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We carefully select every book that goes into our shop, and we really do love each one. But with so many to choose from, sometimes our favourite hidden gems go unnoticed! Today we're giving you a closer look at a series that has quickly become one of our favourites; All Around Bustletown by Rotraut Susanne Berner.
All Around Bustletown is a series of wordless picture books, published in board book format perfect for tiny hands to hold and turn pages themselves. They are also in a large format which means the whole family can enjoy them together. Author Rotraut Susanne Berner is a famous children's book figure in her native Germany, she's been a freelance graphic designer and illustrator since 1977 and won the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen prize in 2016. All of Berner's illustrations are hand-drawn from start to finish using pencils. The Bustletown series show a busy town progressing through the seasons; from Winter through Spring, Summer and Autumn.
Each book revisits the same locations in Bustletown and observes the people of the town going about their daily business. Bird's eye view snapshots move through the town from page to page. Rotraut Susanne Berner's two-page-spread illustrations are intensely detailed and bursting with life, each page is packed with thoughtful, small details and each book has a series of subplots that can be followed from start to finish.
All Around Bustletown follows the tradition of Wimmelbilderbuch, or Wimmelbooks, wordless picture books that offer lots of details for readers to get lost in. Wimmelbooks are different from search-and-find books (like Where's Wally), in that they don't direct the reader to certain tasks but instead just let them explore. Literacy academic Cornelia Rémi writes that Wimmelbooks are a threshold genre; they accompany children a good bit along their path to literacy and encourage a highly active response: reading as playing.
The Bustletown series follows a seasonal chronology from book to book, starting with Winter and ending with Autumn. One of the markers for this is the progress of a new Kindergarten being built: in Winter we see a construction site with a sign saying "New Kindergarten Under Construction".
We can then follow the building site's progress through the seasons until there's a grand opening procession through the town in Autumn. Other seasonal details include a pregnant woman in Winter seen with her newborn baby in Spring, and plenty of other thoughtful little progressions.
The weather and activities in Bustletown also change seasonally; an ice skating surface in the park melts into a duck pond by the time Summer comes along, and a strawberry patch growing in Spring is harvested in Summer.
The back cover of every Bustletown title lists a selection of characters and what they'll be getting up to, to give you a bit of guidance on things to look for. In Winter, we're told Cara wants to buy a new hat. We can then follow her from page to page; on the bus, walking to the shopping centre, trying on hats and finally sitting in a café wearing her new hat.
In Summer, people can be seen carrying wrapped presents through the town in each image before the last spread shows them all meeting at a birthday party in the park. The characters in Bustletown interact with each other and with their surroundings. Kids love people-watching, and are fascinated by small daily moments, so the Bustletown series is a great way to satisfy their curiosity.
All of these little details, and the self-directed nature of these wordless books, mean that the Bustletown series is endlessly re-readable. Children can choose to focus on something different every time they pick up the books, and will love flipping through the pages to compare the same scenes in each season. Bustletown encourages close analysis and independence in young readers. And, most importantly, shows them how fun and playful reading can be. The recommend age for these is 3-5, and though they do encourage independent reading for around this age, they are also great fun to read as family of all ages together, as every member will read it in a different way.
Pick up the complete All Around Bustletown series in-store or online here.