Why Children's Books Aren't Always For Children

What is your favourite children’s book? Yes, I am quite aware that you are unlikely to be a five year old child reading this and I’m sure you don’t still read to your self in rhyme or with repetition at bedtime (and if you do I won’t judge you for it). Whether you have replaced your childhood picture books for more wordy novels, or whether you have children or not, you will still no doubt have a classic storybook hidden away in your attic, or, like me, you will keep a whole bucket-load and will still read them. In fact, I find it hard to share them with my little boy.

Obviously I may be a little bit extreme in my love of children’s books but if you hang around with children you will soon become quite fussy about what you read to them. After your child demands that you read their favourite book ‘again’ and 'again’, the book had better have some mileage or either the book or the child will be thrown out of the window, and we’re all hoping it’s the former.

Meanwhile, the publishers are sat at their desks reading through hundreds of manuscripts 'again’ and 'again’ and if the first page of text doesn’t have mileage those manuscripts will most likely be thrown out of the window too. 

I daren’t tell you what my son’s actual favourite book is, I’m actually ashamed to have it in the house. It was bought (not by me, I might add) from a discount store and was chosen purely because of his love of a certain farmyard animal. It’s so bad that I think he could actually draw better pictures than the book’s illustrations and he could probably write a better storyline in his sleep too. Think I’m being critical? Just ask his Dad. I’ve taken to hiding it to see if he notices it’s gone but he keeps asking for it. Again. And again. 

I tried to read him a highly esteemed storybook that came out recently - a very quirky storyline, printed on beautiful uncoated paper and simple illustrations by one of my favourite illustrators. I love it. It’s ingenious. I imagine the day that the publishers got this little beauty on their desks and they thought, bloody hell, we’ve got the parents hook line and sinker here. Yes, you have. But not my boy. He switched off after page four. 

Obviously every child is different and what appeals to one child will not appeal to another. People who read to young children need to be inspired to pick a book off the shelf, to read it to children over and over and find hidden humour amongst the simple storyline. Other parents will come to my house and see a book left out on the floor 'we’ve got that one, it’s brilliant isn’t it?’, they say. Because it made their children laugh? No. Because it made them laugh? Yes.

Actually, those that get passed on from generation to generation are those that are well crafted enough to appeal to all three audiences, the publishers, the parents and the children. In fact, the best books are those that the whole family can read together (preferably complete with silly voices and actions. Oh no wait, that’s just me). It’s all about the experience of reading a book together, creating memories and encouraging imagination. 

So, what’s my favourite book? Well, I have lots, but this was my favourite book aged 5 and I am still very fond of it:

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'Bill’s Balloon Ride by Reiner Zimnik. There are hardly any copies of it around but it is one of the most beautiful, funny and wonderfully illustrated books ever (in my opinion), complete with hard back cover (ahhh). My family used to read it together and years later I can still recite it by heart. In fact, we have those cheesy moments where the mere title of the book gets my whole family reciting it from memory (complete with silly voices). I tried to buy a copy the other day and it’s worth £70 so if you have one make sure you keep it safe from the reach of sticky hands.. oh no wait, that’s the whole point.

If you have the time I’d love to hear what your favourite children’s books are and if you have children what theirs are too. Thanks for reading!