Friday, August 28, 2015

Going to another Baby Shower? 12 more suggestions!

So many of my friends are having babies, I want to buy them all stacks of books! Since that is not financially feasible, I’m making a new list of suggestions. If you'd like to see the other lists I've made of children's books, scroll down to the bottom. I'll put the links there! These are all picture books: six are wordless, or nearly so, and six are books that have a special focus on language.

In The Town All Year Round by Rotraut Susanne Berner

This book is dozens of stories in one. Each spread in this oversized book is full of characters and activity, and you can follow the same characters from page to page as their story unfolds. The older man dropped his keys while he was on his run? On the next page the little girl is catching up to return them! It reminds me a little bit of Richard Scarry (without the text) or Where's Waldo (with stories!). It's a real treasure.

Actual Size by Steve Jenkins

This big book is full of pictures of animals shown at actual size. From giant butterflies to tiny fish, the hands of gorillas or the foot of an elephant this is a science book without feeling like a science book. The illustrations are beautiful painted paper cuttings, and they look almost three dimensional. Steve Jenkins's books about animals are always great, but this is my favorite for its simplicity.

Tuesday by David Wiesner

This book made me want to be a children's book illustrator when I was younger. I've loved nearly all of David Wiesner's books, but Tuesday's story of the frogs and their flying lily pads is charming, hilarious, and incredibly beautiful.

Wave by Suzy Lee

My mother-in-law bought me this book one year as a birthday present. It is painted in black and white and blue, and tells the story of a girl and the water one summer's day. The gestures and emotions are so clear and bright. It's a smaller book, not very tall but quite long, so that the spreads of the sea are open and wide, and feel just right.

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

A retelling of the old fable of the lion and the mouse, and how the two are able to help each other. The vast glowing watercolors won Pinkney the Caldecott award, and no wonder. It's the sort of book where you can imagine getting an extra copy to cut up and frame, each spread is so beautiful.

Noah’s Ark by Peter Spier

I grew up with Peter Spier's books and love them for their honesty. You don't usually see Noah's Ark books that include Noah shoveling elephant dung, or the animals looking cooped up and irritable. Some pages have many illustrations per page; some have just one big image over the whole spread. He manages to convey both the enormous scale of the water, the giant ark made tiny in comparison, but also the minute details which make life interesting.

So those are some great books which focus on the pictures, and here are some books I love that give special attention to language.

Max’s Words by Kate Banks

I came across this book in college in my children's lit class and I absolutely love it. Max's two older brothers collect things, one coins, the other stamps, but Max doesn't know what to collect. He decides to collect words, and discovered that they are much, much more interesting than coins or stamps. Through the book he and his brothers become better friends, and the illustrations are just right—full of potential's blank spaces.

Ounce Dice Trice by Alastair Reid

I have never read anything quite like Ounce Dice Trice, and that is a shame, because it is incredible. Creative nonsense in the style of Ogden Nash. I've included the page suggesting names for elephants; he also offers alternative titles for each finger, new ways of counting (ounce, dice, trice is the start of one such example), and there are also lists of squishy words and of group noun words. Gundulum of garbage cans, anyone? It's a fantastic read aloud and while kids will love it, it's the grown ups who will really be in for a treat.

Poems for the Very Young selected by Michael Rosen

Disclaimer: I have not actually read this book. I was going to recommend a different book by Michael Rosen, another collection of poetry, when I saw that he did an anthology for very young children—it seemed more in fitting with the rest of this list of suggestions. Every book I have ever read from this man is excellent, and his care and precision with language is wonderful, so even though I have not opened it myself, it seems like the best book I can suggest full of poetry for little ones. If you've read it, I would love to hear what you think!

The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket

Lemony Snicket regularly and explicitly works to broaden the vocabulary of his readers. This book opens with one of his signature phrases. It begins, "'Composer' is a word which here means 'a person who sits in a room, muttering and humming and figuring out what notes the orchestra is going to play.' This is called composing. But last night, the Composer was not muttering. He was not humming. He was not moving, or even breathing. This is called decomposing." My favorite of his books, The Composer is Dead is part mystery, part introduction to the orchestra, and entirely excellent. It comes with a cd so you can listen to the music written for the story, and hear the story read out loud.
Amos and Boris by William Steig

Like Lemony Snicket, William Steig makes sure to introduce children to excellent vocabulary, but just works them into his text. When I was reading it for the first time as an adult, I needed to find out what a "phosphorescent sea" was, because phosphorescent wasn't a word I had known. The sentences are just easy to savor. It's the story of a mouse and a whale who become friends and each save the other's life—when the whale is beached, little Amos "races back with two of the biggest elephants he could find." It's that sort of beautiful understatement that I love in this book. Can't get enough of it.

Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss

Last but not least is the wild tongue twister Fox in Socks. Dr. Seuss's books freaked me out a little as a kid. I remember being so affected by a low-tech film version of The Lorax that I was afraid to go in the library it came from—but this one is all about trying to say tricky things. It's great fun to read aloud and faster every time!

Did I miss your favorite wordless book or book cherishing words? What are some other books you like? Let me know in the comments!

If you are interested in more lists of kids books:

12 book suggestions for Babies
More books from authors you already know
Books to make kids laugh
Books dealing with race (feel free to skip my uncomfortable thoughts and go right to the list at the end)
10 best books about Shakespeare

And here's the list of books all together:

In The Town All Year Round by Rotraut Susanne Berner
Actual Size by Steve Jenkins
Tuesday by David Wiesner
Wave by Suzy Lee
The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
Noah’s Ark by Peter Spier
Max’s Words by Kate Banks
Ounce Dice Trice by Alastair Reid
Poems for the Very Young selected by Michael Rosen
The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket
Amos and Boris by William Steig
Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Who's Your Driver? Thoughts about Feelings

Riley's driver is Joy
A couple weeks ago I saw the new Pixar movie Inside Out, and was as I expected, moved to laughter and tears, but like the best Pixar movies it also made me think a lot. In the movie, we follow a 10 year old named Riley, and we experience her life mostly through her emotions (the characters, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust.) Without telling too much of the plot of the movie, one of the interesting things for me was the little peeks we get into other character's brains. For most of her life it seems like Riley's driver (the emotion in charge of the control desk in her mind) is Joy, but when we get to see into Riley's mom's head, her driver is sadness, and Riley's dad's driver is anger.

Riley's parents' emotions
When my friend Linden asked me and Owen, "Who's your driver?" it surprised me to find that recently the emotion driving me forward has been fear. That weird little purple character in the movie, frightened of everything. In a lot of my life I think I've varied between different dominant emotions—it's a pleasure to have had joy as a driver for so much of my life—but I like that one of the messages of the movie is that it's okay to have another emotion taking a turn at the wheel. In Inside Out, Joy keeps trying to push Sadness away, out of Riley's head, and that's a really normal thing in our culture. The number one thing parents want is for their children to "be happy" but this movie says (and I think they're right) that sometimes you need to be sad. And when you are sad, sometimes you really need to express that, and you need people you trust and love, who will still love you even if you're not feeling the way they wish you could feel. (For more on this topic see the excellent book, How to Talk so Kids will Listen, and Listen so Kids will Talk.)

But what does it mean to have fear as my driver? Nothing makes me feel more like a child than fear. When I had lived in the Netherlands nine months, I melted down sobbing because I was afraid that (not kidding) no one would come to my birthday party. People did come, and I had a wonderful birthday that year, but looking back I am amazed at quite how scary the thought of "I have no friends" could be, even as an adult. A lot of the experiences that helped me mature into an adult were doing things that frightened me or seemed challenging in some way, and then excelling in those challenges. Now that I am an adult, life is scary in different ways. The next step isn't usually clear. My support system doesn't necessarily have experience in my situation, and so it's hard for me to parse through the various advice I'm getting. Instead of people around me telling me to go ahead and take the challenging opportunity, there is so much cautious advice. When I was younger I felt like everyone was telling me to reach for the stars, and now there's a lot more "that sounds like a lot of work, be careful—don't get too involved, are you able to pay for that? How will that work with having kids?" Not exactly advice to combat fear.

In her book, Bossypants, Tina Fey tells some of the hurdles in her own life in hilarious and compelling detail. Near the end of the book she compares her own paralyzing anxiety about her work and the possibility of having a second child to two small Greek children her mother once babysat. These children had never been out of their parents' care in their entire lives, and were desperate, crying inconsolably. After hours of this, the seven year old Christo cries out in Greek to his little sister, "Oh! My Maria! What is to become of us?" which send's Tina's mother running out of the room in a fit of laughter. Those children are going to be fine. Tina Fey's gynecologist tells her simply, "Either way, everything will be fine." It took hearing those words for her to see that (to anyone with a real problem) she must look like the terrified Greek children; nothing to worry about, but worried out of her mind. Either way, everything will be fine. "But, but, but, what if it's not?" I still want to ask. "What if something terrible happens? What if the thing you desperately want isn't the thing you get? What if you work, and work, and work, and nothing comes of it? What is the people you trust and the things you depend on turn out to be not as dependable as you thought?"

Children's book edition of Maya Angelou's poem
In the Psalms, I read that my feet are set on solid ground. That God is my refuge and strength, if mountains are thrown into the depths of the sea—even then "we will not fear." And on one hand I believe it, but it is also hard, because I do fear—even when the mountains are firmly rooted in place. Elsewhere I hear that perfect love casts out fear, and I believe that too, and I am glad that loving is something I can do, something others already do around me to build courage, and tear down fears. Right now, I'm going to try to be gentle. Gentle with other people, and gentle with myself in the face of fear. But I will also try to check in and see which of my emotions is driving as I make decisions. One of my friends wrote me an email full of stories from her life, but also a bit of strong encouragement. She says she tries hard not to let fear control her decision making, and I'd like to do the same.

Life Doesn't Frighten Me by Maya Angelou (excerpt)

Don’t show me frogs and snakes
And listen for my scream,
If I’m afraid at all
It’s only in my dreams.

I’ve got a magic charm
That I keep up my sleeve
I can walk the ocean floor
And never have to breathe.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all
Not at all
Not at all.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all.