I find myself reading more and more children’s books as of late. It started when I moved in with my in-laws. They have two little ones, 5 and 10 years old. My siblings and I were all close together, so living and interacting with small children is a skill I’ve yet to master. When I learned they both loved books, I began to take children’s books out of the library for them. Sometimes, I’ll sit with them on the sofa and read a stack aloud. It’s a love language all three of us understand.
Through this, I’ve discovered so many fun and quirky kids authors like Mo Willems, Sandra Boynton, Bonnie Becker, and Bob Shea. Their books can be laugh out loud hilarious, complete with running gags and adorable eccentric characters. I fell in love with them right along with the kids. It almost worried me how excited I became when we found a new book on the library shelf written by one of our favorite authors, or how sad I was when I realized we’d read all of the Elephant and Piggie books.
The more I branched out among the shelves of the children’s room, the more treasures I found. My parents mostly read us religious children’s books, so other than the odd Dr. Seuss I missed out on most of the classics, Harold and the Purple Crayon or Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel to name a few.
Another gift I’d missed out on was the illustrations. Personally, I lack any artistic skill whatsoever when it comes to paints and sketches and the like. So when I pick up a book like Jim Arnosky’s Every Autumn Comes the Bear and find inside lush watercolor autmn landscapes, I find myself doubly impressed.
But the craziest thing to me, was the poignancy of some of the themes in these books.
Writing a children’s book, a good children’s book, is a lot harder than I used to give it credit. If you’ve decided you want to talk about how to deal with the death of your closest friend, you have somewhere around 20 pages and 100 words. Brevity is key. It also requires simplicity in phrasing so that a child can understand the depth of your chosen theme. Making this work is a gift.
Sometimes I find a book so well done that I’m more choked up than the child I’m reading to. Like when I finished reading The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce and my sister-in-law asked me why I was crying. I, of course, insisted I wasn’t then walked her up to bed, biting my lip and hugging the thin hardcover picture book lovingly against my chest.