Combing the Kids’ Shelves: Helen Oxenbury

I was aware of Helen Oxenbury’s work before I had children, because I oversaw the kids’ section at a large used-book store. But I didn’t own any of her books till after I had my own child. The first thing that raised my interest was an article I can no longer find*, I think from the Guardian or Times, about best books for children that included at least one of Oxenbury’s quartet, Say Goodnight, All Fall Down, Clap Hands and Tickle, Tickle. The second was a post by kidlit/librarian blogger Book Moot about Farmer Duck, whose author is Martin Waddell. We owned, and both Drake and I loved, Owl Babies, by the same author. It had humor, and a wonderful almost-rhyming text that was a joy to read. Farmer Duck, a Parent’s Choice award winner about a lazy farmer who takes advantage of his hard-working duck, delighted us as well. Finally, a comment from a reader (was that you, Loretta?) about the Tom and Pippo series made me seek those out. After Guppy was born, we bought all four of Oxenbury’s baby books that were recommended in that first article, Michael Rosen’s We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, and the four “I” books: See, Hear, Can, and Touch. He adored all of them, and they were his favorites for a long time. Now that Drake is nearly 5, I’ve added the Helen Oxenbury Nursery Collection and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and both these are often off the shelf.

Many of Oxenbury’s books, such as the Tom and Pippo series, and the charming It’s My Birthday, are out of print. But they’re still in circulation at many libraries, and on the shelves at used bookstores. I highly recommend Oxenbury’s illustration. She captures something that clearly speaks to my children, and draws them into the books. Her style is distinctive and accessible, yet not saccharine.

I highly recommend the books I mention above. Seek out those in print so that they stay in print. Perhaps we’ll be fortunate to see others come back.

(For anyone who wants to have a go at finding it, here’s what I recall. It was an English best-of list, probably from 2005. It included work by Oxenbury, Shirley Hughes (Alfie’s 1 2 3 or A B C) Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo, and Baby Brains. But I may be conflating two lists. I think it was a part of a series of many best-ofs, like novels, or non-fiction, and not just confined to the previous year.)

2 Responses to “Combing the Kids’ Shelves: Helen Oxenbury”

  1. SmallWorld Reads Says:

    Oh, the Alfie books! I loved those sooooooo much. Just last week I was standing in the children’s section feeling wistful about Alfie. Mine are just a little past that now.

  2. Kirk Says:

    I know my niece and nephew have many, many, many books. Do you know of a good place books can be donated after the children outgrow them? Is there some place besides Goodwill that maybe specializes in getting books to disadvantaged children?