We have a guest post today from Jay Bushara who has started a new website dedicated to discovering and celebrating the very best children's books, ones that ar hard to find at big box bookstores. Find out about his site and some of his picks for the best children's books this summer. Thanks, Jay!
Children’s picture books are often useful, sometimes glorious, and they are everywhere, the stuff left over from growing up and moving on, proverbial needles in the hay.
Too often we settle for the hay. This is understandable. Still, new parents in particular are likely to be become disenchanted if they go looking for the magic of children’s literature amid the piles and glittery profiles of Hannah Montana biographies and Dora & Diego tie-ins and those books by Madonna where none of the characters have noses - what the heck happened to their noses? Consider, also, books deriving from major motion pictures. What is it these books are meant to accomplish, except, of course, Encourage Reading? Why would anyone choose to look at a photograph of Darth Vader if they can listen to James Earl Jones and that creepy respirator whenever they want with a monthly subscription to Netflix?
The traffic in pallid substitutes seems a self-defeating proposition at best, at worst a little smarmy and disingenuous. We all might do better – consumers and makers and foisters, yes, you – by remembering what it is that books, or good books anyway, do unequivocally well. Lucasfilms can, amazingly, send you hurtling through time warps, but all of their horses and all of their men still cannot assemble a physical landscape as vital and fiercely original as the artwork of our boldest children’s illustrators and best storytellers, many of them featured at onepotato.net:
As Christopher Myers’ in Wings, about the new kid in school, an outcast. Who flies.
As Vladimir Radunsky’s in Where the Giant Sleeps, about the bedtime habits of goblins, wizards and ogres.
As Maira Kalman’s in Hey Willy, See the Pyramids about the stories – of eccentric characters and exotic destinations - a girl tells her brother in the middle of the night.
As Stian Hole’s in Garmann's Summer, about a boy whose summer – with ladybugs, aunts and the fruits of his madcap imagination – is coming to a melancholy end.
All of these illustrations are the stuff of dreams, good, bad, mysterious - but impossible? If dreams - as we are interminably reminding our children - can sometimes come true, then why not supply them with the widest, most fanciful palate?
And words. Let’s give them words. To sing to, to puzzle with, to live by. To circle and remember the smallest of details in the grandest of stories - well, that is a gift, but also a responsibility. The Lorax – arguably the Lawrence of Arabia of children’s picture books – takes about fourteen minutes to read, and ends with an admonition that somehow manages to clarify the difference between a bungled, regrettable history and the stuff we can actually change:
UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
Jay Bushara is a father and full-time caregiver to twelve- and six-year-old boys. You can read his blog about the adventures of finding, reading, and rejoicing in children's picture books at onepotato.net.