On May 10th I posted a friendly alert about excellent new children's books on Whistlestop Bookshop's Facebook page. I see this place as a measure more permanent than the passing flash of a Facebook post, so here I add a few more titles received since then and some thoughts on why I think a good children's book is important.
"Some remarkably fine children's books arrived recently (Amy Bates's will get a separate notice, as it should). Rules of Summer is another surreal but sweet adventure by Shaun Tan, creator of Lost and Found and The Arrival. Daytime Nighttime has stunning paintings with simple text on the magical differences between the dark and the light. Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas is a true story of an elephant seal in Christchurch in New Zealand who knew perfectly well when she was home -- fine naturalistic illustrations. Here Comes Destructosaurus is mad, explosive, ultimately quite rational look at bad behavior. Finally, Mama Built a Little Next is a cleverly rhyming account with beautiful illustrations of all the different kinds of nests that birds build -- with a thoughtful touch at the end about the reader's own nest."
Then the great, almost legendary Peter Sis (author of Starry Messenger, recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship) came out with The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupery. This should have been impossible: a complicated European life in the early years of the 20th Century, political and literary and bound up in imperialism and war, ending in mysterious death. What do you possibly include? How much do you leave out? Yet he does it -- Peter Sis delicately and yet forcefully and without apology packs his 44-page book with ingenious illustrations, clear text, and an encyclopedic tour of Exupery and his world with all of its personal and political complications. You could read this with a curious child for 20 minutes or you could spend the rest of the evening studying it and following all the threads of narrative. The Little Prince is not one of my favorite books (I may have read it too late in life), and here Peter Sis helped me understand it better and appreciate it more.
Adam Stower, author of the sweet, ingenious, and funny Naughty Kitty!, is clearly a Brit. This extended earnest comedy is about a little girl assuming that her new little kitten is wreaking havoc whereas the reader knows that an enormous tiger has escaped from the zoo and just cannot restrain himself from emptying the refrigerator and romping in the living room. It's really about being blamed for something you didn't do, although we cannot be as cute as the kitten, and I just wish the essential goodness of the tiger would be there when we needed it. It has a clever and comprehensive ending as well.
I will write about Amy Bates's latest soon. It is wonderful, and I want to say why in an articulate way.
I must emphasize that these books are excellent because they are written and illustrated for a child to enjoy, not for an award committee of adults to be impressed or pandered to. These books address imperative needs of kids. Adults, if they are wise enough to remember those needs, will enjoy them, too.
[Click on the pictures below to see the images from the books discussed in this posting.]