For A’s second birthday she was the lucky recipient of two German Wimmel-Bilderbüchern. Das Grosse Wimmelbuch Durch Stadt und Land by Stephan Baumann (Arena Verlag GmbH, 2000) and Winter -Wimmerbuch by Rotraut Susanne Berners (Gerstenberg, 2003).
These are large books without a written story, but with beautifully illustrated, detailed and often humorous images that depict everyday life in the city, the countryside and by the seaside. Each page follows the characters in various situations and you can trace what each person or animal is up to throughout the book. We love these books. We love the various ways they can be read. Sometimes we read it in a ‘Where’s Wally?’ kind of way by trying to find the parrot, or the dog, on each page. Other times we make up little stories about the characters. There’s the woman who on each page is standing with an empty bird’s cage and the Parrot hiding elsewhere on the page, the family loading the car to go a canoeing adventure by the seaside and the girl who is out cycling with her father and ends up at the dentist’s (look they have cycle helmets on!, they had to stop at the traffic light, what’s a dentist?, why are they going there?). The larger than A4 carton pages are perfect for toddlers to flick through and A often sits and explores these books on her own.
As a parent, these books offer a great opportunity to sit and chat with your toddler. The rich illustrations encourages the young child to be an active reader and story teller – according to her own ability. I find it fascinating to see her language developing as she discovers and names new things in the pictures or makes fuller sentences as she talks about the characters.
I love that these books depict everyday life as they appear to the toddler. Living in a city, the urban environment is taken for granted. Buses, cars and traffic lights are things we deal with everyday. They are part of A’s vocabulary. Both books are refreshingly non-gendered and show the diversity of urban life in a very natural and non-judgemental way. There is the woman bus-driver, the boy in a wheel chair and the punks picking mushrooms. My toddler may or may not reflect over these situations and as an adult I can choose to discuss or ignore certain issues, but the point is that they exist in the book as they exist in her world.
Well, she may be unlikely to encounter a car full of rabbits on her way to nursery, but this is fiction after all! More importantly, where are they going?
What are your thoughts about the depiction of urban life in children’s books? Do you agree with me that this is something that is often overseen in young children’s literature or is there a whole array of books for toddlers dealing with urban life that I have yet to explore (most likely)? I would love to know!