I’m currently in the middle of about a million different books, but I thought to myself, “Self, why don’t you review a couple of children’s books? Like, picture books?”
And then I said to myself, “Self, that’s a good idea.”
Now, there is a catch. Namely that it’s very difficult to review a picture book without giving up vital plot points and potentially ruining the experience. So I’m going to do my best to keep it a little vague. Unless there’s something just so wonderful I have to share it…
In any case, here are three of my favorite children’s picture storybooks.
3. The Dark, written by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Jon Klassen (book trailer here)
Let me first say that I was never all that impressed by A Series of Unfortunate Events, but I respect any author who is able to maintain a high readership with fairly formulaic books. And let me follow that up by saying I just adored this picture book. At the very beginning, I was reading and wondering how this could possibly be a good children’s book. After all, it’s about the scary dark. But as the story develops, The Dark (because it certainly does deserve to be a proper noun) is much more than just a lack of light, and the ending is simply delightful.
The story itself is worth the read, but the illustrations are the best. They’re simple, but so hauntingly beautiful and charming. And that’s really the best way to describe them: charming. You’ve got to read it.
2. The Duchess of Whimsy, written by Randall de Seve and illustrated by Peter de Seve
The Duchess of Whimsy is known for being rather unconventional and over-the-top, but everyone who comes to her parties shares her love of the whimsical. Except for the Earl of Norm. Who happens to be tragically (and almost boringly) normal. But when crisis strikes the party, it’s the Earl who helps save the day and when the Duchess and the Earl finally start to understand each other, they realize that it’s really all about moderation. Because it’s okay to sometimes be so normal and sometimes to be wildly whimsical.
While the story is a little long, I love the illustrations and the sweetness of the story so much that I’m willing to spend a little more time reading. My niece, maybe not, but I’m older and more worldly and more patient. I particularly love the quiet romance between the Duchess and the Earl (which is so obviously going to happen that for most of the first time I read it I was just waiting for that moment when they realize they’re great together) because they balance each other so well.
If The Dark is haunting and beautiful and charming, The Duchess of Whimsy is delightful, sweet, charming, and just so much fun.
1. Blueberry Girl, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Charles Vess
Without a doubt, this is my favorite non-classic children’s picture book. I loved it first because it was Gaiman, and who doesn’t love anything he does? But I loved it second (and mostly) because it is the most beautiful book for girls in the world. And I mean girls of all ages.
The entire poem is an inspirational prayer for “unconventional” girls. And I cry every time I read it. I’m not kidding.
Words can be worrisome, people complex;
Motives and manners unclear.
Grant her the wisdom to choose her path right,
Free from unkindness and fear.
Let her tell stories, and dance in the rain,
Somersaults, tumble and run;
Her joys must be high as her sorrows are deep,
Let her grow like a weed in the sun.
And maybe it’s unfair to say this is the one you absolutely must read. But if you’re a woman, or if you have a daughter or niece or granddaughter or wife or any significant female in your life, you should read it.
And as if the words aren’t enough to make you weep, the illustrations are beautiful and magical and just perfection. I’m tearing up just thinking about this book.
If you have any doubts, try this: the most beautiful thing you’ll ever hear.
I promise I’ll review another “grown up” book soon, but I think it’s only fair to give some time to all kinds of books, even picture books. Because even (and sometimes especially) picture books can teach adults a thing or two.
For more on Lemony Snicket’s The Dark click here
For more on Randall and Peter de Seve’s The Duchess of Whimsy, tap your magic wand here.
And for Neil Gaiman’s young reader books, click here.
As always, be sure to check out your local independent bookstores for these and other recommendations!