Here is the definitive list of books you should read this holiday time:
1) Whatever you want.
Here’s what I have on my nightstand:
After a long and storied career, British illustrator Quentin Blake was knighted by the Prince of Wales today. From Mrs. Armitage to Matilda, he has deposited lots and lots (and lots) of indelible characters, human and otherwise, into our collective consciousness, where they will stay in perpetuity. He is also responsible for the wonderful wallpaper on the display wall right here in the Butler Center. On this side of the pond he is best known for his spot illustrations for the Roald Dahl oeuvre, but in his 64 year career (and 64 is my favorite number) he has crafted a remarkable variety of really exquisite books, as author and as illustrator. Here are a few standouts:
by Quentin Blake
Little, Brown 1992
Professor Dupont is a slave to his routine, and it is driving his cockatoos crazy! They decide to teach him a lesson, and distribute themselves about the conservatory, never to be seen again. Or not. This clever, infectious book turns the familiar counting book on its head, with the ever diminishing items-to-be-counted hidden (in plain, polychrome sight), to the delight of observant children everywhere.
Tell Me A Picture
by Quentin Blake
Millbook Press, 2003
Quentin Blake curated a collection of 26 paintings and children’s book illustrations and employs his trademark figures to interpret them with us. Each work of art enjoys four pages, two for uncluttered presentation, followed by two more where the sketchy individuals respond, with genuine curiosity, puzzlement, and affection. As much about looking at art as it is about art itself, it offers children a safe and stable place from which to begin their own inquisitions.
by Michael Rosen
illustrated by Quentin Blake
Michael Rosen tells the story of his own experience losing his adult son, and explores the fundamental nature of grief. Blake’s sketchy, chaotic images, in drab greys and blues, express grief’s uncontrollable disquiet in a profound and deeply affecting way. The world will continue to debate whether or not it is a book for children (it is), but it’s artistic power is undeniable.
Is it just me? It seems that publishers have become really enamored of some new dust jacket treatment that adds an almost sticky texture to the paper. It feels sort of like a neoprene wetsuity material. I was on the Boston Globe Horn Book Award jury for 2012 and we recognized three pieces of fiction: No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Michaux Nelson (winner), Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet (honor book), and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (honor book). And all three have been subjected to these rubbery covers. Two of the three have dark, black backgrounds and I will admit that the matte finish of the texture adds some depth to it. But it also shows fingerprints something awful. And it’s a little tacky (duct-tape-adhesive tacky, not white-pants-after-labor-day tacky). Most libraries will put mylar covers over the jacket, simultaneously solving the problem of the unpleasant feel and compromising the benefits of the matte finish. And, really, at the end of the day, it doesn’t much matter. At all. But, still, someone is going to a lot of trouble (it must be some trouble) to take what might be perfectly fine dust jackets and make them stick.
What do you think?