Continuing with gorgeous kids’ books!
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
This is one of those extremely special books that seem to have a lot of fond memories attached. I think many of us grew up with this story and felt kind of inspired by it. It’s about a little boy who uses art to create an adventure for himself. How awesome is that?
The illustrations are fantastic, and extremely dynamic since the character is actually drawing them as the story progresses. They encourage kids to see art in a variety of different ways and to express themselves creatively. Drawing just seems so exciting and even a little dangerous and thrilling.
It’s a smart, creative story that seems to inspire kids with each generation. And, it’s also just a cool book. It’s one of those kids’ books that you find tattooed on adults, turned into theatrical productions, and given Dr. Who parodies (all of which you can find with a quick google search).
Age level: pre-k and up, and available as board book
Available for purchase: http://www.powells.com/s?kw=harold+and+the+purple+crayon&class=
Franklin Stein by Ellen Raskin
This is a wonderful, little-known book from the Newberry Award winning author of The Westing Game. It’s about an eccentric little boy who makes a giant monster sculpture. People really dislike his work, at first, and Franklin has to prove that his art is actually beautiful.
As a former art major, this might have struck home a little…
But, anyway, stories about kids learning how to express their creative voices, even if people don’t really “get” them, are always on my radar as good reads. This book, with Raskin’s witty, award-winning writing style and quirky, retro illustrations, is also just a really entertaining story.
And, again, the illustrations are wonderful. They’re very retro, “groovy” even, with fun character designs and fantastic details.
And, again, it’s about creative arts –strange, monstrous creative arts!
I think it’s really moving that Franklin just wants everyone to see his art, the monster Fred, as beautiful, and how he sticks to his belief that Fred is beautiful. That’s pretty inspirational, right there.
Age level: reading about K and up, but I think younger children would listen to the story and like the pictures.
Available for purchase: Out of print, but here’s a link to used copies. http://www.alibris.com/Franklin-Stein-Ellen-Raskin/book/2443301
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
Blueberries for Sal was always a favorite in my house. It’s just the kind of book that really works well with kids. It has a charming setting (blueberry picking with mom), a little danger (someone else loves blueberries, too!), and a great repeated refrain of berry-picking sounds that kids love to repeat! Kerplink, kerplink, kerplunk! Who doesn’t like shouting that?
I really like kids’ books that have a sort of gentle quality and leave out trying to be hip and snarky. I like it when kids’ books let kids just be… kids. It’s a special time when blueberry picking with mom is a huge adventure, and we have all of adulthood to be hip and snarky. We need more blueberry picking days.
I also like how there’s *spoilers?* two sets of moms and babies. You see, that someone else who likes blueberries is a bear cub! (I may have a thing for bears. I looked at my list of kids’s books and I was like, wow, bears, everywhere!) It’s a really great message because while there’s still a strong sense that bears are wild creatures, you also can really see the similarities between Sal’s adventure and the baby bear’s adventure. They’re both in search of the same things in the story, and that’s actually kind of a profound message.
Also, the illustrations are amazing! The characters are charming and friendly, the scenery beautiful. I love the simple line drawings and the texture. They’re just delightful pictures, and, like Where Is My Hat?, I would hang prints on my wall!
Age level: Pre-k and up
Available to Purchase: http://www.powells.com/biblio/7-9780670175918-0
Ghosts In the House by Kazuno Kohara
It’s no secret among those who know me that I love scary things. Even as a little kid, I loved scary stories. However, I also love really gentle, sweet kids’ books. So, when the two are combined, I get very happy. That’s the case in this book.
It’s about a little witch who discovers her house is infested with ghosts, like one might have an infestation of moths. So, since ghosts in this story are literally animated sheets, she washes them and puts them to use in her house. Which is absurdly hilarious.
The story about facing fears is very similar to There’s Something In My Attic, and as a kid who regularly gave herself nightmares by watching scary movies, I really appreciate this kind of moral. Now, I’ve heard some complaints about how the book supposedly is about exploiting others, like the ghosts are her slaves or something. To that I say, please! You’re taking it too seriously. It is literally and truly about ghosts, and the only moral here has to do with not being afraid. I mean, the ghosts are sheets with faces and she washes them, that’s not meant to be any colonolial symbolism or subliminal message about exploitation. Why can’t a ghost just be a ghost? And also a bed sheet?
I love the illustrations. They’re bold, extremely cute, and really creative, and I love the simple, bold designs. And the little witch and her cat are just adorable characters. Even the ghosts are pretty cute, with their simple, little smiles and dot eyes. That’s just adorable!
Age level: pre-K and up
Available to Purchase: http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-9780312608866-1
Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky
It may be obvious by now that my tastes in illustrations are kind of minimalist. I like the balance of figures on uncluttered backgrounds, and the drama of few lines. But, just as I like the sketchy pen work in There’s Something In My Attic and Owl Babies, I cannot resist this book. I mean, it’s illustrated in the style of the Italian Renaissance. How can this not be amazing? I used to love showing this to kids at the library and blowing their minds.
Talk about taking children’s books seriously! These illustrations are mind-blowing, steeped in a strong understanding of both art history and just masterful technique. I’m really glad he went for this style instead of some hokey photorealism, which usually looks creepy, in my opinion. Instead, the images are dream-like and magical –like fairytales themselves!
The story isn’t dumbed down, either. Kids don’t usually pick it up, but, yeah, Rapunzel gets pregnant in the original fairytale. That’s how she gets discovered by the witch. I’m not kidding. I remember the first time I realized that was a plot point, and it’s not one you’ll see in Tangled, that’s for sure. And, that’s pretty much what happens in this version, although Rapunzel and the Prince are secretly married at this point. Plus, there’s thorn-blinding, kidnapping, wandering in the wilderness… It’s epic, heavy stuff for kids.
But, that just seems fitting, considering the epic, heavy illustrations. And, I have yet to see a kid who wasn’t enchanted and inspired by the story.
Don Bluth, the man behind Land Before Time and other classic kids’ films, once said that you can show a child anything as long as there’s a happy ending. Classic fairytales seem to do just that, what with their high body counts, dark subject matter, and struggles for the protagonists. But, the payoff, that happy ending, just makes it so worth it!
Age Level: It’s difficult to say. The language seems like grade school and up, but the pictures are so beautiful that I’ve seen non-reading kids entranced by the story.
Available to purchase: http://www.powells.com/biblio/7-9780142301937-2