I adore this book! A mouse is helping Polar Bear find his lost underwear. Each page has a cut-out that shows somebody’s underwear on the next page and the reader can guess whose it is. But it’s usually not Polar Bear’s! Not until the surprising end, which feels like a magic trick. (Also, underwear is inherently funny.)
This book has a wonderful sense of scale and color as well as inventive typeface. Plus, an underdog to root for. And then, a delightful reversal I didn’t see coming on a first read. Captivating in every way.
I adore this inventive, quirky story so much. It’s all about Toto the worm trying to get a hard to reach apple in a nearby tree. Toto “gets busy” with a few different creative tricks to get closer to the apple. But the ending, well, you probably won’t see it coming, and that’s why it’s so very satisfying.
The image below kind of gives away the surprise. Essentially, you’re following all these wonderful creatures talking about what’s great and not so great about being a unicorn or Bigfoot or robot, but then it turns out the creatures were really kids, playing in their imaginations. And then, there’s a final spread that’s a pretty fun surprise for the dad in the book too.
A bunch of animals are trying to step over the tiger to avoid waking the big cat. They even enlist the use of balloons in order to float to safety! But, in the end they do wake him up. And you might not expect what happens next.
One look and I was smitten with this one. Cats! That vibrant color palette! But there’s more. Stacking cats to do math—yes!
This picture book counts cats. And stacks cats. And adds cats. And then subtracts them from the big stack they’ve tumbled out of when they do cat-like things: napping, climbing, and playing hide and seek.
Full of the cutest cats and and tons of playfulness, this one charmed me with its style, simplicity, and STEAM education applications.
BoyGirlParty is the home of Susie Ghahremani’s adorable shop full of pins and onesies and more. She’s also got a great portfolio of art and illustration as well. And now, her very own picture book.
(You can even buy a onesie with a stack of cats by Susie!)
Stack the Cats has craft written all over it. And math craft at that! Plus, the last line is: “How will you stack the cats?” That calls for clay cats to stack in order to answer.
Stack them, add them, subtract them, try to make the biggest stack you can without it toppling over—so much fun stuff to do with these clay cats, including crafting them to start.
What you need:
Clay! I used the kind that doesn’t need to harden in the oven—plastalina modeling clay.
Wax paper to make sure the surface you work on doesn’t get messy.
A butter knife (I used it to portion out the clay; take care with kids.)
There are no set instructions here. I typically started by sculpting the body. I took a portion of the clay in the size I wanted and rolled it into a ball, then squashed it flatter and kind of squared off the head a bit.
Next, the tail! Take a smaller portion of clay and roll it into a cylinder shape. Then affix it to the tail end of the body.
Next, ears. I took a small bit of clay and pinched one end to make the triangle shape, flattening out the whole piece. Time for eyes. I rolled tiny balls of clay in my hand and then pushed each onto the cat’s face until it was a disk. You can make whiskers or little noses or add embellishments to the ears and body or tail, too.
One cool effect I liked was combining two clay colors by rolling them together, then making the cat from that clay mixture (see the cat on the top of the middle stack and the middle of the far right stack).
You might also be interested in this clay Your Alien craft I made for All The Wonders a while back!
My favorite picture book as a child was Benjamin Dilley’s Thirsty Camel. Benjamin Dilley had a “wonderful imagination.” So wonderful he could dream up anything, including a thirsty camel to drink up the flood in his parent’s basement.
I’ve noticed some recent picture books that follow that inclination, affirming a child’s imagination, making it manifest and palpable. Here are a number that bring imagination to life:
A child worries a storm will cancel a trip to the beach, so he makes a wish for a ship to drive the storm away. And in the morning after a fantastic dream—or wish come true—the sun shines again in this quietly captivating picture book.
Akiko Miyakoshi is especially good at making the imaginative feel (or be) real, and the next book in this list is hers as well.
A girl walks through the woods to deliver a pie. It sounds like a set up for Little Red Riding Hood, but while there are surprises that await, there is no danger. A gentle fairy tale about a tea party with animals (and lots of pie), something a child might easily imagine and want to be as real as it feels in this story.
“There is a river outside my window,” a girl says from her drawing table. She imagines herself traveling that river in a boat. Out of the city, through the fields, down a waterfall and into a jungle. It is a wonderful voyage and the illustrations transport the reader right along with the character.
In this one, Winifred Schnitzel isn’t afraid of monsters, but they are ruining her sleep every night. So this fearless, creative main character figures out an inventive way to make them go away. This story assumes that the monsters are real, and why wouldn’t they be?
A lost child follows a stag into a magical world with kind animals and fluffy clouds, and is eventually delivered home. The expressive drawings in this wordless story make it feel that much more tangible.
This book is enchanting! At first snowfall, a little girl sneaks outside to make a snowball. Her snowball gets bigger and bigger, and she travels farther and farther. Until! A whole field of little kids making snow people in their own magical world.
This is a traditional Romani tale. In a family of Travelers, a boy named Yokki tells stories every night around the fire. When times are tough for his and other families, he tells a story from his dreams of a Parno Gry, a giant horse who can carry them to a place where they can thrive. And that is exactly what happens. His story of the horse comes true.
“To this day, generations of Yokki’s family believe that as long as they value children’s imaginations, the Parno Gry will inspire them with new ideas and possibilities—even in their darkest hours, just when they need them most.”
Not only does the boy in this story, Lucas, learn that he can fly in a sense through story, he also builds the highest mountain of books in the world by doing so. And when he needs to come down, all it takes is his imagination, of course!
Lenny & Lucy written by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead.
A book about facing fear, and loneliness, and how to comfort both through friendship. It’s the visual story in this one that shows Peter’s imagination coming to life.
The image below and a wonderful feature of Lenny & Lucy can be found at the always wonderful site, Brain Pickings.
A couple of kids follow footsteps, trying to piece together the mystery of who left them. They assume it’s a dinosaur. Readers might assume it’s not a dinosaur because dinosaurs are extinct. But in this case, well, let’s just say that all the facets of the footstep-leaving dinosaur these kids invent in their minds come true.
“I am flattered when people ask me how I know so much about how children think and feel. Although I have never had children of my own, and cannot say I had a particularly marvelous childhood, perhaps I can say I am still like a child myself. Part of me, I guess, never grew up.”
Gyo Fujikawa created over forty children’s books (wrote 46 and illustrated 9) and they have sold well over a million copies. She was born in 1909 in Berkeley, California. Fujikawa attended Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles and also taught there. During World War II, she was able to avoid being forced into an internment camp because she was living on the east coast. Her family in the west was sent to camps.
She worked for Disney. She designed six postage stamps. Her initial foray into children’s books was illustrating A Child’s Garden of Verses in 1957. She was a pioneer in terms of being paid royalties rather than a flat fee for her artwork. She died in 1998 at the age of 90.
And, notably, she was one of the first children’s book creators to illustrate children of a variety of races in her work:
“She is often credited as the first children’s author to depict a multiethnic cast of characters.”
Today, I’m so pleased to have Chiara Arroyo here with a guest post! She’s co-owner of the wonderful L.A. bookstore, LA librería, which carries Spanish-language children’s books (and has a terrific online store). She’ll be sharing 11 Spanish-language books from small presses to help you build your bilingual library.
Over to Chiara! So happy to have her!
I don’t recall seeing so many beautiful books as a child as there are now. As a book-lover and bookseller who travels seeking quality children’s books in the Spanish-language, I have noticed lately the flourishing of independent publishers in Latin America and Spain. These small presses offer a diverse and refreshing perspective into the children’s literature panorama. They opt for new authors and illustrators with unique voices and experimental styles. They seek to connect with children’s experiences and taste.
It is also encouraging to see how these small presses understand the book as a uniquely crafted and valuable object, made with care, and worthy of being part of a private collection. The visual art within these books is so powerful that they break the boundaries of language such that it has even drawn the attention of adults who are not parents or Spanish speakers.
As the Spanish-speaking population of the United States grows, as you probably already know, the offer of books originally written in Spanish, also called “authentic” literature, is finally expanding. Although LA librería is devoted to exactly that, what I find especially interesting is that several of these stories have been translated and are now available in English, reaching many more readers.
Surrounded by all of these beautiful books, I invite you to observe, get intrigued and finally delve into the magical world of children’s literature from the Spanish speaking world, as everything else around you disappears and becomes silent.
Amanuta is a renowned independent publishing house from Chile that combines traditional with contemporary literature and has an exquisite taste for illustration. This bilingual book is a clear example. Created by one of our favorite authors, Maya Hanisch, also from Chile, it invites us to explore this marvelous inventory of everyday objects represented with collage technique and a striking color treatment. Let yourself enjoy every single detail and also note the Chilean regionalisms found throughout the book.
NI GUAU NI MIAU / BOW WOW MEOW. By Blanca Lacasa and Gómez. Published by Nube Ocho.
This charming and funny story has a dog called Fabio as a main character. But Fabio does not want to do what other dogs do. “This is a story about being yourself and understanding others. I started Nube Ocho to give children the opportunity to talk and think about specific and important topics such as the equality of girls and boys, diversity, inclusion and self-esteem,” Luis Amavisca explains as editor and co-founder. This young and small press house from Spain is one of the few publishers that took the brave decision to offer a catalog of titles in Spanish, English and Italian, with great success so far.
Barcelona. By David Pintor. Published by Kalandraka.
This wonderful picture book captures the magic of the city where I was raised. The book takes the reader on an illustrative journey from the streets, to the balconies and rooftops in which the author discovers life behind colorful mosaics, Gaudi’s dazzling buildings, the blue Mediterranean Sea, the Gothic Quarter and calm coffee shops. As I look at the pages, I can picture clearly David Pintor on a bike, stopping time to time to draw in his dear Moleskine notebook. His travels are the inspiration of his work and this book is an invitation to encounter this unique city.
In this story, a boy’s imagination comes to life at night when he is taken over by his fear of the dark. Creatures begin to form and surround his bed. However, the creature that scares him the most has no shape at all. The illustrations go hand in hand with the text as words and language transform into creatures of the imagination and build suspense until the very end. A story that connects with many children and adults too.
La composición/ The composition. By Antonio Skármeta and Alfonso Ruano. Published by Ekaré.
This powerful story set in Chile has a boy called Pedro as the main character. Pedro loves to play soccer and is the best amongst the other kids. Every night, when he goes home, he sits with his parents to listen to the news on the radio. One day when he is playing soccer, he scores! But, wait. Instead of being rushed at by the other kids, everyone observes how the soldiers come and take his friend Daniel’s father away. That night Pedro asks his dad, “Am I against the dictatorship?” The next day at school, Pedro and his classmates are asked to write an essay about: “What do your parents do every night?”
This timely picture book by Chilean writer Antonio Skármeta presents a situation all too familiar to children around the world. It also provides readers with food for thought about freedom, moral choices and personal responsibilities.
The main character of this delicate story falls in love with Candela the day he starts school. Candela loves birds. So, in order to gain her attention, the little boy decides to construct a costume that would transform himself into a bird. He endures the stares and giggles of his classmates, and a great deal of discomfort, but the boy doesn’t care. What wouldn’t we all do to be noticed by the person we love? French author Ingrid Chabbert perfectly captures the emotional essence of a child’s first love. And the minimalist black and white drawings of Spanish artist Guridi picture the voices and tender emotions of this sweet and universal discovery.
This is a book that hasn’t been published in English yet but its powerful illustrations speak for themselves. The editors of Media Vaca decided to republish a series of 4 titles published in Spain in 1978, a few years after the dictatorship of Francisco Franco was over and the year the Spanish Constitution was in place. They thought this title would be the most outdated since many changes have taken place in almost forty years and fortunately always for the better. However, I invite you to verify how much things have really changed. Lucy Gutierrez’s sharp and questioning illustrations make this picture book a perfect vehicle to prompt discussion about gender equality.
Dos conejos blancos / Two White Rabbits. By Jairo Buitrago and Rafael Yockteng. Published by Groundwood Books.
Together, Jairo Buitrago and Rafael Yocktheng, both from Colombia, combined their talent once again to create a sensitive story that gives voice to the most vulnerable: the children.
In this moving and timely story, a young child describes what it is like to be a migrant as she and her father travel north toward the US border on the roof of a train known as The Beast. The little girl doesn’t know where they are going. She counts the animals by the road, the clouds in the sky, the stars. It is through her eyes readers will understand the arduous journey thousands of people take in search of a better life.
Soy un artista /I am an artist. By Marta Altes. Published by Blackie Books.
This is the hilarious story about an innocent little boy who can’t stop creating art and his mother who isn’t quite so enthusiastic. In fact, she seems a little cross! But this boy has a plan to make his mum smile. He’s about to create his finest piece yet and on a very grand scale … I love the sharp and expressive illustration of Marta Altes and the truly inspirational message of this story that appeals to children and parents. Art is EVERYWHERE!
This cute monster is confused. He does not know what is going on. Fortunately, his smarty friend will teach him how to deal with emotions. Anna Llenas’ colorful and joyful illustrations help children recognize when they feel happy, angry, sad, scared and calm by equating it with a color. A final emotion is left unnamed for readers to identify, but pink hearts give it away. Don’t forget to take a picture of your child when you open the pop-up version!
This unique and unconventional alphabet was made from the joy of tracing letters on a paper and playing with their shapes. Every letter of the alphabet is connected to the graphically strong and intelligent illustrations by short sentences. Renown Argentinian artist Isol invites readers to think out of the box and complete the meaning of every situation with their imagination. In her acceptance speech of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award 2013, Isol declared: “What reader could be more demanding than a child? Children have a lot of things to discover and I’d better be on their high level in order to satisfy their huge capacity for curiosity. I get my inspiration from what’s wild, from what’s ridiculous, from that independence of culture that children enjoy.”
Chiara Arroyo has a Master’s Degree in Journalism and is the cofounder of LA librería, a Los Angeles-based bookstore and distributor specialized in children’s literature in Spanish-language. Five years ago, she and her partner Celene Navarrete decided to start this adventure to fulfill the lack and need of quality books from Latin America and Spain among families raising bilingual and multicultural children in the USA.
(photo of Chiara—on the right—and her business partner Celene Navarrete.)
Visit LA librería at 4732 ½ W Washington Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90016 or online at www.la-libreria.net.