Children’s Book Week and
the Continuing Picture Book Round-Up

h1 November 18th, 2006 by jules

Happy Children’s Book Week 2006! Yes, it continues ’til the 19th — that is, tomorrow — and we here at Team 7ITBB (as Eisha and my husband, who serves as our tech support, call ourselves when we have our cyber-water-cooler-team-huddles) haven’t missed it yet. It’s never to be forgotten, my friends, and it’s my personal favorite week of the year, book-wise and library-wise (sorry to Banned Books Week and Teen Read Week). Click on the logo to the left to visit the savagely cool Children’s Book Council (who really want to hire me as a Telecommuter Who Will Do Whatever They Ask; they just don’t know it yet) to celebrate. And, in honor of Children’s Book Week, let’s get right back to the huge stack of picture books I want to tell you about. More to come, but here are a handful for now . . .

  • What?Emily’s Balloon by Komako Sakai
  • About? — A little girl’s new balloon is her new best friend, although — to her dismay — it’s blown away by a gust of wind but remains there by her window all night, looking “just like the moon.”
  • Why It’s Worth Reading Excellent! — This lovely book, a Japanese import, captures a toddler’s emotions ever-so well, never at one moment patronizing in tone and quietly observing the simple fact that objects like balloons can become their best friend for the day. The book’s text swings from Emily’s words to her mother’s with great ease, managing to avoid being awkward; in fact, the text flows smoothly and rhythmically while at the same time attaining a great simplicity. And the illustrations (reminiscent of the great Marie Hall Ets), done in pencil-and-wash sketches, convey the story with primarily browns and grays with a bit of blue and subtle red and with one important exception — the bright, sunny-yellow balloon. And this is just one instance of the book’s wonderful child-centeredness. Perfectly paced and tenderly rendered for toddlers, it’s got the makings of a classic.

  • What?Small Beauties: The Journey of Darcy Heart O’Hara by Elvira Woodruff and illustrated by Adam Rex
  • About? — Darcy Heart O’Hara, a young Irish girl who neglects her chores to observe the beauties of nature and everyday life, shares “family memories” with her homesick parents and siblings after the O’Haras are forced to immigrate to America in the 1840s (yes, the book’s official summary, lifted word-for-word; those summaries are a handy thing)
  • Why It’s Worth Reading — O goodness, Adam Rex is immensely talented (read here for my review of his delightfully demented poetry anthology Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich). In this pretty picture book, he brings Darcy’s world and beautiful face to life using charcoal and graphite pencils and oils on paper. As for Woodruff’s text, it’s a lovely thing — descriptive and poetic. And she’s not afraid to just straight up tug at our heartstrings big-time (but, not to fret, without too much smarm). And her words and Rex’s illustrations work some seamless magic, my friends. Rex doesn’t miss the details (important to the thread of this story) with his powerful, emotionally-charged artwork. A timely, touching book that shines a singular light on the oft-discussed issue of immigration. For another thumbs-up review, read Kelly’s here at Big A little a. And, as she points out, this one’s really for the older elementary student (as opposed to, say, a preschooler) — ages 7 and up.

  • What?The Gingerbread Girl by Lisa Campbell Ernst
  • About? — Who else? The “younger, wiser sister” of the Gingerbread Boy, whose “dash through life was ended in one greedy gulp by a sly fox pretending to help him cross a river.”
  • Why It’s Worth Reading — Because we need what Kirkus Reviews calls our “empowered-girl, fairytale remakes” and because it’s a clever story with Ernst’s expressive artwork, this time with a gingham pattern on her borders and backgrounds and lots of pastels, giving it a warm, cozy feel. The Gingerbread Girl just wants to escape her sibling’s fate, as the book’s summary will tell you, and how she goes about it results in great fun for elementary-aged children. It’s heavy on text, but I can personally attest to the fact that pre-schoolers will still want it read repeatedly. A rhyme or two and a line here or there seem a bit forced, but it’s a minor complaint in an otherwise spirited book. And, fear not, it’s got its own sing-song refrain, sure to please the librarian desiring to read it aloud and the children who will be listening.

  • What?Grumpy Gloria by Anna Dewdney
  • About? — Two young children try to cheer up Gloria, their pet bulldog, who is oh-so jealous and pouty over the fact that her favorite person and play-mate, the family’s youngest child, has just received a doll for her birthday and is pretty much ignoring ‘ol Gloria.
  • Why It’s Worth Reading — Because you know you wanna see what Anna Dewdney can do after the exuberant yet comforting rhymes of 2005’s Llama Llama Red Pajama. Evidently, she has a passion for bulldogs and loves to draw them (and just look at that cover — gotta love it!). Dewdney also seems drawn to bibliotherapy of sorts — stories that address certain thorny family issues while, at the same time, entertaining. In Llama Llama it was the child who won’t go to sleep without mama; and in this one it’s a family member feeling displaced by an addition to the clan, thereby making this a handy little story for that grumpy child with a new, unwelcome sibling. Dewdney is capable with her rhymes, but this one reads a bit stilted in spots, as if she was having too much fun with the thesaurus. But, it’s rollicking in the least with a sprightly, little ending. The final illustration is a bit odd to me (with Gloria appearing scarily human-sized to me), but all of the other depictions of Grumpy Gloria are quite amusing, particularly her hateful peek over the rim of the tub as the children figure a bath will do her good. Gloria pretty much reeks of personality.

  • What? — Two 2006 titles from Canadian author/illustrator Melanie Watt: Scaredy Squirrel and Augustine
  • About?Scaredy Squirrel is one of the funniest and most refreshing picture books you’ll read this year (trust me on this) about an anxious squirrel who never leaves his nut tree for the great unknown but who is forced out there one day, much to his surprise and pleasure; Augustine, a story drawn from Watt’s own experiences moving from city to city as a child, is about a young penguin who moves from the South to North Pole and has trouble settling in, only to find that art breaks the ice and brings new friends.
  • Why It’s They’re Worth Reading — I actually recommend Scaredy Squirrel over Augustine, and I do so with great enthusiasm (and I’ll get to Augustine in a minute). Scaredy Squirrel is a laugh-aloud, welcome read in the Age of Antibacterial Soap — that is, parents who place fear squarely in the hearts of today’s children with the germs and the predators and the tainted spinach and the don’t-play-outside-alone warnings and etc. and blah-di-blah — all that stuff that is necessary, but do we go overboard? Or, as the UK’s Sunday Times said it best here, “{t}his picturebook is a rallying cry against our health-and-safety culture that won’t allow children to take risks for fear of harm” (thanks to Big A little a for the link). Scaredy Squirrel has a set schedule and predetermined activities for every day of the week — same ‘ol, same ‘ol — and he has a host of fears, including killer bees, germs, and poison ivy, but has a handy-dandy emergency kit should a catastrophe arise. And when one does, well, read this one — preferably with your favorite child — to see the joy unfold yourself. This one’s an original . . . In Augustine, Watt uses acrylic and pencil crayon illustrations, a colorful delight, to tell the story of a penguin upset over a family move to a new home. The book serves as a “subtle art history introduction,” as Publishers Weekly put it: the “left side of each spread contains nine vignettes, separated into box-like panels, relating to the action on the facing page. The center of the grid always features one of Augustine’s drawings, a penguin-esque take-off of a famous painting.” I love this about the book, though prose such as, “I draw pictures with my blue colored pencil. I think I will call this my ‘Blue Recess Period'” (as Augustine sits alone in the playground, having made no friends in her new home) will require some adult intervention/explanation. But this is the book’s greatest strength — share it with a child and spot the penguinized “Scream” by Munch and the rabbitized Mona Lisa and the Warhol and the Picasso and the Matisse . . . You get the picture, so to speak. Watt even includes an acknowledgement list of artists at the book’s close, thanking these painters for inspiring her. A tidy little story, but its art-as-bridge and art-as-healer-type theme is an interesting one, especially for your art-lovin’ youngsters.

  • And last — but far, far from least — my friends . . .

    Love You When You Whine by the talented Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier — You. must. see. this. book, especially if you are the parent of a toddler (or someone who spends often-looonnnnng, sometimes-frustrating, and frequently-maddening days with these emotional maelstroms called toddlers). And I’m going to beg that you read this spot-on (short, I promise) review, written by author Esme Raji Codell, because the review itself is hysterical and really captures the book and its brilliance. And click here if you want to see a few illustrations and a bit of our protagonist’s mischief . . . Really, not to be lazy, but Codell nails it, not to mention I’ve written enough anyway.

    Ciao, and happy Children’s Book Week.

    3 comments to “Children’s Book Week and
    the Continuing Picture Book Round-Up”

    1. yes! yes! yes! i loved Adam Rex’s illustrations in Small Beauties. who knew he had such range?

      and i also loved Emily’s Balloon – you’re right, it’s very Ets-like in tone.

      i haven’t seen the others, but i’m especially interested in Scaredy Squirrel. have you seen Judith Viorst’s Just In Case? it’s fun, and it sounds kinda similar.

    2. […] work. I know I’ve not seen everything she’s done and want to correct that. I love Emily’s Balloon (2006) and The Snow Day (2009), though I haven’t seen this one yet (2010). Evidently, […]

    3. […] This is hard. Komako Sakai, Lisbeth Zwerger, Helen Oxenbury. They might have a hard time communicating, though, so we would […]

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