Books have been a part of Vaunda Micheaux Nelson’s life since the day she was born. “My mother found my name in a novel she was reading,” Nelson says. Books and family and history form a thread through many of Nelson’s award-winning picture books.
Julius Lester loved language and he loved story. Language, Lester wrote, is not just words and what they mean; music and rhythm are also part of the meaning. Just reading his books for children makes us want to read them out loud to hear that music and rhythm along with his gift for putting words together.
Carole Boston Weatherford has been writing since she was in first grade. Her father taught printing and was able to publish those early stories. Weatherford has written dozens of picture books for young readers — and all readers. We cannot be exhaustive here, but we can introduce you to this wonderful writer.
Ashley Bryan's life has been so full of making children’s books and there are so many wonderful children’s books that we can only call out a few—a few enticements, and encourage you to take yourself on a wonderful journey into Ashley Bryan’s world.
A full moon on December 29 ended the year 2020. New year, new moon, and we are thinking once again about moon books – we’ve looked at some of these before, but good books, like the moon, keep coming back.
In this season of gift-giving we want to look at the gift of poetry, specifically the poetry and writing of Eloise Greenfield. Since publishing her first poem in 1962, she has written more than forty-five books for children and was the recipient of the 2018 Coretta Scott King Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.
We have to confess to book envy — that is encountering a picture book and wishing that we had written it. The book’s approach is so arresting, the heart of the book so big, the images so rich. Such books not only make us wish we’d done them, they change what we want to do and what we can do.
Though our focus this month is on Javaka Steptoe, we want to begin this column with another book by his father, John Steptoe, Daddy is a Monster…Sometimes. This book is narrated by two children, Bweela and Javaka, who begin, “We are Bweela and Javaka and we have a daddy. He’s a nice daddy and all, but he got somethin’ wrong with him… .”
Phyllis: Spring is finally here, and the pollinators are buzzing in the blossoms, so we thought we’d write about bugs this month. Plus, we’ve just finished a book with our good friend and fellow writer Liza Ketchum about the rusty-patched bumblebee, the first bumblebee to be listed as endangered. Once we started looking for buggy books, we found so many by Eric Carle, from very hungry caterpillars to very grouchy ladybugs to very lonely fireflies that we decided to look at his body of work.… more
Jackie: We decided to honor the nation’s newfound love of baking with a column on picture books focused on baking. We still don’t have libraries (a great benefit of this confinement is the reminder of how special and necessary are libraries in our lives) so we are limited to books we can find read aloud on Youtube.… more
Phyllis: e.e. cummings said it best when he described the world as mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful. Snow melts and runs babbling away, days lengthen, green sprouts of skunk cabbage and rhubarb poke out. This month we are looking at muddy, squishy, rainy, wet stories in honor of spring.
Mud by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Lauren Stringer, begins, “One night it happens.…… more
We have been thinking of trees — green, leafy, blooming, buzzing trees. It’s not that we’re tired of winter. We love winter. Phyllis even has snowshoes — and uses them! Jackie loves walking in the snowy quiet and the nearly monochromatic landscape. We both love candles, sweaters, and hot soup. But every now and then we think of green.… more
We’re snowed under right now, what with teaching and writing and, well, snow, so we thought we’d offer up a blizzard of books about the white stuff that falls from our skies. Curl up with a child, a cup of warmth, and enjoy winter in the pages of a book.
The Snow Party by Beatrice Schenk De Regniers and Bernice Myers
A lonely woman who lives with her husband on a Dakota farm wishes for a party. … more
Phyllis: Winter has come down like a snowy blanket, and animals in our world have migrated, hibernated, or are shivering their way through the months ahead. But animals in picture books have other ideas. Why not be a part of December’s celebrations of Hanukkah, Christmas, Solstice or help a friend in frozen need? These books make us feel as cozy as a cup of tea, a lighted tree.… more
Jackie:November is a month to celebrate food and family, to celebrate making meals and eating together. Phyllis and I both love pie. And we often review pie books in November but we are running out of pie stories. (Writers out there: more pie stories, please.) So, this year we decided to look for cookie stories. Who doesn’t love a cookie?… more
In her book A Sense of Wonder, Rachel Carson wrote:
If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.… more
Watching birds is one of the joys of the outdoor year (or the indoor year, given the right window placement). Emily Dickinson notes the “independent ecstasy” of their songs. And we can discern personalities in certain birds. Jays will peremptorily take over a feeding station. Chickadees perkily fly in for a seed or two or a sip of water.… more
This month the two of us are actually in the same place at the same time, and we’re having a conversation about square pegs.
We are all not just square pegs and round pegs. We are triangles, pentagons, hexagon, oval, rhomboids, stars. There are shapes for everyone and places, too, where each of us fits best. But we all know what being a square peg means.… more
Jackie:We two friends have been doing this blog since 2015. Yet, we’ve never done a column on books about friends. We know there are many, and many classics, such as the always-satisfying Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel, or William Steig’s Amos and Boris, or James Marshall’s George and Martha. But today we want to look at three, one by one of our favorite writers Lucille Clifton.… more
Phyllis: Minnesota has had a winter full of weather this year. We’ve just finished the snowiest February on record, and now March is blowing down on us with the promised of wind and rain and (most likely) still more snow. An anonymous British poet wrote of the weather, “We’ll weather the weather whatever the weather.” We decided to not only weather the weather but to celebrate it with a few weathery picture books.… more
Jackie: We are in cold, cold winter. Too cold to read seed catalogs – spring just seems too far away to imagine fragile green. We are confined to cabin. What to do but think of repurposing, making something out of nothing, or next to nothing?
Stone Soupby Marcia Brown has always been one of my favorite something-out-of-nothing (or at least something out of stones) stories.… more
Phyllis: Two sticks and some string. That’s the most basic definition of knitting. The sticks might be metal or wood. The string might be yarn or flax. But in the hands of a knitter, even an unskilled one such as I, they become magic.
In the chilly months, we bundle up in cozy sweaters, snug mittens, hats that hug our heads.… more
Phyllis: Winter in the north is made of longer and longer nights. What better time to think about lullabies, those songs we sing to our babies to help them sleep? Research has shown how similar lullabies are all around the world in the sounds and rhythms they use to soothe babies. So we thought we’d take a trip with some of those lullaby books, and a few more besides.… more
November is a month of gratitude — and, for us, a month to celebrate Pie. We all have a favorite. Many of us have childhood memories of good times and pie. We all wait for the days when we can eat pie for breakfast. So we two thought this would be the perfect month to look at picture books about pie.… more
Poet Lucille Clifton in a 1998 interview “Doing What You Will Do,” published in Sleeping with One Eye Open: Women Writers and the Art of Survival, said, “I think the oral tradition is the one which is most interesting to me and the voice in which I like to speak.” Asked about the most important aspect of her craft, she answered, “For me, sound … sound, the music of a poem, the feeling are most important.… more
This summer, deeply troubling stories about migrants and refugees at the US-Mexican border have come to us in newspaper stories, recordings, photographs, and videos. In choosing to separate children from their parents, our government has shown a disturbing lack of empathy for people fleeing violence and turmoil in their home countries. It is our hope that these picture books will help foster empathy and shed light on the complex issues of migration for young readers, while giving a sense of the courage, resilience, and humanity behind each journey.… more
Jackie: Phyllis is on the road with her beautiful and informative new book Searching for Minnesota’s Native Wildflowers. [While Phyllis is out of the room, I will say that I love this book. It makes me want to get out and find flowers. Iowa has many plants in common with Minnesota and I look forward to tromping with Phyllis and Kelly.)… more
Jackie: Spring is a little late coming to the Midwest this year. But we can remember sunny days with violets and trillium blooming and rainy days that turn the grass green (instead of the snow we continue to get in mid-April). Rainy days make us think of ducks and we are going to beckon reluctant spring with stories of ducks.… more
When our children were young we both spent many hours with them pouring over Wendy Watson’s illustrations for her sister Clyde’s rhymes in Father Fox’s Pennyrhymes and delighting in the sounds and the silliness of the rhymes themselves. We felt as though we had lost a personal friend when Wendy Watson died, even though we had never met her.… more
Phyllis: February is the month of valentines and lovers, and we spent a day (through his books) with someone we love: Arnold Lobel.
He wrote easy reader stories that help children crack the code of reading, give them fun stories with characters who remind us of people we know and that give readers of all ages plenty to think about.… more
This month, Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Phyllis Root, the usual hosts of this column, have invited Kari Pearson to share her recommendations for funny picture books.
Let’s play a game! It’s called Funny/Not Funny. It goes like this:
Funny: Eating greasy bloaters with cabbage-and-potato sog (see: How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen)
Not Funny: Shoveling gigantic snowdrifts out of my driveway into piles almost as tall as myself.… more
Phyllis: The first real snow has fallen overnight, and the quality of light when I wake up is luminous outside the window. Solstice approaches, and we’ve turned our thoughts to books about winter and snow. So many to choose from! Here are a few.
When my grown daughter saw a copy of Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton on my bookshelf, she cried, “Oh!… more
Jackie: This is gratitude season and that is a good reminder. Many of us have plenty to be grateful for and we often forget that while waiting for the next good things. It’s also Pie Season. It is the one time of the year at my house when we have no holds barred on pie. Everyone gets to have a favorite at Thanksgiving.… more
*Even though kindle means cats born in the same litter, the alliteration was hard to resist.“All my work is done in the company of cats,” writes Nicola Bayley, wonderful picture book artist and writer, in her book The Necessary Cat.
I know what she means. Right now my cat Luna is sitting on the open copy of The Kittens’ ABC, clearly a cat of discerning literary taste.… more
It’s good to be back on this blog this month. We took a necessary break, but cannot be away from talking about books for too long. The pressure builds…
Phyllis is busy writing in the North Woods, so I am bee-side myself with enthusiasm for doing this blog.
We have a make-shift birdbath on our deck, next to our hummingbird and oriole feeders, and this summer the bees have found the bird bath.… more
Jackie: Recently Phyllis and I read a heart-breaking column in The New YorkTimes, written by author Amy Krouse Rosenthal, who wrote many children’s books, and a couple of books for adults.
The column, written as a love-note to her husband from a dying wife, was heartfelt, sad, and funny all at the same time. We both wished we had known Amy Krouse Rosenthal.… more
Jackie: It seems perfectly appropriate that the Manager of Holiday Placement has placed Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate love and affection, right in the middle of cold, dark February. I want that celebration to spread out for the whole month (why not the whole year?) the way the smell of baking bread fills an entire house, not just the kitchen.… more
Phyllis:Night means many things: the terrifying darkness behind the garage where I had to carry the garbage after supper as a child, the dark night of the soul that depression brings, the hours between sunset and sunrise that grow longer and longer as our earth turns into winter. But night holds comfort as well as fear, and this month we want to look at books about the gifts that night and darkness can bring.… more
Jackie: After Phyllis and I read Amos and Boris for our last month’s article on boats we both wondered why we hadn’t looked at the work of William Steig. He so often executes that very satisfying combination of humor and heart. Steig’s language is funny but his stories regularly involve worrisome separation and then return to a loving family.… more
Phyllis: This summer I had the opportunity to sail for a week in Lake Superior, so we are turning our thoughts to books about the sea (including the great inland sea that borders Minnesota, so vast it makes its own weather). If we can’t go sailing right now, we can at least read about it in a fleet of good picture books.… more
Jackie: Phyllis, the zucchini seeds you gave me have grown into a plant that knocked on our back door this morning. I gave it coffee and it retreated to the yard, heading toward the alley.
When I was a kid one of my favorite stories was the tall tale of Paul Bunyan. I laughed at the exaggeration, the total wackiness of an ox so large his footprints made the Great Lakes.… more
Phyllis: Tomi Ungerer has written and illustrated over 30 books for children, along with over 100 other books. I didn’t know much about him until Jackie suggested we do a blog on him, and I’m so glad she did. I came home from the library with a stack of his books, which range widely from the ridiculous to the mysterious.… more
Jackie: At last — we made it to spring and all the usual accoutrements have shown up — lilacs, violets, the smell of apple blossoms, and thoughts of sprouting seeds and growing vegetables. How could we not look at picture books about gardens and farming this month?
I have to confess, Phyllis, I did not know of Miss Jaster’s Garden, written and illustrated by N.… more
Phyllis:Each year, as soon as the snow melts, I’m eager to go search for native wildflowers. Two of the earliest flowers bloom in two different protected places a car ride away. And every year, I go too early — either the ephemeral snow trilliums aren’t even up yet or the pasque flowers are still such tiny, tight, furry brown buds that they’re hard to spot in the dried grass on the hillside where they grow.… more
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