I believe that reading the right book can be a transformative experience. As a mother, former longtime bookseller and ardent reader of children's literature, I want to help kids start their reading journey on the right path. Insightful reviews and excellent suggestions of similar titles will ensure that readers are never without a good book in hand. My new job as an assistant to a literary agent is helping me to hone my critical skills and bring you the very best of the best in kids' books.
More, written by IC Springman and illustrated by Brian Lies AND Little Bird, written by Germano Zullo and illustrated by Albertine
Before I write anything about these two wonderful books, I have to mention Sophie Blackall (The Crows of Pearlblossom by Aldous Huxley, Mr and Mrs Bunny - Detectives Extraordinaire! by Polly Horvath) a favorite illustrator of mine an now book reviewer! While I had More in my pile of books to review, it was Blackall's review of Springman's book in the NY Times on May 11, 2012 that introduced me to the book Little Bird and inspired me to get busy on my own review of More. I am so thrilled to that Blackall is bringing her talent, knowledge and experience to the world of book reviews and look forward to her sharing more worthwhile books with us in the future!
More, written by IC Springman is, as Blackall says, "a cautionary tale sparingly written." While Springman's text, made up of a string of words (nothing, something, a few, several, more, way too much, enough!) is austere, her message is effusive. The very talented Brian Lies (creator of the fantastic Bat books - Bats at the Beach, Bats at the Library, Bats at the Ballgame - which are a treat to read and also do much to support bat conservation) helps tell the story with his vivid, playful illustrations.
A well meaning friend, Mouse seemingly sets this ball rolling when she gives the magpie a shiny marble. The magpie tucks it into her nest, starting a quest to collect that eventually require the magpie to make one new nest after another to hold all the treasures. Lies' magnificent illustrations keep listeners glued to the page, and he includes just enough familiar items among the junk (a lego brick, a binky, a Tinker Toy, a toothbrush) that More almost reads like a seek-and-find book at times.
The mouse tries to warn the magpie about the dangers of her passion, but it takes the breaking of the branch that holds her nest, leaving the magpie buried under her treasures, to open her eyes.
The final image of the book shows the magpie with a reasonable amount of treasures tied onto a ribbon, flying off with the mouse. Less is more. Lesson learned? For a glimpse into Brian Lies' artistic process, check out 7 Impossible Things. Julie Danielson also reviewed More for Kirkus and reveals a very interesting backstory to the book. Danielson writes,
I chatted briefly with Lies about this book, and it turns out that it’s had an interesting, rather mind-meldy path to publication. “I first came up with the idea of a book about a bird with a hoarding problem back in 1995,” he told me, “but I couldn't make the text I'd written to accompany the suite of sketches I'd drawn NOT be preachy. Then in 2010, I.C. Springman's spare text, through several sheer coincidences, was plucked from the slush pile by the assistant to my editor, the intrepid Kate O'Sullivan at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who had never seen my earlier attempts at More. She thought I might be able to do something interesting with the spare text. Those quantitative words made all the difference—though it definitely has a message, it no longer wags a finger at you.”
Amazing to know that Lies and Springman were, in different ways, working toward the same end. It took Springman's spare vision to frame Lies' visual tale and, as Lies says, express the message without being preachy. Creating a worthwhile book with a message or "life lesson" that is not overly didactic or moralizing is much, much harder than you could imagine, but Springman and Lies do just that and in a very memorable way.
Lies still life study for the illustrations in More
Little Bird by Germano Zullo, illustrations by Albertine,
translated by Claudia Zoe Bedrick
As Sophie Blackall says in her review of these books, "If More is a warning against hoarding treasure, Little Bird is an engaging invitation to embrace small, often over looked treasures." It is easy to see why, beyond the birds, and the spare text, Blackall paired these books for review. Opposite the title page for Little Bird is this line from e.e. cummings' "poem 53,"
may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
Some days are different.
Where it might be said that More is a parable, Little Bird is could be described as a meditation. A poet and writer for adults and children, Germano Zullo's text for Little Bird is eloquently poetic and I am tempted to print it here in its entirety. While it stands well on its own, the words go so well with Albertine's colorful illustrations (Zullo and Albertine are frequent collaborators) that it would be a shame to separate the two.
As Blackall points out, the story of "Little Bird unfolds leisurely, almost like an animation." There are several pages without text interspersed between those with words and when the words and pictures meet up, the meaning of the story deepens. A man with a truck drives across a gleaming landscape to the edge of a cliff where he opens the doors and releases a colorful flock of birds. As the man watches them fly away, the text reads, "One could almost believe that one day is just like another." But, "some have something a little more." And this day, the man finds a little more - a tiny black bird, hanging back in the truck.
"Most of the time we don't notice these things," the text reads as the man sits on the bed of his truck after unsuccessfully trying to teach the bird to fly away. But, the "little things are not made to be noticed. They are made to be discovered." With these words, the man and the bird companionably share his sandwich.
Finally, the bird takes flight and the man smiles, watching as he flies through the sky. As the man backs up his truck and turns to head down the road he drove in on, he experiences the true treasures, the little things, because, "One is enough to enrich the moment. Just one is enough to change the world." Like Blackall, I won't reveal the lovely end (and images) that finish this charming book, but I will tell you that it is perfect and would make a lovely gift. Consider doing something a little different and give the graduate in your life Little Bird instead of Dr Seuss's Oh the Places You'll Go this year!
Little Bird is published by the wonderful, independent, family-owned Enchanted Lion Books. Besides keeping the invaluable Arthur Geisert (Ice and The Giant Seed) in print and featuring a line devoted to wordless picture books, they publish picture books in translation by authors and illustrators from all over the world, upholding this philosophy:
As we all know, books help children to cross all kinds of boundaries and borders long before they begin to grasp the world through actual travel and experience. We thus take as our task that of connecting young readers to the wonderfully diverse modes of expression that exist in the world, so that in the end they will feel that the whole world -- with all of its wonderful, surprising and very real similarities and differences -- is their home.