Before we start today, there’s one piece of news. As The AudioBookaneers reveal here, all of Tor.com’s novellas are now on sale on audio, Witches of Lychford included. If you’ve been meaning to get it on audio, now is the time.
For the last two years, I’ve written a post indicating what Tom Baker’s… I mean Thomas Cornell’s… favourite books have been in the last year, and I see no reason to change this year. Over the next decade and a bit, this should prove an interesting map of how his reading tastes change, and eventually I hope he’ll be writing them himself. So let’s start with…
Look Inside Space
by Rob Lloyd Jones, illustrated by Benedetta Giaufret and Enrica Rusiná.
These days Tom will run to his two shelves of books in the lounge, grab one and run back to us to leap on our laps and have us start reading. With some books, like this one, he’ll say the words after we do. There’s so much information in here, and so much text, in easily-digestible flap-by-flap form, that he picks and chooses what to read by opening various flaps. There are some inventive diagrams in here, like one displaying the phases of the moon (with which he’s obsessed, asking ‘maybe see moon?’ when we’re about to head home from nursery). Everything from the International Space Station (‘once the work is done, there’s time for fun’) to the structure of galaxies to the history of astronomy is covered. Hearing Tom try to say ‘Galileo Galilei’ is quite something. To my joy, after a few instances of reading about telescopes, Tom suddenly made the connection, leaped up and ran into the hall, where he pointed at my telescope and excitedly identified it. (He’d previously referred to it as a helicopter.) This is a great book for your tiny space fiend.
Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends: Thomas Goes Fishing/James & the Troublesome Trucks
Tom doesn’t care if a book is from 1984, an adaptation of a TV show that’s no longer being made. He loves two out of three of these old Thomas books we were given. (He won’t touch the one with the yellow cover, for some reason.) He’s also, thus, become addicted to watching the episodes on my iPad. (And chuckling at videos of me speaking. And sending out Candy Crush Saga invitations. Sorry.) I loved the original Rev. W. Awdry books when I was young, and these adaptations are nicely faithful to the rather rough working-class playfulness of the engines, who are always teasing each other and trying to get away with industrial larks. Tom now seems to be of the opinion that the titular engine’s surname is ‘Goes-Fishing’.
Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book
by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
Tom likes loads of Donaldson’s books, even The Gruffalo, though having seen the TV adaptation he went through a phase of being scared of it, to the extent of refusing to wear his Gruffalo pyjamas. The Smartest Giant in Town is also a particular favourite, and we read One Ted Falls Out of Bed every bedtime, but I’ve chosen this one because, like all of Donaldson’s, it’s merciful to the grown-up in terms of repeated reading, having an elegant structure and a perfect rhyme scheme. This is a book-within-a-book-within… and so on, with the individual books getting their own headings at the top of the page (‘Joust Joking! A Knight’s own joke book!’) and their own design schemes, my favourite being The Posh Lady’s Magazine. The moon also makes an appearance, which pleases Tom.
My First Book of Dinosaurs
by Dougal Dixon and Dee Phillips
This is way over Tom’s reading age, but it’s become clear he’s memorised the many, many, words, every one of which he requires us to read. It’s a fairly up-to-date guide to carnivores, herbivores, flying reptiles and swimming reptiles, starting with the process of how fossils are formed. Where there’s current uncertainty about something, like how Stegosaurus’ back plates were arranged, the text goes into that, and one meets some weird creatures like Segnosaurus, all painted in a classic natural history style. It’s also startlingly bloodthirsty. Okay, so we might need to see poor Hypsilophodon falling into the lake, ready to be fossilised, but do we really need to hear ‘other animals in the lake ate the Hypsilophodon’s skin’? (There’s even a picture.) Great stuff for those who like to have Thomas Goes-Fishing talk about breakfast with Ankylosaurus.
Maisy Goes to Nursery
by Lucy Cousins
Tom likes a lot of Maisy books. Maisy the mouse seems to be a homeowner who bakes for herself, but who also goes to bed at 7.30pm and attends nursery as a pupil. Maybe we’re seeing her at vastly different times in her life? But no, put adult ideas of continuity aside, these books are pitched very cleverly, simply drawn to the point of genius and reflecting the life experience of their target age group. Perhaps Maisy pretends to have adult roles so completely there’s no need for any kind of framing device, and has complete toddler experiences too. (All of which are wonderfully benign and reassuring, and lead the little one through what to expect in situations like going swimming or going to the library.) Hence Tom’s current ability to rehearse at home what he experiences three and a half days a week, using this book. There’s also no dividing line between description and dialogue, reflecting how these books are read aloud and come direct to us from Maisy’s mind, again seeming so simple on the page, but establishing a great relationship to the tiny target audience. (Maisy Goes to Bed is also one of our bedtime books, mainly due to its strategic mention of potty use.) Mind you, I defy any adult to read Maisy’s Bathtime and not to get 70’s porn music playing in their head once Maisy opens the door to find there her duck friend Tallulah. ‘Maisy’s having her bath now. Come and play later, Tallulah. Oh! Where are you going, Tallulah? Tallulah goes to the bathroom and takes off her clothes…’
Thunderbirds Are Go Sticker Activity Book
Tom adores the new Thunderbirds series, to the point where we have to watch each new episode about nine times across the week, and I have to say I’m pretty delighted by it too. It’s more faithful to the original than any reimagining has to be, has great tech, and is even moving, in that it represents the Tracy brothers’ need to save people in a bit more emotional detail than in the old days. (And those long launch sequences are all still present and correct, with added deck chairs being blown away from the pool.) Tom now says ‘Thunderbirds are go’ at the end of any countdown, and can (or rather, will always) name all the characters on sight. (It galls me that, for some reason, there are a bunch of middle-aged fans of the original who feel that any mention of the new version has to be met with derision, even if, on Twitter, I’ve just said that it’s my son’s favourite. You really don’t get to poke your rather empty nostalgia in the face of my little boy. Also… the new version is better.) The merchandise for the show matches the quality of the series itself, and Tom loves this sticker book, which has diagrams of the ships that can be filled in with stickers. The other day he got in his car seat and said ‘Thunderbird Car is go.’ I’m raising a little fanboy, aren’t I?
That’s Not My Penguin
by Fiona Watt, illustrated by Rachel Wells
Tom has loads of these, featuring the continuing difficulties of a mouse that seems to own a vast collection of items and beings, ranging from cars to babies (!), which, seemingly suffering from the same condition as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, he can only identify through the oddest details. (Fair enough when we’re talking about penguins or elephants, which are hard to tell apart, but all he had to tell us about his dragon in order to identify it was that it was the red one.) There’s a lovely little detail that when said being is gendered, its gender is only known by the mouse when it is actually the one the mouse owns. I discovered the other day that, weirdly, only I am allowed to read That’s Not My books to Tom, such dangerous topics being forbidden to Mummy. (Mind you, neither of us are allowed to read the Peppa Pig story book. That’s reserved for Matthew Graham’s Mum. It’s a long story.)
by Michelle Robinson and Nick East
This is beautiful, a small boy putting away his farm toys at the end of the day and imagining himself in some beautifully painted farm settings. (The one of harvesting at night is especially gorgeous.) My in-laws are farming folk, and they’ve instilled in Tom a love of ponies and tractors, and the perfect, loping rhyme of this book frames those images just right for the calming-down process of bedtime.
CBeebies Special Magazine: Clangers
Like the parents of toddlers all over Britain, we’re indebted to the high quality, commitment and fun of the CBeebies channel, advertising-free entertainment for the very small. That commitment to quality extends to their magazines, which include this special, a monthly edition that features a different series every time. We’ve also got issues devoted to Sarah & Duck and Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures, but the Clangers one had especial reading value for Tom. He learned the story to the point where we sometimes hear him repeating it to himself, and is thus amazed when the knitted/animated version of it appears as a TV episode. The plastic Tiny and Small on the front have joined the engines, dinosaurs and zebra as guests on Tom’s special shelf, while poor Makka Pakka from In the Night Garden, who Tom loves on TV, is, in his plastic form, forever exiled to the kitchen. Poor Makka Pakka.
Green Eggs and Ham
by Dr. Seuss
Tom has finally made his peace with this book, but it took a while. He used to enjoy having it read to him right up to the point where our hero is finally forced, by ‘Sam I Am’, to try the titular dish. Then Tom would grab the book and throw it across the room. He had heard what happened after that, and didn’t like the message the book was trying to impart. So, for Tom, this was for a while the tale of a proud individualist who even having been forced into a train wreck by a pseudonymous terrorist, possibly working for Big Ham, then lost at sea, would still not give in and submit to the ham agenda. As someone who finds that part of Cars where Lightning McQueen is forced to stay in a small town and learn about values to be a paranoid nightmare in the tradition of The Prisoner, I must say I rather supported Tom’s stance. However, it’s probably for the best that he’s now started to let us read the book to the end. Like Winston Smith in 1984, he now loves Green Eggs and Ham.
I’ll see you tomorrow for something of a very different nature. Cheers.