This past holiday season, I took advantage of all the beautiful Christmas pictures books we have and used them as decorations mixed in with our little twinkly lights and santa figurines. Although we didn’t have any guests over to comment on my clever use of books (because Covid) I was quite chuffed with my creativity, so I plan on doing more of this as we have no shortage of beautiful books. I’ve been lucky to add a few more gorgeous titles to our collection, each very different and not holiday-related, but they all look great on a coffee table and best of all my kids love them too!
Fungarium by Katie Scott and Ester Gaya is the latest release from the Welcome to the Museum Collection, a series of very tall picture books that focus on planets, dinosaurs, plants, and animals. I’ve posted pictures of this book on a few social media channels, and parents always exclaim how much they want them. The illustrations inside are detailed, exact and wonderous. I don’t read much out of this book to my kids yet, because at 6 and 3, they can’t sit still for very long when the words are mostly description or fact, but we do get this book out often to just turn the pages in wonder and discuss the pictures. My youngest is particularly enamored with this one, he insists on keeping it in his room. I’m hoping that they older they get, we can begin to really read the words and absorb them together, but for now I’m more than happy to just keep it on our bookshelf to gaze at every once in a while.
Sugar in Milk by Thrity Umrigar, illustrated by Khoa Le has the added benefit of being both beautiful and thought-provoking. It’s about a young girl who moves to America to live with her aunt and uncle, leaving behind the rest of her family and her pet cats. She struggles to fit into her new life, so her aunt tells her a story about travelers forced to leave Persia, who land on the shores of India. The king of the new land doesn’t want to accept the refugees in because “these visitors look foreign and speak a strange and different language”, but can’t communicate with his words so he shows them a cup full to the brim with milk. The leader of the travelers stirs a spoonful of milk into the cup without spilling any, demonstrating their ability to ‘sweeten lives’ without disturbance. After hearing this tale, the young girl decides to smile at the new people around her, realizing that her new home is welcoming, as are the people in it.
The message of this book is obviously an important one, and I love the clever use of the milk and sugar metaphor-I can think of a few people (adults) in my life that could benefit from reading this book in particular. But the imagery found on each page is what makes this book so appealing to my kids. My oldest loves the peacocks in particular, she loves to point them out when they emerge during the discussion with the king and travelers. The peacocks continue in the background as we return to the framing story of the young girl, appearing as shimmery outlines in the sky, but never far away or invisible to the naked eye. It’s difficult to see in this picture above, but the end papers of this book are also gorgeous; they are a navy blue and red pattern of intricate flowers and goblets, mimicking the vibrant reds and blues that dominate that illustrations. This is one of those books that every time you read it, you notice a new image or pattern in the pages.
The Rock from the Sky is the latest release from superstar children’s author and illustrator Jon Klassen. His books are so difficult to describe, because they are deceptively simple. This is a longer picture book and is broken up into chapters, but there are only a few simple sentences per page, which my kids like because they enjoy the illustrations most. The turtle and the armadillo from his previous books are back, and here, they argue about the best place to stand, until a rock falls from the sky. Then they sit on the rock and daydream, imagining a future where a rainforest grows up around them, and a strange alien comes and zaps a spot on the ground in front of them with its fiery eyeball. It’s a weird set of storylines, they don’t really fit together, and there is no clear message, yet my kids still like it. They love pointing out the little things, like the way the characters’ eyes get super big when they realize they avoided the falling rock, or their grumpy bickering back and forth about the best place to stand.
As a parent, I’m always trying to predict what kind of books my kids will like, or in this case, determine what it is about this book that appeals to them in the first place. I know what I like about it — the illustrations! Plus the characters are cute, and I enjoy the simplicity of the storyline because it allows me to ask the kids more questions about what’s going on. But I really can’t pinpoint what it is about these Klassen books that my children like, because in my mind, the humor is very subtle, and there’s such a strange dynamic between his characters that even adults will puzzle over what the subtext truly is. I know I’m overthinking this, but I’m just so curious about the popularity of these books, what is it that makes them such hits across the ages? Any ideas — comment below!