Tag Archives: friendship

Top 10 Little Books

Beatrix Potter knew what she was doing as she created the world of Peter Rabbit. When she turned down initial publisher’s offers (due to their requests to modify her books in length and size), she went ahead and self-published The Tale of Peter Rabbit on her own at first, because she had a very specific vision for her work. Namely, she wanted her books to be small enough to fit in a small child’s hands… and her illustrations were designed to fill the page of one small book.

To this day, while there are many compilations and anthologies of the Peter Rabbit series, nothing… NOTHING compares to the magic of the small, hardback set of single, independent, tiny volumes. If your home library of picture books consists of nothing other than this set, you’ll be leagues ahead of 90% of your parenting peers in the sheer quality of what you’re offering.

Anyway, it got me thinking about the awesomeness of tiny books in general. What child doesn’t love miniature things designed just for their size? Especially when the miniatures are real, be it functional tea cups, utensils, brooms, aprons etc. So it is with books. There is something special about volumes published under 7 inches tall. And the only thing I love more than reading tiny books to my children, is seeing my young ones sprawled out in the grass on their own with a little book of their own fitting so nicely in their little hands.

Little books pack into diaper bags well, fit into stockings, Easter baskets and everyday baskets, and make fantastic little bonus gifts to accompany other items.  Here is my pick of the 10 best little books on the market today:

 The Peter Rabbit books. Of course. Just go ahead and throw all 23 titles into one listing here. Each is excellent.

 The Story of Little Black Sambo. Okay, so all the modern parents prefer The Story of Little Babaji (also on the small side) because it is more PC, but I love the original myself. I have both books and my children like both equally but I have a nostalgic spot for the old one because my mother read it to me so many times…

 The Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak. Alligators All Around is the standout book in this 4-volume set but they are so well priced as a collection, I’d go ahead and purchase the others with that title.

 Pelle’s New Suit (mini edition). I normally prefer my full-sized Elsa Beskow books, but this one in particular works as a mini because it doesn’t have as much text as most of her other titles.  For that, and the fact that it is the perfect springtime book, it’s on the list.

 A Hole Is to Dig is perhaps my very favorite “nonsensically profound” books (I made that category up; nice eh?). From the silly to the thought provoking, Ruth Krauss found magic in pairing with Sendak on this title.  The hardback is out of print, but worth finding…

 A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog is the first in the series and my favorite Mercer Mayer books by far. They are wordless but tell a lovely story… don’t forget the equally excellent sequels Frog Goes to Dinner,  Frog, Where Are You? and others.

 The Brave Cowboy. My three year old fell in love with the Brave Cowboy when he first met him and it’s still one of his favorite books to call his own and to be found curled up with in a corner somewhere. That’s enough to merit a spot on this list.

 Alphabet of Boats. Linocuts. Boats. Education. Beauty. Simplicity. All under 5 square inches.  I can’t help that so many of the books I love are out of print— sorry!  Just keep your eyes peeled for this little gem.  (Which reminds me… I’ve seen enough good stuff now to warrant “Volume 3” version of Top Ten Alphabet books… hmm, will attend to that soon hopefully.)

 Let’s Be Enemies. Sendak illustrating again!  He excelled at the tiny books. Janice May Undry created a lovely little tale of making and breaking friendships. It’s very fun to read with a 5 year old…

 The Little Train… or really, any Lois Lenski books. All are small. My favorite ones are his seasonal books which are a bit spendy OOP, but any of his occupational books like this one or Policeman Small or The Little Airplane, etc are vintage winners as well.

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And now, some qualifying remarks:


I would’ve included the gorgeous Flower Fairies Alphabet, but I’m mad that they skipped the letter X. You can cheat a little or work around it… but don’t skip the letter altogether!


Also, these are slightly larger than ‘tiny’, but of immense importance in the picture book collector’s world: The Year in Brambly Hedge Set and Adventures in Brambly Hedge Set. Unfortunately these books are long out of print but they are really wonderful to own and cherish… in the same botanical goodness vein as one would find the Beatrix Potter books.


And lastly, I’ve requested an inter-library loan to get my eyes on The Treehorn Trilogy. It looks fabulous. Edward Gorey is not everyone’s cup of pictorial tea but I like him and am eager to see these books!

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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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An Open Letter to Oliver Jeffers

Dear Oliver Jeffers,

     Your books are quite simplistic.  And sometimes strange.  And always fun to look at.  For that, I love you. You first won the hearts of my children when one of them found the book The Incredible Book Eating Boy. They were horrified that the child who’d checked the book out previously from the library had taken a bite out of it and then had the audacity to return the book– unpaid!
     Still, though the book was a fun little diversion, we didn’t bother noticing the author’s name on the cover. Your artwork wasn’t the classically beautiful Robert McCloskey or Jan Brett type after all. It takes a quirky heart to appreciate both the figures and the humor you play with. It wasn’t until we chanced across the video of you reading Stuck, that we finally woke up, recovered from our giggles and went searching for more of your titles (having a soft spot for author/illustrators, see). And then, we feasted. The kids enjoyed The New Sweater, likening it to Max Lucado’s If Only I Had a Green Nose in chronicling the perils of peer pressure. I especially loved the page of the Huey who had the word “Want” written above him when he first saw the sweater.  After this, we delved into the adventures of the Boy and agreed that we liked him best in How to Catch a Star.

But the manner in which you really won my heart Mr. Jeffers, came about quite unexpectedly and in an improbable title.  It happened in the book This Moose Belongs to Me.  The book itself is absurd of course and makes no sense and I was about to miss the whimsy train when all of a sudden, I read it.  What may be the very best line ever written in children’s books since the ridiculous “Goodnight Nobody” line from Goodnight Moon. You wrote:

But in his haste, and miles from anywhere, he tripped over his string and got tangled up.  And there he lay.  Wilfred was beginning to get a little bit worried.  It was getting late and the monsters would be out soon.  He had just ruled out the last of his options… when along came the moose…

 Just like that.  In passing.  In an extraordinary sense of the perfect understanding that monsters are a real phenomenon (as any child knows of course) and could be brought up casually in a story that had nothing whatsoever to do with monsters.  For that, and for this super excellent video on how you make your books, I will forever count you among my favorites.

Love, etc.

A Fan

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The Birthing Process of a Picture Book

This is a really interesting video about how the extraordinary David Wiesner came to envision and create his book Art & Max. Incidentally, the book is bargain priced right now on that link. But even if you don’t buy it, check it out from the library or at least watch this video with your kids. On the amazon website, if you scroll down there are some neat images of Wiesner’s preliminary sketching for the story. It’s pretty neat to learn how a book was conceptualized and subsequently developed for publication:

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Bear Has a Story to Tell: Pick of the Week

Newly released last week is title by one of my increasingly favorite husband/wife duos: Philip and Erin Stead: Bear Has a Story to Tell.

Around here, this would be a great book for early November. In other parts of the country, winter comes earlier or later so if you are particular about acute seasonal timing, know that this is about winter knocking at the doorsteps of fall and animals getting ready for it. All the while Bear is looking for someone, ANYONE to give him some time to hear his story. A tiny little curveball gets thrown by the time his friends are ready to listen.  It’s a beautiful book, some books are great to gobble up quickly, others give you a sense of slower pace and savory appreciation right at the get-go… even with the paper its printed on!  This is one of those books.

I am in love with the illustrations by Erin Stead, as per usual. For anyone who still doubts that creating children’s books is truly a unique and detailed art form, check these pictures out from her website that show her woodblock printing technique:

and the book trailer:

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The Summerfolk

The Summerfolk by Doris Burn is an excellent summer story that is out of print and not too cheap to find unfortunately.  Because of my deep love for Doris Burn, I splurged the $11 on this used title and am happy to own it now.  But when I bought it, I knew nothing about its contents.  There were no reviews that really gave me any idea of what I’d be purchasing so I really took a leap of faith this time (knowing I had a solid foundation with all her other art, plus the story line of Andrew Henry’s Meadow).  So here today, is a brief review with pictures (I obviously didn’t try very hard to take good shadow-less photos; but you get the idea).  This is a story about friendship and dispelling prejudices and adventure of the best kind.

Willy Potts (who appears to be about 9-12 years old) and his dad dislike the tourists who visit the beach where they live each summer.  They are loud and reckless and an all around disruption to the simple, fisherman’s life Willy and his dad have.

“Thick as sand fleas and twice as pesky,” muttered Joe Potts.
“Summerfolk,” grumbled Willy.

But one day, Willy takes his rundown old boat into the swamp and meets a “summerfolk” who has created an exciting pirate ship raft that wants to pull Willy through the swamp to meet other kids with other strange abodes or boats.  They commence to pick up other strange, exciting, kind children with exotic names as Twyla Loo and Cork and Fedderly.  They eat and climb trees and tell stories and have a grand old time until it is time for the summerfolk to head home.

As you can imagine, Willy has quite changed his mind by now (still needs to convince his dad of this) and ponders carefully at the end of the story:

“I reckon there’s summerfolk and summerfolk.”

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