Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, October 5, 2017

For Love Of Books And Children

When walking among and working for decades in the realm of children's literature you come to respect the work of and have affection for the authors and illustrators. What they do is powerful.  Yesterday during a chat on social media I remarked that children's literature is going to save the world.  It is smarter, brighter and better than ever.  So are our children.  I believe this to be true.

It was not always this way.  There were no books being written specifically for children. Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children's Books (Chronicle Books, April 4, 2017) written by Michelle Markel with illustrations by Nancy Carpenter is an energetic exploration of a remarkable man.

Every page,
   every picture,
every word, and even its
   letters are designed for
your pleasure.

This lively, inviting introduction concludes with how fortunate readers are today and reminds them it was not like this in 1726.  There were indeed wonderful books for all kinds of readers but nothing was written for children.  They were made to read dry, didactic tomes riddled with rules.  At this time John Newbery was barely a teen.

When he was able John left the family farm to pursue working for a printer.  This young man who loved books was now making them.  He eventually moved to London to begin a business in publishing.  He wanted to be the man who put books in the hands of all readers, adults and children.

Working hard to gather the best material for a children's book, new and classic, filled with marvelous illustrations, and a letter to parents, John released his first title, A Little Pretty Pocket-Book.  He advertised it along with a toy.  What child could resist a book and a toy?  Apparently none of them could.  It was a huge success.

John's mind was on fire with publishing ideas for children; a magazine, titles for older readers and even a novel, The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes.  It was a winner on both sides of the pond.  There is even a history of mystery with this book and others John published for children.

His shop was a haven and a little bit of heaven for his young readers.  They knew he knew what they loved best.  To have established and named a children's literacy award given annually

"to the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children"

is an honor most suited to this man who devoted a significant portion of his life to books for children.

Once you've read the first four sentences, an introductory paragraph, written by Michelle Markel you have to keep turning pages.  Her word choices captivate and engage us;

got a kick out of,
he went big time,
smack dab in the heart of the book marketplace and
gobbled them up like plum cakes.

Her ability to entwine threads of historical truth into jaunty, joyful text is marvelous.  Her storyteller's heart is evident on every single page.  Here is a sample passage.

Why shouldn't they have
books of their own?

John!  What were you thinking?
What about the parents?  Many mums and dads worried
that if their little nippers read fun books, they'd turn
wild as beasts! 

There is absolutely no way you can look at the matching, opened dust jacket and book case without smiling.  There stands John Newbery among all the children gathered in a London street, buildings in the background framing their cheer.  Opened and closed books appear in hands and thrown in the air.  The children's open mouths are probably giving him at least three Hip! Hip! Hooray! cheers.  What illustrator Nancy Carpenter has done is to give readers a true slice of life moment, presenting children from all walks of life.

The opening and closing endpapers are a swirl of teal, pink and golden yellow looking like paper perhaps used for covers of children's books during John Newbery's publishing career.  Rendered in pen and ink and digital media the illustrations are clever, animated and reminiscent of the time period.  The edges of each page mirror the pages of a very old book; a book inside a book.

Several times the corner of a page will be rolled back to provide us with an aside.  Picture sizes shift from two pages, to those which cross the gutter paired with a smaller image, single pages or a grouping of smaller pictures to depict the passage of time.  The fine lines, the color palette, layout and design replete with intricate details will have readers pausing in pleasure at every page turn.  Happiness and humor is evident everywhere.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  John Newbery is sitting in the back of his bookshop on a bench covered with sheets of paper.  One of his arms is resting on his desk and the other is holding an open book.  He is definitely thinking of his next project.  The room is filled with books, papers, tools of his trade, and a printing press. A sleeping canine companion rests nearby on and under paper.  John's coat and hat hang below a clock next to a doorway. Through the door we can see customers in his shop.  A little girl is peeking around the doorway at John.

When you read nonfiction picture books, a biography, like Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children's Books written by Michelle Markel with illustrations by Nancy Carpenter, you feel a distinct connection to the past and its influence on our present.  When you hold this book in your hands you are holding pure delight.  Be sure to have a copy on your professional bookshelves and in your personal collection.  There is an author's note, a discussion about books mentioned in this book, suggested books for further reading, a selected bibliography and articles listed at the back of the book.

To learn more about author Michelle Markel and her other work, please follow the link embedded in her name to access her website.  At the publisher's website a teacher's guide is provided.  You will want to head over to Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read. to enjoy the conversation he had with Michelle Markel on the date of her cover reveal.  Several years ago Publishers Weekly supplied readers with a Q & A with Nancy Carpenter.

I am a day late for my post at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher for the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge due to a prior commitment but be sure to see what the other participants listed this week by visiting Alyson's blog.

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