Posts Tagged ‘photography’

My stack of books today glows budding-leaf green and robin’s-egg blue. Oh, what is as cheery and hopeful as spring? Soak up some gladness with these books, bursting with life, growth and new beginnings.

What Will Grow? written by Jennifer Ward, illustrated by Susie Ghahremani
published in 2017 by Bloomsbury

For the littlest crop of sweet potatoes, don’t miss this sweet ode to seeds. Susie Ghahremani’s lovely artwork sweeps across the pages with luscious hues of springtime, summer, fall, straight through to the blue-cold of winter. Along the way we peek at seeds — round wrinkly peas, stripey sunflower seeds, snug prickly pine seeds packed into a cone — and discover what will grow from them.

Jennifer Ward’s minimal text provides just the right, lilting clues. She cleverly describes each seed with just three or four words, wisely choosing not to weigh down the delight and wonder of the illustrations.

A few gatefolds along the way augment the thrill of discovery –such fun to see that tall sunflower stretching up-up-up! End pages tell how to sow each of the seeds mentioned. This is a beauty of a book to enjoy with ages 18 months and up.

Over and Under the Pond, written by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
published in 2017 by Chronicle Books

Gliding along the quiet waters of a pond, observing the burble of life above the surface and the secret worlds below comes this elegant book.

The third collaboration between Messner and Neal, it’s as visually striking and wonder-filled as their previous titles which I’ve reviewed here and here.

Messner’s text revels in the jeweled glory of this watery world with skittering whirligig beetles, mussy busy beavers, ghostly-quiet herons a-stalking, and all the shimmering, dappled light. Neal’s handsome artwork captures the hush, the aqua-depths, the muck and reeds and secretive small worlds. Ingenuous changes in perspective keep every page fresh.

I’m thrilled that he places an African-American boy and mom in this wild, out-of-doors setting. Far too little diversity in children’s literature occurs outside of urban settings.

Learn more about each one of the species presented in several pages of  Author’s Notes. I have to say, as a boating enthusiast, I was bugged by the paddling faux pas here, but truly, this is another winner from this team for ages 3 and up.

Robins!: How They Grow Up, written and illustrated by Eileen Christelow
published in 2017 by Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

A couple of robin siblings narrate the story of their lives in this information-soaked, immensely-engaging book from one of the best picture book makers, Eileen Christelow.

From the migration north of their parents, through nest-building, egg-incubating, and all the care and feeding of those scraggly chicks, Christelow’s text brims with intriguing detail, perfect pacing, and the appealing voice of these young robins. This reads like a story — not a mite of dry, merely-factual tone.

Christelow tracks their growth as they leave the nest, learn to feed themselves, and at about five months of age take to the skies to fly south. True to the realities of nature, two of their fellow nestmates don’t make it that far. Those harsh episodes are taken in stride by Christelow. It’s a fabulous presentation.

Colorful, captivating watercolor illustrations dominate the pages, bringing us eye to beak with these awkward chicks, right into the nest as it were. An Author’s Note tells how Christelow became so enamored with these birds, plus there’s a glossary and a couple Q&A pages with more Robin Facts. A gem for ages 4 and up.

Plants Can’t Sit Still, written by Rebecca E. Hirsch, illustrations by Mia Posada
published in 2016 by Millbrook Press

The ravishing colors of Minneapolis-artist (woot!) Mia Posada’s cut paper collages are the first thing you’ll notice when you open this book and oh! they will enchant you!

The fresh-lime burst of green leaves, blushing apricot tulips, twilight-purple morning glories, the seductive red of berries lurking in the bushes — every page surges with color, texture, and beauty.

Rebecca Hirsch’s text is every bit as enticing because although you may think of plants as sitting still, rooted in place, Hirsch leads us on a waltz of discovering otherwise. In fact, plants squirm, creep, climb, snap, nod, tumble, fling, whirl, drift…why, they just can’t sit still!

Back pages tell lots, lots more about plants and the particular species discussed in this book.  Genius concept, brilliantly carried out by this team. Full of the wonder of discovery for ages 2 and up.

Pig & Goose and the First Day of Spring, written and illustrated by Rebecca Bond
published in 2017 by Charlesbridge

This charming early-reader knocked my socks off and warmed my heart. I don’t know if Rebecca Bond plans any more adventures for these too, but I have my fingers crossed!

The freshness of a spring morning has put Pig in a fine mood. A glorious sun and clear blue sky will do that! “Goody gumdrops!” Pig exclaims, and immediately makes plans for a picnic by the pond.

Pig soon meets up with Goose whose magnificent flying and swimming abilities make her wilt a bit with envy. Goose tries to coach Pig in these goose-y skills but…pigs really aren’t built for such things. Poor Pig! What is it she can do well?

Many things, it turns out, as she hosts a superb First-Day-0f-Spring party! Wow! You will want to be Pig’s guest at her next fiesta I’ll bet! Delectable details, spritzes of beauty, good humor, gladness of heart, and a dear friendship — that’s what’s here. Bond’s fetching watercolor work is the cherry on top. Readers who can manage Frog and Toad can read this on their own, or share it with listeners as young as 3. Lovely!

Wake Up! words by Helen Frost, photography by Rick Lieder
published in 2017 by Candlewick

This is the latest collaboration for poet Helen Frost and photographer Rick Lieder. Each one provides a breathtaking pause from the cacophony of noise, the jungles of cement, a step away, a redirect of our gaze towards the glorious spectacle of nature. All done in whisper quiet.

Feast your eyes and soul on the magenta swoosh of a peony, the emerald wetness of a frog, the fuzzy warmth of a newborn lamb. Wake up to manifestations of new life “exploding outside your door!”

I love the work being done by this team, simply bringing children up close to the wonders of nature, quieting them with few words, thoughtful questions, enticing them to wander out of doors. Find my reviews of two of their other titles here and here. Share them all with ages 18 months and older.

Birds Make Nests, written and illustrated by Michael Garland
published in 2017 by Holiday House

Michael Garland’s arresting woodcuts adorn the pages of this book and captivate us with the extraordinary wonder of bird nests.

Minimal text describes some of the vast variety in construction from a hummingbird’s tiny woven cup, to the giant mounds made by flamingos, and one house sparrow’s nest lodged in the pocket of a stop light.

The bulk of what we learn comes via Garland’s handsome prints, flooding the pages with earthy colors and rich texture. I love the minimal interference between the child reader and these wonders of nature. No back pages, even, with more info. Just — soak in the craftsmanship of both bird and artist. A lovely, leisurely wander for ages 3 and up.

First Garden: The White House Garden and How it Grew, written and illustrated by Robbin Gourley
published in 2011 by Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Children earnestly digging in the soil. Heirloom seeds passed down from Thomas Jefferson. Beehives and ladybugs, eggplants and blueberries. But no beets!

The story of Michelle Obama’s gardening initiative dances with the joy of the earth’s fruitfulness, the brilliance of children learning by digging, sowing, weeding, harvesting, and cooking delicious food in the White House kitchen!

Add in the history of White House gardening down through the centuries from John Adams’ first vegetable and fruit gardens through Patricia Nixon’s garden tours. Sprinkle atop some delicious recipes to try straight from the White House. Then illustrate with Robbin Gourley’s sunny, vivacious watercolors. Ta da! You’ve concocted this delicious book!

A delight to share with ages 4 and up. Plus, you can discover why there are no beets!

There are lots more spring-y titles listed in my Subject Guide. Look under Science: Seasons. And Happy Springtime to one and all!

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If Art History and Art Appreciation sound like dense, musty subjects full of incomprehensible notions and frame after frame of flowers in vases…

…well, prepare to be astonished and inspired!

There are some stylish, captivating, imaginative, exciting, vastly-informative titles out there which will revolutionize the way your children understand, appreciate, and experience art. And you as well, I suspect.

Vincent’s Starry Night and Other Stories: A Children’s History of Art, written by Michael Bird, illustrated by Kate Evans and with art reproductions
published in 2016 by Laurence King Publishing Ltd.

First up, this glorious art history book. Oh, I wish I’d had this when my children were young!

Over 300 pages of marvelously-narrated art history, from the first artists carving creatures out of mammoth’s tusks 40,000 years ago or sculpting enormous statues for emperors, through a worldful of religious art –medieval scribes, West African bronze workers, Muslim calligraphers — then on to the Renaissance, portraiture, neo-classical, romantic, and impressionistic works, modern art and contemporary artists right up to Ai Weiwei’s sunflower seed installation.

It is largely Western in emphasis, but I do appreciate that a number of non-Western works are here. And it is overwhelmingly male though there is, happily, a segment on Artemisia Gentileschi, and a few other female artists are represented in later time periods.

What’s enormously engaging is that there’s not a dry sentence in the book. Instead, this books reads like a collection of stories giving us historical context, biographical detail, technical insights that go down like a nice spiced chai on a hot day. My mind was sparking like a swarm of fireflies with ideas of how this book could be augmented with art projects and further reading to make history come alive for young children ages 5 and older.

One reproduction per artist is included, and then the pages are gracefully, beautifully illustrated in Kate Evans’ watercolors, helping us to see these towns and printing presses, galleries and ziggurats, soaring columns and war-torn countrysides and sunflower fields.

Included are a timeline, glossary of art terms, and listing of artworks which includes their dimensions and locations. Coming to us from the UK, this is a dream especially for homeschoolers or art teachers.

Are You an Art Sleuth? by Brooke DiGiovanni Evans, illustrated with art reproductions
published in 2016 by Quarto Publishing
103 pages

Being an art sleuth means looking carefully at art and noticing all manner of things you might miss at first glance.

The paintings in this book each come with a list of items to find in them, and they’re not so easy! To find just one bracelet in a sea of Renoir figures, spot a pesky fly in a still life, track down 8 red hats in the Peasant’s Wedding or 3 mirrors in a lush interior takes time and patience and sleuthing!

That’s the first benefit of this book. Just the slowing down and careful looking, something that would transfer well to all of life. Noticing that there’s more to this than can be seen with the same rapidity as the zooming images in an electronic game. Learning to see.

After you’ve worked hard to find everything on the list, turn the page and read about the artist, the scene, the special qualities of this piece of art. Be enticed with some questions to use your imagination about the subject matter. In other words, learn to think, surmise, wonder, and understand art a bit more deeply.

This book relies solely on Western paintings, the majority from the 19th century. Inviting page lay-outs will draw in children ages 4 or 5 and up. It could be used independently by kids ages 7 and up to while away the time when traveling or otherwise waiting. Answers to all the puzzlers are included.

Where’s the Artist?: From Cave Paintings to Modern Art: A Look and Find Book, text by Susanne Rebscher, illustrations by Annabelle von Sperber
published in 2015 by Prestel Publishing

This book is a little trickier to use for those less familiar with art, yet it’s an engrossing, oversized book that practically immerses you in art and includes ideas to learn and wonder about together.

Each large, two-page spread ushers us into a new time period. Twelve jumps take us from prehistoric cave dwellers into our contemporary world.  There’s simply gobs to absorb in these illustrations. Surroundings, clothing, architecture, activities, all can be observed and enjoyed and talked about at leisure. Incorporated within these scenes are representations of art from that time — the towering statue of Athena, the girl with the pearl earring, Monet’s house and gardens at Giverny. Even the overall pages have the flavor of the art period — a Mondrian-esque series of rectangles hold the images on one page while a surreal countryside of blue horses and lush wildly-colorful foliage comprises another.

this is just a small section of one large spread

There is no text on these pages. You are on your own to observe. The last pages of the book provide some context about each time period and its artwork — just a small bit. Our attention is drawn to a few particulars in some of the scenes and we’re challenged to find some elements.

The brevity of the text here makes this a great choice for those who want to dip their feet into art without being overwhelmed, while at the same time it means you will likely miss references to particular artists and works of art as there is no attempt to be thorough. That’s okay. Hopefully your appetite will be whetted for more. Ages 3 and up, depending on how you use the book.

Seeing Things: A Kid’s Guide to Looking at Photographs, by Joel Meyerowitz
published in 2016 by aperture
67 pages

This incredible guide to appreciating photography is unusual and insightful. I was fascinated by it and learned a lot, even though it calls itself a “kid’s guide!”

Meyerowitz has selected 30 photographs taken by a roster of photographers he has encountered over the 50+ years he’s worked in that world. He has constructed the book around principles or ways of seeing or tools that make a photograph special. Timing. Noticing something unusual. A sense of humor. Shadows. Perspectives.

Each two-page spread features one handsome photograph — some in color, others black-and-white. Such a wide range of subject matter and composition! Accompanying it are Meyerowitz’s keen remarks that serve to open the photo up for us, teach us to see what’s inside it and underneath it, to observe anew, to understand the remarkable nature of this particular shot.

The conversational tone of the text invites us to learn sophisticated ideas, fearlessly. Because of the author’s concision, he never overwhelms us. The page layouts are unusually elegant, terrifically inviting, pulling us to settle in, read slowly, and keep turning the pages to discover more. A fantastic choice for exploring with ages 7 and up.

Splat!: The Most Exciting Artists of All Time, by Mary Agnes Richards
published in 2016 by Thames & Hudson
92 pages

That’s a fairly heady claim within the title — the most exciting artists of all time?! — but we’ll overlook that and enjoy what is here.

And that’s a mix, a hybrid, between “fact pages” laid out for quick perusal, and “narrative pages” that dig a bit deeper. This format is geared, perhaps, to draw in slightly older children who love those stats and sound bites. For me, I did not love those overview pages. For each artist, we get one sentence (!) describing that artist’s main contribution, and a quick succession of who-what-where, background, and some mini-mini notebook pages with a few quick ideas associated with that artist. There’s also a full-page reproduction of one representative piece.

Turn the page and there are about four stout paragraphs of narrative text telling us about the artist and the piece on the previous page. Side bars  provide the added-bits-and-pieces approach to the subject which middle graders tend to devour.

This book is almost completely Western in focus, with only Hokusai and Kahlo breaking up the all-male, Euro-American club. A large portion of the book — about half — is devoted to modern and contemporary art. In fact the first artist is Michelangelo. So — much briefer than the first book but with a vibe that might appeal to older readers.

I hope you find something beautiful and useful here!


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Several weeks ago I came across an article on the BBC highlighting a new book of photography by Steve McCurry. The theme of McCurry’s project, displayed in this stunning book, is reading. Readers, to be more precise.

I immediately requested it through my library and have thoroughly enjoyed meandering through it.


On Reading, by Steve McCurry
published in 2016 by Phaidon Press

Even if you don’t know the name Steve McCurry, you know his photography. One of National Geographic’s most heralded photographers, McCurry’s most famous shot is probably Afghan Girl, taken in 1984.


On Reading is the result of his personal interest in capturing the faces, postures, environments of people around the world caught up in the act of reading. For forty years as he’s globe-trotted, he’s had his eye out for these images.


Paul Theroux, in his foreword, comments that “readers are seldom lonely or bored, because reading is a refuge and an enlightenment…It seems to me that there is always something luminous in the face of a person in the act of reading.”


Indeed, McCurry wondrously captures the focused absorption of readers old and young, rich and poor, from widely disparate cultures in this collection. It is gorgeous, immensely satisfying, and heartening.


McCurry himself was inspired by the earlier work of Hungarian-born photographer André Kertész who spent over 50 years observing and photographing readers. His work was likewise published in a book entitled On Reading, published in 1971 by Grossman Publishers. I checked that one out from my library, too!


The compelling, black-and-white photographs in this small book span the years 1915-1970. About half of them are from the 1960’s and most were shot in New York City and Paris.

The differences in the worlds and perspectives of these two books, despite their common theme, is remarkable. The work of Kertész has a much more spur of the moment, snapshot sense, whereas McCurry’s are bold, immersive, with subjects generally much closer to us.

Venice (young man reading on canal side), September 10, 1963

Venice (young man reading on canal side), September 10, 1963

I love seeing the small dramas taking place on all these tiny stages in the world. On a particular day now long gone, an anonymous person was caught up in reading during one unscheduled moment, now frozen in time for us to contemplate.


Esztergam, Hungary, 1915

McCurry and Kertész both saw so much in this ordinary, transportive, monumental act. I love the way photographers help me see, and particularly how these two have helped me see the magic of reading woven through time and across cultures.

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deborah hopkinsonToday, I’m pleased to welcome Deborah Hopkinson to Orange Marmalade. Deborah is the award-winning author of dozens of superb nonfiction and historical fiction books for children.

Her newest novel, A Bandit’s Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket, was released last week.

It’s a riveting story starring a scrappy immigrant boy in late-19th century New York City. I had the privilege to talk with Deborah about her book as part of her blog tour and today I’ve got those questions and answers for you, plus a signed copy of her book to give away!

a bandit's tale cover image

A Bandit’s Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket, by Deborah Hopkinson
pubished in 2016 by Alfred A. Knopf

Rocco is an 11-year-old boy, newly arrived in New York City. His impoverished Italian family has sold him to a corrupt padrone who puts him to work as a street musician. But the cruel, Dickensian conditions drive Rocco to seek a better income with a band of pick-pockets.

homeless children by jacob riis

Jacob Riis, Homeless Children

Rocco’s considerable misadventures lead him, by chance, to an acquaintance he calls Meddlin’ Mary, and her father, Mick, who are dedicated to caring for abused workhorses in the city. He also encounters a man named Jacob Riis who is just as dedicated to caring for abused children.

With a propensity for wheelin’ and dealin’ and  lying to save his skin, Rocco soon lands in a dangerous entanglement between his shady connections and his esteemed new friends. 

Woven into this fast-paced, engaging story are a number of thought-provoking ideas about truth and lies, things seen vs. things hidden, and the power of kindness. It’s an exceptional story that I highly recommend for ages 9 and up. It would make a brilliant book club selection with ample material for discussion. Hopkinson includes extensive historical addendums in the book and makes use of historical photos to illustrate the text.


♦An Interview with Deborah♦

1. What was the first kernel of an idea that propelled this work, the starting point that led you down this road?

I actually began thinking about A Bandit’s Tale some years ago, when I wrote Shutting out the Sky, Life in the Tenements of New York, set in this same time period in New York City. I wanted to do another historical fiction novel set in a great city (Into the Firestorm takes place in San Francisco, and The Great Trouble in London) and so putting New York and the 19th century together made sense.

2. What surprised you about Rocco’s character as he developed?

What a fun question! Well, Rocco had a weakness for sausages that surprised me, since I don’t eat them myself.

3. Is he your favorite character?

I love both Rocco and Mary, but to my surprise, Officer Reilly, though he plays only a minor role, turned out to be my favorite character. With that twinkle in his eye and love of engines, he kept reminding me of my late father.

4. If Rocco could visit modern day NYC, what do you think he would most like to do? Where would you take him?

Old Mulberry Street, NYC from italianaware (dot) com

Old Mulberry Street, NYC from italianaware (dot) com

I’m sure Rocco would want to visit Soho and Little Italy, to see what it’s like today. And, of course, we’d have to go to Central Park!

5. As you were researching the historical characters, was there someone you felt like, “Oh, I sure would like to talk to you!” What questions would you ask him?


Jacob Riis

I would have loved to talk to pioneering photojournalist Jacob Riis and ask him to say more about how and why he decided to devote so much of his time to housing reform and improving conditions in the Lower East Side tenements. As an immigrant himself, he might have been satisfied with achieving success as a journalist. If he’d just done that, we might not remember him today. But because he remembered what it was like to be down and out himself, he devoted himself to being a change-maker.

6. I was intrigued by the idea of “seeing” woven throughout the narrative: people who did not see what was before them, or did not want to see, and people called to help make these hidden lives visible. Can you talk about how that idea emerged and grew in this novel?

The idea of seeing and being visible or invisible also grew out of looking at the photographs of Jacob Riis, and also thinking about how the invention of flash photography affected his work. He himself had written newspaper stories about the Lower East Side, but felt frustrated that he couldn’t get the public to pay attention to the suffering he saw there.


Jacob Riis, Lodgers in a Crowded Bayard Street Tenement

The story goes that Riis read about the invention of the flash bulb in the newspaper one morning, and set about finding someone to teach him photography because he immediately saw that this could bring his words to life.

Today, although we are inundated with images and stories, I think we still recognize the power that one photograph has to make us see. The streets of the Lower East Side were crowded with people and it was difficult to focus on individuals and their stories. Likewise, we hear of thousands of Syrian refugees, but it was the photo of one small boy that propelled many to pay attention.

7. Another wonderful theme is the virtue of meddling. I love the nickname The Great Meddler. What an honorable label! In what sense do you see your authorship as a kind of meddling?

I’ve only been a full-time author since 2014; for many years I also pursued a career in philanthropy, so I feel strongly about giving back to education and nonprofit organizations in our communities. Now that I am writing full time, I sometimes feel a bit selfish that I follow the moon home cover imageam not engaged in volunteer work as well, but writing books feels like the right choice right now. This spring Follow the Moon Home, a picture book I co-authored with environmental activist Philippe Cousteau, is also being published. It’s about a group of students who do a community action project in their town to protect sea turtles.

So I do feel writing is one way I can be a meddler too – though not compared to many others, including Henry Bergh! When I was researching A Bandit’s Tale I had the chance to see some of Henry Bergh’s many, many letters to the public works department complaining about dangerous holes in the roads.

8. The physical abuse of children and animals is such a grievous topic. Have you written on such egregious issues before and how does it impact you as a writer to do so? Do you feel any kind of bond between you and Jacob Riis?

I encountered some of the topics in A Bandit’s Tale when I wrote Shutting out the Sky in 2003, along with a Dear America about the Triangle Waist Company fire called Hear My Sorrow. And I have certainly been inspired by the work of Riis.

I read voraciously as a child, and that included war stories and disaster stories, subjects that still fascinate me. I’ve just finished the second of two nonfiction books about World War II, and I also wrote Titanic: Voices from the Disaster.

0dcc7eca66900fda0470c7619b3b76ca9. Did you like Black Beauty as a child? Or is there a particular “animal story” that you like best?

I have a vivid memory of reading Black Beauty as a child. I also had several small ceramic horses, one of which I named Merrylegs. As a dog lover, I really do not like animal stories where dogs die, however. I don’t think I ever recovered from watching Old Yeller.

10. There are many male characters in the story, portraying the gamut of qualities. I appreciated the tenderness of Mick Hallanan. Was it a conscious decision to give such nurturing qualities to a male character? If so, why?

I don’t think it was conscious. I’m not sure if the real Michael Hallanan was a widower, though when he died there was no mention of a wife, so taking that as my starting point – and reading the little I could find about him, he just sort of emerged as a character from there. You can still see the “H” marking the Hallanan stables in Greenwich Village, and so it was easy to imagine a hardworking immigrant who became part of the community.

11. You’ve written extensively on subjects from the latter 19th to early 20th century.  Is this your favorite time period to explore? Why? Are you drawn to any other time periods you hope to write about at some point?

I’ve always been drawn to writing about the 19th century, both in England and the United States. It was such a tumultuous time, with advances in science, human rights, and the emergence of social reform movements. I’m a Baby Boomer and now that I’m writing about World War II, I’m enjoying that as well.

12. Are you working on another project that you’re able to tell us about?

In addition to writing both nonfiction and fiction set in 1944, I’ve just finished a draft of a story about the formation of the movement in Great Britain to abolish the slave trade in the late 18th century. Unlike A Bandit’s Tale, there are no photographs from the period, of course, and I find that I miss that as an essential component to trying to convey the setting. So I probably won’t be writing about the Middle Ages anytime soon.

a bandit's tale blog tour

I want to thank Deborah again for appearing here today. For other stops on the Bandit Blog Tour, and to find more of her excellent titles,  please check her website at this link: deborahhopkinson.com.

23994Enter to winA Give-away!!

I have a signed copy of A Bandit’s Tale that I would love to pass on to an Orange Marmalade reader. To enter the drawing, make a comment on this blog post  before Sunday, April 17, telling us an animal story you or your children have enjoyed, or email me at jillswanson61@gmail.com. Sorry, this has to be for U.S. mailing addresses only.

To read my other reviews of Deborah’s books, click on these links:
A Boy Called Dickens
Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek
Annie and Helen
Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of the Guinea Pig
The Great Trouble

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This week — fun with letters.

oops pounce quick run cover imageOops, Pounce, Quick, Run!: An Alphabet Caper by Mike Twohy
published in 2016 by Balzer + Bray

A is for Asleep. One little mouse, asleep in his recliner in his quiet mouse-house.

B is for Ball. A big, orange, tennis ball bounces through his doorway most abruptly!

C is for Catch. Not that he has much choice when that ball snoodles him right in the stomach. Oof!

How did that ball happen by? Well, D is for Dog, whose snuffly nose blurts its way through his doorway next, seeking that orange toy.

oops pounce quick run interior mike twohy

On with the adventure. An entirely alphabetical adventure for this unlikely pair.

New Yorker cartoonist Mike Twohy is brilliant at capturing story and personality with a few confident marks on the page. The text accompanying the illustrations moves along with (mostly) just one word for each letter, and those 26 words tell a zesty and surprising story! Great fun for ages Two and up.

celestino piatti's animal abc cover imageCelestino Piatti’s Animal ABC, illustrated by (obviously) Celestino Piatti, text by Hans Schumacher, translation by Jon Reid
first published in Switzerland in 1965; this edition published 2015 by North-South Books

Celestino Piatti was a celebrated Swiss artist who worked in graphic design from the 1940s onward. His handsome images are absolutely show-stopping. Vigorous, thick black line commands the page. Emphatic shapes, artful textures, and robust color collaborate to create these arresting forms.

celestino piatti's animal abc interior piatti and schumacher

The briefest of quatrains accompany each animal, so cleverly composed and translated to keep the rhyme. For example: When tiger growls/to be caressed/Just ask what he/Thinks tastiest So clever, right?

celestino piatti's animal abc interior2 piatti and schumacher

It’s a book you might be tempted to cut up and plaster on your walls, and no one could blame you. A masterful combination of the arts of design and poetry for ages 3 and up.

welcome to my neighborhood a barrio abc cover imageWelcome to My Neighborhood! : A Barrio ABC by Quiara Alegria Hudes, illustrated by Shino Arihara
published in 2010 by Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic

Hear the sound of that cool water gushing from the hydrant on this hot day? Smell the tantalizing aroma of roast pork from windows open all down the block?

It’s your lucky day because we have two children to guide us through the streets of this urban, Puerto Rican neighborhood, meeting an abuela here, watching muralists at work there, listening to “los jibaros jamming in the jungle of concrete.”

welcome to my neighborhood interior huds and arihara

It’s an upbeat, welcome foray into a culture unfamiliar to many of us, sure to spark interest and appreciation for kids ages 3 and up. Shino Arihara’s textured-cement vibe and warm, neighborly figures cast a superb, contemporary atmosphere.

the city abc book cover imageThe City ABC Book, photographed by Zoran Milich
published in 2001 by Kids Can Press

New York-based photojournalist Zoran Milich has covered everything from the Velvet Revolution in the former Czechoslovakia to Fashion Week in NYC, but perhaps most gratifying for those with small children is a series of books he published with Kids Can Press out of Canada.

A talented photographer has such a knack of seeing — seeing perspectives and views that are in front of us all, but that we don’t see until they take a camera, frame the shot, and click! — Now we see what they see.

the city abc book interior zoran milich

This incredibly clever series of black-and-white, urban photos has alphabet shapes, discovered by Milich, highlighted in red. It’s a joyful perspective on what is possible to see, and I think if you share it with your kids, they will begin seeing in new ways as well. Milich has also published City 123, City Colors, and City Signs if you want to further explore his work.

almost an animal alphabet cover imageAlmost an Animal Alphabet, by Katie Viggers
first published in Great Britain; this edition published 2010 by POW!

Okay, I’m crazy about Katie Viggers drawings in this book. Flip through the pages and you’ll come face to face with brawny line, coy expression, handsome figure, humorous touch. Every page is crammed with personality!

almost an animal alphabet interior katie viggers

And yes, we cruise through the alphabet meeting quite the variety of animals. Not just a bear, but a line-up of bears. A Sun Bear. A Polar Bear. A Black Bear. A Panda Bear. And — hello there! — a spectacled bear perusing the news. Interesting and quirky — that’s the nature of this endearing catalogue.

almost an animal alphabet interior2 katie viggers

Share it with little ones as young as 2. But then again, those older siblings who’ve developed a wry sense of humor — they’ll love it, too. Endpapers show us where the whole assortment actually live.

Viggers has a counting book that’s just as fantastic — 1 to 20, Animals Aplenty — so check that out, too. 

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mollisoncoveraperturePlayground, by James Mollison
published in 2015 by Aperture

James Mollison is an amazing photojournalist — insightful, talented, persevering, with a rich, global perspective. 

His latest offering, Playground, is a work he has pursued since at least 2009, and as with his title Where Children Sleep, although children aren’t his primary audience, they can enjoy, appreciate, and respond to it as well as adults. I found it fascinating.

Mollison has photographed the school playgrounds of almost 60 schools around the world, from private London schools to schools of refugees on the West Bank, and from Norwegian island communities to Sierra Leonean slums. 

Playground 2 by James mollison

In them, we observe many elements, from the varying landscapes and settings in which children attend school, to the striking similarities and differences in the ways children interact with one another during their free play time. 

Mollison/Playground - PB

These are large, full-color, two-page spreads in a coffee-table sized book, and each one rivets our attention and piques our curiosity: What are they playing at? Is this child lonely? What are the kids wearing? What does this terrain and weather feel like? Would I like to be a part of this group? So much fascination and diversity.

For each scene, a small black-and-white line drawing of one figure in the photo is set apart, creating a clever seek-and-find game as well.

playground by james mollison

The whole, beautiful compendium engages us in the wide world, expands our boundaries, and fosters excellent conversation and reflection.


In the end-pages, Mollison tells us a little bit about each school and sometimes what he witnessed as he sat poised to photograph the scene. Some of these bits could be shared with young children. The book’s Foreword, by Jon Ronson, is of interest to teens and older.

Exceptional and highly recommended.

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Here in Minnesota, we’ve spent the past week glorying in the abrupt arrival of Spring. 

spring fancy by lynne taetzsch from abstract-art-blog dot net

Spring Fancy by Lynne Taetzsch

One minute we were scraping ice off our windshields and the next finds us biking around the lakes in our shorts. 

spring birch wood by simon fairless from simonsgallery dot com

Spring Birch Wood by Simon Fairless

Normally March in Minnesota is not spring-y, but a snowy, slushy, tease-y month, while farther south it’s a green, blossoming delight. In West Africa, hot season is descending, while in Australia, it’s nearing winter.

Be that as it may — today we’re celebrating Spring on Orange Marmalade!

finding spring cover iageFinding Spring, written and illustrated by Carin Berger
published in 2015 by Greenwillow Books ~ Harper Collins

Maurice is a little bear cub who is gaga over the thought of experiencing his first spring.

The trouble is…it’s autumn.

Mama patiently tells him he’s got to wait a while yet, but Maurice is undaunted. While she sleeps, he tiptoes out of the den, looking for spring. And, since he has no idea what spring actually is…he’s convinced he’s found it. 

What has Maurice found? I’ll give you a hint: It comes in delicate white crystals that fall from the sky. Maurice gathers a bunch of “spring” up, stuffs it in a sack, carts it home, then falls into a happy sleep beside Mama.

finding spring illustration carin berger

When the two emerge months later, Maurice can’t wait to show Mama and their forest friends the “spring” in his sack…but it has disappeared. Not to worry — Mama, Robin, Rabbit and the others lead Maurice on another hunt for spring, and this time, they really find it.

Carin Berger’s charming cut-paper illustrations inject playfulness, friendliness, beauty, wonder, and joy into this happy story. Her gorgeous, shifting color palette brings the changing seasons to life, and the final burst of spring feels entirely magical. It’s a delight to share with ages Under-Two and up.

how mama brought the spring cover imageHow Mama Brought the Spring, by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Holly Berry
published in 2008 by Dutton Children’s Books

Rosy Levine lives in Chicago, where Spring has definitely not arrived yet. Soggy piles of snow, those wicked Chicago winds, and a sullen, gray sky all make Rosy want to pull the covers over her head in dismay. Ugh! She is sick of winter.

Rosy’s mother grew up in Minsk, Russia, so she knows all about long winters. She’s got quite a story to tell Rosy about how her Grandma Beatrice brought spring to Minsk. 

The story involves whipping up some eggy batter and a bowlful of creamy sweetness. It requires a brilliant, sky-blue tablecloth, a sizzling skillet, and a pot of cherry jam. It’s a miraculous tale of sunshine awakening and water singing in response to the buttery, sweet, goodness of Grandma’s cheese blintzes!

how mama brought the spring illustration holly berry

Rosy and her mother set out to bring spring to Chicago with Grandma Beatrice’s method, and you can give it a whirl as well with the recipe included in the book. Mouthwatering!

Holly Berry’s colorful illustrations swirl with winter winds and radiate the warmth of family and tradition through the homespun fabrics and prolific folk art patterning. Lovely, soft, motion whirls through the pages like magic, propelling us along this warm-hearted, delicious tale. Ages 4 and up.

raindrops roll cover imageRaindrops Roll, text and photography by April Pulley Sayre
published in 2015 by Beach Lane Books

April Sayre’s book is a photo-essay tribute to raindrops.

Gorgeous, dramatic, captivating close-ups of raindrops fill every page, with just a whisper of lyrical words, in white handlettering, to accompany them.

raindrops roll photo by april pulley sayre

Raindrops glisten on emerald insects, cling like beads to glowing green grasses, turn spider webs into glittering hazes of diamonds. Rain makes mud for salamanders to slither in. It pours, patters, spills.

It’s a beautiful, quiet book that helps us notice and observe the glory of raindrops. Perhaps it will inspire some young photographers, too. Ages Under-Two and up.

mother earth and her children cover imageMother Earth and Her Children: A Quilted Fairy Tale, written by Sibylle von Olfers, illustrated by Sieglinde Schoen Smith, translated by Jack Zipes
story originally published in German in 1906; this book published in 2007 by Breckling Press

A while back I reviewed a darling little book by Sibylle von Olfers called The Story of the Snow Children. Sibylle was a German Catholic nun whose love of art, children, and nature combined in a number of charming stories that are much loved even today, 100 years on.

This story — originally published as Etwas von den Wurzelkindern — has been translated into English. It is a short poem, and features dozens of Mother Earth’s adorable, tiny children who’ve been asleep in the ground over the winter and are now awakening and busily stitching up some new spring clothes for themselves.

mother earth and her children illustration sieglinde schoen smith

When they’re ready, and “fair spring arrives on time” this fresh and lovely crew emerge from the brown earth, clad in dainty spring colors, carrying forth a glad array of lily-of-the-valley and forget-me-nots, speckled lady bugs and jeweled butterflies, cloaking the woodlands brilliantly.

Sieglinde Schoen Smith is a German-born, American textile artist who created a spectacular quilt illustrating this story. Her gorgeous work makes up the illustrations here. What an amazing piece of art! Rejoicing with all the colors of a flowering meadow. Parading with merry children. Bursting forth with all of nature’s gladness. 

Each page contains a close-up look at a portion of the quilt, with the whole work displayed at the end. It’s a feast for the eyes and the imagination. Wouldn’t you love to see it in person!

mother earth and her children quilt by sieglinde schoen smith

For the grown-ups reading this book, there is a lengthy note from Sieglinde which tells how this quilt came to be. It was born out of sorrow, and I think her story of the healing power of art will be of great interest and perhaps inspiration to all of you. There’s also a biography of Sibylle by the translator of this book who is a Professor of German Literature at the University of Minnesota.

All told — this is a gem to search for, which will be enjoyed by children Under Two and up, and certainly by you adults as well.

it's spring she said cover image“It’s Spring,” She Said, by Joan W. Blos, illustrated by Julie Maas
published in 1968 by Alfred A. Knopf

I couldn’t resist bringing you this dear vintage title from 1968.

Springtime is just emerging among the brownstone apartments of this city neighborhood. Snow plows and shovels are being stored away, Mr. Alan Lynn is tuning up his Tasty Fresh Ice Cream truck for the warmer days ahead, and children fling off coats and haul out jump ropes and roller skates.

it's spring she said illustration2 julie maas

Mrs. Mundy, however, says they’re being hasty. “We’ll be cold again before it’s spring,” she says. And Mrs. Mundy is right.

You know, if you live in the snow belt, that teasing, aggravating game of cat-and-mouse that Winter and Spring play. Warm days melt the slush. Rich, earthy smell scent the air. Bicycles and barbecues sprout like mushrooms. And then BAM! A spring snowstorm swirls in and it’s back to winter. 

That’s just what happens in this neighborhood. Out come the sleds. Delay that Ice Cream truck. Zip those jackets. 

But is Mrs. Mundy smug about this? No. She smiles at the vegetable man and says that “spring is on its way.” And again, she is right. This time Spring is completely in charge and not backing down.

it's spring she said illustration4 julie maas

Lilacs and hyacinths, baseball mitts and short-sleeved shirts, and the happy ding-a-ding chime of the Ice Cream Truck all enliven the town. 

it's spring she said illustration5 julie maas

Neighborly, pleasant, with a thoroughly 1960s flavor of outdoor play and long-lasting communities and, yes, women at home peeling the potatoes while the men mind the stores.  I love that it’s an urban Spring story as most tend towards ponds and meadows and woodlands.

it's spring she said illustration julie maas

This is an immigrant neighborhood which illustrator Julie Maas peopled with a multiracial cast  — nice to see in a title almost 50 years old. Her delicate ink drawings, comfy people, and groovy patterns are charming.

it's spring she said illustration 3 julie maas

I don’t know how easy this will be for you to find, but it’s a sweet read for ages 3 and up.

Happy Spring!

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