.

Haunted House - bathroom

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……