One of the best things about sharing a book with your child is that it doesn’t have to cost you a penny.
We’re blessed in this country to have a library network that, while under significant threat, still attracts 250 million visits a year, with half the population owning a library card.
For cash and space-poor parents, this is an institution to both treasure and take advantage of.
My friend and former colleague Liz Neale certainly does. The mum-of-two, who is an experienced journalist and now a baby sign language teacher, understands the power of a good story and has been an avid library user for as long as she can remember.
Liz says: “I love libraries. Who doesn’t? I don’t feel I properly belong in a new place until I’m a card-carrying member of the local library.
“I grew up on a farm in northern England in the middle of nowhere – but once a fortnight the mobile library would park on a muddy verge mid-afternoon and offer up another world. More often than not the school bus would be late and I’d arrive home to find a selection of carefully chosen books left by the librarian at the end of the farm track.
“When we moved to Brighton with a three-month-old in 2011 my top priority was getting her a library card…since then we’ve laughed, giggled and sometimes sobbed our way through 1,865 books at last count, which is more than 20 a month.
“She’s now flying through the Harry Potter series herself, reading her favourite bits out loud to me and her five-year-old sister as the three of us sit on the sofa, devouring the latest library installment.
“Here are five of my favourite library books – so hard to choose from such a long list of greats!”
My Mum Says the Strangest Things by Katrina Germein, illustrated by Tom Jellett (Walker)
“My girls think this is funny in a weird way but I laugh out loud. It made me feel like a fully-fledged parent realising the phrases I heard from my mum are now the ones I parrot back to my children.
“Here’s an extract: Mum says the maid is on holidays and the cleaning fairy is sick. Mum says, ‘Don’t use the toilet. I’ve just cleaned it.’ My mum says the strangest things.”
Mr Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown (Two Hoots)
“This starts off with beautifully illustrated pictures in muted sepia brown tones. We meet Mr Tiger, but he’s bored with being so proper. The author tells us: ‘He wanted to loosen up. He wanted to have fun. He wanted to be…wild.’
“So our four-legged friend starts walking on all fours, tears off his strait-laced clothes, roars into the night – and horrifies the other animals, who live in towns and dress in human clothes.
“It’s a tale about the importance of being true to yourself, and as we watch Mr Tiger in all his glorious orangey stripes escape into lush green forests, I know where I’d rather be.”
Frida Kahlo and The Bravest Girl In The World by Laurence Anholt (Barron’s Educational Series)
“This is part of Anholt’s Artists Books for Children series and is a brilliant, inspiring way into art for young children. We learn about real-life children who knew famous artists – in this case a young girl named Mariana who became close to the incredible Frida Kahlo.
“It’s an amazing introduction to Kahlo’s life through the story of friendship and features several reproductions of her work alongside Anholt’s illustrations.”
Frog and the Stranger by Max Velthuijs (Andersen Press)
“I love the Frog books – simple, effective illustrations, just the right amount of dialogue and always a heartwarming, thought-provoking tale.
“This one centres on themes of diversity, tolerance and prejudice as Frog encounters a stranger, and deals with his friends’ misguided fears. A smart book to teach children – and adults – the importance of welcoming people from all walks of life into our own lives.”
Vanilla Ice Cream by Bob Graham (Walker)
“I think of Bob Graham as the philosophical tots’ illustrator. His books often take a tiny moment in time and show how these miniature fragments all slot together, often in the most beautiful way.
“Vanilla Ice Cream magically fits together a toddler, her grandparents, and one little sparrow blown off course from half way round the globe. Graham shows us how all the creatures and the people of the world can be connected to each other in the most surprising ways.”
Liz teaches baby sign language in Brighton with Sing & Sign, helping babies to communicate before speech. Find out more at singandsign.co.uk
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