There you are minding your own business and then suddenly you find yourself invited to a child's birthday party. You don't even have kids and have no idea what they like? Kill 'em games? A Dora the Explorer doll? A 10kg bucket of lollies?
Do yourself (and the parents) a favour and consider a book. Oh yawn, you might say, does anybody actually read anymore? Kids do, and they love books.
Compiled with a little help from my four year old and two year old, here are our Top 10 Books for Kids:
For the Littlies
The Green Sheep (2004) written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Judy Horacek. This has got to be the dream team of author and illustrator and the book's elegance lies in its simplicity, its repetition and its rhyme. Not to mention awesome pictures. Kids can help 'read' by looking at the pictures, and any children's book that finishes with a character that is asleep or going to bed always helps at bedtime.
We're Going On a Bear Hunt (1997), written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. This award winning book has a mesmerising and repetitive text which can be sung or chanted or simply read. A simple story about a family trekking through the woods and rivers and mud in search of a bear. How much fun is that?
The Very Hungry Caterpillar (1969) written and illustrated by Eric Carle. Who hasn't heard of this book or seen its iconic collage-based pictures? It has won a heap of awards, and is rumoured to have sold a copy per minute since publication. That's a lot of caterpillars. It teaches little ones about foods, numbers and days of the week, plus throws in a bit of science about the life cycle of the butterfly for good measure.
The Gruffalo (1999) written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. This is a very clever story about a mouse that outsmarts a fox, owl and snake. Kids love chanting along once they learn the repetition, and the story is so smart even adults won't get bored reading this one over and over. It has been made into a movie and stage show, but the book is best.
The Cat in The Hat (1957) written by Dr Seuss (aka Theodor Giesel). This is the first book in a series in which the ubiquitous cat with his long red and white hat make an appearance. As with most Dr Seuss books, it is written in a particular style which has now become widely known as Dr Seuss's Meter. There is a whole debate raging about the absence of the mother in this book, where a cat comes by to cause havoc in a house where two small children have been left for the day, and if your children got up to half the mischief that these kids did, you'd probably freak out. But it is a classic and deserves to be on the list.
Aussie Night Before Christmas (2007) Text by Yvonne Morrison, illustrations by Kilmeny Niland. Based on the classic rhyme, this story takes a left turn and heads straight down under. With Santa in shorts and a pair of thongs, a team of kangaroos rather than reindeers and a rusty old ute, this is essential Christmas reading.
The Enchanted Wood/The Magic Faraway Tree (1939) by Enid Blyton. It may be an oldie but it is a goodie. Sure it is full of strange old phrases like 'Ooh it will be lovely!'' and "I simply must be dreaming", and names like Fanny and Dame Slap which may need some explaining, but if your child has even half an imagination they will love the idea of different worlds and adventures to be had at the top of an enormous tree full of strange folk. Later editions have been revised to make them more politically correct – hence Frannie and Dame Snap appear in the 2007 edition.
The Feel Good Book (2009) by Todd Parr. As with all of Todd Parr's beautiful, bright and multi-cultural picture books, the Feel Good Book explores the fact that different things make different people feel good, and encourages us to think about what makes us happy. All of his books explore similarity and difference (such as The Family Book) in an approachable and non-judgemental way.
How the Birds Got Their Colours (2004) by Pamela Lofts and Mary Albert. We have been telling our children fables since time began – think of Aesop's Fables and even the bible. This is a beautifully illustrated story based on an Aboriginal Dreamtime story, and like all fables has a bigger message beyond the simple story.
The Eleventh Hour (1988) by Graeme Base. With its subtitle 'A Curious Mystery' this book can be enjoyed on many levels. For the little ones it is a good story with amazing pictures, for the older kids there is a mystery to solve and clues on every page, for adults it can become an obsession. A group of animals attend Horace the Elephant's birthday party and while everyone is playing someone eats all the party food. The clues get pretty serious with ciphers, Morse code and hidden messages, but you can still enjoy the book without needing to hire Sherlock Holmes.
Excellent choice and I'd have to agree with the first seven which are all well thumbed and on our shelves. I would also suggest two more for new parents/babies: "Guess how much I love you" and "Heaven's having you" which are both wonderful stories to read to babies. My 7 year old still tells me every night that he loves me "to the moon and back" which never fails to bring tears to my eyes at the memories of reading that beautiful book!