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Posts Tagged ‘imagination’

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.

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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?

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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.

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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!

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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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Use your gift-giving to tantalize kids with a variety of creative pursuits! This year I have extra items suited to kids ages 5-12, a time when electronic devices too often begin to usurp imaginative pursuits as fast as the sun melts butter.

from Art & Max by David Wiesner

from Art & Max by David Wiesner

Stem the tide! Keep them living juicy, creative lives!

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Play with Color!

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20845_1_1200pxHilarious! Watch your baby create some abstract art with this genius bib!
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Crayons rock…and now there are crayon rocks! Don’t they look lovely to work with?

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I love these people paints encouraging children to incorporate the whole, real, human race in their artwork.

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How magical to color your own set of beautiful, wearable, butterfly wings

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Rosie Flo coloring books charmingly combine drawing and coloring. This set features fantastical animal couture! Lots more themes to choose from.

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To the Ocean Deep coloring book by Sarah Yoon unfolds to create a marvelously l-o-n-g, deep, underwater journey. 

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For younger artists, unroll a jolly picture to color with these paper rolls from Mudpuppy. 

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Build cool stuff!

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This geyser car look like a blast — literally! Wild, fizzy thrills!

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These clever chain reaction contraptions designed by Klutz to build from Legos will provide hours of fun and surely inspire more engineering.

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My son built a rocket many years ago. So cool to build and so exciting to blast off!! Here’s a good beginner model.

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Get Cooking!

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Try this classic cookbook to introduce the joy of cooking to preschoolers. Nutritious. Vegetarian. Charming.

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How much fun would it be to whip up some pumpkin pasties or Mrs Weasley’s meat pies? Enjoy some literary feasting, Potter-style.

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Snazzy aprons make cooking even more fun! Handstand Kitchen has a great variety of kids aprons to choose from including this bake-me-a-cake print. Nice that they aren’t all frilly, for kids who aren’t at all frilly.

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Fine Threads!

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This small loom is perfect for getting started with a dynamic form of textile art. 

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Stitch up some charming woodland creatures with these beautiful kits.

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Wool felting is responsible for so much beauty and delight in this world. Get started with this darling hedgehog kit.

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Are you puzzled?

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Block puzzles are super for the youngest puzzlers. This Eric Carle set would make a great take-along activity.

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The lovely puzzles from eeboo make it exceedingly difficult to choose just one.

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A double treat from Alain Grée. Winter on the front, summer on the back. Sounds like a tricky challenge!

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Write on!

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My children’s homemade books are such treasures. Encourage your little ones to write and illustrate their own stories with this set of blank books.

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Comics are being used to tell all manner of stories. Get your kids started by crafting some superhero comics.

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Ideas galore to get young writer’s juices flowing. I would have loved this as a child…or maybe even now!

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I’m game!

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Have fun and enjoy the beauty of a worldful of faces.

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This animal-stacking game from Haba looks like great fun for a wide age-range.

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Keri Smith is the brilliant mind behind many books inspiring us to think outside the box. This one contains great out-and-about, investigate-and-create activities — enough to last a long time and inspire many more.

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Make Music

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This water whistle from Cameroon is intriguing, and even young children can enjoy making music.

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How about a cool thumb harp from Burkina Faso — make music and support local artisans.

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Punch your own musical notations into the paper, then crank it through the music box mechanism. Brilliant idea for youthful composers.

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Classic Play

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Isn’t this doll pram gorgeous? 

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We had this set of blocks for our kids. They come in very handy for constructing villages along a wooden train set!

Find gobs more ideas by using the Gifts tab at the top of the page to search past years’ lists.

I’ll be back next week with a literary-themed gift list for young book-fans.

Long live imagination!

A Big P.S. — I have restarted my Amazon Affiliate program.

This means that if you use an Amazon link anywhere on my blog to direct you to their website, anything you purchase from them at cash-tip-jarthat time will result in a wee kickback for me. It does not increase the cost of your item. Just deposits a few cents in my account. Think of it as a tip jar 🙂

I would love if you would shop at your local, independent book stores instead of Amazon! However, I know that many of you do not live near any such thing, and for many of you the convenience of Amazon is what you need at any given moment. If you’re shopping at Amazon anyway — please consider linking creative-brainthrough from my blog.

I worked extra hard to link directly to a variety of sites today in order to introduce you to folks who offer creative, non-electronic choices. I hope you enjoy perusing their collections. If it’s easier for you to purchase these products in one fell swoop from Amazon, many of them are available there as well.

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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.”

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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-cover-imageHow 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.

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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.

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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-cover-imageBrother 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.

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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.

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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-cover-imageThe 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?

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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.

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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-cover-imageThe Storybook Knight, written by Helen Docherty, illustrated by Thomas Docherty
published in 2016 by Sourcebooks, Jabberwocky

Oh, those Dochertys. They write great books about books! See my review of The Snatchabook if you haven’t already gobbled that one up.

Plus they live in Wales, which is cool.

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!

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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.

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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-cover-imageA 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.

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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.

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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.

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Today’s set of five all made my heart feel like someone just poured in a stream of golden honey. So full of love, belonging, participation, growth, cleverness. These gems are all perfect for preschoolers. Enjoy!

sometimes-we-think-you-are-a-monkey-cover-imageSometimes We Think You Are a Monkey, written by Johanna Skibsrud and Sarah Blacker, illustrated by Julie Morstad
published in 2015 by Puffin

When my youngest child was a toddler, we often referred to her as The Goat. Yes, it was affectionately said, but with a hint of exasperation as well, for she ate so darn many things not intended for human consumption. Lipstick. Glue. Playdough. The tips of the Crayola Markers. There was no stopping her.

The comparisons in this book are much sweeter! Sometimes a baby’s mouth, opening and closing, “looking for a drop of milk,” reminds us of a little bird. A baby’s skin is so peachy soft, it feels like “brushing our fingers over the fine dust of a butterfly’s wing.”

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But you, my dear, are not a baby bird, nor a butterfly. You are a perfect new baby.

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Blanketed in tenderness, with Julie Morstad’s brilliant illustration work – gorgeous textures, compositions, hand-lettering, and a contemporary, natural palette of ocean blues, meadow golds, apple blossom pinks –this is a phenomenally sweet book to share with your little ones.

Great baby shower gift!

sam-and-jump-cover-imageSam and Jump, written and illustrated by Jennifer K. Mann
published in 2016 by Candlewick

Sam and his lovey-bunny, Jump, do everything together. Chances are, if you have a toddler, someone like Jump lives in your household, too. Worn as the velveteen rabbit, sticky with jam, sporting a grubby, gray color, with the scent of stale milk embedded in its mattered fur. You know what I’m talking about.

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And you know what happens when such a creature goes missing. Sam’s Jump goes missing after a day at the beach, making Sam one forlorn little guy. But fear not, this is a story with a happy ending.

Discover how Sam and Jump are reunited and receive a bonus friend to boot in this utterly-relatable story. Mann tells it wonderfully with minimal words and enormously warm, engaging illustrations that convey all the emotions brilliantly. Charming.

lets-go-to-the-hardware-store-cover-imageLet’s Go to the Hardware Store, written by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by Melissa Iwai
published in 2016, Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company

When my kids were small, we read so, so many of Anne Rockwell’s books. Her understanding of young children is masterful. Her ability to tell a story that rivets the attention of a child, with a minimum of words — genius.

This latest book is a prime example. In it, a brother and sister are moving with their family into a new house and everything needs fixing, according to Mom. Luckily, Dad’s a great fix-it man if he’s got the right tools. He needs some new ones, he says. Convenient.

So off Dad and the kids go to the hardware store. It’s not one of those big box stores. It looks like this:

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Excellent. As these three meander the aisles, they see a variety of hammers to choose from and learn the keen names for them – ball-peen, framing, mallet. They buy material to fix the crack in the ceiling – spackle and a putty knife. There are so many interesting gadgets and dojiggers in a hardware store!

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Rockwell’s plainspoken, conversational tone is authentic and respectful of a child’s investigative mind. Iwai’s illustrations are friendly and chock-full of cool hardware supplies.

Can I just say I love two illustrations particularly: One shows Dad properly using his saw horse. I cannot tell you how many illustrations get this wrong, with a carpenter who should know better sawing a board right smack in-between two saw horses. The other shows Mom nursing her baby, just on the floor, in the middle of the mess and mayhem. Lovely and happy.

little-home-bird-cover-imageLittle Home Bird, written and illustrated by Jo Empson
published in 2016 by Child’s Play

It’s time for Little Bird to migrate, but wait just a minute! Little Bird loves his home! He has a favorite branch. Delicious berries. Beautiful music chinging from a wind chime in his tree. A lovely view.

Little Bird’s solution is to cart his favorite things along with him on the long journey. Seems sensible, but in fact lugging all of these precious bits slows Little Bird down to the point he’s in danger of losing the rest of the flock. What to do?

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Jo Empson’s sensitive, thoughtful exploration of home, leaving home, trying to take home with us, creating new places that feel like home, speaks to all of us, from young children through adults. Her ravishing artwork spritzes and washes and floods each page with glorious color, energy, beauty, and happiness.

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It’s a great title for all, but particularly well-suited to those on the move or those third-culture-kids who consistently migrate between one home and another.

shapes-reshape-cover-imageShapes, Reshape!, written and illustrated by Silvia Borando
originally published in Italy, 2014; English edition 2016 by Candlewick

Puzzlers for little busy brains fill every page of this whip-smart book!

See these shapes? This stack of lime green squares and rectangles, bitsy ones and boxy ones? And the pile of red stripeys?

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Well, if you’re clever, you can reshape them into some JUMPY things.

Ready?

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Ta da!

Silvia Borando counts back from 10 to 1, rearranging shapes imaginatively into lots of creatures — roary ones, pinchy ones, sniffly-snuffly ones — in this fabulous book.

It’s a sparkling invitation to imagining, seeing possibilities, creating, for yourselves. If you like this, she’s got another title, Shapes at Play, bursting with the same sort of magic.

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I’ve been reading my way through a bunch of the New York Review Children’s Collection titles lately. Several of them I’ve passed along to you here and there.

Today I have a bunch to recommend, particularly if your sense of humor and delight runs along the quirky line.

If you’re not aware of the New York Review Children’s Collection, they are titles from quite some time ago, written and illustrated by masters of the craft, that are being republished in beautiful editions. Presently there are over 80 of them, and you can find them all at the site here. Some, like Leon Garfield’s Shakespeare Stories, are hundreds and hundreds of pages long. Some, like Duvoisin’s Donkey Donkey are short picture books. I love finding old treasures I’ve never encountered before, and this collection is one great way to find them.

Beginning with the briefest story of today’s set…

the backward day cover imageThe Backward Day, by Ruth Krauss, pictures by Marc Simont
originally published in 1950

Ruth Krauss was a deeply thoughtful woman whose high regard for children’s ideas gave us treasures such as A Hole is to Dig, which you should definitely get acquainted with if you aren’t already. Here she teams up with beloved illustrator Marc Simont to tell the story of a little boy who awoke one morning and declared it to be backward day.

the backward day interior krauss and simont

Watch this topsy-turvy day unfold, surely to the delight of children ages 3 and older who just might want to try this out for themselves.

fletcher and zenobia cover imageFletcher and Zenobia, by Victoria Chess and Edward Gory, illustrated by Victoria Chess
originally published in 1967

Herein is the story of Fletcher, a cat, and Zenobia, a little girl, who find themselves fairly stuck in the branches of a tall tree and pull off a whangdoodler of a party there…

…complete with “a lemon cake with five layers which she covered with raspberry icing and walnuts and decorated with green and blue candles,” as well as balloons, stunning party hats, dancing to a gramophone, and a most surprising visitor who comes in verrry handy the next morning.

fletcher and zenobia interior chess and gorey

Yes. It is quite the story! Just the right size for ages 4 and up.

junket is nice cover imageJunket is Nice, written and illustrated by Dorothy Kunhardt
originally published in 1932

You know Dorothy Kunhardt for one reason: Pat the Bunny. But Junket is Nice was her very first book! Aren’t you just a wee bit curious?

It seems that once upon a time a very old man with a monumentally large, red beard and jolly red slippers was sitting at a table eating junket out of a capacious red bowl. And boy-howdy, this fellow could put away a lot of junket! Astonishing.

junket is nice interior by dorothy kunhardt

As a crowd gathers to watch his junket-eating, the old man invites them to play a guessing game with him. The guessing game makes up the bulk of this rambly, nonsensical tale.

junket is nice interior2 by dorothy kunhardt

There’s a bit of a Wanda Gag feel to the handwritten text and the cadence of the story. Peculiar and unexpected ideas abound in this longish piece for ages 4 or 5 and up.

supposing cover imageSupposing, by Alastair Reid, illustrated by Bob Gill
originally published in 1960

When my son was a little boy, he and one of his best buddies used to have conversations quite like the supposings in this book. “Oh, oh, oh! What if…” one would say, and they were off, concocting more and more elaborate and outlandish scenarios. (As an aside, they are both now pursuing their PhDs in the sciences. Cultivating imagination in children is no fool’s errand!)

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This is a collection of wild supposings. Each one unattached to the one before, and accompanied by a sketchy drawing by master-of-design, Bob Gill. Imagination-stretching, for ages 5 or 6 and up.

ounce dice trice cover imageOunce, Dice, Trice, by Alastair Reid, illustrated by Ben Shahn
originally published in 1958

Okay you logophiles, you linguists, you poets and wordsmiths. Yes, there are many of these among the Ages 3 to 8 population, you know. Children love words! Silly words. Tongue twisters. Rhyming words. Onomatopoeia.

This extraordinary collection, this tintinnabulation of words is a fizzing wonderland for them and for you, too! Lists of ZZZ-ing words and squishy words. Names for elephants or whales if you prefer.

ounce dice trice interior reid and shahn

Names for twins. Newly-invented ways to count to ten. Words to bamboozle and confound. Words to pull out when the cat’s got your tongue.

ounce dice trice interior2 reid and shahn

All quite marvelous. Illustrated masterfully by artist Ben Shahn. A highly-unusual treat for ages 6 to 100.

the robber hotenplotz cover imageThe Robber Hotzenplotz, by Otfried Preussler, illustrated by F.J. Tripp, translated from the German by Anthea Bell
originally published in 1962

One fine morning, Kasperl’s grandmother sits in her garden grinding the day’s coffee in her brand new musical coffee grinder. It’s a birthday gift from her grandson Kasperl and his best friend, Seppel. BUT! The wicked robber Hotzenplotz steals the coffee grinder — the joy of her heart! — and it’s up to Kasperl and Seppel to retrieve it.

the robber hotzenplotz illustration2 f.j. tripp

This is much, much easier said than done. And is not accomplished until the boys can outsmart both Hotzenplotz and a wicked magician named Petrosilius Zackleman who, luckily, has a weakness for fried potatoes. And it involves an alliance with a toad-fairy. Yup.

the robber hotzenplotz illustration f.j. tripp

Merrily illustrated, this absurd little adventure would make a dynamite read-aloud for ages 6 and up. It’s the longest of today’s titles at 121 pages. My kids would have loved it.

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