The Secret Garden

When pressed for a favorite book my default is the Secret Garden. The reasoning behind it is not complex – it’s the book I’ve read the most time by far.

There was a period in my childhood where I read – or listened to – that book almost every year and was a huge part of my childhood and journey as a reader. I still know the nursery-rhyme taunt the children flung at Mary when we had to live with missionary children before being moved to England. I remember almost every twist and turn of the book and re-reading it can sometimes have an unpredictably cathartic affect on my spirit.

It’s no surprise, then, that I have some beautiful copies of this classic and am always looking for more to add to my strained bookshelf.

Secret Garden
My all time favorite cover and one I proudly own!
The Secret Garden
My all time favorite cover and one I proudly own!
the secret garden web
My all time favorite cover and one I proudly own!
Unknown
A friend bought this for me and it is so much fun.
Coloring
Of course there’s a coloring book, because of all the reasons!

 

 

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Puffin in Bloom

Until a few years ago I’d never heard of Rifle Paper Co, much less their creative director Anna Bond whose the leading force behind these beautifully illustrated books. Since then a good friend of mine and way talented artist turned me towards their beautiful stationary, calendars, books, and other things that will slowly steal your paycheck. Oh Rifle Paper Co, thank you for all the beautiful things you’ve created – I appreciate it greatly!

In a partnership with Puffin several children’s classics have been redesigned in typical Rifle Paper Co fashion. They’re cheerful hardcovers which double as artwork and are some of the best book-cover collaborations I’ve seen.

The illustrations feel light hearted as if they belong in a book originally intended for children without being pedantic. It’s a cross over between books for children and books for adults which works perfectly!

I’ll be honest, this checks all the boxes for me! If you ever feel like sending me a gift, this is it (just, please not Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland… I already have that one).

The Day the Crayons Came Home

The Day the Crayons Came HomeAnother fun Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers! This time Duncan’s crayons are off on their adventures and send home postcards detailing where they were lost or forgotten.

As someone who has sent a lot of postcards and received almost as many, I really loved flipping through each of these creative postcards documenting the crayons and where they’ve been. I loved seeing Jeffers’ creative ways to convey each crayon’s story, especially the glow in the dark spread (spoilers!) and the courageous Pea Green (aka Esteban)’s many post cards from exotic but misplaced locals.

All in all, a very fun picture book!

Journey

Sadly, I haven’t been reading quite as many books lately – I think it has something to do with traveling and going to school… maybe. Regardless, I was recently in a Czech bookstore (despite not being able to speak or read the language I still like to visit bookstores) and saw a copy of Journey and cracked it open.

The beautiful thing about this book is there are no words and the narrative relies solely on illustrations to convey the story which is fantastic when you probably wouldn’t be able to read the book in the first place.

Journey is one of those books that transcends typical children’s books and is an absolutely stunning work of art. Telling the story of a little girl who uses a red crayon to create a red door and step into another world filled with magic, depth, and mystery. The influence from Harold and the Purple Crayon is evident but Journey has a feel and tone to it that is different from the unmistakable classic. I absolutely loved this book and didn’t even care about the strange looks people were giving me as I slowly flipped through it – they can blame it on me being a foreigner for all I care!

Following the little girl through the fantasy world there were times that I had to pause the unspoken narrative and study the detailed, full-page illustrations closer adding to the tone and feel of the world and story. With themes of imagination, creativity, and adventure streaked throughout the story and incredibly imaginative and at times breath taking illustrations – it’s hard to not love this little beauty.

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Chloe and the Lion

Chloe and the LionThis book brings the fourth-wall crumbling down when author and illustrator begin bickering about the direction the story should go. It all begins when Chloe wants to ride the merry-go-round but devolves as the illustrator and author dispute about the antagonist of the story, the illustrator is fired, the author tries to draw, the illustrator gets eaten by a lion until Chloe finally puts her foot down and straightens out the story.

Visually, this story is hilarious. The story begins in a specific cartoon format but once illustrator and author begin commenting on the direction it’s doing the picture pans out and includes claymation stylized replicas of the two with Chloe’s story on a theater-like pedestal. Eventually, the author even tries to draw a new direction and his child-like attempts mangle the direction which is the catalyst for Chloe’s intervention. The use of several different mediums of illustrations – cartoon, claymation mannequins, and child-like drawings – alludes back to the meta-fictive and postmodern nature of this book.

The realization of the character’s roles in the picture book – self-referential – is an added element that is not often seen in other classic picture books and increases the sarcastic role of the story-line. I think these added characteristics that make the story atypical and non-linear really endear the story-line to readers and make Chloe and the Lion a huge hit!

Nelson Mandela

I’ve often made it clear how much I enjoy picture books and admire how the format allows the narrative and story to take center fold. That said, itt’s incredibly hard for a picture book to capture an entire person’s life – especially one as active and impactful of Nelson Mandela. The story begins with a boy and follows him on his journey grow13623795ing up in Johannesburg, learning from African elders, his time in prison, helping to bring an end to apartheid and becoming the president of South Africa. This story is clear and powerful in a way that only true stories can be.

Front the powerful front cover all the way through the story the illustrations and story capture the reader’s attention. Each illustration is a tribute to this seemingly larger-than-life
man. With darker tones and a clear emphasis on Mandela in the illustrations the reader is better able to understand the true meaning and weight of the story. The illustrations capture the atmosphere and bring an added emphasis to the severity of his plight and challenges.

In our society that idolizes athletes and pop stars it’s good to recognize a real hero. This is a perfect introduction for children to a little discussed time in our history and an opportunity to remember a man who sacrificed so greatly for people he believed deserved equality and freedom

Wonderstruck

Brian Selznick has perfected his unique storytelling technique in Wonderstruck. He uses different mediums – words and images – to tell two seemingly independent stories that weave back and forth with mind-blow precision. In one story we meet Ben in 1970s Michigan; born deaf in one ear, morning the recent loss of his mother, living with his aunt and uncle, and he’s begun to unlock the mystery of who his father. The second story follows Rose in 1920s who feels suffocated at home in New Jersey and wants to meet silent film actress Lillian Mayhew in New York City.

The stories run parallel though they exist decades apart: both main characters are around the same age, both are looking for the place where they feel they belong, and are facing the same physical obstacle.

I really loved the illustrations and thought they reflected aspects of silent films that Selznick clearly admires – the story progresses through characters expressions and actions instead of words. Another aspect I was thrilled to see was the way Selznick meandered between the illustrations and words: in Rose’s story a silent film shows a flash of lightning and the next pages begins by describing bone shaking thunder in Ben’s world. Taking cues from one story and connecting them to the other bound the two storylines together making them feel less like two individual stories and more like one story told with two voices and Selznick furthered this idea by eventually connecting Rose and Ben.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and thought it was beautifully done – don’t be intimidated by the thickness, it’s a book that can easily be read in 3 hours on a cozy, rainy afternoon – and the illustrations alone are worth it!