I'm Emily Reynolds.
Because, the state’s motto is, after all: “Maine, the way life should be.” (“Except from muddy March to bare, brown May,” said every Mainer ever! Wink, wink!)
1) If I Built a School, by Chris Van Dusen
The third clever installment in the If I Built a House /If I Built a Car series. As buying a book early in its first printing always casts a vote to a publisher that readers want more of that particular author or illustrator’s work, right now is an excellent time to request this book from your local librarian. This book is hot off the presses, as of August 13, 2019.
I love to think that just requesting a book from the library could support Maine-based author/illustrator Chris Van Dusen into coming up with even more wildly-imaginative tales. Who knows, if you write him enough fan mail, he might just listen to an idea inspired by you, (like he did with the myriad school children who kept at him until he wrote a book about a school! What a good man.) What would your dream design be? For a boat? A grocery store? A treehouse? Perhaps a cutting-edge retro art studio. Ahhhh! That’s the ticket.
2) The Wicked, Big Toddlah, by Kevin Hawkes
As long as I’ve been taking kids to the library, I’ve been a huge fan of Kevin Hawkes’s books. We used to pore over Weslandia and Library Lion again and again, and I’d think to myself, “There’s something different and luminous about these pictures. I wonder what makes this illustrator tick?
Imagine my surprise then, when we moved to Maine and discovered that Kevin Hawkes, his wife Karen, and their fabulous kids, are a part of our community! And just happen to be the nicest people on the planet. I soon found out exactly what makes Kevin tick—a good dose of humor, humility, family, and fun.
Wicked, Big Toddlah's tongue-in-cheek take on Maine culture is “larger-than-life,” and almost as much so as baby Toddie, If you’ve never known a true Mainer, you’ll get a taste of just how unique and hearty they are with the delightful dialogue in this book: “Hi, how aah ya?” and “That’s a wicked big toddlah ya got theyah, Jessie!” Kevin Hawkes’s vibrant illustrations jump off the page with exuberance at the sweet sacrifices made by all, when a new (BIG!) “little” person joins the family. Look for more of Kevin’s luminescent books to be highlighted here soon…
3) Miss Renee’ s Mice, by Elizabeth Stokes Hoffman, Illustrated by Dawn Peterson
*Spoilers ahead!* If anyone (young or old) has ever wanted to decorate a dollhouse, or loved and played with one, this is your miniature cup of tea. Like a modern nod to Beatrix Potter’s tale of Two Bad Mice, this delightful story takes Miss Renee, a builder of fine dollhouses on the coast of Maine, full circle as her tiny new tenants annoy her to distraction with their careless ways. But after Miss Renee has had enough of their messy partying, she builds a tiny ship and sends the riotous rodents packing on a voyage around the world.
After she boots them out though, Miss Renee regrets her hastiness as she realizes she really didn’t mind their company after all. And the mice (rightly so!) learn some courtesy and thoughtfulness on their journey—returning home to their provider a year later to present Miss Renee with fine foreign gifts from all over the globe. Very sweet.
4) Time of Wonder, by Robert McCloskey
When I think of Robert McCloskey’s soft color palette that so exactly captures the essence of the Maine coast, and the feelings imbued in the reader when one sees his simple scenes of childhood exploration in nature...the word petrichor comes to mind:
Petrichor: the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil. The word is constructed from Greek petra, meaning "stone", and īchōr, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology.
My youngest and I came upon a copy of this classic recently while staying in my sister and brother-in-law’s cottage on the coast. We curled up on the sofa with Time of Wonder in our hands as the static of clouds built up around us outside. As we read such true-from-life-prose, written in second person, it was as if Mr. McCloskey was spilling out a description of what we were experiencing on a small-town peninsula that week. Such quiet inner observations that one often thinks, but doesn't usually articulate, are uncanny to hear aloud:
"It is time to reset the clock from the rise and fall of the tide, to the come and go of the school bus. Pack your bag and put in a few treasures…A little bit sad about the place you are leaving, a little bit glad about the place you are going. It is a time of quiet wonder – for wondering, for instance: Where do hummingbirds go in a hurricane?"
5) Hello, Lighthouse, by Sophie Blackall
If you haven’t read this book yet, put down that sandwich you’re munching, and go out and buy a copy, you Silly Goose! Without even flipping through it! Trust me, Hello, Lighthouse is that timeless.
Last year my husband and I gave this book to every family member on our Christmas list. ("Even to those without kids at home?" you might ask. Especially to those with no kids at home--they've seen the full circle of life and appreciate it the most!). But adults and children alike can relate to the turning of the tides and seasons in this masterfully-written and touchingly-illustrated marvel of Chinese ink and watercolor.
I especially thrill at the illustrated spread of the lighthouse keeper and his wife after the birth of their child. It gives me chills of joy to see such classic details, as the color wheel quilt pulled up to the chin of the new mother's damp head (certainly to stop the shakes of childbirth), and the lighthouse keeper holding his new babe in one arm, and writing the hour, minute, and day of his child's birth into the lighthouse keeper's log with the other. The gentle illustrations here are reminiscent of Garth Williams's style in Farmer Boy and Charlotte's Web. Just lovely.
Ms. Blackall credits her inspiration for this instant classic as Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House. For those of you who know that treasure well, Hello, Lighthouse will give you those same poignant swells of longing, waves of joy, achings of change, rushes of reunion, and envelopes of peace. If you haven't done so yet, I can’t wait for you to read this one!
6) The Sign of the Beaver, by Elizabeth George Spear
What can I say about this tried-and-true oldie, but greatie? Other than it reminds the reader what strength we each can muster within ourselves when we don’t relinquish hope in the midst of being tested to our limits. The kids and I read this one aloud last fall and they were asking for it as soon as they’d walk in the door from getting off the bus each day. It takes a minute to get into, but, of course, being Elizabeth George Speare, is a well-crafted tale of courage, adventure, stick-to-it-ive-ness, family, friendship, acclimating to cultural differences, forgiveness and loyalty. As the new cover depicts so appropriately, this story is golden! Ripe for a new generation!
There they are! Six favorite children's book recommendations to start off the school year with some cozy moments of reading aloud with those whom you love. Please leave your top six book recommendations in the comments (if I've enabled that feature correctly. Oh, boy! My no-tech skills!
And if you're crazy enough, and kind enough, to have read down this far, here's a little closing quote from Esme Raji Codell that seems to be what I'm experiencing with this cock-eyed website so far:
“Sometimes I think, Why invent projects? What is the point? How will I ever accomplish what I set out to do, what I imagine? Then I think of the past, even before I was born, the great small feats people accomplished.
Those people had to work to accomplish those things, they thought of details, they followed through. Even if I come off as naive and zealous, even if I get on everyone's nerves, I have to follow these examples. Even if I fail, I have to try and try and try. It may be exhausting, but that is beside the point. The goal is not necessarily to succeed but to keep trying, to be the kind of person who has ideas and sees them through.”
― Esmé Raji Codell, Educating Esmé: Diary of a Teacher's First Year