Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Good Children's Book is Hard to Find

I love illustrated children's books. When I was a little girl, my mother had a tremendous collection of gorgeous illustrated books that she would read to me. Now that I'm older, I can't help but to acknowledge what a profound effect they must have had on me. Through those books, I gained a life-long appreciation for beautiful art and beautiful words.

I'm not sure if my mother was just exceptionally gifted at finding beautiful books (which of course she was), or if children's books were just a lot better then (which I think they probably were). Whatever the case may be, I just have a very hard time finding well-written, beautiful children's books.

Yesterday I spent over an hour at our local independent bookseller and could not find a single book that I thought was worth getting. It was majorly depressing. I went through every single shelf in their children's department and I couldn't find anything that really spoke to my soul. Some of the books were okay (who doesn't love "The Hungry Caterpillar"?), but they certainly didn't speak to my imagination. The illustrations were either banal or downright bad. I did find some books by Demi Hitz which were quite pretty, and I was a little bit tempted by them. But overall, nothing really stood out. Oh...I also found a copy of "Bread and Jam for Frances", by Russell and Lillian Hoban, which I also love. (By the way, do any of you remember the Caldecott medals they used to have for kids books? Do they still do that in the States? I have not seen any awards on kids books here in Canada, though I'm not surprised, as the choice here seems pretty dismal).

My husband picked me up afterwards and we had a long conversation about the whole experience in the car. I decided that for now I'll just collect used illustrated children's books, and if I want to get good books for very young children, I may just have to write them myself! I'm ready to run out and get some coloured pencils and have at it...

Does anyone else with young children ever feel like there are no books for children that are worth reading? I would love to know if any of you have found great new children's books recently!


wanderingjasmine said...

I collect young children's stories too... even though I don't have children!

A really nice one I found recently is Little Turtle and the Song of the Sea by Sheridan Cain and illustrated by Norma Burgin. It is a beautiful story about a newly born turtle being called to make the dangerous dash across the sand by the encouraging sea. It actually made me cry in the shop so I had to buy it!

Another one I love - because I'm very much into wildlife and the environment - is Two Tiny Mice by Alan Baker, which is about 2 harvest mice on an adventure around the countryside meeting other wild creatures. The illustrations are fabulous and at the back there's a little fact file on each animal.

Other good ones are:
- While Angels Watch by Marni McGee & Tina Macnaughton
- Will and Squill by Emma Chichester Clark

As I'm always on the look out for really nice ones, that emphasise my own beliefs and views, I have noticed that a lot of them really are rubbish! I want my children to be inspired and not just simply distracted by their books. But I also think there should be a balance between good stories, good illustrations, moral messages and funnies. It can be a bit of an addiction so I try to limit what I take home, because I've got a while to wait before they get any real use!

Hermes said...

I can't agree with this Margaret, though I collect slightly older children's books than you mention. I have a blog on illustrations:

(this isn't a plug) and though I love the older artists such as Rackham and Goble, a lot of the new illustrators are simply brilliant - a new Golden Age - to my mind and the writers deal with often difficult subjects with nerve and insight.

acornmoon said...

If you have not already discovered the work of Angela Barrett and Nicola Bayley then you are in for a treat!

Try "The Hidden House" by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Angela Barrett. Hauntingly beautiful!

Margaret said...

--Wandering Jasmine: I don't have kids yet either! But I figure it's never to early to start collecting. Besides, I like reading them myself! And I'm 100% with you about finding books that aren't just rubbish--which, unfortunately, many of them seem to be.

Margaret said...

--Hermes: I love the older illustrations as well (obviously ;). But I do wish more contemporary artists and writers were creating truly classic works for children.

Margaret said...

--Oh, and thank you for the suggestions, Acorn Moon! I'll have to check them out!

Amanda said...

When I lived in Alaska there were a few really gorgeous Alaskan children's books. On is called "Mama, Do You Love Me?" by Barbara M. Joosse and illustrated by Barbara Lavallee. The other one is "The Salmon Princess: An Alaska Cinderella Story" by Mindy Dwyer

Margaret said...

I do love Lavallee's "Mama, Do you Love Me?"--such gorgeous illustrations. I haven't seen "Salmon Princess"--I'll have to check it out! Thanks for the recommendation!

hideoussunday said...

I felt a little weird buying a children's book (I used to work in bookstores for years) but eventually I stopped being embarrassed and picked up "Tibet Through the Red Box."

I think it would be a great book to read to kids.

Melanie said...

"Rainbow Crow" "The Big Big Sea" "Peepo" "We're Going on a Bear Hunt" "Handa's Suprise" and "Katie Morag" books.

I grew up with Beatrix Potter illustrations.

Sarah said...

The problem for us with buying children's books is that my boys are destructa-wiggles. Seriously, try as I might to put the nice books on the very top shelf and watch them closely as we read them, inevitably they get torn or destroyed. I hate it. I've come to the conclusion that it is too dangerous to keep nice, beautiful books in our house just yet :(

Stephanie Pina said...

One of my favorites (which I still have) was Ultra-Violet Catastrophe, illustrated by Brian Froud before his famous fairy art. The illustrations are stunning. I have three kids and we hoard, um I mean collect, books. I've found that our favorites are not the ones we sought out, but the ones we happened across at flea markets or garage sales.

Margaret said...

Everyone has given me such great ideas! Thanks, guys!

wendy said...

Have you seen works by Ruth Sanderson? Her style is suited to those of us with tastes leaning toward the pre-raphaelites.

Anonymous said...


I really have enjoyed reading on your site, so I thought I would recommend a book. Aïda by Leontyne Price is a beautifully illustrated book. I have only seen it sold on amazon (luckily for a pretty reasonable price) but at most libraries they seem to have it, if you want to check it out.

Thanks for all your journalistic work!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I know what you mean. I've had trouble finding magical ones lately.

Have you ever seen Grandfather Twilight? That's one of my favourites. It's for little ones.

Lilly's Home said...

I love children's books...and having a 21 year old and a 10 year old...I was excited to revisit these lovely reads 10 years after they expired from my oldest daughters library. I kept them all!

My personal favorite is "The Little House" by Virginia Lee Burton, " The Velveteen Rabbit" by Margery Williams, all the Leo Lionni books!, "Angelina" books by Katharine Holabird, books by Robert Quackenbush, "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie" by Laura Joffee Numeroff, "Olivia" books by Ian Falconer, "Chrysanthemum by Keven Henkes, "Easy Peasy!" by Linda Jennings, "The Giant Jam Sandwich" by John Vernon Lord.....etc...etc...etc...

Hope you find these enjoyable! We will always keep them in our library...for grandkids someday! =-)

I enjoy your blog, Lilly

Rowan said...

I still read children's books, they're often a good deal more interesting than adult ones! They are books from my own childhood mostly though. These days I buy for my grandchildren and two that I've bought recently, largely because I was attracted by the illustrations, are Bear's First Christmas by Robert Kinerk and The Sea Mice and The Stars by Kenneth C Steven. It turned out that the stories were nice too:) There is an English artist called Jackie Morris who does magical illustrations too, I have bought two copies of Can You See A Little Bear and looking forward to one due out this year called The Ice Bear.

stringplay said...

My all-time FAVORITE children's book illustrator is Barbara Cooney. For some she is also the author: Miss Rumphius, Eleanor (LOVE this one), and for some the illustrator only.
Of those she only illustrated,
Roxaboxen (1991 :Fabulous) and The Ox-Cart Man both So Good! Miss Rumphius and Ox-Cart Man were awarded a Caldecott Medals.

My Great-Aunt Arizona (also a Caldecott) is terrific, too.

These aren't new, but are, I think, timeless.

I love children's books.

Sarah said...

I had a suspicion when I saw this post. Congratulations! I hope all is well :)

Ruth said...

Alpaca in the Park both by Rosemary Billam - about a toy rabbit

Anything by Jill Murphy e.g All in One Piece, A Piece of Cake, Five Minutes Peace - a wonderful family of elephants

Anything by Sarah Garland e.g Potter Brownware - a potter with a large family and lots of chickens

Lulu and the Flying Babies by Posy Simmonds - a family favourite!!!

Anything by Shirley Hughes e.g Lucy & Tom's Christmas

After the Storm by Nick Butterworth
- the further adventures of Percy the Park keeper

The Weather Cat by Helen Cresswell

Harriet Adrift by Deborah Inkpen

Queen Bee said...

Check out the newly-reissued Gyo Fujikawa books. Not all of them are back in print, but some of them are, and the pictures are gorgeous!

Other beautiful, imaginative picture books are Miss Spider's Tea Party and Stellaluna.

Alex and Marco said...

I love children's books too; some old favorites are harold and the purple crayon and norman the doorman. Some newer ones that I really like are the Ella books (old fashioned illustrations -- about an elephant -- like a cross between babar and madeleine). I also really like The Red Wolf by Margaret Shannon. Both those stories have great illustrations and good stories, maybe a little cartoony in the first case and scratchy in the second, but great nonetheless.