Dear Readers, today was a blend of the awful and the great. The “awful” began early with a dentist appointment. There are those who can face the dentist with equanimity; I am not of their number. I remember once, in my youth, when I allowed someone to talk me into a waxing appointment. As the hot wax was being poured onto, then yanked off of, my skin I told myself, “At least I’m not at the dentist.”
The “great” came right afterward: I had to do some shopping in Brookline, and that means that I could also go to the Children’s Book Shop! Any excuse to go there is acceptable to me, and I did my errands like a good Mummy and then relaxed with wonderful books, new and old. And as I was checking out the owner asked me, “Did Sheryl tell you the news?” News? We were back to the “awful”– it turns out that Sheryl had to move back home for excellent reasons which nevertheless are sad to me. Sheryl, you see, has never been mentioned by name here, but her wisdom and perceptiveness guided me to some of the very best books I’ve talked about here: The Hired Girl, A Child of Books, and many others. Basically, if you’ve ever looked at one of my posts and said, “I like the sound of that book,” you may well have Sheryl to thank. So let’s take a moment to pause and say “Thank you” to the great booksellers who link readers with good books. Thanks, Sheryl, and I hope lucky stars shine on all you undertake. The Children’s Book Shop just won’t be the same without your smile and unerring ability to say, “I have just the thing for you…”
But, back to the “great,” I came back with some really good books, so let’s skim through them. We won’t go into great depth, but I really want to share some of the best books I’ve found over the past few months, and especially today’s haul:
I snapped up The Way Home in the Night, by Akiko Miyakoshi as soon as I saw it (at the Harvard Book Store, actually). Akiko Miyakoshi is the author of The Tea Party in the Woods which we talked about long ago. It features the same exquisite art: dark charcoal backgrounds with the occasional splash of colour enlivening the page (she works in pencil, charcoal, and gouache). The story is simple: a young rabbit is being carried home to bed and watches night take over his neighbourhood as he goes along home. The glimpses of other homes are enchanting: a phone call, a hug goodbye, a pie in the oven. But our focus always returns to the young rabbit who finally, sleepily, bids us all goodnight. It’s sweet without being saccharine, it’s charming without being unrealistic. And, in an era where it sometimes seems to me that bookshelves are creaking with the weight of the “goodnight” stories being produced, this one is truly, exquisitely original, both in art and in the story being told. I loved reading it to the Changeling last night, and I strongly recommend that you give it a try, too.
Do you know Shirley Hughes’s Alfie and Annie Rose books? This is one of them: Alfie Wins a Prize. It’s one of the injustices of the world, to my mind, that there are children out there who don’t have even one little Alfie story. The Alfie books in general are simple stories bursting with realism: as the owner of the Children’s Book Shop once told me, “The thing about Shirley Hughes is that she knows how to draw children.” This is true, both of her words and of her art. In this story, happily discovered at the Children’s Book Shop this afternoon, Alfie enters a painting into the children’s art contest at the Harvest Fair. He wins third place and is very happy, but he swaps his bubble bath prize with the little girl who was miserable about the “consolation prize” (a humorously described, sad-looking stuffed animal) she was given. The brilliance of this story is in what Shirley Hughes doesn’t say: she doesn’t make a whole moralizing bow-wow about sharing what you have to make others happy. She doesn’t say that Alfie felt sorry for the deformed sheep or goat (no one can tell which it is) stuffy and wanted to make it feel wanted. But it all comes through: Alfie’s sympathy for both girl and stuffed animal are heart-warming. In her true-to-life descriptions, art, and stories Shirley Hughes reminds me of no one so much as Ezra Jack Keats, and I wish she were as well-known in the USA.
Now for an author and illustrator completely new to me: Big Cat, little cat by Elisha Cooper. I snapped this up at the bookstore today because I saw cats and I thought of the Changeling. She and I bond over our shared love of cats. What I didn’t expect, as I stood in the store flipping through the pages, was that it would bring me to the edge of tears. You see, this is the story of a cat who lives alone, but then a kitten joins him. The kitten grows and grows and becomes friendly with the cat. However, the cat also grows older and older… and one day isn’t there any longer. (Get yourself a kleenex.) The text simply says, “And that was hard.” (Yup, that’s when my eyes started to feel a little funny.) And the kitten, now a cat, is very sad. Until one day… along comes a kitten! Well. This was our goodnight story tonight, and the Changeling was as entranced by the beautiful black and white illustrations as I was, and cooed over each little pose: the older cats training the kittens to eat, drink, use the litter box, and cuddle and rest. This book tells any reader, cat-lover or not, about the cycle of life, love, and trust. It tells you of the pain you suffer when someone you love is gone, and of the joy you can find in welcoming someone new into your family. It’s beautiful, heart-wrenching, and heart-warming. Toddlers and up will love the illustrations, and adults will fully appreciate the life-cycle. In other words, I think this is definitely an “all ages” type of book.
And those are three books to occupy you until I find the time to come back again! Enjoy!