The Arrival

The Arrival by Shaun Tan is in a class of its own. This is what is called a 'graphic novel' (not a comic book) and you'll not find it in the picture book section. The difference between a graphic novel and a picture book is that the former is closer to a cinema experience than anything else. The author/illustrator has to focus especially on the continuity in between images to make the whole piece 'flow' really well. It would be in the young adults section at your library.

I spent the better part of an hour reading this book. Reading might be the wrong word-- let's say feasting. There are no words at all; it is a picture journey that makes it accessible from the very, very young all the way through adulthood. Truly a book for all ages. This artwork is stunning.

The story is about an immigrant who is making his way in a new world and its told in the setting of fantastical, surreal creatures, buildings, foods and skylines. Seems there's a lot of meaty symbolism in there too... the shadow of a dragon's tail over the city could mean so many different kinds of physical, political, or spiritual threats. You get a haunting and satisfying feeling that this experience is what true immigrants must've felt like back in the day when everything was foreign to them.

Shaun Tan grew up as a half Chinese man in Western Australia and he worked on this book for four years, gathering anecdotes from immigrants, doing research and of course the laborious artwork. His website is an interesting place in and of itself... turns out he also worked as a conceptual designer on the movie WALL-E. You know, I'm not generally a big fan of surreal art; Salvador Dali never did much for me, but Tan's work on this particular book really makes me want to seek out his other work for a taste of more...

It occurred to me that photo albums are really just another kind of picture book that everybody makes and reads, a series of chronological images illustrating the story of someone’s life. They work by inspiring memory and urging us to fill in the silent gaps, animating them with the addition of our own storyline. -Shaun Tan

Flicka, Snapp, Snurr.

Do you know Maj Lindman? Seeing how she's a Swedish author and during the wintertime, I'm hot and heavy over all things Scandinavian, I thought it a good time to rave about the wonderful little series she created in the 1930s and 40s. They're still in print today!

Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr are three young triplets who get into all sorts of fun predicaments before a happy ending and good moral end the story. We're not talking phenomenal storytelling here. But don't be deceived by the Dick and Jane vintage illustrations either... there is a real, good, edifying story to be told. It's so charming and happy and just the sort of thing to read to a houseful of rowdy boys to perhaps interest them into wanting a respectable sort of day.

My personal favorite is Snipp, Snapp, Snurr, and the Gingerbreadbecause you are guaranteed giggles over three batter covered boys...

Of course, there's also Flicka, Ricka and Dicka who were something of heroines to me when I was a young girl. I always wished they could have been quadruplets and I could've been, oh I don't know... Nicka? Sticka? Blicka? Whatever... I just wanted to have a gaggle of girls around me to have as much fun as these three had. I loved the story of Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and the New Dotted Dresseseven if it was terribly predictable.

See what's so charming about these books is that they are so happily virtuous. They would never exist in today's children's literature world. The drama would be amped up. The girls would be seeking their individuality. But it's quite refreshing to read a sweet, simple story about sweet, simple girls. And I think kids are inwardly hungry for this kind of innocent goodness. Think of Snipp, Snapp, Snurr, Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka as you would a warm bowl of oatmeal in the morning topped off with a dollop of honey and cinnamon... wholesome, sweet, simply good for you.

Here's a quick, random video that shows the inside of Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and their New Skates. The new edition comes complete with paper dolls!

Top 10 Best Winter Books

I had a hard time with this list because there are many sub-categories of winter which could fill out their OWN Top 10 lists. I could have lists on snow, on winter animals, or winter sports. There's just a lot of fun to be had in this season. And let's not forget some of the fall books that overlap here for super great reading like Snowsong Whistling or Waiting for Winter. Be that as it may, we have to start somewhere, so here I go. Books that try to be fairly general on the season:

 Winter Story by Jill Barklem. As always, Jill Barklem's Brambly Hedge books top my list of seasonal must-haves. The Snow Ball is coming!! Enjoy the fantastic preparations...

 I Like Winter by Lois Lenski. Why is it that all the best books are out of print?! Like Barklem, Lenski's seasonal books deserve to be on your shelf. Keep your eye out while you're thrifting around!

Grandmother Winter by Phyllis Root. A new find for me this year and one I love oh so much! Old Grandmother Winter (in person) is creating a beautiful winter quilt to wrap around the world. Such awesome illustrations here!

The Mitten by Jan Brett. Jan Brett really shines in winter. It's because all her Scandinavian art and detail are in full glory. The Mitten is probably her best-selling book and comes in a board version as well. Don't forget to check out The Hat, Trouble with Trolls, the Gingerbread stories etc. I love the peekaboo frames that reveal the upcoming plot.

Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton. If I would've filled out a Top 11 Author/Illustrators, Burton would have filled out that last slot. I really, really love and appreciate her books; my boys do too. What's more, the treasury Mike Mulligan and More: Four Classic Stories by Virginia Lee Burton, has got to be one of the best bargains ever in children's books. For a little more than what would be $3 a book, you get four of the best stories that AREN'T abridged, with complete artwork, in one nice hardback cover.

Snow Moon by Nicholas Brunelle. We discovered this one last year and we loved it! The story is super simple and solemn and lovely. And there's a touch of whimsy at the very end that makes you wonder whether it was all just a dream or what. Very nice...

The Tomten and the Fox by Astrid Lindgren. The author who brought us Pippi Longstocking has quite a name in the picture book world too. This book, like it's companion The Tomten are wonderfully told in slow, somber, quiet voices... it's almost as if you can feel the snow falling outside when you do it this way... isn't that right Reynard?

Ollie's Ski Trip by Elsa Beskow. Good old Beskow delivers again. I love the weepy gray thaw lady who is trying to elude King Winter and Ollie on his brand new pair of skis.

The Race of the Birkebeiners by Lise Lunge-Larsen. This is a fantastic story with fantastic Mary Azarian woodcuts. Something about winter makes us want to drink up everything of Nordic countries we can... this is a historically accurate book that has adventure slipped all through it.

The Story of the Snow Children by Sibylle von Olfers. I admit that my boys didn't really jump with joy over this book; they listen to it just fine and don't complain, but what really makes it special is something that little girls will see: a birthday tea party, princesses, a Snow Queen, oh yeah... they'll eat this up.

"Circling the moon, they brushed off the light with a touch of their wings."
-Snow Moon

The Motherload List of Excellent Catholic Picture Books

***last updated April 2015***

Here is my personal, comprehensive list of excellent picture books that help nurture a love for the Catholic faith and Christianity in general. This is just my opinion, mind you.  There are certainly other Catholic books out there but I have been pretty selective in highlighting only ones that I either have or would buy myself. You won't see ugly or inane books on this list; I don't think we should buy/read "twaddle" even if it comes packaged as a "saint story."No sense in dumbing down the beautiful!  However, there are a couple compromises on this point... only because either the pictures or the text are in and of themselves absolutely worth your time. This used to be a post linking you to my Listmania lists on but they limit you to 40 titles.  :-) I also left out the entire St. Joseph Picture Books series (which admittedly do have their place, especially being thin, cheap and Mass-friendly), as well as most Christmas books since that genre is too big for my purposes here, another time maybe...  I'm interested only in STORY picture books here, that happen to reinforce specifically Catholic/Christian values.  I starred *books that are my own very special favorites. Either way, enjoy the list!

An Alphabet of Saints*
Saints for Girls: A First Book for Little Catholic Girls
Saints for Boys: A First Book for Little Catholic Boys
Lives and Legends of the Saints
Saints: Lives and Illuminations
More Saints: Lives and Illuminations

The Lady of Guadalupe
Our Lady of Guadalupe*
Our Lady of Guadalupe
The Life of Mary
Mary: The Mother of Jesus
The Lady in the Blue Cloak: Legends from the Texas Missions

St. Francis
Clare and Francis*
Saint Francis of Assisi: A Life of Joy*
Francis Woke Up Early
St. Francis and the Proud Crow
Wolf of Gubbio
Saint Francis of Assisi
Canticle of the Sun: Saint Francis of Assisi
Brother Sun, Sister Moon*
The Good Man of Assisi
Brother Juniper*
Saint Francis

Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc*
Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc

St. Nicholas
The Real Santa Claus: Legends of Saint Nicholas*
The Baker's Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale
Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend
A Special Place for Santa: A Legend for Our Time*
The Legend of Saint Nicholas*

St. Wenceslaus
Good King Wenceslas
Good King Wenceslas
Stephen's Feast

St. Valentine
Saint Valentine*
Saint Valentine

St. Hildegard
Hildegard's Gift
The Secret World Of Hildegard

St. Christopher
Legend of Saint Christopher*
Christopher: The Holy Giant

St. George
Saint George and the Dragon (more legend than fact, but still fun to read…)
Saint George and the Dragon

St. Benedict
The Life of Saint Benedict
The Holy Twins: Benedict and Scholastica*

St. Martin de Porres
The Pied Piper of Peru
Martin de Porres: The Rose in the Desert
Martin's Mice

St. Patrick
Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland
Patrick: Saint of Ireland*
The Life of St. Patrick: Enlightener of the Irish

St. Columba
Across a Dark and Wild Sea
Man Who Loved Books

Other Irish Saints
The Blackbird's Nest: Saint Kevin of Ireland*
The Ravens of Farne: A Tale of Saint Cuthbert
The Life of Saint Brigid: Abbess of Kildare
The Saint and his Bees (St. Modomnoc)
Saint Ciaran: The Tale of a Saint of Ireland

Misc. Saints
A Saint and His Lion: The Story of Tekla of Ethiopia
St. Jerome and the Lion
Pascual and the Kitchen Angels*
The Wonderful Life of Saint Sergius of Radonezh*
Saint Brendan And The Voyage Before Columbus*
Peter Claver, Patron Saint of Slaves/Pedro Claver, Santo Patrono de los Esclavos
John Mary Vianney: The Holy Cure of Ars
Bernadette: The Little Girl from Lourdes
Lucia, Saint of Light
The Little Friar Who Flew (St. Joseph of Cupertino)
Saint Jude: A Friend in Hard Times
Saint Felix and the Spider
Mother Teresa
Yes! The Life of Blessed Josemaria for Young Readers*
Lolek - The Boy Who Became Pope John Paul II
Roses in the Snow: A Tale of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary

Bible Stories
Old Testament
Noah's Ark*
Noah's Ark
The Tower of Babel*
Sarah Laughs
Moses: The Long Road to Freedom
The Angel and the Donkey*
Jonah and the Whale*
The Book of Jonah
The Story Of Ruth
The Story of the Call of Samuel
Jacob and Esau
Benjamin and the Silver Goblet*
The Coat of Many Colors
David and Goliath
The Wisest Man in the World
Kings and Queens of the Bible
Old Testament Rhymes
Queen Esther Saves Her People*
The Story of Esther: A Purim Tale
Daniel and the Lord of Lions
The Lord is My Shepherd
To Every Thing There Is A Season*

New Testament
The Nativity: Six Glorious Pop-Up Scenes*
The Miracles of Jesus
The Parables of Jesus
Loaves & Fishes
Parable of the Good Samaritan
The Parable of the Vineyard
The Parable of the Sower
Parable of the Bridesmaids
The Twelve Apostles
The Easter Story*
The Thornbush
St. Peter's Story
St. Joseph's Story
Love Is . . .
The Way of the Cross: Holy Week, the Stations of the Cross, and the Resurrection

The Saving Name of God the Son *
The Weight of a Mass: A Tale of Faith*
Twice Yours
I Believe: The Nicene Creed
The Lord's Prayer
This Little Prayer of Mine
This Is What I Pray Today: Divine Hours Prayers For Children
Prayer for a Child
If Jesus Came to My House*
If Jesus Came to My House (newer edition)
A Child's Rule of Life
Friendship with Jesus: Pope Benedict XVI Talks to Children on Their First Holy Communion
A Is for Altar, B Is for Bible
Our Holy Father, the Pope: The Papacy from Saint Peter to the Present
Manners in God's House: First Prayers and First Missal
I Believe: The Creed, Confession and the Ten Commandments for Little Catholics
Just For Today*

Jacinta's Story
Brother Hugo and the Bear*
The Miracle of St. Nicholas*
Brother Bartholomew and the Apple Grove
The Clown of God*
The Little Juggler*
The Acrobat and the Angel
The Monk Who Grew Prayer*
The Little Rose of Sharon*
The Princess and the Kiss: A Story of God's Gift of Purity
The Squire and the Scroll
Brother William's Year: A Monk at Westminster Abbey*
Joseph's Hands*
Sister Anne's Hands
The Tale of Three Trees: A Traditional Folktale
Song of the Swallows
Joseph and Chico: The Life of Pope Benedict XVI as Told by a Cat
Max and Benedict: A Bird's Eye View of the Pope's Daily Life

Library Pick of the Week: Brother William's Year

New in 2010 was a wonderful, living picture book called Brother William's Year: A Monk at Westminster Abbey written and illustrated by Jan Pancheri. This was definitely our Libraray pick of the week (Maybe even month? Quarter? Pick of the year seems lofty but it would definitely be in contention for that prize!) Pancheri was the lead gardener of Westminster Abbey and has used this position to do research into "the way things used to be," i.e., when the abbey was filled with Benedictine Monks before the property was stolen from the Church.

The book is a look at what medieval abbey life would've looked like each month of the year and since it's January, the time is ripe for a picture book overview of seasonal life. Each page includes what's happening in the gardens, which were of course the sustenance for the monks back then, not the pristine, manicured displays they are now. There are a couple recipes (Leek Soup!) and fun little tidbits to delight... like the building of a snow-monk. I want to build a snow monk this year!

I'm a fan of the book for a few reasons:

1-It's historically accurate.
2-It's reverent to the spiritual life without being a book meant to proselytize, thereby making it accessible to people of all faiths.
3- The art is just as lovely as the text.
4- I find the footnotes in the back very interesting.

Highly recommended.

Top Ten Epiphany Books

Yet another Christmas post! But Epiphany really is a separate sort of celebration and I want to put this up before January 6th.  I'm not convinced that there aren't more great ones out there that I'm missing in the Epiphany genre… but the following are the best ones I know about!

 The Last Straw by Frederick Thury. This is a winner in my family primarily because of the way the camel's name rolls off the tongue: Hashmakaka.  True story: we have a rice casserole dish named after this camel after an impatient child kept whining that he wanted to know what was in the dish I was making… and I burst out in frustration: "It's camel meat! We are eating camel for dinner!!!"  Hence: Hashmakaka was born… and it's a well loved dish today (made with ground turkey, just so you know).

 We Three Kings by Gennady Spirin. This is the next Epiphany book on my list to buy. Pure eye candy accompany the text of that famous song.

 They Followed a Bright Star by Joan Alavedra. A deceptively deep book couched in a very simple story: the shepherds and kings follow the star to find the Newborn Baby.  My very favorite part is when one shepherd boy whispers, "Is He a shepherd or a king?" I had never thought of the significance of Christ's visitors until that… very cool.

 Baboushka and the Three Kings by Ruth Robbins. There are many legends of this old Christmas lady but I like this one best of what I've seen because of its quirky but lovely illustrations. A more modern (and more Italian) version of this story is de Paola's The Legend of Old Befana.

 The Third Gift by Bagram Ibatoulline. I am in love with this book.  So thoughtful and such a unique angle on Epiphany.  A boy and his father are harvesting one of the gifts that the wise men will bring to baby Jesus.  Beautiful.

 Strega Nona's Gift by Tomie dePaola. Brand new this year, this is a lighter story that relates to the tradition of giving your animals special treats on Epiphany...

 Federico and the Magi's Gift by Beatriz Vidal. A different take on Epiphany from the traditions of Latin America. I really like the sweet Lois Lensky-like illustrations in this book.

 The Stone: A Persian Legend of the Magi by Dianne Hofmeyr. This is an excellent book based on an excellent legend and you'll find it a nice break to think about what happened on the way back from visiting the Child Jesus...

 Danny and the Kings by Susan Cooper. Another fresh take on what the Epiphany is all about.  A young, poor boy just wants a Christmas tree for his young brother to see… he hears that the 3 kings are still traveling the world leaving gifts; can it be true?

 Small Camel Follows the Star by Rachel Brown.  Alovely story from yet another camel's perspective.  Small camel is carrying a very important bundle on his back… it's nice to see attention to details like the wise men visiting the Newborn Baby at His house rather than the stable.

"O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light."

An Alphabet Book for Adults... ?

I picked up this fun little book at the library last week. It must be one of the most clever alphabet books around. Each word contains the word "ant" in it... even if some of the references are totally over the heads of children; R is for Rembrant. K is for Kant (Immanuel). As an adult I got a kick out of reading the book. I loved the illustrations all the way through. My only complaint that keeps this from ousting another book to earn a spot on my Top Ten list is the fact that they dropped the ball on Y and Z. (Usually X is the major cop-out but they came up with "Xanthophile" for that) Y is for "Your Ant Yetta" and Z is for "Antzzzzz." Pity. Despite these little complaints, Antics!by Cathi Hepworth would be fun read for children of all ages... adults too!


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