Four, for the Small Ones

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Jill is our excellent, knowledgable Children’s buyer at Literati, and whenever I have a chance I love browsing the kids’ section upstairs with an Espresso Bar latte in hand and taking a closer look at how Jill is stocking our shelves. These four caught my eye recently, and I brought them home to read to my dog. 

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Maps, by Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinska. When I was a kid, some of my favorite books were of the reference tome variety. I wanted to make lists: of where the world’s birthstones might be found, of capitol cities, of the qualities of the pathological humors of the Middle Ages (yeah, I was weird). My parents had a black and white photography book filled with pictures of families all over the world–not reference exactly, but just the artful, extensive kind of cataloguing I adored. I loved learning what kids ate for lunch in Mozambique, seeing the rooms a kid in Scotland lived in. This big book of maps appeals to me in the same way. Each page explores a different country–cultural aspects, native animals and plants, bits of language, places of interest and of history–fifty-two in all. So, it’s not the whole world, but a good bit of our world is celebrated here, and those places left off are included in the maps detailing each region. (I plan to add inserts for some of the countries that were left off, because, like I said, I’m a little weird.)

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The Wonderful Things You Will Be, by Emily Winfield Martin. A very sweet ode to the unknown inside of every rosebud-new human.  Often, my husband and I wonder what our child will be like, and what they’ll pursue–painting? poetry? sportsballs?  Will they be curly-haired (like us), or incredibly tall (not like us). Vamos a ver. Martin’s book is a promise to little ones that they’ll be loved, no matter what. And her illustrations of rosy-cheeked poppets in whimsical costume (suspenders, stripes, tiny Peter Pan collars, bear-suits) are pretty lovely. Kirkus Review calls Martin’s book  “An ideal title for the baby-shower gift bag and for any nursery bookshelf or lap-sit storytime.”

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The Whisper, by Pamela Zagarenski. I was drawn to this book first by its elaborate and magical illustrations–on each page a little girl reads a picture book and imagines the words to accompany the illustrations, with a story of her own design. A little meta for tiny ones, but the narrative frame is simply and delightfully-rendered, and the book’s message underscores the joy and necessity of creativity, the relationship between a love of reading and writing our own stories. Nicole Lamey of the Boston Globe shares her experience of reading the book to her daughter:

“The first time I read this book out loud, I was ordered to stop reading the words and just describe the paintings. The second time through, the book’s magic took hold; I waited and my own little girl told her own stories to me.”

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Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson. The story is simple: A boy and his grandmother, who get by without very much money, make a weekly ritual of riding the bus across town to volunteer their services at a soup kitchen. However, the message–one of the generosity, appreciation, and learning that can come from respectfully sharing space with a diverse array of city-dwellers (on this bus journey, with kids, a musician, a seeing-eye dog, a pair of yuppies, the elderly)–is gloriously rendered in de la Peña’s narration and Robinson’s vibrant illustrations. Theirs is a tough message to get across in a kid’s book, especially a book that takes place in a city known for its rapid gentrification and pricing out of residents. But Robinson resists the understandable temptation to make his characters too pious. While the grandmother character could be read as a mouthpiece for social change, on the page she’s frank, dignified, and fun. There’s a deep, abiding kindness at the heart of this book–and sometimes, in a well-told and topical story,  decency and kindness can appear radical.

After winning the Newbury Award for this book, author Matt de la Peña said:

“You can feel like you have been slighted if you are growing up without, if you have less money, or you can see the beauty in that. And I feel like the most important thing that’s ever happened to me is growing up without money. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”

Right on.


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