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Saturday, 23 February 2013

The Ten Best Picture Books for Kids, for Adults.

I have been reading bedtime stories now for thirteen years, every night, sometimes three or four times a night.  Yes, I have read a lot of picture books and I consider myself something of an authority in the genre. There was a time, many years ago, when I aspired to be an authority on Shakespeare or Dickens, but now I think I have to accept the fact that my expertise is in Dr Seuss and Julia Donaldson.

Anyway, I don't mind telling you, most picture books are awful.  Lots of them are just plain boring, some of them infuriate me by having rhymes that don't actually rhyme properly.

Not the books on this list though.  These books are all great fun.  I have selected ten books, in no particular order, from the authors that I like reading out loud.  They are the ten children's books that I think parents would most enjoy.

A Squash and a Squeeze - by Julia Donaldson

Most of Julia Donaldson's books are fun to read, and by far her biggest success was "The Gruffalo", but my favourite of hers is "A Squash and a Squeeze".  The story moves along at a great pace, and the rhythm and the rhymes are surprising and fun.

Pants - by Giles Andreae
Giles Andreae is another writer who is prolific and consistently funny.  I love "Commotion in the Ocean" and "Rumble in the Jungle" but I have selected "Pants" for the sheer audacity of writing a book about Pants.  The sequel "More Pants" is also great. 

Vegetable Glue - by Susan Chandler
Unbelievably, "Vegetable Glue" (or "What I Do with Vegetable Glue" as it was called in some countries) has gone out of print.  I find that hard to take when I see that a tedious books like, say, "The Hungry Caterpillar" is now in its five thousandth edition.  Vegetable Glue is funny, surprising, and educational, but in a good way. 

Fabulous Features of Mythical Creatures - Paul Perro
A funny collection of short verses, each one about a different mythical creatures - mermaids, centaurs, trolls, etc.  It is a picture book specially for the Kindle.  Most picture books do not really work very well on the Kindle but this one, with it's cute little drawings and witty rhymes, really does. It's the cheapest book on this list at just 99p.

Polly's Picnic - Richard Hamilton
A charming little story.  Not, perhaps, as laugh out loud funny as some of the others in my top ten, but it is very sweet and the pictures are lovely.  The first time I read it, it made me want to go on a picnic, even though it was February at the time.

"Have a bite" said Polly. "One bite, no more."
But he ate it all - even the core!

The Great Dog Bottom Swap - Peter Bently
The first time I read this I was not sure where it was going, but the ending was extremely satisfying and I went back and read it again before being asked.  The story and the rhymes are both first rate. Peter Bentley won the Roald Dahl Funny Prize in 2011, which is not to be sniffed at! (sniffed at! geddit? never mind)

Crazy Hair - Neil Gaiman

 In my hair gorillas leap,
Tigers stalk, and ground sloths sleep.
Prides of lions make their lair,
Somewhere in my crazy hair.

It must be great to be Neil Gaiman.  He writes novels, comic books, and TV scripts, for both adults and kids, and he gets the sort of respect usually reserved for movie stars.  He is best known for Coraline, Stardust, and the best episodes of Doctor Who in recent years, but he also occasionally knocks out brilliant picture books like the Wolves in the Wall, The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish, and the darkly surreal "Crazy Hair."  I seriously suspect that Mr Gaiman has made some sort of deal with the devil to become as talented as he is - you think I am joking but after reading his "Sandman" books, it seems quite plausible.

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus - by Mo Willems
The only book on the list that is not a poem - this story made me laugh, and it was also so popular with the kids I had to read it every night for months.  I don't hold that against it though.

How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? - Jane Yolen
Here is another one I have had to read many, many times.  The rhymes are sound, and the rhythm is spot on.  It's such a good idea for a bedtime story, and the pictures that accompany it work really well.

How does a dinosaur say good night
When Mama comes in to turn off the light?
Does he swing his neck from side to side? 
Does he up and demand a piggy back ride?

There's an Ouch in my Pouch - Jeanne Willis
Another one that is criminally difficult to find - this is the story of a baby kangeroo who decides to leave home, but cannot find anywhere quite right. It is a good old-fashioned cautionary tale, but told with a lot of style and a great sense of humour.  I love this.

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