A Busy Day for Birds

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I think it goes without saying that for most avid readers, myself including, reading to and collecting books for your children simply comes as a natural, joyful extension of parenting and that, rather than being a chore you do for fear of them growing up without a soul, you actually enjoy and throw yourself (and your silly voices) wholeheartedly into.

There does, however, frequently arise the situation where you are simply too jaded to pull out your best performance and it is in this scenario where the finest children’ books are discovered, the books that need no embellishment from tired parents since they really do speak for themselves.

IMG_4572.JPGStanding on the firm foundations of her wonderful Maisy back catalogue, Lucy Cousins is always a safe bet and A Busy Day for Birds is no exception. Brightly coloured, striking illustrations of every bird you ever thought of keeps your child hooked, with the addition of some lovely entertaining sound effects and an opportunity for them to leap around and copy the hopping/flapping/swooping if they’re that way inclined.

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Animals are a no-brainer when it comes to children’s books but I particularly love this one for focusing on birds, who often get overlooked (apart from all the ducks and chickens) when it comes to toddlers’ books and toys. There are so many of them after all, how wonderful to try and teach them the difference between just a few – with any luck laying the groundwork for some more serious, Packham-style interest in the world around them when they get a little older.

IMG_4575.JPGAnd, if all of this action and rhyming fun wasn’t quite enough and this is the only book you have to hand for bedtime, we end with a lovely owl to calm things down. Thankyou, yet again, Lucy Cousins.

Goodnight Gorilla

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When I first had a thought to do reviews for books aimed at babies/young children, I felt like it would be more interesting and helpful to focus on more recently published works. Works we never had as kids and that deserve a bit of attention rather than the solid classics.

Despite that, tripping down memory lane with some of these amazing books has just been so much fun; legitimate, childish fun I can have without embarrassment since I am, after all, reading to my little boy. As it turns out, the pull of nostalgia is far too strong, as will be the need to write a little something about my all-time favourites as we go along.

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Horrifyingly, in this case I had never actually heard of Peggy Rathman’s Goodnight, Gorilla growing up. I say horrifyingly; this is an American book and I was a little old when it was published in the 90s but still. After buying it on the advice of some book list I’d seen somewhere I was initially, and very naively as it turns out, disappointed by the fact that there are barely any words in this colourful board book.

Our zookeeper; ‘Joe’, takes time of an evening to say goodnight to all of the animals under his care, starting with a rather cheeky miniature gorilla who steals his keys and, as Joe makes his way around the zoo, releases the other animals one by one until they all follow him home to bed.

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In what is, for my little man, the most sidesplittingly hilarious page in the book, Joe’s  long-suffering (I reckon) wife discovers all the animals in her bedroom and patiently leads them back home (only to be followed home again by Gorilla and his little mousey mate.)

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This book is wonderful, a true toddlerhood comfort ‘read’ and it is the lack of words that makes it so genius. As well as the illustrations and story needing to be bold and amusing enough to make up for the lack of words, the lack of Mummy or Daddy blithering on actually leaves room for the child to build up their confidence to turn the pages and read for themselves, even to read to you if you’re lucky. For such a deceptively small and simple story, there’s something to spy anew every time you pick it up and the undersized elephant, cheeky monkey, banana-toting mouse and their friends leave plenty of opportunity for animal noises. Winner.

Oh No, George! – Chris Haughton

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Ah George. Your perfectly rounded dome head, your dopey stare, your perfectly floppy ears…your great big clumsy body….hang on, I’ve seen you somewhere before….

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Inspired by our very own dome head, my other half bought Chris Haughton’s book on a whim whilst loitering around Waterstones one chilly afternoon. This tale of doggy mischief and mayhem is hilarious and heartwarming and another absolute fave in the Relish household at the moment.

George the Labrador (this isn’t specified by the way, I just like to think of him as a lab) lives with owner, Harris (who is, I’d like to note here, both smaller than George and rather green around the gills) who decides to leave poor George to his devices one day. I say poor George as the prospect of being left alone in the house with a cake, a cat AND some lovely potted plants makes him incredibly nervous.

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What follows are the disastrous consequences of Harris’ departure, as George, unable to resist his doggy instincts, makes mistake after mistake, all accompanied by the cry ‘Oh no George!’ Reading to a toddler every day you swiftly come to realise the value of Repetition, with a capital R.

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Harris of course has to eventually come back, George is rumbled and absolutely devastated by his behaviour. In a scene that I think is simply the saddest I’ve read in a long time (yes, more than THAT scene in One Day) George, with a tear rolling down his cheek, apologises and offers his beloved Harris his toy duck. Oh George, you break my heart.

Being a sensible sort of chap Harris suggests going for a nice walk to clear the air, a walk where George redeems himself by ignoring all temptation. What a good boy. But wait……an overflowing bin looms on the horizon. Baby is left with a nerve-wracking cliff hanger. Will he go for the rubbish? I personally like to think he does.

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I love this book. From a personal point of view it makes me feel like I understand our great daft dog a little better and, I hope, makes me a little kinder to him when he snaffles in the rubbish bin. Ish! I wasn’t overly keen on the Microsoft-paint style illustrations at first but the naive style really does grow on you and after a while, I cottoned on to what I think Haughton is trying to do here. And its charming.

But never mind me, does baby like it? The answer is a big fat yes. The colours are bold and the characters recognisable (it helps that we have our very own teeny black cat and great big dog at home). The constant repetition of ‘oh no George!’ (and, later, ‘well done George!’) is something he’s waiting for, the anticipation making it all the more hilarious. I also think it’s important for young children to get to know characters like George, who make mistakes despite their best intentions. It seems an important message to send that we’re not all perfect after all and that, if you’re genuinly sorry for stealing that slice of cake and make a big effort to redeem yourself afterwards, everything’s probably going to be absolutely fine.

Warm, funny, colourful, relatable, all we need in a baby book.

 

‘Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of one’s desires, but by the removal of desire…No man is free who is not master of himself.’              

 EPICTETUS   (and George, the dog)

 

Please, Mr. Panda – Steve Antony

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It seems an odd thing to be sat contemplating a review of a baby’s picture book. In a previous life, although I could well appreciate the wonderful cosy vibe of the children’s room in Waterstones, my radar couldn’t have been any further away.

Rather than being obvious and opting for one of my own childhood favourites, I thought I’d turn my attention to a board book that is not only fairly recent but also currently HOT property in the Relish household. We’re talking a repetition of at least 5 times a day minimum….so, without further ado, I introduce Mr Panda.

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This picture book is funny, simple and repetitive. In short; a stellar combo for young children. Mr Panda has a box of doughnuts which he goes about offering to his friends (fair play, I wouldn’t share my Krispy Kremes with anyone) who are, quite frankly, all a bit rude. He quite rightly refuses to share them with anyone until a slightly manic though incredibly polite lemur pops along and uses the magic P word. He is rewarded with the entire box since it turns out Mr Panda doesn’t like them anyway (ah hah! Explanation)

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This is all, of course, gearing up to drum into our toddlers the importance of saying please and might I say that it is an excellent way of doing so. Baby loves the bold illustration (black and white is thought to be particularly good for very young babies so this would be great for newborns) the repetition and the hilarious characters who just lend themselves to ridiculous voices and accents…or is that just me?

Being nice and short and snappy, this is my favourite so far of what I always think of as ‘trendy’ baby books. I don’t know what makes me think of them as trendy exactly…..maybe the stark simplicity…monochrome colours. I find that some nowadays can be overly stylised and a little, in the words of my other half, ‘try hard’. Although these are the kind of books that can probably be appreciated when they’re a bit older, right now we need sheer hilarity, and this has got it in spades.

Peepo! and the perils of parental reading

**Coughs**

Hello?…..Anyone out there??

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My incredibly bad (and spotty) ode to librairie mollat

I have to admit, it feels a little odd and vaguely embarrassing to be writing an actual blog post today. I have no idea (but very much doubt) whether my old bloggy friends and lurkers on here remember me or pay a visit to old reviews from time to time but, whether I’m rekindling old connections or speaking out into the void, welcome!!

Our life has had a complete transformation over the last year and a half. Namely starting our very own little family (puppy included) and hopefully a future generation of mad-fer-it little readers.

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It is such an obvious cliché that parenthood will have a huge impact on your reading; particularly for those former die-hards with tottering TBRs who used to regularly burn the midnight oil to finish a book. Two weeks’ into this adventure, once the shock had subsided and I remembered that I was, after all, Literary Relish and that I kind of enjoy reading a book from time to time rather than purely bingeing on daytime telly – well, it was a revelationDozy days spent on the sofa breastfeeding lend themselves to one thing and one thing only, BOOKS and lots of them. God forbid however that you find yourself stuck without a glass of water or, worse, a complete dud of a novel.

Thankfully I was fairly lucky in the early days, using books to help me stay awake during night feeds and experiencing some absolute gems; Ellen Wood’s East Lynne being one of them (I talked about my absolute faves of last year for the wonderful Rebecca Foster in this here post on her fabulous blog).

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New filing system

This peaceful time is inevitably short-lived but, in our frantic lives, particularly when running around after and raising little humans I think it is essential not to lose sight of ourselves. For me, whether I read 5 or 50 books this year, I find that self in literature.

I read an article on the fabulous books section of the Guardian website months ago (and didn’t bookmark or save and now can’t find it – poor show) where the author cited having a baby as the event that helped him out of his reading rut. Lengthy nighttime feeds and, in toddler/childhood, reading to his children at bedtime and introducing them to much-loved classics, completely rekindled his love affair with books.

Children’s books are wonderful things and, during weeks when I can barely keep my eyes open past 8pm, such gems as Mog and the Baby (Judith Kerr), Hairy Maclary (Lynley Dodd) and Please, Mr. Panda (Steve Antony) keep me going, maintaining that wonderful fuzzy bookish feeling in my tummy. It won’t help my Goodreads Challenge, but it will certainly help my soul.

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My poor ravaged old bookshelf

It feels great to be back and rambling into the blogosphere again. If any of you are still around I’d be delighted to know what’s new. And if you have some lovely children’s books to recommend or tips on how to maximise reading time on very little energy, throw them my way!!

xx