All the books in today’s post have one thing in common: they make readers wonder.
Children love to discuss crazy scenarios, what-ifs, and imagine-thats. Their funny bones are tickled by nonsensicalness. They love to stump one another with riddles. Children also mull all manner of existential ideas. Posing deeply philosophical and spiritual questions is not just something adults do.
All of it is rich food for the mind. Open up the gate to wondering with these curious titles.
Imagine a City, written and illustrated by Elise Hurst
originally published in Australia; first American edition published in 2014 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers
Elise Hurst’s marvelously imaginative realm opens up the boundaries between the real and the magical, fuses them together so seamlessly that you might expect to see rabbits reading the daily news on your next subway trip or carp-zeppelins zumming through the sky over your city.
Imagine this sort of place! Imagine fantastical bridges and a Narnia-like jumble of human and animal citizens. Imagine “a world without edges” and gargoyles taking tea.
Many illustrators would choose to use waterfalls of color to bring such a place to life, but Hurst masterfully captures our hearts with her gorgeous pen-and-ink work. Somehow that makes this dreamland all the more real.
With so much to absorb on every page and so much fantasy to expand our thoughts, this is a gem for ages 3 and up.
If I Was a Banana, written by Alexandra Tylee, illustrated by Kieran Rynhart
first published in New Zealand by Gecko Press in 2016
“If I was a banana I would be that one, all yellow and fat and full of banana.”
What a wonderful thought to think! Of course that would be just the sort of banana to be. Who would want to be one of those brown, oozy, gloopy ones? Yecch. A plump, bright banana would be my choice, too.
Alexandra Tylee clambers right inside a small boy’s mind and considers all kinds of ordinary pieces in his world — a bird, a cloud, a ladybug — from a refreshingly childlike perspective. The honest, artless, vulnerable thoughts here are precious as gemstones and offered only when there is leisure and trust and space for such things.
Rynhart’s handsome illustration work is, again, muted, displaying a commendable respect for these intriguing ideas which might seem otherwise merely shallow and silly.
Quietly happy, I’d love to see this one slow folks down to a pondering pace. Share it with ages 4 and up.
The Liszts, written by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Júlia Sardà
published in 2016 by Tundra Books
I am realizing as I write this post how international this group of authors and illustrators is! No Americans thus far. Hmmm…does that mean anything about this subject matter? I wonder. Here we have a Canadian author and Spanish artist. Fantastic.
This book is pure delight, from the marvelously eccentric characters created by artist Júlia Sardà to the highly-original story of these list-making Liszts.
This offbeat bunch, who somehow resemble a mash-up of Gatsby-era Russian aristocrats and the Addams family, love to make lists. Great lists. Ever-so-long lists of admirers and ghastly illnesses, kinds of cheese and dreaded chores.
The Liszts become so encumbered by their lists, however, that they are unable to entertain any person or notion not on the list. Their lists have become a barricade, as it were, to anything new.
Edward, the middle child (hallelujah for a heroic middle child!) makes quite a different sort of list, however. His is a list of questions. And because his mind is awash with questions and possibilities, his world opens up in startling, wonderful ways.
I love the way this off-the-wall tale unbolts the doors on an exultant, curious, open mindset that welcomes a thirst for new ideas. And I love the handlettered text and phenomenal illustration work here. A clear winner for ages 5 and up.
Why am I Here?, written by Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen, illustrated by Akin Duzakin, translated from the Norwegian by Becky Crook
originally published in Norway in 2014; first US edition published in 2016 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
The most pensive book on today’s list is this highly-unusual title coming to us from Norway.
Crediting children with the deep, soul-searching thoughts which they do indeed muse about if given adequate time, space, and freedom from the noise and frenzy of our culture, Ørbeck-Nilssen poses the existential and important questions of a young child. Duzakin portrays the child in such a way that it could be a boy or girl — a nice touch.
He wonders why he is here, “in this exact place.” She asks what would it have been like if she had been born as someone else, in some far distant place?
What would it be like to be homeless? Or in a land where war rages? What would it be like to dwell in the desert or the Arctic? What would it be like if home was washed away in a flood? Why are we here, anyway? Why am I me?
These heartfelt concerns certainly land on young children, though they may not articulate them in just this way. What a beautiful tendency, to consider what life would look like in someone else’s situation. Duzakin’s dreamy, emotive illustration work conveys wonder and transports us masterfully into others’ scenarios. He imbues the pages with tenderness and respect. A lovely entry point into conversation and compassion for ages 6 and older.
The Curious Guide to Things That Aren’t, written by John D. Fixx and James F. Fixx, illustrated by Abby Carter
published in 2016 by Quarto Publishing
Finally, this quirky (American!) book features riddles — guessing games you might say — all leading to answers that are intangible. No chickens crossing roads. No orange-you-glad-I-didn’t-say-banana. These clues will lead you to answers such as darkness, breath, an itch, or yesterday.
There’s one for each letter of the alphabet. Traipse through the book reading the clues and guessing together — What is it? Flip the page to learn the answer and find out a little bit about air, reflections, fog, and other “things that aren’t” as well as the way we use these words figuratively.
Crammed with curiosity and the odd tidbits that tickle the mind, this book was begun by the author’s parents and lovingly brought to us with Abby Carter’s clever, friendly illustrations and appealing design. For little brainiacs, ages perhaps 5 and up.
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Posted in fiction, non-fiction, picture books, tagged animals, art, book reviews, children's literature, creative problem solving, creativity, habitats, ideas, imagination, multicultural books for kids, nature, picture books, wonder, world atlas, world travel on October 19, 2015|
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To wonder why…or how…or if. To stand in wonder; amazement. Making time for a sense of wonder is monumentally important for our kids, and ourselves. These books can help get you there:
The Wonder Garden, written by Jenny Broom, illustrated by Kristjana S. Williams
published in 2015 by Wide Eyed Editions
The stunning illustrations in this book beckon us to wander through the Wonder Garden…
Step through the elegant, golden tracery of a tantalizing gateway. Find yourself transported to “five extraordinary habitats where you will meet real-life animals in fantastical environments that are inspired by nature.”
The dense Amazon Rain Forest, brilliantly-colored Great Barrier Reef, prickly Chihuahuan Desert, shadowy Black Forest, and craggy Himalayan Mountains — these are our destinations. Introduce yourself to each new place with Broom’s brief, vivid description of the habitat and its conditions that uniquely challenge flora and fauna. Then zoom in to focus on a few inhabitants.
What can I say to adequately convey the striking beauty of these illustrations. Williams’ black line yields a printmaking quality, while the bisques, slates, and mosses connect us to the natural world. Then these screaming-flamingo, electric-cherry blasts — colors we’d expect in a bowlful of Skittles — zing in with an eye-popping flourish! Glory!
In the introduction to this book, Jenny Broom observes that, “For many centuries, we humans lived on Earth in coexistence with nature, but today, more and more of us live a life apart, with the Wonder Garden on our doorstep left forgotten.” What an apt depiction of the lack in so many of our lives and what a sweet allurement to wander and wonder more. Ages 4 and up, up, up.
The Wonder, written and illustrated by Faye Hanson
published in 2015 by Templar Books, an imprint of Candlewick Press
The little boy in this book has a head “filled with wonder.”
Lucky fellow. His rich thoughts fill his mind with questions all the day long, wondering where that bird is flying to, or what a zippy sign might taste like.
Not so lucky, though, because the adults in his world get irritated at his daydreaming ways. Scoldings and scowlings nip at him like bad-tempered dogs. Until he gets to art class. And there, the loveliest of words meet his ears: “Just use your imagination.”
What follows are pages of fantastical visions, unleashed in mind-blowing splendor, that have been racketing about in his head. Finally, his gift of imagination earns praise, and we get a little peek of what lies in his future.
A colorful, effervescent tribute to the creative spirit. Ages 4 and up.
Wild Ideas: Let Nature Inspire Your Thinking, by Elin Kelsey, with artwork by Soyeon Kim
published in 2015 by Owlkids Books
Have you ever watched a squirrel figure out how to nab the seeds in a bird feeder? We used to watch as they leapt to our roof, then hung upside down by their toenails to raid our suet feeder! When they stole the whole thing one time too many, we had to think of a new way to foil their tactics.
In this unusual book, Elin Kelsey invites us to take inspiration from the many ways animals work at solving problems. Do you know what animal folds leaves into little spoons to get a cool drink of water? Or what kind of insect is guided by the Milky Way?
What kinds of creative problem-solving might be sparked in us by observing the astonishing solutions worked out in the animal kingdom? Watching, wondering, and considering some more.
Colorful, imaginative diorama illustrations really add to the sense of new angles on thinking here. Ages 3 and up.
Atlas of Adventures, written by Rachel Williams, illustrated by Lucy Letherland
published in 2015 by Wide Eyed Editions
In this gorgeous atlas, the focus is not on cities or borders, isthmuses or coastlines. It’s all about adventure! Travel around the world and discover boatloads of activities and sights to relish in the wide world.
Two pages with attractive maps introduce each continent. Following that are pages focusing on one location — Finnish Lapland, a steamboat on the Mississippi River, a Senegalese football match, the Elephant Conservation Center in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It’s a tantalizing variety of thirty destinations.
Rachel Williams’ immensely-pleasing graphic design on these pages pulls us in like a candy store window, while dozens of captions fill in some details. This is the kind of book that makes the world of differences feel splendid, makes us want to cross borders and learn how others live, experience the world in new ways. As a bonus, there are pages of spot-art images readers can search for in the book.
An absolutely delightful volume to pore over together, bring along on a car ride, or gift to a child in the hospital. Ages 5 and up, up, up.
You Choose, words by Pippa Goodhart, pictures by Nick Sharratt
published in Great Britain in 2003; first hardcover American edition 2014 by Kane Miller/EDC
A giant gumball machine has nothing on the brilliant colors and possibilities crammed between these two covers!
Like a catalog of wishes, these pages invite kids to ponder and choose:
Where would you like to go?
Who would you like for family and friends?
What kind of home would you choose?
So much to wonder about. Talk about. Imagine.
Brilliant choice to take along on a babysitting gig, a long airplane ride, or just to pull out on a rainy day. The UK’s Nick Sharratt has lots of other peppy titles, some of which are trickling over to our side of the pond, so look for his bold blasts of fun for preschoolers. Ages 2 and up.
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I’ve written a new post on my Musings page about the power of books to spark wonder and wondering. Find it by clicking on the Musings tab and again on the article link.
Next week, I’ve got some great fodder for just this kind of marveling and curiosity:
**some intrepid arctic journeys,
**a fascinating piece of historical fiction about a cholera epidemic in London,
**and a gorgeous little book coming out of Canada packed with blueberries.
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