Beautiful, Unusual Children’s Books 6

Persephone – Sally Pomme Clayton (writer) and Virgina Lee (illustrator)

Persephone

Part 1:

For those who do not know this Greek myth, or may not remember it, it begins in this way:

Persephone is the daughter of Demeter, the harvest-goddess. One day when she is wandering alone, Persephone is abducted by Hades, the god of the dead. He takes her to the Underworld where he declares that she will be his queen.

In the above-world, Demeter is bereft at the loss of her child. When she learns that Persephone is trapped inside the earth, she becomes furious. She then curses the land to be barren until her daughter returns. 

I won’t write the whole tale here. But that introduction is enough to know that that is how winter first came to be.

Part 2:

The story of Persephone has been on my mind since the beginning of 2013. I think I know the reason for this: that charming, lovely scene from David Almond’s My Name Is Mina, when nine-year old Mina McKee calls to Persephone and asks her to come back so that the goddess can end an especially cold England winter.

My Name Is Mina is my new favorite book, and I think that scene was the part I liked best. It made me want to revisit the original myth. So, it was to my joy that I found Clayton’s version at the local library. (The cover was so enticing! I couldn’t leave the book alone.)

Part 3:

Is Clayton’s version identical to the original Greek telling? Honestly, I don’t know. There may be a few deviations, but to the best of my memory, it’s identical (or close enough) to the Greek form. It’s not embellished in any way that I could tell. The story is written simply and clearly, as I think it should be. Persphone’s tale is not about complex, psychological motivations. The focus is on the events of the story itself, how a young goddess was robbed of the life she knew and how her fate affected the entire world.

I don’t wish to say too much on the illustrations. They really are impressive, and I’d rather you be surprised (and maybe awed) when you see them for yourselves. I will say this though: Virginia Lee’s illustrations are a perfect complement to the Persephone story.

First of all, they are done in the classical Greek art style, the kind you might see on pottery.

Red Figure

Secondly, each one manages to perfectly convey a mood or an atmosphere in the story, from innocence to horror… even to utter bleakness, as when Demeter covers the world in winter.

Demeter covers the world in winter.

Part 4:

I think the myth of Persephone is beautiful. It is a sad story, and a dark one, but it’s filled with brightness, like Demeter’s love and relentless searching for the daughter who was lost. Ultimately, it’s a hopeful tale. Yes, winter must come, but spring will always return.

As will Persephone.

Reading level: K+
Available for purchase: http://www.powells.com/biblio/61-9780802853493-0

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Beautiful, Unusual Children’s Books 5

I had some technical difficulties and couldn’t upload images for a while. Here’s the next in the list of lovely child-appropriate material.

Andrew Henry’s Meadow by Doris Burn

Andrew_Henry's_Meadow_1st_Edition_cover

This is a very special book for me. It’s one that I loved as a child. I loved the black and white illustrations with the beautiful negative space and detailed figures. I loved the drawings of nature. And, I loved the story! What kid can’t relate to this? A young boy wants to be an inventor, but his pursuits tend to make messes in the house and one day his family gets fed up and yells at him. He takes this hard, and decides he will found his own town where he will be an inventor. Along the way, he meets other unusual, misunderstood kids –musicians, artists, collectors of dandelion seeds– and they form a colony in a meadow. Then, the parents realize the children are missing and go look for them. When they see the meadow, they come to appreciate their children’s unusual gifts and their kids realize that they missed their families. And so they are reunited.

andrew-henry-thumb

It’s a very imaginative book, and one that I remember finding fairly inspirational as a kid. It is also a very sweet, gentle book, which makes sense as the author/artist created it for her son. I absolutely love children’s books that take the readers seriously and give them something beautiful, and I also love it when kids’ media isn’t all hip and cynical. This is a lovely, gentle story, and a beautiful one, and one I remember fondly!

book

Age level: probably K+
Available for purchase: http://www.powells.com/s?kw=andrew+henry%27s+meadow&class=

Beautiful, Unusual Children’s Books, 4

Press Here by Herve Tullet

press here

It’s an interactive book that isn’t!

Let me explain, while the book instructs readers to press dots, shake the pages, and so on, the book actually doesn’t change. The dynamic graphic designs, however, do give the impression that the book is coming alive in your hands. It’s about as close to having a magic book as you can get!

dot

press-here3

That’s really the whole thing. You shake the book and the dots change. Which is surprisingly entertaining and beautiful. Think cool, experimental minimalist art project for children.

Age Level: Really any age, since it’s the sort of book that can be adapted to suit whatever the reader wants.

Available for purchase: http://www.powells.com/s?kw=press+here&class=

Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Barbara Firth

little bear

Like the other Martin Waddell book on the list, Owl Babies, this one deals with a typical children’s problem, the inability to sleep in the dark. And, like Owl Babies, Waddell doesn’t downplay this problem as no big deal. In fact, the entire story feels kind of grand and epic, this increasing quest to find the perfect nightlights and the eventual contemplation of the moon in the night sky. Also, like Owl Babies, it’s a comforting story where the baby character eventually feels safe. It was a favorite story in my house, and I remember my little sister asking for it again and again when we were kids.

The illustrations are really charming and sweet without being cutesy. The bear’s cave is part actual cave part recognizable children’s bedroom, and, kind of like Miss Suzy’s house, I remember wanting to live there. The gentle, muted colors, clean line work, and increasing light from the lanterns helps create this cozy, moody feeling that kind of perfectly works for a bedtime story. Plus, it has bears. I love bears.

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Age level: Pre-K and up

Available for purchase: http://www.powells.com/s?kw=can%27t+you+sleep+little+bear%3F&class=

Stagecoach Sal by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Carson Ellis

sal3

Stagecoach Sal is a beautiful Western adventure story. I discovered it through library work and was delighted with the way it blended folk art illustrations and some fun adventure.

I absolutely love Carson Ellis as an illustrator and fine artist, and her work here is stellar, full of her beautiful linework details, smooth coloring, and charming characters. Like several others on this list, I would hang these illustrations on my wall. In fact, I actually own a poster by Carson Ellis, although it’s for a Decemberists concert and not from this book. Needless to say, she’s one of my very favorite illustrators!

stagecoach

Stagechoach Sal is also based on a true story, so it’s one of those educational books that also works as a genuinely fun read.

Age level: K+

Available for purchase: http://www.powells.com/biblio/2-9781423111498-4

ABCs by Charley Harper

charlie-harper

If you’re an illustration fan and want to find a really beautiful and unusual alphabet book, this one is pretty incredible. I love the designs, the simple shapes the form the images, the color planes, the balance of the figures… These are, again, works that I would buy as prints. But, they also make really pleasing illustrations for the alphabet.

e

The images are colorful and charming, with pictures of animals for each letter. Unlike many alphabet books, it doesn’t try to be cutesy or really attention grabbing. It’s very calm, and seems to take kids very seriously.

dog

I think a lot of adults have really gotten into this book, which, considering it has barely any text other than the alphabet, is kind of saying something. The images are just really beautiful.

He also has a similar 1 2 3s book and book of colors, both of which are beautiful.

Age level: pre-k, board book

Available for purchase: http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-9781934429075-9