A Children’s Book – Perfect Therapy for Viral Times

In her essay for the New York Times Book Review today – “An Author Perfect for Now”  – Ann Patchett  talks about discovering award winning children’s book author Kate DiCamillo.  Amazingly, Patchett had never read any of DiCamillo’s books.  And her comment made me realize – not everyone knows about the wonders of children’s books.

Reminded of my traveling days when a good children’s book would carry me away and pass the long hours on a flight, I thought of the time I was surreptitiously reading Dahl’s BFG, trying to hide the cover from my seat mate, or the happy discovery of a discarded old Flat Stanley in the waiting area of an airport.   But, it seems, adults do not read children’s books – unless they are reading a story to a child,  If Ann Patchett had never read Kate DiCamillo, probably many well read adults had missed her too – along with Maurice Sendak, Beverly Cleary, Lois Lowry, Katherine Paterson, Scott O’Dell, E.L. Konigsburg, and more.

With my attention span wavering between Saki’s short stories and the New Yorker’s one frame cartoons, a children’s book seems a likely diversion.

What’s your favorite children’s book?

If you are looking for ideas for reading, I have a list of children’s books I’ve reviewed.  The top three are written by Kate DiCamillo.   Click here for a list of children’s books

Two Picture Books for All Those “Adults”

The Wall in the Middle of the Book

Jon Agee and Tommie dePaola  probably were not thinking about politicians or government shut downs when they wrote these picture books for children, but maybe they were trying to ingrain some thoughtfulness into children at a young age – hoping it would stick with them into adulthood.

1df8b181803ff459c707c43af70be49d-w204@1xAgee’s The Wall in the Middle of the Book is supposed to protect one side of the book from the other.  The key words are “supposed to.”  A brick wall runs down the spine in the center of book, and the action takes place on both sides. As the “safe” side slowly disintegrates and floods, the knight is forced over to the other side, where he thinks the monsters will eat him.  Surprise – no one eats him and he makes new friends, What a waste of five billion dollars to build the wall. Preconceived notions about things and people, over a boundary or otherwise, are often distinctly wrong.

Unknown  Quiet

Tommie dePaola’s Quiet has a clear message for all adults tired of listening to the news or rushing around trying to perfect the holiday celebrations for all –   “To be quiet and still is a special thing.”  The little girl says, “I can think when I am quiet.”  The little boy says, “I can see when I am still.”

For all those who know the beauty of quiet – pass it on to others.

Louisiana’s Way Home

9780763694630  The openng lines of Kate DiCamillo’s new book for middle schoolers – Louisiana’s Way Home – reminded me of a resolution I have yet to complete:

“I am going to write it all down, so that what happened to me will be known, so that if someone were to stand at their window at night and look up at the stars and think, My goodness, whatver happened to Louisiana Elefante? Where did she go? They will have an answer. They will know.”

I usually avoid reading memoirs, assuming the writer’s memory will have been embellished and cleaned up. But writing my own story for posterity is appealing, especially because I could embellish and clean it up. What has been stopping me? Probably the suspicion of my story being only interesting to me.

Louisiana’s story begins with the curse her grandfather set in motion; mine would mirror it with my grandmother’s power of bestowing a curse, passed through generations.  Be assured, I have not tried wielding her power – not consciously, anyway – and not yet.

Louisiana’s story is “discovering who you are – and deciding who you want to be.”  For fans of DiCamillo, Louisiana may bring back thoughts of Raymie Nightingale, and Raymie is mentioned, but Louisiana has a more compelling story, leaving her friend behind in Florida and starting over in Georgia with a new friend, Burke, who can climb trees and outsmart the vending machine to get free peanuts.

After Granny and Louisiana drive off for a new life, so much happens: Granny loses all her teeth, tells about finding a baby on a pile of rubbish, and deserts the twelve year old. Nevertheless, Louisiana’s steady and optimistic outlook leads her to a new family, a new life, and a happy ending.  The story is at once a sad lesson in hope and a caution to not wallow in fate.  Destiny is what you make it.   Louisiana is abandoned by someone she trusts, tries to work things out on her own, consults with a minister, and finally chooses forgiveness with a new family.   Burke’s grandfather sums up the point of the story when he tells her to  “Take what is offered to you.”

The curse?  Turns out Louisiana never really had one –    only Granny has to contend with that problem.

And DiCamillo delivers another poignant tale of a brave little girl who gets the support of friends from unlikely places and in unexpected ways.  We all need that now and then.

Related ReviewRaymie Nightingale

Picture Books

This year, for the first time in their 65 years of identifying the best illustrated children’s books for the year,  the New York Times partnered with the New York Public Library.  The books range from informative historical notes to mesmerizing introspection.  I found one in my local library, and ordered two for my shelf – a Christmas present to myself.
51Q0bHbJwzL._AC_US218_My favorite is Feather written and illustrated by Remi Courgeon, about a feisty girl who learns how to box to defend herself from bullies.  After she wins a match, she returns to her first love – playing Mozart on the piano.

518znkdSPNL._AC_US218_      In Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin’s King of the Sky, a racing homing pigeon and an old man help a lost immigant boy from Italy finally feel at home in the United States.

51JvlVhTAPL._SX352_BO1,204,203,200_  In Beatrice Alemagna’s On a Magical Do-Nothing Day, a little girl is sent outside to play on a rainy day.  After she accidentally loses her handheld video game, she discovers the wonders of the world around her.

The Ten Best Illustrated Books of 2017

        from the New York Times and the New York Public Library

  1. Muddy: The story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters 
  2. Ruth Bader Ginsberg: The Case of R.B.G vs Inequality
  3. Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos
  4. On a Magical Do-Nothing Day
  5. The Way Home in the Night
  6. King of the Sky
  7. Town Is By the Sea
  8. A River
  9. Plume
  10. Feather

 

Mo Willems – When a Pig Meets an Elephant

Catching up with the New Yorker recently, I not only laughed out loud at Rivka Glachen’s profile of children’s author and illustrator Mo Willems – Funny Failures – but also connected to this children’s author’s wry outlook.  I needed to find his books.

A quick search showed ninety-eight of his titles in my local library system, so I returned to the article to note those highlighted in the five page article.  Two have won Caldecott Honors – Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (2004) and Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (2005).  Another I added, just to meet the elephant and the pig in We Are in a Book.

Knuffle Bunny may remind you of the last time you lost something in the laundry; the pigeon is hilarious – what’s the first thing any child wants to do when told not to?  As for the elephant and the pig, I dare you not to say “BANANA” when you read their book.

Although Willems’ books are identified as Easy Readers, in the same vein as Eric Carle  or P.D. Eastman, his animals are funny in their anxiety and resilient in their failures – a lesson for adults as well as children.  Give yourself a laugh; find Mo Willems.

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