The Reading Corner

"Flora and the Flamingo" - Molly Idle

posted Jul 26, 2016, 12:03 AM by Amie Ridley

"Mummy.  Read the Mango book.  Peas?"

This has been a common request in our house this month.  The Mango book being of course the 'flamingo' book, being "Flora and the Flamingo".  And it's not so much 'read' as sit with and look at.  Because "Flora and the Flamingo" has no words.

I am under no illusions as to why Miss 2 first picked up this book.  It is pink, and it has a flamingo on the cover.  Two very favourite things of hers right now.  I will point out though that we are talking about a lovely retro '1920's vibe' kind of pink and not a glittery, OTT,  'that's so pink it hurts' kind of pink.

So lovely retro look, beautiful illustrations, a firm favourite from the first read, and NO WORDS.

What this book does have is a multitude of emotions: curiosity, shyness, shame, kindness, sadness, joy, and a multitude of not so simple emotions.  Like 'I know you are there but I'm not sure how I feel about that yet' and 'do you really mean that because a moment ago you were laughing at me and I'm still not sure about you'.  You know, things that I can't quite find words for but am familiar with the feeling.  And the illustrations are expressive enough to show these emotions.

Also, the story is very strong.  For a book with no words, it has a very concrete plot.  It is a short moment in time, sure, but it is very cohesive and Miss 2 and Miss 6 are able to articulate what is happening, and how the characters are feeling.  They will sit and tell the story to themselves.  And this is important...

Being able to read emotions, and connect visual elements with a story line are all very important developmental processes for children.  It's not just about being able to follow a story book, it's about being able to make sense of their world.  Stories are a big part of how we learn about the world and ourselves, and how we place ourselves within our families, our history, our culture.  It doesn't matter whether these are legends, true history, or fables.  The history of the world is peppered with stories - people are a story culture, all of us.  What matters is that these stories tell us something, and teach us how to live with ourselves and with others.  And a big part of that is being able to understand emotions.

So a lot of importance then, in a beautiful book, with a pink cover, a flamingo, and a small girl in a floral bathing cap.  I'm glad though that we can just enjoy it for the time together and the beautiful story.  Because like so many things in life, the important things learning happens in the beautifully simple.

"Paul Meets Bernadette" - by Rosy Lamb

posted Jun 14, 2016, 5:02 PM by Amie Ridley   [ updated Jun 14, 2016, 5:07 PM ]

Another new discovery for our house - Miss 2 picked this up at the library to read, probably because it had goldfish on the cover.  And she is a little bit obsessed with Miss 6's goldfish...

Anyway, she picked it up and we read it at the library, as we do.  And then Miss 2 checked it out to take home.  Now, not all books come home with us at the library (contrary to local opinion).  Miss 2 has very strong opinions about what books she likes and does not like, and she continued to ask for this one to be read to her for the next few weeks.  After that she would sit and "read" it to herself (side note - this is an important part of the development of reading.  See the post on Mem Fox "Reading Magic" for more on that

Now I know Miss 2 picked up this book because of the fish.  But it became a favourite book because of the beautiful illustrations and the humour in the story.  Bernadette sees the world differently to Paul, and it is her descriptions that give the book it's playful feeling.  And which started (playful) arguments about whether that is a picture of a clock or a cactus between me and my daughter.  Although I think she was a little bit convinced that a clock was a cactus by the time we returned the book...

So minor spoiler, sorry.  I won't say anymore about Bernadette's descriptions.  

Instead I'll move onto illustration.  The pictures in this book are beautiful.  They are paintings, and are quite textural as well.  I like books that have a unique style of illustration as it exposes children to various forms of artistic styles in a format that is user friendly.  Good illustrations do more than just put the words into visual form.  They engage minds and draw the reader further into the story.  And creative illustrations will inspire children to explore a wider variety of creative expression in their own lives.  

This book was so enjoyed by us that upon returning it to the library we read it to 2 different librarians, and I believe it has now been read at their Story Time as well. And might I recommend that if you do read it yourself, you remember to close the book at the end, and turn over to the back cover for one final, delightful illustration... 

"Bread and Jam for Frances" - by Russell Hoban, illustrations by Lillian Hoban

posted Apr 6, 2016, 1:59 PM by Amie Ridley

This is THE book that inspired my love of a well packed lunch box.  Period.

I was read this book as a child, or I read it as a child - probably both.  But my presiding memory of this book is this picture.  There is just something about this lovely lunch, with it's little doily, lovingly packed by her Mother that inspired me.  

But the Frances series as a whole have been a joy to rediscover with my own children.  Much like the Betty Bunny series (see earlier posts), these are "lesson books" that I actually like.  Which did set me to thinking a bit recently about why I like some books with lessons and not others...  I can be exceptionally harsh about some blatant lesson-y books, and yet I love Frances and Betty.  Why is that?

Well, I think I finally figured out some of what it is.  Frances has wise parents, who are really patient and creative in their parenting.  I have learnt a lot from reading these books also.  But I think the main reason is that the lessons in these books take time, and are learnt from the child's perspective not the adults.  Frances learns to love all kinds of foods in her own time, and in her own way - and it's her journey that you follow, not some imposed adults message that overrides her natural process as a child.  

And that's very important - children are wanting to relate to the central characters.  Characters like this allow children to externalise their feelings and process them in a safe manner, outside of themselves, by relating to the character in a book.  This is a really, really important aspect of learning and processing feelings for children, and something the Frances series does really well.  We read "A Baby Sister for Frances" quite a bit with Miss 6 when Miss 2 was very new.  Frances really struggles with her feelings about her new sister, and how much time she doesn't get to spend with her Mother and Father now that Gloria (the baby) is here.  She is allowed to express her anger and sadness - and so by proxy Miss 6 (4 at the time) was also allowed to experience those emotions and journey through them with Frances.  

Of course there is always hope at the end as well.  Frances does learn to love her sister and find her place in the family.  And in "Bread and Jam..." Frances does learn to like all kinds of foods.  I have spoken before about the importance of hope in books - and in this series I think there is hope not only for children, but for their parents!  Double Whammy of good reading!

And then there's this line: "I think it's nice that there are all different kinds of lunches and breakfasts and dinners and snacks.  I think eating is nice." Yes indeed!

"Belle & Boo and the Birthday Surprise" - Mandy Sutcliffe

posted Apr 6, 2016, 1:37 PM by Amie Ridley

Belle & Boo is a very nostalgic feeling series, so it is not suprising that it really appeals to me.  

However I didn't actually come across Belle & Boo as childrens' books first.  I came across them in the craft section, where I have been known to spend a great deal of time browsing, both in the library, and online...  The Belle & Boo book of crafts is really quite beautiful, and full of wonderful pictures of magical spaces created through crafts, for the more experienced crafter.  If you are a confident sewing person, you could have a truly wonderful time making things from this book - and the follow up, "Belle & Boo - S is for Sewing".

But onto the actual stories...

The stories have a very nostalgic feel to them, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Mandy Sutcliffe read a lot of Winnie-the-Pooh and Milly-Molly-Mandy as a child.  So this kind of familiarity is very comforting to me as an adult.  This kind of gentle imaginative story seems to be such a bygone era thing, and yet they are really lovely to read to children.  

And Miss 2 just loves them.  She loves cuddly Boo the rabbit; the fun that Belle & Boo have together is just the kind of thing she loves too:  birthday balloons, imaginative cooking, tea parties in tree houses.  It's all a lovely magical world that she wants to inhabit.  And I think they are the best kinds of books - ones that you want to live in.  Isn't that why we read as adults?

"Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge" - Mem Fox & Julie Vivas

posted Feb 28, 2016, 1:53 PM by Amie Ridley

This book, oh this book!  It was an absolute chance find this book, tucked away in the sale cart at our library (a wonderful place to find good books for very little coin...).  I had never come across it before, not even seen it mentioned in any 'wonderful books to read' lists, and yet fell in love with the heart of this book upon first reading it.

It hasn't got any less wonderful with every subsequent read either!

Ok, so from a technical perspective, Mem Fox really knows how to write books for children.  She seems to really get how kids look at the world, and how they absorb words.  So the descriptions of the older people that Wilfrid gets to know are repetitive and childlike.  And Wilfrid, the young child is the hero of this story.  There are no parents or "grown ups" directing the action, and it's all about Wilfrids perspective on what is happening.

Also the choice of illustrator for this story couldn't be better - the pastel illustrations represent the people from a childlike perspective that really evoke a dreamlike quality to the whole story.  It works so well with the theme of memory.

But technicality aside, it's the beautiful heart of this book that gets me every time.  It is a story about memory, and what memories mean to people, especially those who are losing theirs.  Its also a little bit about the healing nature of cross generational relationships.  And if I'm honest it can be challenging to me to think about how we do or don't connect so much with the older generations around us.  But there is something so beautiful and healing in the relationship between the enthusiastic child and the older people in this story.  And the way that memories are talked about is absolutely real - they makes us laugh and cry.

"Eric" - Shaun Tan

posted Feb 28, 2016, 1:18 PM by Amie Ridley   [ updated Feb 28, 2016, 1:34 PM ]

Yes, I am on a bit of an artists who write picture books binge at the moment.  One of the wonderful thing about artists writing picture books is that children get exposed to a wonderfully wide array of artistic styles and methods.  In fact, we have a book that does a series of art lessons based upon the various artistic styles of picture book illustrators ("Storybook Art" - MaryAnn F. Kohl and Jean Potter).  

Shaun Tan's books are beautifully illustrated.  They are an interesting mix of childhood wonder and a somewhat 'grown up' aesthetic.  And the stories themselves are much the same way.  

It was actually pre-children that I discovered Shaun Tan as a picture book creator, being read "The Red Tree" as part of a counselling class.  It was interesting to note the adults reactions to the books - they can be challenging, and some are quite shocked that these are books that you would read to children.  After all, they do deal with some sad and confusing emotions...

So I was interested to note my own children's reactions to these books.  We own "The Red Tree", and got "Rules of Summer" and "Eric" out of the library.  There are also many other fascinating looking books to request which we will continue to do.  I have read all of them with Miss 6 and she responded to them in a really positive way.  I think we forget that the world is a confusing place for kids sometimes, so to read a book that acknowledges that is really important.  

Of course the other vital factor in this kind of a picture book is that it ends in hope!  Without hope, it just doesn't work.  Kids need hope as much as adults do.  

Miss 6 responded really positively to "Rules of Summer", and it is a single sentence per page so she could sit and read it to herself as well.  Even Miss 2 would sit and 'read' this book to herself!  I however, fell in love with the little "Eric".  I think because for me it was a timely reminder in story form, that sometimes we have expectations, plans, and strategies that we have devised for teaching our children, but they tend to go off in their own direction.  And that doesn't mean they are not learning, they just do it differently.  And that is often where the wonder is.  

Of course you might not feel the same way as I did.  These books are kind of like poetry really - they can mean slightly different things to different people.  So as I am reading to my girls they are likely processing different aspects of their experience than I am.  Its a tricky thing to do in a picture book.  But my favourite kinds of stories, poems, or songs are the ones that have to be interpreted through the heart and don't give you the message up front.  It speaks to a deeper part of you, and one that is important to everyday life.

"The Incredible Book Eating Boy" - Oliver Jeffers

posted Feb 28, 2016, 12:52 PM by Amie Ridley

Welcome to the wonderful world of Oliver Jeffers picture books!  If you haven't come across Oliver Jeffers yet, you are in for some fun times. 

To be honest, I had a bit of a struggle picking exactly which book to feature here...

You see, we love Oliver Jeffers books.  We have bought one of his books for each of our girls when they were born, from the Boy and the Penguin series, because my husband loves penguins.  And I particularly like the Hueys series, and the little messages they contain about community presented in a really funny way.  The Hueys and the New Jumper is a very funny little book, riffing on the theme of originality and peer pressure.

So why did I pick "The Incredible Book Eating Boy" for this post?  I think mostly because its theme is precisely the way I feel about books.  That they are to be consumed and digested, to build our knowledge and expand our hearts.  It is very hard to write anything at this point without just writing the plot, but suffice to say that the Incredible Boy discovers that consuming books makes him smarter, and he craves more and more.  

So there is the obvious surface message that books make you smarter - something we can all agree with I am sure, and a great reason to read and read and read...  But there is a slightly more subtle message that too much, too fast, without consideration is not the best way to consume books, and that slowly digesting what you are reading (more metaphorically for us humans of course) is more beneficial than just cramming ourselves with knowledge.  Something to think about certainly, all in a funny book that is enjoyable to read.  

The other pleasure of Oliver Jeffers books are the artwork.  He was (and still is) an artist before he started writing picture books (more on the wonderful world of Oliver Jeffers here:  And the artwork in "The Incredible Book Eating Boy" is fun, painted and drawn of bits of books which reinforces the theme in a very pleasing way.  I have a bit of a love for collage style images, so the style of painting on bits of books, incorporating old bits of paper as part of the images is very appealing to me.  

So get down to your local library, head to the kids section, and search under J today.  Or just log on, do an Author search, and request some new books.  You won't regret it!

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy - Lynley Dodd

posted Jan 26, 2015, 10:38 PM by Amie Ridley

“Out of the gate

And off for a walk


Almost every Kiwi Kid (or parent, grandparent, aunty or uncle) could tell you it was Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy who went off for a walk.  Where?  Well through his little township as usual, a township that somehow seems to represent every little township in New Zealand.  Dame Lynley Dodd’s Hairy Maclary books are so well loved in New Zealand, that it’s easy to take for granted sometimes just how good they are.

The series is based around various animals that are woven into many stories: Hairy Maclary and his canine pals (most kids can also reel off their names and rhymed descriptions - my personal favourite is Muffin McClay like a bundle of hay), various cats, and other assorted animals that you might typically encounter in a Kiwi house.  But they are not anthropomorphised.  The animals do not talk, other than to make animal noises.  People sometimes talk but you don’t see their faces and so it really is all about the animals, having very normal animal adventures.

But they are cheeky, and mischievous, and get into all kinds of trouble - and it’s the humour and beautiful rhythm of the text that just seems to draw kids in.  And it’s the sense of rhythm and rhyme that I have really grown to appreciate as a parent too.

See it wasn’t until I was a parent that I realised how badly some rhyming books were written.  (warning: this paragraph is a rant, it is not about Ms Dodd’s books so feel free to skip to the next paragraph if you want…)  I have been heard mumbling loudly in the library on several occasions that “not all kids books have to rhyme so DON’T FORCE IT!”  Yes, it is a constant source of frustration that some authors just feel the need to force a story into a rhyme, with bad rhythm and very basic words.  It is my belief about rhyme that if you can’t just read the rhythm naturally as you go, then it’s not worth the effort to read it.  Dr Seuss is very good at this - you don’t feel shoved in or out of the rhythm of the words, and it’s a joy to just read.

So back to Lynley Dodd…  The stories are fun, and the rhythm of the words is so natural that you can just read away, lost in the story, never struggling to find the correct emphasis to make the rhyme work.  And then the best bit?  She doesn’t even always rhyme the stories…  Yes all the dogs and their names rhyme in the first part of Hairy Maclary but when you reach the climactic moment it doesn’t continue to rhyme - you can make all the delicious cat “eowing’ noises without feeling like you are forced into an unnatural pace.  And she does this whenever she needs to in the books - the words and pacing are more important than a forced rhyme, and from a parent who values this very much, a hearty THANK YOU to you Ms Dodd

The other thing I do so love about these stories is the words - the delicious, big, sometimes ridiculous words that she uses. They are not the basic words of early readers, but beautiful, descriptive, and above all will help your children enjoy the beauty of words now and in the years to come.  And surely that is what a good book does.

"Betty Bunny Wants Everything" - Michael Kaplan (illustrated by Stephane Jorisch)

posted Jan 26, 2015, 10:34 PM by Amie Ridley

“Betty Bunny was a handful”.  Actually, Betty Bunny was the reason I really wanted to start a list of books that we enjoyed reading.  I knew most of the classic children's books and authors from my own childhood (both my parents trained as teachers) but new discoveries are very exciting, and Betty Bunny is a delightful new find for our family.

There are currently 4 Betty Bunny books, initially picked out at the library because of the fun illustrations.  Miss 4 is a lover of animals and any book with friendly looking animals is a bit of a winner for her.  But the delight for her father and I was the character of Betty Bunny herself, who is indeed a handful, but also very creative and determined.  She seemed somehow so familiar…

And this is now why I am finding it a bit hard to write more about these books.  Because I have a theory, that if someone tells you something is funny, it reduces the funniness of the thing (that’s why all those emails stating “THIS IS THE MOST HILARIOUS THING EVER” are often not, unless you are tired, and viewing it with friends, which increases the funny, I got well sidetracked there)!  

As parents we are generally quite tired and were reading this aloud together in the lounge, maybe that’s why we found it so funny.  Or maybe its because they each have a lesson in them, but not the “smack you about the face with the bleedin’ obvious” kind of lessons that I am quite allergic to.  Or maybe it’s just because the characters are very familiar in a reassuring way - they are not perfect, Betty doesn’t unquestioningly take aboard the lesson, sarcastic teenage brother Bill is also quite funny.  

And if you are getting the impression that we as parents enjoyed these books more than our daughter, you may possibly be right.  But because she liked the pictures, and we were enjoying them and laughing she thought they were pretty good too.  After all, reading together is not about education, top grades and must do’s.  It should always, always be about enjoying books together.  

Moo, baa, la la la; (and some other books…) - Sandra Boynton

posted Jun 27, 2014, 3:13 AM by Amie Ridley   [ updated Jun 27, 2014, 3:23 AM ]

It’s time to get your silly on.  I love Sandra Boynton books as they inject a good quantity of silliness into reading time.  The pictures are cute and bright, and the rhymes flow easily, but best of all they are just fun, and fun is important.

Moo, baa, la la la is a book we had growing up, and our whole family can still quote it pretty much word for word.  Miss Baby was given it for Christmas last year, and we have recently expanded our Boynton repertoire through the request service at the local library.  The girls have been delighted by both the humour and colour.  And I have been impressed by the odd lesson:  

But not the hippopotamus - a lovely little book about shyness and inclusion.  

A is for angry - fun and silliness with the alphabet

Belly button book - silliness and more silliness

Blue hat, green hat - colours and um, silliness

Happy hippo, angry duck - great little book that names lots of different emotions.

There is also a lovely little series about Pookie a little pig which is very cute.  The books are well suited for reading to babies, with very small amounts of words on each page and lovely bright illustrations.  Most of the ones we have had out have been board books, which make it easier for little hands to help turn the pages.

But we also found recently that Miss 4 was enjoying these books.  In part because they are silly, and silly is fun when you are 4.  But also because they are simple enough that she can “read” them herself (which is part of pre-reading learning).  She particularly enjoyed the Green Hat, Blue Hat book as it was repetitive, silly, and the pictures help with the words (the animal is wearing a green hat).

So if you need a bit of a giggle in your baby reading time, head along to your local library and borrow some Boynton.  Have fun and happy reading!

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