Isabel Popple takes a look at the perfect bedtime books…
“We always have a story at bedtime, but my five-year-old is getting a bit old for picture books – what’s the next step?”
There are loads of great books available for mums and dads (or big brothers and sisters) to read to youngsters at bedtime, but how do you negotiate the change from picture books to chapter books?
Personally I don’t think you can ever be too old to read a picture book (I still do), but obviously there comes a time when picture books alone aren’t enough to satisfy the story appetite, and parents and children alike need something a little more challenging to set their imagination free.
First of all, Usborne do a fantastic range of story collections, from classics and fairy tales to stories from around the world. They’re heavily illustrated with bright colourful pictures and worded in large print in a simple style. In many ways they’re similar to picture books, but feel more grown-up because of the more typical ‘book shape’ and because they contain a collection of different stories, each of which has more pages in it than a standard picture book. This makes them a good inbetween book, lying as they do on the boundary between picture book and chapter book. You could start with their Illustrated Stories for Bedtime.
When it comes to chapter books themselves, essentially there are two options: short story collections, or chapter books proper. The advantage of short story collections, of course, is that because everything is rounded off at the end you can read one or two aloud each night without being subjected to cries of, “What happens next?” or, “Just one more chapter, please…” when it’s time to turn out the light.
Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne is at the top of my list – because why wouldn’t it be? The illustrations are wonderful and the stories are sweet and amusing whilst providing subtle lessons. The tales are interspersed with Pooh’s musings, poetry, and little ditties, and with a whole cast of characters to fall in love with – from grumpy Eeyore to bouncy Tigger – you just cannot go wrong.
Mudpuddle Farm by Michael Morpurgo has got to be the perfect longer read for young children because each chapter is packed with pictures that inform the story in a similar way that picture books do, including sound effects and speech bubbles. Starring all sorts of farm animals getting themselves into various amusingly sticky situations, they help each other out and solve problems. Rather than being ‘issues’ based, like much of Morpurgo’s work, these stories are simply warm, humorous and quirky.
Sophie’s Adventures by Dick King-Smith follows the life of an animal-loving little girl who wants to be a farmer when she grows up. Gentle stories, but with a good dose of mischief, Sophie is a great role model as her determination and individuality shine through her adventures. Dick King-Smith has an enchanting way with his writing, and they’re great stories for boys too because not only is Sophie a tomboy, she has big brothers who get in on the action as well.
No story collection could surely be complete without mention of Alf Proysen’s Adventures of Mrs Pepperpot. When Mrs Pepperpot shrinks to the height of – funnily enough – a pepperpot, just four inches tall, running the family household becomes quite a challenge, but she is a woman who can rise to every challenge (well, metaphorically at least) and it turns out that being tiny can lead to all sorts of adventures. This collection has relatively small text, but a good few pictures, and has become a much-loved classic.
If you love Mrs Pepperpot, other story books that have survived the test of time include Milly-Molly-Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley. These stories aren’t packed with pictures, but like King Smith’s Sophie, Milly-Molly-Mandy is a bit of a tomboy, climbing trees, playing football and always busy with something, conjuring a quintessential sort of British childhood, full of friendship and country life.
Since I was the naughty little sister when growing up, Dorothy Edwards’ My Naughty Little Sister books have always appealed to me – and a customer just this week bought a second collection of the stories from me for her sons, “because they’ve got a little sister so they can relate!” – as can, I think, anyone who knows they’re naughty on occasion. And of course, there is always Enid Blyton: The Magic Faraway Tree and The Wishing Chair remain perennially popular, and really need no introduction from me.
Michael Bond is probably most famous for A Bear Called Paddington. Like Winnie-the-Pooh, you can’t beat this affable immigrant from Darkest Peru and his penchant for marmalade sandwiches, but the chapters are fairly long and the books don’t have a huge number of pictures, so I would also recommend Bond’s lesser-known creation, Olga da Polga. With fabulous illustrations from Catherine Raynor, Olga is a guinea pig with a big imagination, entertaining all the other animals where she lives with her adventurous tales. This is more of a proper book, rather than individual stories, but is so full of character it’s hard to resist.
Then there’s Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. Another feisty female character, she seems to be adored by everyone who reads her, boys and girls both, surely at least in part because of her rather unusual home set-up: Villakulla Cottage, where she lives with a monkey and a horse. Independence, honesty and friendship are strong themes in this chapter book, with plenty of fun, excitement and adventure woven in along the way.
Isabel Popple, for Waterstones.com/blog
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