It’s easy for adults to forget what it was like to be a kid. Everything around you is new, unknown. How will a baby react to snow for the first time? To rain? To a puppy? How should a child react to love, to a joke, to a poke in the ribs?
And then there are things that are unpleasant. Like dead animals.
Sounds awful, doesn’t it, as the topic of a children’s book.
But… it’s a common sight. Remember? It happens to every kid. A children’s book can offer a way forward for difficult subjects.
The book The Flat Rabbit is Judy Keenan’s current fave. And it’s about much more than just a flat rabbit: “It’s an unusual and quietly profound book that I loved. Author Bardur Oskarsson is a Faroese writer and illustrator, and it deals with how to honour the death of a stranger.” It’s gently funny (the dog has peed on the flat rabbit’s gate, so they’d likely met before) and tragic (she’s flattened, the rabbit), but the dog and the rat who find her finally work out a way to, they hope, offer their last respects with joy and celebration. This book, its story developed with both words and pictures, is for anyone who has suffered a loss.
The Faroe Islands, by the way, are located near Norway. The book was translated by Marita Thomsen (2011/2014, located on Lennoxville Library shelves at C-136).
Keenan is a grown-up who loves children’s books and chairs the Lennoxville Library’s children’s book buying committee, working with a group of volunteers to stock the shelves with great new books year-round, but always and especially in time for the summer.
Here are just a few more that Keenan considers standouts.
For the youngest, go directly to New Arrivals in the children’s section and pick up Shh! We Have A Plan (by Chris Haughton, 2014, filed in the Lennoxville Library at C-30, suggested ages 2 to 5). It is a small square cardboard book perfect for little hands, about three friends in tuques (so, Canadian?) who want to capture a birdie. The fourth young’un, the littlest, has a different idea. Regardless, birdies seem to be able to outwit humans…. Beautiful and gently funny.
Here’s one for suggested ages 4 to 8 : A Hungry Lion/ Or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals (by Lucy Ruth Cummins, 2016, at C-42). Rawr!
Still sticking with the great outdoors, check out The Little Gardener (art and text by Emily Hughes, 2015, filed at C-66; Hughes also wrote Wild, at C-66, a hit about a wild child raised by animals who becomes miserable when good-hearted humans try to civilize her; reviewers have called it sweet and action-packed). As for The Little Gardner, Keenan calls it “timely, it has lovely illustrations and deals (quietly) with environmental stewardship.” A very, very tiny boy is watching his garden slowly die – and with it, his food, shelter, and happiness. One day, the tiny boy makes a wish…
Sidewalk Flowers is another stunning book, a Governor General’s Award-winner (it’s been in the library’s collection for a while now, but Keenan keeps returning to it). The tale’s by JonArno Lawson, though there isn’t a single word to muddle the drawings of Sydney Smith (2015, filed at C-68). The cityscape, in black and white, slowly takes on colour as a little girl finds stubborn flowers popping up through the cracks of the city’s relentless cement… and she passes the colours along.
For slightly older folk, well-known author Linda Sue Park returns with the first in a series, Wing & Claw: Forest Of Wonders (2016, filed at C-254, ages 9 to 12). This is paced a bit slowly at first, to allow for an atmospheric scene-setting volume one, but it’s interesting. Raffa is a 12-year-old apothecary in training – meaning he makes healing potions from herbs he collects in the forest. Some think his talents are actual magic. He feels stifled by his overbearing papa. So an impatient young Raffa runs away, and discovers that the world is not as he expected: “Whether child or adult, their expressions were those of people who had no room in head or heart for anything but the basest survival. Raffa hadn’t known before that hope was the light behind a person’s eyes.”
His life is about to take a turn: the slow build-up ends with an astonishing discovery of perfidy, and young Raffa must choose his destiny. This is a great read for budding scientists or gardeners, and it also considers the ethics of how we treat wild animals.
Pax is another book that considers the bond between humans and wild animals. Pax is a red fox, saved from death as a kit by a little boy named Peter. Now aged 12, Peter’s life changes as his father goes off to war and leaves his son with grand dad. And the fox must be abandoned to the wild.
The fox has never been on his own, and is unlikely to survive. Peter realizes that he has made a terrible mistake, and runs away in order to find, and save, his pal. The book switches from Peter’s point of view to, delightfully, the fox’s. By Sara Pennypacker (2016, filed at C-158).
And here’s one last book of fiction, by the multiple award-winning Kate DiCamillo. Everything DiCamillo touches is gold, and Raymie Nightingale is no exception. The Washington Post called it “a fairy tale for our times… 10-year-old Raymie Clarke hatches a plan: She will enter and win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, which will prompt her [runaway] dad’s approval and immediate return.” It features a collection of funny small-town adventures…
“Kate DiCamillo is one of my favorite authors,” Keenan says.
Just a few more books! Judy Keenan recommends the complete Kate DiCamillo.
For ages 6 to 8, there’s Bink And Gollie (2010, in C-132). It’s an illustrated collection exploring the friendship of Bink, a short, messy and plain-spoken girl, and her bestie, Gollie, a tall neatnik and sesquipedalian sort (that means using big words). The two are very different, and they love each other. Adorable.
Most of the stars of DiCamillo’s other books are 10 years old.
Because Of Winn-Dixie (2000, at C-222) features a girl who returns from a Florida market with a stray dog instead of the food she was to buy (it was made into a movie; the DVD is at K-465).
The Tiger Rising is also set in Florida, where a sad 10-year-old boy with nothing to look forward to discovers a wild cat in a cage (2001, C-220).
The Miraculous Journey Of Edward Tulane stars a vain and arrogant porcelain rabbit who must be lost in order to then find himself (2006, in C-220).
Flora And Ulysses is the comic book-inspired romp of a human girl and a boy squirrel whose near-death experience gives him the ability to write poetry (2013, C-220).
In The Magician’s Elephant (2009, C-146), a clairvoyant tells young Peter that his dead younger sister is in fact alive. Then a magic trick gone wrong whisks a pachyderm from Africa to his tiny town, where it’s been foretold the elephant will bring the siblings together.
The Tale Of Despereaux is about a mouse and a rat (they are natural enemies), and a princess and a servant girl, and the tangled and tragic way their lives come together (2003, C-146). A monster best-seller, there’s a movie based on the book in the Lennoxville Library at K-51.
— Eleanor Brown, July 1, 2016