Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Favourite Books from the Cradle to the Grave: Picture Books

The start of a new series: Favourite Books From the Cradle to the Grave explores books that we loved at different stages of life. We make no pretence – this is not about dispassionate judgement, about analysis, about how works fit with genre, whether their messages are honorable, whether they are edifying to read. This is simply about love.

So, kicking off the series is Picture Books. The first books we encountered as toddlers and, of those, the ones that stayed in our minds and (for one of us) a precious hidden bottom drawer – and still think of fondly today.

What was striking about putting these books together was how many of them were about animals, or involved animal protagonists. What is it about children and animals? Is it the fact that animals can’t talk? Or that they, similar to small children, are powerless and dependent in the world of adults? Or do children dream of a greater freedom of movement, whilst getting rid of the parents (as is so often the case with books for slightly older children.)

Other books we loved book involve complex illustrations that allow us, as children – even before we can read – to take a bit more control over the story and interact with the reader by filling in the gaps of the story, adding some jokes, or just pointing out details.

Rhyming featured heavily in our list, yet – again – does not feature in adult narratives. Perhaps because these books are more about sharing and reciting and joining in rather than reading in solitude. (Interesting how recited narratives from the past – ancient epics – were often in poetic form.)

Lastly, humour, is one of the key ingredients that allow these books to be loved by the child and the parent.

Anyway, here is our – very personal – selection of books we have known and loved. We would be delighted if you like to join in and tell us yours.

ANIMALS

Winnie the Pooh

Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A.A.Milne.

Rosy: Well, as I’m the one putting together this article, I’m going to take the liberty of getting my favourite in there first. Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne is definitely my top children’s book ever. When I was three or four I could recite it off by heart. Witty writing, characters that any small child can relate to and beautiful pictures and songs like “Tiddly Pom” that I could chant to take my mind off any tedious walk. It is such a classic now that we forget to consider the way this book so successfully creates a completely safe yet exciting ordinary yet fantastical adult-free world. The themes of animals, toys and the importance of food (honey) are themes that all small children relate to everywhere – I certainly did.

Rosie's Walk

Rosie’s Walk. by Pat Hutchins

Ariadne: This is a hilarious story about a hen that goes out for a walk, followed all the way by a fox that never manages to catch her, because he’s always getting into Tom & Jerry style accidents (stepping on rakes, etc). Rosie the hen is blissfully ignorant (or is she??) all the way through, and the text never once mentions the fox – you have to ‘read’ the pictures to get the whole story. It’s a classic.

Richard Scarry

Richard Scarry Books

Leena: My favourite picture books bar none were Richard Scarry’s wordbooks and Busy World books. I loved asking my parents or grandparents what this or that word was. But most of all I loved Scarry’s pictures. I would have studied them all day; I still could. I’ve always loved busy, panoramic pictures – and now, I love busy, panoramic novels. Some things never change.

Mary: “Lowly Worm” was my favourite. I always wondered how his clothes stayed on.

Dogger

Dogger by Shirley Hughes.

More than any other book, I think this books gets to the heart of a child’s point of view. For me, as a youngster, I would be in torment identifying with the emotional trauma of losing your favourite toy. Hughes is also a wonderful illustrator, with picture full of extra detail and observations that allow you, as a child, to feel more in control of the story and with character details and domestic details that you could both relate to and would reveal more on each reading.

Miffy

Miffy
Lisa
: Miffy kicks ass!

 

Gilbert the Great

Gilbert the Great by Jane Clarke

Ariadne: Gilbert the Great White Shark has always been the best of friends with his remora (a sucker fish that clings onto sharks) but one day he’s not there any more. Gilbert’s grief is so sensitively and powerfully conveyed, but there is loads of humour in here too – Jane Clarke is a very witty writer. When you know the author has had more than her fair share of loss herself, it makes the whole thing even more heart-breaking. It is a fantastic book on any level; it would be a great choice to give to a child who has lost a relative, but even a child who had simply had a loved friend move away would feel the emotions involved.

Mary: One book from when I was about 6 marked me for life. Our neighbour went to Australia and brought me back a book about a red kangaroo. I read the book and was enjoying it but in the end the kangaroo died!? This shocked me immensely because it was the first book I ever read that had a sad ending. I’m still not over it, I think.

Four Little Kittens

The Four Little Kittens

Leena: When I was a little younger my favourites were a tiny book called Four Little Kittens, with Victorian pictures, and two Little Golden Books, Martha’s House by Edith Kunhardt (one with busy pictures again) and Katie the Kitten by Kathryn and Byron Jackson. As a little girl I kept them with me all the time, but whenever I see them now I get hopelessly teary-eyed. Because of this I must keep them out of the way, in a bottom drawer.

Another book I liked a lot was about a mouse who lived in a teapot and was harassed (predictably) by a wicked, wily cat. If I remember correctly, it ended happily with the cat and mouse reconciled – or at least I like to think so.

[Note: If any of our readers can name this book for us, Leena would be most grateful!]

RHYMING BOOKS

Mary: I really liked funny rhyming books like The Cat in the Hat. Are rhyming books gone out of fashion?

A Child's Garden of Verses

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson

Jackie: We had A Child’s Garden of Verses I was really into nursery rhymes before I could read, all the black sheep and cows jumping the moon etc. Even then I sensed the history behind them, which I learned about later, i.e… London Bridge is falling down is about the plague…

Leila: I loved A Child’s Garden of Verses too. And no, rhyming books aren’t gone out of fashion at all. The Gruffalo, probably the most famous modern children’s picture book in the UK, is rhyming, along with lots of others by the same author. Rhyming picture books should become more prevalent now that phonics are so much in fashion.

The Gruffalo

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson, illustrations by Alex Sheffler

The story of a mouse who invents the terrible beast The Grufalo, telling more and more stories – only to come face-to-face with the real one.

MAGICAL

The Snowy Day

The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats

Trilby: reading this as a sprog in the 80s, I think I was already aware of its retro quality (first published in 1962, the tale features a little black kid wandering an urban American landscape that has been transformed by snow). Enchanting…

The Tin Forest by Wayne Anderson.

Ariadne: His dream-like, moon-lit illustrations are perfect for this modern fairy-tale, full of a sense of wistful sorrow. It’s just beautiful.

 

HUMOUR

Funny Bones and Burglar Bill by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Ariadne: The colours in this are just splendid – a family of jolly skeletons are white against a black background throughout. It’s funny and just scary enough to have a child hiding their head under the covers but not nightmare-inducing scary. Putting the skeleton dog back together after he takes a tumble – brilliant!

Rosy: Another Ahlberg I loved was Burglar Bill, which always had me in stitches. I think the fact it was also a little bit bad was very appealing to a small child!

The Duchess Bakes a Cake by Virginia Kahl

Rosy: The story of a Duchess who tries to bake a cake and puts rather too much raising agent into the mix…A rhyming story in a medieval context. Funny, great characters and acknowledges the profound truth of cake at the centre of all our lives. (Or is that just me again?)

And for older children: The Church Mice Books by Graham Oakley

Rosy: Little children love the pictures, older children love the characters. Cat, Sampson and mice, Arthur and Humphrey are a comic triumvirate up there with the best of British sitcoms. Full of humour and detail – the incredible illustrations are full of visual jokes to add to the pleasure. I loved them as a child, but they are like the best kids films in that they also contain a lot for the adults, making them a real shared experience. When I found myself in hospital a few years ago, these were the only books I had the energy or concentration to read. Love em!

Eloise, by Kay Thompson

Trilby: When I was little, my mum said that I sometimes reminded her of Eloise. I’m also a fan of Eloise’s descendants: most notably, Olivia, and Lauren Child’s Lola.

AND FINALLY…

A Hole Is To Dig, by Ruth Krauss

Trilby: A classic. Say no more.

31 comments on “Favourite Books from the Cradle to the Grave: Picture Books

  1. Sally
    December 17, 2007

    Oh, this brought back so many memories! Some great choices there. I used to love the church mice books.

    ‘Five Minutes Peace’ by Jill Murphy
    ‘The Jolly Postman’ by Alan and Janet Albergh
    ‘The Tiger Who Came To Tea’ by Judith Kerr
    and
    ‘Alfie Gets In First’ another wonderful Shirley Hughes …

  2. Sarah
    December 17, 2007

    Mine faves were Winnie-the-Pooh and, for very young children Peepo! and also The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

  3. Sarah
    December 17, 2007

    My favourites were Winnie-the-Pooh. Also, I loved (and still love) Peepo! by Janet and Allan Ahlberg and The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric ??

  4. NaomiM
    December 17, 2007

    Don’t forget Hairy Maclary From Donaldson’s Dairy, etc, by Linley Dodd – in the world of rhyming books her series of picture books are soooo much better than The Gruffalo.

  5. RosyB
    December 17, 2007

    I realised whilst putting this together that all my choices involved animals and food…so no change there then…

    Oh I loved The Tiger Who Came to Tea! I nearly included that – only I felt I’d already got more than my fair share of choices in there. It’s a puzzle trying to work out why that book is so fantastic – it is a very bizarre story. (And the father watching the boxing whilst the mother does all the housework is very of its era, isn’t it?) But it’s still in print and popular so it must have that magic child ingredient. Animals and food again I suppose!

    The Very Hungry Caterpillar – with the big cardboardy pages, yes. Peepo was a little after my time I think. Winnie the Pooh…ah what can I say?

  6. Sally
    December 17, 2007

    I think it’s wish fulfilment – I would have loved it as a child if a tiger had knocked on my door. Also, the sheer joy of someone being so naughty to drink all the water in the tap and eat all the food in the house. But it’s not over-done and it’s doesn’t talk down to the child and it’s also wonderfully safe – it all ends happily with everything back to normal.

    Actually, I can remember the idea of going out for tea in a cafe in the middle of the night being one of the most exciting bits of the book – but i think i was rather an odd child.

  7. Eve
    December 17, 2007

    Oh I love this article and I have two favourite picture books to add – and I’m linking since the Amazon synopsii say it all really…

    1. The Story of the Little Mole who knew it was None of His Business, which is completely hilarious. The Little Mole has found something land on his head and he sets off to discover who put it there. – Not for anyone with a weak stomach!
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Story-Little-Mole-Knew-Business/dp/1856021017/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1197902149&sr=8-3

    2. Mr Wolf’s Pancakes – which is hilarious too (can you see a pattern here?). Mr Wolf wants to make pancakes but no-one will help. The ending is superb.
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Wolfs-Pancakes-Jan-Fearnley/dp/140521581X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1197902350&sr=1-1

    Actually, make that three…

    3. The Frog Ballet – which seems to be lacking anything interesting on Amazon but which I can’t finish because I sob too loudly and one of the children has to take over. It’s about a dying frog and the ballet the other frogs put on in his honour. *sniff*

  8. rosyb
    December 17, 2007

    I think you’re right. And that cafe bit was exciting (and scary) for me too. As was the tiger I suppose!

    Great suggestions there Eve and a bit more modern than some of ours too which is nice. Food and animals…still the favoured theme.

  9. lisa
    December 17, 2007

    This was great fun! I had about half of those books, I think, and the article brought back brilliant memories.

    The only book I adored which wasn’t up there, was the fantastic Victoria Plum by Angela Rippon. In fact for years my mum had me convinced that Victoria Plum lived in Plymbridge Woods, and even now every time I walk the dog past a certain magical-looking stream, I wonder…

    (Wikipedia says this about Vicky Plum: “Victoria is a tree fairy, although she does not have wings. She has brown, curly hair and wears a hat made of an upturned white flower. She lives in the Great Wood with other fairy characters and talking woodland creatures. The stories promoted kindness towards and understanding of animals, the natural world and country life.”

    I think it was the talking woodland creatures that swung it for me.

  10. Nik
    December 17, 2007

    Excellent stuff. What fantastic memories and what a great article.

    I’d like to add one of my faves – a recent discovery: Up in Heaven, by Emma Chichester-Clark. Lovely and intelligent.

    And of course, The Very Hungry Catepillar can’t be ignored.

    Keep up the great work, folks!

    Nik.

  11. rosyb
    December 17, 2007

    And as he’s obviously too embarrassed to do it himself I just want to mention Nik’s book “I Met a Roman Last Night” about a boy who goes back in time to visit certain times in history in the past.

  12. Nik
    December 17, 2007

    Thanks Rosy. And of course ‘I Met a Roman Last Night, What Did You Do?’ is available from all good book retailers, including http://www.nperring.com

    Another recent discovery and recommendation would be Neil Gamian’s, The Wolves in the Walls, which is edgy and many jam jars of fun.

    Nik.

  13. Nik
    December 17, 2007

    Neil Gaiman even!

  14. rosyb
    December 17, 2007

    LOL!

  15. Leena
    December 17, 2007

    Oh, I love the sound of all these… Are childless people allowed to buy picture books? 😉 I always look at them longingly in bookshops. Sigh. Grown-up books are never as beautiful and fascinating.

    I’ve got some other titles I’d love to add, but unfortunately they’re Scandinavian and don’t appear to have been translated to English. Hmm.

    It’s interesting, though, that many of these are sad or bittersweet. You’d expect children to hate sad, unsettling things, but it seems to me they often make the greatest impression.

  16. Nik
    December 17, 2007

    I think a lot of it has to do with children loving to learn about emotions. Through books they can get very close to emotions, feelings, situations, characters et al without actually having t o deal with them in real life. And I think they like to feel that they can understand and start making sense of things.

    And of course childless people (such as I) are allowed PBs! 🙂

    I know it’s for older children but I’ve just re-read Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech. Truly fab!
    Nik

  17. Trilby
    December 17, 2007

    Ooh, Rosy, you edited out a couple of my favourites! 🙂 Just for the record, they are:

    Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown
    The Ballon Tree, by Phoebe Gilman
    The Great Menagerie (pop-up adaptation of the Victorian classic)

  18. marygm
    December 18, 2007

    Lovely article. Well done, Rosy!

  19. Sally
    December 18, 2007

    Of course childless people are allowed to buy children’s books! Half of the books I buy are aimed at people less than half my age …

    Another sad one I had after my dad died was ‘Badger’s Parting Gifts’. My mum was really pleased to find it because so many of the books out there were about pets or grandparents dying ‘because they were old and their body didn’t work anymore’. She didn’t want us to go around worrying that our grandparents were about to keel over, especially after we’d just lost our dad.

    We didn’t know any badgers, so she figured that was probably ok.

  20. Kirsty
    December 19, 2007

    What a beautiful article! I haven’t thought about picture books for a long time… I think I’ve been seriously missing out.

    I don’t think Le Petit Nicolas counts as a picture book series, but they are wonderful books with wonderful pictures and I still read them.

  21. Jackie
    December 19, 2007

    Nicely done, Rosy, you did a great job gathering up all the titles and quotes and putting them together in a pleasant slide show. Some of the titles are new to me(definitely must check out Miffy)so it was a learning experince as well. Like Leena, I often browse through picture books at the book store, some of the illustrations are magical.
    Thanks for providing a nice trip down memory lane for so many of us.

  22. rosyb
    December 20, 2007

    Ah thanks you two. Jackie – that’s lovely of you. I would say “hey – it was all you lot” (and it was of course) except uploading those pics took 3 and a half hours!!!!Argh. And then I had to cry for help to Leens. So glad it’s gone down well and all the head banging against wall was worth it in the end. I must get better at this technical stuff. 🙂

  23. barefootbooks
    December 21, 2007

    I loved Richard Scarry as a child and now so does my son. I discovered “A Snowy Day” with him. Another one that I just read and am really excited about is “Iggy Peck, Architect”

  24. Catherine Czerkawska
    December 22, 2007

    Lovely piece Rosy! I adore Dogger which was one of my son’s all time favourites, as were the Richard Scarry books, which he used to call his ‘disaster’ books since awful things always happened and he loved them.
    Burglar Bill (Janet and Allan Ahlberg) was another favourite and we STILL say ‘That’s a nice…….I’ll have that!’ in our family. But Peepo was just as wonderful, in a beautifully nostalgic way, and so was Cops and Robbers which you have to read in a Welsh accent. (Same authors)
    I do love picture books. Mairi Hedderwick’s Katie Morag series, for anyone with little kids who doesn’t yet know about them, are just sublime.
    And finally, the one that always made me cry (and still does, when I come across it ) – Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Barbara Firth. Even the thought of it still brings a lump to my throat!

  25. RosyB
    December 22, 2007

    Thanks for contributing Barefootbooks! Iggy Peck, Architect – sounds interesting. Please drop in again.

    Catherine – Katie Morag, of course! Thanks for such a great detailed contribution, powerful emotional things picture books aren’t they? And more suggestions there. Scarry certainly has been one of the most popular in terms of putting together this article. Voted for by loads of people.

    Have a great Christmas, everyone!

  26. Naomi Rich
    January 13, 2008

    Oh yes, Winnie the Pooh! i haven’t looked at those for years but I can still see the drawings in my mind.

    When I was a child (I’m talking about 45 years ago) I had a beautiful book produced in Czechoslovakia. It was about hedghogs. In my memory it has a melancholy quality and I remember some wonderful golden/orange/brown illustrations and – I don’t know how to explain this really – the sort of ‘taste’ of it, that I have no words for. I don’t think too hard about it because the feeling becomes elusive – as when you try to remember the atmostphere of a dream whose content has quite gone. In fact I’m not now sure that it was about hedgehogs though I think that’s right.

    I’d love to find it again but I’ve no idea what it was called or who it was by. If anyone recognises the book please let me know.

    Naomi

  27. Jackie
    January 13, 2008

    Oh I hope you find out the title, as I love hedgehogs & would like to see this book. Even if I couldn’t read it, your descriptions of the illustrations sound lovely.

  28. Leena
    January 14, 2008

    Hmm – Naomi, the only Czech children’s books I can think of are by Zdenek Miler (there’s supposed to be an accent mark on the first name) but they’re about a mole… could it be this one?

  29. Pingback: The Victoria Plum books by Angela Rippon « Vulpes Libris

  30. picture
    August 31, 2008

    good Thank you

  31. hrileena
    August 19, 2009

    Winnie-the-Pooh! I inherited those books, and tattered and battered and scrawled on though they be, they are precious to me. They have moved with me, now, through two countries, six cities, and too many houses to count…and I have no intention of letting them go.

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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