This has been a post that I have been keen to write for about five years. The most ultimate of all-time ultimate list of picture books that I simply cannot wait to read with Bubba.
I have saved picture books from my own childhood, I have foraged around in second-hand bookstores for titles that bring back waves of nostalgia, and have scoured the deepest corners of the internet to find the most old-school, wonderful picture books to make up Bubba’s library.
Did you really think that there was a chance that any child of mine was not going to have the most legit library ever? Seriously. Come on, now.
This has also been a post that I have been itching to write purely for all the feelings it stirs up. I am sure that once you scan your eyes over the covers of these titles, vivid memories will come rushing back to you. You may even exclaim, “OH MY GOD, YES!” inappropriately as you reminisce fondly of years past.
My mum’s favourite memory of me as a child, especially when someone asks her about my love of books and writing, is how I used to sit on the floor, back up against the wall with a pile of books from the library next to me. I would read one and then place it on the opposite side of me. I would do this with each book. Once I had finished the last book and placed it on top of the new pile, I would start all over again.
I have photographic evidence of this that I am sure will come up during the move in the next week or so.
Each and every single one of these titles holds such a special place in my soul, and most of them I read in that very spot on the floor, back against the wall. But I want to take a moment to really pay respect to the books and the moments that really were, and continue to be, the absolute foundation – the backbone – of the person I am. Not just as a writer and avid reader, but as Leah Cwikel mum-to-be.
Are You My Mother?
Classic. This one is a bloody classic. My copy of this book ended up completely splitting at the spine. The hardcover was so worn that it felt more like a paperback towards the end. I remember the voice my mum used to use for the little chick, and I remember finding it especially ridiculous that the little bird could ever think that an excavator was his mother. Mum read this to me when I was small enough to be perched on her lap, I couldn’t have been more than two years old. I specifically remember taking this one wherever I went and one particular night to my uncle’s place where everyone was feasting around the table except for mum and I who were in the lounge room, reading this book. Are You My Mother was also my first title in the Dr. Seuss world – even though it wasn’t written by Seuss himself – and for that I will be forever thankful.
Every single Babette Cole Book, ever
Bad Habits, Dr. Dog, Hair in Funny Places, Prince Cinders, Princess Smartypants, The Trouble With… Series, Two of Everything.. the list goes on and on and on. I remember being a little bit older – maybe four or five? – when I discovered Babette Cole’s books. I first saw them at old Top Ryde Shopping Centre (those from the area will know exactly what I mean when I say that) and there was a small Dymocks store with a Wendy’s ice cream shop right out the front. It was her illustrations that first got me hooked, and how some of the books had little labels on the drawings to explain them further with arrows and speech bubbles. I loved that her female characters were always rebellious and so different from any other heroine or princess – they had bad manners, and road motorbikes and used the word, “No.” There was a clothing store next door that mum used to shop at, so she would leave me in Dymocks, happily sitting in the back corner of the store where the kids’ books were and I would read until she came to pick me up. Every time we left there, she would get my little brother and I an ice-cream from Wendy’s – my go-to was the vanilla soft serve that they coated in pink sherbet.
Go, Dog, Go!
This book, much like Are You My Mother? cuddled and held me, its pages felt like home. This was the first book that I was able to read myself, and I daresay that it will be the same with Bubba. The simple phrases and repetition of words alongside the illustrations made this a fun and educational read. I remember mum always expanding on the words on the pages. Like the page, “Stop, dog, stop!” She taught me about traffic lights and always made funny observations about the illustrations. The characters came to life with her voice behind them. Yes, dog, yes – I love this book.
The thing I remember most about this book is the way the pages felt between my tiny thumbs when I turned them. I remember a copy of this at my day care, when I was about three. The bookshelf was a hanging rack made of white wire and the corners of this book were dog-eared. The sepia tones of the illustrations always comforted me – still do – and for the life of me, I have no idea why. The expressions on ‘Grandpa’s’ face always amused me as well, especially his furrowed brow. I also loved how attached he was to the slippers, and the whole cat-and-mouse storyline of his wife trying to get rid of them. And I must have been a bit of an OCD kid, because I loved how every single page was the same layout: text and a small illustration on one page, and then a full page illustration with a border on the opposite page. Love.
This one hit our household when my little brother was about two. I remember sitting on his bed with him while Mum read this book to us. To this day, the illustrations in the book are some of my absolute favourites. The greens, oranges and blues that Jez Alborough used throughout this book COMPLETELY make it. I love the little friendship between the frog and ‘Beaky’ and, quite plainly, I loved the journey of the bird finding out who and what it was. And when the mum bird flies down in that glorious ray of sunshine? BEST. SO EPIC. I definitely loved Hello Beaky! because of the tie I feel with my brother having both experienced it together. We made mum read it over and over again. And again.
There’s A Hippopotamus On Our Roof Eating Cake
Again, another freaking classic. I don’t know what I loved so much about this book. Maybe the absurdity of it? I did love the illustrations and for whatever the reason, this book is so special. All the activities that the hippo does on the roof, how insanely ginormous he is, I mean – what’s not to love, really? I remember getting so excited when they started releasing more titles in the series, and again, weird child as I was, loved that they each looked the same but varied ever-so-slightly in colour theme.
The large, hardback format, the illustrations that altered between colour and black and white, the little rebel herself – Madeline was my childhood. A love that was fuelled by the book was then taken over by the adorable TV series that I currently have playing through my headphones as I write this. It was the first foray that I had into the world of Paris, a world that I have since fallen in love with both in reality and in literature (seriously, if there is a novel that is based in Paris then I will more than likely purchase it just to transport myself however I can). It was also the first time I had heard of an orphanage. Without realising it until now, Madeline introduced me to a lot of things. I remember the television show so vividly. I loved how their bows stuck up from their heads, I loved how they all looked identical in their uniforms but were then each so different in their features and their personalities. I loved that she was a little bit of a rascal, and that she was curious and adventurous. Ugh. Swooning over here. “We love our bread, we love our butter, but most of all, we love each other.” As if those words don’t just ring out in your head?!
There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly
I don’t think it was the story (which is a bit weird and bleak, to be honest.. “Perhaps she’ll die”? Really?) so much as this edition of the book. I still have my original copy of this, and as weird as I find this story, I will most definitely be entertaining my child with this book. The pages with the giant cut-outs and layers and you can see all of the animals that she consumed are so very amusing. And it is super colourful and playful – I may just have to make up my own story without so much death and obesity in it.
Rose Meets Mr. Wintergarten
One of the (many) perks of my job is that sometimes, authors and illustrators visit us in the office. For Walker Books 25th Anniversary, which lands on the first of August, Bob Graham came into the office to show us his neverbeforeseen new picture book that is due to come out at the end of this year and to also eat cake. I cried when I introduced myself to him. He is one of those people that you just want to know, and sit with, and drink tea with and whose mind you want to explore. I was completely overwhelmed. My fondest and most vivid memory of Bob Graham is his book Rose Meets Mr Wintergarten. It was the first book of his that I read and I fell in love with his vibrant, scratchy illustrating style. I loved the contrast between the family home and the home of Mr Wintergarten. I love the full page spreads and that his text is not dumbed down simply because it is a children’s book. I love the detail and the imagination that goes into his drawings and that there is always something that you haven’t seen – either in the corner, through the window of a house. There is always something.
Come on – do I even need to say it?! The short movie that was aired on Play School was ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING. I remember watching this when I was, what, TWO?! Younger?! The narrator’s twangy American accent, the head movement of Rosie, the sneaky fox. Seriously, this was everything. I remember it being on so often but never tiring of it. The book was easy to follow at a very young age and it was a sweet story! Nothing more, nothing less. And yes, I do have a copy of it.
The Jolly Postman
This was the book that everyone wanted from the library, but even when you managed to get it, half the letters were missing! So, the solution was to obviously get your own copy and treat the letters as if they were written to you personally. The first book of its kind (that I remember), this book was interactive and interesting. It spoke to the curious part of me, and the creative part and the reading part. It was just such a different book to any other one I had seen before. There was handwritten letters and the pages were packed FULL of illustrations and detail, and all the envelopes were different and I always remember thinking, “Hmmmm, what kind of person would use THIS envelope?” and then I would open it and pretend it was for me and it was just all very nice. Then they released the Christmas edition of it and it was even MORE exciting and I love it so much.
The Rainbow Fish
Every time someone mentions The Rainbow Fish, one of the first things that they will say is, “and yeah! Remember how if you ran your finger over the page you could feel the shiny fins?!” Unless that was just me. And if it was just me, then I suggest you go to a bookstore immediately and buy it as it is the single greatest part of that book. The pages always had such a distinct smell as well. So again, go get the book and smell it. I remember it being a very calm sort of book. The use of lilac and blues and greens made for really gentle reading, and the story is just a really goddamn sweet one. This was another title that I had so many versions of and was really excited when more stories with the Rainbow Fish started to get released. I had that gigantic version of the book that was almost as tall as me – it was a giant board book and I used to open it at a right angle and put a tea towel over the top and pretend it was my apartment. I quite literally lived inside the pages of The Rainbow Fish.
Who’s That Knocking?
Alison Lester is bloody brilliant. There is something about her illustrations that fling me right back into the back seat of our old Jackaroo, on our way to some cabin somewhere for a quick family weekend holiday. I love the intricate borders of her books and the creativity of her text. Who’s That Knocking? is brilliant because it plays with children’s imaginations so beautifully. Alison Lester perfectly anticipated what a young child would assume is behind the door, and then, behind a fun and simple ‘lift-the-flap’ kind of scenario, the playful reality reveals itself. I remember mum reading his one to me as well and asking me, “What do you think it could be?” and I would sit there and guess with her. We did this even after we had read it several times. It was fun, for that brief little moment, to lean into my imagination.
Where’s My Teddy?
Another absolute favourite of mine, and an undoubted classic, Where’s My Teddy? owns a chunk of my heart. Written and illustrated by the same guy as Hello Beaky! the use of the bright, brilliant green and full page illustrations of the forest just completely get to me. I used to hold this book as open and as flat as I could make the spine so as to get the entire scene in one, long, ogling stare. The story itself is simple and oh-so-sweet, but it really is the illustrations in this that have solidified it as a total favourite. I read and reread this book so many times that, one Christmas when Santa bought me a bear who wore a knitted yellow jumper with the word ‘TEDDY’ in black, I named him after the teddy in the book. Freddy. He was my Freddy Teddy.
Now as you can imagine, I could go on and on about books and memories and what I love about them. There are so many that I didn’t even mention! Mr. McGee, Titch, Hairy Maclary… the list really does just go on and on and on. But I will leave it here for now, because there is only so much reminiscing that one can do on a Friday afternoon (especially when I need to decide whether I am having pizza or Oporto for dinner because #pregnantlife). Aside from buying things for the nursery and decking out out brand new home and getting excited for our actual human child, the other thing that I am really looking forward to is going to bookstores and browsing the shelves for NEW picture books. As in, picture books that were published in the last fifteen years. I am much more familiar with the picture books I grew up with EVEN when I am surrounded by new ones each and every day at work (literally, there is a bookshelf behind me with all these new release picture books and I haven’t the foggiest what they are about). But I really cannot wait for a long afternoon where I have nowhere to be and I can just sit in a bookstore and get a pile of books together for Bubba that I can discover right alongside him.
Fuck. I haven’t even gotten to my favourite YA books! Like Paul Jennings and Morris Gleitzman and Jacqueline Wilson! AHHHH. Another day, another day.