Nos voyages farfelus du pays magique à la planète bizarre

J’ai une confession à vous faire. J’ai un peu hésité avant d’associer ces deux livres dans un même billet et ce, même si,  tous deux sortent vraiment de l’ordinaire. Et puis vendredi soir, je suis allée voir avec ma fille Quentin Blake et Daniel Maja et ces deux acolytes ont annihilé tous mes doutes. Soyons farfelus, un peu fous, et même bizarres, peu importe!

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Tant de fantaisie et d’humour à respectivement 81 et 72 ans, vraiment chapeau! Alors pourquoi se retenir et faire dans le conventionel, on aura bien le temps d’être sérieux quand on sera vraiment vieux! Preuve en image que les deux artistes s’en sont donné à coeur joie, voyez par vous même, on s’est régalé et les enfants ont vraiment beaucoup rigolé:

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Au pays magique de François David et Éric Battut nous a été offert il y a quelques années mais nous aimons le relire régulièrement. Avant de recevoir ce magnifique album, nous connaissions déjà quelques uns des livres de Battut dont La Noisette, Deux amis pour la vie (une histoire de bagarre et d’amitié entre un éléphant et un escargot), et Le petit chasseur de bruit, mais nous n’avions jamais vu son travail à la gouache et il en vaut vraiment la peine.

Le format de cet album ne pourrait pas être plus simple avec un texte court, généralement une phrase sur la page de gauche et une illustration grand format sur celle de droite. Ce qui rend le livre inhabituel et si attachant, ce sont les attributs du pays magique. “Au pays magique, les arbres aiment se promener sur les nuages comme sur des tapis volants, les chèvres galopent dans le ciel avec des bottes de 7 lieues, et en haut des montagnes on peut boire le soleil à la paille comme un gros jus d’orange.”

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Mon fils aime chercher à voir les petits détails de chaque planche, et l’humour de certaines pages. Dans ce pays magique, il y a de bien belles choses comme des nuages roses pour protèger les amoureux, et des guirlandes tissées par les avions. Il y a aussi des choses plus incongrues comme des renards et des chiens qui sont copains, et des mouettes qui prennent des douches sous les jets d’eau des baleines.

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Pour certains, la conclusion semblera peut être trop terre à terre ou sombre. Moi j’y vois une façon de revenir une fois la fantaisie installée au quotidien puiqu’au “pays magique il y a une forêt secrète où le Père Noël trouve des forces pour qu’il n’y ait plus d’enfants malheureux”. Certes cette conclusion génère de temps en temps des conversations un peu ardues mais parfois c’est le reste du livre et ses jolies fantaisies qui accrochent l’attention de mes enfants. Je pense que la beauté des illustrations et le texte plein de poésie et d’inventivité vaut bien le risque de discuter d’un sujet sensible, qui est tout à fait compréhensible, même si je l’espère assez abstrait pour vos enfants.

Après avoir lu Au Pays magique, pourquoi ne pas leur demander à quoi ressemblerait leur pays magique? Voici la magnifique version de d’un groupe d’élèves de primaire. Je l’ai dénichée sur le sîte de Julie, une enseignante québécoise, qui avec d’autres met en commun plein de ressources.

Et si vous pensez que ce pays magique n’est pas pour vous, essayez un autre livre de Battut comme Entre chien et chat dont Télérama dit le plus grand bien ici.

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Pour compléter ce parcours (partiel) de nos lectures loufoques, je vous propose un autre livre: La planète bizarre de Voutch qui a un ton tout aussi décalé que le précédent mais assez différent.

C’est un livre petit format (il tient dans ma main et elle n’est pas grande), cartonné, très coloré, d’environ une dizaines de pages. Lui aussi décrit les particularités d’une planète bizarre où “les chats pondent des oeufs, où parfois il pleut des saucisses, et où toutes les mamans ont de grandes moustaches”.

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Je suis sûre qu’au graphisme vous aurez déjà deviné que le ton de La planète bizarre est plus comique et extravangant que poétique. Mon fils adore le côté loufoque et incroyable de cette planète où on donne aux enfants qui font des bêtises des gâteaux aux fraises.  La planète bizarre n’est pas mon titre préféré de cette collection (dont je reparlerai sous peu) mais la concurrence est rude et comme mes enfants l’aiment beaucoup, il était normal que je le présente dans ce billet.

Pour conclure sur une touche rigolote, je vous propose la comptine française des 3 éléphants, tout à fait improbable mais adorable. On aime la chanter en se tenant les mains même si nous ne sommes que deux ou trois, et se jetter joyeusement les fesses par terre au badaboum final de chaque couplet! A vous de voir…

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Today I decided that it would be nice for me to introduce you to two bonkers books. The first Au pays magique is by François David and Éric Battut. It describes a magical country where trees like to walk on the clouds, where scarecrows don’t scare anyone, and where snowmen never melt. The delicate details of the illustrations, the incongruous descriptions, and unusual associations make this book one of a kind.IMG_20141123_235031

Reading it is with children is a great experience as their imagination has no bounds and they will suggest more ways to describe this magical country. I have on occasions wondered how many of these attributes where actually inspired by kids’ words, since my daughter, when she was three, did ask me how planes managed to pull huge tinsels behind them.

My second suggestion is different in tone as it is less poetic and funnier. Voutch does satirical illustrations in magazines in France, and I think some of his deadpan humour filters through his books for children.

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On this bizarre planet, it does not rain cats and dogs but sausages, and naughty children are given strawberry cakes they need to protect because of hungry flying dogs!

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The conclusion left to a little boy who  says he will never visit such a place is unexpected, but in line with the rest of the book. It gives you a chance to chat about the places you might want to visit one day, and the surprises that might await.

To conclude joyfully, I have made a selection of songs that are not for children but that we like to listen to, and which are just a little bit bonkers. Here is a fun (non official) video for one of Émilie Loizeau’s songs, a French (yet bilingual) singer who has a tendency to make lovely yet slightly crazy songs.

And if you’d rather listen to one of her songs in English, have a listen at Madame Coconut. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Autumn books we love

Yes, the weather has turned to wet and miserable, but we can still rejoice at the thought of hot chocolate and biscuits, or whatever treat warms both your belly and your heart. Autumn is almost certainly my favourite season and Jane Porter‘s gorgeous illustration seemed to perfectly illustrate the joy this time of year summons in me. Don’t get me wrong, my kids and I love summer with all the opportunities it offers to spend time outside, but I like the fact that summer is precious because it is short lived.

If you don’t feel like braving the rain and wind, or if your kids need to be convinced that autum is a great season, then read them these two lovely stories. The first of these will explain to them why leaves fall, and the second will encourage them to be patient and understanding, so really, what’s not be liked?

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When we picked up Leaf Trouble written by Jonathan Emmett and illustrated by Caroline Jayne Church at the library recently, I wondered why it looked familiar to me. Then once home, I realised that Caroline Jayne Church had made a series of books that my son adored as a baby and toddler whose main character is a fun little puppy called Woof.

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Now in Leaf Trouble there is no dog, but a family of squirrels who lives in an big oak tree. Pip when he realises that the leaves are not only changing colours but also falling from the trees, starts to panic.

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He calls for his sister’s help and hopes that they can save the tree which is “falling to pieces”. After making a huge pile on the ground, this spontaneous rescue team tries to stick the leaves back on the branches, but of course this fails, and thank goodness their mum arrives and asks them what they’re doing!

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She then explains to them that the tree needs a rest and that when spring comes, the leaves will all come back again.

Relieved to hear this, they play beneath the old oak tree until sunset, collect some leaves to take back to their nest, and watch the gorgeous colours of the sunset which perfectly match the ones on the leaves. Seeing them happy and soaking in the scene contrasts nicely with their frantic panic and makes for a nice ending.

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This story gave us a chance to think about the change of season and what happens to trees and animals who live outdoors. If your child has ever wondered why it is that leaves change colour in the fall, read this great post by an expert who has tons of ideas to make this tangible and fun with experiments and activities.

Now for a visual feast you can’t really beat the lavishness of Helen Cooper‘s work. “Deep  in the woods there’s an old cabin with pumpkins in the garden. There’s a good smell of soup, and at night, with luck, you might see a bagpiping Cat through the window, and a squirrel with a banjo, and a small singing Duck.”

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Each of them has a special role in making this yummy soup: Cat slices the pumpkin, Squirrel stirs in the water, and Duck adds the right amount of salt. But one morning Duck wakes up early and decides to borrow Squirrel’s special spoon and to become the Head cook. Of course this is not going to work and not only because he is too short. The three friends start squabbling and arguing until Duck walks out, annoyed that no one will let him help.

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Contrary to what the Cat and the Squirrel thought Duck does not come back for breakfast, not even for lunch. The soup they make is not tasty and they don’t feel hungry anyway. So they start to look for him and to worry about where he has gone.

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After looking for a long time, they decide to go back home, see some light from a distance, and run to the house where they are finally reunited.

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My kids love pumpkin soup and understand all too well falling out with friends, so when the Cat and Squirrel decide to let Duck make the soup for the sake of their friendship, they understand why it is, believe me! And they love the look of the messy kitchen too.

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For another visual automnal feast, watch Co Hoedeman’s Ludovic who has been a favourite in our house for years. We have a DVD with several of this cute teddy’s stories but you can watch Magic in the air on the National Film Board’s website for free.

For more activity ideas, have a look at our seasonal pinterest board!

Finally here is some inspiration for those of you who like making yummy snacks together. Look at these maple roast pumpkin seeds or apple pie cups on Weelicious, don’t they look nice? I also love improvising with date-nut bites, there’s a good recipe here, but feel free to try your own combination. We like date+cocoa+walnut+almond butter, rolled in dessicated coconut to make them a bit less sticky. As long as you’ve got a good food processor, they are easy and kids love these energy balls.

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Just in case you get thirsty, why not try THE drink that says autumn: apple cider, a good old classic which makes the house smell like heaven. Here’s a link to a foolproof recipe with an option to make it plain, decadent, or even boozy.

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Des livres plein la maison pour les cocottes et cocos

Chez nous, il y a des auteurs comme Emily Gravett, Taro Gomi, Émile Jadoul, Jeanne Ashbé, et Ludovic Flamant qu’on ne se lasse jamais de lire. Même ma grande (qui a 8 ans) aime revenir à ces classiques surtout lorsque nous avons de jeunes visiteurs à qui elle peut faire la lecture.

C’est suite à une de ces récentes visites que je me suis dis qu’il serait temps d’ajouter quelques suggestions pour les plus jeunes. Et qui  choisir d’autre que Jadoul et Flamant?

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Des livres plein la maison est un petit album cartonné et coloré qui fait l’inventaire de tous les livres dans la maison d’un petit garçon, de ceux sans images pour papa et maman aux autres qui lui appartiennent. Le texte rime comme celui d’une comptine, les illustrations sont à la fois charmantes et drôles et les usages détournés que ce petit héros propose aux lecteurs montrent à quel point l’imagination des adultes peut être limitée.

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Les autres titres de cette collection sont dans la même veine et peuvent être lus au bébés sans problème. Alors si Des livres plein la maison vous tape dans l’oeil, essayez La soupe aux miettes par le même talentueux duo qui raconte comment préparer une délicieuse soupe aux miettes jusqu’à ce que maman s’en mèle biensûr.

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Dans ce billet, Élise vous conseille aussi On ne joue pas avec la nourriture parmi un florilège de livres qui aident à désamorcer les conflits autour des repas. Bref, vous avez le choix!

Pour finir, voilà un album tout court et tout tendre qui aide bien avec les petites angoisses liées au moment du coucher. Dans Bonne nuit, ma cocotte, maman poule, comme chaque soir, met cocotte au lit en lui faisant un gros bécot.

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Mais cocotte n’est pas rassurée, sa maman n’a t-elle pas mis son beau collier pour sortir? Est-elle encore là même si on ne l’entend pas? Que sont ces bruits bizarres, et pourquoi fait-il si noir ce soir? Tenant Lapinou, son doudou, bien serré contre elle, Cocotte questionne encore et encore, et appelle maman poule qui a, je dois dire, la patience d’une sainte et qui jamais ne se démonte.

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Pour les parents, l’heure du coucher c’est souvent le signal d’un peu de liberté retrouvée. On peut lire quelques pages tranquille sans interruption, siroter une boisson chaude sans devoir faire attention où on la pose, et même passer 5 minutes seul(e) dans la salle de bain!  Alors cet album qui met l’accent sur les petites angoisses des petits est un excellent rappel que ce qui nous semble parfois bénin ou trivial peut en fait avoir un impact beaucoup plus important qu’on ne le croit. Au final, cinq minutes de plus ou de moins, un bisou ou deux de plus, quelle affaire, ça ne nous demande pas un grand effort supplémentaire!

Si l’heure du coucher vous cause des soucis, pourquoi ne pas essayer de désamorcer la situation en l’apprivoisant plus tôt dans la journée? Il y a quelques années, on nous a offert le jeu Bisous Dodo, très sympa et simplissime. On l’a un peu mis de côté depuis, mais je suis sûre que si nous le ressortions, il aurait grand succès. Martine y consacre une rubrique qui vous explique tout dessus, c’est par là.


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Si vous êtes bricoleur ou bricoleuse, regardez les magnifiques marionnettes en feutrine faites par les bibliothécaires de St Brieuc pour la visite de Jadoul. Elles sont superbes mais ne semblent pas très compliquées à reproduire.

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Si vous ne vous sentez pas d’humeur, laissez donc vos têtes blondes s’y coller, avec des assiettes en papier, un peu de colle, de peinture, on peut faire des poulettes très convaincantes avec un tuto ici.

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Pour finir si vos enfants sont fans de poules et de poussins, quelques titres à la volée que nous aimons et qui pourraient leur plaire:

  • Le Poussin de Kimiko
  • Toute la série des P’tites Poules de deux Christians Jolibois et Heinrich pour les 3 ans et plus
  • Bébé Poussin d’Emily Bolam avec un super mini livre dans le livre que mes enfants a-do-raient.

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Émile Jadoul is a Belgian author and illustrator and I have come across quite a few of his books translated in English. Ludovic Flamant collaborated with him on several titles for very young readers. The two books I want to recommend today are great for babies and toddlers.

In the first Des livres plein la maison, we’re taken on a jolly tour of a house by a little boy and his dog. He shows us around and tells us about his books as well as his parents’s. I read this countless times with my daughter when she was a baby, because it is short, colourful and fun. It looks at books as reading tools but also as potential toys, building blocks, and even dens!

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This is a real celebration of books as material objects that need to be manipulated, played with, and not overly protected. We’ve always been quite relaxed about how books should be handled in our house. Apart from torn pages, there’s no ‘no-no’ really. We had quite a few books in plastic for the bath or for taking with us, and a smaller collection of lovely fabric ones that were great to play with. So of course Flamant and Jadoul’s playful approach is one that we endorse.

Bonne nuit, ma cocotte! although slightly longer is just as great for very young children. A little chick keeps calling her mother, finding funny excuses to make sure she does not leave her too soon. The book goes through a list of all the usual suspects: “the room’s too dark, my teddy needs a wee (and me too), what’s that scary noise? can I have a last kiss good night?”

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Mother hen’s patience is really impressive and may be something you aspire to. I remember reading this book during the day so that we’d get a chance to discuss bedtime and its routine before it happened. Maybe because we always read a story and spend a good few minutes cuddling and kissing, before turning the lights off, my kids have rarely made a big fuss about bedtime. But of course I know this is not the case for everyone. So if you are looking for additional bedtime related reads, go and read this post I wrote a while ago and good luck for tonight!

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God save the Queen

No, this blog has not turned into a political forum which hopes to to debate the virtues or monarchy. What interests me today is the figure of the Queen that I’ve seen popping up in a couple of books that we particularly enjoy reading at the moment.

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I can’t take credit for this first book by Tom McLaughin which tells the lovely story of Harry and the cat he gets for his birthday Mr Tiddles. My son who likes to romp about in the park after school introduced me to The Diabolical Mr Tiddles a couple of weeks ago. He ran to the display shelf at the library, picked it up, ran back to me, and said with a big mischievous grin on his face “Mum, my teacher read this to us last year, I love it, can we read it again?”. How could I not oblige him? And of course we took it home and read it quite a few times since.

After Harry’s dream to get a cat comes true, he does all he can to make him as happy as a cat can be. They watch TV and play video games together and slurp yummy looking milkshakes.

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Harry even strokes Mr Tiddles’s tummy until he drifts into a dreamy sleep at night. This seems like paradise, but like any honey moon, this period of bliss eventually comes to an end. On the day Mr Tiddles decides to show his love by bringing Harry a nice fresh mouse, Harry unsurprisingly turns a funny colour.

Mr Tiddles, who is not the kind of cat to let this mishap deter him, decides to get something else for Harry. This time he brings him his favourite treat: a triple chocolate cream-and-custard cake with extra banana jam. Who could possibly resist this? The trouble is that after that, every morning Harry wakes up to find more and more outrageously lavish gifts. Yummy jelly beans, a pogo stick, an electric guitar, a giant train set, the list goes on and on until one day he finds a horse in his bedroom!

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Harry who is both delighted and puzzled by this endlessly growing collection of things decides one night that he will follow Mr Tiddles to see where all these presents come from. And guess where he ends up?

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That’s right, the rascally moggy has decided to burgle the Queen’s palace! But the minute Mr Tiddles lays his paw on her Majesty’s crown, Harry shouts “Stop!”. Needless to say the Queen is not amused and asks her guards “to arrest these two intruders for Acts of Cheekiness Against the Crown.”

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Harry then pleads his friend’s cause and explains that he’s only been taking things because he cares about him so much. Her Majesty looks at Mr Tiddles long and hard and she tells him that it is wrong to steal. She can see that he has learned his lesson and decides that she will forget about it as long as he returns all the things he has taken to their original owners. When the two friends are finished, they share a big hug and agree that having each other is the best present ever.

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 The Queen’s forgiveness and the moral lesson she teaches Mr Tiddles are valuable. But what I like most is the ending which shows that love and affection is worth much more that material possessions. My children were wowed by the various presents that Harry got, but they agreed it was much more fun to spend time together, having a lovely picnic, with no external distraction. And because Christmas is just around the corner, I am happy to find subtle reminders that things don’t necessarily bring you long term happiness.

Now The Queen’s Hat by Steve Antony is a different  kettle of fish. We went to a reading of his during half term and have been practicing drawing corgis, butlers and pandas steadily since.

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Bear with me if the panda does not make sense yet. The Queen’s Hat is a gorgeous picture book that can be read to toddlers, but that will also has appeal to older kids. The Queen who is on her way to visit someone very special, sees her hat flying away: SWISH! Breaking protocol, she and her guards start running after the lost hat which gets swept to Trafalgar Square, and all through London Zoo, and all along the Underground. The hat does not stop there and carries on all the way to the top of Big Ben.

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The fantastically detailed and fun pictures of these well known sights covered by swarms of red and black guards, the option to ‘spot the corgi or Queen’, and the fantastic floating umbrellas that bring them all to Kensington Palace are gorgeous eye candies.

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And what better end to a story than a happy baby, the one she was going to visit, her grandson (presumably).

This is a great book to read before a visit to any of London’s attractions and sights, or to offer to visitors regardless of their mother tongue since the text is easily translated. We love the guards’s shiny jackets on the cover, the fun ending, and the details of every single double page.

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If you want to learn how to draw a corgi, just start with a sausage and visit this page.

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Now for the panda reference. Steve has a new book coming out in January about manners, doughnuts, and pandas, a joyous combination don’t you think? He kindly read it after the Queen’s Hat and showed the kids how to draw a panda. FYI: the event we attended took place at Tales on Moon Lane, a great independent bookshop in Herne Hill (south London) specialising in children’s books.

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Now I won’t suggest you try to make the impressive triple chocolate cream-and-custard cake with extra banana jam as a follow up activity, but why not try these simple, tried and tested banana boats? They are yummy, easy and fairly quick too. In this house we like peanut butter, chocolate and dessicated coconut, but you could try any combination you like, by just following these instructions.

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Finally if you need a little bit of silliness after the seriousness of monarchy, then have a look at this classic camp song which includes bananas, corn, potatoes and apples. Have fun!

 

 

Embracing and celebrating diversity

The best books are sometimes the most simple and there are two that I really want to share with you today. My Nose, your Nose by Melanie Walsh, and Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly by Sue Heap and Nick Sharratt are great books for toddlers, but they also work well with children who are starting to decode and read as I discovered with my four year old son. They could also be great prompts to start discussing diversity, stereotypes, and peer pressure.

I have been thinking about the post I wrote on diversity in children’s books, I have read other bloggers‘s posts on the subject, and I also looked at many of the comments and conversations on the Guardian’s website. This is encouraging but what I would like these diverse books to be above all is great books, fun books, books that my children and I will want to read again, and again, and again. This is why these two books are so dear to me.

I could write a whole series of posts on Nick Sharratt’s work, and maybe I will at some point. His sense of humour and fun characters almost feel like they are part of our family.

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I will be honest though, there has been a few times when I wish we’d lost You Choose, since it probably is the book we’ve read the most in the last 7 years! But I still feel a bit sad that we do not live closer to Sheffield because there is a great looking show devoted to Sharratt’s work on tour from October to next summer.

In Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly, Sue and Nick are friends and they’re also two different ‘characters’ (although one may wonder whether they are characters or alter egos). NickSharratCrazyHairThe text accompanying the illustrations could not be simpler as it alternates between descriptions of what Sue and Nick like. For instance, Nick likes yellow socks, Sue likes yellow ducks. Nick likes red apples, Sue likes green pears.

One thing I like in particular is that contrary to gender stereotypes, Sue likes everything blue, while Nick likes pink and orange dinosaurs. When my son comes home and tells me that he has been told off by girls in his class because he wanted to play hairdresser with them, of course I’ll explain that he can play or like anything he wants, regardless of what others say. But what’s the voice of a mother when facing those of peers?

Finally what I value in Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly is the fact that it concludes on the absolute non judgmental: Sue likes Nick, Nick likes Sue, thus showing that you are worthy of both consideration and affection whatever you like and whatever you wear.

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Now My nose, your Nose also works on juxtapositions. Its clear simple text matches its bold and bright images. While Daisy’s skin is brown, Agnes’s is white but they both have cheeky pink tongues!

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The book goes on comparing  these children’s hair, their eye colours, and their legs among other things.

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There is something of the simplicity of Dick Bruna’s work in My Nose, your Nose, and I love this, certainly because it reminds me of my childhood.

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But among all these comparisons, Walsh keeps coming to a common ground whether it is their love for chocolate cake, their energy, or the daily rituals that they experience.

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I wish I had known about this book earlier since we only bought it a couple of years ago. I can see how it would be a great baby book, one that a child can grow with, and appreciate year after year. We regularly go back to Walsh’s ‘lift the flap’ books and we’ve had them for years in French. Like My Nose, Your Nose, they are simple, colourful, and fun.

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Additional ideas:

Now if you want to do more than just reading these two books, how about a game of colour match or colour hunt as suggested in the lovely blog It’s All About Stories?

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You could also try to make a batch of coloured rice! Jackie’s recipe from Happy Holligans is foolproof and you can be sure your children will have a ton of fun.

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Additional readings;

As for other reads, how about challenging gender stereotypes a bit more? Rosie is a brilliant and inspirational girl engineer, read about her in this review, isn’t she irresistible?

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And finally here’s Raffi, a boy who’s a little bit different, who loves knitting, and who after a while finds people who recognize his talents. See it reviewed here.

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