Tag Archives: must-reads

The Jesse Tree in Picture Books, Model 2.0

*Although it’s only early November, I’m posting this to give ample time for library holds and purchases to be made.
In my first post on how to observe the Jesse Tree tradition in picture books (which has recently been updated to reflect new finds and indicates must read inclusions), I discussed how our family typically stops the Old Testament readings on December 17th to go into full Antiphon mode. It became clear to me that in the shorter years of Advent (like upcoming 2017) there will be only 22 days of the entire season!  This would mean that if we stopped the stories on the 17th, there’d only be 14 days of readings!  Well, this won’t do since the entire story of Salvation needs more than 14 sample stories to cruise up to the Nativity.  So here is a more simple plan for those who prefer it: a 24 day system. You can use this system in the way most ‘Advent Calendars’ are utilized: beginning on December 1st all the way up to Christmas Eve.  (This year—2014— Advent is 25 days long… so I’m stretching out Moses to three nights; it could easily be 4 or 5 if you want to subtract the less important tales of Balaam or Elijah or Belshazzar.)  So, we’ll be doing one story every day and STILL focus ALSO on the O Antiphons beginning on the 17th. For our family, some of these stories needed their own symbols made to be included on our actual tree (which for our family, is an actual tree branch I found, planted in concrete with little wooden ornaments I painted for the symbols). Remember that many of these are out of print but cheap online at amazon or eBay, etc.  And if you can’t borrow or purchase them all this year… just start with what you can!  Bring a little bit of color and wonder into your Jesse Tree readings by including a few picture book stories.  Without further ado:
The Jesse Tree in Picture Books, Model 2.0
Dec. 1: CREATION: best all around is Creation.
Dec. 2: ADAM & EVE: Paradise.
Dec. 3: NOAH’S ARK: Noah’s Ark or Noah’s Ark. You can’t go wrong with either one.

Dec. 4: THE TOWER OF BABEL: The Tower of Babel.
Dec. 5: THE PROMISE TO ABRAHAM: Sarah Laughs.
Dec. 6: ABRAHAM & ISAAC: nothing notable in the picture book world that I’ve found! But it’s an important piece of the story so stick with a traditional children’s Bible book to tell it.
Dec. 7: JACOB & ESAU: Jacob and Esau.
Dec. 8: JOSEPH’S COAT OF MANY COLORS: Joseph (first half) or The Coat of Many Colors.
Dec. 9: JOSEPH AS PHAROAH: Joseph (second half) or Benjamin and the Silver Goblet.
Dec. 10: MOSES IN THE BASKET & THE BURNING BUSH: Moses or Exodus (first parts)
Dec. 11: MOSES PLAGUES, THE RED SEA & 10 COMMANDMENTSMoses or Exodus (second parts)
Dec. 12: BALAAM’S ASS: The Angel and the Donkey (1st choice) or The Donkey’s Story (2nd choice)
Dec. 13: RUTH: The Story Of Ruth.
Dec. 14: SAMUEL’S CALL: The Story of the Call of Samuel.
Dec. 15: THE WISDOM OF SOLOMON: The Wisest Man in the World or from the compilation: Kings and Queens of the Bible.
Dec. 16: DAVID & GOLIATH: David and Goliath.
Dec. 17: THE PROPHET ELIJAH: Elijah and the Fire from Heaven (1st choice) or Elijah and King Ahab (2nd choice).
Dec. 18: QUEEN ESTHER: Queen Esther Saves Her People (1st choice) or The Story of Esther: A Purim Tale.
Dec. 19: JONAH: Jonah and the Whale.
Dec. 20: KING BELSHAZZAR AND THE WRITING ON THE WALL: from Kings and Queens of the Bible.
Dec. 21: DANIEL IN THE LION’S DEN: Daniel and the Lord of Lions.
Dec. 22: JOHN THE BAPTIST: nothing notable in the picture book world that I’ve found! But it’s an important piece of the story so stick with a traditional children’s Bible book to tell it.
Dec. 23: THE ANNUNCIATION/VISITATION: from Mary or Mary: The Mother of Jesus or The Life of Mary.  All are good.
Dec. 24: THE NATIVITY: many good choices here. Choose your favorite. I like The Nativity: Six Glorious Pop-Up Scenes and The Story of Christmas best.

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Raving about Roger

 I’ve been on a Roger Duvoisin kick lately.  This is for a couple reasons.  One, I found a couple of treasures from him this summer at a garage sale… Day and Night (of which I had no prior knowledge) and The Beaver Pond (which was on my wish list for some time).  More about these titles later.  The other reason I’m on a Duvoisin kick is because I discovered he has a bunch of out-of-print Christmas titles that I’m aching to see.  In a future post, I’ll discuss how I finally saw some of the books on my “Top 10 Out-of-Print Christmas Titles I Want to See” from my Christmas motherload post… and have quickly refilled those unseen titles with some Duvoisin ‘new’ ones. (As a teaser, check out these photos.)

Most of you probably are familiar with Roger Duvoisin’s work through his covers on the old New Yorker magazine and his most famous picture books he wrote and/or illustrated: White Snow, Bright Snow, Petunia, and The Happy Lion.  All are great. So are all the other books from his I’ve read so far.

           

Anyway, I’ll tell you a bit about Day and Night.  It is one of those books that would never be printed by today’s publishers.  Not because the art was quirky and wonderful… alternating pages of full color and black and white as was sometimes common. Not even because it’s charmingly dated with Mr. and Mrs. Pennyfeathers depicted in their separate beds at night-time.  Not because the boy’s name is “Bob.” Nope, this book is absolutely off its rocker in its implication that dogs are not IN the family… rather PART OF the family, which is an entirely dated concept.  There’s a distinction.  And it was not lost on me as I read this book.  Oddly, it’s just in the conclusion to the story’s problem of the friendly owl (Night) and the dog (Day) striking up a friendship that couldn’t make their hours
meet.  ***SPOILER ALERT***  Bob builds a dog-house for Day to sleep in.  Do people still do that?  Have dog-houses?  It seems our culture is so bent on making sure dogs are simply furrier members of a family; they live indoors, have insurance, and a cushy place to sleep.  Listen, I’ve got nothing against indoor pets.  But I am one of the increasingly few people that has nothing against OUTDOOR pets either!  So it goes…

          

In The Beaver Pond, we find the perfect example of a LIVING BOOK.  Authors like Jim Arnosky for example, are diamonds in the rough in the category of “educational picture books.” I have to admit that picture book biographies are doing quite well, with exciting new additions to that genre published each year.  But it seems to me that high quality science or nature books are a bit harder to come by new.  (Great, out of print ones exist.)  Anyway, The Beaver Pond is one of those perfect stories that teaches (without preaching) so much about biology and ecology while still maintaing the necessary elements of a storyline to hold a child’s attention. I am so glad I was able to get it!

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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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A-Z Questionnaire for Book Lovers

… oh it was irresistible!  I rarely to never do linky themes or blog trends running around online, but I saw this and I just. couldn’t. resist.  Because I love talking about books just slightly less than I love reading books, I changed up the questions enough to apply specifically to picture books.  I invite you to join in if you like with your own answers…

Author You’ve Read the Most Books From: Bill Peet just because he is so prolific.

Board Book Baby Loves Best?  It’s a tie between  Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks from A to Z and Peek-A Who?

Christmas Wouldn’t Be the Same Without: Oh so many!  But ultimately, if I only had one, it would have to be The Donkey’s Dream.

Doesn’t Impress You Like it does everyone else:  Almost all of the self-esteem picture books  (the ones that  weigh down the shelves at major retailers and get gifted by well-meaning relatives).  I have an especially annoyed opinion of Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.  I know… I’m so unAmerican for saying that.

Earliest Picture Book Memory? The first book I can remember my mama ever reading to me was Millions of Cats.  She was an incredibly busy, industrious woman slogging through a ton of housework and nine kids underfoot… but somehow she managed to clear the cobwebs of her exhaustion enough to read us kids stories on the couch and we loved those rare moments when she sat down

Funniest Book You Can Think Of? Easily, it’s This Moose Belongs to Me where Jeffer’s witty, perfect humor shines through.  I wrote about it here.

Golden Book Favorite: The Saggy Baggy Elephant.  It’s not particularly superior to all the others.  And I do love Eloise Wilkins’ books, but this title wins for me out of pure nostalgic appreciation…

Hidden Gem Book: The Summerfolk because I want to be Doris Burn when I grow up.

Illustrations You Would Actually Frame to Display on Your Wall:  oh I don’t know… woodcuts? (Mary Azarian?), A mosaic artist?  I guess probably just A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog; they’d be just simple and lovely in small frames in a bathroom…

Just Finished Reading:  The Story About Ping… again (love).

Kids Love This But You Don’t: Garfield comic books.

Last Purchased Book: I had to check.  It was The Glorious ABC.

Most Worn Out Title in your Home: This varies frequently as the worn out ones eventually become unusable and get tossed into my “to-be-upcycled” graveyard.  The current book holding onto its last breath of life is The Princess in the Forest. I will be sad to attend that funeral and will certainly hope to buy it again.

Not Just for Kids:  If You’re Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow. It was a gift to me on my 15th birthday and I love it now even more than I did then.

Out-of-Print Book(s) You Severely Wish Were Not: Everything by Joan Gale Thomas please!

Poetry Perfection: Lynley Dodd is my very favorite wordsmith wizard… so much fun!

Quirky Book You Love: Just one?! King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub then. We all revisit this one often.

Reader Book Favorites: All things Syd Hoff, Arnold Lobel and P.D. Eastman

Series You Wish You Owned All Of: Many, many different series or authors.  Currently, I wish I owned all of (or any of!) the Henry the Explorer books

Thrift Store Bargain that Thrilled You: Finding almost all of the David Macauley building books in hardback, discarded from a library for 50 cents each.

Unexpected Delight Pulled Randomly From the Library Shelf: Magpie Magic: A Tale of Colorful Mischief.

Virtue Lesson Not to Miss: The Empty Pot, hands down my favorite non-preachy book on honesty.

Wordless Book that Won Your Heart: A Small Miracle. It’s my boys’ favorite Christmas tale and deserves to be carefully poured over while sipping hot chocolate.

X is Tricky! One Alphabet Book that Does it Right: … because I judge ABC books by their treatment of the letter X.  Worst book I ever saw flat out skipped the letter… sheesh. The Handmade Alphabet wins for the most seamless letter X.

You Wish Your Kids Loved This as Much as You Do: The Monk Who Grew Prayer.  It’s tolerated around here, but never requested and immediately forgotten for the next book in the reading pile.  *sniff*

Zzz… Bedtime Story You Would Reach For First: Time for Bed, in hardback, with full-size pictures please.  It’s just rhythmic enough.  And it earns this distinction mostly because it’s the very first picture book I ever bought for my son.

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Butterfly Bonanza: a Top Ten List

Yesterday, we just celebrated a butterfly-themed birthday with my 5 year old.  I never do birthday themes, but after my mother-in-law gave her a lovely butterfly dress and I purchased the excellent Live Butterfly Garden… we decided to go ahead and make a butterfly cake and call it a theme.

This of course led to me thinking about all my favorite butterfly books since the tail end of June is just when our weather starts to think about heating up a bit around here and fluttery creatures can finally be seen in earnest… so here’s my vote of Top Ten Butterfly Books in no particular order:

A bright and colorful starter book. The novelty factor in turning different sized pages helps engage kids. I like the very basic ID primer to butterflies and the flowers they like in the back.

One of Kleven’s newer books, this continues to offer her typical feast for the eyes with a sweet lost and found story about a glass-wing butterfly—(a real creature!).
A lovely, nostalgic memory put into picture book form
Studying the Middle Ages? Scientists?  This is an excellent, easy biographical story for very young readers on how our understanding of the natural world has changed for the better, partially through the work of Maria Merian.
An exquisite photographic journey through the alphabet that will awe young and old alike; one of my very favorite alphabet books.
Sublime illustrations… truly.

I love the size of this book.  It is a great mix of story and information Meilo So‘s art is really the standout.

One of the four gorgeous books that this author has made in this series; these are the ideal “strewing” books.
Not a lot of older Jack Kent books are still in print, much to the dismay of his cult followers.  But this one is!  It’s a silly, simple story of a smug caterpillar changing into a butterfly much to the confused amazement of a polliwog who does some changing himself.
I would hope that this one is a given… I prefer it in board book myself.  


And these are the titles of a few more books I’ve just requested from the library to check out; butterflies are a prolific genre of bug!

Gotta Go! Gotta Go!
Butterfly Butterfly: A Book of Colors
Wings of Light: The Migration of the Yellow Butterfly  (update: very nice book following the tale of migration)

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An Ode To The Authors Who Raised Me

I can’t ever remember  not being able to read; I think I was four when I picked up the skill.  And when I finally got my very own library card, you may as well have crowned me Queen and given me a million dollars.  All those books! I loved the smell, the feel, the organization of the library.  And living in a home without many books to call my own, I felt like the library was such a God-given treat to visit.
In retrospect, I wasn’t a very discerning reader as a child—I pretty much read whatever I could get my hand on, be it the back of cereal boxes or my mom’s medical encyclopedias. It didn’t matter.  But I began thinking recently about which books and which authors really were formative for me as a young girl. I though that there MUST be some consistent element of taste there considering how particular I am today! And there was. As a young reader, I didn’t know much about single, excellent works of fiction in the picture book world (and I regrettably never explored the non-fiction side of the picture book world) but I did know about authors I liked and I stuck with these authors whenever I could.  This is quite a different list from another post I want to write someday on the “books my Mama read to me” —which occupy an entirely distinct dimension of love in my heart.
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Whenever I walked into the old Fort Vancouver library (which looked nothing like their current, incredible, state-of-the-art facility), I made a beeline straight to the P section to see of there were any Bill Peet books I hadn’t read yet… or any old ones I felt like revisiting. I don’t know what it was about Bill Peet… but I loved everything he ever wrote.  He was my very favorite and I adored his illustrations. Some of his books rhymed—but they were so well done that it never felt contrived. That man had an imagination! It’s no wonder he was one of Walt Disney’s early animators.  I can’t remember one particular standout of his clever books, but I do have a special soft spot for Buford The Little Bighorn and Kermit the Hermit.  
After I had a handful of Peet books, I marched straight over to Maj Lindman to see if there were any new Snip, Snap, Snurr or Flicka, Ricka, Dicka books. These were rare and my particular branch only carried a few titles at a time it seemed. When I read Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and Their New Skates for the first time, I couldn’t think of anything more wonderful in the world than being a triplet. I had 3 sisters but no matter how hard I tried to imagine, none of them were as perfectly sweet as these girls… but that didn’t stop me from pretending. 
Next, I’d push and shove my little brother out of the way to be the first one to score any Richard Scarry books. We didn’t care that the stories were simplistic or not even stories at all sometimes, we just spent hours looking at Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day and picking characters to be and naming all our siblings and friends according to their characteristics… Mom was the Mother Bunny who lived in a boot and my brother always claimed Huckle as his own.
Two authors who kept me in their clutches long after I had technically outgrown them were Syd Hoff and Peggy Parish—famed authors of “readers books”.  Syd Hoff had a way of making Danny and the Dinosaur and Sammy the Seal much more than just a learning to read books, but fun and comfortable adventures that made you forget they were designed with simplistic plots and easy vocabulary. Then there was the endearing and iconic housekeeper: Amelia Bedelia. I thought her language and literal foibles were hilarious even after I was already reading longer chapter books.  I use Amelia Bedelia today just to demonstrate figures of speech with my own children.  A comparable figure in children’s literature is Minerva Louise, the hilarious and beautifully simplistic hen who makes other toddler books look so asinine by comparison.
Almost everyone knows about Stan and Jan Berenstain.  I don’t make a point to read the Berenstain Bears to my children much now… they’re just a little thin on the plot and heavy on the virtue for my personal level of tedium. (And I get allergies to books whose characters get made into cartoons or movies!) I tend to only read books that I enjoy reading also (which narrows our choices tremendously, let me tell you!)… but that’s not to say these aren’t good books. As a child, I fantasized living inside the world of Brother and Sister Bear in a cute little tree house.  I loved how golly-gee quaint everything was (and wondered why Mother Bear never changed her frumpy housedress?).  Since I was a serial reader, the sheer volume of Bear books really hooked me in and kept me happy for a very, very long time, especially since I read most of them numerous times.

Virginia Lee Burton has a very soft spot in my heart for the specific reason that I have never outgrown her.  She faithfully entertained me with The Little House and Katy and the Big Snow as a child and continues to win me over with all her nostalgic other tales and extraordinary machines too.  I was giddy when I found out there was a real live “MaryAnn” steam shovel parked in field in the tiny town of Chimacum, WA near me. I wish I had a picture to show you… but my kids and I were practically breathless with joy in seeing this remnant we’ve always loved from Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.

Last is an author who is responsible for my journey into chapter books.  He is the one I sought .  Today, before I start getting all up on my pedestal on what wonderful taste I had, I remember that I also read pretty much every single Babysitter’s Club and PeeWee Scout book ever written also, not exactly Newberry Prize Winners. But still… Burgess was my heart-warmer through good times and bad because there was always a new animal adventure to entertain me:  When I was a kid, titles like Blacky the Crow only came in dull-covered hardbacks. But you can get that same title for only a buck with Dover’s thrift editions!  And other titles can be easily collected in affordable box sets today too; I’m slowly grabbing them up for my children today—who I am proud to say also enjoy the easy, satisfying feel of these books also.
Thornton Burgess

Thank you wonderful writers for bringing up a little book-starved girl and fostering in her both a love for reading and giving her some very good friends in books when those in real life during this time were hard to find… {insert heart emoticon here}

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Spring Thaw

Winter isn’t hard and drastic here in the Puget Sound region of Washington State, but I know many parts of the US, and obviously much of Canada are still blanketed in snow. Spring Thaw is a book for dwellers of these parts. Steven Schnur is an author I only associated with his lovely, seasonal acrostic books (e.g. Winter: An Alphabet Acrostic, Spring: An Alphabet Acrostic etc.) before coming across this title, bought cheaply second-hand (unfortunately, Amazon sellers are savvy to the seasonal demand of things and this is currently marked up on that market).  Was I in for a treat!  The text is reflective and evocative:

The sun climbs high into the blue sky. By mid-morning a thousand tiny streams run from the roof like a curtain of crystal beads.

And the illustrations are an oil paint impasto that would be wonderful to see in person!  The story is very simple telling of the first day’s break in snow and ends with a farmer enjoying the pale, warm sunset on his face.  It is an exquisite March book…  I think I need to update my Top Ten Spring booklist and divide it into two categories! The fresh start of Spring/end of Winter books and then the general springtime list.  Anyway, I took a few photos of the inside of this book for you…

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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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ABC Animals: Pick of the Week

I didn’t think I could get excited about any new alphabet books.  There are so many fabulous ones on the market already.  (See my Top 10 posts Part One and Part Two about that— which means I either need to amend these lists or start a Part Three!)  But this is like someone reinvented the wheel! Produced by the American Museum of Natural History, ABC Animals is a large board book that is one of the best alphabet books I’ve seen in a long time. What makes it so appealing?  The simplicity for one thing. It’s printed on excellent, high glossy pages with incredibly engaging photographs of various animals.  The text is very brief too.  Many alphabet animal books act like encyclopedia entries and kids almost never take the time to read through the whole bit.  This one is perfect, just one or two sentences describing a fun fact about each animal.  And it succeeds on one of my most critical alphabet-book-judging-points!  They didn’t cheat on the letter X!  (X-ray Tetra Fish indeed!) Considering that this was just a spontaneous grab at the library, I am highly impressed!  Now I have to go seek out the AMNH’s other ABC books: ABC Dinosaurs and their new ABC Oceans which will release next month.

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7 Princess Stories Not To Miss

This was going to be an official “Top Ten” list but without going too deeply into the abundant fairy tale realm (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty etc…) I found myself stretching to fill out the last three titles.  Furthermore, some of these titles are simply worth mentioning for reasons other than the fact that they are the “best in their class.” So I’m calling it simply “stories not to miss”. You can read about some more of the fairy tale princesses however, in my Top Ten Disney Alternatives post.

In the meantime though, our testosterone heavy home is still drinking at the oasis of Newborn-Baby-Girl and all the delights that brings.  There are a gazillion crummy princess books out there. (Generally a good indicator of crumminess is if there is a trademark symbol somewhere on the cover.)  There are plenty of okay, non-commercialized princess stories too—some traditional and some a bit more contemporary/unconventional.  But in the search for perfectly satisfying, girly books, here are some not to miss!

 The Paper Princess by Elisa Kleven.  There is no better, dreamy, whimsical artist for little girls than Elisa Kleven.  I have a post coming up soon on some of her newer titles… but this is one of her classics.  It’s a very sweet story of a girl’s creation coming to life, getting lost and found again.  Be sure to check out The Paper Princess Finds Her Way and The Paper Princess Flies Again: With Her Dog! also.

 Many Moons by James Thurber.  The classic story of a sick little girl who simply wants the moon in the sky and outwits all the experts to figure out how to get it. Many reviewers comment on the weird, watery illustrations… and I agree that they are perfect for this tale.

 The Princess in the Forest by Sibylle Von Olfers.  My very favorite princess book for the five and under crowd. This one doesn’t take us through extravagant legends or rich plots.  It is very simply a day in the life of a princess. Gorgeous, botanically rich drawings… very simple text… yet high on the whimsy factor.  A must have.

 Princess Aasta by Stina Langlo Ordal.  This book is part of the reason I can’t make this an official Top Ten post. See, this isn’t one of the best princess stories ever written.  Not at all.  But there is something satisfyingly quirky and strange about this tale.  A girl advertises for a bear to be her friend.  The chosen bear and she go on adventures to the North Pole.  It’s quite strange and the art is different.  But I find these novelties rather refreshing in a genre where the traditions and proper roles are usually quite predictable.

 Princess and Fairy by Anna Pignataro.  Another book here that will never be a hall-of-fame candidate.  But this book probably has the highest satisfaction factor for little girls out of all of them which is why I included it on this list.  It is bright, colorful, bubbly and it rhymes.  Most of all… there is a page with sparkles!  My daughter adores poring over this book finding items on the very detailed pages.  It is absolutely the girliest of girly books.

 The Apple-Pip Princess by Jane Ray.  I am happy to have a Jane Ray title in this list; she is an extraordinary artist.  And here is a lovely tale of a sweet princess who restores the beauty and grandeur of her kingdom.

 The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Marianna Mayer and K.Y. Craft.  This Grimm fairy tale has always been my very favorite… always.  And this gorgeously illustrated version is  does it justice. The pictures and tale are lavishly done. There is another beautiful one by Ruth Sanderson with its own flavor and style all its own.  You can’t go wrong with either one.

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