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Can we read? No. 14
Good morning. My family is dealing with some heavy stuff this week so I’m sending this as is — a draft I wrote last Friday, before, with fewer titles than I intended. The dumpster fire that is 2020 continues in myriad ways. Thanks for your understanding (and for being here).
Midnight Babies by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Ann James (2001)
“At midnight, when absolutely anything can happen, Baby Brenda bounces out of bed. She tiptoes past her sleeping mom and dad, does a dance outside her big sister Vanessa’s room, then slides down the stairs to the kitchen.” If you’re up for a middle-of-the-night party involving sneaking out of your house with a pile of food, which you use to entice your friends and wear like a hat on your head, look no further than the Midnight Café: gathering place of Baby Brenda, her nemesis Baby Mario, and their baby squad. This is a fun fantastical romp that’s a sure-fire toddler hit (though no one is my house has gotten tired of it and we’re beyond toddler years). James’ fuzzy, funny illustrations give extra flavor to the story — I still laugh at the moment where Baby Brenda returns home and gets stuck for awhile in the cat door — which is a veritable feast.
The Midnight Farm by Reeve Lindbergh, illustrated by Susan Jeffers (1987)
This is one of the books I will keep forever, as a reminder of the many nights I read this in a soft voice to my toddlers, hoping to lull them to sleep — it’s a book I can imagine reading to my grandchildren in the same way. I can’t think of a better team than Lindbergh and Jeffers — both are highly accomplished artists in the world of children’s literature and what they have created here is nothing short of magic: a dreamy nighttime world in which a little boy and his mother visit all the animals of the farm as they themselves get ready to settle into the darkness. A counterpoint to the effusive party atmosphere of Midnight Babies, this book offers quiet comfort — it’s an excellent antidote to fear of the dark — by showing some of the things that go on when human eyes can no longer see so well, in a silent, peaceful, reassuring way. Part of its perfection lies in the beauty of its lines (the reason I love this book so much) — it is poetry, pure and simple. In a beautifully gentle way this book escorts tiny folks to sleep. (Highly recommend this one for baby showers when you don’t want to bring a duplicated title.)
Suki’s Kimono by Chieri Uegaki, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch (2003)
Suki’s two older sisters think she should wear something new and cool to their first day of school, but Suki wants to wear her favorite thing — the kimono her obāchan gave her on the occasion of their trip to a Japanese street festival, where together they ate cold noodles and shaved ice and danced with other women and children in a traditional circle dance. Her sisters think she’s nuts but Suki goes ahead with her plan, enduring the stares and whispers of her classmates with cheer, even going so far as to share her experience at her new teacher’s request, in front of the class, dancing in her special kimono for everyone to see. When she finishes her dance and the room is silent she wonders if she’s in trouble — instead, the room explodes with applause, and when she heads home with her sisters, both disappointed that no one noticed their new, cool clothes, Suki is the one who dances all the way. Jorisch’s evocative, colorful illustrations deftly support Uegeki’s straightforward telling of this special story, making room for Suki to shine in all her brightness as a heroine who knows her own mind and her own worth, and takes pride in who she is. In a publishing world full of didactic messaging about self-esteem, bravery, and confidence (which has both positive and negative aspects, in my opinion), this title shows rather than tells how valuable it is to be yourself and to believe in yourself — and instead of dancing like no one’s watching, dance like you know everyone is.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Can You Find It, Too? by Judith Cressy (2004)
The sequel to Can You Find It? (2002), these titles turn the idea of traditional seek-and-find books on their head: 19 full-color paintings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a handful of American and European museums are presented alongside a list of items to locate and count. (In this painting, Bruegel the Elder’s Children at Play, among the things to look for are 1 mask, 2 red purses, 2 cone-shaped hats, 1 woman balancing a broom). Of the two I like the sequel better — just a personal preference based on the artwork in each, though they are designed exactly the same and are both superb (and the series doesn’t end there — the Met went on to produce a handful of connected titles, such as Can You Find It Inside?, Can You Find It Outside?, and Can You Hear It?, to name a few). I have spent hours looking at these books myself — they are interesting, fun, and complex enough to revisit again and again — and so have my children, beginning when they were far younger than I expected (I regularly found my then-2yo poring over these books even without knowing what she was looking for). The beauty of these titles — besides, well, their actual beauty — is two-fold: strengthening children’s visual dexterity using images that are both lovely and detailed, and introducing them in a gentle (okay, and a little sneaky) way to great art. Sounds good to me.
Take care of yourselves, folks. It always feels trite to say “hug your people close and count your blessings,” and it is — but that doesn’t preclude it from being a good practice. Hug your people close. Count your blessings.
Thank you, as always, for reading.