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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Some Excellent Picture Books You Have Never Heard Of (Unless you are even more amazing than I think you are)

I tried to get caught up on my picture book reading recently.  Here are a couple of the books that stood out.

Stead, Philip C.; Stead, Erin E. (2010)  A Sick Day for Amos McGee, New York: Neal Porter Books
     Amos McGee is an old man who wakes up every morning, gets dressed, and spends the day visiting the animals in the Zoo.  He has footraces with the tortoise (he lets the tortoise win), blows the rhino's nose, reads books to the owl, and so on.  One day Amos is sick and must stay in bed, so all the animals of the zoo come to him.

     The drawings are the most amazing combination of caricature (Amos looks like a skinny Norman Rockwell milkman) and realism (the elephant, even when sitting up and playing cards, looks very realistic.)  The book is sort of about being needed and how members of a community support each other.  It is also silly.  I like a good silly book now and then.

Ringgold, Faith (1991) Tar Beach, New York: Crown Publishers.
     Cassie loves it when her family goes up on the roof of their apartment building on really hot summer nights.  It is cooler up on their "tar beach" and it is chance for Cassie to lie on a quilted blanket, stare up at the stars, and imagine flying through the city and making her family's dreams come true.

     The story  is good, but the pictures are amazing.  Look at the one just above this paragraph.  It shows the grittiness of the buildings, the luminous beauty of the bridge, and the easy miracle of Cassie flying through the cool night air.  Most of the pages have quilted borders and  images that portray strength and confidence with simple lines and muted colors that somehow help carry the feeling of hope that is so much a part of the story.  There is a lot for kids to look at and get lot in.

     Crew, Gary; Tan, Shaun (2004)  Memorial,  Simply Read Books.
      Four generations of family members share the connections they have to a memorial statue and a tree planted on the same day which has grown to be phenomenally huge.  The city council says the tree is too large.  It obscures traffic lights and is pushing the statue over, so it must come down.  So which is the better memorial here?  The story combines the recollections of Great-Grandpa, Old Pa, Dad, and the son.

     Frankly, though, it is Shaun Tan's illustrations that make this an amazing book.  He seems to be following his own script, showing aspects of the tree and the people narrating that are not necessarily in the text, but enhance the text.  This gives the adult reader many opportunities to ask children what the image has to do with the story, and why they think the artist included it.  There is a clear connection in each case, but it requires a bit of thought.  This is an excellent book.

Greenfield, Eloise; Gilchrist, Jan Spivey  (1988) Nathaniel Talking, New York:  Black Butterfly. 
     This book is a series of rap poems composed by Nathaniel, a good-hearted kid.  Although the style of rap that the poems is composed in has come and gone (this book was written the year I graduated from college), and although there isn't much of a through-narrative, Nathaniel is a thoroughly sympathetic character -- and Gilcrest's images carry a remarkable amount of depth in them.   A nice combination of real world struggles and the comfort that family and home brings.  This one is well worth checking out (along with anything else by Greenfield and Gilchrist). 

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