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Posts Tagged ‘children’s books’

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Maria Popova at Brain Pickings is a Renaissance woman. She not only reviews books on science, philosophy, and poetry at major publications, but she maintains a deeply thoughtful blog that includes the best suggestions anywhere for children’s books. I have bought many at my local indy bookstore after reading her reviews, and she has never let me — or the grandchildren — down.

Last spring I was talking to a woman who was also a Maria Popova fan and who had bought some of the Brain Pickings suggestions for her own grandchildren, but not all the same ones I had.

So I took mine out of circulation for a while to have a tidy collection in case she should drop in. I had previously learned that to keep track of these unusual books and also to share them with two families of grandchildren, it was best to bring them back and forth to my kids’ houses when I visit. I will be putting them all back in circulation soon.

Above, you can see the ones I pulled together, any of which I would love to tell you more about if you ask. (Hmm, was Take Away the A really one of hers? The more I think about it, the less I think it is her style.)

The White Cat and the Monk, a serene retelling of an ancient story, is still at Suzanne’s house. The Little Gardener and The Sound of Silence are at John’s.

In Popova’s review of The Sound of Silence, you can see why no grandparent could possibly resist this thoughtful kind of analysis. In addition, Popova apparently gets permission to show all the tantalizing illustrations.

Look at the title of this post: “The Sound of Silence: An Illustrated Serenade to the Art of Listening to Your Inner Voice Amid the Noise of Modern Life; A tender reminder that silence is not the absence of sound but the presence of an inward-listening awareness.” Already I’m hooked.

Popova begins: “ ‘There are many fine things which we cannot say if we have to shout,’ Henry David Thoreau observed in contemplating how silence ennobles speech. A year earlier, he had written in his journal: ‘I wish to hear the silence of the night, for the silence is something positive and to be heard.’

“It’s a sentiment of almost unbearable bittersweetness today, a century and a half later, as we find ourselves immersed in a culture that increasingly mistakes loudness for authority, vociferousness for voice, screaming for substance. We seem to have forgotten what Susan Sontag reminded us half a century ago — that ‘silence remains, inescapably, a form of speech,’ that it has its own aesthetic, and that learning to wield it is among the great arts of living.”

Not your typical children’s book review, am I right?

She continues, “That ennobling, endangered kind of silence is what writer Katrina Goldsaito and illustrator Julia Kuo celebrate in The Sound of Silence (public library) — the story of a little boy named Yoshio, who awakens to the elusive beauty of silence amid Tokyo’s bustle and teaches himself its secret language.

“Conceptually, the book is a trans-temporal counterpart to In Praise of Shadows — that magnificent 1933 serenade to ancient Japanese aesthetics, lamenting how excessive illumination obscures so many of life’s most beautiful dimensions, just as today’s excessive noise silences life’s subtlest and most beautiful signals.” More.

In the illustration below, the boy asks the koto player what is her favorite sound, and she puzzles him by answering, with a cryptic smile, “The sound of silence.” Check out the other illustrations here.

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Art: Sun and Moon
A beautiful book reviewed at Brainpickings and featuring the work of ten of India’s indigenous artists.

Maria Popova, my go-to source for children’s book suggestions, tweeted about the book Sun and Moon in August, around the time of the eclipse.

“In Sun and Moon,” she writes, “ten Indian folk and tribal artists bring to life the solar and lunar myths of their indigenous traditions in stunningly illustrated stories reflecting on the universal themes of life, love, time, harmony, and our eternal search for a completeness of being.

“This uncommon hand-bound treasure of a book, silkscreened on handmade paper with traditional Indian dyes, comes from South Indian independent publisher Tara Books, who for the past decades have been giving voice to marginalized art and literature through a commune of artists, writers, and designers collaborating on books handcrafted by local artisans in a fair-trade workshop in Chennai …

“Among the indigenous traditions represented in the book are Gondi tribal art by Bhajju Shyam (of London Jungle Book fame), Durga Bai (featured in The Night Life of Trees), and Ramsingh Urveti (of I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail); Madhubani folk art by Rhambros Jha (of Waterlife); and Meena tribal art by Sunita (of Gobble You Up).”

Popova links to WorldCat, a library system, for the book’s publishing details and this description: “Part of everyday life, yet rich in symbolic meaning, renderings of the sun and the moon are present in all folk and tribal art traditions of India. Agrarian societies have always kept track of time by referring to markers in the seasonal variations of the sun, moon and planets. They have also woven wonderful stories and myths around them. Here, for the first time, is a collection of unusual stories and exquisite art from some of the finest living artists, on this most universal of themes.”

Be sure to read the Brainpickings post, here, for more art, more of Popova’s insights, and her ever thoughtful suggestions for related reading.

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I can hardly keep up with all the delightful-sounding children’s books that Maria Popova describes at Brain Pickings, but my local bookstore is benefiting in any case — not to mention, my grandchildren.

Here is one book that sounds worth checking into.

“In Tell Me What to Dream About,” writes Popova, third-generation artist Giselle Potter — who has previously illustrated such treasures as Gertrude Stein’s posthumous alphabet book and Toni Morrison’s darkly philosophical allegory for freedom — offers a whimsical take on lucid dreaming, that irresistible longing to choose our own nocturnal adventures.

“Potter tells the story of two sisters who, at bedtime, offer each other ideas for possible things to be dreamt that night — a tree-house town, a world where everything is furry, a fluffy world where clouds are worn as sweaters and eaten as treats, teeny-tiny animals feasting on teeny-tiny waffles. What emerges is a colorful celebration of children’s minds.” More here.

When I was a child, the oldest of a few others, I told stories after lights out, mostly about Sammy Seal, who snuck out through a hole at the bottom of the aquarium at night, had adventures, and got back before the authorities noticed his absence. Wish I could remember an adventure.

I’m thinking, What would I like to dream about tonight? I would like a dream in which all the people I know who are going through bad things just now were healed. And then I would wake up and it would be so.

Art: Giselle Potter

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I saw another recommendation at Brain Pickings for an intriguing-sounding book and bought it to have around for my grandchildren. It doesn’t have words, and when I tried to talk through the pictures to my second grandson, he said, “Read it.” He could tell I wasn’t using the read-a-story-book-voice.

But it’s a thoroughly charming book, and I’m sure he’ll catch on.

Maria Popova writes, “Half a century after Ruth Krauss wrote, and Maurice Sendak illustrated, one of the loveliest lines in the history of children’s books — “Everybody should be quiet near a little stream and listen.” — poet JonArno Lawson and illustrator Sydney Smith team up on a magnificent modern manifesto for the everyday art of noticing in a culture that rips the soul asunder with the dual demands of distraction and efficiency.

“Sidewalk Flowers (public library) tells the wordless story of a little girl on her way home with her device-distracted father, a contemporary Little Red Riding Hood walking through the urban forest. Along the way, she collects wildflowers and leaves them as silent gifts for her fellow participants in this pulsating mystery we call life — the homeless man sleeping on a park bench, the sparrow having completed its earthly hours, the neighbor’s dog and, finally, her mother’s and brothers’ hair. …

Sidewalk Flowers, which is immeasurably wonderful in its analog totality, comes from Canadian independent children’s-book publisher Groundwood Books.” More thoughtful description and more of the pictures may be found here.

I think Popova’s Brain Pickings blog is amazing, even if her prose is sometimes a little purple. I myself wouldn’t say that the demands of our always-on-the-job culture “rips the soul asunder.” Those demands are mostly pointless and should be ignored.

Art: Sydney Smith

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We had just enough snow yesterday to top off the cross-country trail my husband likes, but he’s pretty sure today was his last day skiing this season.

Before winter is entirely gone, check out a charming children’s book called Once Upon a Northern Night.

In the words of Maria Popova at BrainPickings.org, “Writer Jean E. Pendziwol and illustrator Isabelle Arsenault weave a beautiful lullaby in Once Upon a Northern Night (public library | IndieBound) — a loving homage to winter’s soft-coated whimsy, composed with touches of Thoreau’s deep reverence for nature and Whitman’s gift for exalting ‘the nature around and within us.’ …

” ‘Once upon a northern night
a great gray owl gazed down
with his great yellow eyes
on the milky-white bowl of your yard.
Without a sound
not even the quietest whisper,
his great silent wings lifted and
down,
down,
down,
he drifted,
leaving a feathery sketch
of his passing
in the snow.’ “

More about the book here.

Popova recommends that you complement Once Upon a Northern Night with Tove Jansson’s Finnish “classic Moominland Midwinter, then revisit the best children’s books of the year.”

My local indie bookstore is getting a lot of extra business because of Popova’s reviews of children’s books. In fact, I told the shop manager yesterday he should follow Brain Pickings, but there was a long line at the register, and I don’t think he wrote it down.

Art: Isabelle Arsenault/Groundwood Books
Once Upon a Northern Night

 

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Renée’s Christmas letter said she sometimes got children’s book ideas from this blog, which inspires me to increase my effort in that department.

Maria Popova’s extraordinary Brain Pickings website is a great source for children’s book recommendations, and I love that she often makes her finds in libraries.

Recently she described a sweet book called The Jacket, about a little girl who falls in love with a book.

Popova begins, ” ‘A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another,’ Rebecca Solnit wrote in her sublime meditation on reading. But how that transplant happens is a matter wholly subjective and deeply mysterious. In the unusual, wonderful, and magically meta picture-book The Jacket (public library | IndieBound), writer Kirsten Hall and illustrator Dasha Tolstikova explore the beauty and terror of falling in love with a book from the perspective of the book itself. …

“ ‘Book was a book that had just about everything,’ the story begins. ‘He was solid and strong. His words were smart and playful. The problem was, Book didn’t feel special.’

“Book does want to be noticed … And then, one day, it happens. A little girl walks into the bookstore and falls in love with Book.”

But Book has to compete with the little girl’s dog for her affection. One day at a picnic, the dog accidentally splatters Book with mud.

“That night, her mother helps clean Book up, but the girl is ‘too sad and gloomy’ to read. … But when the girl opens her eyes in the morning, ‘something had changed.’

“She has a plan. With quiet excitement and optimism, she sits down at her desk with some art supplies as [her dog] and Book wonder what she’s working on.

“And then, the reveal: a colorful handmade jacket for Book, which she wraps around him as she beams a smile.” You learn how to make a jacket for your own book.

I love that after the girl sleeps on her problem, she wakes up with a solution, a feeling that she can do something about this. Strangely perhaps, my associations are to the Prodigal Son (“And when he came to himself, he said …”) and the ancient Greeks (“A dream came and stood at her head and said …”).

More at Brain Pickings, including lots of pictures.

Art: Dasha Tolstikova
Maria Popova says, “The Jacket comes from Brooklyn-based Enchanted Lion Books, by far the most intelligent and imaginative picture-book publisher today.

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Photo: clickalps.com

Go to Bored Panda to see adorable mouse photographs collected by Skirmantė that could come straight from Beatrix Potter. Two Bad Mice, anyone?

Wikipedia’s entry on the children’s book author and naturalist says, “Born into a wealthy Unitarian family, Potter, along with her younger brother Walter Bertram (1872–1918), grew up with few friends outside her large extended family. Her parents were artistic, interested in nature and enjoyed the countryside. As children, Beatrix and Bertram had numerous small animals as pets which they observed closely and drew endlessly. …

“Beatrix was educated by three able governesses, the last of whom was Annie Moore (née Carter), just three years older than Beatrix … She and Beatrix remained friends throughout their lives and Annie’s eight children were the recipients of many of Potter’s delightful picture letters. It was Annie who later suggested that these letters might make good children’s books.

“In their school room Beatrix and Bertram kept a variety of small pets, mice, rabbits, a hedgehog and some bats, along with collections of butterflies and other insects which they drew and studied. Beatrix was devoted to the care of her small animals, often taking them with her on long holidays.”

I visited her home in the Lake District with my husband, and I read a biography of her. Like many girls of her time and social stature, she was a lonely child. But her creative genius filled her world with fully realized imaginary companions. And she seems to have had a satisfying adulthood preserving land in the Lake District and pursuing her natural history interests.

[Asakiyume: Thanks for putting the lead on Facebook.]

Photo: Miroslav Hlavko

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The tail of the hurricane socked us pretty hard on the Glorious Fourth, so the parade, the fire-police-and-rescue steak fry, and the fireworks were put off until the 5th.

Makes me wonder about how people felt on the 5th in 1776, realizing that they were in for it now. That it might not work.

The theme of this year’s parade was children’s books. There were at least two Cat In the Hat floats and two very differently conceived Hungry Caterpillar entries. I managed to to snap the Little Toot float — it’s always good to have a boat in an island parade.

This was Erik’s first Independence Day parade since he became a citizen, and the first that our two-year-old grandson really got into. He will need to brush his teeth especially well tonight. Only very sticky candy like Tootsie Rolls seemed to be tossed to the crowd.

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Here’s a lovely story by Bella English at the Boston Globe.

Like many other people who feel helpless after a tragedy, illustrators of children’s books wanted to do something useful last April 15 and were delighted to be asked to give their talents.

“After the Boston Marathon bombings,” writes English, “Joe and Susan McKendry of Brookline wanted to do something. …

“Joe, an artist who teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design, thought he could auction off a couple of paintings he did for his first book, ‘Beneath the Streets of Boston: Building America’s First Subway.’

“But then he realized he had something more valuable: connections to other artists. Why not make it a group project? We Art Boston was born, with dozens of artists contributing paintings or illustrations to the cause: the emergency and trauma fund at Boston Children’s Hospital.

“The fund helps children and families get the treatment they need ‘when faced with a tragedy,’ says Stacy Devine, an associate director with the Boston Children’s Hospital Trust. What began as a response to the Marathon bombings expanded to include all traumatic events. …

“The McKendrys also wanted to hold a community event for children to get more directly involved. On Oct. 20, We Art Boston is hosting a family day on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, right across from the New England Aquarium.

“All of the donated artwork will be framed and on exhibit, and people can bid on them through volunteers who will place the bids online using iPads. Several of the illustrators will be there and will sign books or, for a donation to the cause, draw portraits of stuffed animals for children who bring their favorite one along.”

More.

Henry Cole’s “Penguin Pride” (l8-by-12 inches, framed) has a value of $550 and a suggested bid of $250.

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Author-illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka knows the power of a kind word. He found his calling largely because of two words from a children’s book author who visited his elementary school class.

And he got through a difficult childhood nourished on the kindness of strangers, including lunch ladies, an unjustly maligned species he has honored in a superhero series. (“Serving justice! And serving lunch!)

Linda Matchan has a lovely story at the Boston Globe about Krosoczka.  (I want to call your attention to how nicely she describes him, here: “with impossibly spiky hair that looks as though he penciled it in himself.”)

“Until recently,” writes Matchan, “Krosoczka was very guarded about his childhood. That changed last October when he got a call from the organizer of a TEDx program at Hampshire College, modeled after the TED Talks series. …

“Scrambling for a topic, his wife urged him to talk candidly about his childhood. With no time to come up with other options, he delivered a moving talk about his early years and the people who inspired and encouraged him. The talk caught the attention of the TED editorial team, which featured it in January on TED.com.

“He spoke in his talk about his mother — ‘the most talented artist I knew’ — who was addicted to heroin and often incarcerated. ‘When your parent is a drug addict it’s kind of like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football … Every time you open your heart, you end up on your back.’ …

“Third grade was the year something ‘monumental’ happened. Children’s book author Jack Gantos came to his school to talk about what he did for a living. He wandered into the classroom where Krosoczka was drawing, stopped at Krosoczka’s desk and studied his picture.

“ ‘Nice cat,’ Gantos said.

“ ‘Two words,’ said Krosoczka, ‘that made a colossal difference in my life.’ ”

More.

Photo: Bill Greene
Jarrett Krosoczka declared May 3 (his favorite lunch lady’s birthday) “School Lunch Superhero Day.”

Author-illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka knows the power of a kind word. He found his calling largely because of two words from a children’s book author who visited his elementary school class.
And he got through a difficult childhood nourished on the kindness of strangers, including lunch ladies, an unjustly maligned species he has honored in a superhero series. (“Serving justice! And serving lunch!)
Linda Matchan has a lovely story at the Boston Globe about Krosoczka.  (I want to call your attention to how nicely she describes him, here: “with impossibly spiky hair that looks as though he penciled it in himself.”)
“Until recently,” writes Matchan, “Krosoczka was very guarded about his childhood. That changed last October when he got a call from the organizer of a TEDx program at Hampshire College, modeled after the TED Talks series. …
“Scrambling for a topic, his wife urged him to talk candidly about his childhood. With no time to come up with other options, he delivered a moving talk about his early years and the people who inspired and encouraged him. The talk caught the attention of the TED editorial team, which featured it in January on TED.com.
“He spoke in his talk about his mother — ‘the most talented artist I knew’ — who was addicted to heroin and often incarcerated. ‘When your parent is a drug addict it’s kind of like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football … Every time you open your heart, you end up on your back.’ …
“Third grade was the year something ‘monumental’ happened. Children’s book author Jack Gantos came to his school to talk about what he did for a living. He wandered into the classroom where Krosoczka was drawing, stopped at Krosoczka’s desk and studied his picture.
“ ‘Nice cat,’ Gantos said.
“ ‘Two words,’ said Krosoczka, ‘that made a colossal difference in my life.’ ”

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Optics maven Gregg just tweeted this link from Wired‘s GeekMom blog.

In the 2010 entry, Judy Berna writes about discovering a clever artist/inventor called Rufus Butler while working in her local library.

“The whole thing started with a baby board book that joined our collection at the library. …

“When you move the book left to right, the picture actually moves. We took turns playing with it and more than one of us almost went into a trance by its hypnotic movements.  …

“Then [my family and I] found ourselves in an art studio over the weekend, somewhere in the back woods of Massachusetts. Taking up one full window was a display of these amazing ‘moving’ discs. Each was a different picture and each moved in the same way the pictures on the library board books moved. …

“Once I got home I looked up their website, Eye Think.  Eye Think’s founder, Rufus Butler, is an artist, filmmaker, and inventor. He was so fascinated with optical illusions that he began creating these new ways to trick the eye. …

“The spinning circles that caught my eye in the art store are called CiniSpinners and come in an impressive variety of pictures. When you click on the web page picture, a moving sample pops up. There’s a little girl skipping rope. And fingers playing a piano. …

“Many animals are represented too. A dragonfly hovers, a dolphin frolics in the water. An adorable penguin waddles to and fro. My nine year old and I had to click on every single one, just to see which one was the best.  (My personal favorite: swimming man, with splashing water and all.)

“(Fun geek fact: After contacting Mr. Butler and sharing my enthusiasm for his products, he admitted that he himself had been the model for the swimming man. His wife videotaped him doing a swimming stroke as he laid across a kitchen chair, then he added the splashing water when he refined the picture in the studio.)” More.

Photo: Eye Think Inc.

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I love children’s illustrated books like those of the Petershams. Eve M. Kahn wrote an article about the couple in the NY Times “Antiques” column prior to the opening of a retrospective at the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum.

“Maud and Miska Petersham, married book illustrators in Woodstock, N.Y., sat across from each other as they worked. From the 1920s to the ’50s, they ran a prolific studio at their handmade stone house. They took on classic stories like ‘Heidi’ and ‘Rip van Winkle,’ along with nonfiction about rayon and wool that is now obscure, and Queen Marie of Romania’s fairy tale starring a magic doll.

“Children and teachers sent fan mail. ‘It has gone through the school like wildfire,’ a Utah schoolteacher wrote to the Petershams in 1941, praising the couple’s alphabet book with patriotic pictures.

“The Petersham archive survives in the hands of family members and the University of Southern Mississippi’s library. The historian Lawrence Webster mined the material for a book, “Under the North Light: The Life and Work of Maud and Miska Petersham” (WoodstockArts). …

“Miska Petersham grew up in Hungary. Around 1912, shortly before he moved to New York, he Americanized his original name, Mihaly Petrezselyem. …

“The Petershams’ house on Glasco Turnpike [in Woodstock], with floor-to-ceiling windows that illuminated their drafting tables, is largely unchanged and has been on the market for about $440,000,” a short sale.

More. (Scroll down.) The show, “Inspired by the North Light,” runs through December 31.

Photograph from Lawrence Webster shows one of Maud and Miska Petersham’s illustrations for the children’s book “The Poppy Seed Cakes.”

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Looking at streams swollen by yesterday’s rain, I began thinking about Scuffy the Tugboat.

“The water moved in a hurry, as all things move in a hurry when it is Spring. Scuffy was in a hurry, too. ‘Come back little tugboat, come back,’ cried the little boy.”

Remember?

A farmers market in Providence was undaunted by the rain. The farmer at the farmstand here joked that the puddle was just a matter of hydroponic gardening. In other photos, I show peonies and a sign buffeted by the storm — and a rabbit too busy foraging to worry about cameras.

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Barefoot Books, the children’s book publisher, opened its retail store in Concord this past spring.

In addition to selling books, the shop offers storytelling and pottery every day and numerous other activities, like music, dance, and yoga for children. There is a puppet theater play area, a kitchen for food events, and toys. Note the list of August activities in the photo.

The neighbors, by and large, loved the way the company decorated this long-empty building. And they especially loved the new landscaping.

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