Tuesday, August 11, 2015

When is a book just for kids?

As a child, I hated fairy tales. I'm not sure why. I loved my brothers' books of adventure stories. I even volunteered to clean my older brother's room so I could read his classics while dusting his bookshelf. But offer me the Snow Queen and I'd run a mile. Alice just felt wrong. Snow White might as well have been Red, but she certainly wouldn't be read by me.

As a young teen, I hated hearing the Hobbit read aloud to class. I therefore refused to read Lord of the Rings. I cleaned my parents' bedroom so I could "borrow" their library books while vacuuming. I loved the novel Oil. I loved one about a farmer trying to tame the top of a hill while his son tamed his love life. I loved... Oh, I just loved books... as long as they weren't fairy tales, or the Hobbit which I now know I had so clearly mis-classified.

As a mom... I still didn't read the sort of fairy tales I'd grown up on. But I read the new ones, the nuanced ones, the Paper Bag Princess... I read fairy tales that had something in them for grownups too. And my kids didn't hate fairy tales (or else they didn't tell me).

Just for reference, I now love the Hobbit, I love Lord of the Rings, I love Alice and all things Carroll, but I'm still not sure about the Snow Queen.

So when is a book just for kids? I'm not sure. I suspect when I review children's books, I'm looking for something that pleases both the child and the adult in me. If there are pictures, I don't want my inner child to complain they're not right. If there are concepts, I don't want my inner adult to say they're riskily simplified. If there's a storyline, I want a depth that lets me believe I can swim... and maybe that's it. I hated fairy tales because they kept me tied to my fairy-water-wings.

And maybe that's it. The best kids' books really aren't just for kids.

So skip the water-wings, grab a coffee, and read on for some children's (and not-so-children's) book reviews:

First is The Green Musician by Mahvash Shahegh, illustrated by Claire Ewart. The words and illustrations are beautifully matched in a story that encourages hope and persistence, evokes Persion history, and even includes characters who age convincingly - all in one short picture book. Enjoy with some well-balanced, smooth, full-flavored three-star coffee.

Another beautifully illustrated hardback is The Hunter’s Promise, An Abenaki Tale, by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth. It's a story of mankind, nature, loyalty and love, deceptively simply and delightfully deep. The pictures have a haunting darkness of natural forest and stream, and it's a truly lovely book. Enjoy with some bold, dark five-star coffee.

Now I am Paper, by Uvi Poznansky, is illustrated by author/artist in beautifully simply and flowing style, perfectly complementing the poetry of the tale. Combining the honest truth of how wood becomes paper, with the poetic truths of whispering leaves, this is a delightful book to enjoy with a child and some elegant, complex four-star coffee.

Jess and Wiggle by Uvi Poznansky is beautifully illustrated too with an enjoyable mix of styles, combining harlequin cutout with a child's smoothly convincing facial frown (which of course, is turned to fun). It's fun and nicely untethered, perfect for any child with any caregiver to enjoy. Pour some well-balanced, smooth, full-flavored coffee to go with it.

Oliver and Jumpy 22-24, by Werner Stejskal, continues a long-running series of childrens picture books starring a svelte, well-dressed cat and a bouncing kangaroo. The writing has a read-aloud feel and the stories sound like ones a fond grandparent might tell as children gather around his knees. Computerized pictures are bright and fun, and kids, I'm sure, will continue to enjoy the series. Brew some crisp mild one-star coffee to drink as you read these ones.

Mommy What Do I Feel by Sagit Cohen has a slightly stilted style, but offers a nicely illustrated way of describing the sense of touch. It's part of a series of books for children on the five senses. Enjoy with some mild crisp one-star coffee, and see rabbits getting their feet wet.

Finally, here's a book that I thought would be for children, but probably isn't. It's aimed, I'd guess, more at teens and adults and would make a great resource for youth group or Sunday school (for all ages). The Life of Noah by Adrian Pelzer includes patriarchs, pharaohs and more, and is an intriguing combination of ancient and modern - see Noah playing computer games for example. Thought-provoking and fun, enjoy with some well-balanced smooth three-star coffee.

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