The books we remember strongly as adults are often the ones we read as children. Not only do we remember particular books, but the emotions we experienced.
Children’s books are reread and remembered over a lifetime, and many authors believe their best writing is for children.
Rereading favourites is a good thing. With each rereading, deeper meanings emerge and understanding becomes richer.
Reading books aloud, and being read to, is also important, with research pointing to enhanced levels of brain activity for children who are read to before bed. Some research even recommends reading to a child from birth to help stimulate brain development and build language, literacy and social-emotional skill.
For young people, reading fiction can provide excellent training for developing and practising empathy and understanding how others feel and think.
Here is a selection of some of the best books to share with your child over the festive season on the topic of family and friends:
1. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury
(Penguin Books Australia, 2008) Age: 0-2 years
Fox’s exuberant rhythm, rhyme and repetition feature in a short 148-word story, making it perfect read to aloud for babies. The book features eye-catching watercolour illustrations and a series of fun activities, including counting fingers and toes and an end game of a kiss on the nose.
2. Over the Hills and Far Away: A Treasure of Nursery Rhymes from Around the World by Elizabeth Hammill
(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2014) Age: 0-6 years
A collection of nursery rhymes should be in every home. They are perfect for dipping into from birth and throughout the preschool years. This one features a multitude of enticing brief stories from different cultures, rhymes honed to perfection, and rich illustrations by 77 of the world’s best illustrators.
3. Bear and Chook by Lisa Shanahan
(Hodder Headline Australia, 2002) Age: 2-5 years
Bear and Chook are close friends, loving and patient with each other’s eccentricities. Bear is adventurous and accident-prone. Chook is cautious and careful. As friends, they have an immense respect for each other. A perfect combination of rollicking, rich and enticing read-aloud language and humorous, touching illustrations.
4. The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc
(Enchanted Lion Books, 2013) Age: 3-7 years
The text says little. The illustrations are minimal. Yet we experience an immense satisfaction in this deep friendship between Bird and Lion. Lion nurses Bird back to health after an injury, and they share winter together. With spring’s return, Bird must leave and Lion is alone again. The illustrations convey the seasonal cycle, and we cheer as Bird returns. A powerful story of friendship with perfect images that linger.
5. The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt
(HarperCollins, 2013) Age: 4-10 years
A highly original, quirky and funny story for sophisticated readers. Duncan reaches for his crayons, but instead finds they have left him handwritten letters. They have quit their jobs as crayons and complain bitterly. Purple laments Duncan colouring outside the lines. Grey is tired of colouring large objects like elephants. Black wants to be more than an outline. Duncan finds a clever solution to remain friends with his crayons.
6. Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon
(Penguin Books Australia, 2012) Age: 4-10 years
An unlikely pair explore the meaning of friendship, loneliness and life in the big city in this unforgettable, multi-layered picture book. Herman, a crocodile, and Rosie, a deer, each lives alone on different floors of the same New York apartment block. They do not know each other, but they have common interests in music and both love films about the sea. Music brings them together when each loses their job. This story reveals the importance of friendship and belonging in understated elegance with quirky, whimsical illustrations.
7. My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald
(Little Hare Books, 2014) Age: 4-10 years
A young girl arrives in Australia unable to speak English. She wraps herself in her familiar blanket woven with cultural familiarities. A girl in the park befriends her and together they share experiences and language. Gradually she relinquishes her blanket, realising that her culture comes from within. A moving story for exploring cultural similarities and differences.
8. Animalium by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom
(Five Mile Press, 2014) Age: 5+
Animalium explores the animal kingdom with clarity, precision, excitement and highly detailed illustrations. Excellent features include its large size, sumptuous layout, tantalising questions and answers, clever analogies, multi-layered information and detailed index. Seven sections cover brief differences and commonalities, environment, food and behaviour. A perfect coffee table book for sharing among the family.
9. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (illustrated edition) by J K Rowling
(Bloomsbury, 2015) Age: 6+
Harry Potter appeals to all ages, making the series of seven books an ideal family sharing experience. The unique aspect of this book is its copious illustrations, which capture mood, magical moments, unique characters and above all a sense of other-worldliness. This illustrated edition is the perfect opportunity for families to share a reading aloud experience with bonus images.
10. His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman
(Scholastic Books, 1995) Age: 10+
His Dark Materials trilogy is a contemporary epic high-fantasy adventure with lyrical writing, highly original, memorable characters and a story with dazzling originality. It is the perennial story of pure evil and angelic good, of bravery and courage and inventive ideas rarely explored with such conviction and believability. A great book to share with the family.