It’s difficult to move in our house without tipping over a precariously piled heap of books. My own mother worked in bookshops for years and I spent most of my twenties in and out of various bookshop jobs. With that comes a hard-to-break book accumulation habit. Books, stories and illustration have been a lifelong passion of mine and it seems my kids are turning out the same way. It’s been incredibly difficult picking out five favourite books treasured by my family and I am sure I will wake up tomorrow and realise I left out the most important… but for now, here are the five books that we seem to have loved the most over the last decade since my first daughter was born.
Her stories about family, friends, and adventure captivated me as a child, her whimsical drawings continue to influence my work as an illustrator, and her wild, non-conformative, art-centered life appeals to me as an adult. The Moomin family, with all its quirky characters, funny relationships and their life philosophy of love, respect, acceptance, and adventure, peppered with a subtle “everything’s going to be alright” attitude, reminds me so much of my own family and growing-up. I have so much joy sharing them with my own children, who in turn think the Moomins are living a life just like theirs. There are such wise, gentle, funny tales about humanity in all Jansson’s books that she will always be my number one on any list.
Ages 9-12 | Publisher: Square Fish| April 27, 2010
2. The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton
Ahh, EB. Not always PC, and always dated. Never the less, the Faraway books have been favourites of ours since the girls were small. The idea of visiting fabulously magical lands with a group of trustworthy pals who are magical creatures all living in an enormous tree in the woods outside your back door is so escapist, yet so simple and completely non confronting that it’s appealing to even the littlest of kids. There are no complex characters or noble story-lines but there is the mysterious Enchanted Wood, full of whispering trees that have secrets to hear if you press an ear to their trunks. There are pixies meeting on toadstool chairs, and strange magical creatures of the most storybook kind conversing with rabbits in waist coats and goblins in pointed hats. There are madcap adventures through lands that appear in the clouds at the top of tree such as The Land of Take-What-You-Want, The Land of Toys, The Land of Birthdays and The Land of Do What You Please. Blyton wrote three books in this series but there are times when I wish she had written more about Jo, Beth, Fanny, (renamed Franny in the new version) and Cousins Connie and Dick (again, renamed Rick for all those 21st Century prudes).
Ages 5-9 | Publisher: Dean| October 3, 2011 (Reprint)
3. Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban
For the fussy eater in our life. This book is an absolute pleasure to read out loud. If you can get past the fact that it’s the mother scurrying about in the kitchen serving breakfast to a condescendingly pleased father and her annoyingly demanding small offspring, then little Frances and her stubborn refusal to eat anything but bread and jam is good fun. Another book we love that explores food and the idea of tasting new things is the charming Yoko by Rosemary Wells which makes me want to eat plates of sushi every time we read it.
Ages 4-8 | Publisher: HarperCollins| September 9, 1964
4. All Kinds of Families by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Marc Boutavant
A new favourite of ours – as we are all fans of the beautiful illustrations of the talented Marc Boutavant. HisMouk books are another favourite, but it is All Kinds of Families we choose to read aloud frequently. In our life we know all sorts of different kinds of families and it’s nice to read a book that reminds of how flexible the word “family” really is.
Ages 4-7 | Publisher: Little, Brown & Company| August 1, 2009
5. Possum Magic by Mem Fox, illustrated by Julie Vivas
Mem Fox’s Possum Magic is a classic Australian picture book and a lovely one to share with our Australian born children especially now that we live in Canada. Julie Vivas’ watercolour illustrations are perfect for this purely delightful story about a Grandma possum who magically turns her little grandchild Hush invisible in order to protect it from wild Australian beasties. What follows is a trip around Australia sampling Australian delights (vegemite sandwiches, pavlovas and lamingtons, etc.) in a quest to make Hush visible again. Read the book and then bake a batch of Anzac biscuits for the full experience.
Ages 4-7 | Publisher: Sandpiper | September 15, 1991 (Reprint)
First printed in the Children’s Book Review, February 2013