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Culture Children's Books

Ways of seeing

Children’s Books

Ways of seeing

Four recent picture books

Blueberry Man by Christina E. Petrides: This lovely picture book offers a fond remembrance of the author’s granddaddy, a blueberry farmer. He provided blueberries for family, friends, and young blueberry pickers, earning the nickname “Blueberry Man.” The berries’ color spurs memories of Granddaddy’s naval uniform and his stories of adventures at sea. Beautiful watercolor illustrations suggest details of those stories (sharks and palm trees encroach on a warm scene of children listening around the grandfather’s chair). The book ends with a new generation living on the farm and carrying out Granddaddy’s traditions.

Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring by Nancy Churnin: Laura Wheeler loved the color brown: “Brown WAS a rainbow, with orange and blue, red and green tucked inside, playing hide and seek.” As a child she experimented endlessly to capture the color of her parents’ skin. Her goal: One day her portraits would hang on museum walls. Large, painterly illustrations in the artist’s style show her at work in Paris and Philadelphia. She persisted, painting portraits of famous African Americans, including singer Marian Anderson and W.E.B. Du Bois. Today her paintings hang in the National Portrait Gallery.

Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story by Zeena M. Pliska: When Orange lands on a flower, she describes to Caterpillar the big, glorious world beyond. Caterpillar can’t wait to “flit, flutter, and fly” with Orange. Orange promises that one day Caterpillar will fly but Orange won’t be there. Butterfly emerges from her cocoon. Her wings dry. She flies away. And just like Orange, she spots a tiny caterpillar below: “I swoop down and land on a nearby flower. ‘Hello, little one,’ I say.” Bold, mixed-media illustrations accompany this simple explanation of a monarch’s life cycle. 

Night Wishes ed. Lee Bennett Hopkins: Thirteen poets contribute to this collection of 14 poems about sleep. “Bed” by Rebecca Kai Dotlich invites a child to “Cuddle into thoughts of things you did today.” “Bed Again” urges a child to get up: “Rub eyes, yawn, stretch. Roll out from my warm place.” In the first poem, the illustration shows the dog, the cat, and the girl asleep. In the second, they are awake and ready to go. “Angel” by Nikki Grimes offers reassurance: “Sleep, child. Sleep. No need to fear the dark while I stand guard.”

Afterword

Two new books display ­picture book artistry. The Invisible Alphabet by Joshua David Stein (Rise X Penguin Workshop, 2020) uses the conventions of an ABC book to illustrate things that are hard to visualize. “A is for Air” offers a simple ink drawing of a flapping curtain in front of an open window. “B is for Bare” shows a bathtub, a stack of orange and white water toys, and the simple outline of the backside of a naked boy ready for bath time. 

In the wordless One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey (Scholastic Press, 2020), Henry Cole uses detailed ink drawings to tell a story of a simple paper lunch bag from forest to store, where a boy acquires it. That’s all backstory. The following poignant narrative shows every stage of that boy’s life—childhood, college, engagement, marriage, fatherhood—accom­panied by the beloved bag. It ends as the container for a seedling his family plants to honor his father. —S.O.