Storytelling is magic. No really, it is.
I’m being reminded of this on a daily basis at the moment as Arthur’s understanding of language progresses in leaps and bounds. He increasingly comes crawling or knee-walking over to me with a picture book in his hands, sitting expectantly in my lap as I prepare to read the story to him. I’m not sure how much of the detail he picks up, but he responds to the rhythm and rhyme of the text, the intonation in my voice, points at pictures with me as I name the things they show, turns the pages with anticipation as the tale progresses.
As a child I loved being read to – my mum recounts how dad would come home after a long days work and disappear for hours as I demanded book after book before I would eventually fall asleep. Now that it’s my turn I’m reveling in the chance to sit and read books out loud to my son, so it’s very handy that he enjoys it too.
What with it being National Storytelling Week, and what with the weather being so shocking that curling up with a good book is really the only thing to do, I thought it might be the perfect time for a round-up of mine and Arthur’s favourite books to read together.
Now there are plenty of popular classics that he loves – The Gruffalo, The Snail and the Whale, Peepo, Guess How Much I Love You and Goodnight Moon would top that list. But the stories I want to explore here are the ones which maybe aren’t quite so popular but in our opinion definitely should be. And so, in no particular order, here are Arthur’s five favourite stories to read aloud.
Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, illustrated by Marla Frazee
We picked up this book in Toronto last summer, and what I love about it most is its global outlook on the very important business of being a baby. It celebrates difference – of background, race and experience – through its cute illustrations of babies and families of all shapes and sizes.
It is one of the only books I’ve found that includes breastfeeding and babywearing as part of the normal range of choices parents make, and I think it’s important for Arthur to see his experience reflected back at him.
The language is simple but lyrical with great use of repetition, and there is so much going on in the images on each page that there’s plenty to pause over and discuss.
All in all a heartwarming book that reminds me just how much our baby, like babies all over the world, is learning and growing every day.
Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton
This is a riot of a book, the energy of the words and the illustrations never failing to infect us when we read it aloud together.
The simple illustrations of farm animals are brilliantly expressive and there is endless potential for sound effects and actions as they strut and promenade and skitter around the yard.
This book accidentally found its way into the bedroom for a while, and it was invariably the one Arthur would go for just as we were trying to wind him down for the night. Needless to say that whilst those evenings were lots of fun this is not the most calming of books. But it was just so hard for either of us to resist!
Barnyard Dance was a gift from Arthur’s Canadian Oddmother, and she has since added to his collection with several more wonderful books by Sandra Boynton. Irreverent and quirky and full of fun they’re definitely worth checking out.
Wow said the Owl by Tim Hopgood
I was initially drawn to this book by my general owl obsession and it has come to be a firm favourite for both of us. It was the first book that Arthur recognised by name, and it’s often the one he’ll independently pick up and bring to me to read.
Reading it aloud, the assonance is really powerful – the word ‘wow’ is so much fun to say and is at the heart of the story here. The book captures the wonder of a little owl at the everyday world that we take for granted, and as such perfectly mirrors the experience of a baby seeing everything through fresh eyes.
Its a beautiful book for learning colours, and whilst Arthur might not quite be there yet he certainly appreciates the vibrant illustrations which are also satisfyingly unique so I can enjoy them time and time again.
A Bit Lost by Chris Haughton
Another find born of my owl obsession, this is the sweet and touching story of a little owl who falls out of his tree and his ensuing search for his mummy.
The language is simple but engaging, focusing in on physical characteristics that Arthur is just beginning to be able to understand. It’s easy to empathise with the little owl and his growing frustration at the well-intentioned but misguided helper who leads him through the forest.
The illustrations are gorgeously stylish and retro, the subtle palate a refreshing change from some of the more garish offerings for babies. Though simple they communicate the story and emotions in the text perfectly giving lots of opportunity to explore the interplay between words and image.
This is a book for reading and re-reading: though we both know what happens in the end it’s impossible not to get sucked into the little owl’s journey.
It’s Time to Sleep, My Love by Eric Metaxas, illustrated by Nancy Tillman
Arthur was given another Nancy Tillman book by my parents, Wherever You Are, My Love Will Find You, and we enjoyed the sumptuous illustrations and heartfelt emotion so much we had to go in search of more of her work.
It’s Time to Sleep, My Love has become our go-to bedtime book, the perfect book for snuggling with and calmly packaging up the day before drifting into sleep. It’s never an easy transition for Arthur – like me he’s a bit of a night owl – but he’s come to love the gentle alliteration and hypnotic repetition of this simple story of a world preparing to rest.
Whilst the words of this book work together to form a potent lullaby, it’s the images that are particularly striking. They are drawn in such exquisite detail, are so rich and textured, that oftentimes I find Arthur prompting me to turn the page as I have got lost inside the illustrations again.
It is this that makes this book so special, and so lovely to share before bed: it calms us both, and no doubt enriches our dreams.
So there you have it! Our top five magical stories for sharing and reading aloud. Please feel free to add your favourites in the comments – we’re always on the look out for new ideas! But in the meantime I think we might just go and have a read…