Well, hello there! And welcome to Sally’s Picks!
What a delightful treat to be given a whole page to myself to recommend children’s books. Of course, there are so many fabulous books to choose from that it will be hard to narrow it down to just three each month, so I think I will aim to set myself the challenge of writing to themes or seasons.
(I may even occasionally throw in the odd classic you may have missed that I hope your child will love!)
Each month I will aim to include an illustrated book, a non-fiction book and a children’s novel, and give you a little spiel on why I think they are so wonderful and who I think they would be suited for.
I’d love to know which ones you love, too! Or any treasures you remember from your own childhoods.
So, for my first ever post on The Booktopian, the theme is:
Yes. It’s that time of year again. The time of year that throws non-crafty parents like myself into a panic. The week where your darling child will tell you late one evening, just as you are reading them a story in bed: “Oh, Mum, Dad! I forgot! It’s the Book Week parade tomorrow! I need a costume!”
So, in the spirit of all things costume-related, I thought I’d share some of my favourite dress-up books…
The Underwater Fancy Dress-Parade by Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys
Davina and Allison are a match made in heaven. Everyone is going nuts for All The Ways To Be Smart (as they should – it’s one of my favourite picture books ever) but do you know about the first book they made together? Davina met Allison when they were both at Penguin and worked together to design the covers for a series of children’s classics. When Davina left Penguin to write full-time for a couple of years, they kept in touch and chatted about their dream of collaborating on a picture book. Davina asked Allison what were her favourite things to draw, and having grown up on Groote Island off the Northern Territories, Allison said she liked to draw sea creatures. So, Davina wrote The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade for her. It went on to win a swag of awards, including the CBCA Crichton Award for New Illustrator, and the two of them have since produced three beautiful award-winning books together.
Why do I love it? So many books are about strong characters. Or characters with flaws that discover their inner strength over the course of the story. But what about those children who aren’t like this? Children who are quiet and shy and may never want to dress up in a costume and march around the school grounds? Alfie is one of those kids, and his mum is totally fine with this. He will shine when he is ready. As Davina says in her dedication: this book is “for all the little people out there who sometimes wish they were braver. When the time is right, you will be.”
Buy it here.
Love Your Body by Jessica Sanders and Carol Rossetti
My second pick, for a favourite recent non-fiction, is not so much about dressing up but feeling good in your body, no matter what you are wearing.
Love Your Body by Jessica Sanders and Carol Rossetti is a beautifully illustrated and timely book for girls of all ages, teaching us that all bodies are beautiful and also how to take care of ourselves and appreciate what our bodies do for us. As Jessica writes: “Your body is an incredible instrument for you to use. Use your body to move, laugh, cry, hug and feel. If you are ever finding it hard to love your body, try writing a list of all the great things that your body helps you do.”
With a background in social work and having worked with the Butterfly Foundation which supports people with eating disorders, Jessica set out to create a book that would make young girls feel good about themselves. As she says in an interview before Love Your Body was published: “I had watched my female friends tortured by eating disorders and silenced by physical prejudices. I was so tired of this being the unrelenting reality for almost every woman I encountered, and I was going to do something about it.”
Initially Jessica set out to self-publish the book via a Kickstarter campaign, but it was soon picked up by Melbourne publisher, Five Mile Press, who loved the concept from the minute they saw it. Love Your Body is recommended for girls of 8 – 12 years, as this is when they are beginning to form a view of themselves that they will carry for the rest of their lives, but with its warm, conversational tone and helpful tips for self care and body positivity, I can’t see how you couldn’t benefit from reading a book like this, no matter what age! I now have my fingers crossed that there will be a book for boys from Jessica in the future.
Buy it here.
The Naughtiest Pixie in Disguise by Ailsa Wild
Lastly, my third pick for this month is a gorgeous new chapter book series, by the much-loved author of the Squishy Taylor books. Ailsa Wild has created another delightful new character in Jenifry Star, who is the naughtiest pixie you could ever imagine! She “loves sugar and cream and licks the butter in secret” and doesn’t listen to her Nana who warns her to stay away from those dangerous human children.
Ailsa set out to create a female character that is funny and cheeky to sit alongside many of the books for this age group featuring adventurous boys, like the Treehouse or the WeirDo series. We are often more comfortable with our boys being boisterous, cheeky and loud than we are seeing these attributes in young girls, who are often expected to be quiet and behave. Jenifry breaks all these stereotypes. She is daring and loud and takes risks, even when she has been warned not to, sometimes with hilarious results. Girls and boys who love naughty pixies, cheeky fairies and dressing-up, will love this series for early readers.
While, understandably, having a child that is adventurous and takes risks can be much more nerve-wracking than a child that will sit quietly and do what they are told, I fear that the risk-taking games of our own childhoods, like climbing trees and playing in the dirt are rapidly being replaced with virtual games that keep our children clean and safe, but dry up their imaginations.
Recently, I read an article about the importance of play in early childhood to develop the right side of our brain, which is the part that is responsible for empathy, intuition, imagination and creativity. The right side is the first part of the brain to develop, at around 3 – 4 years of age, and the left brain, which is responsible for logic and planning and academic learning, doesn’t kick in til around 7 years of age. The right side of our brain is about being. The left brain is doing.
As Vince Gowman, the author of the article, says: “Being is the soil from which all our plans, details and actions must flower if we are to experience personal fulfilment and truly contribute to the world.” All the more reason to let our children play outside as much as we can when they are young, before they are weighed down with the left-brain focus that comes with years of education ahead of them.
So, this Book Week, stick a pair of wings on your child, or a cape or a crown or a mask, and take some joy from watching them lose themselves in imaginative play, even if they come inside with a scraped knee or a muddy bottom. Then, when they are clean and their clothes are in the washing machine, you can cuddle up with them and read with them at the end of the day. These are the memories that will nurture them for a lifetime.
See you next month!