When I was pregnant, my partner and I read books. Lots of books. We researched baby development and breastfeeding, strollers and sign language, discipline and daycare. We bought books, took them out of the library, and received many from friends. We read and read and read.
But it wasn’t until Alexi was born that we began thinking about another kind of book we would soon be very interested in: books aimed at babies and toddlers. Both of us remember the first two children’s books we acquired, both as gifts. One was Count with Maisie, by Lucy Cousins, which all three of us loved; it provided hours of pleasure and good stimulation from when Alexi was merely months old. The other was a blue and pink sparkly bath book about a dolphin. This one…well, let’s just say it generated disagreement, strong disagreement, between the generations in our household. From the time Alexi could walk until he was around three years old, every evening when we turned on the water, he would toddle into the bathroom and open up the cabinet beneath the sink. He’d grab the blue poofy (and goofy) book and excitedly thrust it into my slightly resentful and more-than-a-little-ungenerous hands. He’d climb into the bathtub and I would proceed to read that book, again and again and again.
Moral of the story? Buy books for your toddler that YOU like and approve of. Screen books from friends and relatives (just ask them to run the title by you in advance). To help you out, we at JogAlong are doing a series of articles about kids books and their authors. I chatted with each writer and asked them some questions about the book and their lives as artists which I’ve shared along with a book synopsis and cover art.
But these are our picks; don’t take our word for it. There are oodles of reviews and sample pages of these books online. Test-drive any books before you select them and I guarantee the quality of life with your baby and toddler will soar.
When an innocent bird meets two cruel kids, their world is forever changed. But exactly how that change unfolds is up to you, in the tradition of Kamishibai—Japanese paper theater. The wordless story by master cartoonist James Sturm is like a haiku—the elegant images leave space for children to inhabit this timeless tale—and make it their own, leading them to learn an ultimate lesson they’ll never forget.
Interview with the Author:
GMS: How did you get the idea for Birdsong?
JS: I was introduced to Kamishibai by a friend and I created the images of Birdsong for him to perform. Kamishibai is a very old Japanese visual storytelling tradition. Its origins go back a thousand years to when Buddist monks would unspool picture scrolls while narrating a story to an audience. Often these stories imparted moral lessons. In Kamishiba, it is the performer or “gaito kamishibaiya” who provides the words. In many ways, Birdsong is an activity book—it is asking its reader to fill in the gaps between the images.
GMS: What is your process like when working on a book?
JS: Since I was working in a Kamishibai format, I knew I’d have to create images that were consistently sized. I work in drafts and as the story started coming together, I’d show them to my friend who’d be performing for suggestions and input. I drew the story in pen, brush, and ink and scanned the pages into the computer where I applied color.
GMS: What made you want to be a children’s book writer/illustrator?
JS: I’m a cartoonist. I love picture writing and children’s book is all about combining words and picture. I started making children’s book when I rediscovered them with my own kids.
GMS: What do you like best about your work?
JS: I love it when I’m in a good work flow and methodically working on a project. When this happens the piece becomes alive and I’m having this exciting dialogue with the work. And when a book sees print it is always exciting.
GMS: Do you have any favourite childhood memories about reading or books?
I loved reading Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Animals. That book electrified me. It was a how-to book that showed step-by-step instructions on composing animals out of basic shapes and marks. The figures were so simple but they radiated personality and charm. This book later inspired my Adventures in Cartooning book series.
GMS: If you could tell your young readers just one thing, what would it be?
It’s as rewarding making books as it is reading them. I’d encourage them to grab a pencil and a go for it!
GMS: If you could tell parents reading your books to their children just one thing, what would it be?
JS: Thank you for reading my book to your child. I truly feel honored by that.