What a weekend at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, and I didn’t even get to half the events! But I’m glad to have had a chance to hear Horn Book editors Roger Sutton and Martha Parravano talk a bit about their book, which just came out in paperback. A Family of Readers: The Book Lover’s Guide to Children’s and Young Adult Literature is a collection of essays from Horn Book contributors offering ways to match books with young readers, along with reminders that every child is different, and when it comes to teens, they deserve privacy in making their own choices.
Roger Sutton and Martha Parravano talked about things to look for while showing us some favorites from the past year. Martha began reading Little White Rabbit, a picture book by Kevin Henkes, with its quite perfect structure of wondering and action, an artful balance of words and pictures, and a happy but unpredictable ending. She thinks a wordless picture book by Chris Rashka, A Ball for Daisy, also has a satisfying shape and just enough tension.
Both praised some new ways of offering nonfiction, with Martha wondering whether this is because readers need to be hooked more or are writers just having more fun? Creative approaches include the simple text, mixed graphics, and adherence to the point of view of Jane Goodall as a child in Me… Jane by Patrick McDonnell; the elegance of Swirl by Swirl by Joyce Sidman illustrated by Beth Krommes, and the ingenuity and joy throughout Four Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet. For older readers, Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming begins dramatically, alternating a dangerous present with flashbacks, while making use of fascinating original research. Allen Say’s Drawing from Memory and Kadir Nelson’s Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans will inspire readers of many ages.
Roger mentioned that emerging readers often like small books with chapters that reflect the structures of adult books, but that books such as the Little Bear series by Elise Minarek and illustrated by Maurice Sendak aren’t published much now. But he finds the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems excellent introductions to reading, and for those slightly older, he showed us Phillippe Coudray’s Benjamin Bear in “Fuzzy Thinking” designed as comics with a story on every page and Atinuke’s Good Luck, Anna Hibiscus! and others in her series with short chapters and honest confrontations with life in present-day Africa, where cell phones are more predominant than lions.
Aware that time was passing, Roger and Martha swiftly recommended a few novels for middle readers (The Trouble with May Amelia and Breaking Stalin’s Nose), trying to limit their delighted quotations and commentaries. Moving on to books for young adults, Martha talked faster and waved her arms a bit, as if desperate we get the message — so many good books, so little time. We got it and tried to listen faster She said that the opening of Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos made her both laugh and think a lot about history and the power of reading and people in your life. Her enthusiasm for The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater is clear in a starred review in the current Horn Book (“Steifvater sets not one foot wrong as she takes readers on an intoxicating ride of their own.”) But there was something about seeing Martha raise her voice and wave the book that made us certain we’d be very sorry to miss this one.
I’m sorry my photo is cloudy, but I love the books that sprawled further around their feet as the hour passed. Roger concluded with showing us “the faux interactive” pleasures of Press Here by Tullet Herve, and reminding us of how printed paper can bring together children and adults. I left with some autographed copies of A Family of Readers (great gifts for new parents!), a list of new books to find, renewed esteem for ones I’ve already read, and happy to be part of a world in which reading is so treasured.