Saturday, January 4, 2014

and all the sweet serenity of books

Children will test you, challenge you, bring you to tears, crack you up, and make you forget what you urgently had to do. They'll shatter the life you knew into a million pieces. Then they'll put it back together, like a stained-glass window, into something infinitely more complicated and beautiful.

Looking after a two year old, and an infant is pretty much a full time affair. I don’t get much time to sit here and type, or to paint beautiful pictures or even pretty horrible ones.  My dog gets walked much less and when I look outside through my front window it is through a film of dog slobber, toddler drool and wee sticky fingerprints.  Everything is slightly tacky with the curiosity of being two, and smells a bit like the sweet-sour milky vomit of an infant.

Having children does however give one an excuse to buy hundreds of lovely books, to listen joyfully to the crack of paper when you first open the pages, and to forever-after try patiently to teach your children to be gentle as the books slowly become worn, dog-eared and loved from repeated storytelling and readings. Sometimes the words are poetic and stay with you and other times you have memorized the entire story and it runs around in your head when you are not sleeping at night and you wonder when it will finally be replaced by a new favourite so you can stop reading it over and over and over and over and over again.   But for me the marvel has been a new appreciation for the glorious illustrators and the images they create. 

Illustration by Don Wood
A standard children’s book at 32 pages long is a whole collection of works of art, and I can tell you from the depths of my book shelves (oh yes I just bought another one to house all those books!)  that some of those illustrations represent the most marvellously wonderful and breathtaking works of art ever created.  This might be lost on my 3 month old Peanut, but as I read “The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear” for the bagillionth time I started to really LOOK at the illustrations, the details, the brushstrokes, the pencil lines the art of it all. (This is a book that one should always have on hand just in case there is a storytime emergency and one needs to read aloud).
Illustration by Don Wood

With my own project slowly slumping along in the background with another year passing me by I have come to regard these illustrators as something like heroes of the art world.  May I recommend some for your viewing pleasure?

The Quiltmaker's Journey by Jeff Brumbeau and illustrated by Gail de Marcken
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Tell Me a Dragon written and illustrated by Jackie Morris
Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers and illustrated Marla Frazee
The Wild Swans  written by Hans Christian Andersen, adapted by Naomi Lewis and illustrated by Yvonne Gilbert 
Saint George and the Dragon  by Margaret Hodges and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman 
Sleeping Beauty  illustrated by K. Y. Craft
Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time written and illustrated by James Gurney
We're Riding on a Caravan by Laurie Krebs and illustrated by Helen Cann 
Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions by Margaret Musgrove and illustrated by Diane Dillon 
Home for Christmas written and illustrated by Jan Brett 
Flotsam written and illustrated by David Wiesner

The Wild Swans by Anne Yvonne Gilbert
These are not just children’s stories they are collections of art – worthy of the libraries of all people young and old.  Since I can only draw from my own personal knowledge and tastes, and I know there are scores upon scores of gorgeous children’s books out there (thank goodness), be sure to add any other favorites of yours to my list in the comments!

I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.  ~Anna Quindlen

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