Polly Faber’s Top Ten Book List

Polly top ten

We are so delighted to tell you that our Top Ten Book List is back! It’s been a time long since we last shared one with you so I’m thrilled to kick-start it by inviting Polly Faber, author of the fantastic Mango & Bambang books, to share her ten favourite children’s books. Here they are:

1. The Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse by Ursula Moray Williams

My father used to read to me every night, long past the age where I could read to myself, and this story of a toy horse trying to seek his fortune and return to his master is seared into my reading DNA. I, in turn, have read it to both my sons. It’s episodic, so a good one to read to those who are starting to want something longer than a picture book before bed- but be warned- it will take you all on a very emotional journey.

2. Bread and Jam for Frances written by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban

I love all the Frances books and it’s hard to pick a favourite. Frances is a badger and the stories explore familiar issues children (and parents!) navigate with great wit and wisdom. In this one Frances decides she only likes eating bread and jam and her parents agree to give it to her for every meal. It features her best friend Albert eating literature’s finest packed lunch.

3. Peepo written by Alan Ahlberg illustrated by Janet Ahlberg

This was one of the first books my son was given as a baby and we read it to him every night as part of his bedtime routine. My husband and I became obsessed with the wartime back story being told by the illustrations; trying to date it more precisely and fretting to each other about the fate of the father as our son drifted off. It will always recall those first sleep-deprived heady months of becoming a parent for me.

4. Hooray for Fish! written and illustrated by Lucy Cousins

I’ve never met a baby or toddler who didn’t have an almost visceral reaction to this book. My second son would only sleep hugging onto his copy between the ages of 1 and 2. Glorious intense colour and bouncy text hit the sweet spot for the smallest.

5. Bonting written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes (from the Big Alfie Out of Doors Storybook)

With a career spanning over sixty years and still going strong, Shirley Hughes is the Queen of children’s books. Alfie is probably her most famous creation and these gentle stories entranced my children and soothed me. She brings a lump to my throat to read aloud because she gets to the essence of what it feels like to be a child. Bonting is Alfie’s pet stone, who gets a swim suit made for him and then gets lost on a trip to the seaside. It’s perfection.

6. The Serial Garden by Joan Aiken

I could probably do a top ten just from Joan Aiken’s books. Her range was astonishing from the Arabel and Mortimer books that used to make me cry with laughter to the Wolves of Willoughby Chase sequence with wonderful heroine Dido Twite. But her short stories are special and this new compendium of the weird and funny Armitage family stories is a treasure worth seeking out.

7. Mary Plain books by Gwynned Rae

I have to apologise, because these books from the 1930s and 40s are currently out of print but they were my absolute favourites when I was about seven so they had to be included. Mary Plain is a bear from the bear pits in Berne who goes on adventures with her friend the Owl Man. Her scrapes often involve a lot of delicious food which I used to linger over reading. They are also very funny indeed (if requiring of some censoring for modern sensibilities) and I am hoping that someone will bring them back into print soon…

8. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

Another much loved book from my own childhood; as were all Streatfeild’s stories. The adventures of talented orphans Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil are still in print I’m glad to say. I have probably read this book more times than any other in my life, although it’s only now I’m a grown up that I see the sense in choosing to be Petrova at the end. Re-reading as an adult one also discovers the books contains a surprising amount of detail on child employment law!

9. Asterix and the Big Fight written by Goscinny and illustrated by Uderzo

My brother had all the Asterix books and any rainy Sunday would find me curled on his bed with one or other of them. We had a few Tintins as well, and although the aesthetics of those appeal more, I still think Asterix is much funnier. I used to hunger for all comics and cycle to the library to read their stack of old Beanos and Dandys. Now our family fights to be the first to read the copy of ’The Phoenix’ when it arrives each week. It’s brilliant.

10. There are Cats in this Book written and illustrated by Viviane Schwarz

We are fortunate to live in a world where many astonishing, clever and beautiful books for children are being published every month. My selection above has been fairly ‘classic’ because these are all books that have meant something in building me (and I had to give myself some parameters or it would be a Top 1000!). But I would urge parents and grandparents to spread their wings when choosing in a bookshop and explore the new and unfamiliar. All of Viviane Schwarz’s books are brilliant but I’ll end with this one because I use it often in my work with reading charity Beanstalk and everyone finds it irresistible. Funny, engaging and respectful, it’s a book that turns children into “readers”. And hooray for that!


Comments (6)

Courtney in London
June 29, 2016

I love these book lists and so happy to feature these again. Thank you, Polly, for sharing these with us. Lots of new-to-me titles!

Rachel | The Little Pip
June 29, 2016

Great list! I loved Ballet Shoes but A Vicarage family and Apple Bough stuck with me far longer than Ballet Shoes, good as it was. (And I also remember how full of children’s employment law it was as well – something to think about in this blogging age where our children are all over IG… 😀)

My daughter absolutely loves Alfie as well – I don’t know the story you mention so will have to look that one up.

Vanessa in Scotland
June 29, 2016

Glad you enjoyed the post Rachel. Thanks for recommending A Vicarage family and Apple Bough. I’m going to look those up for the holidays. x

June 29, 2016

Thank you! I love book recommendations in any form! We are big fans of the Alfie books at my house. I bought one because my son is named Alfie, but I bought more because they are so sweet!

June 30, 2016

We love the Alfie books in our house too. My daughter calls all the stones she collects ‘bonting’ because of this story – so sweet.

I remember reading them myself as a child, especially ‘Alfie gets in first’ which is brilliantly illustrated as Alfie is trapped indoors on one side of the page and the grown-ups frantically call through the letterbox on the opposite page, so cleverly done!

I also highly recommend the Alfie audiobooks. I bought them from audible and they have seen us through several very long car journeys (my daughter is 3 to give an idea of age group).

Great list, thanks Vanessa.

Barbara Ann
July 12, 2016

When my husband was on sabbatical in England we discovered Peepo….we loved pouring over the pictures and delighted in noticing all the details. Upon returning home…we bought all of the Alfie books we could find, much like the Frances books, these gently written and beautifully illustrated books talk tell the stories of real life things which happen to children in a lovely way.

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