Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Chapter Books

Frederique has always really really loved being read to, and has always engaged with the world through literature (my favourite example of this is at 14 months on our first night in a new house she woke up at 3am and wanted us to read Rose Meets Mr Wintergarten over and over again, which begins with Rose moving into a new house, more recently, while we were away she chose a Ladybird book called Topsy and Tim go in an Aeroplane and was terribly soothed by it's fairly functional story of going in a plane).

Until recently her preference was far and away picture books. I love the way she engages with illustrated texts and we haven't pushed a progression to extended texts because I think this engagement is actually a great precursor to independent reading. We had read longer books, like when she was too sick to sit up and look at pictures I read Teddy Robinson to her, and last year in Queensland we worked our way through the The Big Book of Tashi (which are an absolutely inspired intermediate step between picture book and chapter book, since they have illustrations on every page and the stories are actually quite short and manageable) and she's also shown interest in another good intermediary, Martine Murray's Henrietta books. But mostly she was restless with the idea of pictureless books (I'd tried Wizard of Oz and Little House on the Prairie without success - she was very distracted by wanting to skip ahead to the pictures and then losing touch with the narrative).

Still as our OS trip loomed I began to feel a bit fidgety about taking a pile of picture books with us. Luckily about a month before we went away I spent a rainy afternoon reading Ramona the Pest to Fred and she was hooked. We've since read Enid Blyton's The Enchanted Wood, The Folk of the Faraway Tree, Ramona about three more times and Teddy Robinson several times over, we're now reading Martin's mum's copy of the The Wishing Chair. Something I've really noticed is that these extended stories have really entered her playlife in a way picture books haven't so much. Together we played the Faraway Tree all round England, Ramona in France, and Teddy Robinson in Helsinki. We also acquired some picture books on the trip - at the moment Fred is equally happy with both, which is a nice stage and something I'd like to continue to promote - I feel I am not as image literate as I would like to be, and Fred seems to be very visual and really enjoy the tension between illustration, design and text.

Anyway, is there something you observe about the above list? Yes, these are all books from my childhood, in fact all published before I was born. What's more, none of them are Australian. I've blogged about my struggle to find books in this market before and got heaps of responses.

So I've been trawling the net looking for books for Fred to put on her Christmas list. And here is my list so far (with a * next to Aussie books). Most of these books, by the way, are Allen&Unwin books, which is not just because I have love those Alien Onion folk. It's also because, as I've just discovered, A&U have a kickarse website, the only publisher I've found so far who lets you search for books by age (or even, in any respectable way, by category):

*The Bonnie and Sam books by Alison Lester, illustrated by Roland Harvey. (Alison Lester is a brilliant illustrator, but if someone else is going to draw all over her books, then who better than Roland Harvey?)
*Frankel Mouse by Odo Hirsch (it has the Aussie star because he's from here and he's an A&U author, but worth noting that Frankel Mouse is set in the London Underground.)
The Quigleys by Simon Mason
*The True Story of Mary who wanted to stand on her head by Jane Godwin
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (actually I 'm not sure what age this is written for, I just want this for me, there's a movie coming out of this too - yay! I heart Kate DiC so much I want to meet her and frighten her with intense adoration)
*Thora by Gillian Johnson

Okay, so she might not get all of these, and some others might leap out before then. And there are still some old faves that I'd like to pick up for her, like Amelia Jane, and The Naughtiest Girl books and My Naughty Little Sister and the Gobbolino books and Little Grey Rabbit and...etc

Well, she did ask for a million books for Christmas.

Anyone else got any suggestions? Questions, comments?


  1. Astrid Lindgren's 'Mardie' stories aren't Australian, of course, but absolutely fit what you're looking for. They were Ruby's favourite at five. Unfortunately, we no longer own them because they were loved to death. They're a bit like Ramona - two sisters - but it's Mardie, the elder sister, who is the focus. They're based on Lindgren's own childhood and are perfect, beautifully written stories. I think Shirley Hughes illustrated the version that we had.

  2. Anonymous11:41 PM

    My daughter also has my favorite books from when I was a child. I couldn't wait for her to read Ballet Shoes. I'm sorry I'm not familiar with Australian writers for children, but I know Ellie loved Molly Mindy Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley when she was younger. Very simple and very British, but somehow engaging for kids. Are you familiar with The Hundred Dresses? That's another story from my childhood that I read to Ellie. It's such a good story to use to start talking to your child about empathy -- something my daughter was sorely lacking around age 6. Isn't it wonderful to have a child who loves books as much as you do?

  3. J has fallen deeply in love with Enid Blyton. We've read the Wishing Chair, Enchanted Wood, Magic Faraway Tree, Folk of the Faraway Tree and we're about half way through Mr Galliano's Circus. When we finish that I want to introduce him to the "My naughty little sister' books by Dorothy Edwards. I loved them. I'm so glad I've still got all my favourites from when I was a munchkin. I've considered Frances Hodgson Burnett but the chapters are longer and M will possibly make us crazy. Ill start Little Lord Fauntleroy soon though because I wanted to be him so badly when I was little. So its very anglo reading around here these days. Which is just because thats what I've got and J is loving it as much as I did.
    OH and he got some Beatrix Potter as an early birthdy present which he is totally into ATM. Not a chapter book obviously but striking a chord nonetheless.
    BEtween the two of them the evening reaadng session is an absolute mrathon in our house these days.

  4. Mardie, check. I love Shirley Hughes' illustration. I read the girls one of her books the other day about Lucy and Tom and it was such a fantastic book, basically in the morning they help Mum with the housework, they have lunch outside 'as a treat' and then they have a rest, go to the park, come home, have dinner and go to bed. Such an antidote to all the busy busy parents feel like they have to do with their kids now.

    Milly Molly Mandy is another good one, I think Nana has her copies of those as well. Will look up The Hundred Dresses. It will appeal to Fred who actually has buckets of empathy (sometimes).

    Beatrix Potter is huge in this house, and a really good one for both girls at the moment. We went to the 'Beatrix Potter experience' in Bowness (I really wanted to go to her house, but it was just too complicated to get there with a transport resistant Fred, and the 'Experience' which was actually really really surprisingly good, was better suited to Fred anyway). Fred's favourite is The Two Bad Mice, which has become my favourite too. My favourite used to be The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-winkle. I wasn't allowed to read them when I was a kid because 'rabbits are vermin', but I bought myself a miniature set at Ripponlea on a holiday when I was just turned 8 (and adored all things mini-sized) with Tiggy Winkle and Squirrel Nutkin and two others. At the age of 15 my Nana bought me a collection of all the stories to make up for my deprived childhood and so my children wouldn't be so deprived, and these are the stories I now read to Fred and Una.

  5. My mum wouldn't let us have Milly Molly Mandy - she thought it was too capitalist. All that selling things for a cent.

    I'd highly recommend the longer Clarice Bean books, by Lauren Child. Linking to Amazon cause I'm too lazy to find them somewhere else, but they are Australian.

    When I'd just started on chapter books I remember being utterly captivated by my dad reading me the Narnia books. Also, 101 Dalmations, and the sequel, The Starlight Barking.

    Other Australian authors - some of Robin Klein's books are for younger readers, and I enjoyed them tons when I was quite young.

    Isobel Carmody's books for younger readers - The Legend of Little Fur series - are great.

    E. Nesbit, though not Australian. And Mary Norton - the Borrowers. What could be more cool than tiny little people??

  6. In the between-picture-book-and-chapter-book field, Christopher Morgan/Neil Curtis's 'Pirates Eat Porridge' & 'Pirates Drive Buses' are heelarious! And there's also Leigh Hobbs' 'Freaks Ahoy!' and '4F for Freaks', very amusing, though the kids in the story are a little older than Fred. 'Madeline the Mermaid & other fishy tales' is also good - that one has more text... I'm sitting opposite my bookshelf, which is what brings these ones to mind! And Roald Dahl is the BEST: for this age, 'The Twits' & 'Fantastic Mr Fox' are my all-time favourites! xe

  7. Rebekka - I love your MMM story. hilarious!

    We've got a few of these on the bookshelf. Fantastic Mr Fox (my favourite RD), The Borrowers (which I wasn't into but my best friend loved it), and there's a Clarice Bean in the present box so that can be one of her million books (I think they're UK, not Oz, but they're great). Oh and also I bought her a Moomintroll book in Finland (which we tried to read on the plane but reading aloud on the plane is hard because of the weird ear poppy thing). And we have Martin's copy of The Muddleheaded Wombat though we haven't read it yet (she's heard it on booktape at her friend Evie's house), Charlotte's Web, and I really want to try Little House again because I think it's a perfect read aloud, and great for imaginative play.

    I haven't read Little Fur, and I'd forgotten Robin Klein wrote for younger kids, good suggestions, thanks!

    Elise, Fred loves Horrible Harriet so Leigh's books might be good. Googling the other ones now, thanks!

  8. Forgot to mention. Need to get The Borrowers. Don't have my own copies. Loved them as a kid.

  9. Yes, Ramona is one of my absolute faves. And F loves My Naughtiest Little Sister still at nine years old - has since he was about four.

    The Little Lunch Books by Danny Katz (Black Dog) are very, very funny illustrated books. Though I guess they might be more for boys. I don't know - there are male and female characters. Flick through them when you're next in a bookshop!

    Another 'maybe for boys, but ...' -the Horrid Henry series by Francesca Simon is hilarious and F adores them. A great one in the 'naughty child' genre.

    And David Henry Wilson's Jeremy James series is wonderful, and I think would do well for girls as well as boys, as there are no 'girl germs' or bum jokes. It's an oldie but a goodie - a lot of humour comes from the disconnect betwween the worlds of adults and children and the mistranslation that can go on in both directions. 'Elephants Don't Sit on Cars' is great.

  10. I love all the ones mentioned. My girls also love Lotta by Astrid Lindgren (we also have Lotta's bike and The Mischievous Martens) Kate is currently enjoying The Bobbsey twins by Laura Lee Hope.