Here I am back at work after a little Holiday holiday. I can see my tan hands on the keyboard and still don't actually believe that they were paddling through salt water a little more than a week ago. SIGH.
Before we get down to this big ol' stack of picture books I've devoured since returning (FROM THE CARIBBEAN HOLY CRAP), may I politely mention a series of posts on Pink Me's red-headed step-sister blog, Your Neighborhood Librarian. Children's literature devotees of legal drinking age may enjoy these posts featuring authors and characters from teen and young adult fiction. There's more swearing over there, but you're a grownup.
Speaking of swearing, let's have a look at the picture books that have caught my eye this chilly first week in January:
Hunters of the Great Forest by Dennis Nolan
In with a bang! I get almost physical pleasure from this artist's old-fashioned use of pen and ink and his brilliantly modelled watercolors. The tiny little peoples out hunting! The crumbly treeline! Shadows that are never black but plummy purple or sepia or blue-grey! Dragonfly!!
This juxtaposition of extremely naturalistic animals and round-headed little gnome-y people is one that particularly appeals to kids, I think because it looks just like when they take their toys outside and enact little dramas around the edges of puddles and behind rocks.
Dennis Nolan has produced a number of other picture books, all beautiful, none quite so whimsical. As it turns out, he also illustrated my favorite recent edition of The Sword in the Stone.
This wordless treasure will be loved to DEATH by little people who love people even littler than they are.
The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie by Chris Van Allsburgh
Damn, man. Kind of more dramz than we expect from the average hamster book.
Sweetie Pie is ignored, rejected, neglected, and lost as he is passed from childish hand to childish hand, eventually nearly dying of hypothermia, forgotten at a playground. (Gratifyingly, THAT kid is totally plagued by guilt, an emotion that seems not to assail Sweetie Pie's previous heartless owners.)
I still kind of like it, and I would enjoy sharing it with, say, a bunch of slightly insensitive 4th or 5th graders.
Flashlight by Lizi Boyd
I am the voice in the wilderness that says as innovative and fascinating and well-designed as this book is, I wish it were drawn better.
The Walrus Who Escaped by Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, illustrations by Anthony Brennan
Greed, envy, conflict and reprisal in this just-so story from the Arctic Circle. Dynamic, somewhat comicky illustrations are a good, unexpected match for Raven's prickly personality and Walrus's eventual rage. Always happy to add another First People tale to the collection.
Baby Bear by Kadir Nelson
Oh, I am going to hell for this one, I know it.
Maybe it is just me. Maybe sometimes I see Christian allegory in everything - but I sure saw this book as an allegory about "going home" to heaven. Lost little Baby Bear is trying to find his way home. A number of creatures help him on his way, urging him to "look within himself," "sing a song," "climb a little higher"... until at last he stands on his hind legs atop a rock, a rainbow arcing through the mist from a waterfall, and, surveying a beautiful sunrise, declares, "Yes, I can see. I AM home." You know what, y'all? BABY BEAR IS DEAD.
I think what cinched it for me was that Baby Bear, upon arriving "home," is not welcomed by his mom and dad, but rather by those golden spreading sunbeams (what my sons call "Jesus light") (possibly because of a scene in Life of Brian) (Told you I'm going to hell). He's a baby. Wouldn't "home" mean "parents"? Nope. He's dead.
But you know, there's nothing wrong with that. "Going home" is a very comforting way to look at death, a common expression among Southerners and African American Christians, for whom a funeral is often called a homegoing service. Baby Bear will be a gentle inroad to a talk about death with a young child familiar with the term.
No, it doesn't bother me that Baby Bear is a book about going home to Jesus. What I am bothered about is that the marketing for this book ignores this connotation completely. Is this ignorance on the part of New York-based publishing people? Or is the marketing department reluctant to acknowledge the book's meaning for African American Christians, thinking that this will disqualify it for purchase by everyone who is not a black Christian?
Either way, bite me. We can do better. Just because Baby Bear has fur over his skin doesn't mean that his skin is not brown.
Have You Heard the Nesting Bird? by Rita Gray and Kenard Pak
Great rhymes, fun bird calls, neat color palette and technique. Super good for preschool. Props for checking in with the Cornell Ornithology Lab to verify facts. Minus one star because it looks EXACTLY like Jon Klassen's House Held Up By Trees. No, I mean EXACTLY.
Up & Down by Britta Teckentrup
I love Britta Teckentrup's art, but I've never found the book that is just the perfect match for her bold curves and crumbly textures (for example, I also read Let's Talk About Animals recently, and found it too cramped and crowded despite being charming and informative) - until now.
Maybe it's the palette of warm navy and sea greens, maybe it's the big flaps that show off her stellar compositional eye... or maybe it's the scale of this picture book. The sinuous screenprinted shapes glide or bob through quantities of dark water, letting the simple story, loaded with opposites (above and below, small and big, in front of and behind) shine through.
Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light
I've been waiting for this book a while. This spring, I came home from - I don't know, BEA or some damn thing - with a promotional poster for it. I NEVER bring home posters, because they get bent and crimped and I just get cranky about that and I try to avoid crankiness. But I toughed it out for this poster, which, as you can see, is pretty much the dust jacket of the final book.
And I KNEW IT. The minute I got that thing out of the tube, my ten-year-old and his father were belly-down on the floor coloring the whooooole thing in. They found every fire hydrant and colored it red. All the pipes below the street were a spaghetti rainbow. Each windowsill was blue. That poster hangs on my wall to this day. And yet? It took me forever to get my hands on the actual book.
Which also didn't disappoint. So much to look at, so many little jokes! Such a love letter to the city.
We're closing in on the announcement of the 2014 Caldecott Medal and Honor(s). I feel like I have a couple of horses in this race this year, because I've been keeping up with the picture book reading. It's a pleasant hobby for sure. Who do you think will come home with the shiny stickers?