Format: Picture book
Author: Isabel Minhós Martins
Illustrators: Madalena Matoso
Publisher: Tate Publishing (published February 2011)
When I was born I had never seen anything.
At first glance, this book looks almost like it’s aimed at babies or toddlers. When I first picked it up at the library, the simple illustrations and short sentences seemed too young for Little E (4) and more suited to Tiny J (1.5). But when I sat down to read it with both girls, I realized that it’s actually a beautifully simple book, a poem really, about life, learning, and growing.
When I was born
I did not know there was a sky
or that the sky could change
or that clouds were so beautiful.
When I was born everything was new.
Everything was about to start.
Sincere and earnest without being saccharine, childlike without being patronizing, When I Was Born is a gem of a picture book. This is a wonderful book to read at bedtime, slowly, quietly, with just enough spots for giggles (spoiler alert: one page features, surprisingly, a giraffe pooping. Which, obviously, is Little E’s favourite part).
Format: Picture book
Author: Karina Wolf
Illustrators: The Brothers Hilts
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (published August 2012)
The Insomniacs weren’t always a night family.
After moving twelve time zones away for Mother’s new job, the Insomniac family finds themselves with a problem: they are up all night and can’t stay awake during the day. With some inspiration from their nocturnal animal neighbours, they decide to embrace the night themselves.
With a story that could have come from Neil Gaiman and illustrations reminiscent of Tim Burton’s, The Insomniacs is not your typical picture book. An utterly unique cast of characters, including a little girl with an unusual menagerie of nighttime pets, is complemented by surprising and wondrous illustrations in a palette of deep blues, indigo, and black. There is something oddly comforting in the nighttime world of the Insomniac family, and certainly something magical. Highly recommended.
Format: Picture book
Authors: Ferida Wolff and Harriet May Savitz
Illustrator: Elena Odriozola
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (published July 2009)
Deep in the snow-covered mountains was the tiny village where Babba Zarrah lived. The children loved to settle down on Babba Zarra’s big old blanket to listen to her stories.
Babba Zarrah, noticing a hole in little Nikolai’s shoe, decides to knit him some nice warm socks. But the village is snowbound and there is no way to buy new wool. So she unravels a little bit of the story blanket to knit the socks.
Then she notices that the postman is looking chilly.
Once socks have been knit for Nikolai and a scarf for the postman, Babba Zarrah moves on to warm mittens for the schoolmaster and a shawl for the grocer, leaving her gifts anonymously. No one knows who is knitting the wonderful presents. The story blanket is growing smaller and smaller by the day, and the children must sit closer and closer together to hear Babba Zarrah’s stories. Eventually, the whole village, down to the tailor’s scraggly cat, is warm and snug, and the story blanket is gone! The people of the village come together to find out what is going on and to give a memorable gift to Babba Zarrah to thank her for her generosity.
This charming story knits together (see what I did there?) themes of generosity, the gift of the handmade, and the importance of community, all with the enduring sense of timelessness of a classic folk tale. The illustrations of rosy-cheeked children and warm woolly blankets and the simple but graceful writing are a rare match, and the book’s attention to detail goes right down to the endpapers that feature the pattern of Babba Zarrah’s pink floral dress. The Story Blanket is a great conversation starter for talks about giving to others, about storytelling, and about supporting one another, but at the end of the day, it is an absolutely lovely picture book.
Well, my friends, summer is coming to a close, which means kicking the Aardvark back off, and up a notch. The school year is starting for many of us — Little E, astonishingly, is off to junior kindergarten — and September always feels like a time for new beginnings and for new books. You can expect new reviews here every Wednesday, and lots of other fun surprises in the weeks and months to come. The Aardvark has been snuffling all summer and we have a great lineup of picture books to bring your way. Stay tuned and keep turning pages!