On books and bookstores

Twenty three years ago, I was heavy with child – my first child.  I didn’t have much stuff for this new baby  – very few clothes, or anything really, but I had a shelf  crammed full of picture books ready to read.  The only parenting books I had read concerned children’s books – they were inspiring and had me very excited about becoming a Mum and being able to introduce my baby to the wonderful world of books.  (Honey for a child’s heart by Gladys Hunt and Babies need books by Dorothy Butler – alas this is out of print!)

Perhaps I was mad, maybe I still am.  I have no baby clothes left – they either fell to pieces or were passed on, but I still have those books and more books and they have remained with us and are still used either by us or little visitors.

I was recently looking through my bookshelves for my books by Shirley Hughes and was unable to find them.  I was a little perplexed and puzzled about what had happened to them.  Late last week, they appeared on my kitchen table – a lovely pile of old friends.  I had lent them to a friend who now has four young children, but in my usual muddleheaded way had no memory of this.  She has been enjoying reading these with her children and they have now returned to me.  I took a photo of some of these books by Shirley Hughes – they are a little battered, but they are still cherished.

My first baby, a son is a passionate reader and has a wonderful job two days a week working at a local bookstore.  It is one of my favourite shops to visit and I have just returned from visiting to buy some books for babies about to be born.  Much to my surprise I discovered that there were no books by Shirley Hughes on their shelves – why?  They are not readily available locally.  They can be ordered from overseas but will take four to six weeks to arrive.  They are available from the Book Depository.

This makes me so sad!  Shirley Hughes is a gifted writer and illustrator.  Her books capture the world of small children and she communicates profound thoughts simply and imaginatively.  Lucy and Tom’s abc helped me talk to my children about many things, including: friends: “f is for friends…sometimes Tom and James get cross with each other, but friends are important people so you can’t be cross for long” – what a lovely way to introduce the idea that you might have conflict with your friend but you can get over it and make up.  Or getting sick: “i is for ill.  This is Tom being ill in bed.  He needs a lot of things to play with.  Even then, he gets very hot and bored and keeps calling out for people to come and amuse him.”  Tom’s face says it all.  This book was fun to read, it introduced many different concepts and opportunities to talk with my children about the stuff of life.

Alfie – how I love Alfie! The books about Alfie and his little sister Annie Rose are delightful.  The story of when Alfie lends a hand – captures the dilemma Alfie faces when he insists on taking his blanket to a birthday party and then needs both hands for holding hands in a circle game and helping his friend Min feel safe – he has to make a big decision – he can’t do this and hold his blanket.  Dogger introduces us to Dave and Bella.  Bella again has to make a big decision – a wise and good decision for her brother Dave who has lost his precious Dogger and Bella manages to rescue him.  I am sure that my children learnt much from being read Shirley Hughes’ books again and again and again.  Shirley Hughes describes the world of the child with much honesty and her characters make wise decisions.  They are inspiring characters.  Navigating much in life involves growing in wisdom.  Such picture books are a wonderful tool for helping us teach our children about life in all its complexities.

I do want to support my local bookstore, and I bought a lovely collection of picture books I can use as gifts to welcome these babies to the world, but I would LOVE to be able to buy books by Shirley Hughes locally.  I certainly suggested this local bookstore have these books readily available.

About sarahcondie

I am a Christian, a wife, a mother, an ex-librarian, a minister's wife, a women's Pastor, a quilter, a reader, I enjoy thinking about things slowly, I love cups of tea, I love sitting at my kitchen table in dappled sunlight and chatting with my friends, my children's friends, my family abut anything and everything.
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7 Responses to On books and bookstores

  1. Christine Jensen says:

    I’m an ardent Shirley Hughes’ fan. ‘Better read than Dead’ always gets them in for me. It doesn’t usually take all that long.I regularly order ‘Dogger’. I still well up with emotion when I read it, which I do frequently.

    But ‘Alfie Gives a hand’ is another favourite of mine. It was such a relief to read about Bernard at his party and realise my children must be like other children on their birthdays. the best thing we ever did was ask a firend of my oldest son’s to run the party games for the twins and it was fantastic. He even let them win some of the races!

    One of my daughters managed to but the Alfie books on Book depository. What a wonderful time your grandchildren to come will have with your great supply of picture books.

  2. Alison Blake says:

    Just this week Hannah read Dogger to her Kinder class and commented that every child, even those with “attention issues”, were captivated. She thinks they were close to tears. She had the same response when she read it on prac last year, again to a Kindergarten class. She has just ordered around a dozen Shirley Hughes books in from the UK (the inevitable Book Depository), for use at school, so it’s good to know about Christine’s suggestion, so she can support local booksellers! My personal favourite is Alfie gets in first – I love the tension of Alfie being inside and all the important people in his life being outside, and the way the outdoor events are pictured opposite the indoor events, with the closed door between.

  3. Sarah Hobba says:

    Shirley Hughes is a favourite of mine. A birthday present many years ago was Lucy and Tom’s Day. Unfortunately, we had some water damage to some books and it was one of them. I dried it out the best I could – but it is still not perfect. I found a couple of Shirley Hughes in a 2nd Hand bookshop or at a church fete. They are gold. Very well loved but I treasure them just the same.

  4. Cath says:

    I smiled as I read this post Sarah – all those lovely familiar stories which you described so well, and which have become precious to all of us, too! Our children collect Buntings now, just like Alfie, and are all captivated every single time we read Dogger. And don’t those pictures make you want to be in England – especially in the Autumn! Have you read “Alfie gets in first”? Alfie manages to lock himself in while his mum and Annie Rose are locked out. Shirley Hughes is just able to capture something so real about children, isn’t she?

    It’s sad that so many bookstores really only stock the stuff that is recently published -unless they are a really, really quality bookstore – and even then, the price unfortunately is so high at those places! Do you remember the chic-flick ‘You’ve got Mail?” I dream of owning a little children’s bookstore just like that one on the movie! But just like in the movie, the little ones can’t really compete any more.

    That’s enough from me — how can I resist saying so much on a topic so dear to my heart!!

    PS have you heard of Booko.com (.au?) It’s an Aussie run site that lists all of the places you can buy the title you are after, both online and locally, in order of price including postage. I found to my surprise that the Book Depository is not always the cheapest!

  5. Sarah Condie says:

    Thank you for all these lovely comments – so delighted to hear there are others who also love these books and will continue to buy them. Maybe the smaller bookstores might respond to customer demand! I will try that website too for buying books …you women are kindred spirits!

  6. Anna says:

    I was introduced to Shirley Hughes’ books by a friend when my kids were really little and we were hooked. My daughter still asks for the Alfie and Annie Rose story book. The stories have a fantastic reality about them, and nothing of the sugar coating that a lot of books have nowadays. I never get tired of reading them and I think that is a good test of whether a book is a classic or not.

  7. Cathy Turner says:

    I LOVE your new look blog!!! Thank you for writing about Shirley Hughes’ books, Sarah. Yes we too are devoted readers of “Dogger” – I give it to our kids as part of their 19th birthday pack of Reliving Your Childhood. So sad that great books such as these are becoming less known to Mums and less read to little children today.

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