Tag Archives: beauty

Just for Today…

In one of my rare moves, I made an immediate and full-priced purchase of the newest book by Bimba Landmann (I had been saving my Amazon card points!): Just For Today, which is the title of the famous decalogue by Pope St. John XXIII.  She’s been one of my absolute favorite illustrators ever since I discovered her other titles like Clare and Francis, A Boy Named Giotto and others.

I tried looking up the history of the prayer, because its origin isn’t universally accepted and several adaptations of the prayer exist, one is in use by AA.  Here is a common one:

  1. Just for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once. 
  2. Just for today, I will take the greatest care of my appearance: I will dress modestly; I will not raise my voice; I will be courteous in my behavior; I will not criticize anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.
  3. Just for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one.
  4. Just for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.
  5. Just for today, I will devote ten minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.
  6. Just for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it.
  7. Just for today, I will do at least one thing I do not like doing; and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure that no one notices.
  8. Just for today, I will make a plan for myself: I may not follow it to the letter, but I will make it. And I will be on guard against two evils: hastiness and indecision.
  9. Just for today, I will firmly believe, despite appearances, that the good providence of God cares for me as no one else who exists in this world.
  10. 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.

And I think that is a fantastic prayer for meditation.

Bimba Landmann’s style isn’t one that everyone will immediately appreciate. She has a whimsy to be sure… but not a fun, cutesy, whimsy like Elisa Kleven that everyone adores… Bimba’s is more ethereal and almost Byzantine influenced. In this book, for example, the pictures are gorgeous but aren’t always a perfect correlation with the text at first glance. There’s a boy (who is he? The young pope?) who seems to be living in some kind of Turkish or Muslim-inspired seaside village.  And he has, um… a pet reindeer… I think that’s what it is at least.

Yet despite these oddities, it all somehow fits.  And it makes the prayer’s meditative quality shine through to not have such literal illustrations.

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Nature Anatomy: The Curious Parts & Pieces of the Natural World, and a Giveaway!


“How many ways do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”

The find of the year (so far) for me is this piece of glory from Julia Rothman called Nature Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of the Natural World.  The entire thing is the what makes me love to homeschool (and I needed a new boost in loving that lately).  The book is fabulous, and everything one could wish for in a “textbook.”

First, it’s chock full of interesting facts covering various areas of geology, botany, biology, meteorology and astronomy.  In being such a broad book, do we turn up our noses claiming it can’t offer depth in any one area? Sure. You may look down if you like. But what it DOES offer is so beautifully presented and academically enriching that you’d be missing something great by choosing a dry science book over this one.

And then there are the illustrations. Folksy, detailed, handwoven with love and care and interest.  My goodness, I’m in love!

This author is the same one who brought us Farm Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of Country Life a few years ago. It had raving reviews but it was brand new to me this year.  I figured that I didn’t have a whole heckuva lot of interest in farm life on a technical scale so what would I get out of it?!  Little did I know that I’d lovingly turn each page in this too, admiring the art and the information each page provided.

Both books would be phenomenal springboards for deeper studies into any one area.  Nature Anatomy especially is such a breath of fresh air in this home.

I have the highly lauded (in Charlotte Mason circles anyway) Handbook of Nature Study and while the information in that is excellent, the photos are in greyscale and limited by their time period. And much to my ever-burning shame, it doesn’t get used nearly so much as I had planned. I’d like to think of this new Nature Anatomy filling in the gap in some way as being something fresh, useful, beautiful and worthy to include in our morning basket studies a few times a week. A must have in my opinion… you can virtually browse through it here.

I’m so in love with this book that I’m going to send it to one lucky person during this upcoming Easter season. I don’t know how I’ll choose a winner, but it’ll be non-scientifically random of course. If you have read through this post and are interested in receiving the book, just post a comment about something, anything, I don’t care— by Divine Mercy Sunday.  That day is my birthday and it would give me great delight to share the gift of this book with someone!

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Spring Transition Favorites

The coming of spring is probably the most prolific genre of seasonal transition books in the picture book world.  Summer is absolutely the LEAST written about as far as transition time goes… likely because it’s a much more subtle change than the crisping of leaves in fall and falling of snow in winter.  With spring it’s the new life and the great thaw.

I know half the country is blanketed with snow still but here in the Pacific Northwest it’s been downright glorious and unusually warm. The daffodils and tulips are poking out of the ground and we all want to scream at them, “Wait! Not yet! It’s too soon!”  Not because we don’t welcome the sun and 60 degree weather but because we are afraid the frost season isn’t over and this warm spell is some sort of cosmic trickery.

But I will take this opportunity to revel in some of my favorite books of the time and opine about which springtime titles merit being called some of the BEST in “seasonal transition literature.” A couple are pulled from my general Top Ten Springtime Book list.

 Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit: A Book of Changing Seasons by Il Sung Na. I purchased this board book recently for my daughter to fill in our baby book basket. It is delightful and fun.  Il Sung Na’s style is so unique, I am always happy to have her books offer a bit of a different picture than the rich, traditional drawings.  I think this would make a marvelous precursor to her A Book of Babies which seems to be just about perfect springtime reading…

Spring Thaw by Steven Schnur is such an obvious choice with the gorgeous, pastoral setting and oil painted illustrations by Stacey Schuett and the light, quiet text. I discussed it more here.

 And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano and Erin Stead is one of those rare books that I bought at full price right when I saw it.  I was and still am enamored by the cadence and pacing of this book. I declare it to be a must have. When read properly, it’s bliss.

 At Grandpa’s Sugar Bush and/or  Sugarbush Spring by Marsha Wilson Chall.  Any beginning of spring list should include at least one title about tapping maple trees.  Both of these are great choices in their own right. Rich, luscious artwork, either title will make non-New Englanders wish they could trample the slushy snow and tap trees. If I had to choose one, I’d only be able to base it on whether I wanted my child to identify with the female or male voice. Now if anyone reading this happens to know or get a hold of The Sugaring-Off Party, please let me know what you think! I’m dying to see those folksy illustrations up close.

 You’re probably familiar with the winter delight, Owl Moon, but did you know about Goose Moon by Carolyn Arden and Jim Postier? The story kicks off with winter coming when geese fly southward and a little girl enjoys the season of sledding and fun. But eventually it gets tiresome and she longs for springtime. Her grandpa tells her how we can tell spring is coming and the story ends with the arrival of a very special moonlit moment.

 Sun Bread by Elisa Kleven. Another one heavy on the excellent rhyme and meter, I’m in love with this book. A town needs to shake off the cold and positively FORCE springtime into existence with the baking of sun bread. The always enchanting Kleven illustrations bring this one alive.

 When Spring Comes by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock traipses through the various (19th century) activities a girl longs for while she waits for the sun to return after winter. This is also illustrated by Stacey Scheuett who did Spring Thaw. I like the easy amount of text that stands back just enough to let the gorgeous illustrations tell the story.

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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.

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Pace, Poetry and Passing on the Blessing

I’ve been thinking a lot about cadence and pacing in storytelling lately.  So many good things about that I want to discuss but I’m saving my thoughts for an article in the next issue of Soul Gardening.  So, you’ll have to wait for publication to hear all about it.

In the meantime, I received a little affiliate bonus again and I want to give away a beautiful book to someone: Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. The book is illustrated by the fantastic Susan Jeffers… who breathes life into the delightful Robert Frost poem.

I chose this book for a couple reasons:

1- It’s the thick of winter right now… let’s enjoy the wonderful titles celebrating that…

2- This book is a perfect example of the importance in savoring the words on a page and letting them hang suspended in the air for a bit before turning the page.

3- I love books that are able to serve in making poetry very easy and accessible to children.  Using picture books is a great way to acclimate young ones to the study of, but more importantly, the enjoyment of poetry.

So there’s that.  I’ll pick a winner this Friday in some random but unscientific way.  To enter, just comment please with whatever it is you’d like to say… 🙂

****** CONTEST CLOSED *******

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Subtlety and Christmas Mice

I can’t tell you how many books there are out there that forget what I think is the point of a picture book: to engage a child’s imagination in a beautiful way.  I suppose the logic is that if you put some colorful characters on paper, a child will be more receptive to the “message” that the author wants to get across.  The effect of this is thousands of well-meaning but poorly executed books on manners, virtues, going to the doctor, anger therapy, and yes even (maybe especially!) religion.

I always find it such a joy to discover a book where the “message” may be there, but it is so artfully made that the story is engaging enough without having to convince children to pick it up and read it.  The message may be obvious as in the exquisite What Do You Say, Dear? and What Do You Do, Dear? books… where manners are taught but in such an unexpected and fun way that a child simply has to love it.  Or there are other books which weave in a message within the story without preaching at the child.  Think of Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs which isn’t designed to be a bereavement therapy program… but it is nonetheless.  This is where the art of subtlety comes in.  Some authors have it. Others don’t.

A relevant case right now is in the world of Christmas picture books. I think there are many categories of books—indeed something to suit everyone— within this genre and all have their place, whether you’re looking for a beautifully illustrated Nativity story or a thought provoking piece of history.  But I’ve slowly come to realize something about myself in this category: my very favorite books are ones that are fun or sweet but have a hint toward the spiritual meaning of the holiday. I don’t necessarily need the full blown preaching on the gift of Jesus. I don’t need the tear jerker “true spirit of Christmas” charity-toward-the-poor or the be-kind-to-others story. I don’t even need the cutesy board books so much.  What I do need… what are my very favorites… are the picture books that tell a lovely story and then somehow the reader is left with a little warm feeling inside that there is something special going on here. And the child doesn’t need to be told how to felt. And the child may feel just a twinge of wonder after the book is closed.  It’s the same way I feel about music. My very favorite music is definitely not overtly “Christian”… but it is heartfelt and full of depth and meaning and the complexity of human nature. Off the top of my head, when I think of the Christmas books in this category they mostly involve the humble little mouse! How funny that mice are such dear, beloved creatures warming their cute paws by the fire in picture books… but in real life they are loathed and hunted. But I digress:

Mousekin’s Christmas Eve
Mortimer and the Christmas Manger (a quite similar book to Mousekin, only newer and cheaper)
The Little Drummer Mouse
Drummer Boy (not a mouse… but a wee, dear toy instead)

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The Glorious ABC

If you haven’t surmised by now, I have a thing for alphabet books.  I also have a thing for Christmas books and wordless books and certainly other categories as well… but I really have a thing for alphabet books.  In fact, I probably need to make another top ten list because the first TWO lists weren’t enough!!! Just the challenge of finding a great theme and being able to execute each page of the book well… it takes skill and the thrill of the puzzle is what delights me.

Cooper Edens is a special sort of author/illustrator.  He is best known for his “horizontal storytelling” where the reader solves the string of “problems”… as can be seen in one of my very favorite gift-giving books (for people of ALL ages): If You’re Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow.

Well Edens thought it would be special to make a hall-of-fame picture book… one that celebrates many of the fantastic illustrators of picture book past and does a blessed fine job of it.

The Glorious ABC is a lovely diversion in picture book time travel. I had such a delightful time going through this book… and I wondered about how much fun it would be to come up with my own picture book titles “Hall of Fame” for each letter of the alphabet.  Possible I’m sure… and so many possibilities!

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Noah’s Ark by Francesca Crespi!

Of course! Of course!  Why hasn’t it been done before?!  The story of Noah’s ark presented in a pop-up book?!  It makes beautiful sense…  and who better to give it the elegant razzle-dazzle than the talented Francesca Crespi?!  The pop-up master who’s stayed quietly out of the picture book world since her last title in 2008.

We missed you Francesca!  I mean, we did have the wonderful Robert Sabuda to keep us busy with his recent releases of pop-up fairy tales. (A special shout out for his stunning adaptation of The Little Mermaid where he artfully and tastefully deals with mermaid nudity and provides intricate pages within the pages. You’ve got to see his very cool mermaid-fin to leg transformation!!!)  But Francesca dear… you hold a special place of honor in the world of paper crafting authors…

I have yet to see the actual pages, but already the book has leaped to the top of my “luxury item that I don’t need but would love to have” wish list.

Can’t wait to see it!!!

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Celebrating Gyo

Gyo Fujikawa is recognized for being the first mainstream illustrator to show children of many different races in her books. She does so in a beautiful, natural way—not a “trying-to-be-politically-correct” way.  Gyo was an author/illustrator that I never fully appreciated until I had my daughter.  As an adult, I’m captivated by both the beauty of pictures and the storyline; my boys are too.  But Gyo’s books dwell happily in the beautiful world with just a quirky amount of prose. Her books are perfect “looking books.”  And they lend themselves well to children finding and identifying themselves (and siblings… and every friend they have… ahem) with someone on the page.  This is especially important for my four year old who squeals in delight at the abundance of red-heads in her books. (She especially sees herself as the messy-haired girl holding a brush with a sassy look in Are You My Friend Today?)  Then she yells “There’s Henry, holding a dog!” and “Here’s Leo making cookies!” And people of all age regress into babies in her favorite title: Ten Little Babies.

I for one just enjoy the art: such detailed, vintage imagery (and for the record, my favorite title of hers is Oh, What a Busy Day) …

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Top 10 Wordless Picture Books

This article was originally written for and printed in the Spring 2012 issue of Soul Gardening Journal. I have since substituted in two titles (listed at the end) that came to my attention and taken out the original listings for The Silver Pony about which I had this to say: “This is a sort of strange, magical book that might not be guaranteed to win everyone’s hearts… but its peculiarity won mine.  I love the old fashioned, black and white sketches here.”  

And also I removed Rainstorm, originally saying this: “Barbara Lehman is more well known for her Caldecott honored The Red Book but this one tickles me just a bit more.  A young, well-to-do boy feels the restlessness and boredom of a rainy day before finding a magic key that offers him a magic portal into his imagination.  There’s something clean about Lehman’s illustrations that make her a refreshing read.”

Finally, I gave a shout out to one of my very favorite Christmas books ever: A Small Miracle and would also add The Snowman.

Willfully Wandering Wordless: A Top Ten List

Some of my very favorite picture books are completely devoid of words.  I used to sort of smile and write (no pun intended) these kinds of books off as novelties without any real sort of lasting merit.  But as my bookshelf space shrunk and my exposure to children’s literature grew, I was proven wrong… very, very wrong.
Wordless picture books can be an excellent vehicle for pre-readers who want to “read” books like big brother/sister.  They can serve beautifully for creative narration prompts too.  Instead of playing the memory game and asking your child “Okay, what was the story about”… to which they promptly regurgitate a couple of quoted sections word-for-word to show that they’ve been listening, kid’s are forced to tell a story in entirely their own words.  In the wordless world, it’s all about attention to the details, to sequencing, to the art of what’s happening.  Many are written in comic book fashion which gets little ones used to the concept of left to right to down directional reading.  Teachers have often used wordless books for question prompts to creative thinking: “What do you think he’s looking for?”  “Why might she be feeling sad?” etc.  Since none of the answers are ‘given away’ with text, even shy children might open up with some interesting interpretations.
With regards to wordless books in this family, my children take a few different approaches that are refreshingly different from the reactions I get with traditional picture books. My five year old son likes to take a wordless book off to a corner by himself and study it through.  Then he asks me to “read a story with him” which entails us sitting on the couch together while he tells me everything that’s going to happen on the next page.  He gets a giddy delight out of finally being the one in the know with a book, while I am simply the willing audience to his interpretation.  My seven year old boy does a great deal of personification in his life.  If he sees an image he likes with just enough figures for our family, he promptly names us all.  I am honored to have been labeled an ant, a banana, a Chinese spinster, and a flying frog among other things.  With wordless books, he’s in hog heaven describing who’s who and bringing in all the people from his real world into the story with unnamed characters.  My nine year old boy is a bit more like me with the wordless books.  He just curls up somewhere with a blanket and reads it quietly to himself, slowly turning the pages and letting his eyes feast on the artwork. The canvas is totally blank when it comes to these kinds of stories and imaginations can run wild.  Here is a Top Ten list of my very favorite wordless books, though it really is cruel to limit myself in this wonderful genre:

 The Arrival by Shaun Tan. This book is stunning and the artwork will weave you right into its spell.  I spent the better part of an hour reading this book by myself; it is living proof that picture books aren’t just for kids. I’d happily keep this surrealistic story of an immigrant on my coffee table.  While it was fun to go through with my children, the message really can be quite profound for adults too.

 Peter Spier’s Rain. A perfect springtime book full of lovely, poetic imagery.  Peter Spier is one of those wonderful authors that the world seems content to forget.  So many of his gems (some others are wordless also) are out of print and I curdle my nose in disgust sometimes to think of some the fodder that’s replacing his books at stores everywhere.

 Anno’s Counting Book by Mitsumasa Anno.  Get all of Anno’s books; you won’t regret it!  This book doubles as a superb and innovative counting book with folky artwork that I adore. Anno’s Journey is another title in this category that is a lot of fun to follow with children.

 Tuesday by David Wiesner. Wiesner is the master of the wordless genre.  While we love his Flotsam, Sector 7 and Free Fall too, this book about flying frogs (yep, that’s me!) on an adventure in the middle of the night wins my boys over every time.  These pictures are feast-worthy indeed.

 The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney. Now Pinkney was fortunate here in that the story was already provided for him– remember that fable from Aesop about the mouse who helps out the lion?  Pinkney just happens to be an incredible artist who took this story for a beautiful spin in 2009 with the release of this book.

 A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog by Mercer Mayer. My very first introduction to wordless books was this one.  I love the size; I love the limited color scheme. I love all the sequels to this book. I have to admit that I came into it biased because Mercer Mayer illustrated my all-time, very favorite series of childhood chapter books–The Great Brain by John Fitzgerald– and I was delighted to see this kind of art again. One way to sneak out of the limiting Top Ten is to throw out other titles to reference by the same author. In this case, I’d point you to a very recent fun title by Mayer called Octopus Soup.
 The Boy, The Bear, The Baron, The Bard by Gregory Rogers. How refreshing!  Are you studying Shakespeare?  Add this to your unit to round out all the romantic, poetic imagery of the man.  Here a contemporary boy gets lost on a stage hosting the Bard himself who becomes enraged at the interruption and chases the boy through old London.  The great thing about graphic novels is that you get lots of bonus perspectives to complete the comic book boxes… so an extreme close up of Shakespeare’s face or a panoramic bird’s eye view of the city fill out the pages quite nicely.

 Mirror by Jeannie Baker.  Baker is a collage artist and she uses an assortment of materials, fabric and natural foliage to construct this very novel book.  It is testament again that wordless stories aren’t just for preschoolers; in fact I think you’d really need to be about eight years old at least to really appreciate what’s going on here.  When you open this book you have two stories side by side on each side the outside covers, so you are flipping pages from the inside binding to show the daily lives of an Australian child and a Morrocan child.  It’s a beautiful social studies lesson on the uniqueness of two very different cultures but the same threads of family, meals, and home life bind us all together.  Jeannie Baker is also well known for her other wordless story called Home which will be one of the subjects for some other season in this Book Basket column as I explore a couple of books that reflect on urban relationships.

Magpie Magic: A Tale of Colorful Mischief by April Wilson is a gorgeous and fun tale of words coming to life. I wrote about it a couple years ago: “The book a feast of imagery from the first person perspective as we see artist’s hands draw the magpie outside her window.  As any good story book would have it, the bird then comes to life and what happens next is a witty sort of duel between the bird and artist which ends in a very satisfactory way.” 

 Journey by Aaron Becker is one of the very best books of 2013.  There is something about the wordless genre that lends itself perfectly to fanciful travels or surreal experiences.  This book is that. A girl goes on an incredible journey in a very similar way to Harold did in Harold and the Purple Crayon. Exquisite details in this thoughtful book.

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