Ruby reads

My granddaughter, Ruby, is now nearly 14 months old, and I have re-entered the world of books for very young people. This is a catch-up on books I’ve read to her or listened to while someone else read to her – some fondly remembered, some new to me. Ruby’s parents and the people who give them books have very good taste. I mean no disrespect to the many brilliant board books featuring photos of African animals, sometimes with rudimentary rhymes, whose pages she loves to turn, but I’ve only included books that give me pleasure as well. In no particular order, then:

Eric Carle, The Very Hungry Caterpillar (1969)

This book is 50 years old this year, and its place in the canon is firmly established. I know the last page when the caterpillar is transformed into a butterfly is supposed to be the great visual thrill, but I love the transformation before that into a very big, round caterpillar.

Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks, On the Day You Were Born (Allen & Unwin 2018)

Margaret Wild is one of the greats of Australian children’s literature, and her collaborations with Ron Brooks are legendary. The title of this book might lead you expect a story of mother and baby cuddling in bed, but no, here the baby’s father takes ‘you’ on a walk out into the wonders of the world, and returns in the last words to the mother. None of the humans is seen – just the gorgeous world.

Hairy Maclary Scattercat (Puffin 1983), and other brilliant books by Lynley Dodd.

This book first appeared the year Ruby’s father was born. In case you don’t know, Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy is a scruffy and scrappy little New Zealand dog whose adventures are told in rollicking rhymes. Here he monsters a series of cats until finally the tables are turned by Scarface Claw, whose name says it all. Dachshund Schnitzel von Krumm isn’t in this book, but he’s in at least one of the others we get to read.

Nick Bland, The Very Sleepy Bear (Scholastic Australia 2017)

 This bear has a series of books, in which he is variously Very Cranky, Itchy, Brave, and so on. This one is a kind of trickster tale – a fox tricks the bear into leaving his cave with a promise of somewhere better to sleep. After inspecting a series of unsatisfactory possibilities, the bear insists on returning to his home, where he discovers the fox has installed a gang of his friends. Particularly relevant to adults who are trying to manage a baby’s sleep.

Eric Hill’s Spot series, in particular Who’s There, Spot? (Puffin 2013)

Along with the mouthless Miffy (whom I haven’t seen on Ruby’s bookshelves), Spot is a standout memory from my own early parenting days. The original was the lift-a-flap book Where’s Spot (1980). Who’s There, Spot, complete with flaps under which lurk a series of animals, is one of a vast number of sequels. Every baby I know has loved lifting the flaps on Eric Hill’s books, and as an adult, I’ve always enjoyed giving the hissing, trumpeting, barking, meowing hints beforehand.

Ted Prior, Grug at the Beach (Simon & Shuster 2009)

Grug is the animated grass-tree hero of his own series of 26 tiny books (I just found that out from Wikipedia, where I also learned that he may not be a grass tree after all, but I’m sticking to my story). The first book, Grug, appeared in 1979, and though the series finished in 1982, he lives on in treasured old copies and new editions. Grug at the Beach is charming propaganda for sunscreen, but don’t let that put you off.

Roger Hargreaves’ Mr Men series, in particular Mr Clumsy (Budget Books 1987)

I’m not all that keen on the Mr Men series, but there’s no doubting their appeal and longevity. Maybe the cheerful acceptance of idiosyncrasy and imperfection is the secret of their success. The gender specificity is a bit problematic, and was only made worse, in my opinion, by the Little Miss series. Girls can be clumsy too! Like the Grug books, these have the advantage of being small enough to fit very young hands.

Mem Fox and Judy Horacek, Where Is the Green Sheep? (Puffin 2006)

The text, which otherwise might be mistaken for a didactic exercise in naming colours, provides a perfect platform for Judy Horacek’s brilliantly silly illustrations. We haven’t got to Mem Fox and Julie Vivas’s great classic, Possum Magic, yet. In fact, no Julie Vivas at all – a gap that will definitely be closed before too long.

That’s enough for now. I’ll save Leo Lionni and others for another post.

I wasn’t going to mention any of these texts in relation to the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge, but then I remembered how children’s literature, especially picture books for the very young, tends to be seen as lesser creations than even the most lackadaisical work for older people, even while some picture books and books for very young people are works of genius. So here you are: On the Day You Were Born and Where Is the Green Sheep? are the fifth and sixth books I’ve read for the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

17 responses to “Ruby reads

  1. Ah nostalgia, I read many of these to the Offspring, and others to my Prep classes at school.
    Did you know that Alison Lester, another brilliant author for children, won the $60,000 Melbourne Prize for Literature?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Where the Wild Things Are!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • A bit soon for that, Edwina – though also too soon for The Day You Were Born. I’m looking forward to it, one of the books I know by heart, and the first children’s book I encountered as an adult – as you probably realise, before my own children were even a glimmer in my eye.


  3. I envy of the joys of the world.Don’t forget to have Mr Gumpy at will need him soon.I was saddened to see that John Burningham had left us..felt I’d lost a personal friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. kathyprokhovnik

    Yes, I’m loving reading and re-reading these and other books! Our little ones are enjoying some old ones (like Peepo – an absolute knockout favourite despite its strange post-WW2 Britain imagery) and some new ones (I love the fact that we can recite Where is the Green Sheep? in the car, and make up extra verses – last week it was ‘Here is the dog sheep and here is the hen sheep …’ – and I love the rhythms in Julia Donaldson’s The Whale and the Snail). But I’m definitely Ms Grumpy when it comes to gender – so many of the books are shamelessly all male, or the occasional token female. Still!!


  5. Just think how many of us you are going to have checking up to see you are reading all the right books to Ruby !

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Children’s Round-up: January 2019 | Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

  7. Sorry I’ve been a bit AWOL, but I noticed these posts and will be checking them out in the next little while. Our first grandson, Max, is nearly 10 months, but in Melbourne. With elderly parents here, we only get to see him for a few days every couple of months so book reading has been minimal to date, but I’m gearing up!

    I love finding poetry books to read to littlies. A favourite Aussie one I bought for mine and still have is called Four and twenty lamingtons.


    • Thanks for that, Sue. I’ve made a note of Four and twenty Lamingtons. My impression is that rhythm is very important in books for this age group, at least for my sample of one. Julia Donaldson’s stories surely don’t communicate much at this age, but the telling of them seems to be captivating.


      • Yes, rhythm is a big one, and something I didn’t quite realise until I had kids of my now. I did a Kid’s Lit course in my Library Course, but it wasn’t really until I had kids of my own that I felt really confident about identifying good books. And rhythm – which is really what makes reading aloud a joy – is up that at the top of the criteria.

        A book I read to my baby son before he was able to really follow stories was TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s book of practical cats just for him to hear fine language.


      • Ah, I just realised that the Book of Practical Cats echoes at the back of my mind whenever I read any of the Hairy Maclary books. And not quite on topic, I remember a fellow student in first year at uni telling me that her father used to read to her from Joyce’s Ulysses; she mentioned Bloom’s breakfast but I don’t know if it was the only passage.


      • I love Hairy Maclary – such fun to read.

        Joyce’s Ulysses!! Wow, that’s impressive.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, she knew the bit about the internal organs of animals by heart.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Ruby Reads (11): Caterpillars, butterflies and lavatory humour | Me fail? I fly!

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