A really fun book for Christmas all about naughty and nice.
Sam and Charlie are twins and one is naughty and the other is nice, which is cause for some considerable consternation in the family. Everyone is worried about what will happen to naughty twin Charlie on Christmas Eve because: “There was no way Santa wouldn't know what Charlie had been up to this year.”
And everyone loved Charlie, so the family goes to bed on Christmas Eve feeling quite worried. Sure enough Santa comes and leaves one twin a bulging stocking and one twin an empty stocking. (Gorgeous illustration here when Santa leaves the room with a tear in his eye because: “He never liked doing it. But, sometimes, Santa has to get tough.”)
But there’s a mix up – Santa got the twins confused. So now ‘nice’ Sam has an empty stocking and ‘naughty’ Charlie has a full stocking.
But Charlie isn’t really all that bad and when she wakes up and sees her sister’s stocking empty she quickly shares out the presents in her stocking – proving that while she may be naughty she is still ‘good’. Which means that Santa has to turn around, because it turns out Charlie really belongs on the nice list.
It’s funny stuff – showing a loving (but worried) family, a funny little girl who is just trying to enjoy life and gets labeled naughty and a slightly frazzled but very dedicated Santa.
I like Santa books to have a sense of humour. As parents, we tread on dangerous ground with Santa – we want the fun and fantasy of it all but it’s tricky to get the balance right – we certainly don’t want to be lying to our children. This book treads the line really well. It treats Santa as absolutely real, but there’s a wink to the story telling too:
Then Mum and Dad went upstairs to bed pretty early too, because they’d heard a story about a mum and dad who had stayed up late and actually bumped into Santa Claus on the stairs – and Santa Claus had scampered and they’d had to quickly fill stockings for their kids themselves to make up for Santa’s hasty exit.
Moments like this will make this an appealing story to older children – even pre-teens will get a giggle out of this. It’s quite a wordy story, but it’s conversationally and conspiratorially written making it easy and fun to read aloud.
The illustrations do a great job of creating a feeling of a normal family living a happy life – they’re sharp and quick and lively – not at all sentimental and blurry.
A lovely book if yours is a normal family with at least one ‘naughty’ child. It’s full of love and redemption and unveiling of goodness. It’s the unveiling of goodness that was always there that makes this so appealing – Charlie was always good – it was just that quite often that was hard to see. And in the end Charlie starts to see herself as ‘a good girl’ too.
Classifying children as naughty or nice, good or bad, or any other dichotomy is problematic but The Empty Stocking has a wry grin about it when Charlie is called naughty and Sam is called nice. I really appreciate that in showing the ‘good girl’ in Charlie, Sam is still a ‘good girl’ too.
That’s a pretty nice Christmas message – that mostly people are good, even if they sometimes seem to be acting naughty.
Using an imagined conversation between God and Harriet Tubman, this book tells the true story of how Harriet found her way to freedom from slavery - and how she helped so many others to do the same. It’s just lovely to settle into and let the words and pictures swirl about as they do a very important work.
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in 1820. She's famous for both escaping herself and helping somewhere around 300 others to flee slavery too. (She died in 1913 – amazing to think how recently this all happened.)
Harriet’s own beliefs that she was led by God are reflected beautifully here. God’s words are separated from her thoughts and actions only by typeface, which is rather lovely. It makes the story flow easily, but it also points to how much Harriet and God were acting as one.
Slavery is, of course, a very tricky subject for a picture book to negotiate. But it’s enormously helpful to tell the story in as many ways as possible as a hedge against racism. And so this is not just a beautiful book – it’s an important one.
Here, there's just enough of the horrors of slavery to alert young readers to the problem without, hopefully, keeping them up at night. For example:
…Master owns me, drives me like a mule. Now he means to sell me south in chains to work cotton rice, indigo, or sugarcane, never to see my family again.
There are also just enough references to the personal cost that Harriet had to be willing to pay to escape. She left her husband; she didn’t know if she would see her family again; she lived in extreme deprivation and uncertainty. All of these are mentioned and not glossed over, but they take a backseat to the central theme of Harriet’s bravery and her continued belief and trust in God guiding her.
In her escape, Harriet relied on the goodness of strangers – a wonderful reminder that there’s a deep connection between people and that sometimes that connection requires that we take risks.
There's also no pretending that the happy ending meant an end to trouble – Harriet works as a housemaid, risks her life often to rescue others, and continues to endure the groans and tears of her people. But there is triumph too, in Harriet rescuing so many and in her hearing God’s approval.
The illustrations are moody and quite often dark, since much of the story takes place in the night. Perfect in fact for the story - which is full of emotion and quite often dark in tone too. They're the kind of illustration that leads to deeper thought.
I really love this version of Harriet’s story; it treats a serious subject seriously, but with hope and compassion. And although it is lovely for religious families, I don’t think the value of the book would be at all diminished for a secular family. Harriet drew great strength from her faith and that strength allowed her to do extraordinary things. For secular families, this is still a useful talking point allowing conversations to open up about how people find strength and the importance of overcoming.
This is one of my all-time favourites for children and adults alike. Here’s why:
- It’s perfect for older children to listen to and to ponder on.
- It is strong in its condemnation of slavery but doesn’t condemn people.
- It’s just lovely to look at and listen to – the words flow beautifully and the pictures are enticing.
- It hints at the impossible choices so many people have had to make in the cause of something great, like freedom.
- It shows Harriet’s faith in God and in her cause, overcoming her fears.
- It shows an amazingly strong woman doing a good, good work.
- It reminds us that we need to help others whenever we can.
- It reminds us that we might be in need of help and there will be people to offer it.
- It shows both how far we have come and how far we have to go in finally achieving a world of freedom.
- It’s a great starting point to conversations about freedom, slavery, strength, compassion, racism, sexism, faith, fear, risk and so much more.
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom was written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson. You can buy it HERE.
Shall we get started on Christmas? Too early? It's only 34 (!) days away you know.
Every Man Heart Lay Down is a truly gorgeous nativity book. We love it because it tells the nativity in a way that makes new listeners stop and think and ponder to understand.
The story is in idioms from Liberia and it’s beautiful to read. It’s so well told that the rhythm of the words is easy to catch - and then it just flows. Words like: Long time past. Before them big tree live. Before them big tree’s papa live. That time God live.
It's a familiar story, but with a couple of twists. God is worried for the world - and his Son (pican) volunteers: I talk to people. I walk with people. Bye-m-bye they savvy the way.
So the Baby is born to Mary. And Joseph and the Wise Men and the men by the waterside (in place of the Shepherds) come to worship: And they look on the God pican. And every man heart lay down.
I love that the illustrations are not the soft around the edges, misty-eyed illustrations that usually accompany nativity stories (though those are often gorgeous too). Here, they are full of strong colours and lines. They're stunning, and they cause us to stop and pay attention to a wonderful and very familiar story.
Every Man Heart Lay Down was first published in 1946! It‘s that timeless. The introduction tells the story of its’ writing – and ends with this plea:
"Read again an old story. Behold a new vision with sharper images. Sway with the rhythm of the storyteller. Feel the beat of the drums . ."
There are lots of things that are brilliant about this little book, including that:
- It's a really nice way to keep the nativity story fresh.
- It's quite haunting; the illustrations have life and depth.
- It's easy to read aloud - and begs for lilting, deep voices!
- It takes the nativity story out of the realm of the white, western world.
- It's a soft-edged reminder that all of humanity has worries and cares and hopes and dreams.
- It only takes a couple of minutes to read, but will linger in your thoughts.
But most of all, it’s a lovely reminder that Christmas is a time when ‘Every Man Heart Lay Down’.
Two little birds learning to fly literally bump into each other! And they begin a friendship that teaches them both about acceptance, trust and the world they live in.
There’s Chack the Blackbird and Apollo the Swallow who, when they meet, begin a fun and witty dialogue about themselves. At first they repeat to each other over and over again, “I don’t believe you!” as they tell about their lives.
Apollo tries to tell Chack that he’ll be flying to Africa, but Chack says, “I don’t believe you!” And sure enough, the day comes and Apollo is gone – to Africa. But Chack needs to show Apollo the orange berries on his tree, because Apollo didn't believe that the white blossoms could turn to orange berries – yet here they are.
So Chack send a message with a dolphin, who passes it to a camel, who passes it to a crocodile, who passes it to a monkey, who eventually finds Apollo. It’s a funny game of Chinese Whispers – the message starts out as “Come to the tree” and ends up as “One, two, three, Whee.” (Actually not a bad effort all things considered.)
When the friends are finally united upon Apollo’s return from Africa, Chack’s tree is back to having white blossoms but Apollo listens, thinks and then believes Chack – even though he hasn’t seen the evidence.
Pam Smy’s illustrations are gorgeous – they remind me of new life, spring, refreshment, bounty – all the good things that this story brings to mind. (There’s a more recent version too, illustrated by Martin Ursell – both are gorgeous.)
This is a book that covers a lot of ground. It’s a good early reader. There’s repetition (“I don’t believe you!”) and rhyme (Apollo the Swallow) for the beginning reader to contribute, but there's also enough complexity in the words to make it interesting, time and again.
There are also:
- lessons about migration,
- lessons about animals and their habitats,
- lessons about the possibility of a story or message changing with the telling,
- lessons about birds and nests and eggs,
- reminders that friends don’t have to be the same,
- hints about the value of diversity,
- puns (“And what do you swallow?”),
- hints about helping others, and
- reminders that sometimes we need to trust those we know and care about.
A game or two of Chinese Whispers either before or not long after reading this story will help younger listeners to appreciate the humour. They’ll likely have no trouble seeing the humour in two boastful little birds who won’t believe each other when the truth is so self-evident!
Connections - momentary or spread over a lifetime - change the world.
Here are 5 favourite books that help to provide a foundation so that, when the moment arrives, our children will be ready to make a connection.
Happy - that's the way People leaves you. Happy to be part of a world that is bubbling over with colour and life. Happy for all the different lifestyles that make up human life. Happy for the achievements of humankind. Happy for the natural wonders we enjoy in such abundance.
And happy for your own place in all of that.
People is a classic. First printed in 1980, it's full of the sort of detail that leads to further investigation. It can be read quickly or pondered over and returned to again and again. (The number of human beings is outdated but that’s ok because it’s pretty amazing to contemplate the speed of population growth.)
Whoever You Are is a bright and cheerful poem story written in Mem’s very familiar voice. Mem’s trademark attention to repetition of words and phrases and carefully chosen words make reading aloud a pleasure.
Leslie Staub has done a fantastic job of making each child and adult in the book appear to be ‘every’ child – there’s a oneness to the people and the places without compromising on the reflection of diversity. While Whoever You Are is a lovely present for a newborn, or their parents, it would also be perfect for graduating teens.
By proportionally reducing the entire population of the world to the size of a small village of 100 people, If the World Were a Village makes it easier to see where we fit in the world. Make sure you get the Second Edition – it’s obviously more up to date.
If you already have the first edition, it’s quite fascinating to compare the two, to see what has changed and what remains. For example – the number of villagers speaking English has remained at 9 but, happily, the number of villagers who can’t be sure of food has dropped from 50 to 47.
In We Are All Born Free, Amnesty International has taken the 30 principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, summarised them so that they are easy to understand (in a simplistic way of course) and commissioned a different artist to illustrate each right. The result is gorgeous. There will always be political arguments surrounding a declaration like this but regardless, this little book provides a charming introduction to the idea of universal human rights.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed on 10th December 1948. It was compiled after World War Two to declare and protect the rights of all people from all countries. This beautiful collection, published 60 years on, celebrates each declaration with an illustration by an internationally-renowned artist or illustrator and is the perfect gift for children and adults alike. Published in association with Amnesty International, with a foreword by David Tennant and John Boyne. Includes art work contributions from Axel Scheffler, Peter Sis, Satoshi Kitamura, Alan Lee, Polly Dunbar, Jackie Morris, Debi Gliori, Chris Riddell, Catherine and Laurence Anholt and many more
Similar in format to We Are All Born Free, this book takes 14 of the 54 principles that were developed at the UN Convention on The Rights of the Child and presents them poetically and individually illustrated.
I’m so grateful when stories like this are shared. It’s inspiring, yes, but more than that: it’s a thing of beauty.
Here, Uri Shulevitz tells a story of his own childhood – the story of his life as a refugee and the impact of his father’s brave decision. I don’t think I would have the insight or the bravery to decide to buy a map instead of food. But Uri’s father did just that:
Uri’s father was right of course and that map became a portal to the rest of the world – a promise of better times and better places.
This is a beautifully told story – in both words and pictures – that gently confronts its’ readers with notions of war, escape, hunger, poverty, desperation for beauty, the need for intellectual stimulation, and the desire for a dream.
An inspiring story for parents who sometimes get buried in the quagmire of everyday concerns – here is a father who loves the world enough to want his son to understand it, even in the midst of crisis.
And an inspiring story for children who might forget how privileged they are to have access to maps and the world, without having to forgo food. Some of the things you may be left pondering with your child after a few readings of this book are:
- What matters most (and when): beauty or sustenance?
- Can tragedy really lead to nobility of thought?
- Is there a place for quiet imaginings in our lives?
- What experiences lead to love of diversity in natural and man-made landscapes and how do we have more of those experiences?
- How can art heal us?
- How can knowledge sustain us?
- How much value do we place on knowing where we fit in the world?
Have a look at this project – so interesting:
This is a book for children from as young as four (maybe even younger) on through the teen years. And that means that questions like the above will sometimes be more implicit in conversation than explicit – but that’s the best way, isn't it.
Implicit questions mean that there doesn’t need to be a final answer – or even a final thought. A four year old might gasp when the father buys a map instead of bread, a teen might wonder how she would react if her father did that. Neither response needs an answer, simply feeling the quandary adds to life experience.
It sounds like a serious book so far, doesn’t it? It is - but more than that, it’s a happy book – one that is read solemnly at first then buoyantly as Uri discovers the pleasures of a map, some knowledge and an imagination.
PS There’s an author’s note in the back of this book - it tells the story of how Uri and his family came to be living as refugees. There’s a photo of Uri and some of the extraordinary artwork he produced as a child. He was one crazy talented child!
And lastly, you might like to check out our Pinterest map page - it has some very cool designs.
Telling family stories is one of the great – and most enjoyable – keys to adolescent resilience. But, just as reading doesn’t come easily to all families, telling family stories can also sometimes feel stilted, difficult or even disingenuous.
Waiting for the Whales makes a really nice stepping stone to family storytelling. It’s about a grandfather living a simple life of gardening and watching the seasons. He contributes to his community by sharing his produce, he shares the knowledge that he's accumulated over a lifetime and he watches for the whales. “It seemed to him that there was nothing more wonderful than these great mammals of the sea.”
The story is simply told and the grandfather doesn’t have one particular shining moment – instead, it’s the collection of many small moments that make his life worth learning about and listening to.
He has a daughter and, in the course of time, she returns home with a baby girl; his granddaughter. This moment isn’t presented as pivotal in the grandfather’s life, it’s just a part of the whole. The baby grows to a little girl and she comes to love her grandfather and to love the things he loves – the whales, the forest, his garden.
Eventually and inevitably, the grandfather dies and his daughter and granddaughter find comfort in the Orca's that he loved to watch out for each summer.
One of the things that makes this story a great stepping stone to telling family stories is that it celebrates normalcy. The important part of the grandfather’s story wasn’t his work, his war service, his feats of derring-do, or his marvellous creativity - it was his love of the whales, his love of gardening and his love of family.
The impact of the little girl on her grandfather is comforting and reassuring – children are important in the lives of adults too - and the story is also about grief and the inevitability of change and loss. And overcoming to feel joy again.
This is a picture book to prompt one's own family stories – it leads easily to thoughts and memories, so 'after' conversations may flow along these lines:
- Funny how grumpy the grandfather was at first, hey. Maybe grandpas are just like that sometimes; or
- Gee I love being at the ocean – I remember when my mum used to take me to the beach camping; or
- That grandfather sure did love gardening – my grandfather loved ....; or
- I remember the first time I showed you to grandma; or
- I was so sad when your grandfather died, I can really understand how the little girl felt; or
- You know, we should really write down some of things we love to do with ........
And so on.
Here's one small snippet that I particularly liked -
The old man grumbled something about noisy babies. But when he held the tiny infant, something deep within him stirred. And he remembered holding his own children when they were small.
This is a wonderful book for young whale lovers and the light-filled and often poignant illustrations make the family's life feel very real and accessible.
Opening the brain to new ideas, giving it courage to have ideas - what a great prospect! In his TED talk and lectures, Stuart Brown emphasises that adults need to play just as much as children.
Few of us would disagree with that! We've all felt the suspension of time that comes with play. It's very much like being in the zone. No wait, it is being in the zone. You don't get that on a treadmill.
Children are natural players - they thrill to the unexpected joke. And if we can combine our play with theirs - no matter if they're your own kids or borrowed and no matter what age we or they are - it's double the benefit all round.
Going wider, in a Brain Science Podcast interview, Stuart Brown said this about what happens in the brain when we play:
..... when you examine the perspicacity, the breadth of information, the curiosity, and the, what I would say, innate intelligence, there is almost always a positive correlation between heightened success in problem solving and playfulness.
We'll probably do a series on play as time goes on - there's lots to talk about. Will leave you with this link to a knock knock on the blog. It seems appropriate :)
Do you read to kids in the bath? When ours were small, a couple of them simply couldn't see the value of a bath. But they could see the value of a story. So I would read while they soaked away a day of grime.
King Bidgood's in the Bathtub is one that’s a ton of fun to read – anytime really, but especially in the tub. There's trouble: ‘King Bidgood’s in the bathtub, and he won't get out!’
A poor young Page has the job of alerting all and sundry to the problem – and he does a terrific job. First the Knight, then the Queen, then the Duke, and finally the whole Court try to entice King Bidgood out of the tub. It’s all to no avail and the King just conducts the business of the day in the enormous tub. (In the end it’s the Page who saves the day.)
This is a boisterous story that comes with a liberal serve of swagger. The King has a glint in his eye and an irreverent grin as he invites everyone into the tub to battle, eat, fish and even dance. Everyone else looks perplexed and a bit embarrassed - and they do their very best to maintain some level of dignity as they emerge from the King’s bathtub sopping wet. This is funny stuff! I especially like the Page, whose very appealing little face tells a story of its own.
The bathtub scenes show a King who is roundly enjoying his day, and are full of details that give a sense of abundance and excess.
While there’s lot of fun to be had reading this story and the odd risqué joke to be made (it’s a book full of bathtub scenes after all), it's also a great early reader. The little Page says the same words every time and the others answer with the same pattern, making this great for practicing predicting text. There aren’t terribly many words – only 59 different ones in the entire text – so lots of repetition for easy recognition.
The ready predictability and constant repetition also make this a fun book for even very young children – there's lots of room for language play with accents and slightly off-beat voices. (The pictures have a slightly muted tone and are bursting with detail, which very young eyes may find tricky.)
A sense of the absurd is essential in developing a sense of humour – as per the incongruity theory:
And King Bidgood is full of the absurd – a King who won’t attend to his duties – fishing, eating, dancing(!) in the bathtub – a Queen, fully clothed including crown in the bathtub with the King while the Page pours drinks. This is crazy stuff – a child knows that there is no way this matches real life. And so … it’s funny.
Understanding what is funny is a super important developmental step – with positive flow on effects in intellectual, social and emotional development.
One last thing: kids of around 4 – 8 years old tend to go one of two ways about naked bodies – they're squeamish, even prudish or a little bawdy. Either way, King Bidgood works. For the squeamish it’s a gentle bit of fun that winks at King Bidgood being naked in the tub with fully clothed advisors. For those who can’t get enough of naked jokes it’s a bit of a romp that works because of the unstated humour – and don’t we all wish some of that 4-8 year old naked humour would sometimes go unstated!!!
King Bidgood will help with developing a sense of humour - and if you’re lucky it just may help to make bath times a bit more palatable. It may also leave you wishing for a bigger tub where you could happily spend a day.
It is not always in our most shining moments that our hearts are changed – sometimes it is in moments of despair or desperation.
This is the story of a young girl and the way her heart is changed. Her environment is shaping her, and she comes to match that environment – ‘mean and hard and ugly.’ And she does ugly things.
Until one night she tries to steal from an old woman.
I love the way the old woman is described: she fought with 'the strength of heroes,’ and indeed she is a hero. The old woman struggles to keep the bag she is carrying, but the young girl fights and at last the old woman says, “If you promise to plant them I will let go.”
Thinking she has triumphed, the young girl agrees, but is surprised to find acorns in the bag - and that’s when she understands the promise. And her heart is changed - and she begins to keep her promise. She ‘pushed aside the mean and hard and ugly and I planted, planted, planted.’
As often happens when hearts are changed, nothing changes at first. But slowly, green shoots show, and trees begin to grow. People begin to appreciate the trees too, other hearts are changed, and others begin to plant too.
The young girl carries on her work of planting in other ‘sad and sorry’ cities around the world. And soon the world is a better place for the changed heart of a young girl and the courage of an old woman who knew what could be.
This is a beautiful and lyrical testament to the power of goodness, of a changed heart, of a determination to do good, and of a willingness to fight till the right moment comes to teach.
The words sound wonderful, and they roll together in an easy way – words like:
I held a forest in my arms and my heart was changed.
Green spread through the city like a song breathing to the sky, drawing down rain like a blessing.
And the illustrations – they’re stunning and perfect! There’s harshness to the times when things are ugly but there’s a softness too, containing its own promise. And then, as the world begins to beautify, the pages become full of life and vibrancy. The various cities around the world have their own unique character and show the creeping of beauty into what had been an ugly place.
This beautiful book is a thought provoking testament to:
- The impact one person can have on the world;
- The importance of courage;
- The value of change;
- The blessing of access to the natural world;
- The power of community;
- The wonder of diversity;
- The wisdom that comes with age (sometimes);
- The energy of youth (sometimes);
- The brilliance of a connected community;
- The amazing and all-encompassing value of a heart changed for good.
Savannah and William are pet owners – 3 guinea pigs (all girls) have joined their family. As you can see, there was a little trepidation for a moment or two, but they are now heartily and enthusiastically loved. We sent I Love Guinea Pigs to them because it was a favourite throughout our children’s guinea-pig keeping years . . .Read More
One of my children spent a considerable amount of time planning an around-the-world trip – a great way to while away the hours. It sparked a lot of conversation, which led to lots of research and plenty of fantasy play as an offshoot. I wish we’d had At the Same Moment, Around the World at the time.Read More
Our copy of Oscar’s Half Birthday has “Happy Birthday Max – look on the verandah for the rest of your presents - Love, Mum & Dad” written inside. For the life of me I can’t remember what the rest of the present was, neither can Max. But every so often someone claims it’s their half birthday and so they are in need of a cake! In the story, Oscar is six months old – and it’s the perfect day for . . .Read More
One of the great meals of my life was beef stew, potatoes and green beans – but the potatoes were tiny and new and dug that morning, and the beans were picked from a trellis in my mother’s garden moments before they were lightly steamed and served. I can still taste them. Of course there’s a tremendous movement for local, organic foods happening now, and . . .Read More
"Whatever it takes” is an attitude that drives ..... most of Finland’s 62,000 educators in 3,500 schools from Lapland to Turku.
Hank is a good dog – and Hank knows it. Still, it might be hard for an onlooker to tell. Our dog Scott is a good dog too - and he knows it too. But sometimes it’s even hard for me to tell! Hank reminded me of Scott - and the house where Hank lives is quite like ours, so this story resonated with me. I think it will for most dog owners . . .Read More
With so very many heartbreaking images from Ukraine, Gaza and Iraq on our airwaves, and in print, we thought it might be helpful to provide a small collection of favourite stories that help to develop a narrative around war.
Talking about war is important in times when war is prevalent and proximate, if only through our televisions. But it also
There's an overwhelming sense of 'if only' when you reach the end of this book .... If only … children really could lead the world to peace. If only … all the walls – real and metaphorical – could come tumbling down with ‘no trumpets needed, as they had been once in Jericho, only the laughter of children.’ If only … we could heal the wounds of war. The Kites are Flying is the story of a Palestinian boy and his Israeli friend, a girl ...Read More