Victoria Kann | The Children’s Book Review | May 14, 2017
As a parent I always wanted to read books to my kids that were short because, well, parenting is exhausting and it’s nice to go to sleep at a reasonable hour. Or so I am told. I have never actually gone to bed at a reasonable hour. My kids and I have always loved great illustrations because sometimes they can communicate even more than the words of a book. And when you are really tired as a parent you can just point to an illustration and ask your wee ones, “What do you see?” and get the kids to tell the story. Some of the qualities shared by the picture books that my family loves are surrealism, repetition, and humor. Here are the five books that have inspired my family and influenced us creatively.
5 Picture Book Favorites
Written by Harry Allard
Illustrated by James Marshall
Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard and James Marshall was the most popular book in our house. I think we read it 3 times a day for at least 6 years in a row. Miss Nelson is a teacher to bunch of horrible little students who misbehave so she calls in sick and unbeknownst to the children dresses up as a nasty, mean, unattractive, witch like substitute teacher named Miss Viola Swamp. Having a tough teacher like Miss Swamp makes the students beg and plead to have the lovely Miss Nelson back. Miss Viola Swamp mesmerized my kids (almost as much as the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). Also, my kids just LOVED to play pretend. To have a story revolve around convincing other people that you are actually someone else delighted them each and every time it was read.
Ages 4-7 | Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers | 1985 (Reissue) | ISBN-13: 978-0395401460
Written and Illustrated by Cooper Edens
As a young child I was afraid of the dark so my mother gave me a copy of If You are Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow by Cooper Edens. Published in 1979. When my girls were small and scared I passed it down to them. The book has all the visual elements of the 1970’s– calligraphy, rainbows and lots of men with moustaches. As a little girl I may have been reading this book in an room with avocado colored walls while sitting in a bentwood rocker next to a fern hanging from a macramé rope. The text isn’t a conventional story but a collection of surreal and fanciful advice: “If tomorrow morning the sky falls … have clouds for breakfast,” with a Magritte-inspired illustration showing a picture of a coffee cup with a rainbow in it and a blue plate with clouds floating above it. The surrealism and metaphor convey a timeless message; BE IMAGINATIVE. Don’t take yourself seriously. And maybe the solution to your problems might be absurd and silly. As the book says; “If you lose the key…throw away the house!”
Ages 4-8 | Publisher: Chronicle Books | 2002 | ISBN-13: 978-0811835114
Written and Illustrated by Esphyr Slobodkina
Caps For Sale by Esphyer Slobodkina is the story of a peddler who sells caps and carries his inventory stacked on his head. When he doesn’t make any sales, he decides to take a nap in front of a tree. Unfortunately, there are monkeys in the tree, monkeys who steal his caps. After much monkeying around they give the peddler back his caps. We have always loved this story because it’s fun to get carried away and yell the words; “You monkeys you, You give me back my caps!.” The Siberian author was a founding member of the American Abstract Artists group and appreciated simple, flat, stylized forms. Which explains why the peddler has a moustache but no nose. Hands that are the right shape, but with no fingers. And why the tree is a big white shape. How the monkeys got into the quiet European town remains unanswered and is of little concern. As a child, this book was my first contact with abstraction. It inspired my kids to question what they see. Most of all it’s fun, repeating in a sing song voice; “Caps! Caps for sale! Fifty cents a cap!”
Ages 4-8 | Publisher: HarperCollins | 1987 (Reissue) | ISBN-13: 978-0064431439
Illustrated by Modicai Gerstein
How To Paint the Portrait of a Bird illustrated by Modicai Gerstein is a magical story translated from a poem by the Surrealist French Poet Jaques Prevert. A boy sees a bird and instead of painting the bird, he paints everything the bird needs to be happy and content; food, leaves, the smell of sunshine, and the song of butterflies. Then the boy waits for the bird to fly into his cage. The illustrations are a loose combination of line and paint. They slowly build to the colorful climax of the story; the magical moment when the bird flies right into his canvas and sings with joy. When the boy goes to sleep, the bird flies away and in the morning the boy can start over again. This book is a beautiful, magical, visual poem. Plus it describes what the creative process is like: one hopes, then works and finally waits for ones creation to sing. This always put my kids right to sleep and gave them very sweet dreams.
Ages 5-9 | Publisher: Roaring Brook Press | 2007 | ISBN-13: 978-1596432154
Written by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler is a rhyming story about a witch who kindly gives a ride on her broom to some animals. The animals become really supportive friends to her when a dragon comes around and wants to turn the witch into his dinner. My kids always loved stories which have both humor and kindness. Most importantly there is a lot of creative thinking when the animals team up to create a monster that scares the dragon and the witch conjures up a luxurious and innovative broom.
Ages 3-7 | Publisher: Dial Books | 2001 | ISBN-13: 978-0803726574
Written and Illustrated by Victoria Kann
Publisher’s Synopsis: The #1 New York Times bestselling author-artist of the Pinkalicious series, Victoria Kann, is back with an imagination-sparking new book starring Pinkalicious’s brother, Peter.
In Peterrific, readers can follow Peter’s own adventures as he builds a tower of blocks all the way to the moon.
Peter loves to build with blocks. One day, he decides to build a tower that will reach the moon, and he wants to do it all by himself. Will the moon be made of cheese? Can he catch a shooting star? As Peter climbs higher and higher into space, he discovers he doesn’t have a way down! He’ll have to figure out what to do next—all by himself.
Ages 4-8 | Publisher: HarperCollins | 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-0062563569
About Victoria Kann
Victoria Kann is the award-winning illustrator and author of the picture book series featuring the whimsical and effervescent character Pinkalicious. Victoria coauthored and illustrated the first two books, Pinkalicious and Purplicious, and co-wrote the play Pinkalicious: The Musical.
She wrote and illustrated the New York Times number-one bestsellers Goldilicious, Silverlicious, Emeraldalicious, and Aqualicious. Currently she is working on several more books about the adventures and antics of Pinkalicious. Readers can follow Pinkalicious on Facebook and Twitter.
Victoria Kann, author and illustrator of Peterrific, selected these five family favorites. Discover more articles on The Children’s Book Review tagged with Family Favorites.