Children’s Book Starter Collection

A few months ago, a friend of mine from high school announced on Facebook that she was expecting. Not being accustomed to this kind of event, I sent her a slightly panicky congratulations message and asked if there was anything I could send her as a baby gift. Toys? Clothes? Bottles? No, she was all covered. And then she remembered that I write about children’s literature from time to time here on this blog. I took my assignment very seriously and spent the next few weeks pulling together a set of books that I hoped her kid could appreciate from infancy to his pre-teen years.

Although I feature some downright strange authors and illustrators on this blog, I didn’t want to include any frightening or potentially upsetting books. Instead, I looked for great illustrations, humor, and a sense of timelessness — after all, many of the best children’s books are beloved by many a generation.

#1 – We Love Each Other by Yusuke Yonezu

We Love Each Other cover

We Love Each Other image

My first pick was a simple cardboard cutout book by Japanese illustrator Yusuke Yonezu. Brightly colored animals rendered in geometric shapes end up being each other’s complements — as you turn the pages, the animals appear to hug. It’s delightful, cheerful, and contains subtle spatial cognition lessons. Best of all, the cardboard is durable and the “story” short, making it appropriate for pre-readers.

#2 – The Pigeon Needs a Bath! by Mo Willems

Pigeon needs a bath, cover

Pigeon needs a bath, image

Mo Willems is one of the best and most famous picture book authors out there, and his pigeon series is regarded with acclaim by parents and kids alike. In this version, a dusty pigeon isn’t looking forward to bath time, but of course eventually concedes that bubble baths are lots of fun. The pigeon’s snarky dialogue is both humorous and realistic, mimicking the attitude of kids who hate bath time with a passion.

#3 – Little Bird by Germano Zullo and Albertine

Little Bird, cover

Little Bird, image 2

Out of all of the illustrators I featured as part of my series on the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Award, Albertine was by far the “crowd favorite.” Her witty illustrations, rife with color, cheerfully sly humor, and minute detail, enchanted many of the adult readers of my blog. Albertine and her husband Germano Zullo have produced several award-winning books together, and of those available in English, Little Bird was my favorite. It is simultaneously simple and profound, an exquisitely expressed demonstration of the importance of kindness, friendship, and awareness.

#4 – The Dark by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen

The Dark, cover

The Dark, image 2

Politics and that unfortunate YA series aside, Lemony Snicket (a.k.a., Daniel Handler), in tandem with talented illustrator Jon Klassen, has managed to produce a surprisingly wonderful children’s book. A small boy named Lazlo sometimes finds himself afraid of the dark, but, as it turns out, the dark wants nothing except to be friends with Lazlo. The concept is clever, but it’s really the minimal yet almost velveteen illustrations that make this book special.

#5 – Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers

Lost and Found, cover

Lost and Found, image 2

Lost and Found, image 1

This might be The Most Adorable Picture Book Of All Time. After all, what’s more endearing than a lonely penguin who just wants a friend? This book is the equivalent of a basket of fluffy puppies, a dandelion crown, and a dozen freshly baked blueberry muffins. It could not be any sweeter, any more lovingly illustrated, or have a better message.

#6 – The Wizard of Oz illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

Wizard of Oz illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

Wizard of Oz, cyclone | illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

Putting together this gift set gave me the excuse I needed to order this incredible book. After seeing it featured on Brain Pickings, hearing that it was tragically out of print, and then magically finding it in stock on Amazon, I was determined to see the fairy-like illustrations in person. I genuinely think that this would make a wonderful gift for just about anyone regardless of age or gender, especially since it contains the full, not abridged, version of L. Frank Baum’s classic text. Just look at these gorgeous, creative, and mystical illustrations. I admit I was sad I had to give this book away!

Wizard of Oz, Tin Man | illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

Wizard of Oz, crows | illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

Wizard of Oz, wizard is common man | illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

Wizard of Oz, witch melting | illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

Wizard of Oz, Dorothy flies home | illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

Feel free to share any other iconic children’s books of which you are aware in the comments section below.

Disclaimer: Please note that the links used above are Amazon affiliate links. This means that if you purchase one of the books after following a link from this site, I will make a small commission. If you are not comfortable with this, simply open another browser window and search for the book on Amazon (or elsewhere).  


Albertine’s Whimsical & Wonderful Illustrations

*Click each image to view full size

Albertine’s drawings are, to put it simply, the type that make everyone smile.

How could you not fall for the chaotic cleverness of the unstable skyscraper in Les Gratte-Ciel or the inquisitive black cat in Le Chat Botté?

That’s precisely the right word to describe her drawings: clever.

Take, for example, her seemingly simple book Ligne 135, depicting a lime-green bullet train racing through ever-more fascinating and unusual settings. Here, it speeds through a forest filled with impossibly tall trees; one can only imagine where the tree tops begin–and what about those mysterious walkways?

Ligne 135, image

Albertine’s dossier (by which I mean the biographical packet assembled for the Hans Christian Andersen Award 2014 Jury) is, amazingly, available online here should you care to read it. If, however, you don’t feel like sifting through the 20-page document, allow me to share the following. 

Born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1967, Albertine, like many notable children’s book illustrators, received formal artistic training before embarking on a career in press illustration. After a few years, she met her husband, Germano Zullo, a writer with whom she collaborates on many of her books.

To better understand the clever humor in Albertine’s work, consider this illuminating quote:

“When asked about her work, Albertine immediately refers to the world of games; a serious game, she likes to add. She argues that we all too often forget the extreme importance that games play, namely, to understand the world.” –dossier prepared by the Swiss section of IBBY for the HCA Jury

Her book Les Gratte-Ciel (“The Skyscraper”) is nothing if not a game:

Les Gratte-Ciel, coverEach page shows two neighbors’ competing skyscrapers growing taller and more complex. The reader instinctively  knows that adding all those unnecessary details–like a baffled tiger–will lead to a massive collapse.

Les Gratte-Ciel, image

But when will the structure collapse? When the drawing reaches the top of the page? And more importantly, what else can be added before then? It’s up to the reader to guess. [Note: “The Skyscraper” has been published in English as “Sky High” and a more complete summary is available here.]

La Rumeur de Venise (“The Rumor of Venice”) is also a witty game, as well as an illustration of the pervasiveness of gossip. Rumors about a giant fish caught by a fisherman float from one dwelling to the next; each re-telling brings an increasingly bizarre description. And will this silly rumor turn out to be true?

La Rumeur de Venise, image

In addition to the games and cleverness, there’s also an innate sense of what can only be described as happiness running through Albertine’s work. A whimsical, wonderful happiness that comes in the form of tigers & helicopters, neon-lime trains, and adorable depictions of black cats.

In Le Chat Botté (“The Black Cat”), Albertine draws on the classic Italian-French fairy tale “Puss in Boots.” In her version, the cat is witty, refined, and slightly bourgeois, quite unlike the puffed-up, swashbuckling character that has permeated popular culture thanks to Shrek. Here, the clever kitty gives advice to a young man down on his luck.

Le Chat botte, image

I didn’t include as many biographical details in this post, since Albertine is very well-known compared to some of the other illustrators I’ve featured. But if you’d like to see more of her work,

As always, check back next week to see the next illustrator in this series. The Hans Christian Andersen Award winners will be announced in late March, and I still have 5 illustrators whose work I have to share before then! (Click “Children’s Literature” on the right side panel for previous entries). Cheers!