As I’ve been on a quest for art books recently, I discovered along the way a few alphabet books rich in artistry, clever perspectives, delightful antics, and non-electronic play. Not much commentary here — I’ll leave it to you to discover the pleasures in each volume!
There are seemingly innumerable alphabet books out there. I chose this one…
An Artist’s Alphabet, written and illustrated by Norman Messenger
published in 2016 by Candlewick
…because there is such beauty on every creamy page, with letters transformed into a part of the artwork. You can see Hokusai’s wave-shape in the C’s on the book’s cover.
Here are Messenger’s imaginative N’s:
Luxuriously visual and a feast for the imagination.
The Alphabet From the Sky, by Benedikt Gross and Joey Lee
published in 2016 by Price Stern Sloan
…because bird’s-eye views are so intriguing! Look down upon earth from great heights to discover letter shapes within cityscapes and landscapes.
Each two-page spread presents one aerial view, identifies the U.S. location we’re looking at, and challenges us to locate one letter.
Answers and more spot-the-letter challenges are included. An ingenuous way to increase observation and new ways of seeing.
ABC’s on Wheels, written and illustrated by Ramon Olivera
published in 2016 by Little Simon
…because what child is not enamored with vehicles?
Ride along through these snazzy, stylized pages, cram full of vehicles, sprinkled with humor, and loaded with fun vocabulary and concepts that stretch little minds.
This is one you’ll read again, and again, and again…Olivera has an ABC on Wings as well.
B is for Bear: A Natural Alphabet, written and illustrated by Hannah Viano
published in 2015 by little bigfoot
…because this book is dedicated to “all of those who let children run a little wild, climbing trees and splashing in puddles. It is worth all the laundry and lost mittens.” So — I fell immediately in love!
Gorgeous, robust cut-paper artwork reveals the natural world and its extraordinary pleasures.
Just one sentence per page quietly narrates this ode to getting out into the great outdoors. Moseying through this book makes me breathe a bit deeper and feel that wash of peace settling on me. It’s a small stunner.
For more of Hannah’s books and illustration work, see her lovely website here.
A Child’s Day: An Alphabet of Play by Ida Pearle
published in 2008 by Harcourt
…because Orange Marmalade loves imaginative, active, non-electronic play!
And because Ida Perle’s lovely, multi-racial cast of children is so full of joy.
Graceful figures, lovely colors, textures, and patterns, and 26 wonderful ways to grow brighter, happier, healthier, are here to enjoy over and over again. This book makes me happy!
If you love Ida’s art, head on over to her website for more lovely prints.
Last month I posted a number of enticing books covering art history and appreciation for children. Those were broad titles, whetting our appetites for art and introducing the expanse of art- making around the world and through time.
Today I’ve got a few biographies that zoom in on just one artist, each one a work of art in itself.
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe
published in 2016 by Little, Brown and Company
Winner of the 2017 Caldecott Medal, this is a fresh, urban, vigorous look at the life and art of Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Steptoe’s innovative illustration work, painted on rough, textured pieces of found wood scavenged from around New York City, sizzles with color, strength, and a contemporary, diverse world. His unconventional approach aptly conveys the ethos of Basquiat.
At the same time, Steptoe’s straightforward text narrates the tempests of Basquiat’s life and the powerful hunger he had to voice through his art what was in his soul — urgent, messy, painful, important ideas that required jarringly new forms, lines, and approaches.
Steptoe communicates all of this with enough subtlety to make it accessible to young elementary children, concluding his brief bio with Steptoe victorious. In his excellent back-matter, he provides more detail about the difficulties of Steptoe’s life including his death due to drug addiction at the age of 27. For many children, this artist’s life and work will reflect their reality with incisive clarity. For others, this keen book offers an essential bridge into the experience of many fellow travelers.
Mr. Matisse and his Cutouts, written and illustrated by Annemarie van Haeringen, translated from the Dutch by Jan Michael
first published in Holland in 2015; English edition published in 2016 by NorthSouth Books
Matisse is a marvelous artist for young children to enjoy with his eye-popping colors and his can-do attitude that led him to one extraordinary artistic discovery.
This brief bio features a zesty text with words that sparkle. Its focus is Matisse’s adaptation to his great physical limitations and the momentous new art he created.
That all those glorious cut paper works of his are in response to illness — doesn’t that make the explosive gladness of them even more stunning?
Van Haeringen’s pages zing with the color and courage of Matisse himself. It’s a grand welcome into his artwork, with a short Author’s Note to fill in more details of Matisse’s life. Ages 3 and up.
Frida Kahlo and the Bravest Girl in the World, written and illustrated by Laurence Anholt
published in 2016 in the U.S. by Barron’s
Laurence Anholt has created a lovely series of artist biographies all featuring a child in the artist’s life. This one is his warm tribute to Frida Kahlo and a little girl named Mariana.
Mariana’s family were great friends of Frida’s and Kahlo painted each of their portraits. Mariana is anxious to have her portrait done as well, but everyone says she’s too young to sit still so long. Her brother takes it one step farther and tells her she’d be too scared to go to Frida’s house on account of the skeleton she keeps above her bed!
This does indeed squelch Mariana’s eagerness! When the day finally comes to go to Kahlo’s house for her portrait, Mariana is very nervous.
As the gracious Frida gets to know dear Mariana and paints her portrait, she tells her about herself, her tragic accident, and the way she started painting as a result of those lifelong injuries.
With it’s tropical-colored illustrations and brilliantly-composed narrative, this is an excellent introduction to a truly brave woman, for ages 5 and up.
Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, A Life in Nature, written by Cindy Jenson-Elliott, illustrated by Christy Hale
published in 2016, Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company
One of the few children’s biographies of Ansel Adams, this well-crafted book introduces children to one of the greatest photographers whose fiercely-high energy propelled him out of doors and eventually into the art of photography.
Adams was a restless, fidgety kid who would likely be on meds were he in classrooms today. Instead his father pulled him out of school and pushed him into the great outdoors. Adams thrilled to the Pacific coastal area where he lived and learned an enormous amount through all his explorations.
When he arrived at Yosemite Valley at age 14, “it was love at first sight.” The roar of water and dramatic light spilling and splaying upon the rock walls transfixed him. Ansel’s parents gave him a camera on that trip, and the rest of the story is well known!
Beautiful cut-paper illustrations bring to life the rugged, dappled, soaring, wilderness as well as the running, leaping, energy of Ansel Adams. A lengthy afterword tells much more about his life and work. Ages 4 and up.
Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing, written by Kay A. Haring, illustrated by Robert Neubecker
published in 2017 by Dial Books for Young Readers
Drop into the contemporary art world with this affectionate, spirited exploration of Keith Haring’s innovative work. I love that this is written by his sister. She brings a unique, intimate knowledge of the inner-tickings of Haring and his lifelong zeal for drawing.
What pops off the page, besides the seemingly indefatigable artist, his bottomless spring of ideas and incessant experimentation, is his generosity of spirit. Haring died as a young man, but in his brief career he exploded onto the world art scene while simultaneously keeping his bearings as a fellow human being seeking to bring healing to the world through art.
Neubecker’s robust illustration work is the perfect match for his subject. Lengthy afterwords tell lots more about Haring and the pieces of his art appearing in the book. Ages 5 and up.
What Degas Saw, written by Samantha Friedman, illustrated by Cristina Pieropan
published in 2016 by The Museum of Modern Art
This handsome book exudes all the top production quality you’d expect from MoMA.
Gorgeous illustration work from Italian illustrator Pieropan spreads turn-of-the-century Paris before us with its cobblestones, wrought-iron tracery, horse-drawn carriages, and hustle-bustle. This is the world in which Degas lived. This is what he saw.
Samantha Friedman takes all of these sights and helps us see how they turn up in Degas’ famous paintings. A peek into the milliner’s shop metamorphoses into his At the Milliner’s.
His many visits to the Opera House of course turn into the ballerina paintings we know so well. Minimal text is needed here as the concept is so well conceived. Wondering-aloud types of questions serve to engage children even more in the paintings. It’s like an art appreciation lesson in a book, for ages 3 and up.
Posted in Caldecott Books, non-fiction, picture books | Tagged Ansel Adams, art, artists, biographies, book reviews, caldecott medal, children's literature, Degas, frida kahlo, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Matisse, picture books | Leave a Comment »
In celebration of Earth Day, 2017…
Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, written by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Jessica Lanan
published in 2017 by Sleeping Bear Press
When I was homeschooling my children, a fat, black book sat on our shelves ready to grab and consult about some new natural wonder happened upon. What are all those parts of a bee for? What do flickers eat? What wildflower is this, spreading like a white carpet in the springtime woods?
That book was Handbook of Nature Study. At almost 1000 pages, it expounds copious amounts of technical information, lyrically celebrates the world of nature, and proffers many more questions to ponder and explore than it even answers.
That masterpiece was written by Anna Botsford Comstock, “the mother of nature education” who in the 1800s realized the appalling lack of nature knowledge in our nation’s children and developed a model program at Cornell University, teaching nature-study to teachers.
This elegant biography of her life begins with her childhood delight in nature — a common theme for those who pursue environmental care so get your kids out-of-doors! — and follows her lifetime making important contributions to nature education, a critical piece of our children’s education that is still, sadly, endangered.
Gorgeous, sun-soaked illustration work by Jessica Lanan fills us with the joy of stars and doodlebugs, snowflakes and tadpoles, just like Anna. I love that Comstock’s work is heralded in this fabulous piece of nonfiction for ages 4 and up.
Trees, written and illustrated by Lemniscates
published in Spain in 2016; first U.S. edition 2017 by Candlewick Studio
The blessing and wonder of trees is pondered and appreciated in tranquil text and dynamic, stylish illustrations in this gem coming to us from Spain.
It is more like my beloved A Tree is Nice than anything I’ve seen since that classic appeared in 1956.
Observing how trees live and grow, reflecting about the good things trees do for us, Lemniscates provides a lovely conversational text to give us pause, stir up rich thoughts, effect gratitude for trees.
Her artwork as always soars with vitality and a lovely contemporary European vibe. A delight for ages 3 and up.
The Wolves Return: A New Beginning for Yellowstone National Park, written and illustrated by Celia Godkin
published in 2017 by Pajama Press
As one species after another enters endangered categories it is impossible for most of us to see what the ramifications of their loss will be, making it far too easy to dismiss as “just a turtle” or “just an agave plant.”
Yet the complex, interactive webs which rely on biodiversity are critical to a healthy planet and to our health as humans. Some species are keystones — kind of like the jenga block on the bottom of the pile. If we pull them out, a ripple effect occurs that damages an entire ecosystem. Such was the case with the wolves of Yellowstone.
By hunting those wolves to the point of near-extinction settlers unwittingly disturbed the timeworn balance that had allowed all sorts of plants, animals and waterways to flourish. This lovely book shows how each piece began to be renewed as wolves were re-introduced to Yellowstone beginning in 1995.
Each turn of the page shows another glory of nature able to perform again its vivid song, as the positive, un-domino effect takes place. What a hopeful, gladsome journey! Share this with children ages 4 and up.
Rivers of Sunlight: How the Sun Moves Water Around the Earth, written by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm, illustrated by Molly Bang
published in 2017 by Blue Sky Press
This is the fifth book in this outstanding series about sunlight which I highly recommend from start to finish. Thus far we have learned how we transform sunlight into electricity, how plants use sunlight to make food, how the sun’s light sustains life in our oceans, and how fossil fuels are sunlight trapped under the Earth’s surface. What an awesome collection!
In this installment we investigate Earth’s precious, life-sustaining water and how sunlight moves it through its critical water cycle. Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm are word-wizards and illustration-magicians who make all of this as enticing as a juicy slice of watermelon. Your children — and you — will grasp the mechanisms of the water cycle in a way that fills you with wonder…
…and spills over into keen awareness of the gift that water is and the massive harm that will emerge if water sources are polluted, overtaxed, or altered by climate change. These grave matters are discussed briefly and quite lightly on the last two pages of our story, then covered more in depth in the six extra pages of notes — a fantastic resource which extends each aspect of the story at a level for mid-elementary and up. The bulk of this book is superb for ages 4 and up.
Trash Talk: Moving Toward a Zero-Waste World, written by Michelle Mulder
published in 2015 by Orca Book Publishers
Of the 3 R’s in the environmental maxim — Reduce, Re-use, Recycle — the first is perhaps the most critical, most challenging, and least addressed.
We are a people shackled by consumerism. If we’re honest, we evaluate ourselves and others by our stuff — our homes, clothes, cars, gadgets, furnishings. We gather it like manna. We build bigger houses to accommodate it; rent storage space for the excess; and throw away astonishing volumes of it each year. Stuff does not make us happy, yet we keep buying — and trashing — more of it.
I think examining our relationship to stuff and trash is surprisingly vulnerable, indicting, illuminating. Michelle Mulder does just that in a non-shaming, yet direct way. The many facets of trash — the reason why we keep making more of it than past generations, the ways it damages our environment, and the intangible ways our habits affect not just the planet but our relationships with one another — will keep you turning the pages.
Mulder inspires us to free ourselves from relentless consumerism and trash-making, encourages us with the innovative, heartening ways people are cultivating community and sustainability in one shot, and challenges us with information about the price to humans and our planet of so much trash.
Highly recommended for family discussions with kids ages 6 and up.
The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk, written and illustrated by Jan Thornhill
published in 2016 by Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press
Do you want to avoid depressing books about extinct animals? I know. It’s hard to bear these stories and much nicer to read success stories like the Yellowstone wolves. Don’t overlook this title, though. It’s tragic, yet Thornhill swings it around in the end to encourage and inspire. We really can learn from our mistakes, if we face up to them.
Thornhill’s evocative, icy blue and gray illustrations sweep us into frigid North Atlantic lands and seas where hundreds of thousands of “northern penguins” — the Great Auks — once lived.
Regaling us with descriptions of these flightless swimmers, she awakens a proper sense of wonder at their magnificence, then unfolds for us the ways in which human progress spelled their demise. Innocuous developments such as the Vikings’ knack for shipbuilding, and recklessness by the greedy collectors of eggs — many factors came into play in the extinction of this marvelous bird.
Your heart will ache, as mine did, at their avoidable destruction, yet Thornhill wisely uses the final pages of her account to detail some surprising ways in which the Great Auk still “lives on.” I love that she models for us a way of soberly considering harm, then moving forward to do good. A lengthy text for ages 7 and up.
There are gobs more fantastic books in my Subject Index under Science. Some are listed under the sub-heading “Environmentalism” but check out the Animals, Earth, and Plants listings as well for many more titles.
Posted in non-fiction, picture books | Tagged Anna Comstock, biodiversity, book reviews, children's literature, earth day, ecosystems, environmentalism, extinct animals, Great Auk, nature education, nature study, nonfiction, picture books, recycling, sunlight, sustainability, trash, trees, water cycle, wolves, yellowstone national park | Leave a Comment »
I have a new Musings post up today.
I’m musing about my dear Grandma Runa who is a strong, steady, happy inspiration for me…
…and my recent “Aha!” moment when I realized something surprising about her that’s been staring me in the face all along…
…and what that can mean for our own flourishing.
Click here, or search the Musings tab to read “as green as my grandmother.”
My stack of books today glows budding-leaf green and robin’s-egg blue. Oh, what is as cheery and hopeful as spring? Soak up some gladness with these books, bursting with life, growth and new beginnings.
What Will Grow? written by Jennifer Ward, illustrated by Susie Ghahremani
published in 2017 by Bloomsbury
For the littlest crop of sweet potatoes, don’t miss this sweet ode to seeds. Susie Ghahremani’s lovely artwork sweeps across the pages with luscious hues of springtime, summer, fall, straight through to the blue-cold of winter. Along the way we peek at seeds — round wrinkly peas, stripey sunflower seeds, snug prickly pine seeds packed into a cone — and discover what will grow from them.
Jennifer Ward’s minimal text provides just the right, lilting clues. She cleverly describes each seed with just three or four words, wisely choosing not to weigh down the delight and wonder of the illustrations.
A few gatefolds along the way augment the thrill of discovery –such fun to see that tall sunflower stretching up-up-up! End pages tell how to sow each of the seeds mentioned. This is a beauty of a book to enjoy with ages 18 months and up.
Over and Under the Pond, written by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
published in 2017 by Chronicle Books
Gliding along the quiet waters of a pond, observing the burble of life above the surface and the secret worlds below comes this elegant book.
The third collaboration between Messner and Neal, it’s as visually striking and wonder-filled as their previous titles which I’ve reviewed here and here.
Messner’s text revels in the jeweled glory of this watery world with skittering whirligig beetles, mussy busy beavers, ghostly-quiet herons a-stalking, and all the shimmering, dappled light. Neal’s handsome artwork captures the hush, the aqua-depths, the muck and reeds and secretive small worlds. Ingenuous changes in perspective keep every page fresh.
I’m thrilled that he places an African-American boy and mom in this wild, out-of-doors setting. Far too little diversity in children’s literature occurs outside of urban settings.
Learn more about each one of the species presented in several pages of Author’s Notes. I have to say, as a boating enthusiast, I was bugged by the paddling faux pas here, but truly, this is another winner from this team for ages 3 and up.
Robins!: How They Grow Up, written and illustrated by Eileen Christelow
published in 2017 by Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
A couple of robin siblings narrate the story of their lives in this information-soaked, immensely-engaging book from one of the best picture book makers, Eileen Christelow.
From the migration north of their parents, through nest-building, egg-incubating, and all the care and feeding of those scraggly chicks, Christelow’s text brims with intriguing detail, perfect pacing, and the appealing voice of these young robins. This reads like a story — not a mite of dry, merely-factual tone.
Christelow tracks their growth as they leave the nest, learn to feed themselves, and at about five months of age take to the skies to fly south. True to the realities of nature, two of their fellow nestmates don’t make it that far. Those harsh episodes are taken in stride by Christelow. It’s a fabulous presentation.
Colorful, captivating watercolor illustrations dominate the pages, bringing us eye to beak with these awkward chicks, right into the nest as it were. An Author’s Note tells how Christelow became so enamored with these birds, plus there’s a glossary and a couple Q&A pages with more Robin Facts. A gem for ages 4 and up.
Plants Can’t Sit Still, written by Rebecca E. Hirsch, illustrations by Mia Posada
published in 2016 by Millbrook Press
The ravishing colors of Minneapolis-artist (woot!) Mia Posada’s cut paper collages are the first thing you’ll notice when you open this book and oh! they will enchant you!
The fresh-lime burst of green leaves, blushing apricot tulips, twilight-purple morning glories, the seductive red of berries lurking in the bushes — every page surges with color, texture, and beauty.
Rebecca Hirsch’s text is every bit as enticing because although you may think of plants as sitting still, rooted in place, Hirsch leads us on a waltz of discovering otherwise. In fact, plants squirm, creep, climb, snap, nod, tumble, fling, whirl, drift…why, they just can’t sit still!
Back pages tell lots, lots more about plants and the particular species discussed in this book. Genius concept, brilliantly carried out by this team. Full of the wonder of discovery for ages 2 and up.
Pig & Goose and the First Day of Spring, written and illustrated by Rebecca Bond
published in 2017 by Charlesbridge
This charming early-reader knocked my socks off and warmed my heart. I don’t know if Rebecca Bond plans any more adventures for these too, but I have my fingers crossed!
The freshness of a spring morning has put Pig in a fine mood. A glorious sun and clear blue sky will do that! “Goody gumdrops!” Pig exclaims, and immediately makes plans for a picnic by the pond.
Pig soon meets up with Goose whose magnificent flying and swimming abilities make her wilt a bit with envy. Goose tries to coach Pig in these goose-y skills but…pigs really aren’t built for such things. Poor Pig! What is it she can do well?
Many things, it turns out, as she hosts a superb First-Day-0f-Spring party! Wow! You will want to be Pig’s guest at her next fiesta I’ll bet! Delectable details, spritzes of beauty, good humor, gladness of heart, and a dear friendship — that’s what’s here. Bond’s fetching watercolor work is the cherry on top. Readers who can manage Frog and Toad can read this on their own, or share it with listeners as young as 3. Lovely!
Wake Up! words by Helen Frost, photography by Rick Lieder
published in 2017 by Candlewick
This is the latest collaboration for poet Helen Frost and photographer Rick Lieder. Each one provides a breathtaking pause from the cacophony of noise, the jungles of cement, a step away, a redirect of our gaze towards the glorious spectacle of nature. All done in whisper quiet.
Feast your eyes and soul on the magenta swoosh of a peony, the emerald wetness of a frog, the fuzzy warmth of a newborn lamb. Wake up to manifestations of new life “exploding outside your door!”
I love the work being done by this team, simply bringing children up close to the wonders of nature, quieting them with few words, thoughtful questions, enticing them to wander out of doors. Find my reviews of two of their other titles here and here. Share them all with ages 18 months and older.
Birds Make Nests, written and illustrated by Michael Garland
published in 2017 by Holiday House
Michael Garland’s arresting woodcuts adorn the pages of this book and captivate us with the extraordinary wonder of bird nests.
Minimal text describes some of the vast variety in construction from a hummingbird’s tiny woven cup, to the giant mounds made by flamingos, and one house sparrow’s nest lodged in the pocket of a stop light.
The bulk of what we learn comes via Garland’s handsome prints, flooding the pages with earthy colors and rich texture. I love the minimal interference between the child reader and these wonders of nature. No back pages, even, with more info. Just — soak in the craftsmanship of both bird and artist. A lovely, leisurely wander for ages 3 and up.
First Garden: The White House Garden and How it Grew, written and illustrated by Robbin Gourley
published in 2011 by Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Children earnestly digging in the soil. Heirloom seeds passed down from Thomas Jefferson. Beehives and ladybugs, eggplants and blueberries. But no beets!
The story of Michelle Obama’s gardening initiative dances with the joy of the earth’s fruitfulness, the brilliance of children learning by digging, sowing, weeding, harvesting, and cooking delicious food in the White House kitchen!
Add in the history of White House gardening down through the centuries from John Adams’ first vegetable and fruit gardens through Patricia Nixon’s garden tours. Sprinkle atop some delicious recipes to try straight from the White House. Then illustrate with Robbin Gourley’s sunny, vivacious watercolors. Ta da! You’ve concocted this delicious book!
A delight to share with ages 4 and up. Plus, you can discover why there are no beets!
There are lots more spring-y titles listed in my Subject Guide. Look under Science: Seasons. And Happy Springtime to one and all!
Posted in early readers, fiction, non-fiction, picture books, poetry, recipes | Tagged birds, book reviews, botany, children's literature, gardening, Michelle Obama, nature, photography, picture books, plants, ponds, robins, seeds, spring, wildlife | 1 Comment »