Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Picture Books are Not Just for Kids! Part 1

As much as I like books for people my age (as in grown ups), I spend the most time reading children's picture books.  I would never have realized  how much I love them if I hadn't begun doing preschool storytime here at the library almost two years ago.  At first it was daunting to have to select books to read.  How was I supposed to know what 3 to 5 year olds like?  And how could I find books that I liked too?  How could I find 4 or 5 good ones each week?  Who even knows how many children's books I've read since those questions plagued me, but I've learned a lot.

Over time, I have answered for myself the question of finding books that I enjoy just as much as the kids do, and here's the answer: it's no good to read books that I don't like myself.  If I start reading one that I'm not excited about to a group, then I start out questioning whether they like it (which never feels good!), and on top of that, I swear they can smell my lack of enthusiasm.  However, if I start out with a book I enjoy, it's easier to get the kids excited about it because my excitement is also contagious.  If they love it, I love it even more, and I will probably use it again in a few months.  It is so satisfying to see children really enjoy a book to the point of engaging with it - pointing excitedly at the pictures (and/or grabbing at them), gleefully shouting out what they think will happen next, rattling off question after question. 

By now I have a hefty list of favorite picture books that I have begun to recycle.  These favorites make the core of my storytime themes, and to fill in the gaps, I try out new ones that I've found.  In this series, I want to share some of these favorite picture books.  And trust me, these books are not just for kids - there is so much entertainment to be enjoyed in reading children's books, and I highly recommend the practice!  If I didn't have to read them for work, I would definitely be reading them for pleasure.

Camp Rex, Tea Rex, and Sea Rex by Molly Idle
Why I love them: Without the illustrations, the text of these books would be politely dry manuals for camping, tea time, and going to the beach.  With the illustrations, the story becomes cartoonishly amusing, the text reading "If the surf is up, you can catch a few waves..." and the corresponding illustration showing a T-Rex jumping into the sea and causing a big tidal wave to splash over the beach and the terrified character on it.  The illustrations are beautifully stylized with a uniquely whimsical flair, and as I hope I've demonstrated, much more story is told through the illustrations than the text.  These are the kinds of books (which I don't usually like, by the way) that still have a story with a beginning, middle, and end, but don't really have a plot to move along or a problem to solve.  My favorite of these three is probably Sea Rex - as a swimmer and beach-lover, I might be biased!
Note: You may also love Idle's Flora and the Penguin, and Flora and the Flamingo, a Caldecott winner. 

Tyrannosaurus Drip by Julia Donaldson
Why I love it: Dinosaurs may be my favorite subject for picture books, and kids almost universally adore them as well.  This one is authored by Julia Donaldson who writes fantastic picture book stories (check out Donaldson's other books).  I could read it over and over (like how your kid wants to read the same book every night three times before bed?  I hear that's pretty normal.) because it's everything a picture book should be - it rhymes cleverly, the villainous t-rex family is comically ugly, the illustrations are gorgeous with funny details and a unique color palette, and the story has a cheer-worthy ending that makes up for all of the protagonist duckbill dinosaur's sufferings that led up to it.

I'll stop there today, but I have enough more that I don't know how many posts I will fill before I finish.  Meanwhile, do you have any picture books you are in love with?  I would love to hear, so please share in the comments below!

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