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The Beauty of a Children's Book
Hunting for Little Masterpieces Hidden in the Wild
I have had a deep, longstanding love for children's books. These feelings have only increased over the years. The stories they tell exist in their purest form—devoid of everything extraneous that you might expect in a huge novel or lengthy movie that adults enjoy. There are no dramatic plot twists, lengthy conversations, fiery explosions, or superfluous car chases. Much like a poem, the simplicity and the distillation of the most essential elements of the story make children's books unique works of art. Since they have to be easy for any child to understand, the language used is often direct, concise, lyrical, and profoundly poignant.
The artwork in a children’s book is another element I love. Often whimsical and fun, the art can drive the narrative as much as the prose of the book. An entire universe is created through the illustrations—conveying emotion, mood, action, time, context, and culture within only a handful of pages. Characters and settings come alive through the stylistic choices of the illustrator and author.
To be clear, I do not love all children's books, but I am often on the hunt for books that have gorgeous art and an insightful, well-told story. As such, I own a small collection of them, and because I am extremely selective, it is actually quite seldom that I purchase one. I am often on the prowl for them anywhere that books can be found, but the ones that truly catch my eye are the rarest of gems.
For this issue of WPR, I wanted to share with you three books in my slowly growing, beloved collection. These books are among the best I have ever come across. Their stories and art are so skillfully rendered that they are also amazing works of art.
The Garden of Abdul Gasazi
Written and Illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg
In this book, a boy is asked to look after a rebellious dog whose owner is out for the day. The dog runs off and leads the boy into the garden of a mysterious neighbor. Something unusual is amiss when the boy cannot find the dog at all. I love the artwork in the book, and the story is incredibly charming. I discovered this little, otherworldly diamond when it was featured on an episode of the show Reading Rainbow I was watching, and I was enthralled.
The Night Gardener
Written and Illustrated by the Fan Brothers
In a small town, the tops of trees are mysteriously being shaped into enormous topiaries. The families in the town and the children from the local orphanage come alive with awe and joy. Lonesomeness finds a friend in this sweet book. When I saw its cover at a bookstore in Florida last year, I knew right away that I would love it. I was not wrong.
Illustrated by Peter Van Den Ende
This children's book does not use words to convey its story. Instead, it relies on dazzling imagery to convey a fantastical adventure involving a paper boat that sails across vast expanses of ocean. This is easily one of the most impressive works of art I have ever seen. The illustrations are insanely creative and masterfully composed. I found this book in a review of it in the New York Times.
There is surely a part of me that will always be a child who is thrilled by enchanting, fanciful things. I adore books that are made with a nuanced, imaginative, but tender-hearted spirit and illustrated by artisans at the peak of their craft. If you know of a children's book that I might love, please let me know.
For as long as I can, I will continue my low-key hunt for children's books that are written and designed with masterful skill—never expecting to find anything worthwhile, but brimming and gasping with wide-eyed love, admiration, and excitement whenever I do.
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