Monday, November 1, 2010

Kate Coombs' Picture Book List

Kate Coombs writes, blogs about, and fervently collects children's books. Her first book, The Secret-Keeper, was an original folktale illustrated by Heather Solomon. She has since written two comic fantasies for middle grades, The Runaway Princess and The Runaway Dragon. Her next picture book, a retelling of the Grimms' tale Hans My Hedgehog, is being illustrated by John Nickle and will
come out next summer. (She has a third picture book, The Tooth Fairy Wars, awaiting an illustrator and a publication date.) You can learn more about her books on her website.
Kate grew up in Southern California, the second of seven adopted children of various ethnicities. She rather inexplicably speaks Spanish and has a day job teaching homebound children for the Los Angeles Unified School District. Her current crop of students are all teenage boys, which means her assignments include analyzing Nirvana lyrics and writing character descriptions of evil ex-girlfriends.
Kate also reviews children's books at Book Aunt, where her love of fairy tales and subversive picture books occasionally rears its gobliny little head. She actually has dozens of favorite picture books
(Classic Picture Books, Most Beautiful Illustrations, Best Read-alouds, etc.). 

The following, she writes, is a relatively idiosyncratic selection.

1. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak
Some books don't live up to their hype. This one does. Still the most perfect blend of art and story ever created, illuminating the inner world of the child without resorting to obnoxious pop psychology. At the same time, it manages to be a heroic quest tale.

2. THE ARRIVAL by Shaun Tan
It's hard to know where to shelve it, but who cares? This evocation of the immigrant experience is one of the most moving, lovingly crafted, creative books ever published. I suspect its poignancy and beauty will never be surpassed. Watch for the ocean voyage as depicted by a journal of cloudscapes and the way Tan depicts the fears that overtake the refugees' homelands.

A crazy-cool rendition of the classic children's song. My favorite part is seeing the animals appear in the old woman's stomach when you turn the die-cut pages over. Taback did his manic art in crayon brights on a stark-black background. (Check out the running commentary from some of the animals!)

4. FRIDA by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Ana Juan
Biography is not my favorite genre, but this book is just wonderful. Take a look at the stunning
illustrations, especially the one representing Frida's chronic pain after her accident as briars. I also like the way Mexican folk art characters and motifs enhance the strange beauty of the story.

5. THE WHOLE GREEN WORLD by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Elisa Kleven
One of the happiest picture books I've ever read, offering idyllic scenes of childhood with a refreshing lack of sentimentality. The writing is pitch-perfect, as well, and the result is a lively, rolling ode to joy.

Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse may be better known, but I adore this picture book about a little mouse girl irked by the arrival of a new baby brother. Henkes captures Lilly's strong personality with just a few inked lines set off by his cheerful watercolor palette. Look for Lilly's "story" about her new brother, especially her youthfully ruthless metaphors.

It's a tie, okay? "Let's Get a Pup!" wins for humor, but How to Heal a Broken Wing is more tender and offers up some striking cityscapes. In both his language and his artwork, Graham is particularly good at evoking the extraordinary power of the ordinary love within a family.

8. MY LIGHT by Molly Bang
Science has always seemed so marvelous and magical to me, and this book captures that spirit richly as the Sun tells its own story of giving light and energy to the earth. My favorite illustrations have deep midnight blue backdrops with light/electricity gleaming yellow in the
foreground. In all of her spreads, Bang uses color with a strong, clean style that seems almost symbolic.

9. ELSIE PIDDOCK SKIPS IN HER SLEEPS by Eleanor Farjeon, illustrated by Charlotte Voake
Apparently a favorite of professional storytellers, this lengthy classic is about a girl who can jump rope better than anyone, including the fairies. Charlotte Voake's light lines are as graceful as jump ropes and fairies and Elsie Piddock herself.

10. MANY MOONS by James Thurber, illustrated by Marc Simont
Another long, whimsical read-aloud, this one about a princess who is ill and decides that being given the moon will make her feel much better. The king and his court go through contortions trying to fulfill her request. An earlier edition illustrated by Louis Slobodkin won the Caldecott Medal, but I really like this new version by Marc Simont, with its luminous fairy tale feel.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad you included The Arrival. even though it's not really a picture book (not if by "picture book" you mean "short" and "for kids")(Would you call it a graphic novel?). It's stunningly beautiful, whatever it is. The way he conveys the narrative and the character's emotions with no words, only images, is nothing short of brilliant.

    And I love that version of The Old Woman Who Swallowed A Fly!