Tag Archives: adult diversions

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!


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!




7 Picture Books for Grads

High school graduates throwing their mortarboards in the air --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

On graduation day, many people turn to the old standby of Oh, The Places You’ll Go! for a sweet gift to inspire those stepping into the world.  It’s a great book, to be sure, but I guarantee you that if it’s all wrapped up in a nice flat package, everyone will know what it is already.  Consider a book that is just slightly “left-of-expected” to inspire and encourage people of all ages.  Any of these titles below would be excellent for teens leaving junior high all the way thru post-grad students!

What Do You Do With an Idea? For innovators. For inventors. For artists. For thinkers. For all human beings who have the capacity for amazing potential but need a little encouragement to realize their dreams. The book touches on how to deal with people who’ll tell you your ideas are no good, and how to make your idea grow (spend time with it and feed it good food of course!)  A very inspiring sort of book…



If You’re Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow by Cooper Edens.  This treasure is sadly out of print but it’s well worth a dedicated hunt. I was given this book on my 16th birthday and it has stayed with me for years. It is perfect and whimsical and thoughtful.  “If tomorrow morning, the sky falls… have clouds for breakfast.  If you have butterflies in your stomach… invite them into your heart.”  Just a delight all around. One of my all time favorites.



Everything I Need To Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book (Little Golden Books. This is perfect for parents to give their (grown) children who were raised on Little Golden Books. It features all the best of illustrators like Eloise Wilkins, Garth Williams, Richard Scarry etc. along with sweet little reminders on how to get the most out of life…


 Just For Today is the new release by illustrator Bimba Landmann, of whom I am an admiring fan. It takes the words from St. John XXIII’s famous decalogue (also used by AA) and puts them into picture book form in an offbeat but reverent way.  It starts with  Just for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.” And ends with: “Just for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed, for twelve hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life.” Wise words for all of us…


Maps is your treat for the up and coming world traveler or your domestic, wanna-be world traveler. I spent the better part of an hour oohing and ahhing over this book and drinking in the wonderful little interpretations by Aleksandra Mizielinska. Each page is a gorgeous spread filled with factual and beautiful details… all done in a whimsical, but not exclusively childish way.



 So Few of Me by Peter Reynolds is the book I would give someone like myself— someone who feels like the enormity of her to-do list is beyond her and wants a clone.  Well, the child in this book gets a clone… and then some, to help him with everything to do. In a busy, frenetic world, this simple book steps back and reminds us of the very profound idea that we don’t need to do more or BE more: “What if we did less… but did our best?”



 Whatever You Are, Be a Good One: 100 Inspirational Quotations Hand-Lettered by Lisa Congdon. Admittedly, this is cheating. It’s not technically designed for children… but it sure is lovely. And it’s perfect for inspiring people (okay, frankly… girls) who are headed into the world.  Many of the quotes in here are ones I’d want to cut out and frame and hang on my wall… because I like the quote, I like the person who said it and I like the art: case in point: “Believe there is a great power silently working all things for good, behave yourself and never mind the rest.”  —Beatrix Potter.




And now for something peculiar.

Have you met Treehorn yet? I just finished The Treehorn Trilogy and was delighted at the unexpected, unorthodox tales of this odd little boy and his completely aloof, dismissive parents. When Treehorn shrinks, all mother can say is “That’s nice, dear.” When money starts to grow on Treehorn’s tree, it’s a “You can’t go outside after dark, dear.” And when Treehorn has a birthday, he gets a sweater, leftover casserole and left alone with his birthday cake.

Modern parents will not like the Treehorn books. They will be disturbed by the morbid disinterest all the adults have for this child throughout his stories. Of course, the notorious Edward Gorey probably clamored to get this illustrating gig. I’m certain no one else could have so perfectly captured Treehorn’s dull face or the parent’s apathy. His pen and ink drawings are perfect here. I find these stories to be sheer delights. They aren’t the treasures to use for capturing the hearts or inspiring virtue in young children, to be sure… but they are certainly a peculiar and even thought-provoking diversion for slightly older readers: my 10 and 12 year olds found Treehorn dreadfully amusing.

And off-the-beaten-path items that capture their imagination at this age, are items to which I like to introduce my children. To be exposed to the various genres of literature, even in the picture book world, is a valuable thing I think, when properly timed on a developmental level.


The River: Something Strange and Something Beautiful

As if we needed more proof that picture books are not just for kids.  Along comes traipsing The River by Alessandro Sanna.  It’s a wordless wonder. I was struck immediately how art transcends culture so often.  Part of the beauty of wordless books is that the story is the same in Mumbai as it is in Miami. This title was created by an Italian artist who uses watercolors to illustrate the dramatic changes of life on a river over the course of a year.

I looked at the first few pages with my brow furrowed, seeing if I could get used to the dark, undulating painted water and sky and simple blobs for concrete objects.  But what I found after my initial skepticism gave way to the turning of each page… was kind of, sort of special. I just surrendered to a style that was not initially in my comfort zone of favorites and became engrossed in the passing scenery and brilliant use of light… like I was floating along in a hot air balloon just watching.  Outside perspective, unobtrusive. Nothing in your face or giving the first-person intimacy technique like some illustrations employ. Detached, the images still beckoned.

I especially liked how Sanna chose his springtime color motif. Not your typical pastels, but the bold violets of a crispy sunset and the hint of color in a semi-limited palette really will resonate with those Northern Hemisphere readers who don’t really experience “spring” until something like June.
The River is something different. It’s something that evokes the word beauty… but not in a way you necessarily anticipate in a traditional way… and I like that in a book.


Tangent: My favorite new life-helps

2014 has brought some new items into my life that are excellent!  Because I don’t do Facebook or personal blogging right now, I’m bursting at the seems to tell the world about my great finds.  So, I’ll just hijack my book blog for a moment to showcase my newest, random life-helps:

 I’ve tried two other brands of waterproof mattress covers.  They are loud, unbreathing and don’t hold up well after multiple washings.  Wet-Stop mattress covers are actually comfortable, quiet, and extremely well suited to many washings!  Every kid bed in the house is now covered with one!

 A $7 can opener.  Revolutionary.  You never realize how well something is supposed to work until you have an item that does it well.  My old, rusty can opener required mega force and precision to function.  This 4-in-1 item is rocking my world.
 If you have nice camera gear, protect your investment!  I am in love with the Ape Case brand of cases!  We have a smaller holster for grab & go situations but the medium case in the picture is what we use for traveling and holding our extra lenses, external flash and various other items.  The bright yellow interior is so great for seeing what’s inside and the whole case is built tough!  Finally, something to withstand my rambunctious family!

 Okay, so a Celtic album is hardly a “life help” but I was delighted to listen to this particular collection of excellent music.  Of course, the title of The Brendan Voyage won me over immediately but I’m always a sucker for Irish sounds. (I have to say that this pairs nicely of course with the book: Saint Brendan and the Voyage Before Columbus and that March is pretty much the unofficial “Irish Appreciation Month” around here.)

 Don’t knock these wool nursing pads ’til you try ’em.  I took the leap after reading great reviews from some other mamas.  And they are huge (my husband said “What are these tortilla thingies?” when they came in the mail —which actually prevents the “bullseye” look on your chest with normal pads!). So these are expensive. But they are hands-down the best new-baby item I’ve purchased in years!  I would fast for a week if I had to just to afford these!  I bought two pairs and that’s all you need.  They are so soft, so comforting. The natural lanolin in the nursing pads helps ward off infections and the entire thing is designed to keep your breast warm (which actually helps avoid clogged ducts too)… so when it gets wet, it’s not the cold, clammy wet from disposable or cotton pads, but a warm wet.  I wash them with very hot water… no need to get a special wool cleanser… just hot water to rinse out dried up milk and then air dry in a warm place.  So, so great…

 Bovine gelatin. Seriously.  I have 90 year old-lady knee joints.  They have been aching for almost a year now.  It hurts to genuflect, to keep my knees bent for long, to bend over, to sit on the toilet.  I have avoided the doctor because I don’t like doctors and didn’t want to pay tons for co-pays and MRIs and yadda, yadda, yadda.  So my sister told me about this stuff because she had a similar knee pain and all HER doctor visits didn’t yield any good news except that “it’s reversible.” So here I am, 4 days after taking this stuff 2-3 times a day and the pain in my knees is significantly reduced so far!  It’s unbelievable to be able to kneel down in Mass without being in agony.  I don’t know how long this will last or if I can get totally pain free this way… after about a month, I’ll taper down my serving to one a day and see how that goes. Then maybe I’ll be able to stop completely.  All I know is that I’m grateful for a simple, natural and— comparatively speaking— cheap alternative to Big-Pharma.


So there you are!  I feel better now that I’ve shared the good news.  🙂


Who Are Picture Books For?

I don’t know what’s got me on this kick of reading picture book author’s writings (oh wait, it’s the
caffeine buzz that’s not allowing me to nap right now!) but I am chewing on some incredibly thought provoking words by the talented Shaun Tan now on the question of “Who are picture books for?

The artists’ responsibility lies first and foremost with the work itself, trusting that it will invite the attention of others by the force of its conviction. So it’s really quite unusual to ask “who do you do it for?” 

And this especially is rather profound:

 The simplicity of a picture book in terms of narrative structure, visual appeal and often fable-like brevity might seem to suggest that it is indeed ideally suited to a juvenile readership. It’s about showing and telling, a window for learning to ‘read’ in a broad sense, exploring relationships between words, pictures and the world we experience every day. But is this an activity that ends with childhood, when at some point we are sufficiently qualified to graduate from one medium to another? Simplicity certainly does not exclude sophistication or complexity; we inherently know that the truth is otherwise. “Art,” as Einstein reminds us, “is the expression of the most profound thoughts in the simplest way.”
Good stuff here, and in the whole essay.  It’s long and thoughtful, probably appreciated by only the most die-hard of bibliozealots.  Picture books are more than simply fun diversions to fill up a child’s bookshelf. Much, much more. 

What’s Your Favorite Animal?

I picked up What’s Your Favorite Animal? on a whim and was happily surprised to find it as satisfying for adults as it is for children. (That’s the test of great children’s literature you know!)  In it, there is a medley of picture book artists who submitted illustrations of their personal favorite animal and a small anecdote or explanation why.  It’s great fun comparing the different styles of art and well-read children will find it a fun piece of trivia to see if they can match the artwork with the books they have previously read by that particular artist.  Some are obvious… like Eric Carle. Others require just a pinch more thought: like Peter Sis.  At any rate, it’s a fun little diversion from typical picture book fare and something any bibliozealot can appreciate!


Adult Diversion #1

Taking a step away from the picture book world to share what I’m reading.  Typically, I have about three books going at once: something non-fiction—to educate, something spiritual—to inspire, and something fiction—mind candy. What I read depend on what mood I’m in or what is particularly great.

First, I just finished What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster which was brilliant and fresh and highly educational. I thought it would largely be a piece of pro-natalist propaganda (yes, it happens on both sides!) but was surprised to find the author’s points compelling, well thought out and scientifically backed up. I highly recommend this book.

Second, I’m about half-way through a birthday gift that was given to me this year: Sigrid Undset’s biography of Catherine of Siena. This reads like a piece of fiction because Undset is a great storyteller (I first fell in love with her over the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy) and I’m loving learning more than the abstract version of this very popular saint.

In Adoration I can currently be found with with Abandonment to Divine Providence tucked under my arm. It’s not exactly heavy reading… but it is theologically dense and I have to take it slowly because so much goodness is packed into so few words at a time. Fr. Jean Pierre de Caussade was deeply influenced by St. Francis de Sales and St. John of the Cross so you can imagine how this book packs a spiritual punch.

Lastly, I recently finished the first of the Eliot Family Trilogy by Elizabeth Gouge which has been out of print and unaffordable for so long!  They have just re-released the books and I immediately bought The Bird in the Tree.  It is beautifully written… and the themes are refreshing and timeless: love, duty, family, nobility, honor, legend.  I am happy to have read it and am looking forward to reading Pilgrim’s Inn next. (But why do they have to ruin a good story with a modern photo on the cover! That man is NOT how I envisioned David to look and I always feel a little bit crushed at these photographic invasions of my imagination.  Artist sketches don’t bother me since they are a bit more subjective but a photo implies an unbending reality! This is one reason I NEVER buy books that have the new movie characters on the covers—e.g. The Chronicles of Narnia, or Lord of the Rings— let the kids put together their own faces of the characters without being told that Frodo looks like Elijah Wood!)

So there you have it. Ellie’s current reads for herself.  You’ll get this every now and again I suspect…