I recently started to work in a marvelous little children’s bookstore and in the process have managed to become quite fond of a few picture books I never read as a child. The following books have made the cut into my, as yet, hypothetical ‘baby box’:
What a cultured little pig Olivia is! She goes to the museum to look at Degas and Jackson Pollock, she sculpts architecture in the sand and she reads a book about Maria Callas at bedtime. The illustrations are magnificent – the background pigs and scenery are a drab black and white while Olivia’s clothes, dinner and sun burnt skin stand out, just like her personality, in vivid shades of red and pink.
Anyone who sees me try to pick out food, household objects or books will soon discover that color is the way to my heart. Both Moon Rabbit and its sequel, Brown Rabbit, have won me over through their saturated, perfectly matched color schemes. Their stories about friendship are touching and potent – a worthwhile reminder for both children and parents.
A Sick day for Amos McGee drew me in right away with its huge, gorgeous yellow stripes. They are unashamedly planted right on the cover and continue to march through most of the pages of the book. Besides the stripes, Philip Christian Stead also takes a unique, and extremely successful, risk by writing the main character not as a child or an animal, but as an old man. The illustrations are striking and beautifully drawn while the story is a lovely mix of humor and gentleness.
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
Although Blueberries for Sal is undoubtedly a classic, I think it tends to get overshadowed by its famous sibling, Make Way for Ducklings. However lovely the later is, Blueberries for Sal definitely wins first place in my own, personal, Robert McCloskey contest. The story is so slow and in tune with nature: the four characters, Sal and her mother and a bear and its cub, find their lives intertwined one day while picking berries. The language shows the similarity of each of the species through parallel language and pictures. What could be more relaxing and simple?
I was blown away when I first read this book – a book about the power of words drafted in the most simple and beautiful of language. Frederick is a mouse whose family is preparing for winter. Instead of gathering food, Frederick gathers sunshine, colors and words. Then, in the bleak of winter, he magically uses only his voice to reproduce these joyful effects in the minds of the other mice.
Ghosts in the House by Kazuno Kohara
Rarely does a picture book surprise an adult reader by its plot. It may shock us because of its beauty or cause our eyes to tear up out of sympathy, but a completely unique and brilliant story line is a prize indeed. Ghosts in the House accomplishes just that, and it is accompanied by simple yet stunning monochromatic illustrations. This creative book is perfect for any season – not just Halloween.
This book is a well-illustrated and colorful lesson on the power of art and producing. I only wish that I had this book when I was teaching art to second graders. Many of them were just hitting the age when they realized that their work didn’t look exactly like what they wanted to draw, which, of course, entirely inhibited the process. It seems to me that this book would work as a balm for those self-critical feelings, gently pushing children to draw and draw, no matter what the final result is.