a list of…five books beaming with happiness

On cranky days and through low-spirited seasons, my mood has often been lifted just by piling the kids on the sofa and reading aloud together from a good book.  And when Mama’s happy, the sunshine seems to spread throughout the household.  Here are five positively cheery books to help chase away everyone’s blues:

Laugh-out-loud Baby, by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Stephen Gammell

What is more infectious than a baby’s laugh?  For first-time moms, and moms-of-a-dozen, that first outburst of delight and amusement that snickers out of a tiny one’s soul is a golden moment.  And how those older siblings will cavort, stand on their heads, throw down Buster Keaton moves, to get that baby laughing.

Tony Johnston captures the radiance of that first laugh, its utter charm and magnetic hold and the eruption of gladness it triggers in this gleeful romp of a tale.  A fascinating final note tells us that in the Navajo culture, a child’s first laugh is celebrated with a First Laugh Ceremony.  What an excellent idea!  Johnston riffs on that tradition to bring us this story of a joyous party spontaneously thrown to mark this well-loved baby’s merriment.

Who could better illustrate this than Stephen Gammell, whose lumpy, frumpy characters are so endearing and warm and comfortable, whose colorful paintings fizz and swizzle, yet also settle in down-home tenderness.  Biscuits and gravy surrounded by explosions of love.  This book has a similar feel to his Caldecott Honor book The Relatives Came, which I adore.  Truckloads of happiness.

Happy Belly, Happy Smile, written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora

Louie’s grandpa owns the Empire Wok restaurant in Chinatown, and every Friday, Louie has dinner there with his Grandpa Sam.  How lovely.

In this story, Louie takes us through his Friday date with Grandpa, paying attention to the kinds of details four-year-olds find important — the fish tank in the window, the friends he has in the kitchen, each with an interesting job to do, peeling shrimp, chopping vegetables, delivering bags and bags of Chinese Take-Out on a bicycle.  He tells us what foods he likes best, and which ones he’s not so fond of.

The jolly culmination to the story emerges from the dish of orange slices brought to the table.  Louie and his buddy Franklin know just what to do with an orange peel to create the biggest, orange-est smile ever.  Have your kids learned this trick?  It showed up at my table quite frequently 🙂

This happy story simply takes us on a warm, friendly stroll through a sweet part of this boy’s life, his dear relationship with his Grandpa, a glorious peek at his culture.  Isadora’s trademark collages burst with vivid colors, multiple cultures, exuberant details and textures.  Children will have fun spotting the spots that actual photos of Chinese food are tucked into the pictures.  Heartwarming and beautiful.

Because Amelia Smiled, written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein

It’s a chain reaction, like a clickety run of dominoes spilling gloriously down an elaborate trail.  Only this is a gladdening run of smiles, astonishingly spreading around the world, all because of one small girl named Amelia, grinning from ear to ear as she splooshes through the rain puddles filling her street.

Beaming Amelia catches the eye of dear Mrs. Higgins in her Brooklyn apartment.  Amelia’s childish joy warms Mrs. Higgins’ heart and brings her own grandson to mind.  He’s grown now; a teacher in Mexico.  Mrs. Higgins decides to bake some delicious cookies to send Lionel in a delightful care package.

Mmmmm.  Lionel finds those cookies so sweet and tasty.  Perhaps the spirit of kindness baked into those cookies prompts him to share them with his class the next day, and teach them an English song to boot.  He  leans comfortably on his desk, strumming his guitar, his diverse students thoroughly warming to the joys of learning, the crumbly sweetness of the cookies, the liveliness of music.  Little wonder that one of his students decides at that moment to be a teacher herself; not an English teacher, a kick-boxing teacher’ she sets about, making a free video to send out over the Internet.

How this video inspires some British dancers doing a benefit in Israel, and how Amelia’s smile continues to sow itself into seeds of kindness all around the world, and how, incredibly, it comes full circle to make Amelia smile again — you will have to read to discover.  It’s an exquisite, global tour of goodwill.

Stein’s exuberant illustrations, done in pencil, crayon and watercolor defy any reader to remain down in the mouth!  Teeming with life, exuding the fantastic diversity of this beautiful world, Stein’s luscious colors and vibrant scenes will put a smile in your heart or you may need a transplant 🙂  A thoroughly joyous book.

Snow Happy, by Patricia Hubbell, illustrations by Hiroe Nakata

Anyone who knows me, knows I am a huge fan of snow.  I love it, love it, love it!  So, this book, which dances with glee over snow, rings all the right bells for me!

These folks are snow happy about snow.  From the opening page, with two children at the window, peeking out with wide-eyed, open-mouthed wonder at the freshly-fallen snow, then springing from their bed, ready to enjoy this snowy day, the whole book is a paean to snow.

Every jolly snow activity is thrilled to, here.  The whole neighborhood seems to be out, skiing, sledding, whooshing, gliding, building snow forts, making snow angels, shoveling walkways for grandmas and grandpas.  Each page is a whirl of icy-cold, sparkling-white, delight.  No wonder they are snow happy!  Even the dogs cavort with fresh vim and vigor.

When at last everyone is plum tuckered out, the goodness continues on indoors with hot cocoa and the warm satisfaction of watching that swirling, glittering stuff in the purple darkness out the window.

Ahhhh.  I was snow disappointed last year when Minnesota had virtually none of the white stuff, and our family’s orders are firmly dialed in for heaps and drifts of it this year.  When it comes, be assured we will be snow happy.  Truly, even snow humbugs can’t help but smile at the family in Hiroe Nakata’s cheery, pink-cheeked, icy-breathed illustrations.  Such merry children; such darling squirrels; such eloquent skies and trees and snowy landscapes you can feel the frosty tingle in your cheeks just looking at them.

I Love You! A Bushel & A Peck, words and music by Frank Loesser, pictures by Rosemary Wells

This old, well-loved song, written by Loesser for the Broadway hit Guys and Dolls, brims with warmth. I’ve sung it to my kids through the years, as has many another mother and grandmother; it’s a perfect love-song for little ones.  If you’ve never heard it, you can give it a listen here.

Rosemary Wells, the queen of adorable, has illustrated snatches of the lyrics with her pert lemon-yellow ducklings.  These two are running a small farm with a jolly red tractor, a brave blue pick-up truck, barrels of crunchy apples and flaming-orange pumpkins — all the quintessential farm ingredients.  As they go about the chores, however, there seems to be plenty of time for dancing and chasing, chatting and music-making…until all work is finally abandoned by the two love-birds in exchange for togetherness and ice-cream!  Why not?!

Exuberantly affectionate; bursting with color, life, love, and joy.  The darling ducks entertain, you all sing along of

Rosemary Wells

your love for one another…throw some molasses crinkles and milk into the deal and even a grumpy day will turn itself about!

Here are Amazon links for all these hopelessly happy stories:

Laugh-Out-Loud Baby (Paula Wiseman Books)
Happy Belly, Happy Smile
Because Amelia Smiled
Snow Happy!
I Love You! A Bushel & A Peck