December 14, 2011
As we continue to acknowledge this year’s outstanding titles, three offerings seemed to merit a special shout-out all their own.
Waddles by David McPhail
A text-and-image magician who has illustrated more than 100 books for children, including Budgie & Boo, Water Boy, and When Sheep Sleep, McPhail is simply a national treasure. Fortunate is the child who grows up in the company of McPhail’s imagination. Waddles showcases a master at the top of his form. McPhail’s portly raccoon may have a yen for pizza, but he maintains an even bigger appetite for the quiet joy of friendship.
Peter and the Winter Sleepers by Rick de Haas
From a surpassingly talented Dutch illustrator, an entrancing tale of the night when a blizzard swirls around the lighthouse where a boy and his grandmother wait out the storm, snug in their redoubt. Soon, they discover, there will always be room to shelter a motley cavalcade of wayfarers. The perfect read for the first snowy night.
Magic Trash: A Story of Tyree Guyton and his Art by J. H. Shapiro, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
When Guyton, the Detroit artist, began creating sculpture from cast-off materials and using the walls of abandoned houses as his canvas, he revived his dying Detroit neighborhood. Today, his internationally acclaimed Heidelberg Project celebrates its 25th year, a template for the transformational power of art.
December 2, 2011
This year’s selection of children’s books, as always, reflects the dazzling output of artists and writers who range into realms of past and present, dream and documentary account, memoir and reportage, fiction and fact. Last week I covered the best titles for the earliest readers and below is the first half of the best picture books of the year:
Drawing from Memory written and illustrated by Allen Say
From the Caldecott Medal winner, an illustrated memoir that recalls his childhood in wartime Japan and the barren years when a relative insisted: “Drawing again! You’ll never amount to anything.” As if by magic, however, a series of serendipitous events leads Say to the mentor who would nurture his imagination and shape his future.
The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore
In 1993, American biologist Gordon H. Sato conceived the idea that he could transform impoverished villages in Eritrea by planting mangroves in the Red Sea-bordered landscapes where desert and salt water converge. Today, he is creating a sustaining ecosystem in similar environments across Africa.
Franklin and Winston by Douglas Wood, illustrated by Barry Moser
A storied encounter between FDR and Churchill unfolded when the British Prime Minister made a perilous transatlantic crossing to Washington in the winter of 1941. On Christmas Eve, two leaders of the free world together lighted the National Christmas Tree—and cemented a legendary partnership.
Wardruff and the Corncob Caper by Mat Head
A fox on the prowl is no match for the hero of the tale, one indolent feline to be sure, but also certain in the knowledge that brains overpower brawn any day. This droll debut by a British writer-illustrator likely presages a brilliant career.
The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, illustrated by Ellen Beier
The author recalls a childhood when an act of simple kindness ultimately became its own reward.
Sarah and Simon and No Red Paint written and illustrated by Edward Ardizzone
A debt of gratitude is due the publisher David R. Godine, who reissued the enchanting 1965 classic. Two perceptive and resourceful siblings must save the family fortunes when their impoverished father requires a costly tube of pigment to complete the masterpiece he has been painting.
George Flies South by Simon James
You’ll never know how far you may venture—until you spread your wings.
Tom Thumb: Grimms’ Tales retold and illustrated by Eric Carle
Winningly recast, the selection of classic fables constitutes a perfect-pitch introduction to the folk tale. The author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar invests these offerings with his signature command of color and form.
Before You Came by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest
The Newbery-Medalist author and her daughter created a gentle celebration of quotidian joys, from paddling in a canoe to reading in a hammock.
Chanukah Lights by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Robert Sabuda
Glorious fold-out paper instructions create a three-dimensional depiction of scenes evoked by the 2,000-year-old holiday.
Chirchir Is Singing by Kelly Cunnane, illustrated by Jude Daly
Set in the green hills of rural Kenya, Cunnane’s tale centers on a child’s perennial dilemma: what to do when grownups insist that you’re too small for the task at hand. Plucky Chirchir handily circumvents that dilemma.
Born and Bred in the Great Depression by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root
Even in tough times, there were compensations to leaven hardship—library books, chess games, the self-reliance of a family determined to stick together. The author’s intimate portrait of life in an east Texas town is based on his father’s childhood experiences.
November 22, 2011
As I continue to post entries on this year’s outstanding children’s titles, I digress a moment, drawing attention to an article in yesterday’s New York Times. The piece by Matt Richtel and Julie Bosman is very much consonant with the spirit of this blog. Print books, the Times reporters point out, may constitute an increasingly beleaguered cultural commodity, as the market for easily downloadable and transportable e-books surges.
Yet, not so, Richtel and Bosman demonstrate, in the world of children’s books. In that domain, print titles command the territory. The fact that books for young readers are bucking the trend does not surprise me. For children engaged in the tactile experience of perusing a book, turning the pages, lingering over an image, the immersion conferred by a print book—as opposed to an e-reader or tablet—simply cannot be duplicated. And for grown-ups reading to children, the benefits are similarly ineffable yet genuine. The act of sitting with a child and together altering the pace, paging through pictures and words together, offers a shared understanding of the world and a cohesive, memorable experience.
Some neuroscientific research on the development of the brain in young children suggests that exposure to technology—television and hand-held devices in particular—may actively impede the fostering of focus and sustained attention. But a great deal more than that is lost—the earliest, deepest connection to books as an arena where empathy and imagination, laughter and suspense, creativity and aspiration, illumine the days of children and the grown-ups who share books with them.
It’s heartening to learn that even the most passionate of e-reader devotees are insisting that, when it comes to their children, a book one can hold and meditate on together, page by page, sentence by sentence, image by image, offers an incomparable introduction to the world of reading.
Even so, I do think that it’s important to add a caveat here: publishers are producing some e-books of exceptional quality, some with transfixing interactive features. For anyone enduring a stint in an airport with restive children, the e-reader could be a lifesaver. Perhaps a new paradigm will emerge: books on the paper in the main, but e-books, an essential back-up, also at the ready on the tablet.
November 18, 2011
This year’s selection of children’s books, as always, reflects the dazzling output of artists and writers who range into realms of past and present, dream and documentary account, memoir and reportage, fiction and fact. In these pages, we are transported everywhere from a hilltop village in Italy to the White House in 1941, Alaska at the height of a blizzard, a hamlet in Kenya, and rural India of 500 years ago.
We begin with page-turning choices for the very youngest children. (Thereby adhering to one of our fundamental mantras: it’s never too early to begin with books.)
Maisy’s Amazing Big Book of Learning by Lucy Cousins
A cleverly constructed lift-the-flap book delivers an irresistible primer on everything from shapes and colors to numbers and opposites. Cousins constitutes a force of nature for the preschool set.
Good Little Wolf by Nadia Shireen
A droll and wackily original take on the eternal good vs. evil dilemma gives one beneficent lupine the last laugh. A stand-out debut.
The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse by Eric Carle
From the author who created A Very Hungry Caterpillar, a window on a painter’s technicolor vision of the world.
Simms Taback’s Farm Animals by Simms Taback
The beloved illustrator’s barnyard bestiary—consisting of fold-out critters hidden under giant flaps—is sure to become a well-thumbed favorite.
Ten Little Caterpillars by Bill Martin Jr, illustrated by Lois Ehlert
A paean to the magic of transformation and an inventive introduction to the mysterious world of Lepidoptera.
Down the rabbit hole. Into the woods. Beyond the horizon. The world of children’s books— whether a picture story for the youngest reader or commanding fiction charting the landscape of adolescence—grants entry to a universe of surpassing imaginative achievement. Inside these pages—an enchanted preserve encompassing bedtime tales and memoirs, novels and poetry, documentary accounts of our American experience and of lives beyond our shores, explorations of the new frontiers of science and of visionaries who are shaping solutions for the future—lies an antic, sublime, compelling foray into the broad range of culture.
We intend to take you there full-tilt, into books that will delight, amuse, transfix, shape aspiration, transform world views. Our goal is simple: to offer up an unfolding guide to irresistible reads—books that will keep kids up at night, reading by flashlight under the covers.