a list of…five stories steeped in the loveliness of the ordinary

Lucy and Tom’s Day, written and drawn by Shirley Hughes

Lucy is a preschooler and Tom is her younger brother.  This is an account of one ordinary, very British day, in their charmed lives. 

Porridge first.  Jolly housekeeping jobs.  A drink and a biscuit in the garden.  A little marketing with mother.  Baking tiny cakes with spare bits of dough.  Rest time.  An outing to the park.  Tea time.  Bath time.  Story time.  Bed time. 

There is not a jarring note in the day; yet it is not a dull day.  There is a gentle, absorbing, creative, human quality to the routines of Lucy and Tom which are like a balm.  And not a digital, electronic moment all day long!  Ah, the bliss! 

The numerous cameos, some in black ink drawings, some with watercolor wash, are Shirley Hughes to the core, somehow capturing the beauty of the commonplace and the delight of the small people in this world.  We have utterly worn out our copy of this simple story.  Try the magic out yourself.

Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds, by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Barry Moser

“Appalachia” conjures up many images for us, images of poverty tucked into remote hillsides, and coal miners too often fighting for their lives in collapsed underground chambers.  But to Rylant and Moser, both of whom grew up there, its name brings a familiar sweetness, and in this gentle, beautiful book, they present to us their Appalachia.

It’s an Appalachia of faithful dogs and hulking mountainsides and brave coal miners; handmade quilts and generations of staying and fried chicken.  Quiet mornings.  Foggy nights.  Sunday meetings.  Creeks and honeysuckle and sun-baked dirt roads under dusty bare feet. 

Rylant’s carefully chosen words are like notes in a Copland suite, so poignant and loving, each communicating a beauty of simplicity.  Moser’s incredible paintings are full of warmth, dignity, and the quiet comfort of routines and people as pleasant as a pair of old slippers to those in this community.  This is a gorgeous portrayal of all the small things that make a place, home.

What Happens on Wednesdays, written by Emily Jenkins, pictures by Lauren Castillo

On Wednesdays, this happy preschooler is awakened by Mommy early in the morning.  She sits on the counter while Mom brews coffee, then drinks her milk and nibbles on strawberries while they read stories on the couch.  Then they wake up Dad.  She and Dad walk down the wide curving steps of their Brooklyn apartment building to get the newspaper, and she snuggles on his lap while he takes his tea. 

Wednesdays include walking down the block with Dad to the bagel shop, visiting the dog park, and continuing on to preschool. Wednesdays have circle time and music time and animal crackers.  Stories and naps and swimming at the pool.  A stop at the library.  A little play time.  Dinner.  A bath.  And bedtime with kisses.  Wednesdays are just ordinary days, and ordinary days are sweet and good.

I love the deliciousness of the rhythms of ordinary days presented in this book.  How we all thrive, including young children, on the soothing calm of routine, the solidity of the expected.  And how interesting the ordinary of someone else’s life can be to us, whose ordinary is so different.  In addition, Castillo’s soft, detailed, contemporary illustrations draw us magnetically into this little world.  Charming NYC architecture, the  multi-cultural neighborhood, comfy, loving parents, are warmly and wonderfully portrayed.  This was her debut as an illustrator!  I’ll be looking for more from her to be sure!

The Farm Summer 1942, by Donald Hall, pictures by Barry Moser

A young boy named Peter is spending the summer of ’42 on his grandparents’ farm in New Hampshire.  His father is fighting WWII in the South Pacific, and his mother is working in the war effort in New York City.  After a long trip by plane, train, taxi, steam engine, and buggy, Peter arrives at the quiet, dignified, picturesque farm where his father grew up.

His grandparents’ lives and ways are so different.  Cast iron wood-burning stove.  Milk directly from the cow.  But many of the differences become very appealing to Peter: grandmother’s gingersnaps and grandfather’s stories; feeding sugar lumps to Lady Ghost;  watching trains go past on the railroad, twelve a day.  When the summer ends, and Peter and his mother head back home to San Francisco, Peter has mixed feelings about his departure.

Donald Hall is best known in children’s literature for his book Ox-Cart Man.  He is a  highly acclaimed poet and writer, and this book flows with the steady rhythms and evocative phrases which are his great talent.  Barry Moser is an amazing artist who has illustrated many, many children’s books.  His superb, clean watercolors convey the rural serenity, the comfort of grandparents, and very nearly, the warm scent of hay.

Don’t Want to Go, written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes

Blue-eyed, tousle-haired, sturdy little Lily wakes up one morning to find her mom is sick in bed, her dad’s heading to work, and she, Lily, is to be carted off to stay with someone named Melanie for the day.   Harumph! Lily thinks.  “Don’t want to go!” Lily says.

Dad is unswayed, however, and despite Lily’s ploys to remain home, she is tucked into her stroller and whisked down the block to Melanie’s.  Even though Melanie’s door is jolly egg-yolk yellow, and she has a nice smile on her face, and she’s got a fat, friendly baby named Sam, Lily still feels rather shy and nervous and tells Dad again, “Don’t want to stay.”

In a wink and a whirl, however, Lily is greeted by a zippy little dog named Ringo.  She is entertained by Baby Sam’s pudgy peek-a-boo game.  She is mesmerized by a little project Melanie sets up — choosing and pasting snippets of lovely magazine pictures into a paper book.  Then comes the messy but interesting task of feeding Sam, walking Ringo and Sam down to the school to pick up Jack, and playing fantastic pretend games with Jack back at home.  Lily is having such a marvelous time that when Dad comes to pick her up after work, she says…you guessed it, “Don’t want to go.”

Such a familiar scenario to mothers and children.  Shirley Hughes, once again, shows her warm-hearted familiarity with children’s lives and concerns, and a genius ability to spin these things into a charming story.  Quintessential Hughes, just published in 2010.  She has not lost her touch! 

Here are Amazon links for all these lovely books:
Lucy and Tom’s Day (Picture Puffins)
Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds

What Happens on Wednesdays
The Farm Summer 1942
Don’t Want to Go!