A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
When I saw the heading ‘My Favourite Illustrated Book’ I leapt on it, thinking it would be very easy. I have such fond memories of reading picture books with my children when they were younger. But then I started thinking about it and – yikes! – it is actually impossible to choose one favourite out of the many that I and my children love.
So I am going to cheat and do a Favourite Few – but they’re not in order! They’re just all attached to fond memories of reading with a small, sleepy (sometimes!) child on my knee.
The one that I remember from my own childhood was the Ladybird Cinderella. In this version of the story Cinderella went to three balls and wore three different dresses. These pictures stayed firmly with me – I can still remember wondering why she chose the naff white dress for the final ball when the blue one was so much better.
I’m a big believer in starting to show books to babies as soon as possible. Helen Oxenbury’s baby board books (e.g., Friends, Dressing) were the first ones I used with my eldest daughter (who’s now all grown up with her own amazing baby). There are no words with these, but the pictures are wonderful – full of recognisable activities for a baby or toddler and full of humour for the adult. The cover illustration of our edition of Working has a baby on the potty, for example.
Another favourite is Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins. Rosie the hen goes for a walk, apparently oblivious that she’s being stalked by a fox who is constantly frustrated in his attempts to catch her. The pictures are a joy – and I remember the time I read this to my toddler son and he laughed so hard that he cried.
Everyone loves Room on the Broom, don’t they? My fondness for witches meant this was a definite for me. But all children love it because of the fantastic, detailed illustrations by the super-talented Axel Scheffler and of course, Julia Donaldson’s rhythmical story and the huge cast of animals. Perfect for doing silly voices and sounds as you read.
Still on a witch theme – the late great Babette Cole’s The Trouble with Mum has to be in there. Mum wears hats with snakes on and creates the weirdest of situations. She’s a witch, of course. A tribute to imperfect mums everywhere. In fact, any of Babette Cole’s books could have gone in here. When my eldest daughter was growing up, Princess Smartypants was a huge breath of fresh air – I fear many books for girls have gone backwards in their themes and content since then.
And finally – to Dr Seuss. Again, any of the marvellous Cat in the Hat books could have made the list – I remember when my kids wore Thing 1 and Thing 2 T-shirts. But the one that gets the mention is the picture book that made me cry when my son went away to university: Oh, The Places You’ll Go! Read it when your kids fly the nest and I defy you not to sob.
I read stories most nights to my children when they were younger. My son would still let me do it, I reckon. But when my youngest daughter was nine, she told me firmly that she was now too old to be read to and so I closed my last storybook in her bedroom.
Later, watery-eyed, I recounted this to a very nice man who worked at Newcastle’s Seven Stories, (which is a place that all lovers of children’s book illustration should go). I bemoaned the fact that I couldn’t read to my children any longer. ‘But just think,’ he said, ‘how many stories you’ve given them.’ And think of the pictures that will always stay with them. Thank you, Helen, Pat, Julia, Axel, Babette and Theodor, for painting their childhood with such amazing memories. I am in your debt.