A Question of Books

The biggest hurdle for me when deciding whether to execute ‘Project Move to an Italian Hilltop Despite the fact Tom Will Commute for Work to and from London’ wasn’t the logistics of said commuting. It wasn’t concern about being lonely on said hilltop. It wasn’t the language barrier.

It was books.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to surmount this book hurdle. I know some of you would answer with just one word: Kindle. But I’m not there yet. (I was still playing cassettes a year ago, so be kind, please.)  There’s nothing like a book to hold in your hand, turn the pages, lift the flaps if you are only 18 months (and actually the 5 and 7 year olds secretly still enjoy that), smell the smell… you have experienced the crisp smell of new books?

I travel. My books travel. Their books travel.

Well, some of them had to. The first six (-ish) that had to come in were:

Lavender's Blue

We love Lavender’s Blue, (ed. Kathleen Lines and Harold Jones) a beautiful edition of a wealth of traditional nursery rhymes, many you will know and love, many more quirky surprises from yesteryear in there. A gift at birth, it is well thumbed still by H., aged seven. First in the box: hours of delight from pictures and words.

DAulairesB_0You will remember that P. is a bit of a fan of Greek Myths – who wouldn’t be? One eyed Cyclopes and one hundred eyed Argus, three headed monsters, three bodied-beasts, man-ravaging Minotaur, invisibility caps, winged sandals… it’s child heaven – what’s not to like? I have bought/been gifted/snaffled from my childhood home quite a few versions of Greek Myths over the years but D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths is my definitive ‘take it with you’ compendium. It has all the classics and more: take Tantalus, the foolish son of Zeus who decided it would be a good idea to sacrifice his son to the Gods; they were pretty cross when they discovered this, so condemned Tantulus to perpetual suffering. So they trapped him in water to his neck, yet he could never drink – the water ebbed back as he bent down to it. The branches above his head were laden, yet he could never eat – the branches bent out of reach as he tried to pick. Tantalizing stuff. Plenty to enthrall young imaginations.

each peach pear plum

We’re spoilt for choice with children’s picture books. How to choose between classics such as Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s Peepo and new favourites such as Julia Donaldson’s Toddle WaddleLa Principessa likes a shoe (whether it fits or not), so the flip flops in the latter always prove compelling. As do the feet – bare and shoed – at the end of Eric Carle’s less familiar Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What do you Hear? But at the end of the day, Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s Each Peach Pear Plum with its little dog and finely detailed illustrations is the one I couldn’t leave behind.

How to choose story books for older readers that will delight for more than one reading? Am I allowed a box set? The good thing about writing a blog for yourself is that you choose the boundaries. I want a box set? I get a box set. Or maybe two.

snicket-2So, in a rare move allowing newbies in first, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is top of the list. As H. had read the first three books in the last two weeks before leaving the UK, there wasn’t much choice in the matter but this is only a good thing. Nothing cutesy or indulgent here: catapulting the black of fairy tales into a full length, protracted story of quick witted children surrounded by evil intent, the Baudelaire orphans’ story is one to be read and re-read as the children’s understanding grows. Love the story, love the language, particularly Lemony Snicket’s delicious explanations not only of the youngest orphan’s infant babble but more importantly of the more complicated language used in his writing. If you haven’t got it on the shelf yet, don’t mess around buying them individually!

For my second box set, tradition rules and we have the full series starting with Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery. Anne was a very useful companion to a non stop chattering girl, possibly slightly given to melodrama, as she grew up, she ‘never did the same wrong thing twice’. I have, but I think of Anne and try not to and anyhow, ‘tomorrow is another day, with no mistakes in it’. Yet. The Anne series provides plenty of fodder for reads and re-reads.

rattle bag

And one which I can actually admit is also for me: The Rattle Bag., ed Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney. A glorious anthology of poetry: serious, funny, modern, ancient. Dip in and dip out. Understand and don’t understand. Anything goes; something will captivate, no matter your mood and even if you don’t think you like poetry… Pop in for a ‘Reflection on Ingenuity’ from Ogden Nash:

‘Here’s a good rule of thumb:
Too clever is dumb.’


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