I have been enjoying the children’s books we have been bringing home from the local libraries as much as Piper has been. I wanted to share a few titles with you, so that you might enjoy them, too.
By Roseanne Thong: Noodle Magic, Round Is a Mooncake, Round Is a Tortilla, and Red Is a Dragon.
I discovered Roseanne Thong’s work when we brought home Noodle Magic from the e-library. The Emperor’s birthday is coming and Mei’s grandfather is busy preparing handmade noodles. Thong’s storytelling is poetic. As Mei watches Grandpa Tu work the dough, Thong notes how much she loved “the powdery flakes that hung in the air and freckled the morning light”. Noodle Magic is a longer read, so I would suggest it to older little ones with more of an attention span.
Thong’s shape and color books are also a joy to read. These shorter books are definitely appropriate for all ages, even babies. My favorite of the three is Round Is a Mooncake, because of the zen-like peace and simplicity of lines such as “Round is a pebble that I found, A bowl of goldfish that make no sound.”
I love the vivid illustrations that reflect the different cultures in Thong’s stories. In Round Is a Tortilla, illustrator John Parra uses a color theme that is very earthy, reminiscent of adobe houses. Lots of dusty shades of brown, orange, and beige, with pops of sky blue to contrast. The illustrations definitely have terroir, a sense of place and roots. The same can be said for Round Is A Mooncake, Red Is a Dragon, and Noodle Magic. The first two are illustrated by Grace Lin. These illustrations are vivid in color, with a lot of bright red and green. I particularly love Red Is a Dragon for sharing a rainbow of Chinese traditions, from a red dancing New Year’s dragon or a bowl of red Lychees to yellow incense sticks, green bottle gourds or a jade bracelet, a pink silk fan, white dumplings, etc. The last book, Noodle Magic, is whimsically illustrated by Meilo So. I love her illustrations because they are so involved, and the more you look the more you see in them. In Noodle Magic, noodles become kite tails, jump ropes, even cats and hens. The story is a lot of fun.
By Jean Taft: Worm Weather
We love this book, especially on rainy days like today. Here is a very simple story, charmingly illustrated by Matt Hunt, about a little boy and girl who go out in “worm weather” and all the fun they have together. I love that the story is so loosely told, suggestive of the voice of a two year old with short phrases throughout like “Sun pops, drizzle stops. Birds fly, rainbow sky!”. I also love how the illustrations reflect the progress of a rainstorm, starting with drizzly grays, getting darker and bleaker, and finally becoming bright as the rain finishes.
By Jill Esbaum: Estelle Takes a Bath
Piper pulled this cute book off the shelf herself, and we love reading it together. The first few lines get me every time: “This is Estelle, of Toadburger Grove, sipping green tea in her tub by the stove, ignoring a blizzard, forgetting her troubles, sunk to her chinny in peppermint bubbles.” How wonderful does that sound? The illustrations are very cheeky (pun intended). Estelle’s bath is disrupted as a little mouse sneaks into her house to escape the blizzard outside. Estelle runs around in the nude (with the most private bits hidden behind towels or strategically placed bubbles) chasing this cute little mouse with a broom until he finally falls into the bathtub himself. The mouse nearly drowns but Estelle warms to him and they both end up sharing the bath together. So silly, and so much fun.
By Barbara McClintock: Emma and Julia Love Ballet
Our little one has recently started dance classes of her own, so I knew she would love this book that we brought home from the e-library. The story follows a young Emma, who is just learning how to dance, and Julia, an older professional ballerina. The two stories are told simultaneously, without the two connecting until the end. I thought this was an unusual and refreshing storytelling method, particularly for children’s books. The story is well structured to the point of bordering on boring, but it never actually gets there. I think the illustrations are so captivating (Barbara McClintock illustrated the book herself) that they tell a lot of the story on their own. There are two pages depicting the girls going through their stretches/warm up routine that are particularly neat because of the motion that McClintock captures. The same can be said for the pages depicting the ballet performance on stage, where McClintock does an excellent job portraying the grace, elegance, strength, magic, and beauty that are all part of dance. My favorite lines in the book are towards the end, when Emma is watching Julia perform: “Julia leaps, spins, and balances on her toes. She feels like her heart is flying. Emma’s heart is flying, too.” I’m not going to hide it, I may have teared up at this point. McClintock knitted these two separate stories together so beautifully right then, and spoke to the magic of experiencing something you love for the first time, and even about empathy, all in this short refrain.
By Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings: The Secret River
This was such a long read, but I will tell you the first time we read it Piper sat through the entire thing. I feel like it may have taken twenty minutes or so. The Secret River is definitely geared toward older children, but we gave it a go anyway and enjoyed it so much that we had a little project afterward where we drew fish, cut them out, put them in Piper’s plastic swimming pool and pretended to fish them out with poles made from sticks and twine and clothespins. And we’re vegetarians. The book is tightly written, with a lot of information packed into each page, but follows the story of a young girl named Calpurnia and her dog Buggy-Horse as they try to make hard times turn to “soft times” by looking for a secret river filled with cat fish that she can bring home to her poor father to sell at his fish market. Rawlings calls attention to poverty and hunger in a way that is accessible to children; the book does have some potentially frightening parts, but Calpurnia shows inner strength, cleverness, patience, perseverance and generosity throughout, which I feel is what makes this book so great for children. Calpurnia meets the local old wise woman, Mother Albirtha (love a crone!) who sends Calpurnia on her journey to begin with. Calpurnia returns with bounty to share, but can’t ever seem to find the secret river again. At this point Mother Albirtha tells Calpurnia that sometimes you find a thing when you need it, and then you never find it again. I thought this was super profound, and a lesson for adults as well as children. Love this all around. Also, GREAT fantasy illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon. Super breathtaking.
By Jon J Muth: Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons
Maybe more a favorite of mine than of Piper’s, Hi, Koo! is another one of those super simple books that also happens to be very well executed in both writing and illustrations. Every page contains its own haiku, which are brought together over a seasonal theme. My all time favorite would have to be: Friend, is that you knocking at the door? TWO! And yes, I probably, maybe, almost shed a tear over this haiku because just how wonderful is it to be greeted by surprise by not one, but two friends on a cold winter’s day? Another favorite would be: Eating warm cookies on a cold day is easy. Don’t I know it. This book is a charmer, particularly if you like panda bears as much as we do.
And then there are Piper’s current favorites:
Paddington the Artist by Michael Bond and illustrated by R.W. Alley, and Bridget’s Beret by Tom Lichtenheld.
As you can see, our little one has a penchant for the arts. Out of the two, the Paddington story is the most popular and is always in circulation during story time. Piper loves this one so much, that one morning while I was at work, Will had called me to tell me that Piper was putting up her own exhibit at home. She was taping her Paddington-inspired paintings around the dining table and trying to sell them. In the story, Paddington bear goes with Mr. Gruber to an outdoor exhibition, where Paddington is inspired to paint some of his own pieces – mainly a sunset, a storm, and a self portrait. He falls asleep trying to sell them, and Mr. Gruber buys them up unbeknownst to the little bear. The story ends happily with Paddington painting a family portrait.
Bridget’s Beret is a witty story about a little girl who loses her beret, and because of that feels as though she has also lost her ability to draw. Her friends coerce her into drawing a sign for their lemonade stand, and Bridget learns that she only had artist’s block, and she can still draw after all. The book is filled with clever quips, but be warned–some can come off as a bit abrasive. Read this bit, before Bridget discovers she can still draw: “So Bridget gave up, and did what any self-respecting artist would do. She cried. And Pouted. And sulked. And generally felt sorry for herself.” A bit awful, right? I haven’t exactly bridged this conversation with Piper yet because the rest of the book is decent, but I think the next time I read it I will have to delicately explain to her that not all artists are actually like this, and how it is a generalization that is potentially hurtful to other people—in smaller words, of course.
Well, I can see this list has gotten quite long!! I will have to continue it at another point in time. If you haven’t read them, I hope that you find them and enjoy them. If you have read them, what are your thoughts?
Happy last day of August–