a list of…five imagine-that! fantasies for children

The Apple-Pip Princess, written and illustrated by Jane Ray

Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom, there lived a king and his three daughters.  In order to decide which daughter should rule after him, the king sets them a task — do something to make me proud, in the next 7 days.   The elder princesses are powerful and beautiful, but the youngest is quite shy and ordinary.  What can she do?

Those who have read Howard Pyle’s fairy tales will recognize this set-up.  In Jane Ray’s beautiful new fairy tale, it’s the quiet, third-born who has the wisdom to choose well, and to pursue the truly good.  In this case, it involves a tiny, brown, apple seed, some precious elements of nature  — raindrops and sunlight and birdsong — and community good will, that work together to transform the land and win the kingdom for the girl we love.

Oh — there’s a little magic in there, too 🙂  And a companionable young boy.  And a happily ever after ending.  No wedding, however.  Serenity is a mite young for that.

This delightful fairy tale is brought to life by Jane Ray’s gorgeous illustrations.  Jewel tones of emerald and sapphire and gold, liberally splashed with magenta and pink, as befitting a fairy tale, sing out from the pages.  Whimsical crowns and gowns and hairstyles and architecture; stylized, racially-mixed princesses with curly, raven,  locks; and some clever mixed media to clash against the serene beauty of the land — it’s all a treat to look at.  Kindergarten-romantics and up will love this one!

Extra Yarn, by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Annabelle is an ordinary girl — medium-size, plain brown hair, everyday face — who lives in a cold, drab town.  One day — what is this?! — Annabelle finds a small box filled with colorful yarn.  It looks like an ordinary sort of box.  The yarn looks like run-of-the-mill yarn.  But — it’s not!

Annabelle begins, pronto, to knit herself a lovely sweater.  Ahh!  It looks like the feathers of a dozen tropical birds.  When she’s finished, there’s still yarn left over.  So, she knits a matching sweater for her faithful dog, Mars.  And still, there is more yarn.  Next up are sweaters for a jealous, outspoken boy and his dog.  The magical, variegated yarn in these sweaters looks like the cool waters of a green sea.  And…you guessed it…there is still more yarn left over.

Annabelle proceeds to knit…and knit…and knit.  She outfits everyone, with just the right touch.  She creates capricious sweaters for way beyond people; Annabelle transforms her whole town.  But!   When a greedy archduke sails into town and sees the fanciful village, he steals the yarn for himself.  Alas!  What will Annabelle do?

This delightful tale of magical beauty, of handmade, wooly, loveliness, is short, understated, and kind, and will put a smile on your face!  No kidding.  The illustrations by the amazing Jon Klassen are a lovely journey from angular, somber, bleakness, to softened, lyrical, Fruit Loops-hued hope.  I love this book, new this year, and recommend it for ages 4 and up.

Mr. Benn-Red Knight, written and illustrated by David McKee

Meet Mr. Benn.  He’s a dapper fellow in black suit and bowler hat.  A hard worker, but not so fond of parties.  More of a quiet, stay-at-home fellow.

Mr. Benn has received an invitation to a fancy dress party.  He’s not keen to go, but he does like dress-up, so he decides to shop for a costume.  He figures it can’t hurt to add a little zest to his rather dull life.

After a long day of searching, Mr. Benn comes upon a tiny shop, wedged into a crammed lane, which is filled to the gills with curious costumes.  How exciting!  Even the shopkeeper is a tad eccentric.  Mr. Benn chooses a red suit of armor, heads into the Fitting Room, dons the armor, and then meanders through a second doorway…marked…Trying Room.

Zoom!  Mr. Benn finds himself in an utterly different landscape; a “barren, rocky countryside.”  One thing leads to another, and Mr. Benn finds himself swept up in an astonishing, dragon-filled, adventure!

This fanciful story was written in 1967, and the British public was so taken with the heroic exploits of this genteel commoner, that it morphed into a children’s television show.  Mr. Benn continues to return to his favorite costume shop, trying on various fancy-dress get ups, and whisking off to a matching world.  The original book has now been republished, and is set to spark the imaginations of your children.  Brilliant line drawings alternate with kaleidoscopic-colored scenes.  I wish I’d raised my kids on Mr. Benn!

A Few Blocks, written and illustrated by Cybèle Young

Viola is the big sister.  It’s her job to herd young Ferdie to school.  But Ferdie doesn’t want to go to school.  Washing Matchbox cars, building teetering block towers, and designing a snake all seem more important.  Cunningly, Viola resorts to the powers of imagination — smart girl!

Ferdie’s galoshes become rocket-blaster boots and his jacket a superhero cape.  Ferdie’s imagination revs to Mach 3 and they are off!  Faster, higher, zooming past harbors and over skyscrapers — this is a great way to get to school!

Trouble comes when the zip fizzles out of Ferdie’s rocket-blaster boots and he realizes that, alas, he is actually trudging his way to a classroom.  What’s Viola going to do next?  Not to worry!  She reaches into her magical mind and pulls out another “let’s pretend” for her brother, to motivate him a little further along the way.  Viola keeps this up for almost the entire journey to school.  When even she wearies of the game, though, how will these two ever finish the trek?

Terrific story, flipping back and forth between the mundane and the wondrous, displaying the powers of the imagination to enliven our days.  Young sets the scenes of reality in sepia-toned ink, drawn with a delicate hand, then blossoms into 3D paper constructions awash in color, when Viola and Ferdie launch into their daydreams.  The way she combines the scenes of the city and the world of their imaginations, is incredibly clever.  Beautiful book from an award-winning, Canadian artist.

Sea of Dreams, a wordless book by Dennis Nolan

A sunny, tropical beach.  Deserted, except for one little girl, intently building a sand castle at the water’s edge.  The towers rise out of the sand,one by one, until with a satisfied backward glance, she walks away.  The sun is setting.  It’s time for bed.

As stars wink out in the purple-blue sky, and sea-green waves lap at the castle, something entirely unexpected happens.  You won’t believe this.  But, it’s true — an orange glow emerges from the castle window!  And before you know it, a tiny family is peering out, lighting the scene before them with a burning brand.  So. Cool!

The rest of this story, which I will not give away, follows the adventures of this sand-castle-dwelling crew.  It involves intricate ships and billowing waves and various inhabitants of the sea… and it is a whole lot of fun!

Nolan’s paintings are rich, beautiful snapshots of a tropical paradise with magical-realism washing through each page.  The scale he uses, to beckon us into the world of these tiny castle-dwellers, will tickle the fancy of children, who seem to love miniature folk, and stir up plenty of make-believe wonderings of their own.

Here are Amazon links to all these wonderfully imaginative tales:

The Apple-Pip Princess

Extra Yarn

Mr Benn: Red Knight

A Few Blocks

Sea of Dreams