With an expansive career in education and a passion for collecting children’s picture books I naturally gravitate towards giving the gift of books at Christmas especially for children.
Here are some of my very favourite classic toddler books.
The magic and thrill of playing peepo for babies and adults is universal. In Peepo Allan and Janet Ahlberg invite children to share in the game and identify what they see through the peep hole.
‘Here’s a little baby
One, two, three
Stands in his cot
What does he see?’
The Very Hungry Caterpillar has a wealth of early learning concepts related to life cycles, counting and days of the week. It is wonderfully interactive with tactile experiences as children feel the way the caterpillar eats through the pages, adding to the fun of the reading.
Children love to join in making all the noises and actions that make We’re Going on a Bear Hunt so endearing. The fine watercolour illustrations are the perfect match to the text that beckons to be chanted.
Babies, toddlers and small children are captivated by lifting the flaps in books to discover answers. In Where’s Spot, an early learning picture book by Eric Hill, children will follow Spot’s mother on her search for her lovable puppy Spot.
Is he behind the door, under the bed, where can he be?
For the three to five age group Each Peach Pear Plum by Allan and Janet Ahlberg will give children and adults alike the fun of playing ‘I Spy’ with some of everyone’s favourite nursery rhyme characters.
In Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak an imaginative layered book will captivate children as they follow Max on his amazing journey of exploration and discovery.
Shirley Hughes’s most famous book Dogger is a very touching story that will evoke heart-warming responses. When Dave loses his favourite soft cuddly toy Dogger his sister Bella comes to his rescue in a very loving and generous way.
The illustrations are discerning and characteristic of Shirley Hughes’s charming style.
Possum Magic by Mem Fox and illustrated by Julie Vivas is uniquely Australian.
It traces the travels of Hush and Grandma Poss on their search for unlocking the magic recipe for making Poss visible again.
The Australian flavour of wombat books is enduringly compelling.
Wombat Stew by Marcia Vaughan is deliciously funny as the ‘clever dingo’ is tricked in his attempts to make a wombat stew.
The rich descriptive language and the repetition will have children returning to the book constantly and also trying to make their own stew.
‘Gooey, brewy, yummy, chewy, wombat stew!’
The playful simple details of life in the 2002 award-winning Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French and illustrated by Bruce Whatley is adorable.
Children will love the determined furry creature and the amusing illustrations.
Who could resist the appeals of Sebastian Lives in a Hat by Thelma Catterwell.
This is the tale of a baby orphaned wombat who is nurtured by tender and caring humans.
He is soothingly housed in a brown woollen hat and his charismatic nature is delightfully revealed to children.
For the five to seven year age I have so many favourites it’s difficult to select.
Where the Forest Meets the Sea by Jeannie Baker is lyrical in intent, an evocatively complex narrative and beautifully illustrated.
Her exquisite collage illustrations are detailed and delicately constructed. I was captivated by her original artworks for the book when I saw her exhibition many years ago.
Contemporary issues are explored with a sensitivity and gentleness that is distinctively Jeannie Baker’s extraordinary style.
The wonders of the beach, swimming, diving, fishing, sailing, building sandcastles and exploring rock pools are unravelled in Alison Lester’s creative and innovative Magic Beach.
However, there is much more to encounter when the diverse possibilities of the imagination unfolds.
In Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon Harold draws himself into his story with a purple crayon.
He is definitely a problem solver. Add a purple crayon to this gift for the child to draw their own special story.
John Brown Rose and the Midnight Cat by Jenny Wagner and illustrated by Ron Brooks is a deeply moving story with many profound levels to investigate.
The enigmatic symbolic story will incite discussion and lingering reflection.
Anthony Browne’s amazing collection of titles includes Willy the Wizard, Willy the Champ, Willy and Hugh, Willy’s Pictures and Piggybook.
Willy the Wimp, a kind and timid gorilla explores the notion of problem solving, empowering and the building of confidence. The enchanted illustrations ooze a quirky essence that is highly contagious.
Memories are precious to everyone especially the people who live in an old people‘s home next door to Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge.
Mem Fox wrote this touching narrative that is beautifully illustrated by Julie Vivas. The joys one little boy can bring to the group of old people are touched with innocence, unmistakable beauty and poignant simplicity.
Australia is undeniably intricately marbled by diverse wildlife and haunting landscapes.
Acclaimed Aboriginal artist Bronwyn Bancroft has magnificently crafted her Patterns of Australia to challenge and focus the eye on the natural wonders of Australia.
“Some people can walk through the bush or desert, or swim in the river or the ocean, and see nothing, while others see life all around them.”
This is just a sample selection of some of my favourite books for children and adults to savour not just on Christmas morning but all through 2016.
Rose Niland, Special Features NSW, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015