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
Author: Menena Cottin
Illustrator: Rosana Faría
Publisher: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press (published June 2008)
If we could all understand each other just a little better, see the world from other people’s perspectives, we could change the world.
So why don’t we teach our children about other people’s points of view?
This ingenious, innovative book brings to life the world of a blind child named Thomas through his descriptions of colour to his sighted friend, the book’s narrator. Braille letters accompany the text so that the book can be read in two different ways. Each page is black, and the pictures, also in black, are embossed to give the reader the opportunity to experience “feeling” images and to perceive the world through a sense other than sight. The writing is vivid, opening a window into a world where “yellow tastes like mustard, but is as soft as a baby chick’s feathers” and “red is sour like unripe strawberries and as sweet as watermelon.”
Can you feel the difference between a brown fall leaf and fresh-cut green grass? Could you tell them apart if you couldn’t see them?
Having recently listened to a fascinating podcast about how some blind people can learn to “see” (really see, not just locate things) through echolocation, I’ve had blindness and perception on the mind lately. In The Black Book of Colors, Venezuelan author/illustrator team Menena Cottin and Rosana Faría bring to life a world most people avoid thinking about — a world without sight — and invite readers to think about perception differently.
I want my kids to grow up able to imagine and think about the world from other people’s perspectives and not to think of people as being less worthy because they lack a sense like sight or hearing, or the capacity to walk, or some other thing that marks them out as being “different.” Everyone is “different,” and books like this help plant the seeds of understanding that we so badly need in the world right now.
Format: Picture book
Author and illustrator: Hervé Tullet
Publisher: Chronicle Books (published Jauary 2011)
It’s unusual for a truly unique idea to hit the children’s publishing world. In Press Here, art-director-turned-kids’-book-author Hervé Tullet has combined the format of the book with something entirely new: beginning with just one yellow dot in the middle of the page and the inviting word “Ready?,” this book takes the reader on a jaunt through a magical world of dots that move, shake, grow, slide — all while remaining entirely static on the page. The reader is invited to press, tap, and rub the dots, to tilt and shake the book, to blow the dots into place, to clap, and otherwise affect what happens on each page as the dots change.
Press Here may have been the foundation of a new genre of “interactive” children’s books that have followed in its wake, such as Tap to Play and Tap the Magic Tree. In this case, however, imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery since the new books provide a fun new way to enjoy reading for kids — and the people who read to them. (Little E and I always laugh when we shake the book together.) If you haven’t tried one of the books in this field, check your local library. Press Here, the book that kicked the movement off, is a great place to start.
Parental advisory: Press Here ends with an invitation to read the book again from the beginning. Seasoned bedtime story readers will know that this can be an inescapable trap. The book is unendingly charming for little ones, but the charm can wear thin for grown-ups after seventeen or eighteen readings. Consider yourselves warned.