Story time with my boys is my favourite time. It's when they nestle in to my sides, sometimes without even realising they're doing it, warm and steady. A hush falls over them and they listen. They don't always listen when I ask them to brush their teeth or get ready for bed, but they listen when I'm reading and it's a precious thing. It's the looks on their faces, that I can glimpse in sneaky sideways glances, and the way their eyes marvel, big and brown, at the story as it unfolds. It's these moments that inspired the name of my blog and shop in the first place, a tribute to these pauses in our day, when anything and everything is possible in the realm of imagination and the adventures of stories.
I remember when I was pregnant for the very first time, I bought books for my baby before he was born. I remember telling my husband how I couldn't wait to uncover stories with him. Reading was such a huge part of my childhood and I wanted to pass my love of books along. I remember my husband gently forewarning me not to be disappointed if he wasn't interested in books and I scoffed, convinced that would never happen.
I guess I got lucky. All three of them - even baby Jude - are enthralled by books. Suffian is now four, and able to read short, simple books on his own although much prefers being read to still - which I can't argue with. Sina is a book obsessive, repeatedly fixating on one title at a time and asking for it all the time, joining in the sentences, singing them with his little tummy puffed out with pride. For Judey, from a rational, parent perspective, books are simply about pictures and colours for now but I can tell they hold so much more for him. It is both heartbreaking and melting to see him, my littlest one, drag a book off the bottom of the reading shelves himself and sit bolt upright with it splayed out in front of him, trying to grab characters and pictures with his little fingers, pinching at the page like a baby crab, unfathomably frustrated when his clammy hands have nothing to clutch.
When it comes to toys, I am fairly organised and have a good, minimal toy rotation in place. But with books, I find it hard. I mean, how can I not buy them books? It's like when they ask for one more story at bedtime - so hard to say no to because it's precisely what I want to hear; I want them to love stories so much that they can't get enough. As a result, their bookshelves are overflowing. It's the one area where we admittedly have very little minimalism.
In an attempt to cut down the books we have, I've recycled ones that have had pages ripped beyond repair by a crawling, paper-eating baby and donated old ones that the boys are tired of or simply no longer ask to read. I've packed away seasonal books, like Christmas ones and Eid ones, and gave away some of the more traditional stories to their nursery so that we have more space for exploring newer, bolder, funnier books instead.
Last week, I shared some of beloved fiction reads that I love re-reading. So this week, here are a few children's books that we've fallen in love with this summer:
A beautiful, gentle book about the importance of family. We have been reading this a lot, pouring over the illustrations trying to find a family that looks like us, but funnily enough, there's no family of five (the only let down!). It's a really touching rhyme about how families belong together, help each other and love each other through thick and thin, and how every family looks different (there's mixed families like us and a two-dads family too) but are families nonetheless. It's helped us explain why it's important that we stay in touch with the people we love who are our family, like grandparents and uncles and aunts who live far away, and also has helped gently remind the boys why it's so special that they have each other as siblings. A really heartfelt picture book.
We all love this. An adorable tale of a very cute tiny protagonist who can smell cake in the kitchen... but has been told not to touch it. She tries so hard, so very hard, to ignore it and be good but she simply can't. It's cake, after all and chocolate cake at that! In the end there's an inevitable baking disaster and lots of glee. This routinely has our boys in fits of guffaws. When I first bought it, I was required to read it every single day, numerous times a day. There's a recipe in the back too, which we tried but ended up being our own unintentional disaster too (if anyone has tips about making chocolate cake with oil instead of butter, as per this recipe, then please let me know).
I found this in the Wellcome Collection's bookshop (which, incidentally, has a really thoughtfully curated selection of children's books that are inspiring and thought-provoking) and it's been of especial interest to Suffian who is at that age where everything is a wonder to be questioned. This is a poetic and beautifully written story about Albert Einstein, his journey from introverted childhood to brilliant, life-changing scientist. It movingly introduces Albert as a boy, describing his insatiable curiosity and how he never stopped wondering about the world even though other people thought he was strange. It's got a lovely message about how important it is to never stop wondering and always be curious. Suffian now touches everything and looks for atoms everywhere as if they are hidden sparkles he must uncover.
I requested this as a Christmas gift for the boys from their grandparents. I asked for it knowing full well that they would be too young for it but I also knew that it would be the kind of book we'd keep for when they got older. I've been delighted to have been proved wrong. Even though they are too young for the text, they pick this book up themselves to search for dinosaurs and match their dinosaur models to. It's as if they've somehow figured out it's a reference book and they use it just like that. They spend ages looking at the pictures, trying to figure out what's a Troodon and what's a Pteranodon. As they get older, I hope they'll appreciate just how beautiful this book is.
The boys have had The Big Book of Bugs for a while and we recently added The Big Book Of The Blue to go alongside it. These are both perfect summer holiday companions (although they're pretty big, so not quite right for travelling with) in that they have got the boys out in the garden, searching and hunting with their magnifying glasses and looking to identify one bug from another. We can't quite do the same with the ocean where we live (!) but all the curious facts and the amazing illustrations certainly capture their imaginations.
This is a beautiful, thoughtful and poetically written book about how one tiny little brick tries to figure out where she should belong and what she should be a part of. We brought this from children's bookshop Telling Tales (the shop you can see in the photo above). And how she comes to realise that even though she is but tiny, she can be a part of something bigger and wonderful. It's also a really sweet look at brick buildings around the world, something that always captures the imagination of my little builders. The boys have been truly entranced by this and the vocabulary is wonderful for introducing them to more words.
And finally - a little note on how to find brilliant children's book recommendations online
I used to take my children's book recommendations from reading the newspaper, but then discovered "kids lit" accounts on Instagram and couldn't believe how far behind the papers were, if I'm honest! My favourite accounts for recommendations are Avery and Augustine, Two In A Teepee and Tiny Readers. Everything I have purchased from any of the recommendations that these three happen to make have been brilliant hits with the boys and much loved books.