Small People Books

The kids and I go to the library just about every week, but I rarely comment on what we bring home.  Sometimes, though, the haul is so impressive as to warrant a word.  Our last trip was like this.  The girl chose Little House in the Big Woods for our nightly read, and we have been enjoying the panthers and bears and pig bladders and calicos immensely.  But that one was a sure bet.  The others were more risky, and that risk is exactly what I love about the library.  I rarely go in with a list.  I like to just browse, pulling off whatever strikes my momentary interest. Sometimes it's a winner, and other times, a dud.  But with kids' books, you haven't invested much, so a disappointment is easily forgotten as you're off in search of the next big score.

One such score was Kathi Appelt's Keeper.  Someone mentioned this book in a blog (not mine, but whose?) comment, so when I happened upon it on the shelf, I knew I wanted to know more.  The cover suits my artistic temperament just fine, and the title intrigued me, so I decided to give it a try.  We have one of Appelt's books for wee ones, but I didn't realize she was a Newbery honoree in 2009.  Where have I been?  This one, published in 2010, was magical as Brent Hartinger writes in his blurb:
When I finished Kathi Appelt's joyous new novel Keeper, I didn't want it to be over.  I wanted to go on living in its magical world of talking crabs and mystical totems and wise old cats and dogs.  Then I realized that I already do live there: The world is exactly magical as we allow it to be.  Hold this one up to your ear and have a long, good listen.
I love that idea of the world being as magical as we allow it to be, and I loved this book.  It tells the story of Keeper, a 10-year-old girl living in unusual circumstances on the Texas coast near Galveston.  It could be read as a traditional, or even tired, storyline.  Keeper does something bad, everyone gets mad at her, so she decides to run away.  But in Appelt's hands, this universal experience has been transformed into something unique and profound and beautiful.  There is so much more here, and because I didn't know anything about the book when I began, I am resisting telling you anything at all.  I will tell you that unlike Hartinger, I would not classify this book as joyous.  It has layers of pain, and it even brought me to the brink of tears.  You know in Castaway when Tom Hanks' character loses "Wilson?"  That's how sad I was.  I will also tell you that it is not an automatic recommendation for younger kids.  It is marked ages 8-12, and I'd push for the upper end of that. Do read it, won't you?

Right next door to Appelt's fat book was Allan Ahlberg's lithe book My Brother's Ghost.  Perhaps because it was so short, this one was forgettable.  It was actually a rather well-written story about a girl dealing with the death of her older brother (and the subsequent presence of his ghost), but it lacked depth.  Again, for its length, it does quite a lot, but the subject matter deserved more somehow.

You might think that was all, but I haven't even gotten to the picture books yet.

First, Barry Moser takes the traditional Rumpelstiltskin story and paints it with an Appalachian brush in Tucker Pfeffercorn.  It is dark, and the art is actually scary at times, but the skill of this writer/artist is undeniable.  This is one I want to own.

Speaking of traditional tales redone, Lauren Child (of Charlie and Lola fame) has created a fascinating and fun retread of The Princess and the Pea.  It basically tells the familiar story, with a little bit of Lola thrown in somehow, and the art is an eclectic and interesting blend of paper and miniatures and photography.  Check it out, especially if your kids think this is fun.

 Nancy Willard (1982 Newbery Medalist) joined artist John Thompson to create The Flying Bed.  This one started so strong, with an interesting storyline about a baker and his wife and their financial difficulties.  It had a very traditional feeling to it, but it was new, and the art was breathtaking (see above and at top of post).  Unfortunately, this book was terribly uneven, too long for picture book readers (word for word, I bet it's as long as the Ahlberg), and confusing and abrupt at the end.  Though it was not a winner, the art made me glad to have encountered it.

Finally, for something that is not at all traditional, not at all familiar, and altogether wonderful: The Girl in the Castle inside the Museum by Kate Bernheimer and illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli.  The story here is interesting, but the art ~ oh, the art!~ is otherworldly.  It would remind you of a Tim Burton film or some other dreamy, alt-fairy tale realm.  Just look.

 So cool!  Please, go to your local library, wander the stacks, touch the spines, and thumb through some unfamiliar titles (picture book or otherwise).  It is a risk worth taking.


  1. I always wanted a flying bed! The illustrations are marvelous in these books, thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting, Bellezza. I presume you've read or seen Bedknobs and Broomsticks? If not, your flying bed wishes will be much more fulfilled with it than with the one shown above, though perhaps not as beautifully.

  3. Just requested Keeper from our Central library. That sounds so good!