Noted by The New York Times to be one of the best illustrated children’s books of 2008, A River of Words by Jen Bryant, is a wonderful juvenile biography of William Carlos Williams, American poet, 1883-1963, best known for works like “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This is Just to Say.” Willie Williams grew up in Rutherford, NJ. In school, English was his favorite subject. He loved to read and write poetry, and was inspired by simple things found in everyday life. But Willie knew that poets did not earn much money, and he needed to support his family, so he went to medical school and became a doctor. Although he spent his days healing the sick, he always found time for poetry. An inspiring story, with touching collage illustrations by Melissa Sweet.
The Lump of Coal is a charming Christmas story from the author and illustrator (respectively) of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket and Brett Helquist, which presupposes “miracles can happen, even to those who are small, flammable, and dressed all in black.” In the story a lump of coal who “for the sake of argument” can walk and talk, and who, “like many people who dress in black” wants to be an artist. He could make beautiful black lines on a canvas, or a piece a chicken, if only someone would give him the chance! Maybe his dreams will come true when an drugstore employee dressed as Santa Claus puts the lump of coal in his disobedient stepson’s stocking.
Martina the Beautiful Cockroach is a Cuban folktale, retold here by Carmen Agra Deedy, with lovely illustrations by Michael Austin. When Martina Josefina Catalina Cucaracha, most eligible of bachelorette pests, begins searching for a husband, her grandmother teaches her “the coffee test.” When a suitor comes to call, Martina spills the hot beverage all over their shoes. How they react will give her insight into how quick to anger they might be in marriage. Martina doesn’t hesitate to pour coffee all over the arrogant rooster, the hygenically challenged pig, and the sneaky lizard, but what happens when she falls for meek mouse gardener Perez? Perhaps he has a surprise in store for her…
Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett is a clever book set up as a small rodent’s journal of all the things she’s afraid of (which is almost everything). “I’m alarmed by loud noises!” Little Mouse writes. Gravett elaborates that this is called Ligyrophobia. Owls make Little Mouse twitch. According to the author she might have Ornithophobia (fear of birds) or Phagophobia (fear of being eaten). The book also features flaps and other interactive features, like Little Mouse’s hand-drawn map of the “Isle of Fright” complete with directions: take the first right. No! Left. No! Right. I think… If you’re at the forest, TURN AROUND! GO BACK! RUN! This is too much for me. Please ask someone else for directions. Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears is a very cute book. Skittish children will probably relate!
A Is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet is a great book for parents who love modern art. And also, maybe, those that hate it. But above all it’s really great for kids. When I first set eyes on this book, by Caldecott Award winner Stephen T. Johnson, I thought it had been placed in the wrong section. A child couldn’t possibly appreciate such expressionistic and conceptual paintings, collages, installations, and sculptures. Or could they? The more I looked at the pictures in the book, the more I realized how perfect it is for a child who has little to no concept of what “art” is. They have truly open minds! Read this book with your child and let them explain which pieces they like or don’t like and why. Maybe you too will see the art through new eyes. Each piece is inspired by a letter of the alphabet and also features an alliterative blurb.
Inspired by the well-known spiritual by the same name, Kadir Nelson brings us He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands, a wonderful book, filled with beautiful images of vast landscapes and multicultural faces. The lyrics of the song are complimented by illustrations of rainbows, sunrises, clear nights, blue skies, clean oceans, and one special boy enjoying them all with his loving family. Try singing it to your child! Children retain messages better with music. That’s why the alphabet is a song! If you like this book consider others you could sing, like Hush Little Alien by Daniel Kirk, or more stories featuring Nelson’s art like Please, Puppy, Please by Spike Lee.