Adrian Mole was, I think, the last children’s book I read whilst still technically a child. I kept a lot of my childhood books (to be honest, my mum helped a bit with this) and didn’t look at them again until I had children of my own in my mid-thirties. Four years ago we moved into a semi-detached house with a front lounge with built-in bookshelves, and although the children (then three and one) were still rather small I instinctively set aside the lowest shelf by the sofa just for children’s books so they were easy for them to get at. I’m very proud to say that I’ve read to them every evening since then barely without exception, always allowing them to choose the books they want.
Since having the boys, a steady stream of children’s books has come into the house, either bought by friends and family or given through the wonderful Bookstart scheme. My children’s own favourites include Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson, a lovely young child’s picture book about three baby owls who worry what’s happened to their mother when she flies off one day; Tiddler by children’s laureate Julia Donaldson, a fantastically-illustrated (by Axel Scheffler) rhyming adventure about a small fish who always turns up late for school with a risible excuse; The Night-Pirates by Peter Harris (illustrated by Deborah Allwright), about a small boy taken on an adventure by a group of girl pirates; and A New House for Mouse by Petr Horáček, in which a mouse tries to find a new home big enough for her and a huge apple she’s found. The latter is engineered with beautiful simplicity, with real holes in the pages allowing you a peek of something on the next page and then as you turn the page, focusing on a detail from the previous page. The mouse finds larger and larger “holes” in the landscape but each is occupied by a larger animal with a different reason for not wanting to share their home. As she travels, she takes bites from the apple, which becomes imperceptibly smaller and smaller, so that by the end she’s left with just the core which fits perfectly into an unoccupied den, which we then realise is her own home. The story is like a beautifully structured poem. The illustrations are big, bold and colourful, the mouse’s house furnished zen-fashion with only a bed covered with a lovely striped duvet and a jug.