Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Kids' Books Are Like Kids: Short, Sweet, and Amusing

There is something perfectly satisfying about a book that can be completed in a matter of minutes, can be read in words or in pictures, can come in all shapes and sizes, and, like poetry, distills meaning down to the exact words necessary to portray the best version of the story. Entire, albeit small, worlds come to exist in the limited pages of kids' books. Realities that comfort with their familiarity or amaze with their creativity, but almost always point out just how exciting everyday objects and situations can be with a little imagination. Above all, children's book may be simple, repetitive, or silly, but they are never boring.

My nephew enjoying a good book
Here are a few of my favorites from my childhood bookshelf that now have a permanent home in my son's library.

One Monster After Another written and illustrated by Mercer Mayer.
Generally, the stories that stand the test of time are the good ones. This book was first published in 1974, has been on my family's bookshelf since the early 80s, survived my siblings and me (with a little masking tape), my niece and nephew, and now, with a little more tape, it should make it through my children. It has been a favorite of mine since before it was mine; the inscription proves it was a gift from my uncle to my sister. This book is oversized; it takes up your whole lap, allowing the illustrations to lead your eye down the windy road and over the knobbly hill into the next page. The trees are gnarly and intricate and there's a dozen entertaining details on every page to amused parent and child alike. There is plenty of action (aided by onomatopoeic verbs and a heaping spoonful of humor) and a happy ending that leaves the reader wanting to know what happens next. Near perfection. See also Frog Goes to Dinner.

Introducing our 2 month old son to Tintin
The Adventures of Tintin written and illustrated by Herge.
My husband wooed me with Tintin. I grew up only ever having read one of the series (a gift from father on a trip to a big city second-hand book store which I valued more because it was from him than for the content). But Mike grew up reading Tintins from the library. The first summer we were living in our own place, we read all the Tintin books. We'd bicycle to the park, lay out a blanket under the willows by the lake and he would read Tintin's adventures aloud to me, and you better believe he did all the voices. You should hear his Madame Castafiore! Needless to say, we're big fans of the series and can't believe a movie has still never been made.

The Animal Family written by Randall Jarrell and illustrated by Maurice Sendak.
This is a true story book. The few pictures (more decorations than illustrations) don't ever portray the characters, just the scenery. How a hunter, a mermaid, a bear, and a lynx can all live together in a cabin is left up to the reader's mind, though the words never allow you to find the circumstances odd, just enchanting. I read this book at least once a year.

Blackboard Bear written and illustrated by Martha Alexander.
I have a box set called Four Bears in A Box and I can't seem to ever read just one book. They are tiny books, about 4" x 4.5", the drawings are perfectly minimal and adorable without being overly precious, and despite the simple trajectory of the stories, I reveled in the boy's victory as much when I was first reading the story as I do now.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

All in an Unpaved Alley

I do get it sometimes: something
for nothing, freedom
walking in an unpaved alley
in a paved-over city.

Off kilter fences, slats leaning
this way and that. Painted, peeling,
garages. Gravel
and untended greenery.
Garbage and thorns
and sometimes
even a berry or two.
Sometimes: a reminder of what I used to know
I wanted, hard to find
now that I’m here.

Sometimes: a sense of what came before,
how this place was.
All the neighbors and kids
that have existed here
washed away like the gravel underfoot,
shifting unnoticed by the people
who see it everyday.