CHILDREN'S BOOKS / Getting from a molehill to the stars: Amanda Craig discovers the pains and pleasures of children's first books

THIS piece is being written out of rage. In the past eight months I have bought huge numbers of books for my 18-month- old daughter, and my irritation with the attitudes of publisher and bookseller is shared by a huge and growing market - the baby boomers who have now themselves become parents. English-speaking authors have produced some of the best books in the world for small children, yet only one publisher (Scholastic) gives age guidelines, and only one (Walker) helps the bookseller by giving mock-ups and samples of what each new book contains. With some five new 'books for tots' published a month, few booksellers are either informed or enthusiastic when it comes to their children's section. Only a handful of the classics that should be staples of every children's section are carried - the rest have to be specifically ordered. Who has the time for such research? Certainly not the working parent.

After two, of course, a wealth of famous and splendid books, from Beatrix Potter to Babar, await a child: yet before this age there is an equally rich fund which barely existed until recently. Little is done to help us find it. There are organisations which bully mothers about breastfeeding, but scarcely anyone tells you that reading to a very small child is perhaps the greatest pleasure, emotional and intellectual, of early parenthood.

It's no good trying to read a book you find boring out of a sense of duty. Spot the Dog, Postman Pat and Pingu must have done as much to sow the seeds of illiteracy as television; parents come to hate their crude illustrations and idiotic texts. Where the Wild Things Are will, on the other hand, thrill even a tiny child of limited vocabulary because it ripples with an infectious magic.

Bath 'books' and rag books are a waste of time and money. So are publications showing photographs of babies, when most mail-order catalogues are crawling with them. At 10 months, infants respond best to pop-ups; but these, though miracles of paper engineering, are expensive disposable toys unless you reinforce every flap with Sellotape. 'Real' books are better.

A good book for infants is comparable to a great poem. It has to contain enough vitality, wit and sheer style to bear re-reading at least twice a day, irrespective of parental illness, depression and exhaustion. Any flaw, either in text or pictures, rapidly becomes unbearable. Bookish adults are familiar with the feeling of astonished gratitude a major author can produce: Judith Kerr, Quentin Blake, Lucy Micklethwait and the Ahlbergs are people to whom I would at present donate a kidney.

To begin with, your child will not understand one word in 50, but still makes strict demands. Its book must tell a story, scan, preferably rhyme, be about cats, teddies, families, meals and monsters. It must address a child's deepest fears of being lost, hungry and chased by giants - or reassure by showing the pattern and rhythm of its days. Toddlers are not interested in the glum or politically correct. They want entertainment, imagination and joy. Any author who addresses a specific 'problem' is best left to libraries, which tend to be stacked with pristine copies of Dinosaurs Divorce?, I Want my Potty] and Spot's Baby Sister.

Many of the books infants love best have subtexts which can make an adult wince. Nursery rhymes emphasise accidents, cruelty and subversion; many modern classics such a The Tiger Who came to Tea, Cockatoos and Lucy & Tom's Day depict mothers who are housewives, a servant class and toys divided along strictly sexist lines. So a book such as When Grandma Came, which shows an elderly woman as adventurous as she is tender, is doubly delicious.

A toddler's classic must have illustrations in which you can both find new things to enjoy. Children do not respond only to garish colours, or to weak and wandering pastels. Clarity, detail and charm does not have to mean cute: one the most inspired books available is Lucy Micklethwait's A Child's First Book of Art, which groups great paintings to illustrate colours, numbers and concepts. Toddlers are mesmerised by it.

Books remain better value than almost any toy you pack for holidays, for nothing else will provide the blissful satisfaction of being at once entertained and embraced. A loved book will not only be chewed, ripped, whacked on your nose at 6am and covered with blobs of food, but independently studied with the recognition which is one of the purest and most lasting pleasures. My daughter's joy is what we all feel when, in Nabokov's words, the happy reader climbs the mountain where the author stands and both 'spontaneously embrace and are linked forever'. To us, the toddler's mountain is a molehill, but it may one day touch the stars.

Amanda Craig selects her favourite books for young children:

UP TO ONE YEAR:

Animal Rap, Animal Snap, Robert Crowther, Walker pounds 4.99; Little Monsters, Jan Pienkowski, Orchard pounds 3.50; I Spy series (On the Farm etc), Doubleday pounds 3.99; The Real Mother Goose series, Child's Play pounds 5.95; Ten Bears in a Bed, John Richardson, Tango Books pounds 7.99; Worms Wiggle, Pelham / Foreman, Collins pounds 5.99; This Troll, That Troll, Mick Inkpen, Orchard, pounds 3.50; Miffy, Dick Bruna, Methuen pounds 2.50; Where's My Teddy?, Jez Alborough, Walker pounds 3.99; Mr Magnolia, Quentin Blake, Picture Lions pounds 3.99; For Teddy and Me, Prue Theobalds, Blackie pounds 3.50; The Tale of Peter Rabbit, (pop-up) Potter, Warne pounds 7.99

UP TO TWO YEARS:

Peepo], Allan Ahlberg, Puffin pounds 3.99; Each Peach Pear Plum, Allan Ahlberg, Puffin pounds 3.99; When Grandma Came, Jill Paton Walsh, Puffin pounds 4.50; Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak, Picture Lions pounds 3.99; A Giraffe on the Moon, Sandy Nightingale, Puffin pounds 3.99; Dear Zoo Rod Campbell, Blackie, pounds 5.50; Lucy & Tom's Day, Shirley Hughes, Puffin pounds 3.99; The Tiger who came to Tea, Judith Kerr, Picture Lion pounds 3.99; The Blue Balloon, Mick Inkpen, Picture Knight pounds 4.99; Mog & the Baby, J Kerr, Picture Lions pounds 3.99; This is the Bear, Hayes/Craig, Walker pounds 3.99; Who Sank the Boat?, Pamela Allen, Puffin, pounds 3.99; Maisy Goes to Bed, Lucy Cousins, Walker pounds 6.99; Cockatoos, Quentin Blake, Red Fox pounds 3.99; In the Night Kitchen, Maurice Sendak, Picture Lions pounds 3.99; Lucy & Tom at the Seaside, Shirley Hughes, Puffin pounds 3.50; Noah & the Animals, Prue Theobalds, Blackie pounds 3.99; A Child's Book of Art, Lucy Micklethwait, Dorling Kindersley pounds 9.99; Why Mrs Monkey Missed the Ark, J Kerr, Lions pounds 3.99; The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle, Puffin pounds 3.99.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone