Category Archives: Picture Books

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:

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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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2016 Lenten Reading Challenge

purple-booksPart of Lent is about “ordering your appetites.” For those who consider reading to be a deep pleasure, it wouldn’t hurt to bring some order to our bibliophilic hearts…

After college, I have always read books at my leisure, the ones I wanted to, when I wanted to… according to my feelings, which is why I often have 3 titles being read simultaneously.  Easy fiction when I feel like escaping or pleasure. Non-fiction on subjects that interest me or for when I worry that my brain is going to atrophy from the rigors of laundry and diapers. Spiritual for keeping on track with my faith. (Currently, these three books happen to be Wise Blood, French Kids Eat Everything and Will to Love). You get the idea. While this is generally fine and it works for me, I think it’s important to develop some discipline every now and again just to make sure we still can.  So I’m twisting my 3 books into rigid categories for Lenten purposes and invite you to do the same.

  1. Read a classic piece of fiction that you feel like you SHOULD’VE read by now or have always WANTED to read but never made time for. At the top of this list for me personally are  Les MiserablesThe Brothers Karamazov and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
  2. Read something spiritual that focuses specifically on the life of Jesus, His Passion or the concept of suffering/spiritual poverty. The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ  has been on my to-do list for a decade now. I’m making it happen this year, despite not feeling like it. The next item on my spiritual list was to be The Discernment of Spirits but I’m buckling down to put my attention on Christ instead.
  3. Read an intellectually challenging book of non-fiction. I’m thinking something “boring” or profound that you know think you ought to read but are reluctant to commit the mental energy to. It’s important to stretch our brains… and it’s okay to have to read a paragraph 3 times before you “get it!” Expose yourself to a bit of philosophy via the more accessible philosophers of today like Josef Pieper, (try The Concept of Sin) Stratford Caldecott (e.g. All Things Made New: The Mysteries of the World in Christ), or Roger Scruton (Beauty: A Very Short Introduction). Or read something academically edifying like  How to Read a Book  (which I think should be mandatory reading for all people, despite my own ‘putting it off’) or A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles.

That’s it! 3 books, 40 days. Commit some time to it every day. Who’s in?

Take the challenge.  Spread the word. Read with discipline.

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* Regarding point 2, I have some suggestions if you need a place to start:

Spiritual Reading:

Life of Christ. Because, Fulton Sheen. Very specifically, (and much shorter) The Seven Last Words.

Happy Are You Poor: The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom. Life changing. A must read for everyone in my opinion… should be revisited every few years.

Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection. The second in then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s trilogy and the most appropriate for this season. Because he was a theologian/philosopher before he was a pope, this book is brimming with both insight and intellectual rigor.

Arise from Darkness: What to Do When Life Doesn’t Make Sense. Fr. Benedict Groeschel, God rest his soul, was a transformative writer/speaker for me as I came back to the faith as a teen/young adult.  He is awesome.

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Reading the Ignored Story Books

If you are a lover of children’s literature, chances are you have picked up various story collections over the years and they sit magnanimously on your shelf as proof of what an excellent literature connoisseur you are. And… that’s often all they do.  While it’s easy to keep a selection of picture books rotating through the home and reading a chapter book as a family is not usually a problem, very often these anthologies of tales get lost in the shuffle.

IMG_7049I’ve just now figured how to remedy this wrong in our home and I hope this gives you organization ideas too…

IMG_7044Like many others, I keep a monthly order of picture books, rotating in a basket in our home. This ensures that our great books get read throughout the year and keeps things seasonally relevant.  Before I had a sufficient number of books to do this, I kept just four seasonal baskets. You can use library books to fill in gaps of course. Well, I don’t know what took me so long to realize this, but why wasn’t I just putting our fairy tale compilations and other story books in with the monthly baskets?!  So now, that’s what I do… the The Blue Fairy Book belongs to October,  Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Stories for Children will be a March read and The Giant Golden Book of Elves and Fairies was enjoyed last month!  Rocket science.

IMG_7047I’m using this method also to rotate through all the lovely Peter Rabbit books. They used to sit all together in a row, nicely on the shelf… but for some reason not read often enough! So now I put about 2 titles in each month’s basket just to make sure we are giving Beatrix Potter her due justice.

Still trying to figure out the balance of non-fiction books and how to sort them. Currently they sit waiting to be pulled when a subject comes up in school that complements it. At least my poetry, saints, composers and artist books get read in our Morning Basket… but for all those wonderful titles like The Librarian Who Measured the Earth or the new Simple Machines, we just wait until they’re relevant… ?

 

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”

-Phillip Pullman

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Mandatory Ownership

IMG_6988Every home suffers book casualties. They are a tragic but not wholly avoidable byproduct of having lots of good books, lots of rowdy toddlers and a mother with imperfect training techniques on “how to treat a book.”  I do try very hard to model good book behavior and we immediately correct things like throwing or improper handling… but I am still amazed at the variety of ways my particular family is able to destroy good books (ahem: ripping, cutting, soaking with water, painting in, yanked apart bindings, glued pages, eating, etc.)

IMG_6992Because I acquire books on a regular basis with thrift stores, garage sales, hand-me-downs or the like, I try very hard to just accept the deaths of books as part of life and look at each horror as an opportunity to practice the art of detachment.  This is quite the challenge for book lovers; but I truly believe it is the only healthy way to build and maintain a home library… one located right in the middle of where real life happens. At this point in my mothering career, I am no longer trying to “build a library” so much as I am trying to maintain what we own and carefully refine it (rehoming unused titles, replacing softcovers with hardbacks when I find them cheap, etc.). Just the occasional book novelty makes it’s way into our home nowadays, usually as gifts. “Books, like friends, should be few but well chosen…”

IMG_6993This week, we suffered a genocide. I was very distracted in making supper and trusted that the 4 and 6 year olds taking a bath were being fairly responsible because I could hear them splashing and laughing.  Little did I know that the two year old had thrown in 5, FIVE beloved board books into the tub and the older children found it a naughty moment of comedy rather than a chance to quickly do the right thing and stop her. (Experience has shown that wet books CAN be salvaged up to a point depending on point and duration of contact… but these were floating about for a good 10 minutes and waterlogged beyond repair.) I was livid and sad all at once. But I will not be intentionally replacing those books.  While some great titles were lost that day— ones I value and find to be excellent— none of the lost 5 were the children’s MUST-HAVE books.

IMG_6989I have learned that the books I love most of all, aren’t necessarily the ones the children do and vice versa.  While all the titles we own are what I consider to be on the scale of ‘good’ thru ‘excellent’, I am sometimes surprised at which ones gather the most affinity and affection from the children.  Of our hundreds of titles, there are only a very few books I allow myself the luxury of INSISTING that we own. Long ago have I reconciled myself to the fact that we simply can’t own every great book ever written and that the library is a suitable thing to utilize. Every other book in the house has to be handled with care and attention but not to the point that it turns into a vain materialism; life with children requires sacrifice…

FullSizeRenderAnyway, I thought it would be interesting to list out the books that I have purchased deliberately more than once. These are the ones that my kids have loved so much and so hard that life without them resulted in a distinct and noticeable loss for the child.  They grieved when these books were lost or ruined. Also, the criteria for a quick repurchase (often I’m able to find it in “like new” condition for a good price) has to be that the book wasn’t destroyed out of deliberate motives or gross negligence (usually it’s accidental water spills or over-eager, teething babies… etc.). Note that this list doesn’t include every one of my children’s favorite books of all time… just the ones that have happened to been ruined/lost and replaced.

 Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?  I have bought this book no less than about 4 times now (always the board version) over the past decade.  It has been the #1 favorite of two of my children and it is irreplaceable. For some reason, none of the Brown Bear follow-ups held quite so much appeal as the original has but the simple, bright, rhyming pages have been an integral part of every 2-4 year old’s life to come through my family. It is the favorite choice for my pre-readers to “read” (memorize) to younger family members…

 Millions of Cats  I am happy this one is so well-loved in my home because it is one of the 4-5 titles I distinctly remember my own mother reading to me over and over again. My middle son adores this book and that love has trickled down to the other children. I don’t remember how it was ruined, but it had to be repurchased for my family… this time in hardback.

Fly High, Fly Low. I was surprised at how heavy my son took the loss of this book.  I mean, everybody loves Don Freeman, but even Corduroy took a back seat to this book for this particular child.  I’m not sure what it is about this story that was able to captivate an 8 year old boy… but something did.

 

 Mossy. Discovered at the library, my then four year old, fell in love with this story. She protested vehemently at having to return the book so we gave it to her for her fifth birthday.  When it was inadvertently ruined just months later, we didn’t hear the end of it and her sadness was unbearable. (The emotional sway firstborn girls have over their daddies must not be underestimated!) So we bought it again; now it sits precariously with loose binding after so many readings…


Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks from A to Z. According to amazon.com, I last purchased this in December of 2014; it must be my third time. I’m just thankful it is one of the cheapest board books on the market; replacing it is fairly painless.

 

 

Pat the Bunny, Deluxe Edition. This is the very first children’s, picture book I ever owned. (Fun fact, this was the very first picture book I ever PURCHASED) I remember receiving it in the hospital as a gift with my firstborn. I wasn’t particularly impressed at the time and it was only when he was 8 months of so that it’s value became evident to me.  This first copy survived three boys who each loved it, which I think is pretty good considering it’s relative fragility. I didn’t repurchase it until child #6 because I wasn’t able to find it in the “Deluxe Edition.” All other editions sadly omit certain activities, and that was unacceptable to me. But my daughter, now two, has loved this book fiercely… emphasis on the fierce.  The cover has been ripped off by now and while we are still reading it without it, we are ready for a repurchase.  Thankfully, the deluxe edition is now more readily available!

 Drummer Hoff. Disclosure: this was a very recent casualty and I have yet to replace it because I want it in the spendier hardback this time, but my four year old has not forgotten… and he keeps begging for it. The fun thing about Drummer Hoff, is that while it’s clearly designed for the younger set, all my big boys (up to 13!) tend to quiet down and gather around whenever I read this book. It was well loved and we will get it again.

 King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub. I love this book; the illustrations are such a delight and so is the cadence. So I am only all too happy that my children have grown up loving it too. It has been ruined and replaced twice now but I don’t mind (detachment!!!) because it’s great fun that everyone seems to enjoy…

 

 

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Christmas Picture Books On My 2015 Radar

This year there seems to be a lack of fantastic Christmas books but after a couple months of very surface level scratching (i.e. clicking the “upcoming in the next 30 days” button on Amazon), I decided to dig deeper and was indeed able to find some gems.

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First of all, I am excited to report that my favorite toddler type book in many years— Song of the  Stars is now available in board book edition.  I think this gentle, reverent book is just about THE perfect gift for anyone 6 and under…

Also, I was thrilled to find that one of my very FAVORITE books on Christmas ever has finally been republished this year.  B is for Bethlehem, if you have not seen it yet… is pure, delicious eye candy.  Elisa Kleven put her whimsical, highly detailed, mural illustrations out to pair with Isabel Wilner and together they came up with a wonderful, gorgeous book.  I have this in the board edition, but even those sturdy books have a lifespan around here and I want to purchase this again in hardcover…

Another republishing to get excited about this year is Richard Scarry’s Gingerbread Man.  This is one of those great little, vintage Golden Books being reprinted on the cheap!  And it’s one of the very few times (I want to say ONLY but I haven’t done exhaustive research) that you see Richard Scarry’s illustrations for HUMANS… he is known for his Busy World and classic animals of course… but it’s fun to see this really old title back in print.

As far as brand new stories go, Marguerite’s Christmas looks to be one of the most promising in my opinion.  While I haven’t gotten to read it yet, I know the artist Pascal Blanchet doesn’t disappoint (you can see some inside shots in his project gallery on the website). And I generally like almost all the titles Enchanted Lion Books puts out… they are slightly off the beaten path either in story and/or design but always feature excellent art. This story was originally published in France in 2013 and is all about an elderly woman who learns to overcome her fears…

I’m really itching to get my hands on Tom’s Christmas Fish also. While the story sounds very sweet and evocative (about doing the right thing), I always love Christmas books that highlight different cultures and their traditions and this particular one takes us into the heart of Prague…

If you’re interested in a visually indulgent book, Nicholas and the Nine Gold Coins is the perfect book for you this year. This author/illustrator duo is the same on that brought us the beautiful story of George and the Dragon.  It is a little meaty in the text department but that makes for an appropriate gift for an older child especially, in my opinion.

And adding to the “Best Actual Nativity Stories” in my original roundup of Christmas would almost certainly be The Nativity, featuring biblical text (with added story elements) and the artwork of Giotto.

Kristoph and the First Christmas Tree is about a legend involving St. Boniface… so it includes all my favorite things: Christmas, saints and lovely pictures!

Finally, this is from 2014 but I finally got around to reading it in person is The Night Before Christmas, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin.  It’s been clear already that I am a Duvoisin fan— appreciating his vintage, first rate illustrations in ALL his books— but what makes this particular edition so special is the book’s dimensions!  I say again, I say again, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes in the publishing world beyond just words and pictures. How a publisher decides to lay things out, what fonts, what white space, what size… all of that is critical in making a picture book really shine in its best light.  And for those of us who love to wrap up Christmas books during Advent, it is so fun for the kids to have this unmistakable, tall narrow title to look forward to each year.  Highly recommended.

In addition to a few second hand titles I picked up this year, you may be wondering if I had any full price splurges for my own collection. And yes, I did. I allowed myself just one: The Christmas Angels  by Else Wenz-Vietor as a gift for my young daughter.  I had heard and seen this book years ago but just assumed by the look of it that it was out of print and wildly expensive. So I was delighted to find it available and stunning for all of us.

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