turning over a new leaf?…a list of five books encouraging fresh paths for the new year

I’m back after a long, wonderful holiday break with my family, with five books that make my heart happy because they lovingly, disarmingly, artistically beckon towards lifestyle choices that I love.  Here’s to fresh starts!

hello hello cover imagehello! hello! written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell

Here’s a book I wish every Orange Marmalade visitor would read!

The main character is a young girl.  As we open the book, we see her living in a comfortable house surrounded by the standard array of electronic gadgets whose purposes are to entertain.  But it’s a grayish world, and the gadgets do not satisfy.

She goes in search of her family, real people to connect to.  Alas, Mom is busy at the computer, Dad is absorbed in his smartphone, even baby brother is transfixed by an ipad.  Home is lonely, everyone isolated by technological tools; things are looking bleak, when…

…swish.  One, small, orange leaf quietly swirls through the open door.

It’s like an orange beacon, luring her outdoors…

…where an entire treeful and breezeful and groundful of colorful leaves await her.  And that’s just the appetizer!  For there’s a whole, fascinating, lively, world out here —  pastel butterflies fluttering, Crayola-bright fields flowering, sun beaming from a blue sky.  There’s running through the grass to do, there’s drinking up the magnificent hugeness of sky to do.  What’s more, there’s no limit to the exuberant, vigorous, riotous fun to be had, unfurled by her imagination.  So. Much. Happiness!!

hello hello illustration matthew cordell

The exhileration is abruptly cut short with the ring-ring of her cell phone.  It’s Mom and Dad, none-too-pleased that she’s gone off without notifying them.  When she returns home, though,  the color and wonder of Nature waft in with her as she greets each one with a fragile piece of loveliness — a leaf, a flower, a bug — and soon, they are stepping out all together to companionably enjoy the Real, the Wonder all around them.

Magnificent.  Thank you, thank you, Matthew Cordell for creating this book, for crafting such a positive appeal — nothing heavy-handed here — regarding replacing electronic entertainment with creative, imaginative pursuits of juicy reality in our households.  Cordell’s illustrations in a multitude of media morph from gray wash to brilliant color, while the compositions move from small cameos swimming alone in large white spaces to full-page extravagant color with animals and people who crowd and mingle together; likewise, his lettering progresses from a digital-display look to a hand-lettered style, reflecting the humanizing effect of this journey.

Buckets of love for this book!

more cover imageMore, by I.C. Springman, illustrated by Brian Lies

Magpies, as you probably know, love to collect colorful, shiny objects.

The magpie in this tale begins with a large, empty nest.  He has…nothing.  So when his friend the mouse offers him a glassy, cat’s-eye marble with it’s zippy swish of color inside, the magpie is quite pleased to fly with it up to his lofty nest.  Now he has…something.  Ahh.

Soon, the magpie is happily finding his own treasures — a fire-engine red Lego, an old copper coin, keys, beads, zebra-striped sunglasses.  The magpie collects more, and more, and more.  Now he has…lots!  His belongings have far outgrown his original nest; an entire community of nests, in fact, are now scattered among the tree branches, each one more illustration brian liesbulging with more and more stuff.  It’s more than enough.  In fact, it’s plainly too much.

The magpie, though, simply cannot resist adding to his stores until, inevitably, he adds one trinket too many and c-c-c-rash!  Everything comes tumbling down; a raucous heap of baubles and foofrah lies on the ground with the magpie ignominiously at the bottom.  His friends, the mice, now come to the rescue, patiently hauling away and distributing the wealth until just two tiny items are left.  And…it’s enough.

This is a nearly-wordless book.  Just a morsel of words are used to label each page, each step, of this greedy magpie’s doomed accumulation.  It works brilliantly, minimal words underlining the call to self-control, quietly building the tension, drawing our attention to  lack, excess, and finally sensibility.  I resonate deeply with the call to simplicity and contentment of this wise story.  Brian Lies’ striking illustrations in acrylic and colored pencil on handmade paper move from a lone magpie in a large, blank space, to a plethora of black-and-white wings hurrying nest-ward, beaks crammed with all manner of ridiculous objects, and to nests piled higgledy-piggledy with an astonishing assortment of stuff.  Great details invite a slow turning of the pages, allowing the insights of this brilliant book to seep in.

my heart will not sit down cover imageMy Heart Will Not Sit Down, by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Ann Tanksley

In 1931, in the midst of the Great Depression, when desperate men strove to provide for their families by selling apples on the streets, a gift arrived from the country of Cameroon.  It was a gift of money, given to help feed the hungry in New York City.  The amount?  $3.77.

As in the Biblical story of the widow and her mite, this gift, though not large, represented an uncommonly generous spirit in the hearts of the Cameroonian people.  This warm book tells the fictional story of a girl named Kedi, depicted as the one to rally her fellow villagers for this cause.

Kedi loves her teacher, a friendly American man, so she is deeply troubled when one day he tells the students about the calamity in America.  Kedi my heart will not sit down illustration ann tanksley 001knows hunger intimately, and empathizes with the starving children in New York.  She asks her mama, her uncle, the old men and young women of her village, to give money to these far-off strangers, but truly,  nobody has any money to give.  One by one, though, out of extreme poverty, the villagers each find a way to give a coin or two, which Kedi collects and brings to her teacher to send across the sea to the children in America.  Only then will her heart sit down in peace.

This rich story is beautifully told, filled with details that plant it firmly in African soil — expressions, customs, foods, and tasks authentic to Cameroon, including the eloquent phrase “My heart will not sit down.”  Ann Tanksley’s bold illustrations in flaming orange,  tropical green, magenta, and biscuit brown, flood the pages with equatorial heat and vivid life.  A lengthy Author’s Note describes life in New York and Cameroon, and lists several other beautiful, true examples of generosity pouring forth from those poor in  material possessions, yet rich in kindness.  It ‘s a sweet summons to each of us to sacrifice for the well-being of others.

a good night walk cover imageA Good Night Walk, written and illustrated by Elisha Cooper

It’s nearly bedtime, but there’s still a few minutes left to enjoy an incredibly sweet routine — an evening stroll through the neighborhood.

As mother and child meander down the street, the common, ordinary, goings-on which are mostly overlooked in the daily rushing about, are enjoyed — the puttering of a neighbor in her garden,  swaying branches in the evening breeze, squirrels cavorting, delicious smells wafting from kitchens, the homely drone of a lawnmower, the quieting of birds, and a rising moon.

Simple, basic pieces of life, that finally have a chance to seep through the a good night walk illustration elisha cooperpores, due to a walking pace.  A breath of air, an acquaintance with the neighborhood, a quiet togetherness, the calming reassurance that these lovely mundane bits will be there, just the same, tomorrow.  Then, it’s time for bed.

Elisha Cooper has beautifully captured the pleasure of a walk in this brilliant little book.  His limited, quiet phrases, the particulars he has chosen to attend to, the gentle, walking pace of the storyline — create a text that is mesmerizing.  He pairs this with his superb watercolors — jeepers, I love his work! — in which we seem to walk down the street, passing houses and front porches, neighbors and spreading oak trees.  We catch glimpses into windows and doorways to see what folks are up to, and we watch the sky gradually, darken, the moon brighten, the neighborhood retire.   I deeply appreciate this book.

I’ve loved walking since I was a young child, taking evening strolls around the tiny northern Minnesota mining town where I’d spend a week each summer with my grandmother.  Slowing our pace to a walk is an excellent way to spend time together, noticing,  appreciating, pondering, releasing rush and embracing peace.

the reader cover imageThe Reader, by Amy Hest, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

I’ve reviewed this fabulous title before, but I just could not encourage five fresh paths for a new year without one of them being:  Read!  Read aloud to your kids, especially.  Here’s a reader who understands just what a magical bond is forged when we read together.

“The reader” is a little, stouthearted boy, armed with a “sturdy suitcase” an old-fashioned red sled, and accompanied by a friskity, frolicsome, puppy. These two are on some kind of trek. What can it be? Where are they headed so determinedly? While the puppy bounds joyously, “the reader” trudges through snow, plods ever onward, pulling that heavy sled, up, up, up to the top of the hill, while snow swirls and cold winds blow. Uff da. Can you feel how ambitious this is?!

Finally, they arrive. Hurrah! All alone, with snow curtaining off the rest of the world, they enjoy some well-deserved goodies — cocoa and toast. Mmmm! It’s so quiet; a blanket of snow hushes all the world. Then…snap! click! go the hinges on the important brown suitcase and out comes…a book. It’s the culmination of the whole trip. Amid the dreamy snowfall, on the top of the world, the boy settles in and reads a story to his dog. Magical!

Amy Hest captures the proud sweetness of being an independent reader in her understated, yet strong, joyful story.  The cherry on top, though, is the fact that this Reader doubles his pleasure by reading with one he loves.   Reading is not just a solo activity.  The warmth that comes from sharing a story is hard to beat.


Lauren Castillo has fabulously illustrated it, of course.  Her solid, rosy-cheeked, plucky boy and his energetic pup win our hearts from page one, while the snowy landscape,  the jolly red accents of boots and buttons and sled against the white-and-gray icy chill set a perfect stage for this small drama.  I adore the utterly natural postures and footprints of this capable duo.  Pour up some hot chocolate, build a blanket fort, squinch inside, and make your own bit of magic by Reading this book — together!

Here are Amazon links for these exceptional stories:
hello! hello!
My Heart Will Not Sit Down
A Good Night Walk
The Reader