From the category archives:

Picture Books

Stars by Mary Lynn Ray and Marla Frazee

Images and text by Carter.

One of my favorite things about picture books is how they capture raw emotion in the span of so few pages. And oh, how different the tones can be! Last week we saw the catastrophic and zany The Runaway Dinner, and today’s is tender, thoughtful, and still. Stars, by Mary Lynn Ray and Marla Frazee, lyrically celebrates that far away point of light. The evocative nighttime pictures are balanced by wiggly kids, taping stars on sticks to make magic wands. And the words! “But stars that come with night — for those you have to wait for night. You need some dark to see them.”

This is one to gaze at — much like the book’s subject itself. Do you have any other evocative, poem-like favorites?

P.S. – Gabrielle featured the author of another Marla Frazee book, All The World, here. And she’s the illustrator of the Clementine series – Do you know those? Fantastic chapter books for older readers! Clementine is a modern day version of the sparkling Ramona Quimby and Pippi Longstocking. 

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The Runaway Dinner by Allan Ahlberg

Images and text by Carter.

Sometimes in a picture book you just need some good old-fashioned chaos and mayhem, right? When a Design Mom reader (hi, Amy!) suggested The Runaway Dinner, I was immediately charmed. And also grateful. This book debuted in my last year as a school librarian, so I completely missed it! There’s definitely a black hole on my bookshelf from the late 2000s, because as it turned out, working in the movies is the wrong form of storytelling to me. Reading this one ripped me right back to my roots.

Banjo Cannon has an ordinary life and a cat named Mildred, and every day of his ordinary life he eats the same dinner – a sausage, three peas, four baby carrots, and a handful of fries. And then there was the day that the sausage up and left. He ran away. What follows is a hysterical romp through the park to get the dinner back to Banjo Cannon’s table.

Something I love about picture books is that what seems like a simple plot sometimes isn’t at all. The narrator drives the pace here, and does a brilliant job of creating drama and suspense. And yes, I promise – you will be on the edge of your seat, all for a handful of peas!

P.S. – I know it’s a specific request, but do you have any favorites from the late 2000s? I don’t want to miss something incredible!

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PrincessHyacinth by Florence Parry Heide

Images and text by Carter.

This gem by Florence Parry Heide and Lane Smith introduces us to Princess Hyacinth. She isn’t your ordinary little girl. And it isn’t just because she’s a princess. Her problem? Floating. Without golden weights sewn in the hems of her gowns, Princess Hyacinth would bob, drift, and hover — stopped only by her Royal Ceiling. The kingdom’s heaviest jewels sit right in her crown, and she fastens a rhinestone strap under her chin to keep everything in place.

A floating princess? Find out more. Click here!

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Images and text by Carter.

This imaginative retelling of The Steadfast Tin Soldier is an epic love story in thirty-two pages. Hans Christian Anderson’s timeless fairy tale has never looked more stunning than this! The illustrations by Jen Corace are striking and intricate, and they wrap around Cynthia Rylant’s lyrical text so beautifully.

A tin soldier, missing a leg. A dainty ballerina, balancing on one. Love at first sight. Endless stares! Just as in the original, a goblin has other plans for the pair — and tries his darndest to keep the tin solider down. But a steadfast tin soldier is not discouraged. Whether upside down in the garden, floating past a gruff giant rat, or swallowed whole by a fish, our hero’s heart only beats for that ballerina. What wins here, a mean old goblin or true love? I think you know. Perfect for kids, perhaps even more perfect for the rest of us. 

The Steadfast Tin Soldier

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Little Owl Lost by Chris Haughton

Images and text by Carter.

I’m a big fan of Chris Haughton’s Little Owl Lost. It’s understated, adorable, and deeply moving all at once. You know this story: tiny thing lost, needs to find its mama. But this book revives a sleepy plot with a charming cast of woodland creatures and language that settles right into your bones.

One of the most magical qualities of a picture book is the page turn, that moment of suspense that lets you control the pace of the story. The very first page turn ingeniously gives you a sort of animated effect, with a half page dividing the spread. It throws you right into the action — an adorable, wobbly owlet falling right out of the nest. And that’s where the simplistic hilarity begins.

Little Owl Lost by Chris Haughton Little Owl Lost by Chris Haughton

A well-intentioned squirrel offers his eager assistance, but owlet’s description of pointy ears and big eyes don’t quite find the right mommy. The colors are lush and deep — unusual for a picture book, but oh, so comforting. Much like the story itself.

P.S. – If you love this one, be sure to check out his more recent book, Oh No, George! Delightful doesn’t even begin to describe it!

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Images and text by Carter.

How about something bright and beautiful? The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen is a fast paced, rhyming tale of a shipwreck and the sharp witted animals who were on board. They swim to shore and cause a little chaos, but soon the village falls in love with the crew and the bravery of a tiger. Their clever camouflage tucks them into the town seamlessly, helping them avoid the wrath of a booming villain who wants them back. It’s an adventure! With lush illustrations and larger than life personalities – it’s truly an enchanting tale. Your littles will love studying the pictures, looking for the hidden alligators, monkeys, and ostriches.

The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen

And it’s an underdog tale that’s a twist on a real truth. In 1836, a steamer sank off the coast of Maine, and nearly all of the circus on board perished. It’s a tragic story, really, but legend persists that a lone elephant survived by swimming to shore. It’s that life and hint of hope that rings true in The Circus Ship.

P.S. – Remember how much Gabrielle loves elephants?

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10 Great Books for Spring

March 25, 2013

Ten Great Books for Spring, Easter and Passover.

By Carter.

Is it spring yet where you are? I’m hearing rumors of East Coast snow and lying groundhogs! Seasons don’t really exist here in southern California — the days just turn from warm to hot without much fanfare. Good thing I have this pile of books to remember the wonder of spring!

1) And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano and Erin Stead is a comforting reminder that the browns of winter will yield to the glorious greens of spring. Caldecott winner Erin Stead crafts a subtle color palette that balances the spare and lyrical words. And note the tiny house on a hill in the background — it’s my favorite part of the storytelling illustrations!

2) What spring assortment of books would be complete without Peter Rabbit? Beatrix Potter’s timeless classic, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, is truly a masterpiece. Did you know that in addition to being a writer and illustrator she was a naturalist and conservatist? The garden setting of Peter Rabbit rang true to her heart — but Peter’s rebellion and endearing mischief will also remain the hallmark of this cautionary tale. Won’t you join me in a warm mug of chamomile tea to welcome spring and all its life?

3) The Longest Night, by Laurel Snyder and Catia Chen, is an epic Passover story — a retelling of the Exodus, straight from the Old Testament. It brings to life the birth of today’s traditions, with beautiful illustrations that wash over the lyrical words. The child’s point of view is striking, raw, and so easy to settle into. That perspective, along with the tandem dance of words and pictures, make this an unusually evocative look at this time of year.

4) I have a thing for fascinating endpapers, those colorful pages at the beginning and end of a book that frame the pages of the main story. Before I even got to the first words of An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Ashton and Sylvia Long, I was in love with this factual and utterly gorgeous book. This duo doesn’t stop at the obvious bird or dinosaur eggs — how about the tiniest lobster egg, the banana-shaped field cricket egg, or the very weird dogfish egg?

5) In 1943, Clare Turlay Newberry earned a Caldecott Honor for this small story about a bunny named MarshmallowIf you are searching online for a copy, be sure to find one with its original cover and story in tact! This gentle tale holds up beautifully — just a teeny ball of fur, Marshmallow adopts a big cat named Oliver as his mama. Understated art leaves plenty of room to breathe your own awe into the pages.

Click here for 5 more books!

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By Carter.

Virginia Wolf, by Canada’s Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault, is like a beautiful dream, wrapped up and bound by a spine. Are you an artist? A writer? A squabbling sister? This story is very loosely based on Virginia Woolf and her older sister, the painter Vanessa Bell.

But it’s also a bit of a story on the severity of blue moods and bad days, as wolfish Virginia finds joy in nothing. When the house sinks and glad becomes gloom, Vanessa paints for Virginia. She paints a place with frosted cakes and fruit that squeaks, and calls this place Bloomsberry. It’s rich and colorful and squashes Virginia’s fierceness. Trees that look like lollipops and an elephantine shrub will do that, right? But so will love. And so will art. And this book is a gorgeous illustration of that from start to finish.

P.S — Do you have any favorite children’s books that are gentle with ambitious topics, like this tender glance into Virginia Woolf’s very real depression?

Virginia Wolf Virginia Wolf

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This Moose Belongs To Me by Oliver Jeffers

By Carter.

I love that this little corner of the internet is like our local watering hole, where we swap stories and favorite things. But sometimes I love that you can’t hear me. Because if you had heard the shrieks and squeals that I let loose when I read Gabrielle’s interview with Oliver Jeffers, you might think twice about our friendship.

I adore Oliver Jeffers. He captures wonder and wit with a sharp imagination and spills it all out into his books. This Moose Belongs to Me starts like this: “Wilfred owned a moose. He hadn’t always owned a moose. The moose just came to him a while ago and he knew, just KNEW that it was meant to be his.”

This Moose Belongs To Me by Oliver Jeffers This Moose Belongs To Me by Oliver Jeffers

Wilfred names him Marcel, and the two listen to records, pick apples, and gallivant over the countryside together. But when a teeny old lady thinks that she owns the moose – well, havok and hijinks take over the pages. And aren’t those pages beautiful? I love the sweeping landscapes, the spare and graphic characters, and the hand drawn type.

P.S. – Do you live in Brooklyn? If you are as crazy about Oliver Jeffers as I am, go check out this exhibit!

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A River of Words by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet

By Carter.

Have you heard of the American poet William Carlos Williams? Truly, I hadn’t until I read this book, A River of Words – a masterpiece by author Jen Bryant and illustrator Melissa Sweet. And inside, I found a linguistic kindred and a fascinating story about a man who was both a poet and a pediatrician. Melissa Sweet’s Caldecott Honor-winning illustrations are spectacular collages made up of found book covers and their endpapers. It’s a gorgeous work celebrating the written word, created by those same bound treasures. Stunning, right?

P.S. — Melissa Sweet is my absolute favorite illustrator, and it took all the restraint in the world to not show you every single page! There’s one at the end that will make you gasp and pause and thank your stars that you are seeing such a breathtaking picture!

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Z is for Moose

By Carter.

Z is for Moose? That can’t be right. But this madcap romp through the alphabet isn’t your typical ABC book. Zebra, outfitted in hilarious referee attire, directs the usual suspects to their places in the lineup. Everything is normal, until we meet an eager Moose, who just can’t wait his turn. With zany twists turning the alphabet upside down and back again, this one will bring lots of giggles and laughs.

Z is for Moose Z is for Moose

Do you ever notice the illustrations on the pages leading up to the beginning of the story? The ones in this book hint at all of the mayhem to come – like the calm before the storm. I love that!

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Text and images By Gabrielle.

Can we talk beloved books from our youngest memories? Pictured here is Granfa’ Grig Had a Pig. I get nostalgic just typing that.

I have been hunting down this book for years! I could remember details of practically every image on it’s pages, but couldn’t remember the title for the life of me. Then, early in December, my brothers and sisters were having a Facebook chat about books in our home (do your families make private Facebook groups too?) and I described some of the illustrations, and Jared (he’s married to the lovely Liz) knew exactly what the book was and what the title was immediately. I was so excited. Even better, he sent me a copy!

Oh. I got so teary eyed when I opened the package! Every single page was a wave of nostalgia. I remembered many of the words, but the images, oh my. They are fantastic. An unorderly mix of humans and human-like animals. Tiny details to discover. Lots of humor. The image of the giant ram with curled horns and a rope ladder coming off it’s back has been part of my brain forever. To see it again in all its glory is such a treat!

Granfa’ Grig is just a fantastic collection. Some of the rhymes are familiar, but most are not the usual suspects you’ll find in a Mother Goose compilation, and they’re delightful. Wallace Tripp compiled the poems and made the illustrations, too. He’s clearly a genius.

Keep reading for my favorite memory about the book.

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By Carter.

Looking for a special book for that special someone? These books should satisfy that longing to express love in words and pictures, whether your Valentine is a tiny tot, a partner, or one of life’s dearest friends.

1) Oh, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams might be the most gorgeous rendering of love in all of literature. Remember these beautiful words of wisdom? It’s harder to find a more fitting description of the side effects of being loved. May this be true in your lives, February 14th and every day after!

2) Eve Bunting and Jan Brett have a Valentine’s Day gem in The Valentine Bears. Because bears are usually deep in a winter slumber in the middle of February, Mr. and Mrs. Bear have never celebrated a Valentine’s Day together. So this season, Mrs. Bear sets an alarm clock for the special day, and prepares the best of parties for Mr. Bear. Their love is so romantic and real, and chocolate covered ants have never sounded so delicious.

3) Ever wondered what would happen if you really did plant a kiss? In Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Peter Reynold’s Plant a Kiss, our Little Miss plants one in the ground and carefully tends to it. Soon it blossoms and blooms into something delightfully shareable. The words are spare and lovely, and the tenderness is hypnotizing. (And it truly sparkles thanks to glitter in the illustrations!)

4) Is anything more lovable than the monkey on the cover of Jez Alborough’s Hug? His banana-shaped grin on the sunshine colored cover makes me smile every time I see it. All he wants is a hug – a perfect monkey-sized mama hug made extra special and just for him.

5) Valentine’s Day doesn’t need to roll around to enjoy I Like You, but it seems especially sweet this time of year. I toasted my sister and her husband with words from this one on their wedding day, because the sentiment of a love story or a beautiful friendship are stuffed into this little book. It might be the most perfect gift you ever leave with someone you love.

Click here for 5 more books!

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Book of the Week: Anatole

February 4, 2013

Anatole by by Eve Titus and Paul Galdone

By Carter.

I’m still on a bit of a Caldecott buzz, so how about one from 1946? Anatole, by Eve Titus and Paul Galdone, is the happiest mouse in all of France.

Anatole by Eve Titus and Paul Galdone
Anatole by Eve Titus and Paul Galdone

A mouse named Anatole, his partner-in-scavenging Gaston, a misunderstanding, a briefcase, and a whole lot of cheese. So charming, so much to love! Anatole and Gaston hunt the streets of Paris at night for food for their little families. On bicycles! (This reminds me of the Tour de France – I can’t imagine any other mode of transportation a tiny French mouse would use, can you?) When Anatole overhears the humans’ true feelings for mice, he is determined to regain his honor and give them something in return for their scraps.

And what’s the one thing Anatole is an expert on? Cheese. The Manufacture de Fromage Duval will never be the same again thanks to the delicious spirit of a delightful little mouse.

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The Caldecott Medal

January 29, 2013

The Caldecott Medal

By Carter. Images via Caryn Schafer.

Hollywood is right in my backyard, and the buzz surrounding awards season is in the air. Billboards beg for your consideration, as if every passing driver is an Academy voter! But I have been blindsided by a different kind of buzz, for a different kind of award: The Caldecott Medal. This morning the American Library Association honored the illustrator of the most distinguished contribution to American children’s literature.

The Caldecott Medal

This year marks its 75th anniversary! It is thrilling to think that art meant for children is so treasured and timeless. I gasped and cried and held my breath through most of the announcements, and am beyond happy that our kids have such great books.

Remember Jon Klassen? This year, he won the Caldecott Medal for This is Not My Hat. It’s a perfect marriage of art and text. And! He also won an Honor for Extra Yarn. I’m pretty sure that’s never happened before, so I’m pretty sure he’s having the best day ever.

Do you have a favorite Caldecott winner? Did you know one of Gabrielle’s very first posts was about how she collects Caldecott books?

P.S. —  For more history on the Caldecott Medal, I love this post. And this segment on NPR this morning made me grin. Happy reading!

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Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School by David Mackintosh

By Carter.

This book by David Mackintosh is an enchanting look at being the new kid. Or being the kid that is a bit wary of the new kid. It’s a gentle narrative, but full of quirks and grins. The pictures are loud, but very sweet.

Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School by David Mackintosh
Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School by David Mackintosh

Marshall Armstrong is unusual. He has spots on his nose, eats ‘space food’ for lunch, but is lovable from the start. As our narrator cautiously (and with a perfect deadpan voice!) makes room for him in his little world, we all embrace the wonder of being just a bit different.

Do you ever unwrap the dust jackets to catch a glimpse of what’s underneath? Be sure to peek if you get your hands on this one. There’s a delightful extra bit of art under an already dazzling cover!

 

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It's always tea-time!

By Carter.

Lewis Carroll’s peculiar tale of nonsense, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is awfully illogical, but utterly wonderful. When the Mad Hatter declares, “It’s always tea-time!”, it really, truly is. He bickered with Time (over something silly, presumably!) and this party is stuck  forever — on tea-time. Not the worst luck in the world, right?

How I would love to be at a long table, enjoying tea into infinity with you! I’m sure we would never run out of things to talk about. Until then, I’ll just stare lovingly at this print by Emily McDowell, which you can purchase in her shop here.

P.S. — This series — illustrated quotes from children’s books — is a collaboration between Emily McDowell and myself. You can find the whole series here.

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Book of the Week: Petunia

January 14, 2013

Petunia by Roger Duvoisin

By Carter.

Petunia is fairly new to me, but it was love at first sight. I’ve never met a sweeter goose. It was originally published in 1950 by Roger Duvoisin, and has a timelessness that is so endearing.

Petunia by Roger Duvoisin Petunia by Roger Duvoisin

She’s a bit sassy, a bit bossy, but has a lot of heart. She means well, but now that she has found A Book, she thinks she has all of the wisdom in the world. The farm explodes (quite literally) with mayhem and mishaps, and Petunia realizes that perhaps wisdom comes from reading the actual pages.

Do you have any other favorites that spread such classic charm?

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The Velveteen Rabbit

January 11, 2013

The Velveteen Rabbit

By Carter.

Do you remember The Velveteen Rabbit? I hope you had a copy as well loved and worn out as mine. Or maybe you had that one perfect lovey? (Mine was named Sunshine, and still lives in my home!) I think this sentiment at the heart of the story is absolutely beautiful. These words are at once charming and also deeply comforting, right? I love the idea that being loved carves out who we are and lasts forever and ever.

And I have fallen in love with this illustration by Emily McDowell. How sweet is his skinny ear flopping through the letter O? If you adore this one as much as I do, you can purchase it here in her shop.

P.S. — This series — illustrated quotes from children’s books — is a collaboration between Emily McDowell and myself. You can find the whole series here.

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Squid and Octopus: Friends For Always by Tao Nyeu

By Carter.

I love a good friendship story, don’t you? The two in Squid and Octopus: Friends For Always by Tao Nyeu are as endearing as another favorite animal duo, Frog and Toad. They have kooky spats over whether knitted somethings found deep in the sea are socks or mittens, and whether a sunken cowboy boot is a flowerpot or a doorstop.

Squid and Octopus: Friends For Always by Tao Nyeu
Squid and Octopus: Friends For Always by Tao Nyeu

Throughout all of their adorable antics, Squid and Octopus remain the very sweetest of best friends. And Octopus says this, which is my absolute favorite line: ”Obviously, what we really need is a hot pot of tea.” A good truth for life, right?

This book is a tad longer than most picture books because it contains four separate stories. I can’t decide which I love most, so I just keep reading them all, over and over and over again. I guess that’s not a humongous problem – so much more to love!

 

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