I'm Emily Reynolds.
1) Remy and Lulu, written by Kevin Hawkes,
and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes and
Hannah E. Harrison
First off, you may want to pick up two copies of this book, as each spread could be cut out and framed as a masterpiece of light and color. So keep one copy for reading, and one for dissecting and hanging on your wall. (But of course, I've never committed such blasphemy to a children's picture book before--who would do such a thing to The Seven Silly Eaters, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, or Alexander and the Wind-up Mouse? Never me...ahem...*throat-clearing...*)
But really, my heart just sings at the harmonious play between sunshine and shadow in these illustrations. The haziness that Kevin Hawkes achieves in depicting the soft hues of depth of field in the French countryside is absolute eye candy. Just lovely. And we haven't even gotten to the story yet!
For a synopsis of the book by the publisher, click on the following link:
A fresh tale about one being loyal and true to the art that you create--without comparing oneself to others, or letting self-doubt creep in.
Maybe I love this book so much because it hits home. In my own personal art career, three different galleries politely declined my work over the last few months. Ouch! I felt the keen rejection after being snubbed. They wanted an edgy modern Jackson Pollock. Whom I am not. Until on the fourth go, this past Monday, a gallery owner said, "Yes! I love this! We'll put you in our holiday show!" Upon hearing these words, I started to weep, and had to turn away to catch my breath and wipe my eyes before this kind gallery director she could see me getting emotional.
And the words of my college professors came back to me for the billionth time: "You just have to find the right person who loves your art. For every one hundred mailers of your work that you send out, you'll only get about one or two contracts. Don't give up. Keep working, keep showing your stuff."
Anyone who's ever undergone a creative endeavor then, will appreciate Remy and Lulu's delightful story of exuberance in capturing a subject's essence, trying to please an audience, dipping into creative stupor, and the redemption that comes after finally sticking with it through the downs to make it to the ups while trying to create something original and meaningful to share.
As Steve Pressfield says, "There’s an axiom among artists and entrepreneurs: to succeed, you have to be arrogant or ignorant or both. What that means is you have to blow off every response that says it’ll-never-work. Be arrogant. The nay-sayers are idiots. Or ignorant. Stay stupid and plunge ahead."
So, for a clear vision of inspiration to plunge ahead and "capture a person's essence," check out a copy of Remy and Lulu, and go create, as Remy does, "from the heart."
2) Katie Meets the Impressionists, written and illustrated by James Mayhew
If spending an afternoon in a world-class art museum is your idea of heaven, then this book is for you. But if just the idea of spending an afternoon in a famous art museum makes your better half's flat-arched feet start to ache and throb, then you're both still in luck--this book is still also for you.
Because you don't have to walk three hours to exhaustion in a hushed setting to share the classics of London, Paris, or D.C. with little children or a wiped-out spouse anymore. Just open up a book from the Katie series, pull out the snacks (that you can't munch down in a no-food-policy museum), let the kids comment all they want in voz alto, and travel the world over with unhindered an Katie for some frolicking adventures through art history!
While reading our library's copy of Katie Meets the Impressionists in bed tonight to my youngest, she asked if we "could get these books?" I think we could arrange that--making one Christmas gift decision a whole lot easier.
WARNING: Katie is a bit of a stinker in Katie's Picture Show, the first book in the series. She does the unthinkable and reaches out to touch a John Constable painting (and who wouldn't want to, right?), and then falls into it, rather Alice-in-the-looking-glass style. So you may want to discuss how a wild alarm will go off on your next visit to The Musee D'orsay if your child decides to mimic Katie by climbing into a van Gogh painting. I never knew an angel child who didn't have a mischievous streak!
P.S. Check out all of James Mayhew's Katie series on Goodreads at:
3) The Museum, written by Susan Verde, and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
This book makes this art lover smile. Peter Reynolds's illustrations, in general, evoke the uncomplicated emotions of childhood in a simple, true style. Fun.
Read the full review on Goodreads:
4) The Journey, written by Sarah Stewart, and illustrated by David Small
Just one of the many golden winners by this husband and wife team of Stewart and Small! If you're a fan of their book, The Gardener, I hope you won't be disappointed to find that I won't refrain from reviewing that book later on in the year--even if everyone already knows it; I just never tire of reading it! And The Journey has that same poignant, salt-of-the-earth sensibility.
This story tells of one child's longing to see the world outside of the gentle Amish bubble she knows and loves. As her family gives her the gift of traveling to the big city of Chicago to discover the outside world, we see her gape at the new, and make tender connections with the elements she holds so dear back home.
For a concisely nice synopsis of the book, check out this site for David Small:
And to read a delightful interview about the writing and illustrating dynamic/life between Sarah Stewart and David Small, you can tumble down this rabbit hole (don't forget to come baaaaaaaack!):
5) Drawn Together, written by Minh Le, and illustrated by Dan Santat
Might as well just say it right up front. Dan Santat's a genius. And after this story, now we all know that Minh Le isn't too shabby of a writing conjuror either.
As my eldest kids grow closer to young adulthood, and begin to think I am more and more old-fashioned (After I made some fuddy-duddy comment this afternoon, one of them said, "That makes you sound so old!"). "Whew! Aren't I glad!" I certainly don't want to go the other direction!), this book becomes more meaningful to me.
The divide between generations sometimes feels like a chasm, but this relatable book reminds us that a simple connection of common interests between generations can cinch that void together--if only for a few moments here and there, to forge bonds of love and understanding that last forever.
The Goodreads review can't be beat: "When a young boy visits his grandfather, their lack of a common language leads to confusion, frustration, and silence. But as they sit down to draw together, something magical happens-with a shared love of art and storytelling, the two form a bond that goes beyond words."
So, if you haven't seen this book yet, and know a grandparent or grandchild who would love to be closer to their gapped generation counterpart, this gem might spark a few ideas. Don't you think? I know what we'll find under the Christmas tree this year at the Reynolds's house...Dan Santat and Minh Le, crouching there, with big shiny bows on top of their heads! Or...at least one or two of their works.
And finally...our chapter book:
6) Under the Egg, written by
Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Reading aloud to six kids makes a mom pretty discriminating when it comes to chapter books. But there are only so many times a gal can read the Little House on the Prairie series when the teenagers are wanting a little more excitement. A book has to be interesting enough to capture all ages, but wholesome enough to not mention profanities for the little ears listening most intently.
My bookworm buddy, Melanie, (who I swear will someday be a Recorded Books narrator on Audible), recommended this title to us after loving it with her kids. We were not expecting though what a thoroughly engaging, intriguing, and funny jaunt this book would be. It reminds me of a mixture of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (but--I hate to say for Mrs. Konigsburg--much better!), "The Parent Trap" movies (two opposite young girls come together and resolve differences for friendship), "The Monuments Men" movie, and Chasing Vermeer (I hate to say it again, but so much more credible than Blue Balliet's fun, but quite unbelievable, art-related tales).
I'm actually jealous of any of you who have this unopened book yet before you to read. I still remember exactly what the weather was like one day when my older kids and I gathered around our table in the breakfast nook one day after school. They were all asking, "Where's Under the Egg, Mommy? And can we make some hot cocoa while we listen?" Mother/child bliss, I tell you!
If you'd like to research the book a bit--to gauge a sensitivity-meter for your family--the paragraph directly below, entitled, "What Parents Need to Know" from Common Sense Media will tell you specific details about the book. Common Sense Media gives parents reviews on various levels of appropriateness such as: Educational Value, Positive Messages, Positve Role Models and Representations, Violence and Scariness, Language, Sex, Drugs, Drinking, Smoking, and even Consumerism. Cool. And so helpful. They also guage what age books are geared toward...but this you'll have to judge for yourself. See what you think. I'm guessing if you're reading this book blog, you probably already use this resource, right?
WHAT PARENTS NEED TO KNOW (from commonsensemedia) about Under the Egg. [It's an] "engaging, fun mystery with an admirable heroine and very little to be concerned about. The story starts out with a tragic death of a family member in a scene that includes a very brief description of blood; historical atrocities such as gas chambers and slave labor are mentioned but not described. Highly educational, the book also shows the benefits and rewards of heroine Theo's "unplugged" lifestyle as she makes the most of a shoestring budget and solves complex problems with careful, critical thinking."
Again, read the reviews on Commonsensemedia, as there were a few instances when I glossed over a sentence or two about a reference to the artist Raphael's mistress, and the word "stupid" was used two or three times, as well as one usage of the word "boob." Various parts of history of WWII are mentioned, such as the Holocaust and gas chambers. But none of these, to me, felt offensive or explicit.
Here's what Kate DiCamillo said of the book, "When a book is good, I stop being a writer and I'm just a reader, which is what I did here. You just fall into it as a reader. But the writer in me did go and check a couple times to see, 'Is this really the first thing that [Fitzgerald]'s written?' Because it's so accomplished and it's packed with stuff...It's really a very compelling read and I don't know how she did it."
So go soak up every minute of Under the Egg, if you're so inclined--you lucky ducks! Jealous! When you're done reading it, come back to bask in Laura Marx Fitzgerald's website:
Happy November reading, everyone! So thankful for good books and fellow reading buddies!
Dear John Adams,
Though you are long gone from this country which you and Abigail so passionately helped to found over two centuries ago, I hope you know you sparked a “pursuit of happiness” in many hearts and minds over the decades.
An author from my current day, and your old tie, Mother England, by the name of Neil Gaiman once said about creativity, “The world always seems brighter when you've just made something that wasn't there before.” I wholeheartedly agree. It's what motivates people to quilt, sew, bake, garden, draw, paint, build, compute, write, act, sing, and follow any creative endeavor.
When life gets too grim with its realities of washing dishes, burning off warts, working long hours to pay the bills, fixing flat tires, and facing the commute each day ("hardships" that would, perhaps, make you scoff, Mr. Adams)--we of modern America can set our phones down, and carve out thirty minutes a day to create. And freedom, with hope, returns...
Whenever self-doubt about my own creative gifts settles in, I think on you, John, and something you once wrote regarding your own purpose in life:
“The science of government it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation ought to take the place of, indeed exclude, in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war, that our sons [and daughters] may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”
Wowza! Right? (Did they have that expression back in 1776? Guessing not.) But if your words hold true, Mr. Adams, two hundred years later, this must mean that because I studied illustration and fine art in school, my gritty forebearers fulfilled their duties to establish a stable (okay...maybe semi-stable at present) God-fearing government!
The sacrifices of so many, after the example of yours, set a new nation in motion. And because so many of you initially studied legislation, administration, and negotiation, farmers (like my grandparents on both sides) settled the land and raised crops to build an infrastructure, that raised up children (like my parents) who studied mathematics, philosophy, geography, natural history, commerce and agriculture. So that students like me (two decades ago), could choose to study children's picture book-making, as a regular offering in the course curriculum.
Not gonna lie, I feel a little spoiled—reaping what you've sewn, Mr. President. And humbled. And grateful. So thank you, for sacrificing your down-time, so I could practice writing and drawing picture books for a future generation of children someday. In the meantime, I'll keep painting and trying to capture a cross-section of this generation of "creators."
And perhaps someday I'll write and illustrate something that will inspire my grandchildren to want to improve the world, by sacrificing their leisure time to study "legislation, administration, and negotiation,” (and yes...maybe even porcelain), to keep the cycle of freedom going.
P.S. Mr. Adams, if you are permitted up there, now and again, to look down and read the writings of this lucky generation, please know that regarding your words, “Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it,” you're right...I don't think we will ever know how much it cost for you founding fathers to preserve our freedom, but I do hope, in my own tiny way, to make the most of it with my own God-given duties. And just so you know, I'm jealous of the rolling wooden ladders in your Stone Library.
1) Pumpkin Cat, written by Anne Turner,
and illustrated by Amy June Bates
If you don't love Halloween hoopla, this little bastion of soft, comforting hygge can’t help but leave you liking the fall season itself. The characters in Pumpkin Cat remind a reader of what's really important in life—helping others, and establishing a warm, welcoming home for those we can serve.
2) The Runaway Pumpkin, by Kevin Lewis
and illustrated by S.D. Schindler
This iconic lap-slapping, rhythmic classic, must be a favorite for thousands. But this review is for "the one" of you who has not yet discovered it. From the thumpity-bumpity prose, to the funny and clever illustrations, this story is sheer childhood magic.
When Buck and Billy Baxter and their baby sister, Lil, find, and pluck, a gigantic pumpkin from its stem (at the top of a hillside above their grandparents' farm), all chaos breaks loose. The resolution is cozy and homey, and full of satisfied family goodness. Like hot pumpkin soup in a warm bowl, you could spoon it up and almost slurp it down. (Check out other fantastic books illustrated by S.D. Schindler: Covered Wagons, Bumpy Trails, Louder Lili, and The Story of Salt.)
3) A Job for Wittilda,
by Caralyn and Mark Buehner
If you have a nasaly, but likable, witch voice (cackle's included!), you can pull out all the stops with this one. Husband and wife team, Mark and Caralyn Buehner, sure did with their comical story and delightful illustrations. Wittilda's big-heart draws children in to make them root for her character to find and keep a job. After all, who else would support her household of forty-seven cats?! EEK! Retro in sense of time and place, this tale feels as if it's lit from within by a glowing lava-lamp.
P.S. As with all Buehner books, Wittilda is packed with hide-and-seek pictures to keep little people searching while listening, and adults chuckling at the engaging play between what going on in the illustrations vs. what's spelled out in the story.
P.P.S. Be sure to seek out characters from the Buehners’ other books while reading, such as "Marvin the Ape." And, ask your child to see if he/she can spot the author's self-portrait Easter egg in the crowd at Dingaling Pizza. (Hint: he’s ear to ear with the snowman.) Enjoy!
4) Room on the Broom, by Julia Donaldson,
and illustrated by Axel Scheffler
This dynamic duo from England and Germany must be the cleverest creative pair yet from over the pond. Have you seen all their collaborations? If not, Google their titles and have fun checking out one each visit from the library over the next several months.
*Spoiler alert!* This joyful story lets gentle readers see for themselves that, “what we reap, we sow.” The tender witch is so gentle and open to welcoming lost and lonely souls, that the ending of the story is truly a satisfying thrill for children.
After reading the story, you won’t be disappointed to find that the short film adaptation (on Amazon Prime this October) is every bit as loving, big-hearted, and funny as the book.
Here's a fun link that introduces more Julia Donaldson titles (and these aren't even her best--I'll review those over the months to come...): https://www.kidsstoppress.com/article-individual/6-books-of-julia-donaldson-every-child-must-read/15023?fbclid=IwAR0CSKppKa_xHnbnl7_SLmsuPdnk8mcCvhZBhtD813WJ1R1sKl4BREPH_Kw
5) A Witch Got on at Paddington Station,
by Dylan Sheldon and Wendy Smith
Another witch book? Yep. And another UK-created title--at that! This little treasure was a serendipitous find for me at a thrift shop last year. Bingo! I absolutely love it! I begged my kids to let me read it aloud three or four times the first week we brought it home. A sweet but slightly clueless protagonist shares a (Mary Poppins'-style) surprise, on accident, with grumpy and complacent passengers on the city bus. And they're all the better for it--reminding us of the magic that lies in wait around every corner of this life—even while using the public transportation system--if we root for the underdog and have patience with others' quirks.
*Alert, alert!*: This nugget is super fun to read-aloud in a cockney accent if you happen to be an Anglophile. "Cheerio, and spit spot, Jane and Michael. Let's tidy-up, then!"
6) Pat of Silverbush, by L.M. Montgomery
What could be more delicious than to read some L.M. Montgomery in autumn?
The sense of home in the Pat of Silverbush, and Mistress Pat books is so vivid, one almost feels guilty for such raptures in the simple goodness of life as we know it. What a blessing is each day!
Here's a favorite review from a dear friend on Goodreads (thanks, Jo! Hope you don't mind I'm plunking down your words here...):
"I loved this sequel to Pat of Silver Bush. I think I even probably like the two Pat books better than the Anne of Green Gables books - I just adore the picture of contented domesticity at Silver Bush they paint, with the marvelous descriptions of evenings sat together round the table, eating and telling stories. It just makes me feel all warm and cozy inside, and I love those sorts of books. In the second half of this book, the domesticity rather recedes, and it becomes the gentle romance I was hoping for at the end of Pat of Silver Bush - the ultimate resolution of the plot is exactly what I expected, but there were several points during the book when I couldn't quite see how it was all going to work out correctly. When it finally did, in the last four pages or so, I found that it was so joyful I had to go to bed for a bit of a weep. An utterly lovely book. I'm just sorry that it's a library book and I'll have to take it back rather than keeping it on the bookshelves."
If you ever find yourself in Prince Edward Island, stop at the Anne of Green Gables Museum--across from the Lake of Shining Waters--the actual Silver Bush Farm, of which L.M. said, "I love this old spot better than any place on earth."
As Anne Shirley once said, “I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” So bring on the cooler nights, pile on an extra blanket or two, fill up a mug with hot cocoa, and check out a copy of Pat of Silverbush!
Happy golden minutes of reading, my bookworm buddies!
So I do recall a time when the morning after trick-or-treating, I’d awaken and think to myself, “Only 364 more days of waiting again.” And now, the morning after Halloween I find myself thinking, “Whew! We made it through another one—but only 364 days of peace left again…until that wretched pagan holiday supplants all structure!”
I don’t mind the month leading up to Halloween. Really, it’s actually quite pleasant, what with fall-themed decorations, the making of carrot muffins and butternut squash soups, and ideas going back and forth between children about what costume each child would like to wear or put together. And I do love carving a good Jack-o’-lantern with my kids. I really do enjoy these parts of October.
But what I don’t enjoy, are the candy bombs that upset all routine and normalcy in our home each year. I shiver at the cranky meltdowns that ensue every autumn when we have to wrench a sticky Dum-dum out of a child’s fist at 7:30 p.m.—when that very child should be putting a tooth brush into her mouth--and on a school night, for several weeks of school nights in a row!
There just seems to be no end to the demon candy once it's gotten. The stuff appears out of the woodwork. "Oh, little brother, you've eaten all of your candy? No problem, take some handfuls of mine." (Nooooo! Wait! I mean, really, we're glad that you're sharing, child, but we were hoping at least one of you would be through with your candy reserves--by St. Patrick's Day.)
Somehow each year I think to myself, “This year, we’re going to get things under control for Halloween.” This year, we’ll stay home and bake donuts and make popcorn and watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! But this is a (pumpkin) pie crust fantasy—that only a day-dreaming mother (or so my husband keeps telling me) of great naiveté would have. I'm clueless, but hopeful.
But none of my children would prefer this fairy dream of mine. In fact, my kids let me know quite regularly of the horror stories regarding the occasional friend whose parent is wise enough to rule out trick-or-treating in their home. You sage, courageous parent—wherever you are—blessings on your head. I'd like to shake your hand. And take a page out of your book. But my kids would never forgive me. Which is worse...a cavity or two, or a lifetime of one's children telling one's grandchildren how deprived they were as kids? They'll already be sharing horror stories enough about their chore-doing and myriad other issues. I'll let them have the trick-or-treating.
But in the meantime, the actual holiday is coming, and I haven't settled on at any really enticing alternatives to offer my littlest two, who get effected by the sugar the most. They at least might be persuaded into staying cozily at home! Otherwise, they'll end up a cranky, grouchy, Jolly Rancher-crunching-all-day-long mess for the few weeks following the 31st. Until my husband and I realize we've dealt with enough children refusing to do chores because of sugar crashes, and we begin confiscating candy at an exponential rate--pushing the loot deep down into the recesses of the closest garbage can.
Though it's not the most graceful parenting strategy--using candy as leverage for kids who feel sudden entitlement from the newly-gained control over eating hardcore sugar at will--it has worked, I'm embarrassed to say that I have and still do threaten things like, "Not a single piece of candy until you've practiced that piano." I know, I know--psychologists always say, "Don't use food or sugar as rewards!" But did those same psychologists deal with several children needing to fold laundry, clean toilets, load the dishwasher, and play outside, and feed chickens? On top of doing any homework? I don't think so. Those PhDs sat in clinical offices all day, while their maids scrubbed their floors back at the ranch.
When you are the maid, you need help! If a body makes a mess, and many little bodies certainly do, they have to learn to clean up after themselves. A trick-or-treating bag full of Milk Duds and Kit Kats make kids run circle around the house for ten minutes, then collapse on the couch, grumpy and only wanting one thing--more candy! (They're not wanting to pick up the trail of shoes, jump ropes and stuffed animals they'd just strewn in their wake. Oh, the sugar lows!
Don’t get me wrong, though, my family and I eat our fair share of slightly-sweetened cereals (the word “slightly” makes a parent feel not so guilty, right?), ice cream, and desserts after dinner usually twice a week—plus birthdays and holidays, or when having guests over. But kids with pillowcases full of candy at their disposal for free-reign consumption at any given time of the day? The thought makes me shudder. I'm feeling my eye start to twitch.
As a new mom, I loved Halloween! I bought Halloween candy the first week of October. And then bought more the week before the 31st, because I'd consumed half of it already. I dressed up my kids with glee and took them all over the neighborhood. I have to admit, trick-or-treating really gave us an excuse to connect with neighbors and see them in their homes, and feel...well, neighborly. But as an old, worn-out mom, I sneakily try to get away without buying any candy--until one of the kids reminds me on Halloween Day. So a bag of Smarties can fit the bill now, 'cause I know I won't touch them.
In fact, scooping up handfuls of Double Bubble penny candy and tossing them into the garbage after Halloween gives my endorphins a pleasurable zing! Even throwing full-size candy bars (highest on the scale of candy value) into the trash--with impunity--fires thrilling sensations of peace and freedom in my soul. Makes me want to skip around outside, humming in the cool autumn air.
What’s more, how did this strangely morbid, gratuitously-dark pagan holiday (which celebrates motion sensors setting off gyrating skeletons on people’s doorsteps to startle innocent mail carriers) survive through the ages? It’s the candy, I tell you, the sugar addiction. Free refined glucose for the begging! But as we all know, nothing is free. There’s always a price. It’s just usually the parents who have to pay it, in this case--over the next few weeks of November!
It’s great to dress up and eat treats with friends. I love decorating with happy pumpkins and cute black cat decor. It’s just I don’t like the idea of buying back candy from one’s children, or watching a society spend $2.6 billion on candy a year to see it pile up in the landfill, or rot our children’s teeth for weeks on end as they plow through their reserves. (All when we work so hard to help and remind them to brush their teeth carefully every other day of the year!) We are so funny as a society, aren't we?
And really, when millions of people are suffering from hunger and disease all over the world, maybe we should be giving our kids Unicef boxes again instead. Or at least passing out leaves of kale at the door. :)
In the end…I did love trick-or-treating myself, as a kid. I looked forward to it all year long. But there was never a more cleverly-enticing alternative offered. (Unsanitarily bobbing for apples? Hey, siblings share germs anyway, right?) Any ideas? Post them below…Please! I'd love to hear your better suggestions...
Here’s mine: I’m going to ask my youngest two if they’ll have a mini read-a-thon with me after we roll out pumpkin cardamom donuts together on the 31st. (And watch other people go trick-or-treating in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.) As for my other older kids…they’ll probably still go trick-or-treating with friends. Which is great! I don't want to squelch all their youthful enjoyment. Other things like pop-quizzes and hours of homework do that well enough. But perhaps I can convince them to just hit ten houses each, then watch Charlie Brown afterward. Ha ha! Nice try, stodgy Mom! Probably not happening! But a motherly, vegetable-loving heart can try…
In any case, come back to my blog this Friday for six sweeter (rather than scarier) holiday gems—highlighting not so much this-weird-Halloween-culture-we’ve-constructed-as-a-society, but perhaps more of the ordinary kindnesses that make life sweet (with a Halloween twist). See you around then, on Friday October 4th with a great picture book list!
And, I suppose, I'll have to say it, Happy Halloween!
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
Did you ever hear someone say, "It was Colonel Mustard, in the studio, with a children's book"? Uh, no. Yet, author Hilary Mantel recently said, "It seems to me there's a point in your life where you hear an inner prompt, and it says, 'Choose your weapons.' This is it," she said, shaking her pen and nodding her head toward it, "mightier than the sword."
So if a writer's pen can be a weapon to fend off ignorance or inaccuracy in history and drama, then maybe I can give myself license to choose children's literature as my weapon to fight off the dragons in motherhood and family life. I choose picture books, in the home library, done with a child in my lap.
It’s a bit ridiculous to admit, but I added up the number of hours I've read children's books in my life. (I had my sixteen-year-old son double-check my math here, just in case.) Ready to hear the nerdy numbers?
So, Malcolm Gladwell, if you purport that an expert is a person with 10,000 hours of experience in any given field...then I'm almost there--170 hours away from being an expert children's lit fan. With 9,830 hours of spending time with kids' books, I'm either crazy, or just feel like children's literature has a lot of quality to offer--depth, beauty and truth which many adult books lose along the way when authors try to be edgy, confrontational, and dark. Life can be bleak enough. Who wants to read depressing stuff? I want stories that show me and my children the way to live a happier existence.
Why am I such a children’s book zealot? Because they’re what got me through sleepless nights of bringing my babies into the world. When my teenagers were toddlers, if we were having a rough go, I'd start to get the shakes, and realize it was because we hadn't been to the library in a week! (And I didn’t have a kids’ audio book on-hand for our escape while cooking dinner or washing dishes. Like many people, for the first few years of family life we had no dishwasher. Audio books rescued my mind from tedium!)
Loading up on the maximum number of picture books our library system allowed was what helped me connect with my kids instead of going insane. With often fifteen diaper changes a day between a newborn, a toddler, and a potty-training child, books could turn a monotonous day into a delight!
After all six of our children joined our family, keeping half-a-dozen small children alive physically with meals and clean clothes was a whirlwind of activity! I often needed to slow down at least a few times daily to keep us alive emotionally. Books created a bond for us to sit down, take a breath, and do something we all enjoyed.
By piling into a big glider chair with a bunch of books, we could escape into "a wonderful elsewhere." No dishes to do, no floor to mop, no taxes to file, and no blow-out-stained onesies needing a good soak…For at least ten minutes. Until we closed the cover of the book. Ahhh! Short-lived bliss. But right there within the covers of a book--and at our fingertips whenever we needed it.
Even without babies at home, when an older kids has a rough day at school, it's therapeutic to listen to Jim Dale reading Harry Potter aloud while doing dishes, right? JK Rowling is a pro at making the world feel as if everything's going turn out okay in the end. Sorry, old Voldemort, even your schnozless-appearances in the series don't tarnish that Hogwarts glow of comfort, delight, and the warmth of the Weasley family.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione are experts when it comes to learning how to make and keep friends. We feel the pain of Harry and Ron's separations when they have a falling-out, and then feel the relief and joy as they figure out how to overcome pride by apologizing.
Reading about others' experiences of navigating the wide world, reminds us that we're not the only ones going through this earthly realm. Some writer out there once had the same emotions that we now have, and had the foresight to write them down for us. Because of that, that we could relate to other human beings across time and over seas--when we'd need that (trans-time-and-place) commiseration and encouragement the most.
One of my favorite creative writing mentors, Shawn Coyne, says in his Writing Grid podcast (paraphrasing here), that since the dawn of time, people have used "stories" as the tools we need to cope with the challenges in life. We read how a favorite protagonist (Lizzie Bennet, possibly?) deals with a specific difficulty, and it gives us ideas of how to resolve our own problems when they arise at a later date.
So, I hope you might find six excellent children’s book recommendations handy and useful to enjoy each month on the first Friday with your children, grandchildren, or spouse (they may or may not fit in your lap).
Or you can enjoy these six books in the bliss of solitude. Some of my happiest reading memories are of discovering middle grade books as a lone single adult, while sitting on the N-line of the NYC subway. (That’s a pretty happy commute if you've got Susan Cooper's Over Sea, Under Stone in hand.)
And in honor of my half dozen children who teach me each day how to be a better person, and my crazy six passions: Family, Art, Writing, Nature, Cooking, and Books, enjoy the half-a-dozen recommended titles in tomorrow's post...
P.S. Now tell me what your favorite picture book title is in the comments below. Happy reading, dear bookworm friends!