What I really want to talk about today are children's books. I love children's books. They have imagination, humor, drama and beautiful artwork, when they are good. When they are great, it will be years later, after you've gone through a lifetime of stories, you will still remember the children's books from your childhood.
Here's Roald Dahl's take on children's books (oddly enough, found this in a book of ghost stories he put together):
I say it because I am convinced that they are one of the most important [facets of creative literature]...Children's book must also divert and entertain, but they do something else at the same time. They actually teach a child the habit of reading. They teach him to be literate, they teach him vocabulary and nowadays they teach him that there can be better ways of passing the time than watching television.I completely and absolutely agree with Dahl. Children's books have so much to them that people take for granted. But a parent (which I'm not), and a child, and the lucky few who remain young at heart (and I like to think I am) understand and love children's books.
Lately, I will be reading something or watching something or looking at something and I'll remember a book from back then.
The most recent one I remembered was The Jolly Mon, by Jimmy Buffet (yes, that one) and his daughter Savannah Jane. Growing up I loved this book. In the back the music sheets and lyrics the book is based on were attached, and I remember my dad learned to play it on the guitar and we would sing along. It was the story of a man in the Caribbean with a fantastic voice and magical guitar that could charm the fish right out of the sea. This book was sumptuously illustrated. The watercolors, done by Lambert Davis, are soft and filled with greens and blues and bright splashes of yellow and red...colors that make you wish to be on a Caribbean island somewhere. In fact, this book I distinctly remember helping kick-start my passion for doodling. I recall drawing banana trees, dolphins, guitars and the Jolly Mon for weeks after I first got this book.
I could go on and on about the books I loved, but I'll just mention a few more, and almost all of them have beautiful illustrations. The Salamander Room, by Anne Mazer, was another book that drew me in thanks to the illustrations, done gloriously by Steve Johnson. It was the simple tale of a boy finding a salamander and imagining all he would do to make his room the perfect place for it to live. The illustrations didn't stay inside the borders, making it seem as if, if I only imagined hard enough, my room would be like the Salamander Room too.
The Jolly Postman series by Allan and Janet Ahlberg was wonderful in that you could take out the letters - you were involved in the story and it was filled with little quirks and jokes that made you giggle. The books by Jan Brett, particularly Town Mouse, Country Mouse. Even as a child I thought how fabulously detailed all the illustrations were. Finally, the works of Chris Van Allsburg, of Jumanji fame. In particular, his book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, which I will admit I did not know about when I was a child, but rather stumbled upon in a used bookstore in Berkeley. This book was beautiful, and amazing, and so simple.
What books did you love in your childhood? Which ones will you seek out so you can read them to your children (I will be so excited the day I can show these books to my kids, sometime in the future!)
(Also, horribly long post! Hopefully my wordy habits will cut down a bit.)