Emily’s Library, Part 10: In Which I Recommend 27 More Good Books for Young Readers

Just in time for the holidays, it’s another edition of Emily’s Library — in which I display the books I’ve given to my now 5-year-old niece, and answer the frequently asked question, “What children’s books would you recommend?”  A few of these will be Christmas presents for Emily, who does not (yet?) read my blog. So, if you do see her, don’t spoil the surprise, OK?  Thanks.

Kate Beaton, The Princess and the Pony (2015)

Kate Beaton, The Princess and the PonyThe first picture book from the Hark! A Vagrant cartoonist does not disappoint. (I haven’t yet read her second, but Beaton’s King Baby was published this fall.) Princess Pinecone, “the smallest warrior,” would like warrior-suitable gifts for her birthday. Instead, she gets “lots of cozy sweaters.” So, this year, she makes it clear to her parents that she wants a “real warrior’s horse.” But they buy her a little pony, who turns out to be a prolific farter but poor substitute for a warrior horse. Yet, on the day of the contest, Princess Pincone learns that there is more than one way to be strong. My previous sentence makes sounds like a soppy moralistic book. But it isn’t. It’s funny. Warriors getting in touch with their cuddly sides and wearing cuddly sweaters is funny. So is the farting pony.  Bonus: though it makes no bones about it, the book subtly integrates a diverse cast of characters: the princess’s mother is a dark-haired brown woman, and her father a yellow-haired white (well, greyish pink) man. The warriors themselves represent a range of body types, races, and genders. In addition to being a fun book, it’s fine example of incidental diversity as well.

Lisa Brown, The Airport Book (2016)

Lisa Brown, The Airport Book (2016)Is it just me, or is incidental diversity (where a character is matter-of-factly non-White) becoming more mainstream? The bi-racial kids (along with their White mother and brown father) are among the many strengths of Lisa Brown‘s The Airport Book, a Richard Scarry-esque journey through airport travel. While we follow the main family of four through the airport, other stories are happening everywhere. Even better: Brown’s attention to detail conveys the sense that they are all real people, and not just there to fill the space.  That’s why I compare her pages to Richard Scarry: they’re full of meaningful details, featuring a range of foci for one’s attention. They’re pages to linger over.  They capture the simultaneous ongoing activity of these busy spaces.  While The Airport Book replicates the divided attention of airports and airplanes, it also offers a singular path forward, via a second-person narration aligned with the older child.  All those “yous” invite the child reader to see herself in the book.  As a child who travels a lot, Emily will — I predict — recognize herself in these pages.

Benjamin Chaud, Poupoupidours (2014) [The Bear’s Surprise (2015) in its original French]

Benjamin Chaud, PoupoupidoursIf you’re new to my “Emily’s Library” series, I should add here that I’m giving Emily books in French and in German (as well as English) because she’s Swiss and thus growing up tri-lingual.  Whether you read Poupoupidors in French, English, or another language, this book concludes the adventures of the Little Bear and his Papa — which began in (if I may use the English-language titles) The Bear’s Song and continued in The Bear’s Sea Escape.

With die-cut pages offering partial glimpses of what’s to come, Chaud again offers many enticements for curious eyes. In addition to the Where’s Waldo game of finding Little Bear on the busier two-page spreads, there’s the question of what the pages’ windows will reveal when we turn the page. In a twist from the previous books in the series, Papa Bear is not chasing Little Bear: instead, Little Bear (adventuring on his own) finds Papa at the circus.

Tim Egan, Burnt Toast on Davenport Street (1997)

Tim Egan, cover to Burnt Toast on Davenport StreetAs I wrote back in the early days of this blog,

Most of his characters are anthropomorphic animals — cows, pigs, dogs, etc. who walk upright, wear clothes, speak in complete sentences. Egan likes to have a little fun blurring the categories between people and animals. The dog protagonists — Arthur and Stella Crandall — of Burnt Toast on Davenport Street (1997) dress well, and live in a beautifully furnished house. They behave like humans. Yet, beneath an illustration of Stella sitting on the couch and Arthur adjusting the TV set’s antenna, Egan writes, “Arthur and Stella were happy dogs. They lived at 623 Davenport Street and had lived there for many years. They spent their days doing what most dogs do. Eating, walking, and sleeping.” Near the end of the book, when the Crandalls are happy, “They both smiled and wagged their tails.” Egan slyly reminds us that, though they dress and act like people, they retain their doggy natures.

Egan is a master. Like James Marshall and Arnold Lobel, his sense of humor arises from mater-of-fact depictions of the mildly absurd. He has a genuine affection for his characters and their predicaments. But, well, you might take a look at my full post on his work. And look for it (Egan’s books, not my post) in your local libraries and bookstores.

Katrina Goldsaito and Julia Kuo, The Sound of Silence (2016)

Katrina Goldsaito and Julia Kuo, The Sound of Silence (2016)With a color palette worthy of Herge, Kuo takes us through Tokyo with Yoshio (the book’s protagonist), searching for ma — the silence between sounds. Along the way, Goldsaito presents the noise of the city, which Kuo depicts, alongside moments of relative quiet — until we (via Yoshio) at last experience that moment of silence. A quest for quietude may seem an unlikely topic for a children’s book (and, yes, I do know Deborah Underwood’s The Quiet Book), but the color, layout, and design of The Sound of Silence immediately hold your attention. In any case, Yoshio’s search is as much about listening as it is about seeking actual silence. It’s about attentiveness to our environment. It’s about noticing.

Ben Hatke, Little Robot (2015)

Ben Hatke, Little RobotNarrated via the comics medium, Hatke’s gentle tale of a little girl and a robot explores the pair’s developing friendship, as she introduces him to her world, fixing him as needed. But Unit 00012’s creators (an anonymous government agency) want him back, and send a powerful one-eyed robot to capture him. Can our unnamed heroine keep him safe?  Its relatively low word-count make this ideal for beginning readers, and its technically savvy brown protagonist brings incidental diversity, as well.

After giving this book to Emily, I heard a fascinating discussion (at a conference) about how and whether Hatke’s portrayal of the little girl participates in stereotypes of strong black women (a criticism that has also been made of the Hushpuppy character in Beasts of the Southern Wild). I continue to find the heroine a compelling one, but mention this criticism to welcome your disagreement — I always read the books I give to Emily before buying them.  You should do the same for whomever you’re buying books.

Keven Henkes, Waiting (2015)

Kevin Henkes, WaitingOn an indoor windowsill, witness five sentient toys: the owl, the pig, the bear, the puppy, and the rabbit. Henkes’ pastel color palette, generous use of negative space, and subtle changes in each toy’s posture or expression swathes the pictures in the aura of a dream, leaving open the question of whether their sentience is real or imagined.  This ontological blurriness perfectly captures the reality of childhood imagination — the sense that make-believe is simultaneously real and not real. It also invites engagement with the book’s key question of what the animals await. An early two-page spread seems to answer the question for four of the five, but subsequent pages reveal arrivals for which they were not waiting. Even those events they did await depart from their imagined versions. For instance, “The pig with the umbrella was waiting for the rain.”  When it does rain, the observation that “the pig was happy. The umbrella kept her dry” bumps up against a different reality in the artwork. It is raining outside, but the pig is inside and so at no risk of getting wet.  They witness the changing seasons, and new arrivals to their windowsill — the last of which affirms their little family. This is a quiet, gentle book, ideal for reflection and dreaming.

Jory John and Lane Smith, Penguin Problems (2016)

Jory John & Lane Smith, Penguin Problems (2016)As we arrive at the end of a dark year, I invite you to embrace the gloom of John and Smith’s pessimistic penguin. Penguin Problems is a comic take on a bad mood. And, you know, some people (and penguins) are just not optimistic. Which is fine. In the hands of John and Smith, it’s also funny. Their penguin is cold. He doesn’t like the snow, being hunted by predators, or his flightlessness. Smith gives the penguin an expressive face — big eyes, with eyelids when he’s tired or annoyed. Though the penguin does look like all the other penguins (another complaint of his), readers can also distinguish him from the others. While reading this to Emily, she — unprompted — pointed to him in each crowd scene. Late in the book, a walrus delivers a pep talk, offering a fresh perspective on life. That changes the penguin’s mood for a few pages. But, like I say, some penguins (and people) are pessimists. Frankly, it’s a good time to be a pessimist — as long as you keep your sense of humor about you. Smith and John’s penguin does.

Crockett Johnson, Will Spring Be Early? or Will Spring Be Late? (1959)

Crockett Johnson, Will Spring Be Early? or Will Spring Be Late?This book — which, happily, has recently been reprinted by Harper — reads as a gentle parody of Johnson’s wife Ruth Krauss’s The Happy Day (art by Marc Simont, 1949). In the earlier book, animals emerge from their wintertime hibernation/austerity, jubilant to see a flower growing in the snow. In Johnson’s Will Spring Be Early? or Will Spring by Late?, an artificial flower seems to confirm the Groundhog’s prediction of an early spring — indeed, to confirm that spring is already here! The other animals greet the Groundhog’s news with excitement, delighted that winter is over. Skeptical, the Pig refuses to join the celebrations. Seeing them dancing around the flower, he strolls in, chomps on it, and declares (accurately), “The leaves are paper. The stem is wire. The petals are plastic. And the lot of you will freeze out here.” As the Bear demands an explanation and the Groundhog begins “to creep quietly away,” Johnson leads us to believe that the animals will turn on him. Instead, “They blamed the Pig, of course.” Will Spring Be Early? or Will Spring Be Late wryly transforms a story about welcoming spring (The Happy Day) into a fable satirizing the human tendency to blame the messenger.

Jon Klassen, We Found a Hat (2016)

Jon Klassen, We Found a Hat (2016)The third book in Klassen’s “hat” trilogy (Emily already has the first two, I Want My Hat Back [2011] and This Is Not My Hat [2012]), We Found a Hat finds a gentle solution to hat-begotten disagreements. If its peaceful resolution departs from its predecessors, Klassen’s deadpan humor and headwear obsession will please fans of the first two. Dividing the tale into three acts, We Found a Hat tracks two turtles’ discovery (Part One: Finding the Hat), unspoken disagreement on the fairness of single ownership (Part Two: Watching the Sunset), and dream of a shared hat-plentiful future (Part Three: Going to Sleep). It’s a satisfying and unexpectedly sweet conclusion to the series.

Brothers Grimm & Clementine Sourdais, Rotkäppchen (2014) [Sourdais’ version of Little Red Riding Hood (2015) in German]

Applying a spare color palette (red, black, white) to die-cut pages, Sourdais’ rendering of Little Red Riding Hood can be read two ways. You can unfold the entire book, from first to last page, and see the entire story at once, allowing whatever is behind the page to serve as your artwork’s background. Or you can turn each pair of glossy cardboard pages like a single page in an ordinary book. I confess: I bought this because the cleverness of the art enticed me.

Sourdais, Rotkäeppchen

Leo Lionni, Petit-Bleu et Petit-Jaune (1970) [Little Blue and Little Yellow (1959) in French]

Lionni, Petit-bleu at Petit-jauneLeo Lionni’s first book — invented, initially, to entertain his two grandchildren during a train ride —  tells of two colors who become friends. When they hug each other, they become green, and neither set of parents recognizes them. After crying themselves back to their original colors, they revisit the parents who (upon hugging both children) realize that blue hugging yellow creates green. Both families hug each other, and the story ends happily.  Given the date of its publication, it’s tempting to read this as advocating friendship between people of different races, and offering a visual metaphor of how such friendships change us for the better. However, the subtlety (and brilliance) of the book is that it doesn’t confine itself to that interpretation. The difference in color could represent any sort of difference, though — to me — the jubilant response to the color transformation suggests how friendships with people of different backgrounds enrich our lives.

Leo Lionni, Fish Is Fish (1970)

Leo Lionni, Fish Is Fish (1970)In another tale of friendship, a fish and a tadpole reckon with the latter’s transformation into a frog. When the now-grown frog describes all he has seen above the surface of the water, the fish’s imagination conjures up very piscine versions of birds, cows, and people. Lionni’s depictions of these fish-centric creatures are clever and amusing, and introduce a problem: the fish wants to see these sights, too!  His attempt to do so leaves him “gasping for air” on the bank. The frog, who happened to be nearby, pushes him back into the pond and saves his life. Are the book’s final words “fish is fish” an argument against curiosity, or a reminder to temper curiosity with caution?  Lionni never spells out a moral in so many words, leaving that up to us.

David Litchfield, The Bear and the Piano (2015)

David Litchfield, The Bear and the PianoIf a piano falls in the woods, does it make a sound? As this book’s title character discovers, yes it does. He learns to play, attracting, first, ursine fans, and second, a boy and a girl. The two children invite him to the city (New York), where the bear “played sold-out concerts in giant theatres.”  But… he misses his home and his friends in the forest. Did they also miss him? He returns to find out. Though Litchfield (like many artists) draws upon digital tools as well as traditional artistic material, the art looks hand-made — echoes of Mary Blair, and classic Little Golden Books.

Arnold Lobel, Frog and Toad Are Friends (1970)

Arnold Lobel, Frog and Toad Are Friends (1970)Inaugurating Lobel’s best-known series, Frog and Toad Are Friends introduces the key elements that make a Frog and Toad tale work. First, our two main characters are complimentary opposites: Frog is more “adult,” patient, knowledgeable, grounded. Toad tends to be more childlike, impulsive, naïve, anxious. Frog is the optimist, while Toad is more pessimistic. Frog is the go-getter, and Toad is less energetic.  Second, the action revolves around a single event. In this book’s first story, Frog wants to celebrate spring, but Toad wants to keep hibernating. In the fourth story, Frog is happy to jump in the river and swim, but Toad is self-conscious about how he looks in his bathing suit. Third, they’re fables — animal characters satirize human foibles, offering a moral at the end. Arnold Lobel, Ranelot et Bufolet, une paire d'amis (2008)Fourth, they only imply that moral and, indeed, often subtly undercut it because, fifth, the books are funny. Lobel sees the humor in his characters and, gently, sympathetically reveals why their (especially Toad’s) choices are funny.  Sixth, and most important, the two are friends.  At a very basic level, all four collections of Frog and Toad stories are about friendship.

Arnold Lobel, Ranelot et Bufolet, une paire d’amis (2008) [Frog and Toad Are Friends (1970) in French]

I bought her the French edition because she’s being raised in an English-and-French-speaking household.

James Marshall, George and Martha Rise and Shine (1976)

James Marshall, George and Martha Rise and ShineI have already given Emily three other George and Martha books: George and Martha (1972), George and Martha Encore (1973), George and Martha Tons of Fun (1980).  But there are seven books in all.  And so,… I’ve added two more to her library — the third and the seventh!  In this (the third), George fibs until Martha calls his bluff, Martha’s scientific inquiry into fleas make her itch, Martha’s desire for a picnic collides with George’s wish to sleep late, George thinks the scary movie will frighten Martha but she loves (in contrast, he’s more susceptible to fear than he thought), and Martha discovers the focus of George’s secret club. In each story, either George or Martha learns something, but the comedy softens the moral impulse. At their heart, these stories are about the friendship of two slightly absurd and very endearing hippos.

James Marshall, George and Martha Round and Round (1988)

James Marshall, George and Martha Round and RoundMarshall’s comic timing is as masterful as it is understated. My favorite story in this, his final George and Martha volume, is “The Last Story: The Surprise.”  You think it’s over. But it ain’t over until it’s over, and Marshall gets in one final joke.  These books are required in any children’s library. As Maurice Sendak says in his introduction to George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends, “The George and Martha books teach us nothing and everything. That is Marshall’s way. Just when you are lulled by the ease of it all, he pokes you sharply.” And, Marshall’s “simplicity is deceiving; there is richness of design and mastery of composition on every page.”

Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko, The Paper Bag Princess (1980)

Robert Munsch, The Paper Bag PrincessLet me be frank (OK, now you say: “Hi, Frank!”).  I chose this and Kate Beaton’s The Princess and the Pony — in part — because Emily likes princesses.  I want her to read books in which the princesses can save themselves.  Children’s books should introduce her to smart, active princesses, not dull-witted, passive ones.  And so,… this classic feminist fairy tale joins the group. When a dragon kidnaps (or prince-naps?) Prince Ronald, Princess Elizabeth sets off to find him — wearing only a paper bag because the dragon has “burned off all her clothes with his fiery breath.”  She outsmarts the dragon and rescues the prince! But Ronald turns out to be snooty and ungrateful. So — spoiler alert! — she does not marry him after all. The end.

Mark Pett, The Lizard from the Park (2015)

Mark Pett, Lizard from the ParkA charming example of incidental diversity (Leonard’s brown complexion plays no larger role in the story), Pett‘s The Lizard from the Park seems to be about a solitary boy (Leonard) who finds a lizard egg, which hatches, and soon grows into a dinosaur. However, as this narrative unfolds, some contrary clues emerge. When they are out in public, no one notices Leonard’s increasingly large lizard. Indeed, the only person who seems to notice either Leonard or Buster (his lizard) is a bespectacled boy who — though never mentioned in the text — keeps crossing paths with Leonard in the illustrations. But it’s not clear whether this boy is noticing Leonard or his lizard or both… until the book’s conclusion, which I won’t give away here.

Sergio Ruzzier, This Is Not a Picture Book (2016)

Sergio Ruzzier, This Is Not a Picture Book (2016)Ruzzier has created a clever, engaging book about learning to read — which, as you might expect, 5-year-old Emily will soon be doing. The narrative starts on the partially decipherable initial endpapers, which garbles most words but leaves some legible. Though we may not at first realize it, the pages subtly convey the partial comprehension of a beginning reader. Then, against a completely white background, a duckling finds a book, picks it up, opens it, notes that it has no pictures, and speaks the title (as the title, on the title page). As soon as the friendly bug prompts duckling to start reading, the blank landscape acquires color and sprouts visual metaphors for the duckling’s recognition of certain words. For the page indicating “funny” words, smiling bubbles drift by, a long-nosed large-footed fellow naps near a flowerpot, and many whimsical creatures look on. For “sad,” duckling and bug walk past smoldering houses and the craters of a recently bombed landscape.  By the book’s conclusion, the duckling can read — and the final endpapers have transformed into a legible typographic rendition of This Is Not a Picture Book!’s plot. Without any whiff of didacticism, the visual intelligence of Ruzzier’s book makes a subtle case for the pleasures of literacy.

Julia Sacrone-Roach, The Bear Ate Your Sandwich (2015)

Julia Sacrone-Roach, The Bear Ate Your Sandwich (2015)“By now I think you may know what happened to your sandwich,” the unseen narrator advises us. “But you may not know how it happened. So let me tell you. It all started with the bear.” So begins Sarcone-Roach’s very funny story of how a bear just happened to arrive in the city, and the park, and eat your sandwich. Though the tale is framed as an excuse, by concealing both the narrator and any evidence of sandwich-thievery, Sarcone-Roach invites us to be swept up into the improbable narrative. Her bright paint-and-pencil illustrations bring us along on the bear’s journey to, and then new experiences in the city. Only at the very end does she reveal that the whole story has been an elaborate set-up for the punchline — which, no, I won’t reveal here.

Francesca Sanna, The Journey (2016)

Francesca Sanna, The Journey (2016)This is one of my favorite picture books of 2016. It’s timely, yes, but its strength lies in Sanna’s deft visual storytelling — her sense of pacing, design, story. It’s very well done. As war arrives, a family loses its father, and must seek a safe harbor.  On the page where “The war began,” the darkness that (on the previous two-page spread) had represented the sea suddenly becomes menacing, overtaking the entire right-hand page, with giant shadowy hands reaching left, destroying buildings. Over a few subsequent two-page spreads, the gradual loss of the family’s baggage accrues the weight of a much deeper loss — of home, father, security. With relatively spare text and powerful, vivid art, the book takes us on their journey toward what they hope will be their new home. Wisely, The Journey ends before the journey is complete. Narrated from the perspective of one of the two children in the family, the book delivers a complex, emotionally layered story with economy and subtlety. It neither sugarcoats its serious subject, nor presents in a too emotionally charged manner. It’s a book you’ll return to.

Lemony Snicket & Jon Klassen, The Dark (2013)

Lemony Snicket & Jon Klassen, The DarkI bought this one because I noticed that Emily — at age 4, at least — needed a night-light. So, I thought: perhaps it would be helpful for her to read a story about making friends with the dark. That is precisely what The Dark is about. At the book’s beginning, Laszlo is afraid of the dark. Snicket and Klassen set up the dark as a character: “The dark lived in the same house as Laszlo,” they tell us on an early two-page spread. When Laszlo greets the dark, it (the dark) is silent. Then, one day, it addresses him directly, luring him down to the basement, where it lives. The story invokes this horror-story trope so that it can bring us into darkness while it demystifies darkness. I won’t give away the ending, but — as you may have guessed — by book’s conclusion, Laszlo no longer fears the dark.

Helen Stephens, How to Hide a Lion (2012)

Helen Stephens, How to Hide a LionA book that feels like it could have been published decades ago — in the 1960s, or maybe 1930s. With a line that recalls Edward Ardizozne and watercolors that recall Marcia Brown, Helen Stephens tells of a lion who strolled into a market square to buy a hat, but frightened townspeople chase him out of town… and so he meets Iris, a brave small girl who befriends him and helps him hide. I haven’t seen this in the U.S., but it’s been popular enough in the U.K. (where I found it) to inspire a sequel, How to Hide a Lion from Grandma. (I haven’t read the sequel.)

Koen Van Biesen, Roger Is Reading a Book (2015; orig. published as Buurman leest een boek, 2012)

Koen Van Biesen, Roger Is Reading a Book (2015)Roger is reading a book. Or he is trying to. Next door, Emily is playing with a ball (BOING BOING). Roger asks her to please Shhhh! This pattern of different noises followed by Shhhh! repeats — until Roger puts down his book, and leaves. Then, a package arrives for Emily. It’s a book! Roger returns, and both read in silence . . . until WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF.  They both put down their books and take the dog — whom Roger has been ignoring for several two-page spreads — for a walk. In addition to the book’s spare illustration (not finishing the top of Roger’s head, for instance), I like how it takes both Roger and Emily seriously. Neither intends to be obnoxious to the other. Their interests differ. The character’s names also assert their independence. Never does Koen Van Biesen indicate their relationship to one another. Roger is not identified as Emily’s father or uncle or caregiver. He is just Roger. She might live in the apartment next to his, or might live in the same apartment. Her bedroom is adjacent to the room where he’s trying to read, and he always knocks before he enters. But that’s all we know. Also, yes, one of the main characters is Emily — which I thought would please the real Emily.

Mo Willems, Knuffle Bunny Free (2010)

Mo Willems, Knuffle Bunny FreeThe conclusion to Willems’ trilogy featuring Trixie, her bunny, and Trixie’s parents.  (Emily already has the first two: Knuffle Bunny [2004] and Knufffle Bunny [2007].) Using the now familiar combination of black-and-white photos (for the setting) with hand-inked drawings (for the people and select objects), Willems brings Trixie and her parents to the Netherlands to see Oma and Opa (Grandma and Grandpa). Guess what she leaves on the plane? Now older, Trixie learns to live without her knuffle bunny and even to consider that, perhaps, other, younger children may need him more than she does. If a bit more sentimental than the previous two books, Willems’ tale and its morals nonetheless arrive via the sharply observed humor that makes a Mo Willems book a Mo Willems book.

Looking for other great children’s books?  Try these blogs and other websites:

Related posts on Nine Kinds of Pie:

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Emily’s Library, Part 9: 14 More Books for Young Readers

Welcome to another installment in my attempts to build the perfect children’s library for my niece and, in so doing, guide others to great books for young people. Indeed, this post is being published as I depart to visit Emily — carrying three of the books mentioned below! (See if you can guess which three.)

Jim Averbeck and Yasmeen Ismail, One Word from Sophia (2015)

Jim Averbeck and Yasmeen Ismail’s One Word from Sophia (2015)Averbeck and Ismail‘s book has a nice sense of humor, and a clever protagonist who loves words. What? That’s not enough for you? OK, well, it’s also a great example of what I call incidental diversity: it features characters of color, but race is not explicitly part of the story. (Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day is the classic example of this type of book.) Indeed, the protagonist’s family might be all of African descent; or there might be some of African descent and others of European descent. It’s not clear, and it’s not important to the story. I’m thinking that Emily will like the book because it has a smart and determined heroine, fun wordplay, and good jokes. If you need more reasons to check this book out, take a look at my blog post devoted to One Word from Sophia.

Kelly DiPucchio and Christian Robinson, Gaston (2014)

Kelly DiPuccio and Christian Robinson, Gaston (2014)Gaston does not quite seem to have his poodle sisters’ knack of behaving well, though he does his best. Then, a chance encounter with a family of bulldogs (one of whom is a poodle) makes Mrs. Poodle and Mrs. Bulldog wonder if there’s been a mix-up. A gently comic story about what it means to be part of a family, with an unexpected twist. Even better, because Robinson’s visual palette evokes classic children’s illustrators like Roger Duvoisin, the book feels like a classic from the moment you pick it up.

Marianne Dubuc, The Lion and the Bird (2014)

Marianne Dubuc, The Lion and the Bird (2014)A gentle tale given to Emily by a friend of the family — but one I would have otherwise given to her myself. It’s about making a new friend, the joys of friendship, and the sadness that accompanies the inevitability of being apart. (We cannot always be near those we love. Or, as the book says, “And so it goes. Sometimes life is like that.”) With few words and beautiful art, Dubuc’s book communicates the joy and loneliness of having and missing friends.

Michael Hall, Red: A Crayon’s Story (2015)

Michael Hall, Red: A Crayon's Story (2015)A big part of the fun of Hall‘s book is that the reader immediately knows something that the book’s characters fail to recognize. Though the main character is identified as Red, we can see that he’s just a blue crayon in a red wrapper. So, right away, readers understand that the words and the pictures contradict one another — the red wrapper does not accurately identify the crayon’s color. Of course, the metaphor is also hard to miss: superficial judgments based on labels fail to miss what’s inside a person (or crayon). But you don’t need to catch the tale’s allegorical elements to enjoy Red’s discovery that he is in fact Blue, and very good at drawing blue things, too!

Ben Hatke, Julia’s House for Lost Creatures (2014)

Ben Hatke, Julia's House for Lost Creatures (2014)The creator of the Zita the Space Girl comics directs his talents towards a new medium: Julia’s House for Lost Creatures is Ben Hatke’s first picture book. In it, independent-minded Julia — who looks to be about five but has the confidence and responsibility of someone older — sets up her home right by the sea. The house is vast. It’s cozy. It’s got knick-knacks, lots of books, and a workshop where she can make things. But it’s too quiet, and so she paints a sign, hanging it up outside the front door: “Julia’s House for Lost Creatures.” They start coming: Patched Up Kitty, a very sad troll, a mermaid, gnomes, and more! Soon, looking after all the lost creatures is wearing Julia out. So, she comes up with a plan. If learning to live and work with others is a message here, the book’s appeals reside in the quirky, spacious old house, the variety of creatures (each of whom has a distinct personality), and seeing resourceful Julia in charge of them all.

For more, including original sketches, see Jules Danielson’s post on the book.

Tove Jansson, Moomin’s Desert Island (1955/2013)

Tove Jansson, Moomin’s Desert Island (1955/2013)Drawn & Quarterly has been republishing Jansson’s Moomin comic strips in two forms: (1) large black-and-white books, each of which includes several narratives; (2) small, single-narrative color books. (They’ve added the color to Jansson’s original strips.) The latter are ideal to introduce young readers to Jansson and to comics in general: single story, nicely colored, and, well… Moomins! So, I’ve been giving these smaller books to Emily. Some of these narratives appear — in a different version — in Jansson’s novels. Others do not. This is one of the latter.  Read an excerpt at the publisher’s site (click on the word “excerpt”).

Tove Jansson, Moomin and the Sea (1957/2013)

Tove Jansson, Moomin and the Sea (1957/2013)This is an early and quite different version of the events narrated in Jansson’s novel Moominpappa at Sea (1966). Indeed, for those interested in the way that Jansson’s Moomin universe evolved, a comparison between this work and the (considerably darker) Moominpappa at Sea would be interesting. For young people, though, just enjoy this installment in the Moomins’ ongoing quest to live life on their own terms.  Read an excerpt at the publisher’s site (click on the word “excerpt”).

If you’d like to learn more about the Moomins, you might use my earlier blog post on them as a starting point. If you’re already a Moomin fan, then I highly recommend Boel Westin’s magnificent biography Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words (2014).

Jean Merrill and Ronni Solbert, The Elephant Who Liked to Smash Small Cars (1967)

Jean Merrill and Ronni Solbert, The Elephant Who Liked to Smash Small Cars (1967)To read this as a didactic story about not destroying others’ property is to miss all the fun. Sure, by the end of the book, the elephant does learn not to smash small cars. So, there is an appropriate ”lesson” here. But the joy is in the smashing. He smashes small cars and then sings about it:

Smashing cars! Smashing cars!

How I love to smash small cars!

Merrill — author of the classic children’s novel, The Pushcart War, which you should also read — even provides music for the song. Solbert’s crayon-and-ink artwork sets the playful tone for this tale of destruction and (ultimately, in the final few pages) reform. It’s a silly, joyous tale that offers an official advisory against smashing things, even as it embraces the impish impulse to destroy.

Sergio Ruzzier, A Letter for Leo (2014)

Sergio Ruzzier, A Letter for Leo (2014)Like Dubuc’s The Lion and the Bird, Sergio Ruzzier’s book is about two friends, one of whom is earthbound and the other of whom is only temporarily flightless. That is, Leo — protagonist, mailman, weasel (but the cute kind of weasel) — spends his days delivering mail, punctuated by short breaks to play bocce or to chat with friends. He never receives any mail himself, until he happens upon a bird, stuck in a mailbox and stranded far away from his flock. Like Groot, the bird only says one word — “Cheep” — but (also like Groot) his face tells us enough about what he wants or feels. Ruzzier’s faces give even his minor characters with a real sense of personality. There’s the joyous, loopy expression on the dog’s face, as Leo delivers a package that can only be a giant bone; and the kind, open face of the hen who pours Leo a cup of tea. And then there’s the fact that Leo plays bocce — most children probably don’t know the sport, but its specificity makes Leo that much more real. Little details like these make the book a delight to read and re-read. The story of Leo and Cheep is a warm tale of a friendship that transcends differences in language and species.

For original sketches and an interview, check out Jules Danielson’ post on the book.

Birgitta Sif, Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance (2014)

Birgitta Sif, Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance (2014)I bought both of these Birgitta Sif books because I noticed that, on occasion, Emily has exhibited some shyness. I would not say that shyness is a dominant character trait, but it reminded me of my own childhood shyness, and how important it is for young people to know that it’s OK to feel shy. All of us feel shy sometimes. (Don’t we?) Even better, Sif’s work is wonderful — whether or not you’re afflicted by shyness. When no one is watching, Frances Dean dances in a joyous reverie, as she listens to the birds sing. However, “when people were around, all she could feel were their eyes on her” — even though the artwork shows people minding their own business, reading a book, talking the dogs for a walk, playing with a toy sailboat. (Each of Sif’s characters seems to have her or his own inner life; even individual birds have different personalities.) The gap between Frances’ awareness and Sif’s art hints at a way past acute self-consciousness: other people are paying less attention to you than you think. By the book’s conclusion, Frances dances. And some of the other characters dance with her, too.

Birgitta Sif, Oliver (2012)

Birgitta Sif, Oliver (2012)The title character of Sif’s first book prefers the company of his imagination to that of other children. He reads, creates art, plays piano for his stuffed animals, invents his own (solo) version of tennis, and has a tendency to bring his stuffed animals with him. If you’re paying close attention, you’ll notice that, in many of Sif’s two-page spreads is a girl, who also enjoys reading and tends to travel while carrying her stuffed-animal friend in the crook of her right arm. Sif handles this subtly; all the characters in these spreads are doing their own thing. So, the similarities between this girl and Oliver could easily be overlooked. However, by the book’s end, the two — her name is Olivia — have discovered one another, and a friendship has begun.

For both of these books, a merry tip of the hat to Jules Danielson’s Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog, where you can read an interview with Sif (as well as posts on other Sif books).

Beatrice Schenck de Regniers and Maurice Sendak, What Can You Do with a Shoe? (1955)

Beatrice Schenck de Regniers and Maurice Sendak, What Can You Do with a Shoe? (1955)Clearly inspired by Ruth Krauss’s books of the early 1950s, What Can You Do with a Shoe? rises above other Krauss imitators via art from Krauss’s frequent collaborator, Maurice Sendak. I don’t know the story of the book’s creation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Schenck de Regniers also drew from her observations of children (as Krauss did). I chose it as a gift for Emily because I notice that she enjoys experimenting, combining clothes in novel ways, or using a household item in a way that it wasn’t intended. Featuring the gently mischievous, very real children of Sendak’s imagination, What Can You Do with a Shoe? honors a child’s impulse to experiment. And that’s good!

Frank Tashlin, The Bear That Wasn’t (1946)

Frank Tashlin, The Bear That Wasn’t (1946)You probably know Tashlin for his animated cartoons (featuring Porky Pig and Bugs Bunny) or his films (The Girl Can’t Help It), but he also wrote several children’s books: The World That Isn’t (1951), The Possum That Didn’t (1950), and The Bear That Wasn’t (1946). His former colleague Chuck Jones also created an animated adaptation of this one. The story’s premise? While a bear hibernates, men build a factory above his cave. When he awakens, the employees expect him to be working. He insists that he’s a bear; they don’t believe him. It’s a satire of conformity, and the absurdity of trying to be anything other than who you are. I mean, hey, if you’re a bear, you’re a bear!

Rowboat Watkins, Rude Cakes (2015)

Rowboat Watkins' Rude Cakes (Chronicle Books, 2015)Rowboat Watkins‘ Rude Cakes is my favorite picture book of 2015. It has sentient pastry, cyclopses, and a delightfully off-kilter sense of humor. It’s classic in the way that Arnold Lobel or James Marshall are classic. I like the book so much that I wrote an entire blog post about it. Read the post and then, more importantly, read the book.

That’s all for now. There will be more “Emily’s Library” installments in the future! Meanwhile, here (below) are the previous posts in this series, and other links that’ll help you find good books for young people.

Related posts on Nine Kinds of Pie:

Looking for other great children’s books?  Try these blogs and other websites:

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Emily’s Library, Part 8: 25 Fine Books for Small People; or, Further Adventures in Building the Ideal Children’s Library

In this installment of my Emily’s Library series, I notice there are more contemporary books than usual. I didn’t plan it that way — there are certainly more classics I’d like her to have! But, as noted in earlier posts, my goal is to give my three-year-old niece a personal library of really good books, mixing classics and contemporary, well-known and more obscure. Growing up surrounded by beautiful books increases the likelihood that she’ll not only learn to read, but enjoy reading. And by “reading” I of course mean reading both words and pictures. Since (at this stage) nearly all of the books in Emily’s library are picture books or comics, she also has a small art museum right there in her bedroom. When I think of her shelves of literary-visual art, and choosing books for her parents to read (or perusing them herself), I am happy.

I share these titles in my Emily’s Library posts because (since I’m a scholar of children’s books) people often ask me to recommend books for children. Though the selection does of course reflect my own idiosyncrasies, I hope my brief synopses for each title help direct you to good books for the young people in your life.

Note to Emily’s parents: a bunch of these are Christmas gifts. So, you’ll see ’em soon! (Note to others: Emily does not yet read this blog & so I won’t be spoiling her surprise.)

Ronan Badel, The Lazy Friend (2014)

Ronan Badel, The Lazy Friend (2014)This wordless picture book shouldn’t work, but it does. For all but one page, the title character — a tree sloth — is sound asleep. Apart from clinging (to a tree branch or to his friend, the snake), he only sleeps. That’s it. As the back cover boasts, the book is a “wordless adventure story about a sloth who does absolutely nothing.” Badel sets up the sloth as the straight man (or straight sloth?): his friends’ responses make the book work. When the tree to which he clings gets cut down and loaded onto a logging truck, the snake sneaks on board, as toucan and tree frog (the other two friends) bid them both a sad farewell. The book then follows sloth and snake on an adventure — of which only the snake is aware. I don’t want to spoil the ending here, but suffice it to say that the book is a comedy.

Ramona Badescu and Benjamin Chaud, Pomelo et la grande aventure (2012) [Pomelo’s Big Adventure (2014) in its original French]

Ramona Badescu and Benjamin Chaud, Pomelo et la grande aventure (2012)Another adventure with our favorite little pink elephant. So far, Enchanted Lion Books has translated four of Pomelo’s adventures into English. Here’s hoping they keep on going — there are many more Pomelo books en français! In this installment, Pomelo discovers the pleasures and challenges of travel. A story that is by turns philosophical and whimsical, Pomelo et la grande aventure manages to capture a child’s sense of excitement and uncertainty in facing new things. Chaud’s artwork offers the eye much to explore: sometimes, tiny Pomelo is nearly hidden; always, he appears in a new location in each two-page spread. Pomelo drives a car, and sails a boat. He meets a rat who swindles him, and a large grey elephant who shares his food. He makes a new friend. It’s a tender and sometimes amusing tale of what we learn when we travel.

Kelly Bingham and Paul O. Zelinsky, Z Is for Moose (2012)

Kelly Bingham and Paul O. Zelinsky, Z Is for Moose (2012)If you ask Emily whether “Z” is for “Moose,” she will respond, “No! ‘Z’ is for ‘Zebra’!” Like Mike Lester’s A Is for Salad (2000), this book also creates a kind of absurdist pedagogy, as it presents false claims and readers respond with corrections. Its premise: referee/director Zebra is presenting a theatrical performance, in which each item or animal (one per letter) takes the stage in alphabetical order. Moose, however, finds it difficult to wait his turn, and keeps entering at the wrong moments, upstaging the others. When the performance reaches the middle of the alphabet, “M is for Mouse” and Moose is upset. From the narrative conflict between Moose and Zebra to the game of finding the actual thing named by the letter (behind or displaced by Moose), Bingham and Zelinsky‘s Z Is for Moose is a fun read-aloud.

Cécile Boyer, Rebonds (2013) [Run, Dog! (2014) in its original French]

Cécile Boyer, Rebonds (2013)A book of few words, Rebonds follows a friendly dog’s adventures, as he pursues a ball in a park. He chases it onto a trampoline, through a picnic, interrupts young lovers on a park bench, and generally creates a little (or adds to the) chaos wherever he goes. The dog is in one color palette, and the rest of the book uses a different one. The vibrant yellow dog’s body, his dark blue collar, and red tongue contrast nicely with the mostly mono-chromatic other creatures: humans (all in dark blue silhouettes), birds (pink, light blue, dark blue, grey), park bench (pink), trees (light blue), and cars (grey). On the right side of every other two-page spread, Boyer has two small pages — one, a third of a page, and the other, two thirds of a page. Echoing a slowly paced flip-book, turning these pages-within-pages creates movement, as ball and dog disrupt each scene. Like her earlier Ouaf Miaou Cui Cui (2009) (Woof Meow Tweet Tweet [2011], featured in an earlier Emily’s Library post), Rebonds is a beautifully designed book.

from Cécile Boyer's Rebonds (2013)

Virginia Lee Burton, The Little House (1942)

Virgina Lee Burton, The Little House (1942)A classic story about time and change, Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House places its title character at the center (well, bottom center) of nearly every right-hand page, while the expanding metropolis gradually transforms the pastoral landscape into a bustling, noisy cityscape. Burton identifies the house as “she,” but — apart from her pink color — does not gender the house, visually. The two windows on either side of the front door serve as eyes, with the gaps at the bottom of the pair of closed curtains acting as pupils. The curved front doorstep smiles, or does not smile, when Burton flattens its curves. But the book’s genius is in its design: Burton manages to tell a dynamic, engaging story about a house that (except near the end) does not move. Tracking the many changes in the house’s environment is as compelling as the narrative itself. Required reading for all students of the picture book, and highly enjoyable reading for the graphically inclined of any age.

Benjamin Chaud, Coquillages et petit ours (2012) [The Bear’s Sea Escape (2014) in its original French]

Benjamin Chaud, Coquillages et petit ours (2012)If you enjoyed Une chanson d’ours [The Bear’s Song] (included in the last Emily’s Library post), then you’ll certainly want to check out Coquillages et petit ours [The Bear’s Sea Escape]. Picking up the narrative where the last book left off, Papa Bear and Little Bear are in the city but need a place to hibernate. Papa Bear chooses the toy section of a department store. As he starts to sleep, a little boy adopts Little Bear and heads out of the store. Papa Bear awakens and begins his pursuit. As in Une chanson d’ours, each two-page spread has a degree of detail reminiscent of Richard Scarry or even Martin Hanford (Where’s Waldo?). As Papa Bear looks for Little Bear, readers, too, can scan the pages until they find him as well.

Benjamin Chaud, from Coquillages et petit ours (2012)

Mike Curato, Little Elliot, Big City (2014)

Mike Curato, Little Elliot, Big CityIn vivid illustrations whose use of space and perspective really draw you in, Curato’s tale of a small cupcake-loving polka-dotted elephant (Elliot) has heart. As he walks through a 1940s New York City, Elliot is dwarfed by the others in the subway, and can’t be seen over the countertop in the bakery, but enjoys “the little things” (a flower growing between cracks in the sidewalk) and “small treasures” (a top, jacks, roller-skate key, playing card).  I think that the book’s treatment of the central character’s height will resonate with younger readers: to be a child is to exist in a world designed for giants, where everything is too large, too wide, or out of reach. Curato captures that experience well. It’s sweet without being pat — and that’s a delicate balance to achieve.

To learn more about this book and Mike Curato’s creative process, see Jules Danielson’s post over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Tomie de Paola, Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs (1973)

Tomie de Paola, Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs (1973)Emily is 3 years old. But she has relatives in their 90s — including one relative she’s quite close to. For that reason, I’ve given her parents both this book and Wolf Erlbruch’s Duck, Death, and the Tulip (see below). When the time comes or when Emily starts asking questions, I want them to have stories to help her understand. Stories help families talk about difficult issues — like the fact that we are all mortal. One day, people she loves will die.

In Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs, Tommy has “a grandmother and a great-grandmother,” both of whom he loves “very much.” Since grandmother “always seemed to be standing by the big black stove in the kitchen” and great-grandmother “was always in bed upstairs” (because she was 94), he called them “Nana Downstairs and Nana Upstairs.” The book talks about the time they spend together — talking, eating candy, telling stories. Then, Nana Upstairs dies. Tommy asks what the word means. His mother says, “Died means that Nana Upstairs won’t be here anymore.” Tommy confronts her empty bed, begins to cry, and asks, “Won’t she ever come back?” His mother tells him, “No,… Except in your memory. She will come back in your memory whenever you think about her.”

Wolf Erlbruch, Duck, Death, and the Tulip (2008) [Ente, Tod und Tulpe (2007) in English]

Wolf Erlbruch, Duck, Death and the Tulip (2008)This is the second book about death I’ve given to Emily — the first is Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs (see above). Where de Paola offers realism, Erlbruch provides allegory. Duck meets Death — represented here as a person in a housecoat with an oversized skull for a head. When Duck stands upright (as she does when they meet), the two are the same height. Visually, Erlbruch has set them up as equals. Understandably, Duck is nonetheless at first unnerved, asking “You’ve come to fetch me?” Death responds, “Oh, I’ve been close by all your life — just in case.” But, as the two get to know each other, they become friends. They talk about life and what (if anything) may come after. When Death is damp after being in the pond, Duck offers to warm him, spreading her feathered body over his housecoat-clad one. Near book’s end, she also feels cold, and dies. Death carries her to the river, and, placing a tulip on her chest, “laid her gently on the water and nudged her on her way.”

penultimate 2-page spread from Wolf Erlbruch's Duck, Death and the Tulip

The book concludes:

For a long time he watched her.

When she was lost to sight, he was almost a little moved.

“But that’s life,” thought Death.

It’s a gentle, profound book that asks the right questions, and helps us think about the answers.

Elise Hurst, Imagine a City (2014)

Hurst‘s Imagine a City invites readers to a “world without edges,” where anthropomorphic animals and people coexist, the subjects of paintings reach beyond their frames, buses are giant flying fish, and bears ride bicycles. The art makes the book feel both very contemporary and classic. Her pen-and-ink drawings seem to have time-traveled from another era — that of Edward Ardizzone, E. H. Shepard, or maybe Winsor McCay. The visual motifs (especially the flying fish) recall Shaun Tan and David Wiesner. It’s as if she’s brought her sketchbook into a parallel, surreal world, and — in this book — collected sketches of what she saw during her travels. To the best of my knowledge, this book has been published only in Australia. So, attention publishers of North America and Europe (and other locations): publish this book in your countries!

Elise Hurst, Imagine a City (2014)

Elise Hurst, Imagine a City (2014)

Oliver Jeffers, Lost and Found (2005)

Oliver Jeffers, Lost and Found (2005)In the decade since this book’s appearance, it’s sold very well and even become an animated film. So, there’s s a good chance that you already know Lost and Found. Actually, I’m hoping you do because I’m finding it hard to talk about it without giving away the ending. It begins like this: One day, a boy finds a penguin at his door. He decides the penguin “must be lost,” and so “will help the penguin find its way home.” Since the penguin does not speak, we’re invited to assume that the boy’s intentions match the penguin’s wishes. But what does the penguin really want? And what does the boy want? Who is lost? Who is found? (There — I’ve avoided the conclusion!) Jeffers’ watercolors give the story warmth, and his pages range from spare (boy and penguin in the center of a white page) to detailed (boy and penguin at sea, a gigantic wave threatening to crash over them). His representational style has a comparable range — often on the same page, or even in the same character. The boy’s legs are one-dimensional (a pair of straight lines), his torso two-dimensional (a rectangle in a red-and-white-striped rugby shirt), and his head three-dimensional (a pink sphere wearing a hat). Oscillations between realism and abstraction suggest the happy accidents of an untrained artist, and, in this sense, align the art with the young boy protagonist. But, of course, Jeffers knows what he’s doing here — his sense of composition, of when to oscillate, reveals an artist sufficiently in command of his craft to make you forget his skill.

Crockett Johnson, Harold et le Crayon Violet (2013) [latest French translation of Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955)]

Harold and the Purple Crayon (French edition, 2013)Unlike the last French translation of Harold, the crayon is purple (well, violet) in this one. In the translation prior to this one, the crayon was rose (pink). Crockett Johnson‘s Harold and the Purple Crayon is available in at least 14 different languages: both the crayon’s color and the protagonist’s name varies, depending on the translation.  (I’ve already given Emily all seven Harold books in English.)

Laurie Keller, Arnie the Doughnut (2003)

With her typically loopy sense of humor, Keller’s Arnie the Doughnut plays with children’s culture’s love of personification. Margaret Wise Brown populated her books with cute little furry animals, but evidently saw no contradiction with her hobby of hunting cute little furry animals, presumably because the animals in her books were people, and the animals she shot were game. In giving us a protagonist whose destiny is to be eaten, Keller ups the ante a bit. As Arnie observes in a moment near the end of the book, “I guess doughnuts really are only good for eating, aren’t they?” I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I do want to call attention to Keller’s jokes and commentary, usually from unnamed characters on the periphery of the scene — she offers a parallel show running concurrently with the main narrative. When we meet the jelly-filled doughnut, another doughnut exclaims, “Eeeooo! His brains are oozing out!” Jelly-filled replies, “It’s not brains, silly — it’s jelly!” But she doesn’t end there, adding a bonus two-panel “double-checking,” in which jelly-filled puts a finger in his jelly to confirm what he’s just said.

Laurie Keller, from Arnie the Doughnut (2003)

There are several Laurie Keller posts over at Jules Danielson’s Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, but why not start with “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Laurie Keller”?

Ole Könnecke, The Big Book of Words and Pictures (2012)

Emily has already recieved this book in French (Le grand imagier des petits) and in German (Das große Buch der Bilder und Wörter) — see Emily’s Library, Part 6. I thought she should have it in English. Rather like Richard Scarry’s books, it features scenes in which all the main items have a label, thus helping to children learn the names of objects. I imagine Emily and her parents placing the books side by side, to compare them. (Emily speaks English, French, and Swiss German.)

Ole Könnecke, The Big Book of Words and Pictues (2012)

Lena and Olof Landström, Boo and Baa Have Company (1996) [English translation of Bu och Bä får besök]

Lena and Olof Landström, Boo and Baa Have Company (1996)Another gently humorous entry in the LandströmsBoo and Baa series of picturebooks about a brother and sister sheep — well, anthropomorphic sheep (they’re children represented as sheep). I particularly enjoy the Landströms’ trust in their readers. On the first page of the book, the text reports that it’s “autumn. The tree has dropped its leaves.” In the art, Boo and Ba are raking beneath a nearly bare tree, and the Landströms introduce the beginning of another narrative strain: a cat, strolling by the yard, looks up at the bird in the tree above the children’s head. The children won’t see the cat for several pages yet, but the cat-vs-bird story continues on the fringes of the book for a few pages. After Baa gets the oilcan to grease the wheelbarrow’s squeaky axle, Boo notices that “Now it meows when I push it.” Baa replies, “It meows when you’re standing still, too.” As the cat looks down from above, Boo and Baa inspect the axle, and the Landströms’ narrator reports, “Boo and Baa think this is weird.” When read alongside the art, that line’s deadpan silliness makes me chuckle. As they attempt to coax the cat down, the children’s problem-solving skills provide more humor — but the book doesn’t make fun of them. Their ideas are good, even if they don’t always work out quite as planned. Also, though Baa wears pink and Boo wears blue, each child is equally capable of doing whatever needs to be done: Baa greases the axle; Boo opens the sardine tin to coax the cat down. A funny book that avoids gender stereotypes = win!

Lena and Olof Landström, Pom and Pim (2014) [English translation of Pom och Pim (2012)]

Lena and Olof Landström, Pom and Pim (2014)A gently humorous story of the ups and downs in the life of young Pom and Pim — a child and a much-loved pink blob of a stuffed animal. Cleverly, Pom’s gender is never identified — so she can be he, or vice versa, or none of the above. That said, I only noticed the character’s gender neutrality as I was trying to use a pronoun in writing the first sentence of this description. Reading the book, I was more taken by the Landstroms’ keen and sympathetic observation of a young child’s emotional experience. Via color, body movement, Pom’s facial expressions, and very few words, the Landstroms evoke the moment-to-moment changes in moods that small children face. Lacking the experience to place things in perspective, they feel each joy and each catastrophe with greater intensity than we adults do. Pom trips over a rock (“Ouch! Bad luck.”), but finds money (“What luck!”), buys an ice cream, gives Pim a taste, eats the ice cream quickly, “gets a tummy ache” (“That’s bad luck”), lies down, but sees his balloon hovering over his bed (“What luck!”). Summarizing twelve of the book’s pages in prose, my previous sentence doesn’t do justice to the Landstroms’ artistry, but I hope it conveys at least a glimpse of the book’s considerable charm and insight.

Lena and Olof Landström, from Pom and Pim (2014)

Lena and Olof Landström, from Pom and Pim (2014)

For more art and for thoughtful commentary, see Jules Danielson’s post at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Jöns Mellgren, Elsa and the Night (2014) [English translation of Sigrid och Natten (2013)]

Jöns Mellgren, Elsa and the Night (2014)Elsa can’t sleep. The Night — a tiny, purplish blob — is shivering under her sofa. Outside, endless daylight makes people sleepless and quarrelsome. As she tells the Night her story and nurses it back to health, it grows in size. Since Mellgren’s Night character is translucent, the city scenes viewed through its body show the dark blue night sky, the white stars, and yellow lights through the buildings’ windows. Beyond the boundaries of its body, Mellgren shows a white sky, no stars, and no lit windows. It’s a striking visualization of the sharp contrast between night and day. The book’s art drew me to it immediately, but its story is strong, too. Elsa’s insomnia — spoiler alert! — comes from a need to mourn her elephant friend, who has died. I expect that adult readers will feel the melancholic undercurrent of these pages, but those for whom death is an abstraction (many, but not all young readers) will understand why she is sad without feeling it quite so acutely. Fortunately, the expanding Night provides comfort, and sleep returns — to Ella, and to everyone.

Kadir Nelson, Baby Bear (2014)

Kadir Nelson, Baby Bear (2014)How do you find your way home? This question is both practical and philosophical. For Baby Bear, it is practical. As he says on the narrative’s first page, upon encountering Mountain Lion, “Excuse me dear Mountain Lion. I’m lost. Can you help me find my way home?” The answers provided by Mountain Lion and all the other animals underscore the philosophical ideas at play. Mountain Lion says, “when I am lost I try to retrace my steps.” Frog says, “Do not be afraid…. Trust yourself.” Moose says, “When I am lost, I sit very still and try to listen to my heart.” However, one need not ponder the meaning of life in order to enjoy the book. Nelson’s vivid paintings, shifting visual perspective, and striking use of light — for example, unusually bright green grass contrasted with the green-tinged black night sky, when Baby Bear consults Owl — draw us into the story. And whatever larger implications Baby Bear’s questions might have, our title character speaks in the voice of a child. When he follows the Squirrels’ advice to “hug a tree and think of home,” Moose asks, “What are you doing?” Baby Bear answers, “Uh, nothing.” Moose asks, “Are you lost?” Baby Bear replies, “Yes, I think so.” Baby Bear’s tentativeness in that exchange is evocative of a young person, feeling a bit unsure of his way. Nelson’s Baby Bear can help people of all sizes find their way, literally and figuratively.

Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash, Bow-Wow’s Nightmare Neighbors (2014)

Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash, Bow-Wow's Nightmare Neighbors (2014)At long last, the second Bow-Wow picture book! The first, Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug (2007), and the six concept books that followed it (Bow-Wow Attracts Opposites, Bow-Wow Orders Lunch, etc.) are all favorites of Emily’s. Indeed, they may be the first books she read herself. At age one-and-a-half, she would sit there, book in her lap, turn the pages and chuckle. And she’s not the only small person I’ve met who has been transfixed by Bow-Wow. The picture books are wordless, their narratives rendered legible via the pictorial language of the comic strip. You don’t need to be able to read text to read these books. With a sense of humor that is both daffy and deadpan, the Bow-Wow books have much to entertain readers of all ages. In the latest adventure, Bow-Wow faces off against ghost cats in a haunted house, but — I hasten to add — the book is funny, not scary.

Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash, from Bow-Wow’s Nightmare Neighbors (2014)

For a glimpse behind the scenes of Bow-Wow’s Nightmare Neighbors, check out my Comics Journal interview with Newgarden and Cash.

Clotilde Perrin, Au méme instant, sur la Terre . . . (2011) [At the Same Moment, All Around the World (2014) in its original French]

Clotilde Perrin, Au méme instant, sur la Terre . . . (2011)Perrin‘s beautiful book takes us to all 24 time zones, one after the other. We begin at 6 am in Dakar, Senegal, where “Keita wakes up early to help his father count the fish caught during the night.” Turn the page and it’s 7 am in Paris, where “Benedict drinks hot chocolate before school.” On the right-hand page of this two-page spread, it’s 8 am in Sofia, Bulgaria, when “Mitko chases after the school bus.” And on we go, to Yasmine in Baghdad, Nadia in Dubai, and so on. At the back, the book includes information on time zones, and a fold-out world map, where you can see where all the children live. In its original French edition, the entire book unfolds like an accordion. Since Emily is a world traveler, I thought she should have a book that better acquaints her with the world.

Clotilde Perrin, Au méme instant, sur la Terre . . . (2011)

Andrew Prahin, Brimsby’s Hats (2014)

Andrew Prahin, Brimsby’s Hats (2014)Brimsby makes hats, his best friend makes tea, and they have “the most wonderful conversations.” When friend decides to pursue “his dream to become a sea captain,” the hatmaker gives him a captain’s hat, wishes him good luck, and waves goodbye. In a two-page spread of a dozen illustrations each showing Brimsby making hats by the window, Prahin shows the passage of time — the seasons changing beyond the window pane, likely one pane for each month of the year. At the end of this sequence, Brimsby realizes he’s “become awfully lonely.” So, he puts on “his favorite hat,” and sets out “to make new friends.” I won’t reveal the rest of the plot, but suffice it to say that it’s an eloquent tale of making new friends, missing old ones, and the worthwhile effort required by both endeavors. It’s Prahin’s debut picture book. Here’s hoping it’s the first of many.

Jules Danielson has a great post on this book at her Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Head over there to see Prahin’s original art for Brimsby’s Hats.

Dan Santat, The Adventures of Beekle, The Unimaginary Friend (2014)

Dan Santat, The Adventures of Beekle, The Unimaginary Friend (2014)Where do imaginary friends come from? Dan Santat, who understands that what children imagine can be as real as the so-called “real world,” answers this question from the perspective of the (un)imaginary friend. Beekle tires of waiting for his friend to choose him, and so ventures off to the real world on his own. There, he discovers adults, who — like those busy citizens of Reality in Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth or the grown-ups in Shuan Tan’s The Lost Thing — have stopped paying attention to their surroundings. So, he sets off for the playground…. Santat offers a vividly imagined story of the challenges and rewards of making a new friend.

Also, I presume you like to laugh? You do? Good. Then, you might also take a gander at Jules Danielson’s hilarious interview (with lots of art) over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  (The interview is with Dan Santat.  Obviously.)

Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are (1963)

Sendak’s classic tale of unruly emotions, tamed via fantasy, and expressed without punishment. (Mother may send Max to bed without supper, but he returns to find dinner waiting and “still hot”: evidently she changed her mind.) The book is famous for many reasons, including the “wild rumpus,” when Sendak abandons words for three consecutive two-page spreads, rendering the story solely through his art. It may also be the best example of the Caldecott Committee getting it right, giving the award to the most distinguished book of the year — and in this case, one of the most distinguished books of the twentieth-century.

Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are (1963)

Not that awards should persuade you to give any book to a child. Sendak loved to tell the story of the mother who told him, “I’ve read Where the Wild Things Are ten times to my little girl, and she screams every time.”

He asks, “Don’t you like your child?”

She says, “Well, yes!”

He says, “Then, why do you continue reading it to the child?”

She responds, “But, Mr. Sendak, it’s a Caldecott book, she ought to like it.”

Sendak thought this was ridiculous: “If a kid doesn’t like a book, throw it away. Children don’t give a damn about awards. Why should they? We should let children choose their own books. What they don’t like the will toss aside. What disturbs them too much they will not look at. And if they look at the wrong book, it isn’t going to do them that much damage. We treat children in a peculiar way, I think. We don’t treat them like the strong creatures they really are” (Lanes, The Art of Maurice Sendak 106-107 & in conversation with me, 2001).

Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat (1957)

Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat (1957)A rainy day, mother away, and two bored children wish they “had something to do.” Then, Seuss’s insouciant cat and his two Things introduce some anarchic “fun” to the household. The cat juggles, the Things fly kites, and chaos reigns. The fish — the children’s caretaker, while mother is out — protests, but the Cat persists. Meanwhile, tension mounts: if mother comes home to find the house in a shambles, the children (and, presumably, the fish) will be in trouble. In 236 different words, Dr. Seuss turned the world of reading primers on its head. Goodbye, Dick and Jane. Welcome, Cat in the Hat.

Bob Shea, Dinosaur vs. Bedtime (2008)Bob Shea, Dinosaur vs. Bedtime (2008)

Shea’s dinosaur — who, in stature and attitude, resembles a young child — is invincible! Or is he? A pile of leaves? Dinosaur wins! A big slide? Dinosaur wins! A bowl of spaghetti? Dinosaur wins again! But what about … bedtime? Drawn with Shea’s expressive, sketchy minimalism, this small red dinosaur is determined. But he may have met his match. Fans of Mo Willems (and Bob Shea) will enjoy this.

Mo Willems, Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct (2006)

Mo Willems, Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct (2006)She plays with the neighborhood kids, helps old ladies across the street, and bakes chocolate chip cookies for everyone. So, of course, everyone loves Edwina. Everyone except for Reginald Von Hoobie-Doobie. He spends most of the book trying to prove that dinosaurs are extinct. But no one will listen to him. Well, almost no one. In a slightly Syd Hoff-ian style (or is that just my imagination?), Willems offers another great battle of wills. (See also: Willems’ pigeon books.)

Willems’ books are so beloved by Emily that, as she began a recent trip to the U.S., she began “reading” her passport to her mother, noting that it was “signed by the author, Mo Willems.” (Thanks to my friends who write children’s books, I have given Emily a few signed books — though not one with Mr. Willems’s signature.)

When possible, I’ve bought each of these books locally, ordering via Claflin Books & Copies.

Amazon.com is a sweatshop, and (when I can) I prefer to buy from places that are not.

Looking for other great children’s books?  Try these blogs and other websites:

Related posts on Nine Kinds of Pie:

That’s the end of this installment, but there will be more “Emily’s Library” features in the future.

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Emily’s Library, Part 7: 31 Good Books for Small Humans

Welcome to another installment in my ongoing list of the Best Books for Young Readers.  Admittedly, any such list will reflect the list-maker’s (in this case, my) idiosyncracies. But, since people often ask me about great books for small humans, I’ve been creating the “ideal” library for my nearly three-year-old niece, Emily, and writing about it in this “Emily’s Library” series. I hope it may be of use to other children and the book-buying adults in their lives.  Since she’s growing up speaking English, French, and a little Swiss German (Basel Deutsch, to be precise!), you’ll see some — though not enough — French books, and the occasional German book. English-speakers, don’t panic: all (or nearly all) can be found in English translation as well.

Ramona Badescu and Benjamin Chaud, Pomelo et les contraires (2011) [Pomelo’s Opposites (2013) in its original French]

Ramona Badescu and Benjamin Chaud, Pomelo et les contraires

A small book starring our favorite little grapefruit-colored elephant, Badescu and Chaud’s Pomelo et les contraires explores not just pairs of opposites but the very concept of opposites.  Not just high and low, but handsome and weird.  Not only black and white, but gastropod and cucurbit.  Not merely hard and soft but everything and nothing. Because Pomelo (or a transformation of Pomelo) illustrates most pairs of opposites, you get the sense of a world measured in units of little pink elephants.  (For more Pomelo, see Part 6 of the Emily’s Library series.)

Istvan Banyai, ZoomIstvan Banyai, Zoom (1995)

A wordless book about perspective. With each turn of the page, we have zoomed out, further away from the view on the previous page. What the Eames’ Powers of Ten does for mathematics, Banyai‘s Zoom does for perspective.  Even after you’ve read it once and so know what’s coming next, it’s nonetheless satisfying to see how each page makes the next page possible, and then the following page, and so on.

Aaron Becker, Journey (2013)

An homage to Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon and one of the best books of 2013, Aaron Becker‘s Journey follows a young girl’s imagination into a world of Miyazaki-esque wonder. It’s a beautiful wordless picture book that rewards re-readings.

from Aaron Becker's Journey

Peter Brown, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild (2013)

Peter Brown, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

Since Emily is already a fan of Squeaker (from Peter Brown’s Children Make Terrible Pets), the latest Peter Brown book was a natural choice. Echoing Sendak by way of Charley Harper and Mary Blair, Mr. Tiger finds that he has a bit of a … wild streak.  And so, off he goes, streaking into the wild.  It’s a book about sloughing off the expectations of civilization, a tale of releasing one’s inner wildness, and resisting conformity.  It’s also funny.

John Burningham, Mr. Gumpy’s Outing (1970)

Burningham, Mr. Gumpy's Outing

Classic tale of a boat ride that, with each addition of a new animal, sets up the inevitable capsizing. Children can join the boat ride, as long as they “don’t squabble.” A rabbit can get on board as long as it doesn’t “hop about.” A cat may come, but it’s “not to chase the rabbit.” And so on. A gentle, whimsical tale, told with economy and humor.

Those who are not academically inclined should skip this paragraph. The rest of you should read Perry Nodelman’s “Decoding the images: how picturebooks work,” from Peter Hunt’s Understanding Children’s Literature, Second Ed., pp. 128-139. It’s a magnificent close-reading of the book, and a great example of showing how rich and complex the apparently simple picture book really is.

Benjamin Chaud, Une chanson d’ours (2011) [The Bear’s Song (2013) in its original French]

Papa Bear is getting ready to hibernate, but where has Little Bear gone?  On each giant two-page spread, Chaud’s Little Bear is running along chasing a bee, but there’s so much more to see: other animals, hunters, cars, bicyclists, dancers, and much more. So, each two-page spread offers not only the game of finding Little Bear, but also of identifying as many other items (and the subplots they imply).  I think that telling you about the chanson [song] would spoil the surprise.  So, I’ll let you find that for yourself.

from Benjamin Chaud's Une chanson d’ours

Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, The Day the Crayons Quit (2013)

A gift to Emily from my stepsister Janet, Daywalt and Jeffers‘ book imagines crayons in revolt. White feels ignored, blue over-used, black irritated by only being used for outlines. And what happened to peach’s wrapper? He feels naked without it. These are among the box of problems that Duncan faces. How can he make all the crayons feel involved?

from Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, The Day the Crayons Quit

Ed Emberley, Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Animals (1970)

This one is a favorite from my childhood. Emberley shows how, with just a few simple shapes, you can draw all sorts of animals: dogs, cats, birds, a dragon.  The instructions unfold rather like those for assembling Lego: one picture at a time, and each new one clearly indicates what you’ll be adding. At present, the book is an occasion for the (not yet 3-year-old) Emily to ask others to draw the pictures for her.  But, eventually, I think she’ll be drawing the animals herself.  She loves to draw, though — in this phase of her artistic development — most of her art tends to be non-representational.

Ed Emberley's Drawing Book of Animals

Régis Faller, Le Voyage de Polo (2002) [The Adventures of Polo (2006) in French]

Régis Faller, Le voyage de Polo (2002)The first in Faller’s books about a small anthropomorphic dog who (generally) lives on his own, and then embarks upon an adventure. The Polo stories have an associative narrative logic evocative of the Harold stories’ structure.  In this one, he opens the door of his island tree home, walks over to a tightrope, and then starts carefully to make his way along it — shades of Harold’s tightrope act in Harold’s Circus (1959). The tightrope suddenly becomes stairs, which Polo then climbs — reminiscent of the stairs in Harold’s Fairy Tale (1957).  Beyond those direct visual allusions (or, at least, they feel like allusions), the story’s art manages to link each panel to the next, and then to the next. You don’t quite know where Polo is going, but he’s traveling with a purpose, and fun to accompany for the duration of his journey. Like the Harold stories, Le Voyage de Polo recalls the mode of storytelling favored by creative young people: there is a logic, but it makes sense only to the storyteller. However, Faller and Johnson tell the tale in a way that it all makes sense to readers, too.

All wordless (save for the occasional sound effect), the Polo books are among Emily’s favorites. A tip of the virtual hat to Julie Walker Danielson for introducing me to them.

Régis Faller, Polo et le Dragon (2003) [Polo and the Dragon (2009)]

At the onset of winter, Polo dons his coat and hat, and sets off in his boat — only to find himself snowbound and icebound. Fortunately, because he is Polo, he’s able to draw a doorway in the ice (another echo of Harold and the Purple Crayon), open the door, and walk through it.  I could summarize the rest of this story, but why would you want me to?  Just go and read it.

Régis Faller, Polo et la flute magiqueRégis Faller, Polo et la flute magique (2003) [Polo and the Magic Flute (2009)]

In which Polo travels by sea, on foot, atop a snail, and learns that music can make you fly. Which, of course, it can. 

Régis Faller, Polo and Lily (2009) [Polo et Lili (2004) in English because the French edition was unavailable]

Lovely story about Polo and his friendship with the free-spirited Lily [Lili in French]. The two quickly become close friends but — spoiler alert! — Lily stays true to her independent nature, and continues traveling. For me, this book is about having a close friend whom you rarely see in person.

Régis Faller, Polo and the Magician! (2009) [Polo magicien! (2004) in English because the French edition was unavailable]

Régis Faller, Polo and the Magician!A rainstorm! A flood! And Polo drifts into a starring role in the circus. Though it shares the earlier book’s associative logic, Polo and the Magician! features different adventures than Crockett Johnson’s Harold’s Circus (1959). Indeed, one contrast between the two is that while Harold’s adventures are always solitary, Polo frequently makes friends, such as the magician in this book, or Lily in the last (she also makes a cameo appearance in this one). But all other characters Harold encounters are the creation of his crayon.

Régis Faller, Polo: À la recherché de Lili

Régis Faller, Polo: À la recherché de Lili (2010)

As yet unavailable in English, this nearly wordless tale finds Polo seeking Lili [Lily, in English], and is in this sense a sequel to Polo et Lili. A larger-sized Polo book, it’s also a sequel to many of the other books in the series, referencing the Dragon, the Magician, and some new characters, too.

Don Freeman, Corduroy (1968)

Don Freeman, CorduroyThis one is a gift from what we’ll call Emily’s grandmother-in-law once removed (I have no idea if there’s a word for what my mother-in-law is to Emily). If you live in North America, I’ll hazard a guess that you know this one already. But, in case not, Corduroy is a teddy bear whose overalls are missing a button, and so Lisa’s mother elects not to buy him for Lisa. This prompts Corduroy, after hours, to wander all over the department store, seeking a button. And that’s a big part of the fun here: getting to explore, unsupervised, a vast place full of stuff. Corduroy fails in his quest, but Lisa returns the next day, buys him with her own pocket money, and stitches a button on his overalls.

Florence Parry Heide and Lane Smith, Princess Hyacinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated) (2009)

Florence Parry Heide and Lane Smith, Princess Hyacinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated)

Brought to life by Lane Smith’s art and Molly Leach’s dynamic book design, Heide’s final story (she died in 2011) tells of a young girl who is happiest when she’s floating. Her parents worry about her floating off, and so find ways to tether her to the ground. But she resists being tethered. A fine tale that, in the spirit of other books by both Smith and by Heide, celebrates the non-conformist.

Tove Jansson, Moomin’s Winter Follies (1955/2012)

Tove Jansson, Moomin’s Winter FolliesDrawn & Quarterly have been releasing Tove Jansson’s Moomin comics (1954-1959) both in large format, featuring the original black-and-white daily strips, and in smaller format, featuring colored versions of the daily strips. This book and the two listed below are the smaller-format ones.

Since the comic strip told a series of (mostly) self-contained stories, dividing them up into these smaller books both makes narrative sense and offers a great introduction to the world of the Moomins and their friends. The comics are a bit looser than the novels, and include characters and situations that never appear in either the picture books or the chapter books. This one introduces the irritatingly enthusiastic Mr. Brisk, who loves winter weather and sports. (As you might expect, the Moomins don’t entirely share his love for competitive athletics.)

Tove Jansson, Moomin Builds a House (1956/2013)

Tove Jansson, Moomin Builds a House

Introducing the character of Little My (whose first line is “I’m Little My! And I bite because I like it!”), this story finds the Moomins coping with trying houseguests, too many small children (Little My’s siblings), and an irritatingly careless parent (the Mymble, mother to Little My). Tired of always having to yield his room to others, Moomintroll decides to build his own house … which proves trickier than he thought it would.

Tove Jansson, Moominvalley Turns Jungle (1956/2012)

Tove Jansson, Moominvalley Turns JungleAfter a drought, Moominvalley gets thunderstorms, watering the tropical seeds that Little My has found. Then, Stinky liberates animals from the zoo… and the Moomins have an adventure in their own backyard (and in their own home). Transforming the home — via flood, winter, absence, or (in this case) plant life — is a recurring theme in the Moomin books. It’s both an exciting transformation of the everyday, and makes the characters even fonder of the home they’ve lost… and which they get back, by story’s end.

Crockett Johnson, La Plage MagiqueCrockett Johnson, La Plage Magique (2006) [French translation of Magic Beach (2005/1965)]

An unusual book, and one of Crockett Johnson’s most developed examinations of the thin boundary between real and imagined worlds. The book is probably better suited for children slightly older than Emily (I’d say 5 or 6), but when I discovered a French translation of something to which I’d written the Afterword, I couldn’t resist sending it to her.

Ole Könnecke, Das große Buch der Bilder und Wörter (2011) and Le grand imagier des petits (2010) [The Big Book of Words and Pictures (2012) in German and French]

Ole Könnecke, Das große Buch der Bilder und WörterWith the enthusiasm and scope of Richard Scarry, Könnecke fills his pages with labeled anthropomorphic animals and their daily lives. Also like Scarry, Könnecke’s two-page spreads tell lots of small stories. There’s a child (represented by a little bear) getting dressed.  There’s an energetic toddler (represented by an elephant) playing a pot like a drum, running around, and merrily heedless of the parent trying to sleep. There’s the cycle of life, told via a bird and his vehicles (baby buggy, scooter, bicycle, car, walker, wheelchair). There’s even an allusion to Harold’s purple crayon. Unlike Scarry, the art is a bit more ligne claire, and the pages are both fewer and thicker — not quite “board book” but headed in that direction. So, a great title for the three-and-under set.

I bought Emily the original German edition, and the French translation.  I should probably send her a copy of the English-language translation also. Then, as she begins to read, she can put all three books side by side and compare the different languages.

Barbara Lehman, Rainstorm

Barbara Lehman, Rainstorm (2007)

Another wordless tour de force from Barbara Lehman, Rainstorm unfolds in comics panels and bright colors. During a rainstorm, a lonely boy in a big house finds a key. The key opens a trunk, revealing a ladder that descends to… where? I’d rather not summarize. If you’ve enjoyed Lehman’s other works (The Red Book, Museum Trip, Trainstop), you’ll enjoy this one — and, I expect, whatever book she publishes next.  Lehman’s one of my favorite contemporary artists of books for children.

Andy Runton, Owly: Just a Little Blue

Andy Runton, Owly: Just a Little Blue (2005)

The second of Runton’s wordless narratives finds the titular protagonist — and his companion, Wormy — wanting to help some smaller birds. Though he has the best of intentions in building the birdhouse, the smaller birds don’t trust him. This makes sense to me: owls are raptors; they prey on smaller animals. Owly, of course, does no such thing. But the birds who don’t know him are wary.

Andy Runton, Owly: Flying Lessons (2006)

Andy Runton, Owly: Flying LessonsAnother peculiarity of Owly is that, though he is ostensibly an owl, he does not fly.  He walks everywhere. The flying in this book gets done by the flying squirrel. Another tale of friendship and attempts to make new friends. And, as always, it all happens without words — or, rather, with only the occasional sound effect or (when speech is required) pictograph. One reason I’ve been giving Emily wordless books is that I like wordless books, but another is that they’re international — you can read them in any language.

Dr. Seuss, Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book (1962)

Will a book full of so many fantastic creatures excite the imagination into wakefulness or lull the mind into slumber? I’m not sure and (as with all books) results may vary. But I’ve fond memories of this book from my own childhood, from the brushing of teeth at Herk-Heimer Falls, to the notion of a yawn (and sleep) spreading, to the Chippendale Mupp who bites his tail at bedtime as an alarm clock: “His tail is so long, he won’t feel any pain / ’Til the nip makes the trip and gets up to his brain. / In exactly eight hours, the Chippendale Mupp / Will, at last, feel the bite and yell ‘Ouch’ and wake up.”  As each day and my endurance wanes, I still think of — and feel a bit like — the Collapsible Frink, about to collapse in a heap.

Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book

Dr. Seuss, Fox in Socks (1965)

Dr. Seuss, Fox in Socks

I’ve long thought that Dr. Seuss intended this book as a prank on parents and other adults. Beginning readers, who read more slowly than adults, actually have a much better chance of pronouncing these tongue-twisters correctly. In contrast, the confident grown-up, sure of his or her ability, begins reading this book aloud, but immediately stumbles. And then stumbles again, and again. This, of course, is one reason the book is so much fun: children get to see adults struggling with words.

Dr. Seuss, Hop on Pop (1963)

Dr. Seuss, Hop on PopGiven (some) small children’s proclivity for seeing the adults in their lives as sophisticated playthings, I expect many a “Pop” has been hopped upon, thanks to this book. Yes, the Pop in the book says, “STOP / You must not / hop on Pop.” But the children do hop on Pop, and the book’s title can be read as advice, supplemented by a demonstration (the cover shows the brother and sister hopping on Pop). That said, the book does of course contain a variety of silliness. As one of Seuss’s concept books, Hop on Pop collects mostly unrelated couplets, some of which sustain narrative over a few pages, but most of which do not. One of the multi-page tales tells of sitting connoisseur Pat. He sits “on hat,” on “cat,” and balances rather precariously on the handle end of a baseball bat. Happily, a character arrives to keep Pat’s sitting mania under control. Just as he’s about to sit on a cactus, this character intervenes: “NO PAT NO / Don’t sit on that.” Mischievous, and fun to read aloud.

Paul Thurlby, Paul Thurlby’s Wildlife (2013)

Since she was an early adopter of Paul Thurlby’s Alphabet (“A is for Awesome!”) and she loves visiting animals in the zoo, Emily seemed the ideal candidate for Paul Thurlby’s Wildlife. Like its predecessor, the book’s bold, humorous art recalls mid-twentieth century posters. In this one, however, each animal is accompanied by an unusual fact. Beneath the poster of a disco-dancing bee, Thurlby’s text tells us that “Bees talk to one another by dancing in patterns.”

Paul Thurlby's Wildlife

Mo Willems, Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late (2006)

Yes, yes, you know the formula — the direct address from the pigeon, monochromatic backgrounds that convey mood, and the expressive minimalism of the pigeon himself. And Willems knows the formula, too. Happily, with each new pigeon book, he manages to keep it fresh and funny.

Mo Willems, Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late

Mo Willems, Time to Pee (2003)

Sign-wielding mice help children learn what to do when they “get that funny feeling.” With gentle humor and a keen consideration of children’s feelings, Willems helps young people learn what to do when it’s time to pee! As Emily is currently potty training, this book is of particular interest to her.

Mo Willems, Time to Pee

Jennifer Yerkes, Drole d’oiseau (2011) [A Funny Little Bird (2013) in its original French]

Jennifer Yerkes, Drole d’oiseau

With ingenious use of negative space, Yerkes creates a character who is nearly invisible — on a white page, he only appears when contrasted with other, colored items. Though he at first feels sad, a risky experiment in gathering colorful accouterments teaches him that the ability to avoid detection is in fact a powerful gift. Lovely graphic design aids the book’s gentle moral.

Note: I’ve borrowed the term “small humans” (used in the title of and elsewhere in this blog post) from my friend and colleague Erica Hateley.

When possible, I’ve bought each of these books locally, ordering via Claflin Books & Copies.

Amazon.com is a sweatshop, and (when I can) I prefer to buy from places that are not.

Looking for other great children’s books?  Try these blogs:

Related posts on Nine Kinds of Pie:

That’s the end of this installment, but there will be more “Emily’s Library” features in the future.

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Emily’s Library, Part 6: 35 More Books for the Very Young

This is the latest installment in my ongoing series of The Best Books for Young Readers. As I noted in the first post, I’m trying to assemble the ideal library for my niece, who turns 2 this month. I recognize that what I consider “ideal” or “best” may be idiosyncratic, but since I do have some knowledge of children’s literature and since people often ask me about good books for children, I thought that a public list of my choices might be of some use to others.

Since Emily’s being raised in both French and English, you’ll also see some livres en français as well as the occasional Bücher auf Deutsch.  She lives in Switzerland, near both France and Germany. Her parents speak primarily English and French at home, but she also encounters German at the crèche (day care).  So, I’ve started to add some titles in German, too.  Nearly all of these non-English books are also available in English; when they are, I’ve also included the English title.

As in the previous entry, when there are two copies of a book (i.e., the same book in two languages), I’ve only counted it once in the above tally.

Rita et MachinJean-Philippe Arrou-Vignod and Oliver Tallec, Rita et Machin (2006) [Rita and Whatsit (2009) in its original French]

A little girl in a bad mood, Rita doesn’t like her birthday presents. But the one box that is running away from her is at least different. Inside, is a dog with a strong personality of its own. But, by the end of the story, the two have become friends. Tallec’s spare, slightly squiggly cartoons provide just enough detail for Arrou-Vignod’s narratives: we see only what the story requires, and little more.

Rita et Machin å la plageJean-Philippe Arrou-Vignod and Oliver Tallec, Rita et Machin a la plage (2006) [Rita et Machin à la Plage (2010) in its original French]

In this book, Rita is the one who starts in the good mood: “Rita loves the beach. Whatsit [Machin] the dog doesn’t like it quite so much.”  In particuar, what Whatsit [Machin] wants to do is not what Rita wants to do. They do play together, and by the end, “Whatsit [Machin] really loves the beach. Rita doesn’t like it quite so much.”   (My quotations here come from the English translations.)

Mon Chat Le Plus Bête du MondeGilles Bachelet, Mon Chat Le Plus Bête du Monde (2004) [My Cat, the Silliest Cat in the World (2006) in its original French]

Thanks to Sandra Beckett for suggesting this book about the silliest cat in the world,  Well, the text describes the animal as a cat, but all the pictures show an elephant — a metaphor, perhaps, for a particularly destructive cat.  Or, perhaps the “cat” really is an elephant and this narrator should not be trusted.  Thanks to J Nick (in the comments, below) for alerting me to the fact that there is an English translation.  I had no idea!  And I am now seeking a copy en anglais.

Pomelo granditRamona Badescu, Pomelo grandit, illus. by Benjamin Chaud (2010) [Pomelo Begins to Grow (2010) in its original French]

Pomelo, a small pink elephant, explores his world, and discovers that… he’s grown! This makes him feel special, but also raises questions. Will he “turn gray as soon as he grows up”?  And “Does everyone in the world grow at the same speed, or do some grow more quickly than others?” Also, “does growing up mean one has to stop clowning around?”  Benjamin Chaud’s bright, slightly loopy illustrations animate little Pomelo, as he ponders these questions. Thanks to Enchanted Lion Books, English-speaking readers (and English-speaking children) can enjoy the translations of both Pomelo books — and, yes, my quotations here are from the translations rather than the French original.

Pomelo et les couleursRamona Badescu, Pomelo et les couleurs, illus. by Benjamin Chaud (2011) [Pomelo Explores Color (2012) in its original French]

I especially like the philosophical turn of these two Pomelo books. In this one, Badescu and Chaud do not tell us that, say, the colors are red orange yellow green blue indigo violet. Colors themselves have different feelings to them.  There’s “the promising red of ripening strawberries,” “the hypnotizing red of love,” and “the surprising red of ripe tomatoes.”  A lovely, warm, and gently comic journey through colors, featuring that diminutive pink elephant — Pomelo.

Anne Bertier, mercredi (2010)Anne Bertier, Mercredi (2010)

A delightful story in blue, orange, and white. Every day, little square and little circle get together to play games. Each can change or divide his shape, impersonating a butterfly, a flower, a mushroom. If you think it strange to have a blue square and an orange circle as the book’s central characters, then you haven’t read Lionni’s Little Blue and Little Yellow.   I would love it if someone were to publish an English-language version. Enchanted Lion Books? NYR Children’s Collection?  Any takers?

from Anne Bertier, Mercredi

from Anne Bertier, Mercredi

Polkabats and Octopus SlacksCalef Brown, Polka-Bats and Octopus Slacks (1998)

Heir to Edward Lear, Dr. Seuss, and Shel Silverstein, Calef Brown writes (and illustrates) narrative poems that tell of pesky snails, Georgie Spider, a funky snowman, polkabats, and eight other curiosities. This is the first of Brown’s books for children; if you enjoy it, you might try Dutch Sneakers and Flea Keepers (2000) or Tippintown (2003). Emily’s current interest in the sounds of words inspired my choice of Polkabats and Octopus Slacks.  Also, it’s quite funny.  And funny is good.

Calef Brown's "Snails" from Polkabats and Octopus Slacks

Quint Buchholz, Schlaf gut, kleiner BärQuint Buchholz, Schlaf gut, kleiner Bär (1993) [Sleep Well, Little Bear (1994) in its original German]

Realism rendered via pointillism, Buchholz’s pictures are both concrete and soft, combining clarity with dreaminess.  They are the ideal images to accompany a little bear who is not tired, and so looks out over the yard and back on the adventures of the day, remembering: when he was a pirate; his neighbor Mrs. Rose, who tells stories to her flowers; the scarecrow in the meadow; the circus in the next town over, which he glimpsed while on a shopping trip; and other notable events.  Then, at last, the little bear succumbs to sleep. A lovely bedtime tale.

Margaret Wise Brown and Leonard Weisgard, The Important BookMargaret Wise Brown and Leonard Weisgard, The Important Book (1949)

Inspired by spending time with Emily in December, I chose this book in response to her delight in identifying (what to adults are) ordinary features of the world. At the age of 20 months, she very much enjoyed learning the names of the nouns in her world. Brown’s poetic text and Leonard Weisgard’s art does precisely that, offering brief meditations on grass, wind, snow, an apple, the sky, and others.

Clo Casile, So Sweet Alphabête!Clo Casile, So Sweet Alphabête! (2011)

This Swiss-themed alphabet book was something of an impulse buy. I’m a fan of alphabet books (see Part 4 of Emily’s Library), and saw this one when in Switzerland with Emily and her family.  It struck me as a comic idea to try to define an entire nationality in an alphabet book, and so — without thinking much about it — I bought this small picture book and gave it to Emily. It’s quite clever, but it’s also an example of a book bought more out of affection, and less because I thought “This is a masterpiece!” But, as you can see from the pages below, it’s fun.

A & B from Clo Casile, So Sweet Alphabête!

C & D from Clo Casile, So Sweet Alphabête!

E & F from Clo Casile, So Sweet Alphabête!

Marjorie Flack, Angus and the DucksMarjorie Flack, Angus and the Ducks (1930)

The book that introduces Angus finds the curious terrier facing off against a group of ducks. Flack’s pacing is excellent, as is the book’s layout and design. The first two-page spread to feature both Angus and the ducks has a hedge stretching diagonally across both pages, separating not only protagonist and antagonists but the text associated with each. Flack often places the text in different locations on the page, which creates a more dynamic reading experience, as the eye navigates the combinations of word and images.  Most readers may not consciously notice these elements, but they’ll experience them in the well-told, funny tale of the inquisitive little dog… and the ducks!

Marjorie Flack, Angus and the Cat (1932)

The second book about Angus, who now goes chasing after a cat. The cat ultimately proves slyer than Angus, who regrets having chased her.  A worthy sequel to the original tale.

Julie Fogliano and Erin E. Stead, and then it’s spring (2012)

It’s been a long winter in Switzerland, just as it has here in North America. As Anita Silvey wrote last month of this book, “I haven’t seen a picture book since The Carrot Seed that so brilliantly explores the idea of life and hope coming out of a seed.”

from Julie Fogliano and Erin E. Stead, and then it’s spring


from Julie Fogliano and Erin E. Stead, and then it’s spring

Cornelia Funke, Der geheimnisvolle Ritter NamenlosCornelia Funke, Der geheimnisvolle Ritter Namenlos. Illus. Kerstin Meyer (2001) [Princess Knight in its original German]

In English, this is a full-sized picture book, but in German it’s a tiny picture book. I’m not sure why the size changes depending on the country. In Funke‘s tale, Violetta is as capable as her brothers, so why can’t she train as a knight also? She does, often practicing secretly, at night. And she gets very good. On the occasion of her sixteenth birthday, her father proposes a jousting tournament in which the winning knight will win her hand in marriage. Violetta is not pleased, and devises a plan to win her own freedom.

Tove Jansson, The Book About Moomin, Mymble, and Little My (translated by Sophie Hannah, 2009)Tove Jansson, The Book About Moomin, Mimble, and Little My (1952, new transl. by Sophie Hannah, 2009)

As Moomintroll hurries home through the woods, the holes on the right-hand pages offer glimpses of where he’s headed, and those on the left recall where he’s been.  The shapes removed from each page are precise, allowing the subsequent pages (and previous ones) to be read one way as a glimpsed fragment, and another when on its own page. On the second two-page spread, Moomintroll walks along a path that goes through the trees, and towards what seems to be a house in front of a blazing son. Turn the page, and the sun is the sun, but the house turns out to be Mymble’s hair. Clever design and Sophia Hannah’s new translation make the new (well, 2009) Enfant edition the one to get — well, for English-speakers, anyway.

Tove Jansson, L’Histoire de Moumine, Mumla et Petite Mu: Que crois-tu qu’il arriva?

The French version of The Book About Moomin, Mimble, and Little My, which (in Jansson‘s original Swedish) is Hur gick det sen? (What Happened Next?).  I’m not sure why the English translation didn’t retain the original title — especially since it makes much more sense.  (The French edition seems to have combined the two versions of the title.)

Stephen T. Johnson, City by NumbersStephen T. Johnson, City by Numbers (1998)

Following the same logic as his Caldecott Honored Alphabet City (featured in Emily’s Library, Part 4), Johnson finds numbers in New York. The Brooklyn Bridge (which gave us an “M” in Alphabet City) viewed from another angle is the number 4. Two adjacent wastebins — also on the cover — create an 8. Looking ahead to his As Is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet (2008), some of the figures are a little more challenging to perceive. To see the distorted 10 reflected in the side of a building, or the 15 in the cement between bricks, you need to know what you’re looking for and keep looking until the shapes emerge — which, of course, is part of the fun!

Jon Klassen, This Is Not My HatJon Klassen, This Is Not My Hat (2012)

For his second in what I sincerely hope is a trilogy of “hat books,” Klassen manages to be even funnier than the first — which is listed in the debut post of this “Emily’s Library” series.  A small fish steals a small hat from a big fish. In Klassen’s text, the fish assures us (and himself) that he’ll get away with it. The pictures tell a different story.  The tension between words and images creates a drolly amusing tale that will serve as a warning to potential hat-snatchers. Or, possibly, not. Either way, it’s funny and you’ll enjoy it.

Ole Könnecke, Anton Can Do MagicOle Könnecke, Anton Can Do Magic (2011). First published as Anton kann zaubern (2006)

Rendered in clear lines and spare backgrounds, Könnecke’s story tells of Anton, his swami-style hat, and… magic!  Or is it?  Anton thinks it is. Könnecke’s text agrees with Anton, but the pictures tell a different story.  A gently humorous tale of now you see it… now you don’t!

Edward Lear, His Shoes Were Far Too Tight, illus. Calef BrownEdward Lear, His Shoes Were Far Too Tight, illus. Calef Brown & masterminded by Daniel Pinkwater (2011)

Indicative of that interest in language, she has lately been enthralled by Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat — Ian Beck’s version of this tale appears in the fifth installment of Emily’s Library. This book includes that poem, along with ten others, including “The Duck and the Kangaroo,” “The Jumblies,” “The Quangle Wangle’s Hat,” and “How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear.”  Calef Brown’s art is as “concrete and fastidious” as Mr. Lear’s mind.

Edward Lear and Fred Marcellino, The Pelican Chorus and Other NonsenseEdward Lear and Fred Marcellino, The Pelican Chorus and Other Nonsense (1995).

The late, great Fred Marcellino did a beautiful job creating art for “The New Vestments,” “The Owl and the Pussycat,” and “The Pelican Chorus.”  His animals manage to look like animals and people at the same time. Their gestures and facial expressions are somehow both human and not. I don’t know how he did it, but I wish he had been around to create more art. (He died in June 2001, at the age of 61.)

Astrid Lindgren and Ingrid Vang Nyman, Pippi Moves In!Astrid Lindgren and Ingrid Vang Nyman, Pippi Moves In! (2012). [Translation of Pippi Flytarr in Och Andra Serier (2010)]

First published in Swedish in 1957, this is the comic-book (or, if you prefer, graphic novel) version of Pippi Longstocking’s adventures. The stories have less text and are more brief than in the novel, but Pippi is just as unruly, subversive, and amusing.  Like the Tove Jansson book (above), this is part of Drawn & Quarterly‘s new “Enfant” line of comics/picture books for young readers.

James Marshall, Goldilocks and the Three BearsJames Marshall, Goldilocks and the Three Bears (1988)

Marshall’s version begins like this:

Once there was a little girl called Goldilocks.

“What a sweet child,” said someone new in town.

“That’s what you think,” said a neighbor.

In this Caldecott Honor book, we’re rooting for the bears and not Goldilocks, who “was one of those naughty little girls who do exactly as they please.”  But Marshall’s wit and deftly comic illustrations maintain a level of silliness that keeps us smiling.  His retellings of fairy tales are well worth your while.  Emily already has his version of “The Three Little Pigs” (see “Emily’s Library, Part 1”) and three of his George and Martha books (see Part 5).

Peter McCarty, Little Bunny on the MovePeter McCarty, Little Bunny on the Move (1999)

Though the book certainly reminds me of how Little Emily is often on the move (and increasingly independent), McCarty’s succinct language and delicate pencil-and-watercolor artwork create a work that is both gentle and a page-turner. We’re drawn into the softness of the picture, and wonder just where is this little bunny going?

Iona Opie and Rosemary Wells, Here Comes Mother Goose Iona Opie and Rosemary Wells, Here Comes Mother Goose (1999)

The sequel to their My First Mother Goose (1996, included in Part 5 of “Emily’s Library”), Here Comes Mother Goose does not disappoint. The book’s many bright, funny illustrations compliment the poems’ silliness. She sticks with the original rhymes, except for one. With the sense of mischief exhibited by her animal characters, Wells revises the “What are little boys made of?” / “What are little girls made of?” rhyme, reminding us that little girls can also play in the swamp and little boys can make capable chefs.

Luke Pearson, Hilda et le Géant de la NuitLuke Pearson, Hilda et le Géant de la Nuit [Hilda and the Midnight Giant (2011) in French, transl. by Judith Taboy].

The French translation of the second book in Luke Pearson’s Hilda series is, perhaps, better suited for a 3- or 4-year-old (at the youngest). But Emily will grow into it, and, meanwhile, her father and mother can enjoy it. In an artistic style that is part René Goscinny and part Hayao Miyazaki, Pearson draws a thoughtful, resourceful heroine who will, I hope, take us on many more adventures. (The third Hilda book, Hilda and the Bird Parade is now out. I’m not sure if it’s been translated into French as yet.)

Francesco Pittau & Bernadette Gervais, Visite Au ZooFrancesco Pittau & Bernadette Gervais, Visite Au Zoo (2011)

Emily has loved this book of animals, but it has the problems that all flap books have. Small hands can easily tear the flaps off.  I’m also not wild about the pages of stickers (designed to be added to the blank, negative-space animals — each is a white silhouette of the animal in question).  I do like the way layout of the pages presents a panorama of different animals, their names, and the sounds they make.  The bright, bold colors against the black background makes the animals and words “pop.” The book’s huge size (44 cm tall by 32 cm wide) allows for a truly immersive experience.  But, despite my stated attempt only to give Emily the very best children’s books, I ultimately give this one a bit of a mixed review.

Yvan Pommaux, Un nuit, un chat…Yvan Pommaux, Un nuit, un chat… (1994)

With a tip of the hat (the cat’s hat, perhaps?) to Sandra Beckett for recommending this one, which follows a cat’s adventures during the night.  To the best of my knowledge, this one is not available in English translation.

Dr. Seuss, Happy Birthday to You! (1959)

Emily already has this one, courtesy of her mother’s (and my) childhood. I’m listing it here in honor of her second birthday.  In it, as you may know, “You” travel with the Birthday-Bird, to Katroo, a place where they really know how to celebrate a birthday.

Ben Towle, Animal AlphabetBen Towle, Animal Alphabet (2012)

A small, handmade book of 11 cm (wide) by 9 cm (tall), Animal Alphabet is 26 pages of ink-and-watercolor illustrations of animals, from Alpaca to Zebu.  Towle focuses on the lesser-known mammals, fish, and insects.  Though his website labels it a “minicomic,” it’s really more a very small picture book. As of this writing, his website is the only place to get it.

Frank Viva, Along a Long RoadFrank Viva, Along a Long Road (2011)

Travel by bicycle, around a small town, into a tunnel, over a bridge, and then turn back to the beginning and do it again. Viva takes you on a trip, using: 5 colors, bold graphics evocative of mid-century posters, and spare, poetic language.  It’s dynamic, precise, fun.  It’s also his first picture book.  A stunning debut.

from Frank Viva, Along a Long Road

Mo Willems, Goldilocks and the Three DinosaursMo Willems, Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs (2012)

“Once upon a time, there were three Dinosaurs: Papa Dinosaur, Mama Dinosaur, and some other Dinosaur who happened to be visiting from Norway.”  Willems offers his Fractured-Fairytale version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” complete with a Matisse allusion, Norway jokes (a calendar reads “Norway ‘Gateway to Sweden’”), and 2 morals (one for Goldilocks, the other for the Dinosaurs).  Once again, Willems does not disappoint.  How does the man write so many books, and make all of them really good?

Mo Willems, Knuffle Bunny, Too (2007).

The sequel to Knuffle Bunny features mistaken identities, mystery, and a late-night exchange. If you think I’m going to try to summarize the plot of this one, guess again.

Tim Wynne-Jones, Zoom, illus. Eric BeddowsTim Wynne-Jones, Zoom, illus. Eric Beddows (1997).  Contains Zoom at Sea (1983), Zoom Away (1985), and Zoom Upstream (1992).

A cat who likes to play with water, Zoom dreams of going to sea, and finding his Uncle Roy, captain of the Catship.  So, he goes to Maria’s house, which, in each book, proves to be a kind of portal that leads Zoom (and Maria) to distant places: the ocean, the North Pole, Egypt.  Beddows’ crisp black-and-white pencil drawings make these travels seem not only real, but possible. When Maria turns the wheel, we do not ask how a house could contain an ocean. We simply follow along.

Gene Zion & Margaret Bloy Graham, Harry the Dirty DogGene Zion & Margaret Bloy Graham, Harry the Dirty Dog (1956, re-colored 2002)

I’d have preferred to get the 1956 (non-recolored) version. I doubt that Emily will mind (and Graham did the recolorization herself), but I do wish that the original were still available.  Anyway.  Harry, “a white dog with black spots,” hates baths. So, he buries the scrubbing brush in the backyard, and runs away from home.  In the many places he plays (which Graham renders full of activity, with many places for our eye to alight), Harry gets so dirty that “he changed from a white dog with black spots to a black dog with white spots.”  Rendered in thick lines and with an expressive cylindrical eye, Harry is a very expressive dog.  But his expressiveness seems to fail him when he returns home, and the family doesn’t recognize him!  (And, just in case you haven’t read the book, I’m not going to spoil the ending here.)

Gene Zion & Margaret Bloy Graham, No Roses for Harry! (1958)

Another in the Harry series. As this edition has (happily) not been recolored, it preserves Graham’s contrasts between three basic colors — which, in this case, are green and orange. Harry’s sweater is green, and the roses on it are orange. It’s a present from Grandma (the children’s grandmother, not his). And he detests it. He spends the first two thirds of the book trying and failing to get rid of it. He succeeds, and in an ingenious manner.

When possible, I’ve bought each of these books locally, ordering via Claflin Books & Copies.

Amazon.com is a sweatshop, and (when I can) I prefer to buy from places that are not.

Looking for other great children’s books?  Try these blogs:

Related posts on Nine Kinds of Pie:

That’s all for this installment, but there will be more “Emily’s Library” features in the future.

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Emily’s Library, Part 5: 29 More Books for the Very Young

Welcome to the fifth installment of “Emily’s Library,” in which I list books bought for my 13-month-old niece. As noted in the first entry in this series, my aim is to build for her a kind of “ideal” library of children’s books — understanding, of course, that ideals are impossible, and that my own criteria (see first entry) are fuzzy at best. Despite its shortcomings in theorizing its own criteria, this ongoing list does name good books, and thus may (I hope) be useful to other people seeking books for young readers. (At the end of this blog post, you’ll find links to other resources for finding good children’s books.)

I have not included in my tally (above) works in translation — that is, if a book is listed in both French and English versions, I only count it once (though I do list it below). I do realize that no translation is identical to its original. As Walter Benjamin writes, in translation “the original undergoes a change.”  Expanding on that idea, he offers the following simile: “Just as a tangent touches a circle lightly and at but one point, with this touch rather than with the point setting the law according to which it is to continue on its straight path to infinity, a translation touches the original lightly and only at the infinitely small point of the sense, thereupon pursuing its own course according to the laws of fidelity in the freedom of linguistic flux.”1 So, perhaps I should have included translated works in my tally. I didn’t because I feel that, somehow, it’s a limitation of mine — choosing (usually) French translations of English-language originals. I need to find more French-language originals. (As noted in the original “Emily’s Library” post, Emily is being raised in both English and French.) For me, at least, absenting these translations (from the total) signals my list’s deficiencies. Hence, the slight “under-counting.”

Well.  On with the list!

Jon Agee, The Incredible Painting of Felix ClousseauJon Agee, The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau (1988)

René Magritte + Ernie Bushmiller = this book by Jon Agee. It’s a comic look at the power of art. It has rival painters whose names are puns on French cuisine. And, as in Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon, the imagination is a source of both possibility and danger. But art is triumphant in the end.

Ludwig Bemelmans, Madeline (1939)

In the first of Bemelmans’ books about Madeline, the title character is small but brave: “not afraid of mice,” says “Pooh-pooh” to the tiger in the zoo, and happily displays her post-appendectomy scar. (Does anyone know why her hair is red in the tiger scene, but blonde in all the other scenes?) In addition to enjoying this book on its own merits, I want to make sure that Emily reads books with strong female characters.

P.D. Eastman's Are You My Mother? (1960)P.D. Eastman, Are You My Mother? (1960)

A childhood favorite in our family.  Favorite line: “‘Oh, you are not my mother,’ said the baby bird. ‘You are a Snort’” (spoken after the baby bird is picked up by an earth mover).  For those 1 or 2 people who may not be familiar with this book, a baby bird falls from his nest, and seeks his mother, discovering that kitten, hen, dog, boat, plane, and “Snort” are all not his mother. The repetition of the question to increasingly absurd mother figures is fun (and comic). Of course, baby bird reunites with mother by the end.

P.D. Eastman, Go, Dog. Go! (1961)

An absurdist work, comparable to Dr. Seuss’ One fish two fish red fish blue fish.  However, instead of fantastic creatures, Eastman gives us ordinary creatures (dogs) in unusual colors and situations. Sure, the “party hat” dialogue (in which girl dog repeatedly asks boy dog whether he likes her party hat) might interpreted as endorsing the notion that women’s appearance needs to please men  — not a great message. On the other hand, the dogs of many colors playing together might be seen as an implicit endorsement of racial diversity (if dogs of different colors play together, so can children of different colors) — a much better message. I think, though, that this was a favorite book of my sister’s (when she was little) because it had lots and lots of dogs.  In cars!  In trees!  On a boat!

Lois Ehlert, Color Farm (1990)

As in Ehlert’s earlier Color Zoo (1989, included on Emily’s Library Part 1), you turn the die-cut pages to see shapes become animals. Bright colors, ingenious design, shows us the hidden geometries of the animal kingdom.

Antonio Frasconi, See and Say / Guarda e Parra / Regarde et Parle / Mira y Habra: A Picture Book in Four Languages (1955)

Ideal for Emily, who is being raised multi-lingual!  Frasconi’s book prints a series of objects, each named in in English (printed in black), in Italian (blue), French (red), and Spanish (green).  Given that it has an English pronunciation guide for each word (and the word always first appears in English), the book does imagine English-speaking children as its primary audience.  However, illustrated by bright woodcuts, the book is great “first words” book for young children, and language education for any age. Used copies are not too hard to find, but this book really ought to be brought back into print.

Antonio Frasconi, from See and Say (1955)

Antonio Frasconi, from See and Say (1955)

The images above come from The Ward-o-Matic‘s post on the book.  Visit the site to see more.

Patricia Intriago, Dot (2011)

A beautifully designed concept book, in which a dot can be slow or fast, bounce up and down, be hungry or full, happy or sad.  Or shy.  The interaction between word and dot makes this work so well.  For “Dot here” on the left page, white words stand out on the upper portion of a large black dot.  For “Dot there” on the right page, much smaller black text (on white page) beneath a small dot.  In addition to the pun (“Dot” as “That”), the two-page spread conveys the concept so well. It’s almost impossible to convey, in words, the effect of Intriago‘s book. Better if you take a look at a few images.

2 pages from Patricia Intriago's Dot (2011)

2 more pages from Patricia Intriago's Dot (2011)

These images come from Joy Chu’s The Got Story Countdown (scroll down).  See also Jules Walker Danielson’s Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast for more on the book.

Leonore Klein and Saul Bass, Henri's Walk to ParisLeonore Klein and Saul Bass, Henri’s Walk to Paris (1962)

A beautiful book illustrated (and designed) by Saul Bass, famous for his movie posters and film title sequences. This recently republished book is a visual delight. Its pictures animate the story of little Henri, who sets off for the city, has a nap en route, and, upon waking, resumes his journey… but in the wrong direction.

Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak, Bears (2005)

The first version of Krauss’s 26-word story appeared in 1948, with pictures by Phyllis Rowand.  In this new version, Maurice Sendak brings back Max (from Where the Wild Things Are) and creates a parallel narrative, in which he (Max) chases a dog to rescue his kidnapped teddy bear.  Krauss’s pleasantly absurdist verse and Sendak’s detailed, exuberant illustrations create a great book for young readers. It recalls his early work for children — the Nutshell Library (1962), A Very Special House (1953) and his other collaborations with Krauss.

Ian Beck & Edward Lear, The Owl and the Pussy CatEdward Lear, The Owl and the Pussy-Cat, illustrated by Ian Beck (1995)

“They took some honey, and plenty of money, wrapped up in a five pound note,” which in Beck’s rendering, has a portrait of Edward Lear himself.  His version of “the land where the Bong-tree grows” has giant shrubs (or Bong-trees?), all carefully manicured, with the occasional large candy-cane sprouting up in their midst. Beck’s art gently evokes the affection and whimsy in Lear’s interspecies romance.

Leo Lionni, Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse (1969)

Alexander wishes he were more like Willy, the wind-up mouse whom the children love playing with. Perhaps the magic lizard can change him into a wind-up mouse, too? This, at least, is his wish until he finds that Willy has been tossed into a box of toys that are about to be discarded. As is often the case in Lionni’s stories, Alexander is a fable with a twist. Emily has this book courtesy of her mother’s and my childhood.

Leo Lionni, FrederickLeo Lionni, Frederick (1967)

As you read the book for the first time, you might think that Frederick is a version of Aesop’s “The Ant and the Grasshopper”: Frederick is the Grasshopper, gathering no food for the winter; the other mice are industrious like the Ant, preparing for winter’s dearth. Lionni invokes this famous fable in order to upset our expectations.  Though Frederick seems lazy, he is in fact gathering the dreams that will sustain his fellow mice through the winter.  When their food runs out, they have his art.  His words make them feel warm, paint visions in their minds, and give them hope.  Lionni’s fable is not a version of “The Ant and the Grasshopper.”  It’s about the ways in which art keeps us alive.

Leo Lionni, Frédéric (1975) [Frederick (1967)]

Frederick in French translation.

Leo Lionni, Swimmy (1963)

When Swimmy teaches the little fish to swim in the form of a big fish (with Swimmy as the eye), the many smaller fishes can move throughout the ocean unafraid of the larger fishes — who now see them, collectively, as a single large fish.  So, a parable about the power to be gained by organizing?  A pro-union fable?  Perhaps.  According to Leo Lionni, “The central moment is not so much Swimmy’s idea of a large fish composed out of lots of tiny fish but his decision, forcefully stated, that ‘I will be the eye.’  Anyone who knew of my search for the social justification for making Art, for becoming or being an artist, would immediately have grasped what motivated Swimmy, the first embodiment of my alter ego, to tell his scared little friends to swim together like one big fish. ‘Each in his own place,’ Swimmy says, suddenly conscious of the ethical implications of his own place in the crowd.  He had seen the image of the large fish in his mind.  That was the gift he had received: to see.”2

Robert McCloskey, Make Way for DucklingsRobert McCloskey, Make Way for Ducklings (1941)

McCloskey’s classic, in which Mr. and Mrs. Mallard, decide to raise their ducklings on an island in Boston Public Garden.  As Leonard Marcus reports in his A Caldecott Celebration (1998), a story (reported in the newspapers) of “a family of ducks that had stopped traffic as it made its way through the nearby streets of Beacon Hill” inspired the story. To make sure that he could draw the ducks to his satisfaction, he studied duck anatomy at the American Museum of Natural History.  And he bought sixteen live ducks to live with him and his roommate at the time, Marc Simont.  As Simont recalls, this was both noisy and messy, but it enabled McCloskey to draw the bids the way he wanted to. To find out what the underside of a duck looked like in flight, McCloskey “wrapped one of the ducks in a towel and put it so that its head spilled over the couch.  Then he lay down on the flor and looked up and sketched it,” Simont told Marcus.3  The result of his efforts was the Caldecott-winning book of 1942.

James Marshall, George and MarthaJames Marshall, George and Martha (1972)

As the book’s subtitle says, Five Stories About Two Great Friends.  The first in the series about these two hippos, George and Martha stages gently comic conflicts that conclude with a bit of wisdom. In the final story, while skating to Martha’s house, George “tripped and fell. And he broke off his right front tooth. His favorite tooth too.” The deadpan humor of “His favorite tooth,” amplifies Marshall’s minimalist drawing of a hippo not tripping, but launching himself aloft, suddenly weightless. Though distraught over his lost tooth, George gets a new gold one. When Martha compliments him for looking “so handsome and distinguished” with his new tooth, he says “That’s what friends are for…. [T]hey always know how to cheer you up.”  Martha reminds him, “But they also tell you the truth,” and smiles.

James Marshall, George and Martha Encore (1973)

The second (of seven) in the George and Martha books finds George learning to dance, learning French, and failing to disguise himself. Martha forgets her suntan lotion, and has trouble getting her garden to grow.

James Marshall, George and Martha Tons of Fun (1980)

Dedicated to Maurice Sendak, the fifth book focuses more on Martha than George — which, I suppose, may have influenced the dedication. In his introduction to George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends (1997), Sendak “admit[s] to favoring Martha; she never forgets and rarely forgives altogether, and she gets the best Marshall lines” (4).

Richard McGguire, The Orange Book (en Français)

Richard McGuire, The Orange Book (1992)

Limiting his palette to three sharply different colors, McGuire creates concise, strong images. The bright orange spheres and slices almost hover above the surface of cream pages illustrated in blue — orange’s opposite on the color wheel, and likely chosen for maximum contrast. In pages full of visual humor and allusions, the book follows the trajectory of fourteen oranges on their journeys out into the world: “One was sent to a sick friend,” and “Two was used in a juggling act.” In this sense, The Orange Book merely uses the counting-book genre as a frame upon which to explore larger questions.  As McGuire has said, the book is “really the story of the paths of life.  I guess there is the general idea of ‘interconnectedness,’ too, which interests me.”4  The first of his four picture books, The Orange Book is a visual delight and ought to be brought back into print!

Richard McGuire, Orange Book: 1, 2… 14 Oranges (2001) [The Orange Book (1992)]

French-language translation of McGuire’s The Orange Book.  (The cover to this version is above, next to the commentary on the English-language edition.)

Iona Opie and Rosemary Wells, My Very First Mother GooseMy Very First Mother Goose, edited by Iona Opie and illustrated by Rosemary Wells (1996)

Over 100 pages of Mother Goose rhymes, featuring the distinctive bunnies, cats, humans, and other animals of Rosemary Wells.  This book and its companion volume Here Comes Mother Goose (1999) — another book I ought to get for Emily — are bright, comic, and big!  (Nearly a foot [30 cm.] tall by 10.5 in [26.5 cm.] wide.)

Francesco Pittau & Bernadette Gervais, Les Contraires (1999)

En Français, a humorous exploration of opposites, using the elephant as its unit of measurement.  Items such as Big and Small or Long and Short may not surprise.  But some of the opposites are a bit… unusual.

Pittau & Gervais, Les Contraires (1999) Pittau & Gervais, Les Contraires (1999)

In English, the above are “Lit” and “Extinguished.”  Images from Brunette à Paris (and there are more images there, too).

Francesco Pittau & Bernadette Gervais, Elephant Elements (2001) [Les Contraires (1999)]

English-language version of Les Contraires.

Pittau & Gervais, Elephant Elephant: A Book of Opposites (2001)

Claude Ponti, Le A (1998)

En Français, Ponti‘s Tromboline et Foulbazar tickle, throw, and poke the letter A.  Full of humor and the sound of the A… when it is being tickled, thrown, and poked!

Claude Ponti, Le A (1998)

Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902)Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902)

Another book that reaches Emily courtesy of her mother’s (and my own) childhood, Potter’s classic picture book offers a satisfying combination of suspense, a moral, and dark sense of humor.  I particularly like the line “Your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.”  Droll.  I remember, as a child, being quite worried on Peter’s behalf: how would he get out of Mr. McGregor’s garden?  Potter devotes most of the book to Peter either evading McGregor or trying to find his way out once more. Though Peter receives his punishment at the end (getting only chamomile tea, while his sisters get “bread and milk and blackberries for supper”), the fun of the book is his adventure. The well-behaved Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail merely provide a “safe” moral frame for his mischief.

Peggy Rathmann, 10 Minutes Till Bedtime (1998)Peggy Rathmann, 10 Minutes Till Bedtime (1998)

Peggy Rathmann, Au Lit Dans 10 Minutes

The countdown to bedtime has rarely been as diverting.  As the main character prepares for bed, a tour group of hamsters arrive to see the house.  So, of course, these guests must be shown around.  Particularly fun are the family of hamsters, each child of which has a different numbered jersey — and a distinct personality.  1 kicks a ball, 2 mimics the protagonist, 7 takes photographs.  With each page full of detail, the book offers much for the eyes to explore.

Peggy Rathmann, Au lit dans 10 minutes [10 Minutes Till Bedtime (1998)]

French-language edition of Rathmann‘s 10 Minutes Till Bedtime.

Richard Scarry, Best Word Book Ever, revised edition (1980) Richard Scarry, Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever, revised edition (1980)

Originally published in 1963, this version modernizes some of the gender roles — both rabbit parents prepare breakfast in the kitchen (instead of just mother), and so on. The extraordinary detail of Scarry’s pictures prompts slow, careful reading.  Each two-page spread contains so much detail, each of which bears a label: skyscraper, telephone booth, mail truck, fire hydrant, book reader, and so on. I particularly enjoy the pages that remind us that these clothed animals are in fact stand-ins for clothed humans, as when Scarry takes us to the zoo. Clothed mice children, each of which holds a balloon, visit the elephants, bears, monkeys, and other larger animals. The anthropomorphic cats do not chase the mice: one sells them balloons, another is a zookeeper, and the other is a veterinarian who “makes sure all the animals are healthy.”  I was going to buy Emily the French translation as well, but the French version is of the 1963 edition, which preserves all the “traditional” gender roles.

Charles G. Shaw, It Looked Like Spilt Milk (1947)

Like a Rorschach Test, but much more fun.  Shaw, a modernist painter with experience in poster design, presents a series of white shapes on a blue background.  Each shape resembles something in (white) silhouette — a rabbit, a birthday cake, a tree.  This imaginatively engaging concept book does, at the end, tell you what the white shape is: a cloud!

Dr. Seuss, One fish two fish red fish blue fish (1960)Dr. Seuss, One fish two fish red fish blue fish (1960)

As the first page points out, “From there to here, / from here to there, / funny things / are everywhere.”  A concept book (and Beginner Book) of scenes loosely connected by the two children who become recurring characters after the first few fish-centric pages.

Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! (1975)

On a recent business trip to the US, Emily’s mother bought this, Seuss’s ode to the imagination. It’s a celebration of creativity. As the final lines of the book advise, “Think left and think right / and think low and think high. / Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!”

Jeff Smith, Little Mouse Gets Ready (2009)Jeff Smith, Little Mouse Gets Ready (2009)

In a Geisel Honor book published by Françoise Mouly’s Toon Books, Smith — creator of the graphic-novel epic, Bone — has his title character dressing himself. Told in comics format, smith offers a charming look at one of a child’s first accomplishments (putting on clothes in the right order, managing those buttons!) with a great punch-line at the end… which I will not reveal here.

Ed Young, Seven Blind Mice (1992)

Seven blind mice, each a different color, try to figure out what has arrived near their pond. The reader soon realizes that it’s an elephant, but each mouse successively gets it wrong… until the final mouse. She figures it out.  Young‘s book won a Caldecott 1993.


1. Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator,” Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt, translated by Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1985), 73, 80.

2. Leo Lionni, Between Worlds (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), 232.

3. Leonard Marcus, A Caldecott Celebration (New York: Walker & Company, 1998), 7-8.

4. Thierry Smolderen, “An Interview with Richard McGuire,” Comic Art 8 (Summer 2006), 25.

When possible, I’ve bought each of these books locally, ordering via Claflin Books & Copies.

Amazon.com is a sweatshop, and (when I can) I prefer to buy from places that are not.

Looking for other great children’s books?  Try these blogs:

Related posts on Nine Kinds of Pie:

That’s all for now, but there will be more “Emily’s Library” features.

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Emily’s Library, Part 4: Ten Alphabet Books

Continuing my series on building the “perfect” children’s library (for criteria, see first post), here are some great alphabet books.  The first post listed Dr. Seuss’s ABC (1963), Crockett Johnson’s Harold’s ABC (1963), and Bill Martin, John Archambault, & Lois Ehlert’s Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (1989).  Here are ten more alphabet titles I’ve recently sent to my niece (Emily, currently 10 months old).

Sandra Boynton, A Is for Angry (1983): coverSandra Boynton, A Is for Angry (1983)

In a book subtitled an animal and adjective alphabet, Boynton illustrates “B is for BASHFUL” with a small bunny looking up at a bashful bear, who is partly concealed behind the letter “B.”  While a fox flees flying fish overhead, “F is for FRIGHTENED.”  As is ever the case, the remarkable emotional range of Boynton’s animals’ faces interacts perfectly with her words, and makes me laugh.  Accompanying “T is for Tangled” is a turkey tangled in a telephone cord.  The turkey is labeled “turkey,” and the telephone is labeled “turkey trap.”  More Boynton books are listed on the first “Emily’s Library” list.

Michael Cheswick, Alphaboat (2002)

A pun-lover’s picaresque which, yes, is undoubtedly too advanced for my 10-month-old niece. But, in a few years, she may appreciate the humor.  The story begins like this: “One day i chanced to stop for t / and listen to sweet Mellow D, / in her old H beside the sea, / sing of her long-lost Mister E.”  And off go the letters on a journey for hidden treasure, accompanied by abundant wordplay.

Donald Crews, We Read: A to Z (1967)

Perhaps best known for Freight Train (included in the first “Emily’s Library” list), Crews made his debut with this book… which was never intended to be a book at all.  A graphic designer, he made it to freshen his portfolio.  It’s less an alphabet book than it is an alphabetically organized book about space.  On the left page, c is for “corner: where the yellow is.”  On the right page, a field of orange, with a yellow square in the bottom-right corner.  Later, a left page gives us h for “horizontal: from side to side,” accompanied by a right page consisting of eight thick horizontal lines that alternate between a lighter green and darker blue.  This book should be brought back into print.

Donald Crews, We Read: A to Z (1967): Mm

Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich, Bembo’s Zoo (2001)

This, too, should be brought back into print.  Using only the Bembo typeface, each letter names an animal, and the letters within that name create the animal.  J is for Jaguar, and iterations of “J,” “a,” “g,” “u,” “a,” and “r” get be rearranged to create the shape of a jaguar.  Ingenious.  Mr. de Vicq de Cumptich has a website devoted to the book.  Check it out.

Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich, "Jaguar" from Bembo's Zoo (2001)

Alison Jay, ABC: A Child's First Alphabet Book (board book version, 2005)Alison Jay, ABC: A Child’s First Alphabet Book (2003)

The board book version (2005, pictured at right) is nearly identical to the picture book.  The only two differences (apart from slightly smaller size, & boards instead of paper) are minor: (1) the cover, and (2) the omission (in the board book) of the final page of text that lists all the other items named by the letter.  For instance, the “M” page tells us “m is for moon,” but it also shows a mountain, moose, and map…  and refers to other pages.  One of the many pleasures of Jay‘s book is following the recurring characters and motifs.  The “M” page also has the nest of eggs that appear on the right-hand page “n for nest,” and again on the “o is for owl” page, which itself has the young woman from the “n is for nest” page holding up what she was drawing — a picture of a panda.  The panda is on “p is for panda,” having a picnic with the man who was reading the map back on “m is for moon.”  And so on.  Anyway, I sent Emily the board-book version because it’s nearly the same as the standard picture book and she’s still more in the “chewing” phase of book appreciation.

Stephen T. Johnson, Alphabet City (1995)

I suspect one reason this book appeals to me is that it recalls my own childhood experience of letters. Having learned my letters at a very young age (thanks to Sesame Street and The Electric Company, on public television), I began seeing letters everywhere. A car’s tire contained an “O.”  Looked at from the right angle, a hardback chair revealed an “L” or an “H.”  In twenty-six paintings, Johnson’s book explores this idea, finding an “E” in a stoplight, “P” at the top of a railing, and a “Z” in a fire escape. In so doing, he encourages readers to seek the alphabet in the landscape.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Delphine Durand, Al Pha’s Bet (2011): coverAmy Krouse Rosenthal and Delphine Durand, Al Pha’s Bet (2011)

With words by Rosenthal and pictures by Durand, the book explains how the alphabet came to be in precisely that order.  See, this was back when things were just being invented — including the twenty-six letters. And there was this guy named Al Pha, and he made a bet with himself: he would find a way to organize this (at that time) pile of disorganized letters.  It’s both a joke on why the letters are in this accepted but seemingly arbitrary sequence, and an almost-plausible explanation of how they came to be in this order.  As is always the case, Durand’s pictures are perfect.  And a bit loopy.  I highly recommend her work — some of which you’ll see in the first post devoted to French books.  (Her work is also available in English translation.)  This is the second book by Rosenthal in Emily’s Library.  The first — Duck! Rabbit! — is on the initial list.

Dr. Seuss, On Beyond Zebra! (1955)

She already had this one, courtesy of Linda (her mother’s) and my childhood.  But I wanted to list it here with the alphabet books because it’s not your standard A-B-C book.  One of Seuss’s bestiary books, this catalogue of imaginary animals invites you to invent your own alphabet.  It’s a lesser-known Seuss work that deserves a larger audience.

Paul Thurlby's Alphabet (2011): coverPaul Thurlby, Paul Thurlby’s Alphabet (2011)

Although new, this alphabet book is in the style of mid-twentieth-century advertising & graphic design. It’s also visually inventive.  As Crockett Johnson’s Harold’s ABC does, Thurlby’s book incorporates the letter into the shape of the object it names.  In “J for Jazz,” the “J” is a saxophone being played by a musician.  The two circular parts of “B” contain balls that have just bounced there — because “B” is for Bounce. “Y” shows a man doing yoga, his body forming a letter “Y.”  “E for Embrace” shows two capital letters “E” locked in an embrace: the “E” on the right is flipped horizontally so that its three prongs (ending, respectively, in a head, hand, and foot) and slide in between the prongs of the right-facing “E.”  Very clever.  On the cover, you’re seeing “A for Awesome.”

William Wondriska, A Long Piece of String (1963)

William Wondriska, A Long Piece of String (1963): cover

Recently republished by Chronicle Books, Wondriska‘s nearly wordless story follows a piece of string around an alligator, a bird, a castle, a dog, an elephant,… all the way to zipper.  But the book does not name each animal until the very end of the book when, on a single page, it lists all twenty-six words.  So, as you read, you get to supply the name yourself.

William Wondriska, Sur Le Fil: Mon premier imagier anglais-français (2011) [A Long Piece of String (1963)]

William Wondriska, Sur Le Fil: Mon premier imagier anglais-français (2011) [A Long Piece of String (1963) in French]

A bilingual edition of A Long Piece of String, this version writes the English and corresponding French word on the string near each item.  Some of the English and French words share an initial letter, but not all do — which, I suspect, may have inspired the decision to include the word with each picture.  Interestingly, the book works just as well with the word accompanying the image.  The bilingual edition uses the same typeface as Wondriska’s original, and places the word so that it rests precisely on the string.

Incidentally, I’m on the look out for good ABC books — and good children’s books generally — that were originally published in French. (Emily is being raised in French and English.)  Part 2 of Emily’s Library lists most of the French books I’ve sent so far.  And, at the end of that post, Clementine B & Deborah Freedman both offer promising suggestions, which I’m in the process of checking out!

When possible, I’ve bought each of these books locally, ordering via Claflin Books & Copies.

Amazon.com is a sweatshop, and (when I can) I prefer to buy from places that are not.

Looking for other great children’s books?  Try these blogs:

Related posts on Nine Kinds of Pie:

That’s it for this installment, but there will be more “Emily’s Library” features in the future.

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Emily’s Library, Part 3: En Français

section of Emily's Library, Emily's Room, Switzerland. Photo taken 31 Dec. 2011Here are a few en français.  For each, I also provide the title as translated into English.  As noted in Emily’s Library, Part 1, I read the books in English (since I don’t speak French) and then send the French originals to my niece (whose parents are raising her in English & French).  I agree that this section of the library needs to expand at a faster rate, and especially welcome further suggestions.

Ramona Badescu, Gros Lapin. illus. Delphine Durand (2007) [Big Rabbit’s Bad Mood (2009)]

Badescu writes, “Big Rabbit had a big, bad hairy mood that stuck to him like glue,” and Durand draws a grey, furry oblong creature following big rabbit around.  Big Rabbit spends much of the book trying to evade the bad mood, but to no avail.  In the end, though, the bad mood leaves. Very funny, and evocative of what a bad mood feels like.

Boyer, Ouaf Miaou Cui Cui (2009): coverCecile Boyer, Ouaf Miaou Cui Cui (2009) [Woof Meow Tweet Tweet (2011)]

Brilliant use of typography to tell a story.  Boyer represents each animal using the word for that animal’s characteristic sound; each sound gets its own typeface.  Ingenious.

Sylviane Donnio & Dorotheé de Monfreid, Je mangerais bien un enfant (2004) [I’d really like to eat a child (2007)]

A funny story about a crocodile who won’t eat the food his parents get him because he’d prefer to eat a child.  Of all the books I’ve sent, this one is a particular favorite of my sister’s.

Delphine Durand, Ma Maison (2000) [My House (2007)]

Non-narrative book that explores the many rooms and creatures that live in the house.  Lots of detail with much to examine on each page.

Durand, Bob & Cie (2004): coverDelphine Durand, Bob & Cie (2004) [Bob & Co. (2006)]

A story about life, the universe, and story, Durand‘s Bob & Cie is one of my all-time favorites. It asks the big questions. It’s funny.  It has philosophical and theological implications, which can be pondered or ignored (depending on the interests and cognitive abilities of the reader).

Jean-Luc Fromental & Joëlle Jolivet, 365 Pingouins (2006) [365 Penguins (2006)]

An oversize book about math, the environment, and… penguins!  Its bold contrasts and limited color palette recalls mid-twentieth century poster design.

Catherine Graindorge & Fiona Land, Mon tout premier livre d’éveil (2005)

This is the sole book featured here — or, indeed, on any of these “Emily’s Library” lists — that I didn’t buy for my niece.  In the tradition of Dorothy Kunhardt’s Pat the Bunny (1940), Mon tout premier livre déveil is a tactile experience, with textures to rub, flaps to pull, even a mirror to look in.  I’m including it here because Emily loves it.  One caution: it might be more sturdily designed.  She’s already torn off two of the flaps.

Marcellino, Le Chat Botte (1999): coverFred Marcellino & Charles Perrault, Le Chat Botte [Puss in Boots] (1999)

The late, great Fred Marcellino did amazing work.

Beatrice Rodriguez, Le voleur de poule (2005) [The Chicken Thief (2010)]

This one is wordless (and so should really be included in yesterday’s list), but I purchased the French edition. Curiously enough, I first saw the book in Germany, where it is published under the title Der Hühnerdieb (2009)

Tullet, Un Livre (2010): coverHervé Tullet, Un Livre (2010) [Press Here (2011)]

New York Times bestseller, Tullet’s picture book reminds us that books are interactive.  Who needs an interactive ebook when you can read this?  Note that, in French, the title is simply A Book, but in English it’s Press Here.

Dorothée de Monfreid, Nuit Noire (2007) [Dark Night (2009)]

Felix, walking home through the forest in the dark, sees many scary creatures — and meets a brave rabbit who shows him how to deal with his fears.

Yes, I am aware that all of these are recent, and I do know Babar and The Little Prince. Saint-Exupéry’s book does not strike me as being for very young readers — a point which, admittedly, also might be made regarding a few other choices I’ve made. Emily has already been given a few Babar books. Regarding recency: as noted at the top, I’m seeking suggestions!

Looking for other great children’s books?  Try these blogs:

Related posts on Nine Kinds of Pie:

That’s it for this installment, but there will be more “Emily’s Library” features in the future.

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Emily’s Library, Part 2: Wordless Picture Books

section of Emily's Library, Emily's Room, Switzerland. Photo taken 31 Dec. 2011As mentioned in Emily’s Library, Part 1, one reason for including these is that they’re multi-lingual, but another is that they’re compelling works of narrative art. They highlight art’s centrality to the picture book itself.  To restate what I noted in yesterday’s post, art is so central to the picture book that, as part of his final revision process, Shaun Tan removes all of the words (to make sure that the pictures carry the story) and then restores just enough words.

Suzy Lee, Wave (2008)

Wordless tale of a girl, at the beach, facing off with the waves. Her movements and facial expressions tell you all you need to know. One of the New York Times’ Best Illustrated Books of that year.  Lee is one of my favorite contemporary illustrators.

Suzy Lee, Shadow (2010)

A near-wordless picture book. You open it with the spine at the top, so that the fold is in the middle of your reading experience, dividing the upper half (a basement) from the lower half (a shadow).  The shadow transforms ordinary objects into an adventure.

Suzy Lee, Shadow (2010): cover

Barbara Lehman, The Red Book (2004)

Lehman, The Red Book (2004): cover

Probably Lehman’s best-known work, this wordless tale is about friends, books, and the unexpected.  You can’t go wrong with a Barbara Lehman book. This one won a Caldecott Honor.

Barbara Lehman, Trainstop (2008)

Another lovely wordless tale from Lehman. It appeals to that sense one has (or I had, when I was a child, and still retain) that, when the train doors open, you might step out into… anywhere.  I need to write a full-length blog post on Lehman.  Her work ranks among the best contemporary children’s books — and, indeed, children’s books in general.

Newgarden and Cash, Bow-Wow Bugs a BugMark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash, Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug (2007)

As Lane Smith says, “What an odd, sweet, surreal and hilarous adventure from Newgarden and Cash. It’s what Crockett Johnson, Ernie Bushmiller and Rod Serling might have come up with if they shared a bench at the doggie park. I love it!” See also my longer blog post on Newgarden and Cash’s Bow-Wow books, and the board books listed with Emily’s Library, Part 1.

Stephen Savage, Where’s Walrus? (2011)

A comic tale of a walrus on the run, combining the find-the-character game of Where’s Waldo? with a playful narrative and plenty of joie de vivre.  Savage‘s design recalls posters from the 1930s, and the work of Richard McGuire (whose work will make an appearance in a future “Emily’s Library” post).

There are other great wordless books, of course.  These are just the ones I’ve sent so far.

Looking for other great children’s books?  Try these blogs:

Related posts on Nine Kinds of Pie:

 Tomorrow: Emily’s Library, Part 3: En Français!

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Introducing Emily’s Library. Part 1: 62 Great Books for the Very Young

section of Emily's Library, Emily's Room, Switzerland. Photo taken 31 Dec. 2011Welcome to a new feature on Nine Kinds of Pie: “Emily’s Library.” It’s named for my eight-month-old niece, and it will highlight only the very best children’s books. When I learned that my sister was expecting, I decided to create for her child an ideal library of children’s books. She and her spouse could read them to her, and, eventually, Emily could read the books herself.

Since I began this project, I’ve found myself sharing my list of “Emily” books with other parents or parents-to-be. With “Emily’s Library,” I will now be sharing it with you.

What do I mean by “ideal” or “the very best”?  I’m still developing my criteria, but here’s what I have so far.

  1. Old and new. Classics, but also more recent books.  I want neither to reify the past, nor to dwell solely in the present.  Rather, I’d like a range of works from then and now.
  2. Difference. This is fairly broadly defined. I’m thinking of different types of stories (different genres), different nationalities, different ethnicities, different artistic styles….
  3. I want some emphasis on children’s books originally in French. Emily and her parents live in Switzerland. My sister and brother-in-law speak English, French, German, and Spanish, but they’ll be raising Emily primarily in English and French.  Since I don’t speak French, I’ve been reading French books in translation, and then sending Emily the original French-language editions. A broader implication of this criterion is a need to read children’s books that originate in countries (and languages) other than one’s own.
  4. The theme of wordless picture books is (in part) a response to the language issue. Art is legible in any language. Readers can create their own words, changing those words with each reading if they wish. Or they can experience the story fully through the language of pictures. Wordless picture books also feature on this list because they’re great examples of narrative art: they prove, definitively, that a story does not require words. Art is so central to the picture book that, as part of his final revision process, Shaun Tan “test[s] for wordless comprehension. I remove the text and see if it works by itself. And if it does I feel that that’s a successful story.”  And, finally, wordless picture books are here because I happen to like them.
  5. Which brings me to the question of taste. Since it reflects my likes and dislikes, the list will be somewhat idiosyncratic. So, for example, you’ll notice that I’m drawn to humor.
  6. Politically acceptable, inasmuch as possible. The list will not be strictly “politically correct” because: I’m inherently suspicious of orthodoxies, some classics that don’t reflect contemporary social values remain worth reading, and books can be interpreted in many ways. By this last point I mean to say that (with a few exceptions) a book is not a tract: whatever political messages it may harbor, there’s no guarantee that a reader will discern them… simply because literature doesn’t work that way. Having said that, I am interested in books that may teach Emily to respect those who are different from herself, to be receptive to ideas that challenge the status quo, to think critically, and to imagine… whatever she wants.
  7. All of these books are for Emily, and thus reflect my own imagination — what I think she or her parents may enjoy, what might make her smile, give her pleasure, or grant her some insight. Since she is only eight months old, I am of course projecting onto her my own sense of who she is or might become.

I’ve listed these points to underscore the subjectivity of this endeavor. I have written books and articles on children’s literature, I teach courses on children’s literature, and I have amassed a certain amount of “expertise” in the field.  However, I’m acutely aware of how much I have yet to learn, I recognize that tastes vary, and I know that my aesthetic criteria are (as yet) rather vague. If this list does represent a literary canon of sorts, it also acknowledges that canon-formation is an idiosyncratic, flawed, and tricky business.

In sum, I think all of these books are good. You may disagree, or have favorites of your own that I’ve failed to list. Please feel share your disagreements and suggestions in the comments section below. As I say, I know that I’ve much to learn, and would be delighted to learn about other great children’s books.

Without further prologue, here are some of the first 62 books I’ve sent to Emily.  I’ll post more tomorrow and Wednesday, continuing with semi-regularly posts throughout Emily’s childhood.

Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Each Peach Pear Plum (1978)

Enjoy the rhymes, have fun finding nursery-rhyme characters.  Great for very young readers.

Sandra Boynton, Hippos Go Berserk! (1977, rev. 2000)

A counting book featuring the humor and hippos of the inimitable Sandra Boynton.

Boynton, Snoozers: 7 Short Short Bedtime Stories for Lively Little Kids (1997)

Sandra Boynton, Snoozers: 7 Short Short Bedtime Stories for Lively Little Kids (1997)

“I’m not tired!”  The reliably funny Sandra Boynton offers tales for bedtime.  Also features words and music to “Silly Lullaby” (later recorded for Philadelphia Chickens).  I’ve bought Emily quite a few Boynton books — in part ’cause Emily’s mother likes them, and in part ’cause I do.  Here are the other titles I’ve sent:

  • But Not the Hippopotamus (1982)
  • Pajama Time (2000)
  • 15 Animals (2008)

Jeff Brown, Flat Stanley, illus. Tomi Ungerer (1964)

Brown, Flat Stanley, illus. Ungerer (1964): cover

A favorite of mine when I was in first grade. Then, this book appealed to me because it suggested that the imagination could alter the physical universe — Stanley’s near two-dimensionality seemed so real to me. As an adult, I love the book’s dry humor, sense of the absurd, and its silliness. There’s also one joke that Emily may appreciate far sooner than children who only speak English. The “head of the Famous Museum of Art” is Mr. O. Jay Dart. Get it? His name puns on objet d’art (French for “work of art”).

Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd, Goodnight Moon (1947)

Brown’s verse and Hurd’s post-impressionist art combine to deliver the pleasures of evading bedtime. (For more about the book, see Leonard Marcus’s biography of Brown or his The Making of Goodnight Moon.)

Peter Brown, Children Make Terrible Pets (2010)

The central conceit — swapping human and animal roles — is both comic and instructive. If animals saw us as we see them, what would they see?

Burton, Katy and the Big Snow (1943): coverVirginia Lee Burton, Katy and the Big Snow (1943)

Along with Keats’ The Snowy Day and Takao’s A Winter Concert, this was one of a trio of winter-themed books sent to Emily in late October 2011.  It’s another favorite from my own childhood.  As I did then, I love the images of Katy plowing everyone out, the paths she cuts across the landscape, discovering roads where there had been only snow.  There’s something powerful in the book’s presentation of a relatively small being (Katy) remaking a vast snowy landscape.  It suggests that strength need not derive from size.

Eric Carle, The Very Hungry Caterpillar (1969, rev. 1987)

You know this one, don’t you?  I’d be surprised if you didn’t.  It’s a great example of Carle’s vibrant collage-style illustration and storytelling.  Check it out.

Chih-Yuan Chen, Guji Guji (2003, English translation 2004).

When the title character (a crocodile raised by ducks) meets crocodiles who want to eat his family, he realizes that — though he may not be a duck — he needs to defend those he loves. Told with a gentle sense of humor, the book addresses difference without being preachy.

Donald Crews, Freight Train (1978)

Bold colors, clean layout, a “simple” idea beautifully realized.  Those last five words identify a key part of my aesthetic criteria.

Tim Egan, Friday Night at Hodges Café (1994)

I’ve previously devoted a whole blog post to Tim Egan’s work.  He deserves much, much more attention than he has thus far received.  And this book contains one of my favorite lines in all of children’s literature: “Too bad his duck was so crazy.”

Lois Ehlert, Color Zoo (1989): coverLois Ehlert, Color Zoo (1989)

Turn the die-cut pages to see shapes become animals.  See also Ehlert’s companion book, Color Farm (1990).  Bright colors, clever design.  A Caldecott Honor book. In its board book incarnation, great for the youngest readers.

Ian Falconer, Olivia (2000)

The book that launched the literary career of that precocious pig, Olivia is an Eloise for contemporary children. In addition to his sense of humor, Falconer is also great at using white space to pace his narrative.  I imagine him making detailed sketches, and then reducing those to just the vital visual information.

Hoban, Black and White (2007): coverTana Hoban, Black and White (2007)

This book — and its companions Black on White (1993) and White on Black (1993) — show black shapes on white backgrounds and vice-versa.  Buttons, a sailboat, a fork, a flower, a banana.  The pages unfold accordion-style so that you can stand the book up around a baby, and she can look at the images.  The sharp contrast between black and white make the shapes especially vivid to infants (whose eyes are still developing the capacity to focus). This is one of the first books that really interested Emily.

Crockett Johnson, Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955): coverCrockett Johnson, the Harold series (1955-1963):

  • Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955)
  • Harold’s Fairy Tale (1956)
  • Harold’s Trip to the Sky (1957)
  • Harold at the North Pole (1958)
  • Harold’s Circus (1959)
  • A Picture for Harold’s Room (1960)
  • Harold’s ABC (1963)

Quite possibly the best children’s books ever written, and certainly the most succinct expression of the power and peril to be found in the imagination. When I talk to people about Johnson‘s Harold books, they either (a) have not heard of them, or (b) know them and love them. Very rarely do I meet someone who knows the books, but is indifferent.  In sum, if you do not know these, you should.  Start with Harold and the Purple Crayon and Harold’s ABC.

Ezra Jack Keats, The Snowy Day (1962)

Keats, The Snowy Day (1962): coverThis Caldecott-winning book is a favorite from my childhood. Yes, Peter (the book’s protagonist) was the first child of color I had met in literature.  But what left a longer, more lasting impression was the affinity I felt — and feel — for him.  As I was, Peter is a contemplative, curious child.  He makes snow angels, he explores his neighborhood, discovers that his feet can make different kinds of tracks in the snow, and pretends to be a mountain-climber.  As I did, he (or so it seemed to me then) often feels more comfortable in the company of his imagination than in the company of other children.  He does not join in the snowball fight.  After the day is over, he reflects on his adventures.  The bold colors of Keats’s collages, and the thoughtfulness — the inwardness — of his protagonist make The Snowy Day a great book for any child who, like Peter, sees in snow a sense of wonder and possibility.

Laurie Keller, The Scrambled States of America (1998)

I thought Emily might like to learn a little bit about the country where her mother was born. Well, that was part of the reason behind choosing this one. Mainly, I think Keller’s work is hilarious. Sure, there’s a geography lesson here, but there are far more jokes.

Jon Klassen, I Want My Hat Back (2011)

A masterpiece of economy and wit.  Each detail works perfectly.  And its deadpan humor knocks me out each time I read it.

Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson, The Carrot Seed (1945)

A little boy plants a carrot, everyone keeps saying “it won’t come up,” but every day he keeps “sprinkling the ground with water.” This story has been interpreted as being about faith, persistence, or simply ignoring the nay-sayers.  Maurice Sendak calls it a “perfect picture book.”

Karla Kuskin, Roar and More (1956)

Poet Karla Kuskin’s first children’s book.  Dynamic layout and typography introduces animals and the sounds they make.  Visually compelling, fun to read aloud, and nice humor (she also provides the sounds of giraffe and fish).

Munro Leaf & Robert Lawson, The Story of Ferdinand (1936)

I expect you know this one, but, if not, then you might like to read my earlier post, “Ferdinand at 75.”

James Marshall, The Three Little Pigs (1989): cover (for paperback edition, 1996)Three versions of three pigs:

  • James Marshall, The Three Little Pigs (1989)
  • Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by A. Wolf (1989)
  • Eugene Trivisas & Helen Oxenbury, The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig (1993)

Three versions of the fairy tale. Marshall’s stays closest to Joseph Jacobs’ original, but his illustrations add great comic timing and general daffiness.  Scieszka and Smith tell the story from the wolf’s point of view.  Trivisas and Oxenbury swap the roles of protagonist and antagonist.  Note: be careful of what edition you get of the Marshall.  There’s a re-formatted hardcover version you want to avoid.

Bill Martin, John Archambault, & Lois Ehlert, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (1989)

Bold colors, swinging verse, and … the alphabet!  One of several ABC books I’ve given thus far.  See also Dr. Seuss’s ABC and Crockett Johnson’s Harold’s ABC.

Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash, the Bow-Wow board books (2007-2009):

  • Bow-Wow Naps by Number (2007)
  • Bow-Wow Orders Lunch (2007)
  • Bow-Wow Hears Things (2008)
  • Bow-Wow Attracts Opposites (2008)
  • Bow-Wow 12 Months Running (2009)
  • Bow-Wow’s Colorful Life (2009)
Newgarden and Cash, Bow-Wow Orders Lunch Newgarden and Cash, Bow-Wow Naps by Number Newgarden and Cash, Bow-Wow Hears Things Newgarden and Cash, Bow-Wow Attracts Opposites Newgarden and Cash, Bow-Wow 12 Months Running Newgarden and Cash, Bow-Wow's Colorful Life

I’ve written an entire post on Newgarden and Cash’s Bow-Wow books. The first, Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug, is listed in tomorrow’s post on wordless picture books. During her first year, the Bow-Wow board books have been Emily’s favorites.

Antoinette Portis, A Penguin Story (2009)

Penguin seeks something new,… and finds it! Love Portis’ graphic style, humor, and how she honors the title character’s curiosity.

Peggy Rathmann, Goodnight Gorilla (1994)

Peggy Rathmann, Good Night, Gorilla (1994): cover

A clever riff on Brown and Hurd’s Goodnight Moon. Rathmann has great comic timing, knows how to let the illustrations tell the story, and includes lots of fun details. The baby giraffe has a toy giraffe, the baby elephant has a toy Babar, and the baby armadillo has … a toy Ernie. Why would the little armadillo have not a toy armadillo, but the Muppet from Sesame Street?  Well, why not?

Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (1989)

Exemplifies the dynamic relationship between words and images that sustains any good picture book.  And it’s a fantastic read-aloud.  For more Oxenbury, see the entry for James Marshall (above) — it contains three versions of “The Three Little Pigs,” one retold by Trivias and Oxenbury.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Tom Lichtenheld, Duck! Rabbit! (2009).

Based on the metapicture that fascinated Wittgenstein, two unseen persons debate whether we’re looking at a duck… or a rabbit.

Seuss, Green Eggs and Ham (1960): coverDr. Seuss, Green Eggs and Ham (1960)

Using only 50 different words, Seuss creates a nonsensical classic & his own best-seller.  See also an earlier blog post on this book.

Dr. Seuss, Dr. Seuss’s ABC (1963)

The third of Seuss’s alphabetically themed works.  The first two are The Cat in the Hat Comes Back (1958) and On Beyond Zebra! (1955).

Maurice Sendak, The Nutshell Library (1962)

A collection of four books: Alligators All Around, Chicken Soup with Rice, One Was Johnny, and Pierre.  All are made for tiny hands, and are what Sendak was working on just before he created Where the Wild Things Are (1963).  In other words, this is prime Sendak.  Wild Things will be a future purchase for Emily, but these seemed a better fit for her first year.

Sendak, The Nutshell Library (1962)

Esphyr Slobodkina, Caps for Sale (1940).

A peddler, a nap, and monkeys.  The repetition, the bright colors, and the satisfying resolution have helped this book endure for the last seventy years.

Lane Smith, It’s a Little Book (2011)

Smith, It's a Little Book (2011): cover

For the board book version of the picture book It’s a Book (2010), Smith tones down the joke at the end. He makes other changes (the three main characters are all much younger, for example), but retains much of the original’s sense of humor and mischief. For more Smith, see my longer blog post on him, and the entry for James Marshall (above) — it contains three versions of “The Three Little Pigs,” one retold by Scieszka and Smith.

Toby Speed, Brave Potatoes, illus. Barry Root (2000)Toby Speed & Barry Root, Brave Potatoes (2000).

Why is this book out of print?  It’s one of the best children books published in the new millennium.  A verse tale of vegetables and revolution.  The poetry pops, and the pictures make the “death-defying spuds” seem almost human. Vegetables of the world, unite!  See also my tongue-in-cheek post on this book for Lane Smith & Bob Shea’s blog.

Jon Stone and Michael Smollin, The Monster at the End of This Book (1971)

Thus far, the sole Little Golden Book on this list. Grover (the Muppet) is worried that he’s going to face a monster at the end of the book, and pleads with the reader to help him.  Metafictional humor for beginning readers.  See also Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie: We Are in a Book (scroll down).

Yuko Takao, A Winter ConcertYuko Takao, A Winter Concert (1995, trans. 1997)

Along with Burton’s Katy and the Big Snow and Keats’ The Snowy Day, this was part of a trio of winter-themed books I sent Emily in late October 2011.  Rendered in black lines on white paper, a mouse goes to a concert, where she hears “beautiful music” (rendered in small colored dots), which she and the other concert-goers carry home with them — brightening the wintry landscape.  An evocative sense of how music transforms experience.  See also my brief blog post on the book.

Shaun Tan, The Lost Thing (2000)

A modern classic about paying attention, and what happens when we don’t. Later adapted into an Academy Award-winning short film, this book is probably for slightly older children (early grade school, rather than pre-school), but Tan is one of the greatest narrative artists working today — and I thought it important for Emily to have his work in her library. Also, it’s visually rich, with much to reward rereading.

Shaun Tan, Eric (cover)Shaun Tan, Eric (2010)

When a foreign exchange student stays with a family, they try to make him welcome. But what does he think of them? A slightly different version of the story in Tales from Outer Suburbia (2008), this has Tan’s sense of mystery, wonder, and warmth. If there’s a Tan story for the youngest readers, this — despite its more “advanced” vocabulary — is the one.

Martin Waddell and Barbara Firth, Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? (1988)

This book launched Waddell and Firth’s Little Bear series (no relation to the Little Bear books by Else Homelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak).  A gentle tale, in which big bear helps little bear face his fear of the dark, and get to sleep.

Ellen Stoll Walsh, Mouse Paint (1989)

The pleasure of combining colors, transformation, and evading the cat. The sharp contrast between colors appeal to the eye.

Mo Willems, Don’t Let the Pigeon Ride the Bus! (2003)

Perfect illustration of the “less is more” principle of storytelling. Altering the background color to reflect the title character’s changing mood, Willems provides just enough detail to convey the pigeon’s character — and nothing more. Sympathetic to a child’s desire to be in charge and a great read-aloud, Willems’ book never fails to amuse me.

Mo Willems, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (2004)

Mo Willems, Elephant & Piggie: We Are in a Book! (2010): cover

The book that gave us the phrase “aggle flaggle klabble” and the term “to go boneless” (as in “She went boneless”).

Mo Willems, Elephant & Piggie: We’re in a Book! (2010)

Metafictional tale about reading, starring Willems’ duo.  My favorite of the Elephant & Piggie books, and a worthy companion to Stone and Smollin’s The Monster at the End of This Book (see above).

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