Petra and I have spent a lot of time in bookshops and libraries recently as we learn our way around a new city. The result has been a book binge for both of us. I’ve tried to exercise restraint and borrow as many books as possible from the (truly excellent) Wellington Public Library, but my restraint still equates to the purchase of about 30 books for me since we arrived in Wellington, and a whole pile for Petra. I hate to think what all-out extravagance would look like. We’d probably be pushed out of the house by all the books and bookcases.
Petra has discovered the delights of Lauren Child’s Lola and Charlie books. I like them as well. Child has a really good ear for the speech patterns of small children. And she illustrates her books with wonderful collages, which, combined with the funky typography, give them a nicely modern vibe. Our favourite is, of course, I Am Not Sleepy, and I Will Not Go to Bed.
Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French is also in the mum likes this as much or more than Petra does category. It’s about the trials and tribulations of trying to coexist with a hungry, demanding, destructive wombat and is written in the form of laconic diary entries by the wombat in question. It’s pretty funny – for big kids as well as little.
Lynley Dodd remains fabulous. We own most everything she’s written about the animals in Hairy Maclary’s world. Her approach is much more traditional, picture on one side, words on the other, lovely witty paintings of the dogs and cats, and standard typography. But her language is captivating – she uses lots of strong active verbs and she’s not afraid to throw in the odd unusual word (for example: rapscallion, cacophony, caterwaul, and rambunctious). And the strong rhythms and repetitions make them great for reading aloud, and for remembering. When our recent drive to Dunedin got tedious we recited Hairy Maclary Scattercat, Hairy Maclary’s Bone, and Hairy Maclary’s Caterwaul Caper.
We’re also reading and rereading Russell Hoban’s Frances books. I loved them as a primary school kid and, in a fit of nostalgia, bought myself some a few years go. Petra found them recently and seems as keen on them as I ever was. Bedtime for Frances was her first favourite, but now we’ve moved on to A Birthday for Frances and A Bargain for Frances. They’re quite long and the humour is subtle, but Petra sits captivated through both books. She’s using them as tools to learn about the world, finding out about sleeping and sharing and siblings – I can tell by the questions she asks after we’ve finished reading. She’s a girl after my own heart – books opened up whole worlds to me when I was a child.