My Small Girl is six years old. She loves reading, probably more now than she ever will again for the rest of her life. She still appreciates the newness of it. She takes great pride in reading a menu and delights in telling me I’m parked under a NO PARKING sign. I watched through glass yesterday as she got left behind at the shallow end of the swimming pool because she was engrossed in reading the safety notices.
It takes patience to read with her. She wants to read for herself and wants to know what every single word means.
It is also a huge joy.
And, my Small Girl has great taste.
I want to show you three gorgeous books we have adored.
Hortense and the Shadow by Natalia and Lauren O’Hara.
I followed the creation of this beautiful book on Instagram (@oharasisters). For months I watched in awe as characters and detailed backgrounds emerged from simple sketches to exquisite illustrations.
The writer and illustrator are sisters, living in London, of English and Polish heritage.
The book has quite a dark atmosphere and, to be honest, I feared Small Girl might not like it.
Hortense is a young girl who lives in a cold, snowy place with ‘dark and wolfish woods.’
Though she was kind and brave, she was sad as an owl because of one thing.
Hortense does not like her shadow. It bothers her, following her everywhere, until she finds a way to escape it.
My Small Girl, at this point, was completely transfixed. There are tiny clues in the illustrations to what’s about to happen and I could almost hear the cogs of her brain whirring as she tried to figure it out.
This is a sophisticated story, I think, but one which younger children are more likely to appreciate than those who have reached the dreaded Age of Not Believing. My daughter happily accepted that a shadow might be chased away, and might return to save the day.
Overall, a quirky and quietly empowering read for little ones.
Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson.
Somehow, despite raising three other readers, the Moomintrolls had until now escaped our notice. Written in 1948, this one was re-released last year in this sweet collector’s edition with, presumably, enough fanfare to finally come to my, ahem, Santa’s attention.
Quirky doesn’t go far enough to describe the Moomins. The menagerie of beings in this book is little short of absurd, but completely adorable. Moominmamma and Moominpappa, together with Moomintroll, the Hemulen, Snufkin, the Snork Maiden, Moomintroll and anyone else who wanders by, live in a little roundy house hidden in a Finnish forest.
They pack up picnics and go on adventures in much the same way as The Famous Five but with far less predictable results. In this story they discover a hobgoblin’s hat with magical powers which, despite their best efforts to put the hat out of action, leads to all manner of bother and, ultimately, a dramatic happy ending.
The best laughs, and there were many, came from the mixed-up words of Thingumy and Bob, or Bingumy and Thob as we re-named them.
I found the old-fashioned language a bit of a strain for reading aloud but happily the Small Girl took over for every third page or so.
I bookmarked one paragraph which struck me as something remarkable. The Moomins are gathered and taking turns to make one wish each, for anything at all. Moominmamma wishes to remove Moomintroll’s sadness. Sniff wishes for a boat of his own… it goes on quite a bit…
Then the Snork makes his wish:
“A machine for finding things out,” said the Snork, “a machine that tells you whether things are right or wrong, good or bad.”
“That’s too difficult,” said the Hobgoblin, shaking his head. “I can’t manage that.”
In 1948, a smartphone, you see, was beyond even Tove Jansson’s imagination.
Naturama by Michael Fewer with Melissa Doran.
This large format, hardback book is a real treasure. There was always an hour in the school week that was called simply Nature, or Nature Studies when they started to get fancy about it. We made rubbings of tree barks and stuck leaves into our Nature copy and sprouted cress seeds and all that sort of thing. Naturama is a celebration of plants and wildlife indigenous to Ireland. It’s organised seasonally and covers everything from which tree is used to make hurleys (Ash) to what year grey squirrels arrived in Ireland (1911).
We have only read the pages relevant to Winter so far but I’m looking forward to turning back to the start of the book and beginning again with Spring.
If you live in Ireland, this is a beautiful and informative reference book to keep on a coffee table. It will draw your attention to, and put a name on, all the little wonders you pass by everyday. I love it.
That’s pretty close to the view from my window at this very moment.
I’m up the walls at the moment, plotting and planning a big project. All will be revealed. Unless it all goes horribly wrong in which case you will all have to deal with my mental breakdown. Please bear with me if I’m slow replying to comments. Trust me, I LOVE reading them.