Starting a Home Library for Small Children
A child’s favourite stories, fact books and nursery rhyme books are the basis of what can become a home library. Margaret Mallett explains why this is important and selects some ‘must haves’ for a small child’s first collection.
reating a collection of favourite books nurtures a sense of ownership, the feeling that here are some special books to be valued and enjoyed. It helps enormously to gather these together somewhere
where they can be easily accessible. A shelf in the child’s bedroom or play area – a shelf low enough to be accessible to a little person – would be a good location. Or you may prefer to find a large box and perhaps cover it in wrapping paper and write the child’s name on the side.
The second Children’s Laureate, Anne Fine, made the ‘home library for every child’ the cornerstone of her laureateship*. She asked illustrators of children’s books to design and donate bookplates to personalise a collection, downloadable free from www.myhomelibrary.org
. As Anne says, ‘mothers can stick them in their babies’ first picture books’.
Selecting the books
Knowing our child’s preoccupations, whether these are about lorries, animals or aeroplanes, helps us choose. Or we might want to respond to an experience, so David McKee’s Elmer and the Lost Teddy may comfort if a favourite toy goes missing. Timeless classics for this age group, books which appeal to generation after generation, are likely to be well represented but there are also some exciting new writers and illustrators for this age group. Look out for books by Lauren Child, Mini Grey, Polly Dunbar and Oliver Jeffers. A first collection is likely to include: playful and novelty books; nursery rhyme collections; alphabet and concept books; picture books.
Playful and novelty books
Many early books are transitional – part way between a toy and a book – and made of plastic, cloth or cardboard, all of which will stand up to vigorous treatment. Textured, lift-the- flap books and those using die-cuts and other creative techniques catch a child’s attention and encourage interaction with both book and reader. The books in Fiona Watts’ ‘That’s not my...’ series, for example That’s Not My Puppy, provide many different materials and textures for tactile satisfaction. Flaps to lift and pull chime with children’s love of hide and seek – see for example Eric Hill’s much loved classic Where’s Spot?
Nursery rhyme collections
The characters and events in these rhymes teach about the world and human behaviour. They introduce children to
Animal Gallery, Brian Wildsmith, Oxford, 48pp, 978 0 19 272794 7, £6.99 pbk
Black and White, Tana Hoban, Greenwillow Books, 16pp, 978 0 06117 211 3, £3.99 board
Dear Zoo, Rod Campbell, Macmillan, 18pp, 978 0 230 74772 2, £5.99 board
Elmer and the Lost Teddy, David McKee, Andersen, 32pp, 978 1 84270 749 4, £5.99 pbk
Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown, ill. Clement Hurd, Macmillan, 20pp. 978 0 230 74860 6, £4.99 board
How to Catch a Star, Oliver Jeffers, HarperCollins, 32pp, 978 0 00 715034 2, £5.99 pbk
Lenny Has Lunch, Ken Wilson- Max, Frances Lincoln, 32pp, 978 1 84507 979 6, £9.99 hbk
Me…, Emma Dodd, Templar, 24pp, 978 1 84011 963 3, £7.99 hbk
The Most Amazing Hide-and- Seek Alphabet Book, Robert Crowther, Walker, 12pp, 978 0 7445 7027 4, £7.99 pbk
The Orchard Book of Nursery Rhymes for Your Baby, Mary Ann Hoberman, ill. Penny Dann, Orchard, 96pp, 978 1 4083 0458 7, £12.99 hbk
Owl Babies, Martin Waddell, ill. Patrick Benson, Walker, 32pp, 978 0 7445 3167 1, £5.99 pbk
The Puffin Mother Goose Treasury, Raymond Briggs, Puffin, 160pp, 978 0 14 132966 6, £14.99 hbk
Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever, Richard Scarry, Golden Books, 72pp, 978 0 307 15510 8, £13.99 hbk
Ring-a-ring O’Roses and Other Nursery Rhymes, Brita Granström, Walker, 24pp, 978 1 4063 1683 4, £4.99 pbk
That’s Not My Puppy, Fiona Watts and Rachel Wells, Usborne ‘Touchy Feely Books’, 10pp, 978 0 7460 3778 2, £5.00 board
Where’s Spot?, Eric Hill, Warne, 24pp, 978 0 7232 6366 1, £4.99 board
Yuck! What’s for Supper?, Mick Manning and Brita Granström, Frances Lincoln, 24pp, 978 1 84507 423 4, £5.99 pbk
poetry and to the pleasures of language. Rhymes help the memory and lay some foundations for learning to read but the emphasis at this age should be on fun and pleasure. There are a number of fine collections, including Raymond Briggs’ distinctive The Puffin Mother Goose Treasury, Mary Ann Hoberman’s contemporary The Orchard Book of Nursery Rhymes for Your Baby and Brita Granström’s lively Ring-a-ring O’Roses and Other Nursery Rhymes.
Alphabet and concept books
Not all early books are stories – concept books can be inspirational too. There are alphabet books like Robert Crowther’s The Most Amazing Hide-and-Seek Alphabet Book which are little works of art. Number books and books featuring opposites, comparisons, shapes and colours fill bookshops. Choose those that do not just require object recognition but which intrigue and encourage comments and questions. Tana Hoban’s little board book Black and White uses figure and ground to great effect. Manning and Granström’s Yuck!, a delightful variation on an Aesop theme, nudges at the boundary between fact and fiction and teaches that different creatures eat different things. Then there are books that take us through a child’s day, the sort of book brought to a high level of information and entertainment by author illustrators like Sarah Garland and Shirley Hughes. A recent book, Ken Wilson-Max’s Lenny Has Lunch, has illustrations with a clear line and shows a dad and his little boy enjoying cooking together.
Children learn to ‘read’ images very early on and this is a tremendous advantage when they move on to written text. Creators of contemporary picture books often leave a teasing gap between the pictures and the words. This puts a young listener’s imagination into top gear. Look for classics like Dear Zoo and Owl Babies or some of the constant stream of exciting new picture books. Oliver Jeffers’ How to Catch a Star appeals to children’s yearning for adventure while Emma Dodd’s book Me… taps into the need for security and safety.
Sharing and using books with the very young
Novelty books with their tags and flaps lead naturally to playful activity and nursery rhymes to singing and actions. Props sometimes add enjoyment – a soft toy owl can be held by a child listening to Owl Babies and I have used simple props for nursery rhymes – a little purse for Lucy Locket, a toy spider to act out Miss Muffet and a pail for Jack and Jill. As Anthony Browne, sixth Children’s Laureate, said in his inaugural speech: ‘Sharing picture books leads to amazing conversations.’ Tiny children point to details we may have missed and make impressive visual connections. So simply reading the books and talking about them is the best way to nourish enjoyment and response. n
* ‘Everyone’s Home Library’ by Anne Fine in Books for Keeps No.133, March 2002.
B f K B A S I C S
Helping your child 10 Books for Keeps No.185 November 2010
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