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Thursday, July 05, 2012

Permission Granted: The Picture Book List

My children technically grew out of picture books more than a decade ago. I never did.

We had spent years indulging a sweet bedtime ritual of piling books upon the bed and letting words and pictures carry us off to foreign lands as we drifted to sleep. (I was always tired then, and usually fell out about the same time or just before the kids did).

But as they grew, and moved onto chapter books, I found myself utterly resistant.

Sure, I wanted them to be accomplished little readers, but I didn't want that to mean we had to give up the illustrations. I said something to that effect to a colleague at the time, the theater critic Marianne Evett. Marianne is a Renaissance woman, a lover of art and culture, and also the mother of children who, like mine, were well past picture books. Technically.

But when I admitted to Marianne that I didn't want to stop having the books around, she performed a magical service. She gave me permission to go my own way.

She acknowledged, almost casually, that she still kept picture books around the house. And why not? The best of them are poetic, funny, transportive, insightful — and full of artwork defined by those qualities as well.

And so it was that I kept buying picture books, and now collect them, though not in any scholarly way. I have no qualms about sitting down with one to revisit the story or to admire the artwork. This has more than a little to do with my decision to go to art school and study illustration, of course. But that's not what this post is about.

It's about doing for you, perhaps, what Marianne did for me. If you've been waiting for permission to indulge your love of picture books, then regardless of the presence or absence of a camouflage-providing child, I grant you that permission. Go to it. Go to the bookstore. Buy yourself something nice.

Without further ado, here's a list of 10 favorites. I could come up with 10 more, and maybe I will in the future. And by the way, all of these have the approval of my daughters, who still like picture books themselves, and who occasionally receive them as gifts from their mother.

Mama Do You Love Me? by Barbara Joose; illustrated by Barbara Lavallee. Gorgeous, vibrant illustrations bring to life Joose's message about the infinite love between a mother and child. The setting, in the Inuit culture, also speaks to a reverence for nature.

Olivia by Ian Falconer. This one's all about the title character's spunky personality. Falconer, a New Yorker illustrator, renders Olivia the piglet in expressive lines so winsome you'll have to lie down after reading. (Series)

Poppleton by Cynthia Rylant; illustrated by Mark Teague. Here's another pig, but this one is a bibliophile named Poppleton who has moved from a booming metropolis to a charming little town and befriends a friendly llama neighbor named Cherry Sue. Teague is a splendid illustrator, and brings a gently humorous watercolor styling to the books. (Series)

When Sophie Gets Angry — Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang. Vivid, livid color palette and almost jarring painting style are just the right expression for this unusual story about what it feels like for a child — or anyone — when anger takes over.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen; illustrated by John Schoenherr. A father and child take a late-night walk in the woods to catch a glimpse of an owl. Schoenherr's elegant watercolors perfectly convey the magical mood of the adventure.

Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth. Muth's exquisite illustrations really make these three Zen tales, revolving around a clutch of children and their panda neighbor. Muth alternates between soft, crisp watercolor and a black and white brush-and-ink technique. (Series)

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell; illustrated by Patrick Benson. Three young owls must cope with their fears when their mother disappears into the night — only to return, as she always said she would. Benson's depictions of the young birds makes me want to climb into their tree with them.

Children of the Forest by Elsa Beskow. This one is a throwback from Swedish storyteller Beskow, whose spritely woodland children commune with flora and fauna. The decidedly old-fashioned nature of the tale, and Beskow's gentle drawings, can make you yearn for a simpler time.

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. Before it was an animated movie that critics thought was weird-looking, "The Polar Express" was a gorgeously illustrated tale about Christmas and faith in magic.

Flotsam by David Wiesner. Having just returned from our all-American vacation at the all-American Jersey Shore, the setting of "Flotsam," I leave this for last on the list because I love it that much. Wiesner could not be more eloquent in this wordless tale about a boy who finds a magical camera washed up with the tide. I return to this book over and over to study Wiesner's gorgeous watercolors. I discover new details in imagery and narrative every time.


Kay said...

I adore picture books and children books and never tire of them. A new favorite find is author/artist Shaun Tan. No words in "The Arrival", a bit dark but so beautifully illustrated.

Karen Sandstrom said...

Kay: YES!
The Arrival is definitely on my list. Fantastic book.

valorie grace hallinan said...

This is a great post about picture books. I miss the picture books days with my sons. I'm not familiar with several of these and will have to explore them.

Priscilla said...

I absolutely love picture books too! I'm a librarian...currently am interviewing for positions. Yesterday's interview was for a high picture books there! :(