The Wall in the Middle of the Book
Jon Agee and Tommie dePaola probably were not thinking about politicians or government shut downs when they wrote these picture books for children, but maybe they were trying to ingrain some thoughtfulness into children at a young age – hoping it would stick with them into adulthood.
Agee’s The Wall in the Middle of the Book is supposed to protect one side of the book from the other. The key words are “supposed to.” A brick wall runs down the spine in the center of book, and the action takes place on both sides. As the “safe” side slowly disintegrates and floods, the knight is forced over to the other side, where he thinks the monsters will eat him. Surprise – no one eats him and he makes new friends, What a waste of five billion dollars to build the wall. Preconceived notions about things and people, over a boundary or otherwise, are often distinctly wrong.
Tommie dePaola’s Quiet has a clear message for all adults tired of listening to the news or rushing around trying to perfect the holiday celebrations for all – “To be quiet and still is a special thing.” The little girl says, “I can think when I am quiet.” The little boy says, “I can see when I am still.”
For all those who know the beauty of quiet – pass it on to others.
This year, for the first time in their 65 years of identifying the best illustrated children’s books for the year, the New York Times partnered with the New York Public Library. The books range from informative historical notes to mesmerizing introspection. I found one in my local library, and ordered two for my shelf – a Christmas present to myself.
My favorite is Feather written and illustrated by Remi Courgeon, about a feisty girl who learns how to box to defend herself from bullies. After she wins a match, she returns to her first love – playing Mozart on the piano.
In Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin’s King of the Sky, a racing homing pigeon and an old man help a lost immigant boy from Italy finally feel at home in the United States.
In Beatrice Alemagna’s On a Magical Do-Nothing Day, a little girl is sent outside to play on a rainy day. After she accidentally loses her handheld video game, she discovers the wonders of the world around her.
The Ten Best Illustrated Books of 2017
from the New York Times and the New York Public Library
- Muddy: The story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters
- Ruth Bader Ginsberg: The Case of R.B.G vs Inequality
- Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos
- On a Magical Do-Nothing Day
- The Way Home in the Night
- King of the Sky
- Town Is By the Sea
- A River
Catching up with the New Yorker recently, I not only laughed out loud at Rivka Glachen’s profile of children’s author and illustrator Mo Willems – Funny Failures – but also connected to this children’s author’s wry outlook. I needed to find his books.
A quick search showed ninety-eight of his titles in my local library system, so I returned to the article to note those highlighted in the five page article. Two have won Caldecott Honors – Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (2004) and Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (2005). Another I added, just to meet the elephant and the pig in We Are in a Book.
Knuffle Bunny may remind you of the last time you lost something in the laundry; the pigeon is hilarious – what’s the first thing any child wants to do when told not to? As for the elephant and the pig, I dare you not to say “BANANA” when you read their book.
Although Willems’ books are identified as Easy Readers, in the same vein as Eric Carle or P.D. Eastman, his animals are funny in their anxiety and resilient in their failures – a lesson for adults as well as children. Give yourself a laugh; find Mo Willems.
From Harvey, the invisible rabbit, to Goldie, the unicorn in Pinkalicious, imaginary friends have been floating through literature – getting children and adults into trouble, and saving them from loneliness. Brandon Mull, the author of the Fablehaven fantasy series, uncovers Pingo, an imaginary friend who reappears in old age.
Illustrated by Brandon Dorman, Pingo resembles a feisty Hobbit with a tail. He entices the young boy into exciting adventures, until Chad becomes susceptible to peer pressure, and decides he is too old for silly play. Pingo still gets the blame for Chad’s mistakes and pitfalls, playing the role of most imaginary friends who take the heat, but eventually, Pingo fades into the background of Chad’s adult life. Until…
Chad becomes an old man and needs unconditional love again – and someone to talk to.
Who can say that it isn’t Pingo or one of his contemporaries that hides the keys when we cannot find them? Everyone needs a friend.
- Fablehaven (nochargebookbunch.com)
Have you ever seen a flower or weed struggling through a crack in the concrete? On the Big Island of Hawaii, new plant life emerges from the ash and cinders of the 1959 eruption of the volcano on Devastation Trail, a place named for its bare landscape. The power of plants to stun us with their resilience and beauty is the theme of Peter Brown’s picture book – The Curious Garden.
Brown uses Manhattan’s old Highline elevated train tracks, long unused and now overgrown with wildflowers and trees as his inspiration for a little boy’s dream to beautify the city. Finding some struggling wildflowers among the deserted train tracks in the “dreary city without gardens,” Liam decides to help by being their gardener. Eventually, the garden takes over, changing the gray city into a magnificent green world.
Brown’s text is simple and easy, with his art dominating most of the pages. The city transforms gradually, with Liam taming the plants that pop up “where they didn’t belong” – on fire hydrants and stop signs, and enlisting “new gardeners” for rooftop displays all over Manhattan’s skyscrapers. The last two facing pages open to gardens everywhere among the skyline.
The Curious Garden is a wonderful way to introduce children to the possibility of gardens anywhere and everywhere, and to remind adults that being green may just be helping nature take its course.