Charles William Eliot, the transformative president of Harvard from 1869-1909, called books “the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.”
All of us who love books and reading can get downright soppy when it comes time to praise them. It is hard to express how much books impact our lives. Rather than even try, today I’m simply celebrating books with these fabulous books about books.
How This Book Was Made, written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex published in 2016 by Disney Hyperion
The dynamic duo, Barnett and Rex, are back at it again, and who better to make book-making as engaging and appealing a subject as a golden Willy Wonka ticket. Their silly, self-deprecating, unconventional, winning way with both text and art works like a magnet, pulling us into this crazy, fascinating account.
It all starts with an idea. Simple enough. But gobs of hard work, wrangles with an editor, waiting, waiting, waiting, illustrating, printing, and shipping, come after that and the process is so full of surprising twists and turns, a circus world of interruptions, and any number of ludicrous bumps in the road, you would not believe it.
Unless Mac the author and Adam the artist spell it out for you, as they have done here. At the end of the day, though, all that work still does not make a book a book. What’s the last, key ingredient?
A thoroughly-inventive, humorous, masterful treatment of what goes into bringing you all the amazing stories you love. It’s a superb treat for ages 3 through Adult.
Brother Hugo and the Bear, written by Katy Beebe, illustrated by S.D. Schindler published in 2014 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
Of course, books have not always been made via high speed printing presses. Once upon a time medieval monks labored painstakingly to create them by hand, start to finish.
Katy Beebe relates this intriguing process while regaling us with a delightfully-improbable story about one monk, one manuscript, and one particularly-hungry bear. Effortlessly learn about the monasteries of 12th-century France, the preparation of parchment, pen, and ink, and methods of book-binding, while shuffling along with a hapless monk named Brother Hugo. Beebe’s use of the quaint manner of medieval speech is suffused with gentle humor, all to brilliant effect.
Meanwhile, Schindler’s artwork is exactly right. He provides a lovely, matching touch of whimsy and historical accuracy. Gorgeous, illuminated letters, bucolic French landscapes,and scenes of monastery life share the stage with a curiously book-hungry bear and poor, unlucky Hugo.
A historical note, glossary of terms, and author’s and illustrator’s notes complete the package, an utter pleasure for ages 5-6 and up.
The Not-So-Quiet Library, written and illustrated by Zachariah OHora published in 2016 by Dial Books for Young Readers
Zoom into contemporary, hipster-land now with this salsa-fied, rambunctious ode to storytime!
Every Saturday, Oskar, his pal Theodore (a bear), and Oskar’s dad go to the library.
Hilarious side note: this picture of Dad loading up his books to be returned is epic, is it not?
It is how I feel every time I lug my bags and bags of books to the library. Immediate connection with Oskar’s dad. I love having his company on this planet.
Okay. But this Saturday at the library, there’s a sudden booming. A crashing. Even a growl. Egads! There’s a monster in the library! A five-headed one at that! And he’s steaming mad! It seems he?…they?…think books are for eating and those cardboard covers and inky pages are really not doing it for them.
It’s a wild ride while Oskar and Theodore attempt to defuse the situation. Thankfully, Ms.-Watson-the-librarian steps in with just the right antidote — stories. OHora’s bold-as-brass illustrations grab us by the collar in this blast of a story that will tickle the fancies of any child (and parent) ages 2 and up. And P.S. Doughnuts and sprinkles are included. So get some to munch while you read this sizzler.
The Storybook Knight, written by Helen Docherty, illustrated by Thomas Docherty published in 2016 by Sourcebooks, Jabberwocky
This is a story about a gentle knight named Leo. Sort of the Ferdinand-the-bull of knights. He’s not into fighting and swordsmanship. Nope. He is a reader. Yay, Leo!
However, Leo’s folks do not see eye to eye with him on his preoccupation with books. There’s a dragon to be fought, and they want Leo to do it. They send him packing — sandwiches, shield, and all. He makes quite a Quixotic character on his slump-bellied horse, Old Ned.
Leo encounters several potentially-hazardous creatures en route to the dragon — a griffin, a troll — and unsurprisingly to us bibliophiles it’s his story lore that saves the day each time. When Leo meets the dragon, though — the entire, enormous, fiery, dagger-tailed, winged eminence — how can a book possibly come to the rescue?
So much book-love, such delight, warmth, personality, and peaceableness are crammed into this story, it simply radiates from the pages. You will love it. A sunny treat for anyone ages 3 and up.
A Child of Books, written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston published in 2016 by Candlewick Press
Finally, this philosophical, artistic wonder. Jeffers and Winston say that they “both wanted to create a tale that celebrates our own love of classic children’s literature with an added modern twist.”
Goal achieved. And then some.
It starts right off with the end-papers, a wallpaper of titles and authors from the canon of classic literature that has been enjoyed by children and adults for centuries. Immediately, we are overwhelmed with the vastness of this treasure.
Hand-lettered text meanders through the pages, poetically describing the voyages of imagination undertaken by someone lucky enough to be “a child of books.” Mountains of make-believe. Forests of fairy tales. These are the worlds we enter and live in and are changed by when we dwell in the world of literature.
Although the concept, the largeness of this idea, seems too big for words, too immense for a picture book, the brief phrases here are at once so concrete and so enchanting that even very young children will connect and feel deep inside that someone else understands just how magical an experience storytime is. That’s a sweet kinship.
Meanwhile, the illustrations are brilliant, incorporating segments of text from classic literature — at times whole paragraphs, at times a sea of letters or words. Inventive compositions, fantastical, friendly, ethereal, explosive expressions of the world of story, dominate the pages. It’s a joy for book-lovers, ages 3 to 100.