Opinion

Rediscovering children’s books

Hours of reading pleasure. Best of all, I get to share these with my son.Hours of reading pleasure. Best of all, I get to share these with my son.AUG 26 — Ballooning up two dress sizes and having to wear my eight-month-old in a carrier everywhere I go, clothes shopping has lost its shine for me (I pulled a muscle trying not to fall over while trying on a pair of shorts in a too-small dressing room. That was it.) 

What was initially relief for my husband has now shifted to new-found horror as he learns, on a weekly basis, that book buying is far more damaging to his bank account. 

My latest buying streak began with the Hong Kong Book Fair in July. As Typhoon Vicente whipped through the city tearing up trees, I whipped out my credit card, almost tearing with joy. 

This expedition was followed by weekly trips to the book shop with my children, which has been our routine since the summer holidays began in late July. 

Then there was Taobao. I may be illiterate but thanks to my brother-in-law and his too-kind colleague, I shopped up a storm on China’s answer to Amazon.com and e-Bay. Only I spent a fraction (about a third) of what I do in Hong Kong. 

I can’t be sure how Taobao sellers are able to price children’s books (or any item they sell for that matter) at such dirt cheap prices. Some books had minor defects, others may have been cancelled orders or stock over runs. I can only hope there were no copyright infringements. 

For that one special cake decorating book, I decided to order from The Book Depository (www.bookdepository.com), which is based in England. Although it offers free shipping, it was a painful 24 pounds (RM118). Never mind that I will unlikely create anything from that book; it is purely for my viewing pleasure and I wanted a genuine, defect-free copy. I think this is what economists term snob appeal. 

I have deviated from my reason for writing this week’s column. I want to talk about the appeal of children’s books. 

I have been collecting these on and off for years, picking up a copy that caught my eye here and there. This year, however, perhaps spurred by the book fair, I have been on a rampage. 

The fair opened my eyes to less-seen books, predominantly older titles that have seen recent printing. These include Madeline (Ludwig Bemelmans, 1939), Inch by Inch (Leo Lionni, 1960) and The Tiger Who Came to Tea (Judith Kerr, 1973). 

A die-cut image from Simms Taback's Joseph Had a Little OvercoatA die-cut image from Simms Taback's Joseph Had a Little OvercoatI have also come to enjoy well-illustrated books. I enjoyed Erin Stead’s woodblock print and pencil illustrations in A Sick Day for Amos McGee (written by Philip Stead); adored the die-cut holes that help transform an overcoat into a button in Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback. 

With each book I open I rediscover the simple pleasure of reading. I take in the new book smell, the smooth, crease-free pages, the rich colours, the short, simple stories (yet incredibly difficult to create). 

I pick these books for myself and love sharing them with my four-year-old son whose hour-long pre-bedtime ritual involves us reading two books with him. 

His favourites are the wordless books. Although he can read, he seems to enjoy creating his own words as he narrates the story based on the pictures. 

His top “read/ view” as I type this is Zoom by Istvan Banyai. Starting with what looks like a portion of a star-shaped pizza, the next page reveals it is in fact the comb on a cockerel’s head. Zooming out with each page, we discover that the cockerel is being watched by children inside a farm house; the farm house is in fact a toy farm a child is playing with; and this in turn is a picture in a toy magazine read by a boy on a ship’s deck. Genius. 

The other wordless wonders (in my opinion) are Chalk by Bill Thomson, The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney and Flotsam by David Wiesner. 

In just over a month I have purchased 37 books. Now they sit in piles on the floor as I scratch my head about where to put them in my shoe-box apartment. My love affair is in full-swing. 

New kid on the block 

A selection of award-winning children's books at Eslite.A selection of award-winning children's books at Eslite.The latest book store opening in Causeway Bay has, unsurprisingly, resulted in further spending. Eslite Bookstore, a Taiwanese import and now the the largest bookstore chain in Hong Kong, has been the cause of more snaking queues in this queue-friendly city. 

A selection of award-winning children's books at Eslite.A selection of award-winning children's books at Eslite.While looking at the floor directory in Hysan Place, the new mall where Eslite is home to, I overheard two Cantonese-speaking men discussing how Eslite should be pronounced in English. “E-C Lite,” said one. “I think it’s S-Lite,” said the other. 

Eslite is old French for elite and perhaps picking up on that, commentators have observed that the stylish store is for those who want to be seen as educated and well-read. 

Eslite has been the talk of the town as folks rushed to check out the 41,000 square feet store occupying three floors. It is the first 24-hour bookstore here (although for now it is only opened round the clock from Thursdays to Saturdays) which has seen shoppers head there when the malls shut at 10pm. 

I found Eslite too crowded for my liking on a Thursday afternoon and saw none of the “comfortable seating” bloggers raved about. 

The children’s section, however, held its own purely for displaying titles different from main players Dymocks, Page One, Bookazine and Commercial Press. 

I give it a thumbs up for offering up a selection of popular titles in both English and Chinese (traditional) such as Eric Carle’s Brown Bear. 

Bookworms have much to look forward to as thanks to Eslite’s entry into the market, local competitors are stepping up their game. The Causeway Bay branch of The Commercial Press, situated across the road from Eslite, is reported to have expanded its English section.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

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