It is only natural that most of us would like to share with our children what we ourselves are most passionate about. In our house books feature heavily in this parent-child ‘show and tell’. And oh how wonderful it is when our offspring pick the books we loved and love them just as much.
The titles that tend to endure certainly possess that quality which is hard to pin down. Sometimes they are humorous, sometimes it is the rhymes, rhythm, illustrations, an unexpected twist at the end that makes a book superspecial. But, sometimes, very rarely, there is no rhyme nor reason whatsoever as to why certain books have been continuosly popular across different generations. I put it down to the authors’ pure genius and categorise those little gems as Weird&Wonderful.
Here, I’d like to write about my Top 3 picture books that have been around for decades and are as popular and loved now, as ever.
Where the Wild Things Are. An Amercian story from 1963 (!) written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak.
I am not exaggerating when I say that we read this book daily. And if you think about it, it is the weirdest story ever. Young Max is such a mischief that his mother sends him to bed without supper. His anger matures rapidly to such epic proportions that his bedroom transforms into a wild and open world, and, blinded by his fury, Max embarks on months-long journey to an island ruled by beasts. And then, basically (please excuse the spoiler alert!) he lets off steam, gets bored, takes a month to sail back home and finds his supper still waiting for him in his bedroom, hot. Admittedly, it is a very insightful psychoanalitic description of a child’s tantrum (and don’t I know about those!) but to think kids have been able to relate to it for over sixty years now is simply astonishing. Hats off to Mr Sendak, who clearly understood not only children’s psyche but also had a gift of being able to speak to kids in a way they understod him. When Worm N° 1 and I get to the spreads (six pages all together) with Max and the monsters raving during the wild rumpus, my N° 1 cannot contain herself and jums around the book as if she was there herself. GENIUS.
The Tiger Who Came to Tea written and illustated by our national treasure, Judith Kerr . Published in 1968.
I’d find it difficult to believe that there are parents or kids in this day and age that wouldn’t have heard of this anthropomorphised greedy tiger who one day appears at little Sophie’s and her mum’s doorstep and drinks and eats so much, that literally there is not a drop of water left in their kitchen tap. He then leaves (again, spoiler alert!) never to return again.
That’s it. No hidden meaning, no obvious premise, no cunning twist. Just an unusual story about an ordinary family with a hint of unexplained. A story. After all, that’s all that is needed for an absorbing young mind and Judith Kerr understood it and delivered it to a perfection. GENIUS.
Not Now, Bernard written and illustarted by David McKee. Published in 1980.
Worm N° 1 is possitevely obsessed with this story and has been since she was about 6 months old. I like to think that this obsession is due to the bold illustrations and just one very simple sentence per page plus the frequent repetition of the title, Not Now, Bernard that can be found numerous times in the book. I really hope that it is NOT the plain sexist stereotypical representation of gender roles in Bernard’s household (his Mother tends to the house, cooks and even paints the walls whilst his father sits in an armchair and reads a paper) nor it is Bernards’ parents disinterest in their son who (last spoiler alert of the day!) gets eaten by a monster. Which also, by the way, remains unnoticed… GENIUS.
I am sure there are many more very un-obvious favourites and bestsellers that have passed the test of time but for me these are the best of the best. And I wonder, if my Worm No2 will also share her sister’s (and a couple of other generations of children’s) love of these stories. But I have a very strong feeling that she will. So I will be sure to keep our well-read hardback copies safe for her and who knows, maybe they will even be passed on to the next generation.