January’s Birthday Pick

January 8, 2013 § 1 Comment

I Took the Moon for a WalkFor this month’s birthday pick, I’m doing something a little different: 1) I’m focusing on the youngest ages for a change; 2) I’ve chosen not one but two books (which make a perfect pairing); and 3) I’m encouraging you to throw caution to the wind and take a chance on books that aren’t brand new but are commonly unknown.

In short, the next time you are headed to a birthday party for a one or two year old, you’re in luck. I Took the Moon for a Walk (Ages 1-4) and Listen, Listen (Ages 1-4) are both illustrated by the supremely talented Alison Jay, whose praises I have sung here before. With their over-sized 9” by 9” format, these hefty board books mirror another favorite by Jay, her ABC: A Child’s First Alphabet Book (which tends to be well known and for good reason: it may just be the best alphabet book ever illustrated).

Alison Jay’s books are the ultimate gift. Packed with hidden surprises, layered with detail, and shimmering in vivid colors underneath a “crackle” finish, Jay’s paintings beg to be poured over again and again.

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Now Please Go to Sleep

November 29, 2012 § 1 Comment

The best parenting advice I ever received—and didn’t listen to—came when I was in the throes of sleep training my six month old. The advice was: “Make sure you pick a short bedtime ritual, because you’ll be doing it for a long time.” Of course, when you’re knee-deep in sleep deprivation, it’s not easy to see into the future and predict that five years later, your son will still expect a book, water, two songs (one being a made-up “Curious George” song, don’t ask), a hug, a kiss, and a very involved tucking in of the covers every single night.

We all get wiser the second time around; and consequently, I have a five year old who takes 45 minutes to put to bed, and a two year old who takes 45 seconds. But one thing remains the same: I love a good bedtime story.

The best bedtime stories are filled with gentle, lulling rhymes; jewel-toned illustrations; and ample opportunities for whispers and kisses (see my full list at the end of this post). The witching hours of dinner and bath time behind us, pajamas donned and teeth brushed, our collective bodies relax as the first words are read. No matter what madness has just transpired in the moments leading up to this one, peace is now restored; those big juicy bonds of love can flow freely once more (because, let’s face it, it’s almost over).

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Show Me the Moon

June 28, 2012 § 1 Comment

“Moon” was one of the very first words uttered by both of my children. When they’re playing outside at dusk, they will shriek at the top of their lungs—“MOOOOOOON!”—upon catching sight of it emerging in the still-blue sky.

If the sheer volume of children’s storybooks dedicated to this subject is any indication, my children are not alone in their enthrallment with the moon. It’s nearly impossible for me to choose one favorite story to profile here (see my lengthy list below), so I will simply go with the newest addition to this already impressive repertoire: Red Knit Cap Girl (Ages 2-5), written by first-time author Naoko Stoop. I’ve mentioned before my weakness for Japanese-influenced picture books; and, like so many of her predecessors, Stoop (who grew up in Japan and now lives in Brooklyn) has created a work that holds together like a perfectly wrapped present: each word is chosen with the utmost care, each picture serves a clear purpose. In a wholly original move, Stoop’s expressive, whimsical watercolors of a little girl and her woodland friends, on a quest to speak to the moon, are painted on pieces of plywood; children can actually see the grain of the wood shining through the paintings, an effect which is especially fitting for a story set in the forest.

But it’s Stoop’s heroine that inspires me to want to read this book to my children (especially my daughter) for years to come. I love Red Knit Cap Girl. I love her curiosity, as she “wonders about flowers, butterflies, leaves, and clouds”—but most of all “about the Moon.” I love her pensiveness, as she experiments with different ways to reach the Moon. I love her courage, as she holds tight to her white bunny and journeys into the darkest part of the forest to ask Owl for advice. I love her leadership and her inclusion of others, as she rallies her forest friends to prepare a celebration to get the Moon’s attention, an affair full of handcrafted paper lanterns. I love her patience, as she waits and waits for the Moon and doesn’t give up. I love her ability to admit that she was mistaken, as only after she has extinguished the lanterns and waited quietly in darkness does “the Moon come out at last.” I love that the Moon is female-personified (none of this man-in-the-moon stuff), and I love her message to Red Knit Cap Girl: “You have made it dark enough to see me and quiet enough to hear me.”

But most of all, I love Red Knit Cap Girl’s interpretation of this message, delivered in the last sentence of the book: “Now Red Knit Cap Girl knows the Moon will always be there for her.” What a wonderful ally for our daughters (and sons) to have as they tuck into bed at night.

Other Favorites About Trying to Reach the Moon:
Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me, by Eric Carle (Ages 2-4)
Kitten’s First Full Moon, by Kevin Henkes (Ages 2-4)
Moon Plane, by Peter McCarty (Ages 2-4)
Bringing Down the Moon, by Jonathan Emmett (Ages 2-4)
I Took the Moon for a Walk, by Carolyn Curtis & Alison Jay (Ages 2-4)
Many Moons, by James Thurber & Louis Slobodkin (Ages 5-8)
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin (Ages 7-12)

Alison Jay, Cloud Creator

April 25, 2012 § 3 Comments

If you haven’t discovered the amazing British children’s artist Alison Jay, you’re in for a real treat. Or, if you’re as obsessed with her as I am, you’ll love her latest masterpiece, a fairy tale of sorts titled The Cloud Spinner (Ages 3-6), by Michael Catchpool (a fellow Brit).

The Brits have an unparalleled knack for creating books that feel Quintessentially Childlike, seamlessly blending fantasy with realism, and sprinkling on a quirkiness that makes these stories memorable for a lifetime. Alison Jay’s artistic signature, which she employs in all her work, is a “crackle finish” layered over her paintings, a technique which gives them a vintage look. In contrast, her animals, landscapes, and people feel anything but old-fashioned (here’s where that endearing quirkiness comes into play).

It seems that Jay’s artistic style has not gone unnoticed by JP, my four year old. Our favorite alphabet book is Jay’s ABC: A Child’s First Alphabet Book, which I’ve been reading to him since he was a baby (and which is jam packed with hidden surprises), along with a handful of her other storybooks (see my list at the end). A few months ago, while perusing the shelves at our local library, JP stumbled upon an Alison Jay book he’d never seen before (William and the Night Train), and he called out, “Look Mommy, it’s one of those books with the crazy clouds!” I had never thought of it that way before, but he was right: Alison Jay does have a very specific way of painting clouds.

So, it seems only appropriate that Jay’s newest book, The Cloud Spinner, should take on clouds as its central subject. And with a unique, magical premise: Once upon a time, there was a boy who could “weave cloth from the clouds”—not just any cloth, but cloth “as soft as a mouse’s touch and as warm as roasted chestnuts.” All was OK because he had been wisely taught by his mom (who else?) to use only as many clouds as he absolutely needed (say, for essentials like a muffler).

Enter a Greedy King, who takes one look at the boy’s scarf and demands, not only a matching one for himself, but a wardrobe for the entire royal family. As the boy weaves, the clouds get sparser, the days get hotter, and the crops get drier. Jay adds in her own artistic endorsement of this ecological message: through the first half of the book, each hilltop is subtly populated with animals, trees, or flowers that together form patterns of smiley faces (British humor at its best). And yet, as the story goes on, the hilltop smiles begin to bend down; they begin to look serious and, eventually, downright forlorn.

Every fairy tale needs a hero to step up, and in this case it’s the King’s daughter (up until now silent but watchful), who gathers all the clouds-spun-clothes while her family sleeps and takes them to the boy. As she hands over the treasure, she poses the loaded question, “Is it too late to undo what has been done?” Like the ending of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax and other books that remind our children of their power to do right by their Earth (to turn the frowns upside down, if you will), the boy assures us: “There is still time.” Phew.

Other Favorites Illustrated by the Magical Alison Jay:
ABC: A Child’s First Alphabet Book (Ages 1-6)
Listen, Listen (Ages 1-4), by Phillis Gershator
I Took the Moon for a Walk, </em>by Carolyn Curtis (Ages 1-4)
If Kisses Were Colors, by Janet Lawler (Ages 1-3)
Christmastime (Ages 2-10)
The Nutcracker (Ages 3-6)
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll (Ages 6-12)

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