grab your magic carpet!…a list of five flights of fancy

journey cover image aaron beckerJourney, a wordless book by Aaron Becker

This exquisite story-without-words is a feast for the eyes and the imagination.

To begin with, we meet one lonely girl. Her wishes to play with her family are unfulfilled, as each person is absorbed in one form of electronics or another. Even the cat abandons her.

Alone in her room, she spies a lipstick-red crayon and uses it, à la Harold and the Purple Crayon, to draw a red door on the wall…a magic door that opens into a journey illustration aaron beckerglorious, enchanted wood. An emerald light hushes this world. Strings of fairy lights and elegant, Chinese lanterns hang from the boughs of the majestic trees. A quiet stream winds into the distance, and following that stream, the little girl comes to a tiny dock.

Using her red crayon, the little girl crafts a keen boat and off she goes on her spectacular journey. Golden domed citidels and sinister flying contraptions, daring rescues and incense-laden desert breezes, a flying carpet and a lavender bird, star-strewn skies and one more magical door…in the end, where will it all lead?

Wondrously imaginative, this book’s outstanding illustrations captivate us and pull us into another world. Each setting is fabulously rendered in gorgeous watercolors that wash the scenes in atmosphere. Read it through, then turn to the beginning and read it again, noticing the clever details and connections you missed the first time. 

New in 2013,  I love this one and hope to see it on some awards lists.

how to bicycle to the moon cover imageHow to Bicycle to the Moon to Plant Sunflowers: A Simple but Brilliant Plan in 24 Easy Steps, written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein

You might not immediately see a compelling reason to plant sunflowers on the moon.

But every time this boy looks at a full moon, it appears sad to him, and lonely…so, why not zip up there and plant some cheery sunflowers? He’s got the plan all worked out, so although he is too busy to carry it out, he’s written it down for us to to bicycle to the moon illustration mordicai gerstein

There are 24 steps, involving a bicycle (of course), a great deal of inner tubes, a couple of trees, a mongo rubber band, a tractor, flagpole, anchor, garden hose, spool (giant size) …and a number of other items, including a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s all laid out, and the directions are quite clear, including a  bit on how to convince your mom to let you go, so there should be no problem whatsoever.

When you have accomplished your mission, you will probably have some sort of hero party reception, plus…you get to see those perky sunflowers sprouting away up there, making the moon oh, so happy. What are you waiting for?!

This is an ingenuous, brisk, upbeat story that will make you smile. Gerstein’s sunny, optimistic illustrations are set into numbered boxes of various sizes, one for each step, that detail exactly how we should go about this. Speech bubbles add to the delight of the story as various on-lookers kibbitz with our engineer. Super choice for ages 6 or 7 and up.

the wedding procession of the rag doll and the broom handle cover imageThe Wedding Procession of the Rag Doll and the Broom Handle and Who Was in It, by Carl Sandburg, pictures by Harriet Pincus

When a careless child causes Rag Doll’s little glass eyes to fall off, it is the kindly Broom Handle who fixes things, replacing them with some lovely, black, California prunes. So of course, that is who she chooses to marry.

And their wedding procession! You have never seen the likes of it! It is quite a lengthy procession, proceeding down sidewalks, across fields, past merry-go-rounds and ponds and railroad tracks. The many batches of participants need the room, I guess. Who are these marchers, you ask?

Well, there are the Spoon Lickers, who have great spoonfuls of butterscotch or gravythe wedding procession of the rag doll and the broom handle illustration harriet pincus or marshmallow fudge to lick as they parade along. Also the Tin Pan Bangers, the Chocolate Chins, the Dirty Bibs, the Clean Ears, the Easy Ticklers, the Musical Soup Eaters, the Chubby Chubs, and last of all, the Sleepyheads! Quite a grand procession, don’t you think?

Carl Sandburg wrote The Rootabaga Stories in 1922, a very quirky, whimisical collection of inventions. This is one of them. It is plum full of eccentric, charming, surprising characters who parade past us, page by page. The descriptions of what they are up to as they process are peculiar and delightful, and include some delicious mouthfuls of Sandburg’s marvelous invented words.  Harriet Pincus illustrated this in 1967, and as she tapped into the off-beat nature of the story, together with the new groove of the Sixties, she cooked up some wildly unique artwork.  A bit of Maurice Sendak’s spirit slips in here to my eye.

Curious as the tale and illustrations are, my children absolutely loved this story. We read it many, many times. Blast into another world altogether with this one and see what you think.

mystery bottle cover image kristen balouch 001Mystery Bottle, written and illustrated by Kristen Balouch

A pacakage in the mail! So exciting! This one is shaped like an overgrown baked potato. It’s wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string. The return address is written in beautiful, mysterious Arabic script. It has come from Tehran, Iran all the way to this boy in Brooklyn. What could it be?

Aha…it’s a curious bottle, and stuffed in the neck of it, just peeking out, is a map.

But that’s not all that’s hiding in that bottle. A magical wind awaits this boy, that whirls and swoops and carries him right across the ocean to the very one who sent that package — his dear grandfather, Baba Bozorg. How nice to take tea together and chat. Whenever these two want to meet, Baba explains, a bit of love and magic mystery bottle illustration kristen balouch 001can whisk them together.

For those who are separated by oceans or other obstacles from ones they love, having a mystical breeze swoosh them together for a quick spot of tea and a hug would be a marvelous gift. From her author blurb, it is apparent that Kristin Balouch knows first-hand this yearning.

Her imaginative illustrations nip any overly-sentimental, melancholy feel to this story right in the bud. A palette of spring greens and ocean blues, warm pumpkin and desert sand with splashes of bubble gum pink, is full of life and happiness. Curving, swooping layouts ferry us along on this journey with wonderful motion. The backgrounds for all these pictures are all kinds of maps, giving the whole book an exotic sensation, and many little signposts point out everything from a cool tattoo on the postman’s leg to the Persian instruments in his Baba’s house.

A warm and thoughtful story for ages 5 and up.

rosie's magic horse cover image quentin blakeRosie’s Magic Horse, by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Quentin Blake

Rosie is a collector. One of her collections is a cigar box full of popsicle sticks — ice-pops, apparently, if you live in England.

These ice-pop sticks mostly feel like mundane, drab things apart from their frozen treats, but one stick rises up and spurs the others to dream new dreams!  Their collective dream is to become a horse, and chachacha, it works!

And just in time! For Rosie’s parents are in a financial pickle, and Rosie is in search of treasure to bolster the family money jar. Stickerino, the horse, takes Rosie on a wild ride through the air until they spy some pirates and a pile of treasure chests. Stickerino being a magical horse with ice-pops in rosie's magic horse illustration quentin blakehis genetic code, he can handily transform himself into an ice cream cart, plus a swarm of nimble ice pop sticks, all of which helps Rosie collect the treasure unharmed. Hurrah!

Such a fantastical, fairy-tale, wishes-come-true story here.  Just the sort of utterly impossible invention a child would spin off when confronted with an annoying obstacle to his happiness. “Don’t you just wish…” we say, and marvelously, for Rosie it all comes true.

Quentin Blake’s trademark mussy, energetic, lighthearted illustrations are, as always, perfect. The drab colors of reality communicate the slogginess of money troubles in a few scenes, while juicy, tutti-fruity, ice-pop colors add tremendous zing to this fantasy everywhere else, including the lusciously-melty colors on the endpapers.

A raspeberry-ice-nice read for ages 4 and up.