Sleepy Baby for a non-subversive bedtime

A Board Book Every So Often! No. 24


Sleepy Baby, Fiona Watt & Catherine-Anne Mackinnon, Usborne Books

Sleepy Baby by Fiona Watt, illustrated by Catherine-Anne Mackinnan (Usborne 2006)

A touchy-feely book about bedtime.

I love Mick Inkpen’s Wibbly Pig books, but the bedtime one, Is It Bedtime, Wibbly Pig?, revolves around our eponymous pig’s joyful attempts at avoiding going to bed. Noooo – not what you want when you’re struggling to establish a smooth end-of-day routine with positive outcomes for all.

Sleepy Baby is just the thing. A simple line of text per page beginning with ‘It’s time…’ takes us through undressing, bath, brushing teeth, looking at a book, and finally saying ‘night night’. By the penultimate spread Baby is looking pretty sleepy, and in the final one is lying down, eyes shut, blissfully snuggled up with a soft blanket.

The cover and each double page has a textured something to explore – socks, nappy, towel, fluffy bunny ears, and Baby’s own snuggly. There are a few familiar toys and objects on each page to talk about, too. The colours are softly bright (that’s not impossible, right?), the pictures are large and clear, and the baby is not obviously a girl or a boy so is perfect for any family to identify with.

It’s a pity that the author and illustrator only get a mention on the back cover in rather small print.

This would be a lovely book to share every night to reinforce a calm, settled routine. Good luck with that, that’s all I have to say!


A toddle by the seaside

I’m definitely behind with this project, for all sorts of reasons. The baby is now nearly 7 months old and yet the board book numbers haven’t yet reached halfway through a year! So…

A Board Book Every Week: No. 23


Toddle Waddle by Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt

Toddle Waddle by Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt

(Macmillan Children’s Books 2015)


Another pairing made in heaven – or in publishers’ heaven – picture book superstars Julia Donaldson’s charming way with rhythm ‘n rhyme and Nick Sharratt’s lovely, lively illustrations.

In Toddle Waddle a waddling toddler takes a walk with a mum in flip-flops – ‘Toddle waddle, flip flop’ – on the way gathering more and more characters all with their own distinctive noise. Until the toddler reaches some railings, where we get ‘Stop!’ (always a useful word to know). Over the page the early uncluttered scenes are replaced beyond the railings with a busy beach and all the fun actions and sounds that go with it: boing boing, splish splash, slurp slurp, and so on.

The next page features a bright red train with mum, toddler and friends aboard which delivers them to the pier and finally the end-of-the-pier show with more wonderful noises. The walk and the day finish with a pier beautifully silhouetted against the night sky and everyone waving bye-bye.

I love this book for all the potential in it. You can stay with the easy sound-making text or talk much more about what is going on. And there is a lot going on to talk about and find, but mostly things that should be familiar to a toddler – ducks, dogs, bikes, balls, horses, frogs, slides, trampolines, drums, and more. But at base it’s a simple story of taking a walk and seeing what’s going on all about you. An added extra for me is the bouncy seaside setting.

Diversity gets a mild look-in – the toddler is not obviously boy or girl so you can choose, there are people of different races including a glamorous black lady saxophonist (though I have to say most characters are white) and a boy on the beach is in a wheelchair (love to know how he got across the sand!)

There’s a sunny colour palette and although some pages are busy it still has a great uncluttered look about it – not too hard to find individual people or animals, even the tiny bee or snail.

Altogether this is a delightful book which should have plenty to interest for a long time.

Toddle Waddle by Julia Donmaldson and Nick Sharratt

Arf! and Wow! A board book every week – or two

Computer problems meant that I couldn’t post for a couple of weeks, so here’s two for the price of one…

A Board Book Every Week: 18 and 19

Wow! said the owl by Tim Hopgood, Macmillan Children's Books

Wow! Said the Owl by Tim Hopgood (Macmillan Children’s Books 2012)

I know parents who are very very tired of reading the line ‘Wow! said the owl’, but come on, guys, it only turns up seven times in the book, not on every page.

This book isn’t perfect for under-ones: it’s another example of a large-format picture book (published 2009) turned into a board book, and Booktrust give it an interest age of 2+ . The text is not that gripping for real tinies, with some long complex sentences and a lot of words way beyond their comprehension. There’s no rhyme or rhythm to help, either. But I’ve chosen it because…

‘Wow!’ was just about what I said when I first saw it on the bookshop table. It has real eye-appeal.

It is gorgeous! Illustrations and colours to make your mouth water – a beautiful mix of line and wash and collage. The night-time pages are exquisite. I love the idea of exposing tiny children to a wide and wonderful world of images and styles.

The curious little owl is a female lead character – hurrah!Wow! said the owl by Tim Hopgood

She looks like an owl, not a ‘girl owl’. She has a really appealing face, with big owl eyes, but not a girly eyelash in sight!

There are lots of colours – and a rainbow – and a colour palette at the end to recap the colours seen.

The owl’s there to spot and point to on every double-page spread except for one, where you’ll have to settle for butterflies instead.

Any you do get to chant ‘Wow! said the owl’ over and over. We might not like the repetition but babies love it and learn best from it.

Can You Say It Too? Arf! Arf! by Sebastien Braun (Nosy Crow 2015)

Can you say it too? Arf! Arf! by Sebastien Braun, Nosy Crow Books

Now this is age-appropriate. Billed as ‘With BIG flaps to lift’, it’s simple, tough and fun, and the latest in a range of animal noise books from Nosy Crow. It has just five spreads, beautifully bright and sturdy, where different animals are hiding behind rocks, sandcastles and beach-balls.

I’m lucky enough to live at the seaside and I love seaside books. Seagulls, jellyfish and crabs are commonplace – sand not so much, on this stony bit of the south coast! And we would be very lucky if we were to spot seals, puffins or dolphins, though I live in eternal hope. But I like books that reflect some of a child’s own experience; they usually find this much more thrilling than even an exciting but unfamiliar setting. If this goes down a treat, we’ll be getting more ‘Can you say it too?’ books.

On that point, the nice thing about this book is that inside it doesn’t prompt the adult to demand, ‘Can you say it?’ Yes, lots of children love coming up with the right sound if they know it, but equally the pressure can be a real turn-off to any child who’s not there yet. There’s just the surprise picture and the noise to join in with.

Anyone up for a dolphin impression? Eeek! Eeek!

Brighton Definitely Rocks Books

Children's Laureate Chris Riddell's sketch of children's author Julia Lee at Brighton Rocks Books

I just had to post this sketch of me reading at the Brighton Rocks Books event at the Jubilee Library in Brighton last weekend.

I knew that the new Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell, was going to kick off events for the Summer Reading Challenge – but I didn’t know that he would stay and join in with our Middle Grade Author Panel and draw us in action!

As easy as ABC?

A Board Book Every Week: No 14

Jane Foster's ABC, board book, Templar Publishing

Jane Foster’s ABC (Templar Books 2015)

‘As easy as ABC…’?

Well, ABC isn’t actually that easy if your brain gets lost in those dubious middle regions – JKL anyone? And why on earth does P come after O? RST seems logical, yet U V and W afterwards are pretty random. Of course, this may just be me. But we can probably all agree that XYZ is the perfect ending.

Alphabet books has been around for centuries. Even if, quite frankly, we don’t teach the alphabet like this any longer, ABC is a handy way of organising a picture book. There have been some fabulous versions over the years…

A Peacable Kingdom, the Shaker Abecedarius

Delicate animal images from ‘A Peaceable Kingdom, the Shaker Abecedarius’


Z for Zip, Paul Thurlby's Alphabet (Templar)

Z for Zip from Paul Thurlby’s Alphabet


Ladybird Books ABC

The oh-so-familiar style of vintage Ladybird Books

…so have I broken my rule of book-selection for babies and gone for one that pleases me more than it suits an under-1-year-old? Erm – I think Jane Foster’s ABC will please us both. The stylised images probably won’t mean much yet to tiny readers but their vivid colours, sharp black outlines, and high contrast graphic patterns will definitely grab them. This book is sturdy and well-produced and should withstand lots of love.

Some words are simple and familiar – T for tree, H for house, I for ice cream  – and many of them darned exciting – dinosaur, octopus, rocket! We still have the perennial problems of K (kite) and X (xylophone) (YAWN!) but Y is for yoyo and not, thank goodness, for the unspellable and improbable yacht. Then W is for wolf and Z for zebra. I just wish both these two had been given more space to play in.

Jane Foster's ABC, Templar Books, board book

And – yippee! – a gorgeous end page with a summary of every letter from A-Z, which lets us grown-ups see how clever the choices of colour and image have been. And lets babies look and find.

The first-page image is a beautiful A for armadillo, curled into a circle and looking at the reader with big black eyes. So maybe I fell in love with this book and then found justification for buying it. Armadillo is not the go-to favourite animal of most babies. (Yet.) But I do collect ABCs – so can I be forgiven?

Where – and when – the wild things are…

A Board Book Every Week: No. 13

One Ted Falls Out of Bed - Julia Donaldson, Anna Currey, Macmillan books

One Ted Falls out of Bed by JuliaDonaldson, illustrated by Anna Currey (Macmillan 2012)

This story falls into the classic category of What the Toys get up to while the Humans Sleep. Published as a picture book in 2004, it now (like so many) makes its appearance as a board book but (unlike many) it isn’t too wordy for this stage. There’s mostly just a line per page, and Julia Donaldson’s exemplary way with rhyme carries it forward beautifully.

One Ted Falls Out of Bed - Julia Donaldson, Anna CurreyIt’s a simple counting book. One ted falls out of bed while his owner sleeps – ‘two eyes shut tight’. He gets caught up in play with three mischievous mice and various other inhabitants of the bedroom. It’s wild fun at first but then Ted misses his bed, and builds a way back up to it with toys, which gives us a chance to reprise the counting all over again. Needless to say, while there’s a bit of exciting reversal, all ends very sweetly. The numbers are slotted so neatly into the plot that it can be simply a story about teddies and bedtime with a teeny dollop of anxiety and then a comforting conclusion.

One Ted Falls Out of Bed, - Julia Donaldson, Anna CurreyThere’s something delightfully old-fashioned about the child’s room with dolls in traditional ‘costumes of other lands’, a tiny china tea-set, and trolls. I had this stuff when I was little! Anna Currey’s gentle, witty illustrations give the dolls, trolls, mice and Ted great character with a light touch.

Julia Donaldson is the default picture book author in so many bookshop children’s sections. You can understand why – she’s reliably brilliant, and she sells! It’s just a pity that when there is limited shelf space, one name takes up so much of it, leaving little room for the many other amazing authors out there.

One Ted Fals Out of Bed - Julia Donaldson, Anna Currey

(And, yes, Ted is a he. I looked through again, hoping the gender was not referred to, because it hadn’t struck me. There are only two mentions and the rest is meticulously imprecise, but Ted is yet another lead character in a picture book who happens to be male, without needing to be.)

Babies United!

A Board Book Every Week: No. 12


Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury, Walker Books

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes

by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury (Walker Books)


No apologies for featuring another book illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. The puff quote on the cover says ‘Delightfully exuberant and endearingly sentimental’, and for once I agree. This book has to my personal knowledge made one strong man cry.

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, by Mem Fox and Helen OxenburyThe story tells of babies born all over the world into different circumstances, united by the fact that ‘as everyone knows’ they have ten little fingers and ten little toes. Cities, hillsides, deserts and snowfields, houses and tents, all feature. Oxenbury’s gently varied babies should mean children of every skin and hair colour can find themselves in here. There’s even a ginger one! But none with, for example, hearing aids or glasses…maybe because they are still very tiny? Is that an excuse? Some very small children need to use them and are fitted with the things. It would be ideal to show that these babies have so much in common with others, too.

The babies here are exuberant in their shared play, waving hands, crawling, swinging swings, rolling about laughing, in a way that will be familiar to fans of Helen Oxenbury. Others follow chickens, watch the snow, help each other, and struggle over ownership of a blanket.

Mem Fox’s text is simple and direct, rhyming and repetitive, and ends with the perfect prompt for a shared book ‘…and three little kisses on the tip of its nose.’

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox & Helen Oxenbury, Walker Books

Arty, but not too arty…

The latest addition to my library of stimulating and diverse baby books…

A Board Book Every Week: No. 11

Guess What - Flowers? by Yusuke Yonestu, minedition.

Guess What – Flowers? by Yusuke Yonezu

(Michael Neugebauer Publishing Ltd 2012)


This is the first proper lift-the-flap book in my selection and I love it because it’s visually very clever. Flaps in board books usually lift on to a ‘what’s inside?’ reveal – or a ‘who’s hiding behind the door/tree/etc?’ In this little book when the flap is lifted colourful flowers morph into animals, very convincingly and inventively. Each one is a surprise. As the back cover says, ‘Now you see it, now you don’t’.

Okay, so I spotted it in the shop at Tate Modern and it is rather arty – but it works. Arty, yet not too arty. The images are clear enough for most children, with lots of glossy snow-white space around them. The colours are vivid with high-contrast black outlines, so it should appeal to young babies too. The flaps are sturdy and easy to manipulate.

Guess What - Flowers? by Yusuke Yonezu, MineditionI’m not expecting a toddler or baby to tell the difference between a tulip and a daisy (though we’ve had botanical accuracy in I Am A Bunny) so we could just call them all flowers. But a snake, a sheep, a bear, a lion and a butterfly are pretty exciting finds. A couple of the animals named in the book as a ‘kitten’ and a ‘cockerel’ could easily be called ‘cat’ and ‘chicken’ if those are more familiar words to your child. The thing is not to be afraid of using a book in the best way for you, certainly at this stage.

And the final double-page spread – the icing on the cake – shows all the animals and flowers featured in a mad flowery meadow, looking remarkably amicable together. A great chance to practice the words all over again.


Black and white and read all over…

A Board Book Every Week: No. 6

 My Animals board book by Xavier Deneux

 My Animals by Xavier Deneux (Bloomsbury 2007)


The point of little books in high contrast black-and-white is to stimulate a baby’s early visual development. The newborn’s retina registers only dark and light so the plethora of pastel baby stuff that surrounds them won’t make much impact. Red, black and white, stripes and concentric circles and zigzags will command a very young baby’s attention. (That, and the faces of their favourite people, of course.)

But, but, but – it’s hard to share a book of geometric shapes, and shared attention and cuddles are what board books are really about. Monochrome books get propped up around cots and prams and beside the mat when the baby’s having a kickabout on the floor. Shared on a lap – not so much. They don’t have the content that creates a beloved book you return to again and again.

For most babies whose development is progressing along expected lines they won’t be in use for very long. Like a gorgeous outfit for a newborn, they’ll soon be back in the cupboard, outgrown. So I’ve chosen My Animals because it fits the bill for early visual stimulation but has staying power too. It’s sold as ‘a black and white book for babies and beyond’ and I’d say that claim is true.

My Animals by Xavier DeneuxIt’s a fat book with glossy boards, one animal per page, and a fingertip-sized hole that leads through to the next image. Sometimes the hole highlights a witty detail: a fish, a butterfly, an eye, and my favourite – Panda’s tummy button. On other pages the hole merely shows the line of a back or a few stripes. At first I thought this a bit disappointing, but then I realised that the design is really clever and satisfying, each image echoing the last one or integrated into the next.

Okay, a baby won’t appreciate this, but we adults can – and maybe we’re training up not only immature visual skills but a future eye for art and design elements all around. I firmly believe that you’re going to get more shared attention with developmentally-appropriate books and toys, but within that you shouldn’t just stick to the cute and the bland.

The animals range from cat, bird and dog to more exotic crocodile, hippo and penguin. Never having seen a live zebra doesn’t seem to hold a small child back from getting excited about them. They have the necessary Vis. Stim. spots and stripes but being animals the interest will last longer, and the poke-a-finger-through-the-hole thing is great.

Occasional flashes of vivid petrol-blue or oranMy Animals by Xavier Deneuxge lift the monochrome palette. The cover is matte black, a slightly weird texture – to me anyway – and, judging by those on the bookshop shelf, marks easily. But any baby book that gets good use will soon show signs of wear. Like those teddy-bears you can see have been very well-loved.

Clap Hands – come on, it’s easy!

A Board Book Every Week – No 5:

 Clap Hands board book by Helen Oxenbury

Clap Hands by Helen Oxenbury (Walker Books 1987) 


Last year, on the 25th anniversary of We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, I heard Helen Oxenbury talk about its origins. She said how glad she was to have this lively text to interpret and illustrate. She had been working for ages on a very simple set of baby books – with one image per page – and was bored, bored, bored. The series of little books she referred to (Playing, Dressing, Friends, I Can etc) was one I had relied on heavily with my own babies. Before I heard this I’d been thinking of complimenting her on them as I queued up for my signed copy of Bear Hunt. Instead I kept quiet. I didn’t want to confess that I loved those books that had ended up boring her.

But they really do have their place. I used them when I was stocking a library for very young and developmentally-delayed children. One image per page, and lots of white space to keep it clear, is much more user-friendly than stylised or complex pictures. (See my post about what makes a good first book.) And I also invested in the series that this week’s chosen board book comes from. The babies who people every page have deceptively simple features which reflect a whole range of appearances in a subtle but unmistakable way, so they were good for a diverse audience. And, very cleverly, the clothing hasn’t dated, so the books work well for contemporary readers.

Clap Hands by Helen OxenburyClap Hands is a large-format board book with four double-page spreads. Big babies take up all the space, doing joyous everyday baby stuff to a minimal text. Actually just 23 words in total. Short rhyming phrases. Perfect for very short concentration spans. (You can tell it’s affecting me now!)

First published by Walker Books in the 1980s, this series includes All Fall Down, Say Goodnight, and Tickle,Tickle.  I chose Clap Hands because it has the easiest actions for young babies to join in with – clapping, banging, waving. Waving and clapping are very early physical skills – lovely and sociable, too – and it’s easy for grown-ups to help babies on laps to do the actions in this book. They may not be able literally to ‘dance and spin’ yet like the toddlers in the illustration but they can be danced on laps and even spun about.Clap Hands by Helen Oxenbury

The other titles are great, but I’d recommend Say Goodnight as part of a good bedtime routine. The soporific images of babies and grown-ups are enough to make anyone feel sleepy!