OK, folks, so I’m still overwhelmed by all the great books I haven’t told you about– and saddened and angry by some Bad News in The World. So let’s start with the books, and then we’ll get to The News and my response to it. (Spoiler: my response is to try to turn it around and do a little good.)
The books I’m going to talk about are a total mishmash of styles and stories. All are relatively recent, and all are really, really great. I got all of them at my local Children’s Book Shop, and, as always, suggest you support your local shops! (Or library. Libraries are fabulous, too.)
I want to start with The Atlas of Monsters by Sandra Lawrence and Stuart Hill.
This one was a completely unintentional purchase. I have a thing, you see, about dictionaries and atlases and encyclopedias. They give me little tickles on my spine. I have… a lot of them. Well, I was at the book shop and had to shift this book to get at one that I wanted, and then I looked at it, and then somehow I didn’t put it back down again…
It’s a gorgeous book, fanciful and encyclopedic in one. The preface is masked as a scholar’s take on a manuscript she found, giving the reader a little chuckle at the funny backstory, but the contents are well-researched and comprehensive, covering monsters from Great Britain and Ireland through all of Europe then into Asia and the Middle East and Africa and– you get the picture. It’s not just a cute pamphlet. It is, as I already said, utterly comprehensive and diverse. It’s full of maps and stories and great detail and, my goodness, I FELL IN LOVE. Better and better, it’s chock full of little notes from the “scholar” on the “manuscript” she found– what could be better for a nerd like me?
A sample of “monsters” which I have selected by the simple expedient of opening the book at random and seeing where my glance fell: From Russia and Central Asia, the Shurale (a forest monster); from South and South-East Asia, the Apalala (a ghastly water monster); and for the sake of letting you feel clever, I will note that there are also such familiar monsters as Selkies. That’s a tiny sampling of the enormous range in the book, all clearly organized so as not to be overwhelming to the reader.
If you have a clever reader in your midst, especially one who knows a bit about mythology and folk or fairy tales to begin with, this is an exceptional book. I also think it would do very well for a more reluctant reader with a taste for great illustration and the fantastic. They’ll be amused by the scholarly notes and wonderful pictures, and drawn into the snippets of stories to look for more… I would peg this as being perfect for a ten-year-old, but depending on your kid’s reading level, seven or eight and up should do it.
I don’t think we’ve talked before about the heartbreak of my love for loose, flowing, yet regimented linework? You know– Ardizzone, Voake, Hughes, etc., etc. Well, then you must be already saying to yourselves, “Ah, then Corinna Luyken is definitely up your alley.” Oh, those lines! Colour is all very well, but ink! pencils! lines!!!
So, yes, it’s a crying shame I haven’t written about Corinna Luyken before now– although you surely know her work– and her collaboration with the equally flowing-yet-regimented text of Marcy Campbell in Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse produces a tender book of heartbreaking beauty (sorry to use “heartbreak” twice in two paragraphs, but I think it’s warranted here).
So, for once I’m going to take issue with a publisher over the age range presented for a book. I normally defer to authorities on these points, because I’m terrible at judging ages for books. I read The Odyssey when I was about nine. I cannot judge what’s age-appropriate AT ALL.
This book is quietly listed on Amazon as being for ages 3-5. I… disagree. Oh, surely a three-year-old will enjoy the lovely art and simple, straightforward story. But this book has so much nuance! It reminds me of no other book so strongly as Eleanor Estes’s exquisite The Hundred Dresses. (Even typing that title makes my throat constrict and my eyes well up! What a heartbreakingly– there I go again– beautiful book!)
Both are about children with strong and free imaginations, and the other children who adamantly plague them or otherwise counteract that freedom and wildness. Adrian Simcox insists he has a horse– and he does, of sorts. Just not the way you or I would think of it. But, we realize, as the book draws to a close, he is wiser than we are.
I wouldn’t say this book is “too old” for a three-year-old. Oh, it’s not! But I think pegging it at that age bracket will deter older readers, making them think it’s too young for a clever, say, seven-year-old, whereas I think the sweet spot would be more like 5-7. It’s smart, wistful, beautiful. Let kids read this until they’re ready for Estes, and then progress to Estes. Then we’ll have covered all of our bases on accepting differences, welcoming imaginative children, deterring bullying, and embracing otherness.
I need to buy this one for more people, remind me.
Lastly for today, I finally reached a VERY NEW BOOK in time to talk about it while it’s still new! Oh, I’ve been so excited for Isabelle Arsenault’s book which was written precisely for me when I was a child: Albert’s Quiet Quest.
Dear God, was I excited when I walked into the shop today and Amy pulled me aside to give it to me! I… maybe had been badgering them about it for a while? I have sort of a crush on Isabelle Arsenault– again, that loose linework! It’s gorgeous.
But the colours in this book and the shifting landscape between Albert’s reality and his inner world are what get to me. It’s all in blues, blacks, and oranges, and yet it’s not dull; it’s vibrant in the orange, quiet in the blue, and rooted in the blacks.
The story is of Albert who is looking for peace and quiet to read his book. But people keep showing up with activities and animals and noise. (Raise your hand if you just wanted a quiet space to read when you were a kid?) Finally, as I only dreamed of doing when I was a child– Albert LOSES IT. He stands up and– I’m not going to spoil the moment for you. It’s a marvellous one and you need to experience it on your own.
Suffice it to say, the twist ending is deeply, deeply satisfying and gloriously vindicates the quest for quiet reading.
This one is recommended for ages 3-7 and I think that’s absolutely right. The art is beautiful, the story is straightforward, and the message has a subtle nuance accessible to the older children but won’t confuse younger readers.
And parents will love it as much as their children will.
All of that beauty has soothed me such that I feel more courage to face the Big Bad News, which is this: Trump administration to send migrant children to former Japanese internment camp. If, as for me, this makes you sad and angry (to put it mildly), you might be looking for a positive outlet.
Which is where I think I can help! I’m going to hold a giveaway raffle next week. I tell you now so that you can start to prepare. Here are the details:
I have preordered a SIGNED copy of The Wall from the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA. I am going to raffle it off on this blog as soon as I get it (which should be next week).
How it will work is this: You will make a donation of at least $10 to RAICES Texas who are fighting the good fight. (I chose $10 to be accessible to everyone, but please be generous if you can. Remember the value of the average hardcover picture book is $18.)
PLEASE EMAIL ME AT email@example.com:
a) To say you donated
b) Your receipt (or some proof/how much you donated)
c) Your mailing address
I will keep track of who donated and how much. At the end of the giveaway I will randomly choose the winner and mail out the book! As always, I place no restrictions based on location (NO WALLS) and I will cover the costs of shipping.
I will post again with full details as soon as I get the book, but get started on donating and spreading the word right now, and if you have any questions either comment here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Let’s spread a little light and goodness, shall we?