Children’s books that both tell beautiful stories — whether they’re of small yet courageous mice or artists flitting around Paris in the 1920s — have always captivated me and been part of our bedtime reading ritual. Here are few that I especially adore:
I bought Amos and Boris for my then two-year-old for two reasons: author William Steig uses the word phosphorescent to describe the sea (and when do you REALLY see phosphorescent used in books that target toddlers and young children?) and the illustrations are gorgeous. The story is about Amos, a mouse, and Boris, a whale, who quickly become life-long friends after Boris saves Amos after a shipwreck. Eventually Amos is able to return the life-saving favor, and the two never see each other again. CUE TEARS.
The Three Questions is based on Leo Tolstoy’s short story of the same title. In this version young Nikolai asks three questions — What is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do — and receives his answer via a series of events that transpire with his animal friends. All of the illustrations are done with watercolors, and the book itself feels so simultaneously light and heavy that you’ll forget it’s an adaptation for kids. Seriously.
Paris in the Spring with Picasso is just fun — it’s kind of like the movie Midnight in Paris, but it’s a book! For kids! You traipse around Paris and visit with Gertrude Stein, who is getting ready for a party she’s throwing that evening while Apollinaire and Max Jacob are writing and Picasso is painting in a corner. The book also drops plenty of French, so you can use it as an opportunity to add a dash of bilingualism to your kidlet’s life.
I’m a big-time fan of John Muth’s effort to turn famous Bob Dylan songs into children’s books. My favorite (so far) is Blowin’ in the Wind (others include Man Gave Names to All the Animals Forever Young) for the simple fact that the watercolor (again!) illustrations are jaw-droppingly beautiful. The amount of time spent on each and the sheer dedication of the illustrator is palpable, and the large size of the book makes you feel like you’re reading something beyond a child’s comprehension — but it’s not. Reading this book definitely opened my son’s mind to a few new questions (“How many years can some people exist/Before they’re allowed to be free?” particularly grabbed him), and the discussions that followed are well worth it.
Oohhh, The Cloud Spinner! I saved this one for last because it’s the newest addition to our son’s library of books and it’s spectacular. The plot may remind Dr. Seuss fans of The Lorax — a young boy as the ability to weave cloth from the clouds, and chooses to weave only what he needs. The king of a local villages spots his cloud scarf and demands an entire wardrobe made from the same material, and eventually the clouds are drained. The village suffers from a drought, until all is put right again. The pro-environmentalism story combined with the BRIGHT illustrations have made this easily one of my favorite kid’s books of all time.
What beautifully illustrated kid’s books do you guys love?