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Posts Tagged ‘imagination’

Rain has perhaps a tarnished reputation of late with the devastating hurricanes and floods across the globe.  Images of rainfall have been connected with misery. 

Today’s rain-soaked books are saturated with jubilation, imagination, humor, tenderness.  I think they’ll put a smile on your face and buoy your spirits. Take a look:

This Beautiful Day, written by Richard Jackson, illustrated by Suzy Lee
published in 2017 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster

Simplicity, imagination, liveliness, contentment, love.

Richard Jackson and Suzy Lee tap into the truly good things in life in this joyful shimmy through a day with three siblings, their mom, and a sprinkling of neighborhood friends.

It’s full on rain to begin with, but a swizzle of music, the sheer happiness within their hearts, and the downright juiciness of life means a little weather can’t keep these guys down. Out they go to revel in rain. Their exuberance is catchy. Friends come a-running. Soon enough, clouds drift away and a radiant sun splashes their world with warmth and light. It’s a beautiful day, all right.

Jackson’s text pops with joy and movement. Lee’s playful line dances, swishes, stomps, leaps merrily. Her brilliant use of color starts us out with calm, graphite sketchiness, adds spritzes of energizing raindrop-blue, diffuses warm summer-green as the day and action heat up. I adore this book. The outdoor play. The magic of imagination. The relaxed affection.  The sheer gleefulness. Picture book perfection for ages 2 and up. Don’t miss it!

Rain, written and illustrated by Sam Usher
first U.S. edition 2017 by Templar Books, Candlewick Press

Previously Sam Usher has introduced us to this boy and his granddad in a world blanketed by a mighty snowfall. (Find that review here.)

Today, it’s raining, and once again, this little fellow cannot wait to get out and play in it. To “catch raindrops, splash in puddles, and look at everything upside down.” And once again, Granddad says they’ve got to wait.

Waiting is hard business, and when an epic rainstorm is flooding the world outside your window, forming puddles big as seas, creating watery worlds enchanted as Venice — well, it is very trying. But he is one patient kid.

When Granddad is finally ready to venture out, it’s clear the waiting did not wither our boy’s imagination one bit! What an adventure the two of them have on a simple walk to the postbox! Another blast of imagination and intergenerational companionship from Sam Usher. Vibrant illustrations to linger over and even textured raindrops on the book cover! Ages 2 and up.

The Cow Said Meow, written and illustrated by John Himmelman
published in 2016 by Henry Holt and Company

One shrewd cow observes that with merely a “meow” a marmalade cat is welcomed out of the rain and into the snug dry house. Hmm.

Standing there in the driving rain, clearly not amused, the cow gives it a try. “Meow,” says the cow. Bingo! The old lady, whose thick glasses clearly are not helping her see straight, opens the door and ushers Ms. Cow inside, as quick as that.

Next, an alert pig gives it a try. Then an eagle-eyed chicken. How many animals does it take before the cat decides things are out of control? Zany fun for ages 2 and up.

A Rainbow of My Own, written and illustrated by Don Freeman
first published in 1966; published by Puffin Books in 1978

Don Freeman’s work has nurtured generations of young children. This one is a gem. I love the vintage feel of not only the images, but also its quiet tone and the independence of the child exploring completely on his own with freedom. There is not a single other human in the story. No supervision and no need for companions, even. This is not something we see very often in more contemporary children’s stories and I miss it.

One little boy is off in pursuit of the rainbow he sees, intent on capturing it. It proves elusive, of course, but a surprise awaits him back in his own room, when sunlight beams through a fishbowl and dazzles him with a rainbow of his own.

Authentic, childlike perspectives, straightforward text, splashes of imagination, and Freeman’s iconic illustrations all make this a winner for ages 2 and older.

Home in the Rain, written and illustrated by Bob Graham
published in Australia 2016; first U.S. edition 2017 by Candlewick Press

Quintessential Bob Graham here, with this unusual story witnessing a small miracle on a sodden day. As with any Graham story, it is nearly impossible to encapsulate in a short review. His ability to capture the glory of the ordinary, the rich kernels of human experience,  consistently leaves me speechless. 

Francie and her mom are driving home from Grandma’s house, their small red car dwarfed by semis, smothered by dark rain clouds, battered by rain.

All around them, unbeknownst to them, living their quiet/loud/still/busy lives, others are experiencing the rain as well, but Francie and Mom are cocooned in their own world in the cab of the car. Francie’s baby sister is there, too, tucked safe inside of mama, waiting to be born. As they chat and munch a packed lunch, Francie wonders what the baby’s name might be. When will she have a name? she asks. Might it be Alice? Or Isabel?

The juxtaposition of a stormy rainswept countryside, the busy push and go surrounding them on the highways and at the gas station, with the private, childlike wonderings and maternal introspection; the flicker of inspiration in this pregnant woman’s heart — it’s so breathtaking and real and ordinary and tender and lovely. If you blink, you’ll miss it. Just like in real life. Another gem to enjoy with ages 5 and older that will speak at least as deeply to adults who read it.

What are your favorite books about rain?

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I love imported picture books. I’m drawn to them like a moth to a lantern.

from The Blue Hour by Isabelle Simler

Stylistically they are often marked by a je ne sais quoi air, something artistically, something conceptually, that is clearly not American…but what is it? Like that elusive spice I can taste but not name, that quality of sound I can’t articulate that distinguishes one voice from another.

from The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy by Beatrice Alemagna

Sometimes I find picture book imports have a tone or idea that I’m unsure will resonate well with most American children. A vague resolution or melancholy quality that puts them just beyond the radar. Often, in these cases, the artwork is achingly gorgeous, the text subtle and thought-provoking. I wish I’d saved up those titles for a post full of picture books for adults because many of you would find them deeply satisfying. Alas, I plopped them back in the library return for you to find yourselves.

from Why Am I Here; illustration by Akin Duzakin

Today, though, I’ve got some lovely new imports to share with you. They may not work for kids who need superhero action and belly laughs. For more patient, curious listeners, check out these gems.

My Dog Mouse, written and illustrated by Eva Lindström
originally published in Sweden; English language edition published in 2017 by Gecko Press

This dear girl loves a dog named Mouse. Despite his old, slowpokey, waddlesome ways, she adores him. Loves taking him to the park for a picnic and a good sniff around. Loves tucking a couple of meatballs in her pocket for a mid-stroll treat.

What we readers don’t discover until the end of this gentle, ambling narrative, is that Mouse doesn’t belong to her. He’s the dog next door. “I wish Mouse were mine,” she tells us in the end. The last, wordless image makes me believe Mouse feels the same way about her.

Bittersweet and tender, a vulnerable peek inside a small person’s mind and heart. Ages 3 and up.

A Walk in the Forest, written and illustrated by Maria Dek
originally published in France; English edition published in 2017 by Princeton Architectural Press

This one hits all the right Orange Marmalade buttons with its lauding of free, inquisitive time spent out of doors, the quiet, unrushed elegance of the text, and the sumptuous color and line of the illustrations.

Maria Dek exactly captures the wonders of a forest ramble.

Magnificent and alluring for ages 2 to adult.

Professional Crocodile, a wordless book by Giovanna Zoboli and Mariachiara di Giorgio
originally published in Italy; first U.S. edition published by Chronicle Books in 2017

Gorgeous illustrations tell this imaginative story in panels and full-page spreads that’ll knock your socks off.

Enter a curious world populated by people and animals going about their daily affairs with nonchalance. Cheetahs ride the subway right along with every Tom, Dick, and Harry. No big deal.

One crocodile wakes to his alarm and begins the day. Teeth brushing. Tie choosing. Long commuting. We follow his every move. Where is he going? What is his profession? You will be most surprised, and along the way mesmerized by the brimful, colorful city he calls home. Fabulous fantasy for ages 3 and up.

The 5 Misfits, written and illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna
published originally in Italy; first U.S. edition published in 2017 by Frances Lincoln Books

Every time a new Beatrice Alemagna title becomes available to us in the States, I get a little shiver of pleasure. Her unique artistry and unusual storylines always make me wonder what’s about to unfold.

This time, it’s a tale of five frankly-weird misfits. One fellow has four gaping holes aerating his entire midsection. One is folded in half. One, resembling an overripe bean pod, dozes off mainly. Another goes about upside down. And the last, a guy big as a Macy’s parade balloon, purple-black like a licorice jelly bean — well, he is so odd he’s “a catastrophe.”

And yet, they all manage to live together, with a splash of good humor to boot. Until Mr. Perfect in all his pompous glory and flowing magenta locks comes to tell them what’s what, take them down a notch.

a page from the French edition

The misfits’ response to his brazen criticism will surprise you and very much cheer you. A marvelous paeon to imperfection and the grace to accept one another’s flaws. Illustrated in iconic Alemagna style. Adults will love it; try it with kids ages 5 and up and see where the conversation goes.

Mr. Benjamin’s Suitcase of Secrets, written and illustrated by Pei-Yu Chang
originally published in Switzerland; English edition published in 2017 by NorthSouth Books

Here we have a fictionalized account of Walter Benjamin, who attempted to flee Europe for the United States during WWII with one mysterious suitcase.

Benjamin was a philosopher, threatened by the Nazis in occupied France. Mrs. Fittko, a member of the resistance, offers to take him along with a small group she’s guiding out of France into Spain. A perilous trip. Nothing extraneous can be brought. But here comes Walter with his suitcase.

What on earth can be inside of it?

This account, like Walter Benjamin’s life, ends mysteriously. No one knows for certain what happened to Walter or what was in his suitcase. But you will be treated to a lot of conjecture about its contents, and you will indubitably have your own wild guesses! Brilliant artwork and restrained text give this remarkable story just the right tone. An afterword tells us more about the impressive work of Mrs. Fittko. Ages 4 and up.

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Still a few weeks of summer left. These books are full of warmth and joy. A perfect fit.

Dog on a Frog?, written by Kes & Claire Gray, illustrated by Jim Field
published in 2017 by Scholastic Press

Cats on mats and pigs in wigs are standard fare for kids’ books.

In this funny romp of a story, the dog prefers to sit on …a frog. Which is none too pleasant for the frog. This leads the frog to create a whole new list of Rules Pertaining to Where Animals Sit. Dogs, according to this very bossy frog, now sit on logs. Not frogs. So.

And what about cats? And bears? Or gnus? And even canaries? Yup, this frog has got everyone covered. Great fun and cram-jam with bouncy rhyming pairs that will have kids eagerly pitching in to the storytelling. And wait’ll you see where the frog ends up sitting. He is one smart cookie. A barrel of fun in bombastic colors for ages 2 and up.

Wet, written and illustrated by Carey Sookocheff
published in 2017 by Godwin Books

I love this book with its gentle exploration of a truly child-friendly subject — wetness. Its ambling pace, conversational tone, child’s perspective, quiet observations, are early childhood gold in my estimation.

There’s the wetness of a pool. The possibility of cannonballing in to get wet all at once, or of dipping in just a toe. There’s the wetness of paint on a park bench, and the wetness of tears damping a dad’s shoulder. Tender and joyful, accompanied by warm, minimalist drawings.

 Brilliant for ages 2 and up.

Miss Jaster’s Garden, written and illustrated by N.M. Bodecker
originally published in 1972; reissued by Purple House Press

Dear Miss Jaster lives in a grand old house by the sea. In the gardens surrounding her home lives a small hedgehog named, obviously, Hedgie. The two are cordial friends, Miss Jaster setting out bowls of milk in the evening for Hedgie, Hedgie listening dreamily to Miss Jaster’s piano playing.

One day Miss Jaster, planting her flower gardens, accidentally showers Hedgie with seeds of Sweet William and Baby’s Breath. Waters him, too. (She is a bit near-sighted after all.)  When Hedgie blooms, then breaks into rapturous cavorting about the lanes, Miss Jaster is convinced that a thief is absconding with bits of her garden! 

In 1972, this was a New York Times Best Illustrated Book. It was the first story both written and illustrated by N.M. Bodecker, a Danish-American illustrator whose work graces many children’s books including the classic Edward Eager fantasy novels. Purple House Press is dedicated to bringing rare gems back into print, and this is indeed a gem. Ages 4 and up.

Little Sister Rabbit Gets Lost, written by Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Eva Eriksson
first published in Sweden in 1987; English edition 2017 by Floris Books

The classic Swedish stories of Little Sister Rabbit are available in English now, and this one is a sweet starting spot.

Small and enthusiastic, Little Sister Rabbit is off today for an adventure All By Herself. It starts off swimmingly with puddle stomping and pebble plopping. Her heart swells with independence. But happiness ebbs swiftly when she discovers that she’s lost.

Peeping into one burrow after the next, Little Sister Rabbit wanders her way into many places a young rabbit does not belong. The night feels like a mighty lonely place until rescue arrives. Who could it be? Pure charm for ages 2 and up.

Chirri & Chirra In the Tall Grass, written and illustrated by Kaya Doi, translated from the Japanese by Yuki Kaneko
published in 2017 by Enchanted Lion Books

Chirri and Chirra are tiny sisters, so tiny the white clover in the lawn are towering trees and bumblebees make cunning companions.

Join them on a bicycle-and-tea adventure through the lawn-forest as they dine on honey sponge cake balls courtesy of the local hive, sip freshly squeezed juice flavored with yumberry fruit by the flower chafers, and in general have a fantasy-filled afternoon.

Miniature worlds delight us all, and this one is so beautifully drawn and realized by Kaya Doi. Pure charm for ages 3 and up. There are more Chirri & Chirra books to investigate if you love this one.

Garcia & Colette Go Exploring, written by Hannah Barnaby, illustrated by Andrew Joyner
published in 2017 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Garcia and Colette are great friends but disagree on what the most enticing place is to explore — outer space or ocean depths. So they agree to disagree, build a rocket ship and submarine, and go their separate ways.

And they each discover realio coolio stuff about space and the ocean. But they also discover that venturing off is not quite as fun with no compatriot by your side. After a splashy reunion, they figure out how to have their cake and eat it, too! Singing language, a wonderfully-paced story, and Andrew Joyner’s brilliant illustrations combine to make this a thoroughly enjoyable story. Perfect for ages 4 and up.

King of the Sky, written by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press

Finally, this gorgeous, poignant story, a perfect example of why picture books are not only for young children. This beauty strikes a chord in the hearts of middle grade through adult readers perhaps even more so than the very young.

Our narrator is a school-age boy, a war refugee who has fled his beloved home in Italy, land of “sunlight, fountains, and the vanilla smell of ice cream in my nonna’s gelateria.” He now resides, apparently, in Wales. In this new place, his spirit is sodden as the ceaseless rain, lonely as the smoke from a hundred grey chimneys , hopeless as the smell of coal dust and mutton soup. Nothing about it feels like home.

A vital ray of light emanates from Mr. Evans, a kindhearted, retired coal miner who trains racing pigeons.  Their growing friendship, the thrill of these home-coming birds, the distances spanned, and one champion racer, all touch the boy’s life with the modicum of belonging and miracle needed to heal his heart and make this contrary place — home.

Laura Carlin’s stunning illustrations are complex, emotive, deftly conveying both dreariness and camaraderie, doubt and joy. She is brilliant. Check this out for older-than-typical picture book readers, ages 7 and up.

 

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What is like a summer evening?

The luxurious length of daylight, the satisfying, sun-kissed fatigue after a day of bumbling about out-of-doors, barefoot-and-happy kids wafting an aroma of chlorine, sunscreen, and popsicles. All of it breathes magic into bedtime story hour. These gems will do just fine.

Me, All Alone, at the End of the World, written by M.T. Anderson, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
originally published in 2005; reissued in 2017 by Candlewick Press

One of my small peeves is the preponderance of plots in kids’ books that go something like this: child is quiet and likes solitude; child meets loud, friendly sort; child realizes that life is ever so much sweeter when constantly surrounded by friends. Heaven knows friends are treasures and no man is an island, yada yada yada. But there seems to be such an undervaluing of a healthy contentment in keeping one’s own company.

Enter this gem, a combination of fantasy and social commentary that applauds serenity, untrammeled quietude, and the simple life, and does it with the magic and spectacle of Willy Wonka. Have you met any book like this before? I think not.

In the beginning, this entirely-stable, self-reliant young boy lives by himself at the end of the world. He spends his days inventively, messing about with fossils and treasure maps, drinking in the sound of the wind and the great “chuckling beasts” who growl outside his snug shack with “voices like plumbing.” Life is grand. Until one odd, bespectacled fellow comes along — Mr. Shimmer by name — promising to improve the place, drag in cartloads of friends, produce a land of “fun all the time.”

What does life look like when solemn silences are banned in favor of “nothing but laughter”?

This is a vibrant, meaningful story, illustrated with fantastical colors and perceptiveness by Kevin Hawkes. I’m confident that any true introvert will love it, as well as all who appreciate natural spaces and a dash of loneliness. Great read for ages 4 and up.

Blue Sky White Stars, written by Sarvinder Naberhaus, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
published in 2017 by Dial Books for Young Readers

I wish I could have reviewed this in time for your Fourth of July celebrations, but this is a spectacular book for any time. It’s a phenomenal meditation on the meaning of our flag and the meaning of America.

Phrases of Americana — Stand Proud, Old Glory, All American — are represented by two different images on mirroring pages reflecting two ways of thinking about these stirring words.

Nelson’s paintings are stunning, as always, and his treatment of these thought-provoking ideas immerses us in the beauty of the land, the strength of our diversity, and the honorable elements of our history. What rockets the significance of the book even higher is the fact that author Sarvinder Naberhaus is an immigrant from Punjab to Iowa and artist Kadir Nelson is an African-American. I am astonished by the work they have created together. Notes from both with their thoughts on this book are included.

Whether you are a fervent patriot, or perhaps an American Vet, or you feel a bit jaded and weary just now, I am telling you — this book will make your heart glow with a bit more hope and a bit more brotherhood. Ages 3 through adult.

The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry, written by Danna Smith, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press

Enter the world of castles and keeps, where one young girl accompanies her father as he trains his goshawk.

Learn about preferred perches, feathered hawks’ hoods, and the exhilarating dive of a hawk when it spots its prey. Discover the use of bells, gauntlets, lures, and the mews. And be swept into the middle ages via Bagram Ibatoulline’s evocative paintings. It’s a beautiful, fascinating trip into history.

The bulk of this story is told in brief, rhyming verses, easily accessible to children as young as 2 or 3. Short, more in-depth explanations are added to each page pitched for children ages 4 or 5 and up. And a lengthy Author’s Note goes into even more detail for middle-grade through adult readers. So you see, this book is smartly adapted to a wide age range.

Little Blue Chair, written by Cary Fagan, illustrated by Madeline Kloepper
published in 2017 by Tundra Books

I love this clever, unassuming story demonstrating the interconnectedness of our world and the serendipitous events that sometimes come about because of that.

It all starts with Boo and his favorite little blue chair. It’s his prize possession. Just right for sitting on while munching a peanut butter sandwich, parking in the garden for a flowery reading nook, hanging a blanket over for a secret cave. Just an all around great little chair.

When Boo outgrows it, the chair finds a new home with a sweet, grey-haired lady who uses it for a plant stand. When the plant outgrows that little blue chair, its off to yet another home. And another.

You can’t imagine the journeys of this small chair, the far-flung locations and different owners it encounters. Until it comes full circle, straight back to Boo. How does that happen? What’s the chair’s story? Read this soft-spoken account and prepare to be dazzled. Surprisingly comforting and heart-warming for ages 2 and up. Madeline Kloepper’s illustration work is the bees knees. Bit of a Carson Ellis vibe. I can’t wait to see more from her!

Midnight at the Zoo, written and illustrated by Faye Hanson
first US edition 2017 by Templar Publishing

Max and Mia are two irrepressibly curious children — and that is one great quality!

Today they’re on a class trip to the zoo. The busload of their squirrelly classmates descends in raucous abandon, careening down pathways, goggling for glimpses of lemurs and flamingos, meerkats and lions. But! Not a whisker do they see. I don’t wonder!

Max and Mia, meanwhile, take things at their own pace. Which is: slower, quieter, more observant, curiouser, if you will. Which means: they are inadvertently left behind for Quite the Night at the zoo!

Fantastical events galore are in store for these two marching-to-the-beat-of-their-own-drum kiddos. Readers will love spotting the shy animals hiding from the brouhaha, and adore the treats in store for Max and Mia. Pizzazz on tap, for ages 3 and up.

How Long is a Whale? written and illustrated by Alison Limentani
first published in North America in 2017 by Boxer Books

Following up on her smart book, How Much Does a Ladybug Weigh, here is veterinarian-turned-illustrator Alison Limentani’s next winner, all set for curious young minds!

This time we’re exploring the lengths of animals, using other animals as our measuring devices. Starting with 10 sea otters who all together are as long as 9 yellowfin tuna, we swim our way through captivating undersea worlds until it’s time to size up the biggest granddaddy of ’em all, the Blue Whale.

He needs a super-duper gate-fold page to convey his entire incredible size! It’s awfully exciting!

Bold, beautiful prints with just the facts, ma’am. That’s the recipe for a book that’ll rivet the attentions of kids as young as 2, pique their curiosities, and spark their imaginations. How many squirrels long is your dog? How many bananas long is your bed? Endless possibilities 🙂

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Welcome to a cherry-sweet helping of cheery stories.


Whether you need a story to match your sunny mood or one to relieve the gray, these’ll quench your thirst!

Raymond, by Yann and Gwendal Le Bec
first U.S. edition 2017 by Candlewick Press

Raymond is happy to be part of the family, enjoying lavish birthday parties, snug spots by the sofa, and copious scratching in just the right spot behind his ears, when it suddenly occurs to him that he has no seat at the table. Literally. Why am I eating out of a bowl on the floor ?

His mission to become as human as possible takes him everywhere from the movies to the corporate world, the rest of the canine population keeping right up with him. But exhausted by this frenetic pace, Raymond makes a huge, doggy discovery.

What is the good life anyway? Raymond is a brilliant, charismatic character. The artwork here is sophisticated and contemporary, with many hilarious visual puns to keep adult readers in good humor. Check it out for ages 4 and up.

A Perfect Day, written and illustrated by Lane Smith
published in 2017 by Roaring Brook Press

What makes a perfect summer’s day for you?

For cat, it’s that golden sun pouring warmth onto his back as he lounges amongst the daffodils.

For dog, it’s the sparkling cool water that his buddy Bert hoses into the wading pool, just for him.

Discover how one person’s perfect day just might clobber all the others in this playful, surprising tale. Jolly for ages 2 and up.

Gus’s Garage, written and illustrated by Leo Timmers
first published in New Zealand, 2016; first American edition 2017 by Gecko Press

Gus is a first class collector of the odd bits and bobs. His motor garage overflows with what appears to be useless junk!

Yet as one friend after another arrives with car troubles of all sorts and sizes, Gus’s salvage yard, fueled by his enormous cleverness, sends each one off with a curiously, marvelously improved vehicle!

Great fun, with Timmers’ gleaming artwork boinging off the pages. Watch the way that junk pile disappears little by little as the story progresses. Ages 2 and up.

The Frog in the Well, written by Alvin Tresselt, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin
originally published in 1958; republished by the New York Review Children’s Collection in 2017

Here’s a charming vintage classic by a talented duo. There was once a frog who lived in a well. He loved everything about his well and believed it to be the whole world! What a lot he was missing. The freshness of a daisy. The rustle of a spring breeze. The cool shadows of a forest.

When necessity forces this little fellow to clamber out of his well, he discovers what a wide and interesting world is indeed out there! Such wisdom he gains, as well as lots of new froggy friends. Great story with splendid illustrations by Duvoisin.  Share this with ages 3 and up.

Things to Do, written by Elaine Magliaro, illustrated by Catia Chien
published in 2016 by Chronicle Books

Lushly imaginative, this book sparks ideas and wonderings that are rich food for the mind.

What would you do, if you were the Dawn? “Shoo away night. Wash the eastern sky with light…Rouse resting roosters. Set songbirds singing.

And what if you were a honeybee? How about an eraser?! Each ordinary object has resplendent purpose in these lyrical, brief musings. They’re accompanied by warm, dreamy artwork — great collaboration going on here. This will surely prompt new ways of seeing, thinking, imagining in children, ages 2 and older.

How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea, written by Kate Hosford, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
published in 2017 by Carolrhoda Books

Tea, that elixir of comfort, that afternoon companion of sweets, that spicy morning aroma! Around the world there are such varieties of tea, such strong traditions for preparing and serving it!

This fantastical story finds the Queen in a dither. Her cuppa is just not making the grade. In fact, it tastes downright horrible. So off she sets in her hot-air balloon, traveling the world to discover the perfect cup of tea. Landing in Japan, India, and Turkey, the Queen is treated to a lovely tea at each stop.

What makes the perfect cup? Her warmhearted conclusion will make you smile. Charming illustrations and an author’s note telling more about tea round this one out. I wish they’d included more precise directions for each brew but you’ll have to experiment on your own. That sounds like the recipe for a lovely summer’s day! Ages 4 and up.

Norton and Alpha, written and illustrated by Kristyna Litten
published in 2017 by Sterling Children’s Books

Norton lives in a nearly-dystopian landscape, grey factories looming above a wasteland of industrial scrap. For all that, he’s quite a happy fellow because Norton is a collector and an inventor. All these odds and ends are useful for building doohickeys and thingamabobs of one sort and another. His latest invention is Alpha — an immensely satisfying robot companion.

One day Norton and Alpha find something highly unusual. What on earth is it? Try as they might, they cannot discover what particular use this thing has, until with the miracle of seeds and blooms, their world is transformed and they discover its purpose: Beauty. Share this unusual, surprising ode to beauty and growing things with children ages 3 and up.

A Song About Myself: A Poem by John Keats, illustrated by Chris Raschka
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press

At age 22, John Keats tramped off to the hills of Scotland for a good think. There he wrote a letter to his sister, Fanny, which included this homely, eccentric little poem.

Four verses describe a naughty little boy who scribbles poetry and runs away from home to Scotland and what he finds there. It’s a poem full of nonsense and merriment, nursery rhyme rhythms, delicious wordplay, and a pinch of audacity.

Chris Raschka’s wildly loose line, swashy colors, and preposterous figures bring this song to life in the best way. Like a tart strawberry mousse, a squirt of lime, a juicy smack of bubblegum — taste and enjoy with kids ages 3 and up. An illustrator’s note gives more background information on Keats.

Go Sleep in Your Own Bed!, written by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Lori Nichols
published in 2017 by Schwartz & Wade Books

It’s nighty-night time on the farm but when Pig waddley-jogs his way to the sty what does he discover?! The cow, sleeping in his bed. Harrumph! “Go sleep in your own bed!” grumps Pig.

So off cow tromps to her stall. But — you guessed it — someone else has curled up in cow’s hay. The hilarious sequence of unwelcome bed-stealers that unfolds here is absolute picture book perfection for children ages 18 months and up. Perfect page turns. Merrily inventive language. Humorous illustration work. And a repeating chorus of “Go sleep in your own bed!” perfect for joining in all together. This is one to read again and again and again…

The Three Little Pugs and the Big Bad Cat, written by Becky Davies, illustrated by Caroline Attia
published originally in Great Britain; published in the U.S. 2017 by Tiger Tales

Plum silly, that’s what you get here with these three ridiculous pugs dressed to kill and taking the parts of the famous pigs.

The two younger brothers are as lazy a lot as those other straw-and-stick builders, and the third one even cleverer, I dare say, than the original, with both a brick house and a wily escape plan.

Their nemesis, a mean and clever kitty who wants to snitch their food in the worst way, is quite a success at the huffing and puffing. But you’ll be shocked — shocked, I say! — by her true identity and comeuppance! Giggles galore here with utterly brilliant, preposterous illustration work that will rivet children to the pages. It starts and ends on the endpapers so don’t miss those! Ages 3 and up.

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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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Today I’ve got two books replete with the pleasures of the ordinary.

Both books draw children in by presenting them with an array of choices to make, always a favorite activity for my kids when they were young. Such interesting conversations open up this way.

One of the books I’m giving away — details at the end of the post.

today-cover-imageToday, written and illustrated by Julie Morstad
published in 2016 by Simply Read Books

I am head-over-heels in love with Canadian artist Julie Morstad’s illustration work and her lovely portrayal of uncluttered, soothingly-simple childhoods. I’ve featured a number of her books over the years on Orange Marmalade. You can find them via the Search box if you please, or visit her website here

This one meanders through one day in a style reminiscent of Gyo Fujikawa’s book Oh What a Busy Day — one of our all-time favorites.

today-interior-by-julie-morstad

Morstad’s pure, charming drawings fill the pages with clothes, hairstyles, breakfasts, outings, sweet treats, bits and bobs found in a child’s bedroom — and invite children to pick out what they like best. Where would you like to go today? And how will you get there? Which pajamas would you choose?

today-interior2-julie-morstad

Oh, the expansiveness that arises in a two-year-old’s heart when presented with such delectable choices! And of course, with Morstad, they are all imaginative, creative, full-of-life choices. 

I love this book. It’s one to enjoy again and again with children ages 2 and up.

what-will-danny-do-today-cover-imageWhat Will Danny Do Today? written by Pippa Goodhart, illustrated by Sam Usher
first American edition published in 2016 by Kane Miller

Coming to us from the UK, this book has a similar concept — a presentation of all kinds of choices Danny faces in his day. Clothes. Recess activities. Art projects. Bedtime stories. And for each, we are invited to help him choose.

what-will-danny-do-today-illustration-detail-by-sam-usher

The feel of this book is quite different however. Sam Usher has given it an immensely energetic vibe with his scribbly black line, crammed-in compositions, vibrant colors, and perspectives that plunge us right into the scenes. It’s perfect for busy bees!

what-will-danny-do-today-illustration-detail2-by-sam-usher

In addition, the book is printed on heavy-duty, glossy, card stock pages, making it much less fragile when loved by toddlers and preschoolers.

Great fun and another book that I’d guess would become a well-worn favorite for ages 18 months and up.

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And thanks to the generosity of the folks at Kane Miller — I have a copy to give away!

Enter by commenting below telling us what you would choose to do today if it was up to you! I’ll pick the winner out of a hat on Thursday, February 9.
U.S. shipping addresses only, please. Sorry!

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