A Plethora of Picture Books
by Maddy Smith
As I write this, I find it hard to believe it’s already September; it seems only a few days ago we were revelling in the hot July sun, licking ice creams and dreaming of the dog days of summer. Suddenly we’ve all been thrust into the breach and it’s time to be models of efficiency and enthusiasm once again. But even with all that efficiency and urgency buzzing around us, it’s important to take time to enjoy the changing seasons and to embrace a new period of learning and understanding. What better way to begin than with a dazzling array of new picture books from some of today’s finest talents?
Speaking of talent, have you seen The Cat’s Pajamas (Kids Can Press, 2010)? The newest book by Edgar Wallace is a sequel to the wonderful Monkey Business (Kids Can Press, 2008), and continues his marvellous introduction to language and the magical ways we use it. Beginning with a definition of “idiom,” each page features a new and fantastical image of the literal definition of some classic figures of speech. Featuring Wallace’s trademark hidden pictures (can you find the cat on each page?), The Cat’s Pajamas is a playful new book from one of Canada’s most skilled artists and a sure-fire hit with word fiends of all ages (but especially 5+).
If you’re feeling playful, you might want to ponder Il Sung Na’s The Thingamabob (Knopf Books, 2008), which explores that ages-old question: What would happen if an elephant found an umbrella? When a curious pachyderm discovers the Thingamabob, he’s not quite sure what to make of it. Is it a flight mechanism? Maybe not. What about food? Or a boat? With whimsical illustrations and delightful humour, The Thingamabob is a marvellous choice for everyone 3+ who likes to experiment and discover.
Farm (Orchard Books, 2010), by Elisha Cooper, is another great choice for those who are interested in anything and everything. Detailed yet free-flowing watercolours draw us into the world of life on a contemporary farm; a world as complex and beautiful as any fairytale. Moving from spring until late fall, the story offers a comprehensive view of life in agriculture through the busiest times of the year. At once poetic and factual, Farm is a delightful blend of classic and modern, fiction and non-fiction.
Of course, it must be said that there are those who dislike any book, no matter its genre. In that case, send them to Miss Brooks! Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don’t) (Random House 2010) by Barbara Bottner, tells the story of Missy, a precocious child who, despite the enthusiasm and urging of her school librarian Miss Brooks, simply doesn’t like books. But when Book Week rolls around, every child must bring in their favourite book and talk about why they like it. Suddenly, Missy faces the terrifying (and somehow familiar) situation of being the only one unable to live up to her assignment. Can our spunky, hat-wearing heroine triumph over this frightful ordeal? Well, with a little help from her artist mother, a killer costume, and a very special book, she just might. Whether you love books, hate books, or have yet to find your own special book, Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don’t), with its wonderfully intelligent prose and brilliant illustrations from Michael Emberly, is a guaranteed delight for ages 4+.
As the new school year blossoms and we discover just how much we’ve forgotten, it’s important to find the time for sharing knowledge. More than just good down time, reading with your family (however old they are!) provides a valuable opportunity for connection and conversation, learning and re-learning. But this experience can be enriched by the world of picture books.
Far from being simply “easy reads,” picture books, properly done, are a perfect harmony of the textual and the visual: works of art with magical language that you can share over and over again, with the young and the young at heart.
Maddy Smith is a children’s bookseller and an Islander born and bred; she reads, writes, and believes in the magic of a great book.