Posted in picture books, non-fiction | Tagged animals, Australia, bilbies, birds, book reviews, Candlewick Press, children's literature, desert life, deserts, emus, marsupials, picture books | Leave a Comment »
Memorial Day is the gateway to summer.
My childhood memories are of the lovely idleness of summertime — of freedom to play unhindered; to wear any old thing and spend the day out of doors, returning home grass-stained, mosquito-bitten, grimy, and worn out; to drink from the hose, sit on the porch slurping popsicles, pedal to nowhere on a bike; to wake to the slow drone of a lawnmower and fall asleep to the rumblings of a thunderstorm.
Today I have five older and vintage books absolutely redolent with the freedom and out-of-doors-ness of old style summer, in contrast to the Organized & Enriching Activities sprouting up like mushrooms today. Perhaps it will give you such a sweet taste of what it might look like to experience some unhurried days that you will make a way for that to happen this summer.
One of the granddaddies of American children’s literature, McCloskey won the Caldecott in 1958 for this book, inspired by the summers he and his family spent on an island off the coast of Maine.
From the outset, he captures the slowing down of time that happens, the awareness of nature that occurs, when we leave the rush of city life behind and make our way to rustic, quieter places.
“Out on the islands that poke their rocky shores above the waters of Penobscot Bay, you can watch the time of the world go by, from minute to minute, hour to hour, from day to day, season to season.“
McCloskey’s narrative in this book is markedly different from his storytelling in his other famous works — Blueberries for Sal, for instance, or Make Way for Ducklings.
Here, his languid, lyrical prose beckons us to listen to the splash of raindrops, look at the ripples of a boat’s wake disappearing into the fog, feel the rocks warmed by the sun, smell the seaweed, and sense the majesty of the stars. It’s children’s literature that’s not written down to children in the least. Really beautiful.
All is not tranquil, though, because a hurricane is brewing! Preparations have to be made. Ominous winds rise. And the worst of the storm has to be endured with the help of a story and some loud singing!
It’s an achingly beautiful look at a rich way of life, to share with children ages 7 and older, or just to enjoy as an adult. Of course, McCloskey’s gorgeous artwork takes center stage on every page.
Island Summer, written and illustrated by Catherine Stock
published in 1999 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books
This gem by Catherine Stock is based on her childhood holidays spent at her “grandparents’ cottage on an island off the coast of South Africa,” though the illustrations are set in a village on a Greek isle.
As it’s Greece, of course it’s a spectacular setting. Mediterranean waters, moonlight-white houses rambling up sun-soaked, olive green hillsides. Yes, I could breathe easier here.
Our story begins as the cold rains of winter are ending and the summer sun strengthens, soothing “the angry waves into a flat shimmering sea and soak[ing] up the muddy puddles like freshly baked pound cake sops up melted chocolate.“
We watch as ferryboats unload passengers and their kit. As inns welcome the summer folk. As ladies in flowery dresses and children with sand buckets soak up the beauty and warmth, loll in hammocks, play soccer on the beach, and dance to fiddles by starlight.
The whole book is fragrant with the loveliness of this place, and this pace.
As always, Stock’s watercolor work is a dream. I am a huge fan of hers! This is for ages 3 and up.
If I were to guess a setting for this book, I’d say the Jersey shore. James Stevenson is a New Yorker, so it must be out in that neck of the woods at any rate.
Beyond the many, many storybooks he’s written, Stevenson has done a number of these memoir type books which I really like. Filled with a sprinkling of thoughts, bits and pieces of recollections, they are a light-handed but thoughtful glimpse of his past, and America’s past.
This one is about his childhood summers, spent with his grandparents at their beach cottage. Stevenson was born in 1929, so these reminiscences are of the 1930s, with rumble seats in the cars, pocket watches adorning the grandpas, and gossiping telephone operators.
Memories are made of characters — friends, cranky old geezers, croquet-playing senior citizens; and places — Moffats’ windmill, the boardwalk, the bathhouses; and moments — sand castle building and Uncle Freddie crunching his car and campfires on the beach.
All of these vignettes are illustrated in fleeting, gestural images in watercolor. Stevenson captures an entire world and time and mood in the slimmest flick of a paintbrush.
It’s a gentle, humorous read for ages 5 and up. I’d like to think it might stimulate some conversations between other grandparents and grandchildren. “Grandpa, tell me about when you were a boy….”
Tasha Tudor, the queen of idyllic country living, has written two storybooks featuring Becky. I’ve reviewed the other title, Becky’s Christmas, here.
Becky has a summer birthday. She’s 10 years old. The birds are singing in the lilac bushes and the roosters are crowing a hearty Happy Birthday to You as she wakes up.
This longish story ambles through the entire day. There are birthday spankings from the brothers (of course!), birthday bouquets at breakfast — one from everyone in the family! But the main activities of the day center around the birthday picnic scheduled for the evening.
There’s fresh corn to shuck, a blueberry pie to bake, luscious peach ice cream to crank in the big ice-cream freezer.
When all is ready, Mother and Becky walk through the pasture to the river where the others are waiting. Becky is crowned with a lovely wreath of flowers and ushered to the most unbelievable picnic you have ever seen. Like a woodland fairyland!!
Most stunning of all — the cake, aglow with candles, comes floating down the river on a tiny raft!
This most magical of birthday celebrations is an epic ode to creativity, beauty, and the joy of celebration, illustrated throughout with Tasha’s exquisite drawings and paintings. It’s hard to find. I wish someone would re-print these. Pure charm for ages 6 and up.
Nic of the Woods, written and illustrated by Lynd Ward
published in 1965 by Houghton Mifflin Company
Lynd Ward is another distinguished American illustrator, known especially for his beautiful, strong, woodcuts.
Ward spent his summers in the Canadian woods, at Lonely Lake in Ontario. This lengthy picture book is set there.
Davey Wood and his parents are heading up to their cabin on the lake as they do every summer, but this year his new dog, Nic, is coming along.
It’s a long journey — by train, by farm wagon, and then a couple of miles by rowboat, to reach the handsome log cabin nestled among a dense forest on this quiet, lonesome lake.
Davey’s job is to teach Nic all about this new lifestyle — how to sit still in the boat, how to stay nearby so as not to get lost in the forest, how to not carry on so much when Davey dives under the water.
Nic is much too curious for his own good, and tangles with just about everything you can think of: frogs, squirrels, a skunk, a porcupine. Yup. Not good.
The main trouble comes when Davey and his parents head off on a long fishing outing on Lake Algoma. It’s simply no place for a dog, and Davey reluctantly agrees to leave him with his friend Mr. McWaters. But Nic is much too forlorn without Davey, and before long, he’s shot out after them, and doesn’t return, instigating an earnest search for this beloved dog.
It’s a great wilderness adventure, boy-and-dog story which could be read in one sitting or broken up — there are 5 brief chapters. Ward’s handsome pen-and-brush illustrations dominate the pages.
You know what I especially like about this? Davey’s mother is a terrific wilderness gal, sporting her 1920s bathing costume, shouldering her knapsack, hiking five miles through the woods, and enjoying the fish fry at the island campsite. Hurrah for Mrs. Woods, say I.
There’s a bit of tension here with the lost dog, but all ends well. It could be read aloud to ages 5 and up.
Here’s to unscheduled, unhurried, summer days in the great out-of-doors. I hope you get some!
Posted in Caldecott Books, fiction, non-fiction, picture books | Tagged adventure stories, birthdays, book reviews, caldecott, canada, Catherine Stock, children's literature, Greece, islands, James Stevenson, leisure, Lynd Ward, Maine, memoir, outdoor play, picture books, robert mccloskey, summer, Tasha Tudor, vacation, vintage children's books | 4 Comments »
I’ve been looking at a lot of new-in-2015 picture books lately and these two are truly some of the most dramatically beautiful I’ve seen thus far.
Beautiful Birds, text by Jean Roussen, illustrations by Emmanuelle Walker
published in 2015 by Flying Eye Books
My limited experience with Flying Eye Books has convinced me that they only publish stunning visual keepsakes, so it’s always exciting to see what’s new coming from them.
This is an alphabet of birds, from the albatross and bee-eater straight on through the yorkshire canary and zosteropidae (which is actually a bird family if you want to get all picky about it but what are you going to do with the letter z, anyway? Not a myriad choices, I imagine.)
In rhyming couplets, Roussen introduces us to more than 26 birds — some letters get more than one. You won’t learn a great deal about the birds, but you’ll meet a wide variety of them; certainly quite a few lovelies you don’t usually see in your neighborhood.
Emmanuelle Walker’s magnificent illustrations are the huge draw here. She’s a UK illustrator with a superb sense of color and design. Here’s a sneak peek of some of what you’ll soak up in this oversized book:
toucans and tanagers…
birds of paradise and peacocks…
here’s a close-up of a brilliant, lime-green, bee-eater.
As you can see, it’s a strikingly colorful beauty to share with folks ages 2 to 100. Design students, take note, and if you’d like to visit Ms. Walker’s website, that’s here.
A Nest is Noisy, written by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long
published in 2015 by Chronicle Books
This is the latest collaboration between Aston and Long in their beautiful series of books, and what a jaw-droppingly gorgeous work it is.
From the cover, to the endpapers, and every page between, Long’s watercolor work is like ambrosia. Jewel-like, iridescent feathers and the gleaming, mottled skin of a tree frog. Textures of all manner of nests, water and mud, cactus and honeycomb — are richly displayed. What a gift she has given us, to call us to look closely and marvel over the beauty of the natural world around us.
Aston has chosen a wonderful variety of nesting creatures. Birds, yes, but also reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, and even a few mammals are portrayed here. Did you know orangutans construct nests?
Her clear, measured descriptions provide lots of intriguing information about these nest-builders and the amazing variety of nests, yet are far from coldly scientific. These short passages are warm with admiration and always stop short of overwhelming us.
Don’t miss this one. It’s the tip-top of what nonfiction can be, for ages 4 and up.
Inside this Book (are three books), written and illustrated by Barney Seltzberg
published in 2015 by Abrams
This tip-of-the-hat to children authoring and illustrating their own stories is a simple, but brilliant little book.
Open the cover, and big brother Seymour introduces you to his book — a smaller volume he has enclosed for you to read. He’s written quite a story about a Funny Little Thing!
After Seymour’s tale comes an even smaller book created by his sister, Fiona. Fiona, it seems, likes purple and artistic living.
When you’ve finished with Fiona’s book, there’s one more tiny one by the small Wilbur. It may be small, but it’s got a zingy ending!
All three of them have put their books inside this book “because books are better shared.”
Most children enjoy creating their own books, and here is some fresh inspiration for ages 3 and up.
Out and About: A First Book of Poems, written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes
published in the UK in 1988; first U.S. edition 2015 by Candlewick Press
This volume of poems by Shirley Hughes dates back almost 30 years, but it’s just been released in the U.S this year, so it’s easier than ever for us to nab!
It’s structured around the four seasons, with 18 brief, toddler-sized poems, almost all joyously set in the outdoors.
Slopping about in mud puddles in Spring. Sploshing in the wading pool in Summer. Misty, nippy walks in Autumn. Cold fingers and toes in Winter.
There are trips to the seashore and sick days in bed. Budding and birdsong. Sand creeping into the beachside teatime. Blustery winds ballooning out the curtains. All manner of simple, interesting details from a child’s point of view.
Shirley’s truly lovely paintings dominate the pages, her wonderfully real children and natural settings communicating such humanness and freedom and joy. Each season begins with a full, two-page spread epitomizing the way out-of-doors looks at that time of year. It’s beautiful just to watch her palette change, from the electric lime of spring, to the aquamarines of the sea in summer, burnt oranges in fall, and chill blues of winter.
I can never rave enough about Shirley, so I’ll just stop there. A sweet collection for ages 18 months and up.
Outstanding in the Rain: A Whole Story with Holes, written and illustrated by Frank Viva
published in 2015 by Little, Brown and Company
This is a terribly difficult book to try to explain! So I’m super thankful for this image from the New Yorker which demonstrates how it works even though it’s perhaps a bit annoying that it is constant flipping there. Sorry about that!
Anyway, the minimal story just traipses along with a little boy spending his birthday at Coney Island.
The cleverness comes from Viva’s super stylish design incorporating cut-outs in the pages. You can’t see it very well, but on the spread above with the folks upside down on the roller coaster, there’s a cut out around the words “NIGHT RAIN.” When the page is turned, it reveals the new words “NIGHT TRAIN” making a new sentence, and the cutout also turns that baseball cap into an umbrella.
Every two spreads, then, are transformed in this way — great fun especially for beginning readers to see the magical transformation of the words.
Very tricksy! For ages 3 and up.
Here’s another super clever book using die cuts to transform pages. In this case, Boyd moves us outside and inside of a home through the flip of a page.
The story follows a little person — could be a boy or a girl — through one year. It begins in winter, then travels through the seasons and around again to winter as we close.
S/he’s a busy little thing, making snowmen, painting pictures, playing in the rain, flying kites, planting gardens, making toy boats to float in the pool — a lovely set of creative endeavors, both indoors and out.
The way the pages work is like this.
As you see, here we’re inside crafting toy boats. The window behind is a die-cut, looking outside. Now turn the page…
Though you can’t tell from this, the die cut has flipped and become the window. Now we can look inside from outside. We can peek at the books and objects on the shelf. Now, too, the boats, child, dog, and some other items have moved outside.
There’s lots to spy out and talk about as our location shifts, as well as our view through the windows, and many elements in the pictures. How could we bring trees or birds inside?
I love Lizi Boyd’s imaginative, wonder-fying work for children, and am greatly looking forward to her new book coming out this fall. This one’s perfect for ages 2 and up.
In This Book, by Fani Marceau, illustrated by Joëlle Jolivet
first published in France, 2012; published in the U.S. in 2014 by Chronicle Books
Think of this book as a catalog of things IN other things.
Some are obvious, as a bird who is in a nest.
Some are a bit less concrete. There’s a hole in the cheese and a planet in space.
Jolivet’s striking designs captivate us as we meander through these pages, thinking about what’s in what. What are you IN right now? Perhaps in a chair. Or in a lap. Maybe in a good mood. Maybe in a hospital.
So much pondering and stretching for young minds. Another simple book with lots of potential, for ages Under-Two and older.
Posted in fiction, picture books, poetry, wordless books | Tagged book reviews, children writing books, children's literature, children's poetry, creative play, indoor play, outdoor play, picture books, storytelling | Leave a Comment »
Shackleton’s Journey, written and illustrated by William Grill
published in 2014 by Flying Eye Books
Ahhhh. I’ve been waiting to get my hands on this gorgeous book, one of the esteemed winners of the NY Times Best Illustrated Books Awards in 2014.
It is a beauty.
Previously I’ve reviewed a couple other Shackleton stories; his journey is so remarkable it’s no wonder many are drawn to recounting it. There’s a fantastic graphic novel version of it reviewed here, and a well-written, longer account with archival photos reviewed here.
UK artist William Grill’s approach is unique in its arresting illustrations which give us a fascinating glimpse of particulars as well as capturing the sense of vastness, isolation, and intimidating landscapes faced by the crew.
Stylish cameos of every man…
and piece of equipment,
are juxtaposed with dramatic spreads of vessels dwarfed by immense seas of pack ice…
and gigantic icebergs.
Every page is laid out beautifully, with illustrations dominating, creating strong moods, atmosphere, turbulence or stillness, masterfully pulling us into the scenes to experience the journey along with the crew.
Grill does not talk down to his audience. His narration is studded with a strong vocabulary and concepts. Read it aloud with kids 8-10, or give this to older children through adults. I think it would make a fine Father’s Day gift for a dad or grandpa interested in sailing or exploration.
Posted in non-fiction, picture books | Tagged adventure stories, antarctica, book reviews, British explorers, children's literature, ernest shackleton, exploration, New York Times Best Illustrated Books, picture books, sailing, william grill | 2 Comments »
These two terrific books acquaint us with two unusual talents:
First — Mary Nohl, a multi-talented artist from Wisconsin who gradually transformed her Lake Michigan cottage into a world of whimsy and beauty.
Nohl was a hands-on craftsperson and artist from the time she was a young girl in the 1920s. After art school, she traveled the world, teaching and creating art.
Later, she began to transform her inherited cottage near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, covering the walls with paintings, painting furniture and carpets, sculpting enormous, curious stone creatures to inhabit the gardens. Sadly, it seems she was misunderstood and harassed by some of her neighbors, but she steadfastly continued to create.
The Küglers have written a very brief, pleasant sketch of her life, illustrating it with traditional and digital collage that reaches out to us with friendliness, happiness, wonder and beauty.
It’s a lovely account that introduced me to Mary for the first time and made me wish I could visit her home which is currently listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, but is inaccessible to the public.
Great book to share with children ages 4 and up.
Talkin’ Guitar: A Story of Young Doc Watson, written and illustrated by Robbin Gourley
published in 2015 by Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
At the same time that Mary Nohl was growing up in Wisconsin, Arthel Lane Watson was being raised, the sixth of nine children, “in the Appalachian mountain hamlet of Deep Gap, North Carolina.”
Watson was left blind by an eye infection before his first birthday, but his world was sweetly enveloped in the sounds of music, from his Mama’s lullabies to the rushing of mountain streams, the jangling of plows, the wind in the trees.
As a young boy, he was drawn like a magnet to making music. He learned to play the harmonica, the banjo, and then the guitar, all the while absorbing rhythms and harmonies and songs everywhere he went.
Arthel’s parents encouraged him to participate fully in life, and the confidence he gained from his dear family and beloved mountains must have informed his dynamic playing, beginning at live radio broadcasts, then touring with folk musicians, and finally launching his phenomenal career as a solo artist under the name Doc Watson.
Robbin Gourley’s artwork is what first drew me to this title — her sumptuous watercolors and flowing line flood the pages with beauty. Her lilting narration encapsulates an Aaron-Coplandesque atmosphere, marvelously exuding the sweet country influences that emerge in Watson’s music.
Sorry I can’t embed a video, but you can listen to Doc on youtube here for a little taste of his virtuosity.
This is a beautiful, inspiring story for ages 4 and older, and includes a lengthy Author’s Note and websites for further information.
Posted in non-fiction, picture books | Tagged appalachia, art, biographies, blindness, bluegrass, book reviews, children's literature, doc watson, guitar, mary nohl, music, picture books, sculpture, wisconsin | Leave a Comment »