Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Choosing Good Children's Books: An Encounter in ALDI

I had a depressing experience on Saturday. I had gone to ALDI to buy some sugar cane mulch that I needed for the garden. Unfortunately, the bags were small and hence expensive. But...! On a middle aisle display table I found treasure! Hidden amongst a pile of literary dross and assorted colouring and painting books, I found a series of children's picture books by a number of excellent English authors and illustrators, including:

Tony Ross - Michael Foreman - Ruth Brown - Emma Chichester Clark - David McKee - Lindsay Camp - Sandy Nightingale - Jeanne Willis - Hiawyn Oram - Frederic Joos - Susan Varley - Mary Rees - Ella Burfoot - Ken Brown

Now here's the depressing part. I stood at the box reading them one by one (must have been there for 20 minutes). On a busy wet Saturday morning there were people everywhere. There were grandmothers, young mothers, some with children and one with a pram, and there were kids on the prowl. And yet, not one person picked up one of the books. While many came to the box and rummaged through the pile, all zoomed in on colouring in books, paint with water books and various picture books from television series. The children didn't even pick one up. I even tried spreading out some interesting titles just within reach of some of the children - but they wouldn't take the bate. Several mothers picked up a 'Playschool' book (based on an Australian Children's show) but no one touched one of the books in the literature series.

I could stand it no longer. A young mum with a stroller and a 6 year old was looking at some of the books. I said pointing tentatively, "I'd look at these instead". "Really", she replied. "Oh you've got so many. Are they good?"  "Yes", I replied a little embarrassed. "They're all good. Many are by well-known authors." "I don't recognize any of the names", said the Mum. "That's because they are English", I replied. "Trust me, I know children's books, they're good, and they're only $2.99, and no, I'm not getting a commission." She began to look and her son piped up, "I just want a Playschool book, don't get me any other books." I walked away, defeated.

There were many wonderful titles. Some of my favourites were:

'Cat on the Hill' by Michael Foreman
'Why' by Lindsay Camp & illustrated by Tony Ross
'Throwaway Bear' by Sandy Nightingale
'I Want a Cat' by Tony Ross
'Can't Catch Me' by Michael Foreman
'Our Puppy's Holiday' by Ruth Brown

Well-known author/illustrator Michael Foreman
All the books were of various ages, but had been re-published in new 2010 or 2011 editions by Hinkler Books Pty Ltd. They are on sale across Australia for $2.99 each!! Hinkler have branded them as 'Silver Tales'. They are hardcover (more like board) saddle stitched and look very durable. They are on quality paper and well printed. What a bargain! I suspect if I go back in three weeks time there will be many left and there won't be a 'Play School' book in sight.

I've used a variety of links on the titles above to show that the books are widely available in varied forms. Note that at some places they are 4-5 times more expensive than the ALDI deal I found in Australia. I even found some people selling these books on eBay with a 'Buy it Now' price of $9.95. If you don't find them at ALDI the next best prices for the same books would seem to be 'Learning Discovery' in Australia (all their books are $5.95 and postage is free in Australia), Amazon in the UK (titles are 2.50 in UK pounds) and the USA (some titles from $4.50US). 

The experience in the store suggested a few things to me:

  • Children need help choosing books to read and enjoy (see my previous post on this here). 
  • We need to give a priority to reading books to children. I suspect that none of the parents I witnessed this morning were readers of many books to their children. Drawing, sticker books and paint with water books are fun and have a place, but don't offer the joy of a pile of good books read with and to children (see previous post on this here).
  • We have a very limited view of what a good children's book is. There are thousands of books and authors that go unnoticed because the books haven't won the latest Schools and libraries still need to be the champions of books. 
  • Parents need help to find books and to be able to judge a good book. Teachers have a great responsibility here.
  • Cheap books are still available if you look hard enough.
Anyway, I enjoyed reading the titles I bought on Saturday afternoon with my grandchildren.


Cath said...

That's a great tip - thanks! By the sounds of it there will still be some left when I go to Aldi next week.

Trevor Cairney said...

Hope so Cath. There are about 20 titles in the series and there were lots at the store where I looked. Trevor

Coral said...

Hi Trevor,

I so enjoy reading your blogs. I too have found 'Silver Tales' books - not from Aldi but a local Newsagent for $7.99 (still a bargain to me).
I bought several for my classroom and the children love them - and choose them time and time again for home-reading.
Some books are perfect for beginning readers ('Can't Catch Me') and others for better readers - some had great fun working out the alien codes in 'Why?'

Trevor Cairney said...

Excellent! So glad your class like them Coral. I have a pile of 20 on my coffee table at home which will be well worn by the end of the year as my grandchildren read them. Yep, they're still cheap at $7.99; don't forget 'Learning Discovery' has them (and other picture books) for $5.95 online and free postage in Australia. Thanks for your comment about the blog. Trevor

Deb_in_oz said...

I saw those and had a look - we have a ridiculous amount of books in this house since it is my #1 activity and the kids see my husband and I reading all the time. When they are not reading they are writing and illustrating their own books. I passed them up as I thought they were for younger children - do you think any of the ones you picked up would be great for 6-8yo kids???

Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Deb. Tell your husband you can never have enough books! I'm of the view that we move children away from picture books too soon (see my post on this HERE) so I think that most 6 year olds would still enjoy them all, but if you had to pick the ones which are most suited for the 6-8 year age group I'd say: 'Cat on the Hill', 'Dr Xargle's Book of Earth Revelations', 'Throwaway Bear' and 'Lion in the Long Grass'. I suspect some will still be left at ALDI. Trevor

Meg said...

My mother picked one of these up in Australia Post for my kids. We have read it together. I try to make an effort reading to my children at bed time and whenever I see them with a book in hand I suggest we read it together. it brings us closer together to experience a story and discuss it afterward. I am an avid reader and was encouraged and read to from a young age. A great love of books and literature has provided so much entertainment and shown me life experiences that I would never really experience in the world I live in. I thank books for helping me understand famine, war, adversity, adventure, human strength and moral courage. I hope my children will learn the same lessons and have a richer life for their relationship with books. I am pleased to see my 12yo step daughter reading 300 page novels and I read then with her or after her so we can talk about them together because even if I don't like the stories she cohooses, its important for her to be able to share it with somebody and reading of books seems to be lacking in her peers :(
Great to see other people also have such strong feelings on this issue - Loving your Blog :)

Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Meg,
Great to have you reading the blog. It sounds like you've created a wonderful reading environment at home for your kids. I didn't know Australia Post had the books as well. Thanks for the tip.

Hannah Blake said...

Seems like these books are everywhere at the moment! I couldn't find any in my local Aldi, but recently came across them in both Woolworths and Big W. Not every title, but I think I've collected about six so far and am looking forward to reading them with my class this term!

Trevor Cairney said...

Nice to hear from you Hannah. Seems they have spread to many outlets. They're great value. Trevor

Anonymous said...

Just bought four (all they had) of these from my local Woolworths, they were on clearance for $1.98, sad really but good news for me!

Trevor Cairney said...

Glad to see the books are back at ALDI. Some great books for less than $2. And no, I don't get a commission from ALDI!

Helen Duyster said...

I just found this post via Google. I went to Aldi this morning and found stacks of great story books written by Jackie French, Pamela Allen, etc. All for under $5,-
I was stoked as I love those particular story books and usually they're double that price at other stores.
However, I had a similar experience to you. Mums, dads, grandparents and kids walked straight past and only wanted the Peppa Pig and Wiggles books.
I put some books with Aussie animals (Diary of a Wombat, Josephine wants to dance) on top of the Peppa Pig and Wiggles books, but they just got shoved aside by everyone.
It really ruined my morning :(

Trevor Cairney said...

Thanks Helen. I've had the same experience with people pushing quality literature to one side and instead taking Disney books, drill books on tables, practice books for state-wide testing etc. But there are always some great books at ALDI if you take the time to check.