A couple of years ago Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin, novel aficionados who met on their English Literature course at Cambridge, came out with The Novel Cure, a book which aims to cure common ailments with a good book. They feel qualified to make these recommendations because they run a ‘bibliotherapy’, practice where they prescribe books to clients all over the world. Now they’ve turned their hand to children’s books, with The Story Cure, ‘a manual for grown-ups who believe that the stories which shape children’s lives should not be left to chance’.
Being a manual, you can’t really sit down and read it. Well, you can, but it would be like reading a dictionary. Where every definition was half a page long. Instead you are meant to look up your ‘ailment’ and it gives you a list of ‘cures’ in the form of book recommendations, along with a short précis of each one. You can be sure of choosing something appropriate because the books are categorised by reading age: Picture books, Early Readers, Chapter Books and Young Adult. For moments of desperation there are also cures for grownups.
How to review it then? In order to do a thorough job I felt obliged to test some of the recommendations (any excuse for new books…). For the five year old it came up wth Tar Beach, about a girl who can fly, and Swimmy, about a little fish who sees off the big fish by organising his friends. The five year old was intrigued. A list of bedtime books for babies included Goodnight Moon, which we now read four times every night (er, thanks for that). The Cat in the Hat, already a favourite, is suggested as a way to bring up the risks of talking to strangers in a non-scary way, which hadn’t occurred to me before, but seems like a good tip.
So our experience so far has been good. The Story Cure is beautifully designed and attractively laid out. It’s structured to be useful, cross-referenced in case you can’t find exactly the ailment you’re looking for, and it has recommended some books that I didn’t know and that have been a big hit with the little ones. I don’t know if we’ve worked on our ailments, but if there’s something that’s not going quite right, a book seems a good place to start tackling the problem. And since we’re still on the picture book category, there’s plenty more to go at as they grow up. For anyone who chooses books for the children in their life, this is a great way to liven up and/or fine tune your recommendations.
Any cop?: Stylish, substantial and fun – one we’ll be dipping into for years, even when we don’t have ailments that need curing.