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.
It’s here! The cover of my debut middle grade novel, Zinnia and the Bees, is really here! I’m thrilled to share it with you (and promise to go back to regular blog programming tomorrow).
I owe an enormous thanks to Laura K. Horton for her brilliant illustration as well as a giant thank you to the design team at Capstone.
Vibrant and quirky, I couldn’t be more pleased! (Not to mention that it matches this blog perfectly.)
One of my favorite parts is that Zinnia is upside down—like her world is turned at the very start of the story. Right when she was expecting things to be the best ever, her yarn bomb flops. Next, her older brother—aka her best friend and yarn-bombing accomplice—leaves with no explanation. And then, to massively top off a whopper of a last day of seventh grade, a colony of honeybees lands in her hair!
The cover also captures the magical realism quality of the book as well as the important role the bees play: they actually collectively (and comically) narrate their own side of the story!
If you’d like to add the book on goodreads, you can find it here. Look for the Zinnia and those bees August 1st.
Sanae Ishida‘s watercolors are enchanting—sweet, colorful, and full of humor and whimsy. In the first book, Little Kunoichi meets Chibi Samurai while they’re both in training at ninja school and samurai school respectively. In the end, they wow the crowd at The Island Festival because they practice—not to be perfect but to have fun.
In Chibi Samurai wants a Pet, Kunoichi’s best friend Chibi Samurai indeed wants a pet, one as sweet and super-duper as Kunoichi’s pet ninja bunny. So he sets off on a quest around the island to find a companion, encountering creatures both real and mythical. He meets a giant salamander, serow, cloth-weaving crane, magical tanuki, and mythical Kappa—but none is quite right! Until he realizes his perfect pet has been close at hand the whole time, just like other things we might seek that have—sometimes—been there all along.
The ending is absolutely charming, but I won’t spoil it!
This book delights with creativity and surprise. Plus, there’s a visual glossary at the back with all the elements of Japanese culture and folklore the story mentions.
Here’s the cover!!
Chibi Samurai Wants a Pet will be out August 8, 2017!
Here’s what Sanae Ishida says about the process of creating the cover:
For the cover, I wanted to show Chibi (as I affectionately call him in my mind, a slang word for “little” or “short” in Japanese) in search mode. I presented several cover ideas, but this swamp version was my favorite because the greenery felt mysterious and dramatic and allowed me to partially hide Little Kunoichi and her pet bunny in there. The swamp is also one of the areas that Chibi actually searches in the book, so I loved the tie-in with the story too. I’m so glad that the publisher liked this version!
My general illustration process starts by painting every element by hand with watercolor and gouache paint. I don’t do a whole lot of sketching or pencil renderings and just dive in with paint. For example, I painted the helmet, the armor, body, outfit, hair, face, and expression of Chibi all separately. I then scan everything in and assemble the elements collage-style with Photoshop. Sometimes I’ll modify the colors in Photoshop or amp up the saturation or add transparency. I often have to clean up smudges and mistakes or alter the scale of different elements. Working this way has been great for me because it makes incorporating changes when I get feedback from the editors and art department so much easier.
Everything about the first Little Kunoichi book was magical for me and I will love it to pieces forever, but this time around Chibi has stolen my heart and this story resonates with me on a whole different level. I hope kids (and adults reading it to them) enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating it!
Sanae Ishida grew up drawing princesses, reading Japanese comic books, and writing stories she never shared with anyone. She enjoyed stints in wide-ranging fields including illustration, education, technology, retail, and theater arts. When not creating on the page, she sews, frequents coffee shops, and overly shares stories on SanaeIshida.com. She lives in Seattle with her wonderful husband and fabulous daughter—inspiration for Little Kunoichi.