Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘children’s books’

20 AUGUST, 2014

Inside, Outside, Upside-Down: A Sweet Children’s Book About Understanding the World Through Relative Positions

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A gentle reminder that everything is a matter of perspective.

It’s hard enough for grown-ups to grasp that distances shape how we relate to the world, so how is a child to comprehend the importance of positional relationships in making sense of the world? In Inside, Outside, Upside Down (public library) — not to be confused with Upside Down Day, the curious 1968 gem by NASA’s head of publicity — British illustrator and animator Yasmeen Ismail offers young minds a primer on relational aesthetics in the form of a playful activity-book.

Beneath the simple line drawings and primary colors lies a more subtle message that understanding the world is about understanding everything in relation to everything else — about, to borrow Henry Miller’s perceptive formulation of the art of living, how we orient ourselves to it — and, most of all, that everything is a matter of perspective.

Complement Inside, Outside, Upside Down with French graphic designer Janik Coat’s Hippopposites, a minimalist primer on aesthetic opposites.

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14 AUGUST, 2014

What Makes a Baby: An Inclusive and Imaginative Illustrated Guide to the Modern Family

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A playful illustrated primer for every kind of family and every kind of kid.

Benjamin Franklin’s oft-cited proclamation that nothing in the world is certain except death and taxes omits another existential inevitability, and arguably one no less pleasant — the question every parent dreads and no parent ever escapes: where do babies come from? After illustrator Sophie Blackall’s sweet and honest primer, here comes a very different but no less delightful answer from author Cory Silverberg and illustrator Fiona Smyth.

Imaginative and inclusive, What Makes a Baby (public library) is a modern-day, queer, colorful reimagining of Peter Mayle’s 1987 classic Where Did I Come From?. The playful illustrations and simple but intelligent text illuminate the basic biology of reproduction while honoring today’s diversity of families, of genders and gender identities, and of how kids can come into a family.

We learn, for instance, what a sperm is, but aren’t told that it always comes from the “father,” nor even from a “man” — simply what function in serves in creating a baby, unmooring the reproductive process from limiting definitions of gender and parental roles.

Inside the egg there are so many stories all about the body the egg came from.

Inside the sperm, just like the egg, there are so many stories all about the body the sperm came from.

When an egg and a sperm meet, they swirl together in a special kind of dance. As they dance, they talk to each other.

The egg tells the sperm all the stories it has to tell about the body it came from.

And the sperm tells the egg all the stories it has to tell about the body it came from.

Silverberg, a writer and sex-educator raised by a children’s librarian mother and sex therapist father, envisioned the book a few years ago, when all of a sudden many of his friends started having kids. There didn’t seem to be a book on baby-making that was lyrical and beautiful but biologically accurate, illuminating but not dreadfully pedagogical, a celebration of diversity but not a piece of self-righteous political propaganda. So he wrote one.

Who was waiting for you to be born?

Complement What Makes a Baby with little children’s deceptively simple, profound questions about how life works, then revisit kids’ amusing and poignant responses to gender politics during the second wave of feminism.

Images courtesy of Cory Silverberg / Triangle Square Books

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12 AUGUST, 2014

Flashlight: A Whimsical Wordless Story about Curiosity and Wonder

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Shedding light on the wonderland that unfolds when you simply dare, and care, to look.

As an immense lover of smart children’s books and of cleverly deployed die-cut ingenuity, I was instantly taken with Flashlight (public library) by Vermont-based illustrator Lizi Boyd — a wordless story about curiosity and wonder, following a little boy who sneaks out of his camp tent at night and, with a flashlight in hand, discovers the whimsical world that lives under the nocturnal veneer.

Beneath the sweet, enchanting illustrations, with a sensibility partway between The Black Book of Colors and Jon Klassen’s art for Lemony Snicket’s The Dark, lies a deeper reminder about the wonderland that unfolds when one is simply willing to look.

Flashlight was preceded by Boyd’s equally delightful Inside Outside.

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