DemosNews: A Treasury of Children’s Books—Part II
A Treasury of Children’s Books—Part II
By: Sara Hartley
Amos and Boris by William Steig   See Full Picture

Once past the baby stage, a broad realm of books opens wide. Choose ones with a resonant picture on each page, and words that are relatively simple and few. Myriad themes entice: classic fairy and nursery tales, whacky Seuss, the interplay of dear friends like Frog and Toad, little tykes (human, animal or mechanical) who save the day, the mood of particular colors and the sounds of words, riddles and puns, predicaments, (slightly) scary moments, hidden things to find, names of everything, rascals, even directions for politeness. Illustrations may be simple or rich, but I’ve found that artsy abstract ones fall flat. Kids relish and peer deep into recognizable detail. Pop-ups contribute a newly beguiling trove, now that age tempers their being torn straight to bits.

No easy task to pare down a list of favorites; so many lit up my youth and that of my offspring:

  • The Great Blueness and Other Predicaments (Arnold Lobel, 1968)
    The author’s popular Frog and Toad series, Owl at Home, Mouse Tails, and Mouse Soup are treasures of tender friendship, feelings, and little fears. But Blueness, less well known, casts a special and enduring spell all its own. It plumbs the subtle flavors that colors impart to the soul and tenor of our being. In a delightful fairy tale, Lobel imagines a world cast only in blues, or shades of red, or yellows, and hazards its impact on the mood and actions of the populace.
  • Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (Virginia Lee Burton, 1939)
    Burton always injects the underdog and old ways with humanity, excitement and warmth. In this story, the whole community rallies and cheers as the gutsy old steam shovel and her master trump new diesel powerhouses. But what to do when she’s dug herself into a hole?? All resolves at last in a most satisfying manner. A colleague of mine became a fine marine builder as an adult precisely because he adored as a child this story of hands-on independence (and yes, he nicknamed his own small working crane Mary Anne.)
  • George and Martha (James Marshall, a series of slim books 1972 to 1988)
    G and M are two very close friends (hippopotami)— jealous, boasting, caring, coaxing, comforting. Who can forget the scary movie with George hiding under the seat, white as a ghost!
  • CDB, CDC, Amos and Boris (William Steig, 1968, 1984, 1971)
    These volumes provide an easy toe-in to marvelous Steig’s output that little ones can grasp. Voice the letters of the first two titles and their picture captions aloud, view the simple accompanying line drawings, and the connection is made: “CDB”– kids gazing at buzzing insect; “CDC”– dad points to rolling waves and a ship; “I N-V U”… Amos and Boris blossoms into a full fledged Steig storybook: mouse and whale, rescue at sea, wonderment at the great universe, warm camaraderie. Many other delicious Steig children’s books ensue (he continued to write and illustrate for 35 more years until his death at 96 years), but I leave mention of these for the next list because their words are rich for very small fry. If you happen to pass through New York prior to 16 March 2008, or San Francisco June 8 to September 7, treat yourself to the exhibition "From the New Yorker to Shrek: the Art of William Steig." Beautiful original drawings and watercolors represent him both as adult cartoonist (120 covers and 1600 drawings published in the New Yorker alone!) and child mesmerist.
  • The Tall Book of Nursery Tales (1944); The Tall Book of Fairy Tales (1947)
    This pair sets forth the needful repertoire of classic tales with nice old illustrations in a funky, vertical format. Funny isn’t it that shape or scale often renders an object or book especially endearing.
  • The Teddy Bear’s Picnic (Jimmy Kennedy; illus. Alexandra Day, 1983)
    This perfectly wonderful original has been reissued (and degraded) with pictures by a different artist and without the enclosed vinyl record!! Not only were the old illustrations warm, fuzzy and inviting, but the little LP tucked into the back flap cranked out two run-throughs of the old-time Teddy Bear’s Picnic song: "If you go down in the woods today you're sure of a big surprise. If you go down in the woods today you'd better go in disguise…" Their rhythm and sound have lodged firmly and evocatively in our ears for years, à la petit madeleine.
  • Garth Pig and the Ice Cream Lady (Mary Rayner, 1977)
    Funny, a scary predicament, full of juice and charm.
  • Dr. Seuss
    My favorites: The Five Hundred Hats of Bartholemew Cubbins (1938), King’s Stilts (1939), Horton Hatches the Egg (1940), Thidwick, the Big- Hearted Moose (1948), Bartholomew and the Oobleck (1949). Not only the loopy, spirited line drawings, not only the goofy conceits, but also their distinctive hurtling rhythm make these books a delight to read aloud and to hear and see. Beloved by every kid, rich or poor, sophisticated or no.
  • The Hat (Tomi Ungerer, 1970)
    Such a funny thread of continuity organizes this story, a shiny black top hat flying through the air that settles on one character after another, spreading its magic.
  • Best Word Book Ever (Richard Scarry, 1963)
    Seemingly endless, small, warmly drawn images of foods, implements, vehicles, furnishings, occupations etc, each named, crowd the pages. They cluster within a happy context of everyday communal life, peopled by cheery animal folk. Kids love to hear and retain each careful identification
  • Where’s Waldo? (Martin Handford, 1987)
    Who would dream that young ones would love Waldo. The crammed visuals make an adult’s head spin. But kids spend hours happily searching out the tiny striped fellow, tickled at the tumult.
  • Haunted House (Jan Pienkowski, 1979)
    The absolute best ever pop-up. Every child adores to make the crocodile’s jaws yaw up from the bathtub, spaghetti spill from the icebox, poisons swirl, a skeleton stride out from the closet, sawing sounds creak in the attic…
  • Amelia Bedelia (Peggy Perrish, a series of slim books 1963 to 1988)
    Whacky circumstances fueled by puns entangle the dear dizzy housekeeper as she adheres precisely to her words of instruction, but a lovely pie always ensures a happy denouement.
  • Travels of Babar (Jean de Brunhoff, 1937)
    the elephants’ painted derrieres!
  • Curious George Takes a Job (H.A. Rey, 1947)
    the ether!

© 2018 Sara Hartley of DemosNews

December 28, 2007 at 11:56am
DemosRating: 5
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Genre: Arts (Leads)
Type: Creative
Tags: , kids, nursery, rhymes, fairy, tales, picture, books, pop-ups

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