With the recent death of beloved children’s writer Amy Krouse Rosenthal, I’ve been going back and re-reading some of my favorites of hers. I particularly enjoy the collaborations she did with illustrator Tom Lichtenheld. Their work is full of heart, amazing wordplay, and of course, fun!
I love, love, love Exclamation Mark! Playing off the rules of punctuation, the main characters are an exclamation mark (of course), a handful of periods, and a question mark. The sparse text is incredibly clever, and somehow the fabulous Lichtenheld brings to life punctuation marks as living characters. It is a fast and fun read, and could even be used as a way of teaching punctuation to young students. This one will get a laugh out of readers of all ages.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats was truly a groundbreaking picture book when it was published in 1962. At the time, books did not feature people of color as protagonists. Children’s books typically took place in white suburbia, not in urban settings. The Snowy Day was so revolutionary for its time that the New York Public Library listed it as one of the 150 most influential books of the 20th century.
In The Snowy Day, we follow Peter as he explores his city neighborhood after a snowfall. We join him as he creates different tracks in the snow, makes snowballs and snow angels, and slides down snowy mounds. Keats’s artwork is vibrant collage, with Peter’s bright red snowsuit contrasting against the snow.
Fast forward four decades to Last Stop on Market Street, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson, in which we spend an afternoon with CJ and his grandma in their urban neighborhood. CJ is dissatisfied, wishing he didn’t have to take the bus for his usual post-church excursion with Nana. But Nana opens his eyes to the beauty around him, helping him to really see and connect with the folks in his community.
Last Stop on Market Street also had great impact in the world of children’s literature. It won the Newbery Medal in 2016, an uncommon honor to be bestowed upon a picture book. Robinson utilizes bright colors in painting and collage, and in an interview with Horn Book, even said he was channeling Ezra Keats. (You can read Horn Book‘s review of Last Stop on Market Street here.)
Both of these classics of children’s literature are beautiful in their portrayal of urban settings and diverse characters. If you enjoyed The Snowy Day as a child (or adult!), then check out Last Stop on Market Street.
Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline is one of the most recognized and beloved characters in all of children’s literature. We remember her pluck as she goes through her boarding-school days under the watchful eye of Miss Clavel. Even a medical emergency and a stay in the hospital cannot dampen Madeline’s spirits.
Fast forward 60 years from Madeline’s debut, and meet Olivia. Ian Falconer has created another unforgettable heroine full of energy and spunk. The bedtime interchange between Olivia and her mother best describes her lively personality. Mom says, “You know, you really wear me out, but I love you anyway.” Olivia doesn’t miss a beat and answers, “I love you anyway too.”
Both Madeline and Olivia have amazing artwork that is indispensable to the story. For Madeline, the famous Parisian scenery is one of the reasons this book is well-loved. In Olivia, Falconer creates humor and tension in the illustrations while utilizing a sparse text that is sometimes ironic when taken in context with the pictures.
Both of these strong female characters have multiple books in their series. Their large personalities have made them favorites for girls both young in age and young at heart.
The Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel has been a go-to favorite collection for many years. Frog’s easygoing manner and upbeat outlook perfectly counter Toad’s sometimes surly, but always loyal nature. Perfect for early readers, these books have simple sentence structure and vocabulary, yet still manage to entertain both young and old.
I was pleasantly surprised to find the same warmth in the Mouse and Mole series by Wong Herbert Yee. This series has received acclaim from readers and critics alike, with Mouse and Mole: Fine Feathered Friends even receiving the Theodor Suess Geisel Honor as a distinguished book for beginning readers. Mouse and Mole share a tree – Mouse lives upstairs, Mole lives in the ground below. The premise sets up the characters’ different personalities, but each one strives to be a good friend to the other.
The Mouse and Mole series is charming and delightful. The reading level may be slightly more advanced than Frog and Toad, with a slightly more difficult vocabulary. The Mouse and Mole books also have more of a cohesive plot throughout the entire book, whereas the Frog and Toad books are more of a collection of short stories. Both series emphasize the value of friendship, and their light humor and heart will make them favorites for young readers.
Imaginative lands. A child in time-out. An unforgettable adventure. An epic childhood story told and illustrated by a picture book master. These are a few common characteristics between the classic Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and the more recently published Zephyr Takes Flight by Steve Light.
Many are familiar with the iconic Where the Wild Things Are, but at its most basic premise, Max is sent to his room without any supper only to start a crazy adventure to the land of the wild things. Similarly, Zephyr is sent to her room after causing destruction with her model airplane. She enters into a “wondrous place” full of flying machines, where she lives out her dreams of flying. Adding another wonderful layer to this story, we also find that Zephyr is a creative engineer in the making. (Go girl inventors!) She uses her ingenuity to help Rumbus the pig fly, after which he and his friends return the favor and assist Zephyr home. And just as Max enjoys his supper in Wild Things, Zephyr returns to a plateful of pancakes.
Dr. Seuss’s ABC was my favorite book as a young child, and it remains one of my favorites to this day. When I first read it to my daughter, I couldn’t believe how much of the book was still locked in my memory. Given how many times I had read the book myself, this should have come as no surprise, even though it had been about 20 years between readings.
There are TONS of alphabet books on the market. Today’s reader can find an ABC book on nearly any topic. Perhaps this is why it is all the more impressive that Oliver Jeffers managed to write an alphabet book that will go down as a “classic” – Once Upon an Alphabet.
The introduction summarizes the premise for the book: “If words make up stories, and letters make up words, then stories are made of letters. In this menagerie we have stories, made of words, made FOR all the letters.” Sure enough, the book is composed of short stories, each 2-3 pages in length, highlighting each letter of the alphabet. In addition to featuring Jeffers’ signature artistic style, the stories themselves are full of wit and humor that appeal to both kids and adults. This book is definitely worth a second, and a third, and a fourth read.