THE first books that children read make a lasting impression on them, so parents need to choose carefully.
Young children might not be able to tell if the stories are interesting, but the pictures will grab their attention.
Bright colours and bold letters are not the only criteria though, as the stories can be poetic, philosophical and even have a dash of wicked adult humour. (Not to worry, layered stories address the individual’s maturity, so there is no danger of your child picking up unsavoury elements.)
Just remember to get books that you too will enjoy reading over and over again, as toddlers love to return to stories they like.
It is never too early to buy a book for a child. Looking at pictures will open babies’ eyes to the world, while listening to a parent’s voice reading will give them an inkling of language. Even holding a book is educational. It is a holistic experience, so be prepared for the books to be loved to bits – chewed, torn and flung about.
THE COMPLETE WINNIE-THE-POOH
By A.A. Milne
WELCOME to 100 Acre Wood where honey bear Winnie the Pooh and his friends, Piglet, Eeyore the melancholic donkey, Tigger the bouncy tiger, Rabbit, kangaroo Kanga, and her son Roo, find exciting adventures in their enchanting world. Then of course there is the little boy, Christopher Robin, who lives at the edge of the woods and joins the animals for his own adventures.
Milne’s well-loved characters are brought to life in this compilation of the two classic books: Winnie-the-Pooh and the House at the Pooh Corner, complete with the original illustrations by E.H. Shepard.
Inspired by the nursery games played by his son, who was also called Christopher Robin, Milne wrote the stories in an interesting narrative style with asides of conversations with his son. Unfortunately, as in many other children’s classics, this gem has to compete with Disney’s version. Parents should introduce their children to this version before unveiling to them Disney’s Technicolor cartoon world.
– A Baliness Folktale
Retold by Ann Martin Bowler
A CLUB OF SMALL MEN
– A Children’s Tale From Bali
By Colin Mcphee
THE BUTTERFLY’S DREAM
– Children’s Classic Stories from
Retold by Ippo Keido
A STAUNCH believer in the importance of cultural-identity, I cherish these folktales. Some say that Asian values are too scholarly and beyond children’s comprehension, or even redundant in our globalised world, but I believe that it is important to instill pride in one’s own culture; it enhances one’s appreciation of other aspects of life.
The two tales from Bali, Indonesia, are told in a local context that is familiar to Malaysian children. Gecko’s Complaint tells of how a community should stick together. (Doesn’t that sound familiar?)
When the gecko is woken up by a swarm of fireflies, it complains to Raden the lion, king of the jungle. Raden then discovers that other animals have their own troubles and decides to make it his mission to make everyone happy. This is similar to our Sang Kancil stories.
A Club of Small Men is a story about a group of young boys who started a music club in a village in Bali. Kayun and his friends, Kantin, Dapat, Dog, Kinigan and Bedil, find out that learning to play the traditional music of Bali is not that tedious, as they get into one adventure after another while trying to master the instruments. First published in 1948, the story strikes a chord with its Asian outlook.
A classic Chinese philosophical tale, The Butterfly’s Dream is simplified for children but no less thought-provoking. Retelling the stories of the Taoist teacher Chuang-Tzu, this imaginative book is about the storyteller waking up and wondering who the dreamer is – he himself or the butterfly he dreamed of. Interwoven with the butterfly’s encounters with characters in the Chinese classical landscape, the whimsical stories provide a unique perspective of the world.
All the Asian Folktales books come with glossy pages of colourful pictures. The non-native writers (American, Canadian and Japanese, respectively) are testament to how universal the grandmother stories are. Our advantage is, they are our stories and help our children make sense of our world.
THE ORCHARD BOOK OF FAIRY TALES
Retold by Rose Impey and Ian Beck
CINDERELLA, Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk, Beauty and The Beast, Rumpelstiltskin – 14 of the best-loved fairy tales in one colourful book.
A good bedtime storybook investment, suitable for children aged four to six, especially those newly-introduced to the world of books.
Each story has its own voice, something that author Impey injects with her fresh and lively style. The spirit of the original stories is retained and they continue to help the young connect its universal themes to their own lives. They are full of humour too, and are guaranteed to touch children’s hearts and enrich their experience of the world.
Who says fairytales are all about fantasy? As this collection shows, they help the young make sense of their lives and inner feelings, not to mention develop a reading habit. What more can parents ask for?
MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS
By Robert Mcloskey
AND you thought a child’s world is uncomplicated! Mr and Mrs Mallard need a suitable home for their ducklings but the Public Garden is too dangerous for the newborns. After searching all over Boston city, they settled on a little island on the Charles River.
When the ducklings are old enough, Mrs Mallard decides to teach them the ways of the world and takes them for a walk in the city. Still, the busy streets of Boston are too dangerous for eight little ducklings, hence the friendly Boston. Police step in to give them a little hand. Once they reach their destination, the Public Garden, the duck family have the time of their life and decide to stay for good.
This sweet story has various layers of moral lessons, from street safety to environmental awareness and personal triumph. Most of all, it is a good introduction to the police for little children. Too often, especially in Malaysia, the police are demonised to frighten children.
This book has detailed black-and-white illustrations.
A Contemporary Fable
By George Herman
BASED on evergreen themes from classic Asian folklore, this tale demonstrates that ancient stories live on forever.
As the story goes, the people of Wongsu and Makai are divided by nine legendary dragons, living in the mountains that separate their villages.
A catastrophic drought forces them to venture into the mountains in search of food. However, with age-old rivalry between the two tribes, the threat of war looms over the Wongsu and Makai.
It is only when the oldest and wisest dragon steps in and convinces each side that war would be futile that they sign a pact for peace.
To me, the best children’s stories are those that are microcosms of the real world, and Nine Dragons is successful in this respect.
This mythical story of overcoming mistrust and misunderstanding to achieve peace is truly inspirational. Plus, the dragon drawings are awesome!
DR SEUSS’S BOOK OF
I FIRST fell in love with Dr Seuss in my primary school years when I salvaged a battered copy of The Cat in the Hat among the many books given to us by some kind expatriate families. The funny rhymes, the word play and the whimsical drawings opened up my imagination and made me laugh.
Now, 30 years on, I continue to be amused by a Dr Seuss book for the same reasons. His Book of Bedtime Stories is no different.
Comprising three stories – Dr Seuss’s Sleep Book, Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose and Horton Hears a Who! – these stories will delight any child who is into rhymes and funny characters. And which child isn’t?
In the Sleep Book, you will be introduced to a roll-call of characters who are all going off to sleep one by one.
In Thidwick, you get to see how kind-heartedness is rewarded, while in Horton, a dustball has an adventure with an elephant.
Reading the stories was like a roller-coaster ride, making me and my children smile with every twist and turn of the plot, if you could call it a plot. We also had to suspend all notions of logic and reason as Dr Seuss’s characters and storyline are as loony and ludicrous as can be.
In this volume, as with most of Dr Seuss’ works, there are no obvious offerings of moral values or battles with good triumphing over evil. They are basically read aloud stories that all children will enjoy.
As this book is recommended to be read in bed, I would suggest that you snuggle up with your kids, and prepare to show off your ability to tell a mesmerising story.
THE USBORNE POCKET SCIENTIST
By Susan Mayes
DID you know that dragonflies lay their eggs in water? Or that thunder is the result of lightning heating up air so rapidly that it makes a loud noise?
These fascinating snippets along with hundreds of answers to everyday mysteries are provided in the Usborne Pocket Scientist.
At a convenient 15cm x 15cm, this pocket-sized guide tackles the mysteries of everyday things, from nature to science and technology. Readers can even find out what goes on inside a car: be it about pistons, gear box or shock absorbers.
The good news is that you don’t have to have a scientific mind to enjoy reading about scientific mysteries; an inquisitive nature will do.
With its easy step-by-step explanations and bright, detailed illustrations, children from the age of six can enjoy finding out things by themselves. There are also simple experiments to do.
Those with computer access can click on to fun and interesting websites and links provided in the book. To download pictures from the book, you can visit www.usborne-quicklinks.com and enter the keywords “pocket scientist 2”.
MIND MAPS FOR KIDS,
The shortcut to success at school
By Tony Buzan
HERE is a book specifically for children aged seven to 14, written by the guru of mind-mapping himself. Written in a speaking-directly-to-you style, the book explains what mind-mapping is all about and how it can help a child through school.
It explains that most humans are inclined to left-brain thinking, thus under-utilising the whole brain. It also says that one way out of this is to think in pictures rather than in words and lists.
“Cramming doesn’t work,” says the book, “organising your thoughts into mind maps, does.”
The child is then guided step-by-step on how to construct a mind-map using only three items in the tool kit: paper, coloured pens and one’s brain.
Mind-mapping is a useful tool for learning History, Geography, Mathematics, English and Science; in fact, any subject at all. And it doesn’t have to be all about schoolwork. One can do fun stuff like planning a party or project, sorting out a bedroom, writing a letter or putting one’s dreams on paper.
Fully illustrated in colour, the book is a winner as it is filled with jokes, cartoons, tips, brain-teasers, and riddles. It is so reader-friendly that even college students and adults will find it interesting.
WHAT A BLAST,
The Explosive Escapades
of Ethan Flask and
Professor von Offel
By Kathy Burkett
FLASHBACK: For more than 100 years, the Flasks and the von Offels have been feuding, with the latter always managing to steal the thunder away from the former.
While the Flasks are brilliant, rational, and reliable, the von Offels are brilliant, reckless, and ruthless. For every key moment in the history of the Flasks, there has always been a von Offel on the scene to “borrow” a science notebook, beat a Flask to the patent office or booby-trap an important experiment.
Cut to the present: Ethan Flask is a cool science teacher at Einstein Elementary School and is about to be evaluated for a teaching award.
The evaluator, however, is none other than Prof John von Offel, a wacky scientist who bears an uncanny resemblance to the original mad scientist, Johannes von Offel, who blew himself up in 1891 in an attempt to create the world’s safest explosive.
What obstacles will Flask face? How will Prof John von Offel get in the way? Is Johannes von Offel really dead?
What are you waiting for? Get the book!
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