The children’s section is so full of goodness right now that we’re afraid it’s going to burst. Our only hope is to pipe the overflow onto the blog and hope the valves hold. One post from Miriam wasn’t nearly enough, so now I’m doing my part, and we may have to post more before the flood subsides. Stand back.
The Silver Button by Bob Graham: For my money, Bob Graham is the best in the business at depicting real life in print. Despite his relatively sparse, cartoonish drawing style, his characters come across as individuals and his settings seem like physical locations, not backdrops. Even when the subject is fanciful, as in April and Esme: Tooth Fairies, a sense of verisimiltude pervades. Those fairies may live in a tree stump, but you can see that there are chores required to keep the household running, and that their mission to collect a tooth isn’t a lark, but part of an ongoing career.
In his most recent book, The Silver Button, Graham’s eye for detail is as sharp as it’s ever been. Which is fortunate, because he’s stripped almost everything else away—there are no plot pyrotechnics on display, and no protagonist to follow. Instead he elevates daily life and brings it to our full attention. Things begin in an apartment that’s both typical and particular, as an older sister draws a duck and her younger brother rises to take his first step. The camera draws back page by page to show how much else is happening at exactly the same moment: kids play in the park, a bird finds a worm, shoppers visit stores, and so on. It’s a whirlwind tour of an instant in time that winds up back in the room where it starts, with a proud new toddler and a budding artist eager to show mom their new skills.
Where kids’ books are concerned, I’m as big a fan of wild imagination as there is, but I also savor those that hold a mirror up to children’s lives. Which, by the way, are mostly lived in cities these days. There’s nothing wrong with portraying farms and fields, but I prefer an urban emphasis for accuracy. Graham gets that, and that’s why The Silver Button is a triumph of the quotidian.
Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszcka and Mac Barnett: Scieszcka has long been a champion for young male readers, realizing that a lot of boys aren’t too crazy about books. He has a real knack for finding subjects of interest to boys and shares their sense of humor. He and his co-author have done it again with this project, although the illustrator, Matthew Myers, should be considered at least their creative equal here. The concept may belong to the writers, but it’s the perfect execution of the art that makes Battle Bunny work.
When you pick up a copy, you’ll think at first that you’re holding a vintage picture book that tells a rather saccharine tale. The forest creatures are preparing for their friend’s birthday. But some bored, imaginative kid has defaced the pictures and altered the text to his liking. The Birthday Bunny has become the Battle Bunny, out to rule the woodland as a dictator: ”Crow swooped down. ‘I am saving
shiny pebbles for my Sparkly Nest the forest from your Evil Plan. And I have will just finish ed you off my collection with my megatron bombs!’”
Before it’s over, ninjas, rocket ships, and a robot squirrel appear, but only the graffiti artist himself can ultimately defeat B
irthdayattle Bunny. It’s an absolutely convincing presentation and great fun to read. Kids well past the usual age for picture books will find it highly amusing.
Snowflakes Fall by Patricia MacLachlan: This is another joint production—illustrator Steven Kellogg worked closely with the author on the creation of this book, which makes the uniqueness of snowflakes a metaphor for childhood: “Each one a pattern / All its own— / No two the same— / All beautiful.” The pictures that accompany the text show kids delighting in wintry scenes, and in the realization that the melting of the snow will bring new growth as the season changes. To a child, Snowflakes Fall is an unclouded, joyful celebration of nature and youth, a pure pleasure to read aloud with a parent or grandparent.
Adults see through different eyes, however, and may be moved by this book in ways kids don’t need to understand. Kellogg has lived for decades near the Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut, and Snowflakes Fall is his and MacLachlan’s response to the terrible event that took place there last year. For them the book is a memorial, almost a prayer, and a way to retain hope while processing grief.
It may sound strange to use a children’s book as the medium for dealing with these issues, but don’t be put off. The knowledge of what happened at Newtown remains where it belongs, entirely external to the pages. It can only enrich, not intrude on, your appreciation of the book. Anyone of any age who wants to employ Snowflakes Fall as a tool for coping with loss will find that it unlocks emotion and understanding with admirable simplicity. I can’t imagine a more graceful tribute.