March is National Reading Month. Children across the country will be involved in activities encouraging reading and the learning that goes with it; so I put together a short list of books to share with the children in your life. And, because March is still a rather gray and dreary time here in Mid-Michigan, I looked for titles that could bring a little color into the lives of your favorite little ones — either in the illustrations or subject matter.
By Marla Stewart Konrad
Tundra Books, $12.95
Grand is the latest in the stunning series of books from a collaboration between Tundra Books and World Vision Canada “to bring an array of exceptional photos from around the world to very young children.” Each book in the series is a photo essay celebrating an aspect of life. The themes are universal, as are the breathtakingly beautiful photographs. In Grand, Marla Stewart Konrad shares page after page of photos of young children and their grandparents from around the world. The simple text and bright colors will intrigue any child, and the portrayal of the loving relationship between grandparent and grandchild will touch the heart of any Nana or Pop Pop.
All Things Bright and Beautiful
By Cecil Alexander, illustrated by Ashley Bryant
All Things Bright and Beautiful is an extraordinarily colorful, lush and visually interesting book. Ashley Bryant uses his trademark bold cut-paper collages to illustrate Cecil Alexander’s familiar poem. Each page is a work of art, from the endpapers decorated with representations of Bryant’s mother’s sewing and embroidery scissors, which he uses to create each and every collage, to the brilliant-hued sun on the back cover. Though perfect for ages two to five, the beauty of All Things Bright and Beautiful will appeal to all ages.
Duchess of Whimsy
By Randall de Seve, illustrated by Peter de Seve
The Duchess of Whimsy is the life of the party; the Earl of Norm is not. The problem with this is that the Earl of Norm fancies the flamboyant Duchess and cannot think of a way to gain her attention. He first attempts outlandish and out-of-character stunts like writing dreadful poetry, dressing ridiculously and even enlisting a hungry giraffe. The Duchess wants nothing to do with this boring Earl — that is until the cook is sick and the Duchess is hungry. The rest of her friends attempt complicated and exotic recipes that simply don’t work for the choosy Duchess. She despairs of ever finding something good to eat until the Earl of Norm shows up with ordinary, yet delicious, grilled cheese and a glass of milk.
The Duchess learns that sometimes it is the simplest and most “normal” pleasures that are the most satisfying. This “absolutely delicious fairytale” is delightfully silly and fun. Artist Peter de Seve complements his wife Randall’s story with detailed, expressive watercolor illustrations that are absolutely fascinating. Kids will enjoy pouring over the pictures as they notice details like the fact that the Duchess’ guests’s outfits in the beginning of the book match the dishes they attempt to create later in the story, or that the knight in the background is revealed to be a girl at the final banquet.
The Extraordinary Mark Twain
(According to Suzy)
By Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham
Did you know that Mark Twain’s daughter Suzy kept a journal when she was 13 with the purpose of writing her father’s biography? Well, she did. And her witty, insightful observations are the basis of this very different kind of picture book. The Extraordinary Mark Twain is a largely visual biography that incorporates Suzy’s diary entries (complete with misspellings), snippets of Mark Twain’s wisdom and bold, visually interesting illustrations woven together to create a truly original portrait of a truly original man.
At first glance, the picture book format might seem too young for someone interested in Mark Twain, but The Extraordinary Mark Twain is an ideal way to introduce or learn more about the man who created Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.
Perhaps the best review comes from Twain himself when he writes about Suzy, “This is a frank biographer and an honest one; she uses no sandpaper on me.” What a perfect gift for a teacher or Twain fan of any age. It is also a great way to expose children to the biography genre, showing them that nonfiction doesn’t have to be “non-fun.”
Pocket Guide to the Outdoors
Created by Jean Craighead George with Twig C. George
Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the release of the Newberry Award winning My Side of the Mountain, in which Sam, a boy from the city, learns to live in the wild. Pocket Guide to the Outdoors was created for fans of this beloved classic who want to live an outdoor adventure.
This fun and easy-to-follow guide from a legendary family of naturalists and writers is packed with illustrations, activities and practical wilderness tips. With this book, you can learn such things as building a shelter, starting a fire, catching a fish, finding water, tying useful knots, navigating by the stars and much, much more. The size and sturdy construction of the book make it ideal for carrying along on an afternoon hike or long camping trip. Pocket Guide to the Outdoors would be a wonderful companion piece to My Side of the Mountain or a stand-alone gift for the child who wants to spend all of his time outside.