When my family moved house when I was 11, I put all my parents’ books on the wall of shelves in the spare room in alphabetical order. It is for this reason that, more than a quarter of a century later, the Rex Stouts and Georgette Heyers are always to hand when needed.
When we moved to Brussels before the Princess was born, I put all of our books in alphabetical order on shelves as well. I wage a continuing battle with our cleaner (who believes they should be ordered according to height) and our youngest children (who believe they should be kept on the floor in a pile).
The bottom left hand shelf of our bookshelf is devoted to children’s books. Every day the boys pull them all out and every evening I put them all back. Not in alphabetical order; that would be stupid. I order them by publisher, like in Hatchards. As every night I gather together the Ladybirds, the Puffins, and the others, I begin to get a feeling for what kind of book the publishers go for. So here based on my experience are what the publishers publish.
The ladybirds: I had lots of these when I was little. The little ladybird logo is, for me, as much a reminder of my childhood as Clark’s shoes. We have a couple of classics from the 70s and 80s that I picked up second hand which seem very dull but Daniel really goes for the baby’s first picture book (“ba, bah!” – ball, clearly, you fools) and the Princess has a fondness for a book showing what children do at school and a nursery rhyme book. The more modern ladybirds we have are all lift the flap books. You have to be a very tough flap to withstand my children and most evenings I sellotape back on elements of “Night, night baby” and “Peekaboo baby”. I would characterise the offerings as solid but unimaginative.
Then we come to Usborne books. The books for younger children seem to be something of a one trick pony. They have “That’s not my dinosaur” and its sister publications including “That’s not my pirate”, “That’s not my tractor” and so on. They know a good thing when they see one, there is a long list of these titles. Aside from that, we have a reasonably attractive book of nursery rhymes and three fabulous fairy tale books for the Princess. These are lovely books to look at and reasonably entertaining for grown-ups to read which becomes important from the 150th bedtime repetition . We have “The Princess and the Pea”, “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” and “Rapunzel“. My personal favourite is “Rapunzel” but they are all very cleverly done.
Moving on from left to right we come to the Dr. Seuss family. The cat in the hat logo appears on a number of books that are not penned by the good doctor himself but they are all strong on rhyme and adored by my children. We have “The Cat in the Hat comes back”, “Hop on Pop” and “Go Dog Go” from when I was little. “Go Dog Go” and “Hop on Pop” are approaching complete disintegration. Daniel and Michael can pick both of them from the bookshelf and bring them to me when I ask them. Daniel can even make hopeful sounds approximating to both titles. We have, as they say, “too many to mention” from the Seuss stable. We like some better than others. “Snow” and “I”m not going to get up today” work quite well for the Princess but, personally, if I never had to read “Red Fish, Blue Fish” again, it would be no loss. Daniel is a big fan of “The Foot Book” which is, at least, short. We all love “The Cat in the Hat”.
The Puffins were, I always felt, the intellectuals of the children’s book world. They may have shed this image slightly with the publication of “Princess Smarty Pants” and “Tiny Rabbit” both of which the Princess is keen on but I find tedious. We also have a great version of “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse” that I had when I was little. It is lovely to reread it now because I knew it by heart then but phrases like “The cheese was the finest Parmesan and they wetted their whiskers with exquisite champagne” didn’t mean a lot to me and it’s like putting the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle in place. The older members of the family are fond of “Sam Jam Balu” although the Princess has gone off it a bit recently which is a pity as her parents are still very keen. I have just discovered Janet and Allan Ahlberg. I like the classic “Each Peach Pear Plum” which was, until recently, unknown to me but I am enjoying even more “The Baby’s Catalogue” which is the cleverest picture book I have ever seen. All the children love it and I find it very entertaining also. I seem to find something new on every reading which is saying a lot about a book that has mostly one word per page.
Onwards. Walker Books have a stupid slogan along the lines of “for high quality look for the book with the bear”. Nevertheless, I have to concede that Walker Books are all pretty popular with the Princess. I find the “Little Bear” series almost unbearably twee myself but the Princess is a big fan. Lines like “Big Bear said to Little Bear ‘jump into my arms Little Bear'” go down really well with the target audience but are a bit of a trial for the grown-ups. They have the “bear hunt” people and a lot of their works which are good value. They also have Shirley Hughes who has some of my favourite pictures in any children’s books (an extremely competitive field) but whose words are quite dire. Her stuff does not scan. It’s not that hard. Ask Dr. Seuss. I have, however, a special place in my heart for Shirley Hughes because she illustrated “Stories for Eight Year Olds” which may well be my favourite book of all time. Overall, to be fair, the Walker book slogan is accurate.
We then move to Red Fox books who appear to be unknown to the internet. They have Daisy of whom the Princess is very fond. Her parents can take or leave Daisy. They also have the classic “Where the Wild Things Are” They have the very useful “Mummy laid an Egg” where the author of the annoying “Princess Smarty Pants” does an excellent job on the vexed question of where babies come from. Is it possible Red Fox do re-editions of things which have already appeared and been successful elsewhere? It makes them a safe bet, I would have thought.
Little Tiger Press does not do it for us, but perhaps with only three books on our main shelves, we do not have a large enough sample to judge.
Macmillan have the Gruffalo and all of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s immensely successful works. Lucky old them. I do like the Gruffalo, you can’t help it, really. The Princess knows chunks of it off by heart as do most children as far as I can see.
I have not touched upon the French books or the books in the Princess’s room, although I do put together the T’choupis, the Juliettes and the Camilles of which there are many, my systems seem to fall down there. And she has lots of lovely books that I have forgotten because they are not in proper order and we don’t think to read them. Though “The Wild Girl” and “The Dancing Tiger“, are both beautiful and make me cry (which is very easy to do, just try upsetting my filing) and I know this though, offhand, I can’t tell you who publishes them. Tomorrow, clearly, it behoves me to organise the Princess’s bookshelves.