Alice’s Seven Picture Book Tips for Impossibly Busy Parents #1: From Mama Goose to cantankerous caninesJanuary 8th, 2008 by jules
Jules here, actually. Alice is a bit waylaid. The Queen yelled a rude comment about her head and it being, ahem, off’ed. And then Alice protested: Something about the Queen and the King and the Knave and everyone else all being nothing but a pack of cards, and, well . . . this is her predicament at the moment. So, I’ll take over and tell you about Alice’s New Idea for 7-Imp in ’08, numero two (the first one being revealed last Sunday. Do go see, if you missed it and if you’re so inclined).
For my part, when Eisha and I started this blog, my goal was to reach out to mama friends who would ask me for children’s lit book recommendations. Turns out that our audience here has been entirely different — primarily, other bloggers, publishers, authors, illustrators, editors, even literary agents, etc. Basically, a big ‘ol gaggle of Children’s and YA Lit Nerds (and I say that ever-so lovingly and respectfully. Of course of course. You’re my peeps, and I love you all).
But this new series, “Alice’s Seven Picture Book Tips for Impossibly Busy Parents,” would have those parents I initially had in mind as the audience. The idea is that I will list seven new picture books for busy parents as often as I can pull it off. I’d love to say once a week, but I reserve the right to not meet that goal (hey, we bloggers do this for fun, and I have to let work-that-pays come first, so I may not get to it every week, by all means). And here’s my challenge: I’ll have to be brief. ¡Aye Carumba! Can I do that? Yes, I’m up for the challenge. In my typical picture book round-ups (which I vow to continue as well), I do one paragraphs, but these will have to be even shorter, methinks, for those terrifically busy parents.
And they will have to be picture books that are currently available for purchase or already in libraries. None of that “this advance copy of this picture book I got is filthy cool. But you’ll have to wait three more months for it to come out.” But I still want them to be new. And I’ll have to try to reign in the children’s-lit-geek talk and remember that these are busy parents who perhaps don’t live, breathe, and die children’s lit like we do and like our typical reader does.
Okay. ‘Nuf said. I wanted this to be short. Or, uh, Alice did, as I’m stepping in for her, you know. (And normally I won’t have this insufferably logorrheic opening. Impossibly Busy Parents don’t have time for such blabbin’, but I did have to introduce this, don’t you know). And, if you’re a loyal reader and don’t mind, I’d love your feedback. Yes, trying to grab your attention here. At least it’s just a larger font size and not in marquee, whose kitschy charm I recently vowed to try to put out of my mind.
These titles are geared at your wee’er ones: Starting with babes and Mother Goose and working our way up some — but just a bit to approximately the preschooler range.
Written by Iona Opie
Illustrated by Rosemary Wells
Published by Candlewick
Rosemary Wells is at her best when illustrating traditional nursery rhymes for the honorable Iona Opie, world-renowned authority on children’s rhymes and street and playground games — and “Mother Goose’s self-appointed treasurer.” If you have Opie’s and Wells’ My Very First Mother Goose (1996) and its companion, Here Comes Mother Goose (1999), then you know the utter charm of which I speak. In this new anthology, the duo brings us more lesser-known Mother Goose rhymes (the “little treasures in this book are from the far edge of Mother Goose’s realm; they belong to the land of More Beyond,” writes Opie in a short introduction) in a smaller, cozier book format with a more subdued palette from Wells (a lot of the calming blue you see on the book’s cover). You may have never heard “Intery, Mintery,” “Here Comes Solomon,” and “What the Goose Thinketh,” but I’ve kid-tested the rhymes in this handsome collection, and they enchant just as well as the more old-skool “Sing a Song of Sixpence” or “Jack and Jill.” And, as with the previous two anthologies, it’s a delight to see Wells’ interpretations of these age-old rhymes: her humorous “Little Fatty Doctor,” the dog-and-cat couple of “Going to Kentucky,” and the impish little bonny Button-cap of “The Moon Shines Bright.” If you’re feeling generous, this anthology plus the first pair of titles would equal the World’s Best Baby Shower Gift (if it’s your best friend, throw in last year’s flawless Here’s a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry).
When I Was a Baby and
Let’s Play! by Deborah Niland
Sophie’s Big Bed by Tina Burke
Published by Kane/Miller Books
Fall of 2007
Kane/Miller Books is a “very small, very specialized, very independent publishing company,” as their site puts it, and they’re one of your best sources for titles by international children’s book creators. They scan the world for titles that they deem worthy to publish here in the States, and they have one kickin’ track record. Last Fall, they began a new “Toddler Tales” series, which were such a hit with my own children (though I have yet to test them on a group ‘o’ youngsters), that they adopted their own vocabulary, of sorts, and new favorite exclamations, based on their experiences with these books. With their bright colors and simple narrative action, they work well for the toddlers for whom they’re named. And with their simple text in bold fonts, they also work for preschoolers who are just getting the hang of the whole oh!-those-letters-form-words! bit. These three titles come from the minds of authors from Down Under: When I Was a Baby is a brief journey down memory lane, courtesy of a self-assured toddler, about life as a baby compared to his new world-weary (heh), big-boy accomplishments (“When I was a baby . . . I wore a diaper and crawled everywhere . . . Now I am a big boy . . . I can run and jump”), all wrapped up tightly with a sweet, never-too-cloying message about a new baby sibling and the hugs from mama he craved as a baby and still craves as an accomplished toddler. Let’s Play nails the sheer thrills of playground fun and is interactive, introducing the activity of each character with a leading question for the toddler. And Sophie’s Big Bed, from Australian Tina Burke, is your must-have title for the toddler transitioning from crib to bed. It works on every level: It’s engaging and funny, and Burke has a style all her own. Coming in March of this year will be two new Toddler Tales (here and here), and Spanish language editions of some of these titles are either already available or coming soon.
Written by Dee Lillegard
Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
Published by Knopf Books
for Young Readers
You know you know Dan Yaccarino’s art. He is not only a children’s book illustrator with an easily-distinguishable, sleek-’n’-retro style, but his art work can be seen on the covers of such publications as The New York Times and Business Week, and he created the TV show “Oswald” for Nickelodeon. In Lillegard’s story, what Kirkus Reviews calls “a sumptuous bedtime read,” we meet a baby who can’t sleep for crying (with the refrain, “‘Listen to that baby cry!’ the birds around the cradle sigh. ‘Who will sing a lullaby?’”), and a group of birds in his vicinity gets a turn at trying to soothe the wee ones to sleep. Each bird fails, but in the end the Nightingale gets a chance to lull the child to sleep and succeeds smashingly (“As Nightingale sings, / gentle wings / rock the cradle in soft moonbeams. / Baby Baby / dreams sweet dreams”). The gentle, rhyming text flows smoothly, and the art work darn-near radiates with beautiful, intense colors (note the eye-popping night-sky hue and bold orange of the cover). Kudos to which ever editor paired Yaccarino, a master of line and form (he creates Every Baby in this title with just a few quick lines), with Lillegard in this soothing, tender new bed-time keeper.
Written and illustrated by Lena Anderson
Translated by Joan Sandin
Published by R & S Books
(Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
If reading about Kane/Miller above really blew your hair back, then you might like to know about R & S Books as well. “R & S” stands for Rabén & Sjögren, the leading publisher in Sweden of books for children and young people. Farrar Straus & Giroux Books for Young Readers distributes some of their titles here in the States. So, here we have then a first U.S. edition of this title, originally published in Sweden in 2006. And just in time for Valentine’s Day. A young pig (who lives in a world Anderson populates with not a shred of bias — hey, there are elephants, pigs, hedgehogs, and humans, you’ll notice on a few spreads) mysteriously appears at Hedgehog’s home, and she, along with her buddy Pig, who’s dropped in for a visit, do what they can to reunite the young pig with her mother. The story may not be sure what it wants to be about, primarily — a lost child reunited with her mother (handled with aplomb by Anderson and never too frightening) or a pig who falls in love (“Fia’s the sweet I love best!” Hedgehog’s friend exclaims at the book’s close, all starry-eyed)? But, no matter, because it still works. Other illustrators would do well to take note: One can learn from Anderson how to make one’s spreads cozy, comfy, soft, and so entirely welcoming that you want to inhabit the book’s world. And it’s written in such a well-metered, mellifluous, easy-going verse that I hardly noticed it was written in rhyme. Though it’s loaded with the type of good ol’-fashioned nail-biting drama that instantly hooks preschoolers, this book couldn’t be sweeter — and I’m talking beyond the one hundred sweet-smelling rolls which figure prominently in the book’s finale. Mmm. One-hundred sweet-smelling rolls.
(Not So) Teeny Tiny Lie
Written and illustrated by Laura Rankin
Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Oh my oh my. This book is tiiiiiight, y’all, as the young’uns say today. For serious, I think this is one of the best picture books I saw all last year, and I’ve heard not a whit about it, for shame. This is a riveting school-yard drama if ever there were one: The diminutive Ruthie, a young school-girl fox, loves LOVES LOVES teeny tiny things. Finding a tiny camera on the playground one day — which belongs to another student, unbeknownst to her — she claims it for her own. When said student, Martin, tries to get it back, she flat-out lies (gasp!) that it’s her camera after all. She can hardly stand to part with the tiny little treasure. There are no complicated, somersault plot turns here — Ruthie feels physically ill from guilt about her lie and eventually ‘fesses up after talkin’ to the folks and lots of tears — but just watch the faces of preschoolers when you read this emotional, but never manipulative, roller-coaster ride of a psychosocial drama. Rankin, best known for her ASL alphabet book, The Handmade Alphabet, brings Ruthie’s inner sturm-und-drang to life with her finely-sketched pencil-and-acrylic illustrations.
Written and illustrated by
Charise Mericle Harper
Published by Knopf Books
for Young Readers
How could I not make that cover huge enough for you to see how great it is? Make room for one more riveting domestic drama, which the youngest of preschoolers so totally needs to navigate their emotional lives. Ruthie’s not the only creature to be eaten away with envy: Randolph, best buds with Ava, does not get invited to an all-girl sleepover thrown by Ava’s cousin. The jealousy turns “Best Friend Randolph” into “Nasty Randolph” by changing his insides from “very-best-friend insides” to “horrible, rotten, awful, and icky” ones. Telling Ava he’s a sleepover expert, he helps her pack in ways that rather distracted me as a reader in all their extreme oddness. In the end, though, his plan backfires, as the logs he placed in her suitcase and the bizarre way in which he dressed her actually aid the sleepover gang, suddenly faced with a dilemma. And the entire time Ava’s gone, he’s plagued with guilt anyway and apologizes upon her return. It’s a sensitive look at jealousy and guilt, but never too heavy-handed and laced with refreshing moments of humor. Comic books fans will be pleased, as Harper illustrates it in (mostly) panels with dialogue balloons.
Written and illustrated by
Published by North-South Books
You may have noticed Time magazine’s recent listing of Top Tens — DVDs, movies, live performances, theatre productions, and everything in between — and that included their “Top 10 Children’s Books.” Smelly Bill was included. Would I have replaced it with another title from this year (we children’s lit geeks were rather baffled with most of Time‘s list, but I won’t go on about that)? Sure. But does this book have a place on your bookshelf or in your library tote? Yes, depending on your child (as always). As the Time blurb put it, “Bill is a very naughty, smelly dog. Right there you have every single little boy’s rapt attention.” Word. This is a wild, slapstick adventure (originally published in ’06 in Great Britain; North-South Books is another resource for international titles brought here) about one family’s leave of absence while Great Aunt Bleach shows up, cleans their home (can I borrow her?), and then turns her attention to their rank canine, Bill. In Postgate’s very loose line atop generous, uncluttered white space, he propels the story forward with great momentum. It’s written in a catchy rhyme that works, though if you’re one of those parents who gets weary with the great many books written in such verse, then simply take note. A pratfall pearl that will particularly please your favorite bath-resisting wee one.
Ow! Too much consonance there in that last sentence. Someone throw me some vowels . . . Okay, loyal readers (or, even better, Impossibly Busy Parents!) who might care to speak up: How about it? A series worth keeping?