As much as I have read big books with difficult grown-up themes recently, I have also fallen in love with beautiful picture books for kids. Pictures draw you in first, and then the short texts need to be straightforward and powerful. In stressful, busy times, picture books offer a moment of beauty and escapism to the tired, frazzled brain, and it works equally well on parents and children.
I still read aloud to my youngest son every night before he goes to sleep, and I enjoy my weekly trip to the library to stock up on 15 picture books of every genre. Of course, some are just twaddle, but others are pure gems of art and poetry. I am quite good at not buying adult books, but weirdly enough I can’t resist buying beautiful picture books! These are my latest discoveries:
How to Live Forever by Colin Thompson (1995) both for text and illustrations. It’s a magical book for any book lover: imagine a secret world that lives on a library shelf! tiny characters who live inside books! book spines shaped like doll houses! Because the pages are so full of books and details, you can literally spend hours poring over the tiny houses made of books with whimsical titles (inspired by real books, with so many puns). The story itself is a melancholy quest by young hero Peter who wants to find the only book missing from the shelves, and who actually bears the same title as the book you have in hand (oh, metafiction for kids!) A bit like Mirrorstone by Michael Palin, the story is less interesting than the world and the unforgettable images that the author has built. It was quite a hit for mother and son alike.
Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats (1964). I was seduced first by the vivid colors, not only on the cover but on each page. Having a black child as a main character is also unusual (I learnt online that Keats was one of the first writers to do it) and I loved the effectiveness of the story that only requires a few words to build a plot. For anyone who has seen his/her child frustrated with whistling, the story, simple as it is, rings very true. It’s one of those skills that you don’t know how to explain, until they know how to do it by themselves.
Le Bois dormait by Rébecca Dautremer (2016) is a splendid variation on Sleeping Beauty. In French we say “the beauty of the sleeping grove”, highlighting the villagers who are asleep because of the evil curse. This book’s title is “The grove slept” (only one letter away from “the sleeping grove”) and in this version, the beautiful princess is not the focus of the story, but the whole village, stuck in a beginning-of-the-20th-century slumber.The book alternates between a white page with only two characters etched with a simple pencil line on the left, and the opposite page in colorful , luscious painting. On the left, two men are walking and speaking about what they discover on the right page. We only get to hear what the funny, plump character say to his genteel companion, who might well be a prince (wink wink). The paintings are so atmospheric and full of melancholy, and the text is both poetic and slightly ironic. This one is a keeper!