Seven beautiful books that show the power of a 'quiet story'

Published on: 01 March 2023

Author Anna McQuinn, author of the Zeki series and Lulu series, talks about the need for gentle books that reflect what’s important to the youngest of readers.

Illustration by Ruth Hearson 

My favourite quote from Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop is a lesser known one: “When books reflect back to us our own experiences, when scenes and sentences strike us as so true they are anchors mooring us to the text, it tells readers their lives and experiences are valued.”

So, alongside the need for stories of children who look like the readers, I believe that little ones need to see things that are important to them taken seriously. For young readers, small things are often very large and very important.

And when we take these things seriously as adults (whether writers, editors, parents, teachers or librarians), we tell small children that their lives and experiences are valued.

Alongside the exciting stories of adventures and monsters, of overcoming fears and scary adversaries, I believe that for the very young in particular, we also need quiet, gentle stories that reflect their realities, their experiences, their world...

There is a long tradition of these gentle, intimate stories by superb proponents like Shirley Hughes or Jan Ormerod (sadly no longer with us); Mick Inkpen (especially the Wibbly Pig series); Mairi Hedderwick’s Katie Morag stories; Simon James; Stephen Michael King; Komako Sakai (sadly not available in English); Kevin Henkes and others.

In today’s world where there is so much competition from other media, I think it’s harder for these quiet stories to find a home, so I’m happy to celebrate some of my favourites here. Some new, some old classics, they are books in which, as the wonderful commentator Rumaan Alam says, “kids are simply themselves, and in which that is enough.”

1. Lenny and Wilbur by Ken Wilson Max, published by Alanna Max

This is a most wonderful, gentle story about a little boy Lenny’s love for his dog Wilbur. That’s it, that’s the story. With real tenderness, Ken Wilson-Max shows Lenny as he washes, gives treats to and sings with his best friend.

2. Wind by Carole Thompson, published by Child’s Play

Carol Thompson celebrates the immediate and sensory response of children to the natural world – whatever the weather! (see also Sun and Snug).

3. Astro Girl by Ken Wilson Max, published by Otter Barry Books

Also by Ken Wilson-Max, this story takes absolutely seriously Astrid’s obsession with everything to do with space and stars. Dad and Astrid explore all the challenges of living in space, and Mum joins them in a delightful end to the story.

 4. Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats

While most people are familiar with the classic The Snowy Day, my personal favourite Ezra Jack Keats book is Whistle for Willie. The story focuses on Willie’s real sadness at his inability to whistle and there is real joy when, at the end, “out came a real whistle”.

5. In Our Hands by Lucy Farfort, published by Tate

Not so much a quiet story (in that it’s tackling a BIG subject) but a beautiful quiet voice. In our scary world, children can feel both hopeless and powerless. This gentle story will inspire and offer hope.

6. Please Baby Please by Spike Lee & Tonya Lewis Lee, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, published by Simon and Schuster

One of my absolute go-to books for read-alouds, children will see themselves SO MUCH in the naughty Baby at the centre of the story. With repetition and loads of fun, this captures a baby’s familiar world brilliantly.

7. Rosa Rides her Scooter by Jessica Spanyol, published by Child’s Play

The whole series of Rosa books are absolutely wonderful – readers can get up close and personal with the minutiae of Rosa’s world. Spanyol’s accompanying series about Clive is also perfect for little ones.

The Lulu series and Zeki series by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw and Ruth Hearson respectively, are out now.

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