Getting kids hooked on books

Our next-door neighbours had their first baby a few weeks ago – Isadora, known as Izzi.

When our own kids were born, friends and relatives gave us an abundance of (i.e. too many) baby clothes and toys. So we decided to buy Izzi a selection of books to see her from baby bathtime to school age. Not just any books, but books that our own kids, Harry and Olivia, liked when they were wee. And most important, that we enjoyed reading to and with them.

This was our shortlist:












For small babies, a plastic bath-book is good fun (anything brightly coloured, must squeak!). Freddy the Frog is by Axel Scheffler (who illustrated the Gruffalo books). Buggy books are a good idea too – they can be clipped on to prams, buggies, cots or high chairs and combine book and toy appeal. Many of the classic children’s titles are now available as buggy books too.

For slightly older babies, simple counting or alphabet books. We chose “A Moose in the Hoose”, a counting book in Scots (by James Robertson and Matthew Fitt), to help educate Izzi’s American mum, Annie, and American grandparents on the finer points of her linguistic heritage.

The Hairy MacLary or Slinky Malinki books by Linley Dodd are great fun for kids and adults and introduce some fairly sophisticated vocabulary. Our family still knows all of the gang’s names by heart, so the books clearly have staying power.

Amazingly, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle is 40 years old (with illustrations that are both timeless and of their time). Beautifully illustrated, this book helps children learn numbers and the days of the week, as well as teaching them how butterflies are “born”.

“Peepo!” was written and illustrated by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, who grew up in 1940s Britain. Its detailed and meticulously researched illustrations capture everyday life in that era to beautiful and highly nostalgic effect.

Maisie is a Scottish cat who has lots of adventures in Morningside, the posh part of Edinburgh, and in various locations around the world. We chose “Maisie Bites the Big Apple” in recognition of Izzi’s American heritage (her mum’s from Colorado, but I don’t think Maisie’s done the Rockies yet). The Maisie books are by Aileen Paterson.

“Fungus the Bogeyman”, by Raymond Briggs (who also wrote “The Snowman”). How could you resist this description:

Deep under the ground, in the dark tunnels of bogeydom, live the bogeys, a vile collection of slimy, smelly creatures who revel in everything revolting. Fungus is a bogeyman – a particulary foul and fetid specimen. As he goes about his bogey business, the full horrors of bogeydom are revealed…

Oh, hello again. Just back from checking Harry and Olivia’s bedrooms. Now, where was I…

…Oh, yes. Anything at allby Shirley Hughes. Her books are, quite simply, a joy.

All of these choices are, of course, highly personal. The above selection comes from our own family experience, bearing in mind that Harry and Olivia are now 17 and 15 respectively. Mike Ritchie, a journalist twitter-friend who has a toddler son, suggests “Spot The Dog” by Eric Hill, “Not So Scary Sid” by Sam Lloyd, “We’re Going On A Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury, and “The Gruffalo” and other Julia Donaldson offerings such as “Tyrannosaurus Drip” and “Sharing A Shell”. There’s a wonderful choice and your local bookshop will probably be delighted to help you make your selection. We bought ours from Milngavie Bookshop, which is a delight.

“Freddy the Frog”, by Axel Scheffler

“Smile” is a Baby Touch book by Ladybird

“A Moose in the Hoose”, by James Robertson and Matthew Fitt, illustrated by Karen Sutherland (Itchy Coo press)

Hairy Maclary and Slinky Malinki series, written and illustrated by Lynley Dodd

“The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, written and illustrated by Eric Carle

“Peepo!”, written and illustrated by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Maisie series, written and illustrated by Aileen Paterson

“Fungus the Bogeyman”, written and illustrated by Raymond Briggs

“Stories by Firelight”, by Shirley Hughes

By Marian Dougan

Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

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  1. Another lively blog.

    Have read quite a few on this list to Adam, who was four, a couple of weeks ago. The Hairy MacLary and Slink Malinky stories are full of fun for a little boy who delights, naturally, in playing tricks on us.

    There are some, too, we’ve not read and the Raymond Briggs’ one you mentioned does sound a hoot. Adam loved “The Snowman.”

    At the moment, he’s very keen on some old Ladybird books handed in by neighbours with topics ranging from the history of oil and motor cars to bugs and tools. He’s hugely interested in “Aesops’ Fables” as well.

    Adam loves his stories although the other night, he “read” to me in “Spanish” a book about insects. His Mum is a fluent Spanish speaker and he’s always asking what certain words are in Spanish. This helps me learn the lingo, too.

    Thanks again for a smashing post.

    1. And thanks for a smashing comment! I hadn’t heard of the Sam Lloyd books you mentioned in an earlier comment (on the Your Words page). They look like great fun! If I’d known about them earlier I’d have bought “Calm Down Boris” for Izzi – Boris is their puppy’s name.

  2. Great post. I’m feeling rather nostalgic now myself, particularly for ‘Peepo’ and ‘Hairy Maclary’.
    My own wee boy loves the Shirley Hughes’ ‘Alfie’ books. His aunt bought him some of the collection for his second birthday and he can’t get enough of them. ‘The Gruffalo’ is a firm favourite too!

  3. These books bring back so many memories, especially “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”! I think my favorite books as a young child were “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” (and of course the books that followed) and Maurice Sendak’s “Where The Wild Things Are.” It’s great to get kids hooked on books when they are young… it makes school a lot more bearable when they get older, and I think overall reading just makes us a lot more intellectually curious. Great suggestions!

  4. I always give books as baby shower gifts — they may not be able to use them right away, but are so glad to have them once their baby is old enough to show an interest. Nice post!

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