The best books for sharing aloud with children too young to read are charged with therapeutic value for readers and listeners alike.
It is not about building vocabulary, trying to accelerate the child’s developmental pace and prime the posture of their mind in order to give them a head start in nursery or primary school.
Learning at a metalinguistic level will be taking place but more important is the space created for intimacy and interchange. “Child of galaxies”, written as an address to a child by an adult voice, speaks in the optimistic spirit of Lou Reed’s Beginning of a Great Adventure.
It reads like a prose poem, expressing thoughts one would wish to impart to any child:
- And the planets afar,
- Swim in oceans of stars,
- Quite indifferent to
- All of this worry
- And you’re made out of stars –
- the same stuff that they are!
- So be like the stars, In no hurry.
A similarly calming message is to be found in “Taking Time”, a book that uses brief text to accompany each picture spread across two pages. One of the illustrations, reproduced below, of a winter scene in a forest with a small fire burning, is characteristic of the book’s muted colours, minimalist prose and warming message.
The tile of another book from the same publisher, “A story about Afiya” comes from a Swahili name meaning health.
Conveying a similar sentiment to “Taking time”, it helps redress the imbalance in publishing for children that has seen too few stories featuring non-white people.
“Only a tree knows how to be a tree” is written and illustrated by Mary Murphy and you can see and hear her reading it here.
It’s a delightful book that gives the reader food for thought while the gentle rhythm of its words work as music to the ears of babies and toddlers.
The same publisher’s “Mrs Noah’s garden” is a magical story that begins where myths of a catastrophic flood end.
The biblical version of the myth derives from the far older Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh, written accounts of which date back to around 2000 BCE.
In it, Utnapishtim is warned of a flood to be unleashed by angry gods and so he builds an ark to hold his family, food and animals.
Like Noah, Utnapishtim survives the deluge and releases a bird in search of dry land but Mrs Noah, in the version told by Jackie Morris, lands by herself on the summit of a hill.
What follows is an inspiring chronicle of the building of a new garden by Mrs Noah. It is superbly told, full of symbolism and richly illustrated; a timely story in an age of catastrophe.
“Child of galaxies” by Blake Nuto and Charlotte Ager is published by Flying Eye Books
“Taking time” by Jo Loring-Fisher and “A Story About Afiya” by James berry are published by Lantana Publishing
“Only a tree knows how to be a tree”by Mary Murphy and “Mrs Noah’s garden” by Jackie Morris are published by Otter-Barry Books