One of the coolest surprises we found when we moved to Catonsville was its amazing library, especially the children's section. They have a fantastic collection of fairy tales and legends, a great selection of chapter books for all ages, and the best part is the 'new books' shelf, where I can keep up with all that is new and lovely in children's lit.
I think my most favorite book that we've read in the last 12 months is Small Beauties: The Journey of Darcy Heart O'Hara by Elvira Woodruff and illustrated by Adam Rex.
This has it all for me: Ireland, a small girl who 'stopped to notice small beauties wherever she went', the centrality of family, the departure from a beloved land, the act of remembering. There's been some talk recently in our house about the creation and telling of stories, so I love it when we find a book that incorporates the act of storytelling into the story itself.
It would be a hardened heart indeed that is able to get through the pages where Darcy and her family leave Ireland for New York, and the grandparents stay behind: "Now there is no farewell sadder than the farewell of forever, and so it was with many tears that the O'Haras bid their beloved Ireland good-bye." The grandmother tells Darcy that she's counting on her to keep the family stories vivid in their memories: "Help the others to remember, and not just the sadness, the hurt, and the hunger. Help them to remember all the beauty they left behind." Every time I read it (and we're on about the 46th reading around here) my voice catches, and the kids exclaim Mommy! Are you crying?!?!
Even better is when a beautiful story is aided by incredible illustrations: moving and evocative. I know my attachment to this story is perhaps more autobiographical than others, but I enthusiastically recommend it for anyone who loves small beauties, girls who are noticers, Ireland, or simply the lyricism of a well-told tale.
Now, as a counterpoint to the tugging-at-your-heartstrings historical drama, we found All in a Day by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Nikiki McClure on the 'new releases' shelf last week.
It is a simple read, but such an incredible idea. Rylant's book celebrates the possibilities of a day, and asks the reader to consider your day for all that it might be, and to celebrate everything that IS the day, instead of what was yesterday or will be tomorrow. A quote from Amazon's review page: "The word 'lovely' gets tossed around, but it seems to fit both the words and the art of this ode to the day."
The papercut illustrations are one of the real joys of the book: using black paper and an Xacto knife, Nikki McClure conveys incredible perspective and texture that really ping my little 'graphic-o-meter' in such a happy way.
I'll leave you with this quote from it: The past is sailing off to sea,/the future's fast asleep./A day is all you have to be, it's all you get to keep.
If only, if only! we were able to keep that focus in our daily lives. I just love kid's books so much.