Writers, can you remember falling in love with picture books? I do. I have distinct memories of wanting to crawl into the scenes of some of my first picture books and early readers. I thought Pippi Longstocking would make a great friend, and I imagined myself skating on sponges, cleaning the floor right beside her. Today’s blog post by children’s book author Jonathan Fenske will delight you and perhaps remind you of your own childhood reading life. And amazing news: you have the opportunity to win a copy of Jonathan Fenske’s brand new book, Love is in the Air. See the details below.
I’ve always been surrounded by imaginative, compelling children’s books. I remember as a child, my mother had a red bookshelf lined with checkerboard paper. The shelf was crammed with picture books, and I spent hours flipping through them and dreaming.
When we had our first daughter seven years ago, I delighted in buying old picture books at thrift stores and discovering new titles at our local bookstore. When I wrote Love Is in the Air (indeed, whenever I write) all of my favorite books were (and are) swirling in my head, a beautiful, highly respected and influential mass of collective imagination.
Here are five of my all-time favorite children’s books.
The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip by George Saunders. Illustrated by Lane Smith.
This book is so offbeat and weird, it only could have been written by George Saunders. Most surprising is that a publisher actually took the chance to get it to market. Lane Smith’s illustrations are the perfect complement to the story. And they come remarkably close to the mental images Saunders’ words conjure (at least my mental images!).
Mr. Lunch Series by J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh
Seibold’s digital images were an eye-opener for me when this series launched. Mr. Lunch is a savvy little puppy, a genius at self-promotion. The pictures are chock full of hidden delights, which is a great impetus for repeat readings. It is digital art that retains warmth and charm.
Journey Cake, Ho! by Ruth Sawyer. Illustrations by Robert McCloskey.
Robert McCloskey is one of my illustration heroes. His art, which relied heavily on observation of the real world, took that notion of realism and bent it just-so into the shape of whimsy. The rhythmic prose of Sawyer (who happened to be McCloskey’s mother-in-law) spins a new runaway food tale that seems straight out of Appalachia. This classic has a satisfying circular story arc accentuated by well-crafted and witty imagery.
Happy Birthday to You! by Dr. Seuss.
As a kid, I remember this book as the first one that made me desire to jump into the story and never look back. I still wish that guide-bird with the unlimited budget would show up on my birthday and take me away. And the birthday boy’s uninhibited swan dive into the multi-tiered Mustard-Off pool is indelibly etched into my consciousness. Many times I mentally superimposed myself onto that lad and made that dive myself. The water was always invigorating.
The Happy Hocky Family by Lane Smith.
Oh, for more books like The Happy Hocky Family! It is an ingenious riff on the bland world of Dick and Jane. And it wrings so much laughter out of the limited vocabulary and sentence structure of the Easy Reader. Should I feel bad for laughing at the tragedy that befalls Newton, the family dog? A wickedly funny modern book with a vintage feel. And at long last, there’s a sequel: The Happy Hocky Family Moves to the Country (Don’t worry. Newton has made a full recovery).
Your turn: What’s your favorite picture book? Why?
About the author. Jonathan Fenske is the author of Love Is in the Air and Guppy Up! (Penguin USA). He is also a fine artist and children’s indie app developer. His first app for iPad, Healthy Creatures, is on the App Store. Jonathan lives with his family in the suburbs of Denver, CO.