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Books and reading

With shop displays groaning with books, the temptation is to home in on the familiar faces we knew as children – Winnie the Pooh, Peter Rabbit, Madeline, Orlando the Marmalade Cat. Such legendary characters rightly endure, but what of more recent and emerging talent? What are today’s classics for the under 5s, how do we spot one, and how do we navigate our way around the oceans of children’s literature and related events?

The Children's Laureate

According to our new Children’s Laureate for 2010, the author/illustrator Anthony Browne, who took over this year from Michael Rosen, a classic needs a good story, great illustrations and a perfect balance between the two. “Apart from wonderful stories and pictures,” he adds, “a book should repay with countless retellings and have new things to discover each time it is read.”

What sets some picture books apart from others is the way words and illustrations are combined. “A picture book shouldn’t be a story with words that show us what the text has already said, and it shouldn’t be a series of pictures with captions describing what we can already see,” explains Anthony Browne. “The best picture books leave a tantalizing gap between the words and the pictures – a gap that’s filled by the reader’s imagination.”

Classic authors/illustrators are, for him, Maurice Sendak, Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Helen Oxenbury and her husband John Burningham, and Polly Dunbar, “because they all respect children, entertain them, paint wonderful pictures, make them think and provide things to talk about.”

Where to find book reviews

The children’s literary scene has expanded hugely, of course. When we were very young, there was just W H Smith and the library (still a great place to start, many with storytelling and Rhymetime sessions for parents and children). Now, however, there are endless yellow brick roads leading to thrilling places and wells of information: specialist children’s bookshops, awards honouring the best authors and illustrators of the day, children’s literary festivals, events and readings at bookshops and, of course, the internet, with such great resources as www.readingzone.com and www.amazon.co.uk.

It’s never too early to stimulate a love of words and images through books. To help you on your way, a wonderful set of presents lies in store from Bookstart. It begins at your baby’s eight-month health check, with a canvas bag containing two baby books and various goodies, followed by another bag of books at 18 months and a treasure chest of books at 3 yrs. (If you’ve missed the health visitor, fear not, just contact your library or go to www.bookstart.org.uk.) 


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