Sunday, February 1, 2009

For the Love of Picture Books

Written by Andi

Picture books are one of life's great pleasures. As a child I remember my grandmother reading a picture book or two for me every day when I stretched out for a nap. In those days I wanted her to read books about She-Ra or the Thundercats or whatever superhero or heroine was hot at the time. It's funny that I read better quality picture books now, as an adult, than I did when I was little! Of course, it wasn't for lack of trying. I entertained myself in front of Reading Rainbow on the local PBS station each day and enjoyed those very quality picture books a great deal. Sadly, my library never seemed to have them in stock.

As an adult, when I found myself studying children's and adolescent literature in my Masters program, I was immediately drawn to picture books for the joy they brought back from my childhood and the complexity I began to recognize. Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree, Marcus Pfister's Rainbow Fish, and David Wiesner's Tuesday quickly caught my attention as a scholar and a lover of beautiful images for their creativity and dueling ideologies. While I spent my days picking them apart and writing scholarly essays over them, I never lost the feeling of wonder in losing myself in the pages of a stunningly crafted picture book. Now, whenever a picture book arrives in my mailbox or I hear about one from a trusted blogger friend, it floats straight to the top of my stacks.

Here are some of the picture books I've read lately, and fittingly for February, they all hinge on love and desire.

The House in the Night, by Susan Marie Swanson
Illustrated by Beth Krommes
Houghton Mifflin
May 2008

Congratulations to Beth Krommes! The House in the Night was awarded the Caldecott Medal on January 26, 2009. I ran out and grabbed it just as soon as I heard, and I was truly charmed by this simple little book. The illustrations--gorgeous black, white, and gold woodcarvings--are the centerpiece of the book, and they compliment the text perfectly. Like traditional poems and nursery rhymes "This is the House That Jack Built" or "Hush, Little Baby," the poem accumulates over the course of the book. The story is like a guided tour into a house at night and the love and family that live therein.

How to Talk to Girls, by Alec Greven
Illustrated by Kei Acedera
December 2008

How to Talk to Girls is one of the funniest picture books I've read a in a long time. Alec Greven is a precocious 9 year old from Castle Rock, Colorado, and he just happens to be a published author. In this hilarious and heartwarming picture book, Greven leads his reader through various steps in the process of talking to and winning over one's girl of choice. The introduction says:

Are you shy? Do you have a crush on a girl?
Is the girl you like just too pretty for your eyes?
Do you know what to say to a girl to make her like you?

What are you waiting for?
If you are a boy who needs help getting girls,
this book has all the answers!

By the way, all statistics in this book are based on
my observations at Soaring Hawk Elementary School.
They aren't worldwide.
I would have to do a lot more research for that.

At least he's honest! Broken into short chapters on "The Facts of Life," "Crushes," "Compliments, Flowers, and Other Things," among others, this book is just too cute and kept me laughing out loud and reading passages to anyone who would stop long enough to listen. If your child is just discovering the opposite sex, your significant other needs a little basic coaching in the dating game, or you just want a laugh, How to Talk to Girls is a winner. See the video interview with Greven below.

Do You Love Me?, by Joost Elffers and Curious Pictures
The Bowen Press
December 2008

Do You Love Me? is a picture book for the youngest of readers. Each page is a simple phrase, only a few words long, engulfed in an ocean of color. The curious little bubble creatures that grace the pages look like bath toys or squeeze toys, and while they're simple and largely unremarkable, they make sense for this brief little book. Do You Love Me? is a worthwhile purchase for your just-ready-t0-sit-and-listen crowd, but they will quickly grow out of it.

Queen of Hearts, written and illustrated by Mary Engelbreit
December 2008

Another addition to Mary Engelbreit's Ann Estelle series, Queen of Hearts could be my favorite. In this lovely little book Ann Estelle is inspired to decorate the best Valentine box in her class. It just so happens she forgets to make the Valentines. Illustrated in Engelbreit's traditional style, the pages overflow with drawings of hearts, cupcakes, ribbons, feathers and every other wonderful Valentine thing you might imagine. The colors are vibrant, the story is charming, and it's a sweet holiday treat for any child. If you can wrangle your boys long enough, they might even like it!

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