Monday, August 30, 2010

Not for Kids Only

A fellow blogger, the very charming and book savvy Wallace over at Unputdownables posted recently about one of her favorite books (and mine), The Library, a splendid picture book by Sarah Stewart and David Small. Stewart is the author, Small (her husband) is the illustrator. This is a book I will eventually be reading to my granddaughter, but I admit I've owned it for years and reread it all the time. Just for myself. For my own enjoyment. Yes, the secret is out: there are adults who enjoy picture book reading. Who knew there were others? Just when you think you might be the only one, along comes another person and soon, I expect, there will be a bunch of us. Oh wait, I mustn't forget my Colorado friend, Jean. (She'd never forgive me if I left her out of this.) She's a school librarian who LOVES to read picture books too. Now there are three of us.

I'm posting today about a few picture books I own and love. Why do I love them? Why should a sophisticated (ahem!) older woman read and enjoy picture books? Why not?There are only two kinds of books: good books and bad books - or so I've always believed. The rest is just window dressing. To paraphrase Maurice Sendak: I don't set out to write books for children. I set out to write books.

Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order.
The Library by Sarah Stewart and David Small
The story of Miss Elizabeth Brown who...
Entered the world
Dropping straight down from the sky.
Elizabeth Brown entered the world
Skinny, nearsighted, and shy.

Elizabeth discovers books very early on and the rest, as they say, is history. The little redhead's
life story is told in Sarah Stewart's delightful rhyming text, enhanced by the wonderfully detailed watercolor illustrations of the well-known artist, David Small. They turn Elizabeth into a person any reader would understand and wished they had met.

The book is dedicated thusly: To the memory of the real Mary Elizabeth Brown, Librarian, Reader, Friend 1920-1991

A Story For Bear by Dennis Haseley and Jim LaMarche
This is a beautifully illustrated tale of a bear who finds a letter in the woods and over time, curious to know more, discovers a summer visitor, a young woman reading in front of her cabin. Unafraid, she reads to him as the bear comes back during the summer to hear more and more of her stories. This is a book that, unaccountably, always brings a tear to my eye. It is the bittersweet charm of the artwork that does it. This is a brilliantly conceived story about a touching and unlikely friendship. The pastel illustrations by Jim LaMarche are unforgettable.

Puss In Boots by Charles Perrault, translated by Malcolm Arther and gorgeously illustrated in paintings by the incomperable Fred Marcellino. I mean, no more, really needs to be said. Marcellino is a master of 'realism' equalled only, perhaps, by Roberto Innocenti. (More about Innocenti, next.) The paintings appear to be done in pastel and pencil, in a totally different style than Jim LaMarche (above) who has a freer hand, but Marcellino's work is just as charming. The detail is amazing. (At first, I thought the illustrations were oil paintings.) The story is set in the 1700s, so there is plenty of opportunity for period detailed costumes, hairdos, carriages and castles. A gorgeous book.

An aside: There was a Puss In Boots doll that went on sale at the same time as the book years ago and I, of course, couldn't resist. There's a picture of my doll above . The doll stands on one of my kitchen shelves. I'm not really a doll collector at all, but I do own this one and a Ramona Quimby doll that I love. She sits on a teapot in my kitchen. What is this with kitchens and dolls? Who knows?

The Last Resort by poet and storyteller, J. Patrick Lewis, illustrations by the one and only, multi-award winning Roberto Innocenti. Very little to say about Innocenti. He is, simply put, a genius. See if you don't agree once you look into the world he's created in this amazing book.

In truth, the book seems a little advanced for very young readers and appears more attuned to the reading experience of the older or adult reader. There are references in the text to Zane Grey, Hans Christian Anderson, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, George Simenon, Emily Dickinson and even, the actor Peter Lorre, among others, plus a kind of visual puzzle at the end to match up authors and characters who appear in the story. It's all about an artist who wakes up one day and finds his imagination has left him. So he sets out on a journey to find it.

The illustrations of that journey and the eventual, imaginative destination are luxuriously detailed in what appears to be watercolor. This is a book for anyone who loves books: reader, writer or artist.

Santa Calls
Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures with the Family Lazardo
The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs
All three of these books were written and illustrated by another incomparable, William Joyce. The irrepressible Joyce has a totally different illustration style and attitude than the previous
artists mentioned. He draws his inspiration from graphics and films done in the 1930s and 40s, even down to the details of clothing worn by the characters. (This is one my favorite things about these particular books.)
Santa Calls is done in a kind of Wizard of Oz style and I can't help thinking of the movie whenever I read Joyce's book. This is the story of Arthur Atchison Aimesworth who along with his little sister Esther, lives in Abilene, Texas with his aunt and uncle who run a Wild West Show and Animal Phantasmagoria. What happens when Art, Esther and Art's best friend Spaulding Littlefeets, a young Comanche brave, set off for Toyland and the North Pole at the request of Santa who has sent them a flying machine, is a complete and total delight, most especially if you are familiar with fantasy movies of the 30s and 40s. (Kids, of course, will enjoy this even without that knowledge.)

The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs
The moody illustrations in this book, to my eye, are more in tune with the 1950s. The story concerns a little old lady and a beautiful garden. When she becomes ill and shows no sign of improving, a mysterious 'long lost toy' in the garden calls the Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs into action to fight off the Spider Queen and her nasty minions and save the day, the garden and the life of the little old lady.

Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures with the Family Lazardo. We're back in what looks like the 1940s. The Lazardo family of Pimlico Hills (along with their bodyguard Jumbu) take a trip every year before the start of baseball season. Travel is adventure. Adventure makes you homesick, and baseball makes everything A-OK, explained Dr. Lazardo.

While in Africa...Scotty Lazardo wandered away from camp and came back with a dinosaur. "Can we keep him?" pleaded Scotty's sisters, Zelda and Velma. "I don't see why not," said Dr. Lazardo.

When the family heads back to N.Y. and home, the dinosaur, named Bob by the children, somehow becomes involved in the opening game of the Pimlico Pirates baseball season and what happens next makes for a funny, richly realized adventure that should make anyone with spirit feel young again. The Lazardo family are the kind of people everyone should know. Besides that, I think William Joyce is one of those people who never grew up (a trait which is very useful for an artist) and it shows in his books. They are simply wonderful tales of adventure for anyone with any hint of imagination.

Night Driving by John Coy, illustrated by Peter McCarty.
This touching, low-key beautifully envisioned story is done in quiet black, gray and white pencil illustrations that evoke the 1940s, early 50's. The scenes pictured take place during a night slowly turning into dawn, as a father and son drive along a two lane highway to a camp in the mountains. That's it. What they see on their drive and their stops along the way make up the gist of this gentle story

Detective LaRue Letters from the Investigation by Mark Teague
Detective Ike LaRue is a dog beautifully conceived by illustrator Teague, a perfectly drawn terrier, a dog to rival any other dog ever drawn, in my opinion. LaRue is on the case when canary burglars strike in Snort City. Already in jail, suspected of having done away with Mrs. Hibbins' cats, LaRue escapes in order to prove his innocence and catch the canary burglars. The story is cleverly told in a series of letters to LaRue's...uh, owner, Mrs. LaRue who is away on vacation, as well as in newspaper articles and headlines. Some of the illustrations are black and white with tone, some in color. They have the depth of acrylic or oil paints, can't tell which. All I can say is that Mark Teague is one of the best illustrators working today and the best illustrator, not only of dogs, but of hilarious cats as well. He captures Mrs. Hibbins' cats' disgruntled faces perfectly.
This is a book for readers who like short, quirky, funny mysteries with great pictures.

So, have I convinced you yet to come over to our side?

Of course there are more books in my little collection, but this is a nice sampling I think.


  1. You've picked out some great ones, and to my surprise, some I don't know. I'll be checking into this toot-sweet! I love Jane Yolen's HOW DOES A DINOSAUR... books, and OWL MOON! Just discovered SCAREDY SQUIRREL and read it to the kids today, what a hoot! I could go on and on... =) ♥

  2. I LOVE the Jane Yolen dinosaur books as well and own several. But I had to stop somewhere. (Of course I could have gone on indefinitely. You know me. Ha!) Marcellino has also done a gorgeous version of RUMPELSTILTSKIN. I believe either that one or PUSS IN BOOTS (or both) won the Caldecott.


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