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The incredible beauty of books

"A room without books is like a body without a soul." Cicero

A book is a miniature work of art.  The author and illustrator have poured their love, sweat and tears into creating a story.  It is a precious gift from someone's soul to yours.  All you, the reader, need do is add your imagination.  

For me there are some books that go beyond the equation of author plus illustrator equals story.  They are the books that are wonderfully packaged with gorgeous hard cover bindings, a dust cover with an illustration that beckons "read me!", a built-in ribbon book mark, textured paper with an easy to read font (no too small, not too big) and delightful line drawings.  These books are masterpieces.  I think they deserve to be in art galleries around the world, along with paintings, sculptures and performance art.

These are some of my favourite book masterpieces:

Little House on the PrairieI loved the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder when I was growing up.  This is a gorgeous hardcover edition with full colour illustrations issued to celebrate the book's 75th anniversary.  It also contains Laura's letters.






We Didn't Mean to Go to SeaThe Swallows and Amazons stories are classics of English children's literature and We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea is my personal favourite.  I love these hardcover reissues of the classic stories and was super lucky to get this one for my most recent birthday.





Winnie the PoohWinnie the Pooh is well known by children all over the world.  Largely due I suspect, to the characters being used by a very famous and well known American film studio.  Nothing, however, can beat the charm of the original stories by A.A. Milne and illustrations by E.H. Shepherd.  This particular edition is a firm family favourite as you can see by the battered state of the dust jacket.





Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryI have a shocking confession to make.  I didn't read any Roald Dahl books when I was growing up. I did however, see the movie of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  There seemed to be a time in my childhood when it was always on television.  Now, whenever I read the book, I see the film character's in my head.  I wish I had the chance to read it and create my own mental images.  This is another of my oldest daughter's favrouite books as you can see by the well loved cover.




Violet Mackerel's Helpful SuggestionI love the Violet Mackerel stories.  There's no dust cover for these books but they are still beautiful in every way.  Each story has a little picture on the spine.  The set looks lovely on the book shelf and the size is just right for little hands.  I've seen the North American editions of the books and to my mind, a lot was lost in that particular translation.  




My favourite place in the whole world

ALB - library

I have done a lot of travelling around the world and in Australia. To the Galapagos Islands, Amazon rainforest and .  To Delhi, London and New York.  To the pyramids, Macchu Picchu and the Taj Mahal.  Today I was thinking about all the places I have been and wondering which one was my favourite.  With such a great list, it's hard to choose.   When I really sat down and thought about it, the surprising answer was the library.

For someone who loves to explore new places, meet new people and have new experiences, the library is the ultimate travel destination.  In every book there is a world waiting to be discovered.  A world that I can pick up and explore at whim.  A world that I can carry with me wherever I go. The library is the best place in all the world to find all those wonderful books which I love.  When I was a kid I wanted to own all the books I read.  Now I am content to borrow them from the library.  

At the library I can travel in time throughout history. I can experience what it is like to be a male slave in the Roman Empire. I can travel through space and visit other planets.  I can go wherever imagination can take me and that is pretty much everywhere and anywhere thanks to the millions of authors who have published books. All I need is my trusty library card and some free time.

Luckily for me, I have the most enlightened library filled with wonderfully helpful librarians who are unfailingly polite and helpful to me and my kids. There are no late fees at my library.  I can get any book I want either from my own library service or from any public library in the state.  My wonderful library even does fortnightly or month visits for elder residents who cannot make it to the library.

Free books! What's not to love about a library? And if, like me, you are lucky enough to live near a fabulous library, you even get free talks, concerts and plays for you and your family.

Go check out your library and start borrowing!

A picture tells a thousand words

It is so wonderful to be reading picture books to my daughters.  I can vividly remember when I was a child and graduated from picture books to chapter books and the illustrations largely disappeared.  I remember asking my parents why the pictures had gone and not really getting a very good answer.  Because, really, why do the pictures have to go when the books get longer?  Surely we can still have some illustrations to go with our stories as we get older and hopefully wiser.

But I digress.  Picture books is where we are at.  And the new breed of chapter books (I'm thinking of the Mariella Mystery series of books by Kate Pankhurst here) with lots of fun and funky illustrations scattered through the books.  Anything that helps kids graduate from picture books on their parent's laps to reading in front of the heater on their own is fine by me.  

This post is my homage to the best illustrators in the business, past and present.  This list is by no means exhaustive, and please, leave your favourite illustrators in the comments section.

Some of my favourite illustrators include:

Freya Blackwood

Freya Blackwood has a gorgeous floaty style that perfectly compliment the picture books she illustrates.





Sarah Davis

Sarah Davis ia another Australian author and I especially love her pencil drawings in the Violet Mackerel series of chapter books.




Robert Ingpen

Robert Ingpen is an Australian illustrator who was illustrated a while collection of classic children's fiction including, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland and Treasure Island.




Stephen Michael KingStephen Michael King is one talented guy.  He has written and illustrated pictures for himself and others as well as illustrating chapter books.  Milly, Jack and the Dancing Cat is my favourite picture book and I love the illustrations he did for the Glenda Millard series of chapter books, The Kingdon of Silk.




EH ShepardE.H. Shepherd's illustrations for the Winnie the Pooh books by A.A. Milne are classics for a very good reason.  They capture the joy, silliness and heart of the stories perfectly.

My literary inheritance

The Bobbsey Twins on a Houseboat

I have a very soft spot for beautifully illustrated, hardcover editions of books. Paperbacks are lovely for a quick read or to tuck into your bag to read on the tram.  But a gorgeous hardcover book with its colourful dust jacket, is a thing of beauty in itself.  An item to be treasured and handed down through the generations.  The best kind of heirloom - one that can be used, loved and enjoyed.  And I really believe that beautiful design and illustration are just as important as good writing.  After all, you think what you read.

I still have all the books my mum owned when she was a girl.  I read and reread those books, cover to cover.  The Cat and the Fiddle by Mollie Chappell.  The Bobbsey Twins by Laura Lee Hope.  Sarah Gay, Model Girl.  Mates at Billabong by Mary Grant Bruce.  I don't have to look them up because I know them off by heart.  And all the Little Women books by Lousia May Alcott.  My favourites were always Little Men and Jo's Boys.  I didn't have much time for the prissy sisters but I loved feisty, determined and independent Jo March.  My mum often only had one or two books in a series and that is what got me hooked on collecting books.  (This is how I got hooked on reading.)  I wanted to read every book that the characters I fell in love with were in.  Often I also wanted to read every book by an author I liked.  

And now my nine year old is beginning to do the same with the books I loved as a child.  Most of them are still at my parents and she loves visiting them and getting lost amongst the pages.  Luckily I have lots of gorgeous hardcover books in my collection.   I'm afraid, a paperback would not have lasted nearly so long.  It certainly wouldn't have survived so many readings (or all the lollies I used to eat while I read!).

You think what you read

  You think what you read

We all know the old saying, "You are what you eat."  Well I recently came across this article saying:

You think what you read.

When I read that, I thought, "Yes!" because I am passionate about good books for children.  I believe that what they read is important.  And that they need to read good books.  A well written book is nourishing and fulfilling.  It leaves you with a sense of wonder and questions about your world.  The characters become real and stay with you.  

And most importantly, when good books are read, they will continue to be written.  This is important because there is so much junk out there.  I know how hard it is to write books.  Even badly written books.  When I was a teenager I read a lot of teen romance books.  (It's true - please don't hold it against me!  Thankfully it was just a phase and I grew out of it.  In my defence, at the time there weren't a lot of books out there for young girls dealing with romantic relationships).  Anyway, after reading far too many of these books, I decided that I knew the formula and I would write one.  After all, how hard could it be?  Turns out, very hard.  I think I managed to write about a page and a half and the story was finished.  I had no idea how those authors managed to write 90 pages of the stuff.  I still don't.  

Writing is hard.  Good writing even harder.  We must support the writers who tell the stories that entertain, comfort and inform us.  If we want those beautiful books to be written, we must buy them.  We must read them.  We must borrow them.  We must demand them!

How to get your kids to read books


"I must say I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go into the library and read a good book."  Groucho Marx

I was really lucky when I was growing up in the 1970s.  That was when my parents decided not to buy a television so I would learn to read instead.  Growing up I always thought we didn't have a television because we couldn't afford one but a few years ago my mum told me that it was so I would learn to read instead.  They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams and I became a total bookworm - hooked on the written word and the turning of the page.

When I had kids I knew that I didn't want them to have a television as they were growing up.   When my daughter arrived, it was a little harder by then to imagine and create a life without television as it was already in our lives.  Luckily, around the time she was two, our television broke and there's been no looking back.  There are many reasons why I read to my daughters.  The main ones are I love reading to them and getting that wonderful connection as we share our imaginary worlds.

So my advice for reluctant readers?  Turn off the television and computer.  Strew interesting books in key locations around your house.  Read to them.  Read books yourself where they can see you doing it.  Spend hours at your local library reading to them.  Find out what they are interested in and borrow a book about it.  There is literally something in a library for everyone.  And the best thing is - it is free!  The more you share your love of reading, the more they will want to read.  Its contagious!

Why I read to my daughters


There are so many good things about reading books to your children. My main ones are: cuddles, the chance to stop whatever busy stuff I am doing and the opportunity to get lost in a new book with its new adventures and new worlds. Books speak to us about what it is to be human and the best books stay with us long after we have read them.

I still get lots of cuddles from my five year old but cuddles from the nine year old are a much rarer beast. Sitting and reading with my girls is a good way to ensure my nine year old still gets a cuddle. It would be all too easy to forget to give her a cuddle or attention and get to the end of the day, realising I hadn't spent any tine with her. That physical contact is so vital to our well being.

Reading to the girls forces me to stop what I am doing and take some time out. It's all too easy to get caught up in all the things that need doing and forget to sit and breathe. I rarely take the time to sit and read my own books but reading to the girls is one way to get a good dose of books! Just what the doctor ordered!

I love exploring new worlds and travelling. The beauty of reading a book to my girls is that I can do just that and never leave my comfy couch! I also love discovering new authors, illustrators and their stories.

There are so many other benefits to reading to my girls. It introduces the girls to a depth and breadth of language and to a variety of people and places far beyond their home and world. It exposes them to new ideas, cultures and religions, all from the safety of their lounge room where they can ask "Why did she do that?" "What does that mean?"

Sitting and reading together is a great way to connect. We chat about the stories, learn new words and have great conversations. They can ask me questions, I can do my best to answer the questions and teach them what I know. And for the other questions, those I can't answer, we can go back to the library and find a book that gives us the answer. So not only are they learning about new worlds, they are also learning how to find out more about their world.

Giving my girls the world of books and a love of reading is, I believe, one of the greatest gifts I can give them. And by sitting down to read to them and then, when they are older, listen to them read, is me saying, "You are important, you matter.  I have time for you."

The best thing of all, I think, is the chance to share my favourite books with my favourite people.  When you discover a wonderful book, you just want to share it with the world.  I love introducing the girls to the books I loved when I was a kid and seeing them love them too.  It also means I get a chance to revisit those wonderful stories from childhood, all over again.  

With a book in their hand they never need to feel lonely or bored - there are always new characters and places waiting for them, in between the pages of a book!