Category Archives: Picture Books

Springtime with Kevin Henkes

In the same way that Jan Brett shines best in winter, Kevin Henkes was made for springtime.  While he is now a prolific picture book author/illustrator, it seems that all his best works embody spring somehow. Maybe it’s his color palette… simple but strong colors in very restrained but delightful shapes. Whatever the case may be, his books are always strong favorites in my house for the younger set… so I wanted to highlight his best of spring themes. I’ve always thought it would be fun to gift a certain THEME of books among my children— I’m thinking Easter baskets here; certain author themes would fit this well too!

Brand new this year and nearly wordless… four eggs hatch and an unexpected friendship ensues.

Last year, this book stole my heart for its burst of color and sweet text. A wonderful primary-age celebration of spring.

The sweet little “Mama loves you” story… also available as a board book!

Let the birding season begin! This is my very favorite *early* bird book.

A board book perfect for a toddler’s Easter basket… an ode to candy basically. 😀

A potentially bad day… reframed. Not just for kids.

Gardening season is beginnning! Kick it off with this imaginative girl…

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Catching up with 2016, Christmas and Otherwise


So it’s been an off and on year with blog writing for me. But I finally took a morning and traipsed through the bookstore grabbing a large stack of new picture books to settle down and preview. Coupled with a flurry of library holds, I feel adequately qualified in my investigative research now!  My finger has not been on the pulse of all immediate releases this year until now and I thought I’d share what I’ve discovered:

jefFirst of all, the rather depressing news.  There are no brand new Christmas themed books that really blow my dress up this year.  I mean sure, Gingerbread Christmas will get Jan Brett’s typical cult following.  If one is an accomplished enough artist, customers are willing to overlook a weak story.  And well, I just felt like it was a bit contrived. I liked Gingerbread Baby as a fresh spin on the old tale but kind of thought the mischievous whimsy should’ve stopped there. Incidentally, last year’s re-release of Gingerbread Man, illustrated by Richard Scarry is still one of my favorite renditions of the folktale and at less than $4, it’s a bargain.  And then there’s the one that’s getting the biggest press from publishers: Christmas Boot.  But while Pinkney never disappoints in his illustrations, I personally felt like the story was kind of a tired sort of regurgitation of a dozen other Christmas stories. That’s not to say it’s bad… but after reviewing hundreds of Christmas stories, I am looking for novel stories at this point. Christmas Crocodile was somewhat novel… and I always appreciate a good humorous break from the saccharine, emotional stories.  So that was pretty fun…

Honestly, I think the best Christmas-specific book released this year is actually another Golden Book by Richard Scarry… that of The Animals’ Merry Christmas. These vintage tales never go out of style and they stand head and shoulders above some of the newer fare that tries to force a Christmas SOMETHING down our throats.  Other than that, Christmas Fox is the only other title that peaked my interest but I’ve not had a chance to see it in person yet. And the Ephipany book The Christmas Horse and the Three Wise Men looks really lovely but not particularly novel. Epiphany suffers from the Thanksgiving syndrome… where it seems like the majority of picture books related to those holidays get in the rut of just rehashing the same story in different words each time.  This is why The Third Gift was the best thing to happen to Epiphany books since… well… ever. I consider it a must-have.

So let’s dive into some of the more exciting titles of the year…

 Before Morning is the only book in this post that I haven’t actually seen yet, great! Saw it! Love it. A contemporary story with just a working mother shown (no explanation of dad’s absence which I like) but with very classic illustrations. Beautiful! but illustrator Beth Krommes has never disappointed me yet. It looks absolutely glorious and seems to have that magical, lyrical perfection down of text matching illustrations…My very favorite book (so far) illustrated by Krommes is Blue on Blue but Grandmother Winter is a close second!

 

 And check it out!  Marla Frazee was able to nail an excellent, equally delightful sequel to Boss Baby about the new baby sister.  Bossier Baby is just as much fun and Frazee still stands out as my favorite baby illustrator of all time!

 

 

 Coupled with ABC Dream, Kim Trans has created a beautiful duo with 123 Dream.  Her artwork is stunning and the subtlety with which she illustrates her point is so appreciated.  These books would make a wonderful gift for a toddler… a gift that the adult would appreciate too.

 

 

 Circle is a living book that any curious child would be lucky to stumble upon.  Collage artist/writer Jeannie Baker first made her mark on me with the innovative book Mirror and she continues her excellence here. The story follows the migration of the world’s farthest traveling animal, the godwit.  And the spreads that show the curve of the earth are exquisite…

 

 Fun, bright, fold-out pages make Hocus Pocus, it’s Fall! a charming addition to any autumn book basket. There’s nothing profound here, just magical words on each page and rich, vibrant colors to get you in the mood for the season.  The first book here was Abracadabra, it’s Spring, which I thought equally gorgeous. I hope they end up doing a title for Summer and Winter also… they’d all make a lovely gifting set.

 

 Donkey-Donkey is an old title from 1940 that was reprinted this year much to the delight of Roger Duvoisin fans like myself.  It’s the classic tale of an animal unhappy with his lot who tries to be like everyone else before realizing that he’s just fine being himself.  It’s the modern theme of “celebrate your unique self” done with natural taste and charm.  I love how Duvoisin speaks occasionally to the reader, similar to Beatrix Potter and other children’s authors who don’t take themselves too seriously.

“But pigs have slow minds. Donkey-Donkey waited a long time. He counted up to one hundred but Rosa was still thinking. I suspect in fact that she just went to sleep.”

* Intermission Nota Bene…*

Unlike a lot of other picture book reviewers, I’m skipping over several other 2016 titles that  have made news lately. There is a large movement from publishers to produce books that are excellent in graphic design lately. Seems like all the ‘cool, new, hip’ picture books are ones that feature a particular flavor of simple, contemporary graphic art. Now, a lot of this is great art… don’t get me wrong. I just think that picture books deserve to be published only if there is a great marriage between word and image… and I for one am not willing to suffer through a mediocre story just to see some hipster images…

 But hey, look at this!  Pond by Jim LaMarche!  It’s been 16 years since we’ve delighted in La Marche’s naturalist beauty found in The Raft, and I’m not sure if Pond is designed to be a sequel in the proper sense, but it’s hard not to draw parallels. The story does the same thing in paying attention to the natural world while still progressing the plot… it begins in mid-winter and goes through the year.  After La Marche illustrated the superb Winter is Coming, it’s evident that he just keeps getting better and better with each title.

 The Bear and the Piano.  Easy. Fun. Great illustrations.  A sweet little story to delight all budding musicians or those unsure of their own talents. Definitely worth checking out.

 

 

 I finally got to see The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles and, as suspected, I loved it. Erin Stead’s illustrations are perfect, soft and inviting in this evocative, simple story about a lonely man who finds friendship… really well done!

 

 

 Finding Wild is one of those graphic arts tour de excellence that I stuck my nose up at in the intermission.  The difference is the text. It reads like spoken word poetry and manages to encourage people to appreciate wild spaces, big and small, without becoming preachy about environmental issues.

 

 The Night Gardener.  Simple, beautiful, whimsy.  This is one of those fun little stories that aren’t necessarily the most profound or gorgeous things in life but has the potential to be a child’s favorite.  I have learned with my own kids, that there are certain flavors of quirkiness in tales that they just adore and beg to have repeated again and again.

 

Let’s see, I already raved about The White Cat and the Monk, which leaves only one last thing I need to gush about: A Child of Books… the pièce de résistance of 2016… and that’s only because I feel like this book is my autobiography. I’m not sure I would’ve initially picked Oliver Jeffers to be the illustrator in my life story but upon reflection, it makes sense… his work is messy and stylistically unorthodox but simple and authentic too.  So those adjectives probably fit me quite well.

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Beautiful Tidbits… not just for kids!

Just wanted to share some recent picture book treasures we are enjoying. Some are old, some are new… but these are what I love today. And all happen to be fitting for adults.

The White Cat and the Monk is a somber, stunning little delight. It’s a retelling of the old Irish poem “Pangur Bán” (about which I knew nothing until just now…). It’s the simple story of finding light and truth… a beautiful book for children and adults.

 

 

 

Wherever You Go is the new “Oh the Places You’ll Go.” While I love Dr. Seuss, this particular discover-the-world book is graphically much more inspiring and fun. The text is all about how different roads will do different things and lead you in different ways… superb for those bound for a new adventure or at a crossroads in their life.

 

All in a Day is older but needs to be read often. By all ages. Today I read it for the first time and wanted to cry. Granted, I’ve got a swirling load of thoughts that contribute to this, but I was so delighted and relieved in some sense just to read the hopefulness in this book!  Who says therapy has to be expensive!

 

The Whale is the newest addition to my favorite wordless books.  Wordless books know no age boundaries. The artwork by Vita and Ethan Murrow in this is exquisitely realistic.  

 

 

 The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles is my “not yet seen” addition to this list. The story sounds absolutely charming… from Amazon: “The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles spends his days watching the waves for a glint of glass and delivering messages near and far. His only companions are an orange tabby cat and a cow. Befitting the slightly melancholy tone, Cuevas’s text is appropriately lyrical (“Sometimes the messages were very old, crunchy like leaves in the fall. Sometimes the messages were written by a quill dipped in sadness.”). When he discovers a bottle with an invitation to a party the next evening—with no recipient specified—the Uncorker is curious. After asking the maker of cakes, the candy shop owner, several townspeople, a seagull, and a one-man band if they recognize the handwriting (no one does, though they all profess a desire to attend such a party), the Uncorker decides to go to the event himself in hopes of returning the message to the original author.”

 

 

 

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Beetle Mania!

With the arrival of Diana Hutts-Aston’s newest title in her exquisite series— A Beetle is Shy— I thought it would be an opportune time to celebrate all my favorite beetle books.

Listen, I don’t love bugs. Especially not ones that venture into my house. But I do love a few other things that make this subject worth pursuing, namely trivia, art, science, alphabetized lists and vintage readers.  Titles in this collection cover all these areas quite well. And some of these books had me in rapt attention far beyond what I expected.  Beetle books make for excellent strewing titles since there is so much fascinating information to be found in this animal family…

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 First, as mentioned, is the latest from the Hutts-Aston and Long duo: A Beetle is Shy.  I only own ONE of the books in this series, but as a homeschooler and as a curious human being, I hope to acquire all of them someday.  Each one is a graphic feast and beetles are no exception. Couple the facts, lovely text and gorgeous art, and this is a book you will want to pass on to your children some day…

Jerry Pallota is an alphabet wizard. He loves creating alphabetized lists too and has a wonderful line of books covering a broad range of subjects.  The Beetle Alphabet Book delivers large, colorful images and excellent nuggets of trivia for every letter of the alphabet,

 

This book is what kickstarted my beetle fascination.  It had me delighted for the better part of an hour with its beautiful illustrations (stink bugs are beautiful people!) and curious facts.  Did you know that 1 in 5 every living being is a BEETLE?!?  Isn’t that just riveting?!

 

P.D. Eastman is at his finest in this old tale about mischief being righted.  The wee firefly causes mayhem with his messages he lights up around the sky until a wise old owl corrects him… you really can’t improve on some of these old reader books.

 

I admit it. The only reason we love The Grouchy Ladybug (other than it being by Eric Carle) is that it lends itself so well to the arbitrary bully voice that I like to inject whenever possible into stories: “Hey you, wanna fight?” Yes, it teaches manners and how nice it is to share… fine. But I’m not really into stories for the moralizing. I just like to frolic along the pages with different voices.

Dung beetles.  Behold. This is one of the rare times that I break my rule on entertaining “potty humor” in picture books.  And that’s only because it’s educational to learn about how these unfortunately named beetles are able to survive and thrive off of the excrement of animals. Very well done!

 

Here is the classic book that’s listed on most bibliophile’s “Best Summer Picture Books” lists.  The evocative tale of trying to capture the magical light of fireflies and the consequences that come of it. Fireflies and ladybugs are probably the most (and the only) well loved beetles out there…

 

Gail Gibbons has just never failed me yet. Ladybugs, like all of her informational titles, offer just enough information to engage children without overwhelming them.  Perfect for leaving on the back of a toilet for a child to pick up and read! Ha!

 

The Very Clumsy Click Beetle is one of Carle’s lesser known titles but I think it’s just as much fun as his more popular ones. Follow along with the the beetle as he figures out how to the nail the landing on his click-jump.

 

What would one of my Top Ten lists be without an exception?  This isn’t strictly a picture book… more of a coffee-table book actually. But it. is. stunning. If you ever doubted that the world of beetles and bugs could be a beautiful world, this is the book for you. Pheromone is a magnum opus. Check out author Christopher Marley’s website for a taste of what he does.  This book would be an excellent inspiration to budding artists everywhere…

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Top Ten Picture Books for Grownups

pbadultWhether you need an unusual gift for the person who has everything, or you just want to regress into a simpler mode of making sense of the world… or if you suspect you’re needing a little bit of bibliotherapy (yes, it’s a thing!)… this list is for you. I’ve included a little bit of everything, the sweet, the sentimental, the funny, the thoughtful and the macabre… all are treasures in their own way.

6ecf6b6f53cd5594292f75d8528072adI’ve often said that picture books aren’t just for kids. C.S. Lewis famously said so too. But in this genre, there is an ability to harness the universality of human experience on a level all too often dismissed as juvenile. There is nothing exclusively juvenile about these books and indeed, any one of them would make for a fine, literary cuppa to pause and savor your day.

 

 The Giving Tree I’m pretty sure this would be a universal listing on ANY “picture books for adults” list otherwise they are seriously deficient. It’s the classic tale that can touch even the most shriveled up raisin of a heart I’m sure…

 The Lion and the Bird is one of those treats that demonstrate the actually complex decision-making process artists and publishers go through to create a perfect book. There is so much more to having a good story and nice pictures. Considerations have to include font, sizing, white space allowed etc.  The Lion and the Bird is a subdued, sparse telling of friendships found and lost and found again. A beautiful, beautiful book. Reminds me of the quote: “Distance is to love what wind is to fire— it extinguishes the small and enkindles the great.”

 Mrs. Biddlebox has been purchased and wrapped up for me to give my own sweet mother for Mother’s Day this year. Not only will my mother find the story a riot—how one disgruntled woman turns her bad day around and bakes it into a cake!— but the illustrations just screamed my mother all over it.  Perfect humor to offer someone going through a series of irritable days.

 Sidewalk Flowers is probably my favorite book of 2015. Like many other wordless books, this one crosses all age boundaries to reach a wide audience… especially those who have or who aspire to have a childlike heart. It’s a story of small actions having big consequences.  A tiny reminder of how “Beauty will save the world…”  (Dostoevsky) and a book I wish I could give to all my dear friends…

 Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World: is a book for word lovers. For culture lovers. For curious humans. It’s a lovely little book to leave lying about on a coffee table or in the bathroom or to open up and feature a new page on a daily basis. The book features words that can’t accurately translate in other languages… but the concepts are universal and the connection felt when reading the the word is unmistakable. So much fun to look at…

 Our favorite, absurd, childish author/illustrator—Oliver Jeffers— has created the most poignant book for adults in The Heart and the Bottle. It’s a book about losing someone you love or who’s had a big impact on your life… and then locking your heart up. How to figure out a healthy way to become vulnerable again, to loving again…  a beautiful book that helps people grapple with loss or grief.

 The Arrival is one of those books you just need to see and spend time with. Not only is Shaun Tan an exquisite artist but he is clearly insightful about human nature because his book dives deep into the experience of what it means to be human… albeit in a very approachable and unique way.  This book would be perfect not only for immigrants, but those who’ve ever had to uproot and move to a new area and get used to a new community or sub-culture where they felt completely lost.  An excellent and evocative wordless tale…

 The Treasure by Uri Shulevitz is the book to give people needing a healthy dose of gratitude in their lives… for those who maybe don’t realize how good they’ve got it or who keep thinking the grass is always greener on the other side.  It’s the classic folktale of searching far and wide for a treasure that can only be discovered at home.

 If You’re Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow.  This was the first picture book I ever received as a gift when I was NOT a young child.  In fact, it was a gift for my 16th birthday from a teacher/mentor at the time.  I treasured it deeply and still do. Eden’s artwork carries an ironic sophistication for being such simple, colored pencil drawings.  And the message of hope and whimsy are perfect for people needing any sort of encouragement in their lives.

 Here it is: The Gashlycrumb Tinies, the book listing that my readers will love or hate me for. In short: it’s an alphabetical book of childrens’ demise. How many different ways can people meet their death?  Some are horrified at the idea of such a dark topic being in a picture book.  I get it. We want to protect children. But I also want my children to have a healthy, light conceptualization of death. If one is in the state of grace, it SHOULD be laughed at!  If your sensibilities are offended by this, that’s okay. This is a list of books for adults anyway. Most children would pick up Gorey’s book and laugh their way through it, not taking it too seriously that Maud was swept out to see or Kate was struck with an axe. I honestly think children make sense of the world through a light handling of certain darker themes. Some children are more sensitive of course and discretion should be used. But unlike some reviewers, I don’t think this book is just feeding into a warped, sociopathic delight of pain or dying. I think it’s simply a book… and a clever one at that… that makes for funny, interesting reading. I would readily give it to many of my adult brothers, friends or priest. Yep. I think it’s obvious that this book isn’t for everyone… but it is for some.  And it does offer a steady balance to what are otherwise thoughtful, lovely, or prosaic titles in this list!

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Okay, that’s all for now. I’m going to have a baby any day now so I’ll catch you on the flip-side!

 

 

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The Little Friar Who Flew

When I learned of this book’s existence a few years ago, I was frustrated at the lack of information on the book, the expense of out-of-print copies and maddening lack of interior images! I think might be able to find a couple pictures now with a google search, but I thought I’d post my own for curious people.

The Little Friar Who Flew by Patricia Lee Gauch is one of the lesser known saint picture books on the market and not nearly as talked about as illustrator de Paola’s other works are.  I was finally able to buy a reasonably priced copy to add to our bookshelf recently and am quite happy with the purchase. We had seen The Reluctant Saint as a family and enjoyed it very much (the kids laughing hysterically at the flying scenes) so the children were happy to have even more context to learn about St. Joseph of Cupertino.  The book is simple and a perfect introduction to this humble, “little donkey” of a saint. He, along with St. John Vianney, always reassure me with my not-so-academically advanced children… God measures our love, not our IQs.

Please enjoy these inside shots of a lovely, little book:

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Yosef’s Gift of Many Colors

IMG_7579I know it’s getting too late to make plans for new books in your Easter book basket, but I loved this book I just received so much that I couldn’t wait until next year to show you all.  Unlike Christmas titles, we don’t have a ton of Easter books in our house, but I really treasure the handful that we do have. Yosef’s Gift of Many Colors is another beautiful book that celebrates the Ukrainian tradition of pysanka.  It’s slightly obscure compared to the other more popular books on this topic (notably Rechenka’s EggsEaster Eggs for Anya or Nina’s Treasures) but this one is specifically folky and simple… my favorite of the pysanka lot.

The story is about a father who wants to present something that represents his family at church on Good Friday. When he creates beautiful egg art and tries so hard to make it just perfect, an accident happens that makes him reconsider what perfect really is…

Enjoy these inside pictures… and have a beautiful Easter!

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Disclaimer. Bibliography. Love.

With the opening of my new long-term project/bookshelf/store— Pelican Tips— I wanted to explain just a couple things.

  • I am little. I do not pretend to be the sole voice of authority on what makes for a great picture book. And I am not an expert. I am just a woman with an inordinate love for children’s literature… and for picture books in particular. That’s all I am.
  • I have nothing to conquer and nothing to prove in my little corner of cyber-space here. I am thankful to be fully supported by my husband and that I don’t need to foster any ambitions of becoming a famous success in the blogging world.
  • I enjoy and am humbly grateful for the little Amazon affiliate bonuses that I collect through my work here. I would write anyway, without the bonus, but am thankful for the possibility that exists to earn a wee bit to support my family along the way. They aren’t nearly what we pay out in public school taxes each year… but these bonuses do help us to fund books for our own homeschooling needs and other small things.  Thank you so much for your support!
  • My bookstore, while an ongoing project, will never be totally comprehensive. No one person on God’s good earth could find and catalogue every great book ever written. I also confess that I have not read every title that I recommend. But after a long affliction of bibliophilia, one develops a certain perception and discernment (looking at the author, illustrations, publisher, year of publication, reviews, etc.) with judging whether or not a book is likely to be twaddle, propaganda, or worthy of our children’s minds and hearts. It’s not a perfect system, but it is one that has served me quite well most of the time.
  • There are many, many other souls out there who also love picture books. I am not better than them. Indeed I am grateful to many of them for helping me form my own lists and ideas also. I am happy to see our culture rebuilt—through an appreciation of reading quality literature— and don’t feel any need for competitive thinking among us. It is disordered to think that another person’s goodness, skill or success diminishes our own. Each has something different to offer— nuances in how they determine what goes on their recommended lists— and this is great!  Readers relate to different writers and find certain kinships in how some people write, and not particularly others. Together, we are all aiming for Heaven. That is our goal… that is what unites us. I am happy in fact, to share with you some of the websites from which I occasionally glean ideas. While I don’t read blogs regularly (despite writing my own!) anymore, I do tune in here and there when time permits and catch a few articles of interest. And I am happy to point others to places where other good people are writing notable things about picture books too. While I have some differences in opinion with ALL of these sites on some things, each has benefitted me in some way and I’ve appreciated getting some book ideas on occasion (in no particular order):

In addition to those, I freely admit to following certain publishers and authors and illustrators online.  The rest of what I know comes from over a decade of first-hand “research and testing” with my own children, lots of serendipitous finds online and in real life, and a whole lot of library fines. There is also a list of books that have helped to form in me a heart made for stories. Each of these books (shown on the acknowledgement page here)  has in its own way, refined my vision and articulated thoughts for me that, left to my own devices, I could never do justice. I am indebted to the genius and thoughtfulness of many wonderful people who have come before me.

So you see, this is why I feel free to explain and even delight in my littleness. Of myself, I can do nothing, and have nothing to offer you my reader! Any gift, talent or skill I may exhibit is from Him, they are not my possessions.  My very favorite, contemporary spiritual writer is Fr. Jacques Philippe and he says it best here:

“This is why humility, spiritual poverty, is so precious: it locates our identity securely in the one place where it will be safe from all harm. If our treasure is in God, no one can take it from us. Humility is truth. I am what I am in God’s eyes: a poor child who possesses absolutely nothing, who receives everything, infinitely loved and totally free. I have received everything in advance from the freely bestowed love of my Father, who said to me definitively: “All that is mine is yours.”

And what I have been freely given, I offer to you.  Thank you.

 

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Refreshing the Baby Basket

The importance of a humble, little, board book can not be underestimated. Through these early exposures to books that Baby can hold and touch and feel, a love for reading develops. Making sure your babies and toddlers have easy access to beautiful and fun board books is like taking your folic acid supplement in early pregnancy. It is ESSENTIAL to promote the healthy, viable growth of a good reader… of a child who chooses a book over a video game or who can be still with their own thoughts rather than always seeking to be entertained.  I find it asinine that parents lament that their Bobby “hates to read” when they he is 13 years old but fail to realize that very often the problem began a decade ago when Bobby was plopped in front of the T.V or never given his very own books to cherish and collect. Most of all, Bobby was too often deprived of one of the deepest comforts of childhood when he was very infrequently held in a lap and read to. Quality books feed our babies. And I think they are one of the best gifts you can give your child or any child you know. But enough preaching; if you are the type of person who reads this type of blog, you already know all this!

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Just to dispel the myth that I am anti-novelty— based on the last post— I wanted to share with you some thoughts on what I think are excellent additions to the Board Book world in the past couple years.  In my home, I keep either a small basket handy or have a low bookshelf (currently, it’s the repurposed IKEA spice rack you’ve seen everywhere online) where “baby books” are kept. I keep only about 5-ish books in there are a time and rotate them out more or less weekly. In the perfect world, I’d love to have a month of rotations but between recent casualties and missing books, we don’t quite have 20 board books so we just do the best we can.babybasket

At any rate, I find keeping the books in there fresh to be a wonderful way to keep Baby coming back to the shelf. Our two-year-old knows those are HER books (but that doesn’t stop the 4 and 6 year olds from having a healthy interest in what those are and reading them also) and loves to pull them from the shelf and toddle over to Mama, Papa or big brother and demand to be read to. Since she is Napoleon reincarnated, we always comply.

Besides all the wonderful classic board books out there—and there are some great ones… (and I’ll let interested parties know more about those with an announcement next week)— here are just a few novel ones that I find to be quite charming. One last thing I like about finding great, newly published books is that they make for excellent gifts. When you aren’t sure if you godson’s family already has Brown Bear, Brown Bear, you can be pretty certain that they don’t have the new board version of Kitten’s First Full Moon.  Anyway here are some lovely, new board books:

  Here is my olive branch extension to the KiddyLit company that produces the board book classics; they seem to have got it right with this title.  C Is for Castle: A Medieval Alphabet promises to be very, very charming for both toddler and adult.  There was no need for this to be a board version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but a generic medieval theme fits quite nice. Colorful and original art, simple text… everything I look for in a board book!

 

 

 Swing… that lovely old poem from Robert Louis Stevenson. This book offers a very easy and appealing way for very young children to memorize this poem.  Here, is teaching kids to appreciate the classics, done right.

 

 

 I’m not sure where Steve Light has been all my life with this little series of books that came out first in 2008. Along with Planes Go, there are Trains Go, Trucks Go, Diggers Go, and Boats Go  (2015).  And I have to tell you something: these are the best books EVER for dads to read!  And there are two reasons:  1- They are short. Despite his crazy wife, my own husband doesn’t particularly LOVE to read aloud to the kids; he’ll do it willingly most of the time, but it’s not something he relishes and so he often is relieved when the child picks a short book.  2- These books are mostly just noises.  I can not make NEARLY the cool helicopter or fighter jet sound that my man can.  Maybe I’m sexist but I think men might just be inherently better at mimicking the sounds of machines than women.  So these board books are so much more fun when Papa reads them than me.

 Do you know Fran Preston-Gannon yet? She’s new to me (was a designer for Burt’s Bees at one point though!) but so much fun. Hot Dog, Cold Dog and its newer companion What a Hoot are so much fun. I liked them immediately for their size (larger than the average board book) but all the colors and busy-ness of each page are quite appealing also.  Really well done…

 

 If you are an Orla Kiely fan (think of those vibrant Target designs), you will love her board books.  They are all very simplistic but Shapes and the like are a novel bit of graphic design that would spice up any (hipster) baby book basket.

 

 

 Around the World (and it’s companion Through the Town) are loved by my four year old son the most.  The books have an indented “trail” on each page that the child is supposed to follow with his finger. Making noises as he does loops or passes the yeti on the mountain are half the fun I think. Whatever the case may be, these books are fun and tactile (but not in a “lift the flap” way that makes you worry a child will rip it apart).

 

 Hooray! Author/illustrator Il Sung Na was not just a one hit wonder when he made A Book of Sleep.  Two years after that hit came Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit (which we love also) and now his quirky artwork appears again in  A Book of Babies.  Perfect for Easter-time. I had to laugh at the single One-Star reviewer who said the “pictures weren’t realistic enough” for their child to enjoy the book.  Wow.  It’s a picture book… and this artist never tried to be exactly perfect.  For the rest of us who “get it”… please enjoy the whimsy.

 I haven’t had a chance to see Pinwheel yet!  But as a life-long lover of kaleidoscopes, I want to very much! It sounds wonderful and the images we can see on amazon are excellent. Someone buy it or find it at your library and please tell me if it’s as charming as it sounds!

 

 Now here is a gem. A B See is a wonderful board book and it would honestly be best for a 4 or 5 year old, rather than a toddler. Each page features a letter filled with images that begin with that letter… and a small bit of text describing just one part of the image: “Bear bounces a basketball.”  What I also love about it is that the book feels good in your hands. the images are all slightly raised and it offers an excellent, tactile way for pre-readers to go over the letters and notice every little image.  Really a lovely, lovely book!

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Refusing the Bandwagon… and a giveaway


pandpI’ve had some people gush to me lately on how wonderful they think the new lines of baby board books are… you might have seen them. The franchise names are “BabyLit”, “Cozy Classics” and “Mini Myths”. There might be more but these are the ones I’m familiar with.  All are very highly reviewed on most book sites. The idea is that these books take a classic piece of literature from Jane Austen or Leo Tolstoy or a Greek Myth and distill it down into a board book. Next thing you know, little Suzy will be writing a thesis topic on Gender and Disability in American Literature, before she’s out of diapers!

I am not a fan.  At all.  Here’s why:

jande

While I have to give points to the attractive, graphic design work on some of these books, I can’t help but think (hope!) that this is just one giant marketing fad that will come and go, a la the (mostly discredited now) Baby Einstein abomination in the late 90s. (Don’t feel bad, I got into Baby Einstein with my firstborn before I knew better too.) It’s not that I don’t love the classics or adore myths, it’s just that I find the idea of dumbing them down into a few pictures and a couple words, fairly repulsive.  I imagine parents can only be thinking one of two things if they buy these books:  1- That they themselves must find the concept as endearing or charming as a child size, functional tea set. But the reality is that you can’t make a child-size extraction of War and Peacenor should you want to!  Or 2- They imagine themselves to be offering their child some sort of intellectual head start on literacy or bibliophilia… which I would guess to be nonsense.  These books often have almost nothing to do with the originals and are just clever pictures with one or two words that correlate to what the child sees or maybe a quote from the book. Here is the banner description from one of the main authors, Jennifer Adams’ website:

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hercAnd there it is in a nutshell. These books are fashionable. At BEST, I can hope that the books are SO attractive to parents that they’ll want to read more frequently than normal to their child. If they can’t stand to be bothered with something so “unhip” and “banal” as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by all means get an enfeebled version of Great Expectations if that’s what it’s going to take to sit down and read.  Maybe that’s all this is. But please don’t be under any illusions that your two year old’s IQ is going to shoot above those poor saps still looking at Richard Scarry books.

One last point, it IS possible to bring some refinery of the adult world into a board book, so long as the original isn’t tampered with.  Babies don’t need dumbed down words or pictures to develop a love for beauty. True beauty is timeless and age-less, but there is certainly something to be said for waiting for the perfect moment of maturity before exposure.  I don’t read The Lord of the Rings books to my 5 year old, because she won’t fully appreciate it yet. Like throwing seeds unto a rocky ground… her soil hasn’t been properly cultivated yet. And there is no need to rush that. But I’m not going to search for a Happy Meal version of this literary achievement because it would be an insult to Tolkien. James and the Giant Peach is sufficient, thankyouverymuch and this is how board book classics should be viewed also.  “Everything in moderation” I like to say about excellent food… and “Everything in due time” I like to say about excellent literature.  So if parents want to get a head start on the appreciation of what is beautiful and true, begin at the beginning.  Feel free to enjoy lovely things like the Mini Masters Boxed Set to get a toddler familiar with great art; but please just remember that books like Goodnight Moon are sophisticated and noble in their own right.

In fact, leave a comment before this Friday giving me your thoughts (and they don’t have to agree with mine!) on these kinds of books and I’ll choose one of you to be sent a good, old-fashioned, very fad-proof, classic book that was just released in board edition this year… I like putting my money towards the types of books I WANT to see produced for toddlers and towards what I consider to be important, quality literature! Richard Scarry’s Bunny Book would be lovely tucked into a special someone’s Easter basket this year…  Contest Closed! While my contests are still delightfully small, I always stick to highly unscientific methods of choosing a winner: asking one of my children to pick a number or draw a name from a hat or such.  🙂 Congrats to Elizabeth!

PLUS, a special bonus book giveaway just for my email subscribers that’ll begin next week when I get into what are some of the better choices in newly published board books.

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