Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘children’s books’

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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08 AUGUST, 2014

The ABC Bunny: A Sweet and Unusual Alphabet Book from 1934

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“X is for eXit — off, away!”

In 1934, six years after creating the oldest American picture-book still in print and a year before her brilliant proto-feminist children’s book, pioneering artist, author, illustrator, and translator Wanda Gág released The ABC Bunny (public library). Given my enormous soft spot for alphabet books and my deep admiration for Gág’s influential work, I was instantly taken with this Newbery Medal-winning vintage gem.

But perhaps most endearing of all is the fact that the project was a true family affair — written and illustrated by Wanda, it was hand-lettered by her brother Howard and featured a music score composed by her sister Flavia. As such, it carries a subtle meta-reminder of how important it is not only to equip young minds with, say, the mechanics of the alphabet but also to envelop them in the kind of parenting that nurtures creativity and encourages children to develop their different abilities. (For another famous creative family, see Virginia Woolf’s collaboration with her teenage nephews, the sons of her sister, the Bloomsbury artist Vanessa Bell, as well as Bell’s woodcuts for one of Woolf’s lesser-known collections.)

Pair The ABC Bunny with Gág’s Gone Is Gone: or the Story of a Man Who Wanted to Do Housework, then treat yourself to more lovely and unusual alphabet books by Edward Gorey, Gertrude Stein, Quentin Blake, Maurice Sendak, and more Edward Gorey.

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