I love books that celebrate the joy of reading. Books about books produce a particular sort of joy in my brain. Here are seven picture books about the magic of stories.
Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
It’s very hard for me to imagine a world without picture books. I grew up going to the library where there were shelves and shelves of picture books to check out. I’ve been collecting picture books since well before I was even married and had kids, and my shelves are now overflowing with them. But there was a time when kids didn’t have fun stories to read: they had religious texts and rules, and they had cheap, ugly chapbooks sold by street vendors because “real” publishers didn’t see any market for kids’ books.
Balderdash! is about John Newbery, a kid who grew up and decided to make books especially for kids, and started a revolution that is still going strong today. This picture book is written for kids, but I learned a lot about John Newbery and the publishing industry in the 1700s that I never knew about before. The illustrations are wonderful and exciting, and even the text is set in many different typefaces so that it’s dynamic and engaging. If you love picture books, then you’ll definitely want to read this book about the “father of children’s literature.”
This book is narrated by a little girl who calls herself a “child of books,” and she goes in search of a friend; together they will have all the various adventures that are available in books and stories. It is both a short poem and full of words. The illustrations feature landscapes made of words: she sails on a sea consisting of The Swiss Family Robinson and Gulliver’s Travels; she walks along a road paved with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; she scales a mountain of Peter Pan and Wendy.
The pictures are gorgeous and they’re an imaginative reflection of the magic of words, and how we lose ourself in reading.
When you’ve got a book to read, you need a place to read it. The child in this book is just searching for A Place to Read, but nothing seems quite right … until they remember that maybe it’s not about the type of chair or the location, but the delight in sharing a story with others. The story incorporates fun rhyming verse, and the illustrations are a mix of drawings and collages, depicting various chairs accompanied by their nearby inhabitants.
One of the key ingredients to the magic of reading, of course, is words. This book personifies the different parts of speech: Noun can be things, but Verb likes to do things. How can they get along? Joined by their friends Interjection, Adjective, and Adverb, the words spend a day at the park and interacting with each other in different ways. It’s a funny little story about both friendship and grammar.
(Wordplay is due out at the end of July.)
What makes a story? Well, you start with a little bit of nothing, and then you add some things to it: a character, what the character wants, and why the character can’t just have what they want. In this case, the character is an octopus—who is both part of the story and responding to the explanation of what makes a story. I really love this one because of the two layers happening simultaneously. As the narrator is explaining how stories work, the octopus (and some other characters) are playing out the hypothetical story in the images. So it is both a fun story about a ukelele-playing octopus who dreams of space travel and an explanation of what makes stories tick.
Dragon was terrible—he stomped on flowers, spit on cupcakes, and was just generally nasty. So the king put up a sign, promising a reward to any brave knight who could tame the dragon … and it didn’t work. So then the villagers called for any brave person to take on the job … and it still didn’t work. Finally, though, a little boy came along who tried something else: a story
It’s a silly picture book (and the examples of the dragon’s “terrible” behavior are fairly amusing), but in the end, stories win out, which is the best sort of ending.
Marilyn Singer begins with the classic poem about Little Miss Muffet, but then dives in deep with a story told in rhyming verse about a young woman named Patience who has big dreams, a father who is obsessed with insects and spiders, a shepherdess with a fiddle, and even Old King Cole. It’s framed a little like a stage play, with notes about the setting, and even a chorus that shows up to sing a little bit of commentary on the side.
It’s a very clever reimagining and mash-up of a few nursery rhymes, showing how there can be more to a story than meets the eye. I’d recommend this one for slightly older readers, because it does get a bit lengthy and younger kids might have a little trouble following the plot.
Want more books about books? Check out these Stack Overflow:
Disclosure: I received review copies of these books.