Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘children’s books’

21 AUGUST, 2013

Pioneering Primatologist Jane Goodall’s Children’s Book about the Healing Power of Pet Love

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The story of a scruffy white dog makes a heartening case for pet therapy for kids.

As a lover of little-known children’s books by celebrated luminaries — including especial favorites by Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, James Joyce, and Sylvia Plath — I was thrilled to chance upon a signed copy of Dr. White (public library) by none other than beloved primatologist and reconstructionist Jane Goodall.

“It was a cold, wet morning. Dr. White dashed to the hospital. He was late,” the charming 1999 tale begins. But as the hospital cook dries Dr. White’s rain-roused head with a towel, we realize the good “doctor” is in fact a small, shaggy white dog who helps children heal. The story, full of tender and expressive watercolors by Julie Litty, is based on a real pup-healer at a London hospital and bespeaks Goodall’s unflinching faith in the inextricable, in this case life-saving link we share with our fellow non-human beings.

Dr. White’s reign of love, however, is soon interrupted by an antagonistic efforts of a zealous health inspector who refuses to stray from the rules and evicts Dr. White from the hospital.

But when the inspector’s own little girl falls ill, Dr. White sneaks back in with the help of the hospital staff and the situation takes a heartening turn.

Complement Dr. White with more lovely children’s books by famous “adult” authors like Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, Gertrude Stein, Anne Sexton, T. S. Eliot, and John Updike.

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15 AUGUST, 2013

How Beloved Chef and Entrepreneur Julia Child Conquered the World: An Illustrated Life Story

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“Oh, nuts! I burned the sauce.”

Legendary chef Julia Child, who would have been 101 today, not only revolutionized the world of cookbooks but was also a remarkable beacon of entrepreneurship and perseverance more than a decade before women started raising their voices in the media world. Her unrelenting spirit and generous heart cast her as one of modern history’s most timeless role models, and that’s precisely what writer and illustrator Jessie Hartland celebrates in the endlessly wonderful Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child (public library) — a heartening illustrated biography of the beloved chef, intended to enchant young readers with her story but certain to delight all of us. Hartland’s vibrant drawings — somewhere between Maira Kalman, Wendy MacNaughton, and Vladimir Radunsky — exude the very charisma that made Childs an icon, and infuse her legacy with fresh joy.

Amidst the beautiful illustrations are practical glimpses of Child’s culinary tricks and the context of her recipes:

At the end of the story, as at the end of her life, Child emerges not only as a masterful cook but also as a fierce entrepreneur, a humble human, and restlessly creative soul.

Complement Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child with some equally delightful graphic biographies for grown-ups, chronicling the lives of Charles Darwin, Richard Feynman, Steve Jobs, and Hunter S. Thompson, and revisit the story of how Child published her legendary cookbook against all odds.

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05 AUGUST, 2013

The Book of Mean People: Toni Morrison’s Children’s Allegory about Kindness and Context

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“Big people are little when they are mean. But little people are not big when they are mean.”

In 1999, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Toni Morrison joined the ranks of other famous “adult” writers’ lesser-known and lovely children’s stories when she penned The Big Box — a darkly philosophical meditation on morality, imaginative freedom, justice, and self-sufficiency — in collaboration with her son, the painter and musician Slade Morrison. Three years later, the duo followed up with The Book of Mean People (public library), illustrated by the wonderful Pascal Lemaitre — a subversive allegory for the subjectivity of “good” and “evil,” how context and motive frame those, and why the power of optimism is our greatest psychological defense mechanism.

Somewhere between Twain’s irreverent advice to little girls and the faux-meanness of the facetious faux-unkindness Cat-Hater’s Handbook, the book nudges us to reconsider what “meanness” is and isn’t, and how a child’s assessment differs from a grown-up’s. The Morrisons’ dedication reads:

To brave kids everywhere
(mean people, you know who you are)

Though the book invites many interpretations, depending on your tolerance for the non-literal, its central premise returns again and again to the importance of kindness — something George Saunders would enthusiastically embrace — and reminds us that children, as well as the universal inner child in each of us, can always distinguish between “meanness” that is simply the discomfort of doing things we don’t want to do but should, and “meanness” that springs from truly mean-spirit intention, from anger, from one’s misguided attempt to feel big by making another feel small.

Complement The Book of Mean People with other previously uncovered children’s gems by Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, James Joyce, Sylvia Plath, William Faulkner, Gertrude Stein, Anne Sexton, T. S. Eliot, and John Updike.

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