I regularly scout the shelves at our local children's book store, the most enticing if blandly named Bank Street Bookstore. The Bank Street school used to be downtown on...um, Bank Street, but has been many years up here off Broadway and 112th. The interior is a small well lit two flights of den, books to the ceiling, with just enough puppets, puzzles, and kaleidoscopes to satisfy anyone looking for gifts.
I love kids books, picture, chapter, novel and novelty. I read more YA books than any serious poet should admit to. But they are some of the best written novels that just happen to be about coming of age. No room for excess blather. No chance they can forget about plot. No minimalist posing. Refreshing dynamic writing in so many of them compared to the adult fiction section. And picture books, here is where so many talented illustrators and writers turn for lush visuals and concise verbals. Yum. And chapter books, who said brevity can't increase levity? It does, and since potty humor makes me laugh if I can read it aloud to kids, so many good ones to choose from. Or heartwarming. Or detective stories...
For instance some geniuses turned Strega Nona, by Tomie dePaola, into an ingenious pop-up. My kids loved this story when they were small. Here: Brava, Strega Nona!: A Heartwarming Pop-Up Book by Tomie dePaola, Robert Sabuda, and Matthew Reinhart.
I loved Neil Gaiman's latest novel The Graveyard Book, an homage to Kipling's two Jungle Books, told with his delightful mix of creepy-crawly and heart-warming. He writes so well too, from a true love of words to mastery of plot. He pulls the reader in with his distinctive imagination, humor, horror, hope, and with a restraint I tend to think of as English. Orphaned boy protected from killer and raised in local graveyard by ghosts and others. My daughter Natalie started reading my signed copy and I didn't want her to take it away to college where it might get dinged up. I am thinking of getting her her own copy. Perfect gift.
I keep my eye out for anything new by Diana Wynne Jones a YA fantasy writer who deserves to be as famous as J.K. Rowling but mysteriously isn't. She romps through time and space with a cast of kids and young adults that are both real in their feelings and surreal in their abilities. She is rather like the Blake Edwards of fantasy plots as many of her novels end in a big scene of satisfying mass chaos where everything somehow ends up all right. One of her novels was made into an animated Japanese movie, Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl's Moving Castle. I love her writing, the Crestomanci series, and one stand alone, Dogsbody.
But as I prowled Bank Street I was also looking for favorite illustrator/authors in picture books. There was no new book by the fantastic David Weisner who creates wordless adventures using meticulous and breath taking water color illustrations. His last one, Flotsam, is my all time favorite gift. A boy finds a camera on the beach, it contains photos of fantastic places each irrefutably taken with this same camera as each is a picture within a picture. There would be a thousand and one ways to read through this book. It could put finding Waldo to shame. So David, where is your next book? I have many nieces and nephews. Ahem.
I did find a new book illustrated by Ed Young, Wabi Sabi, who always does lovely books with a zennish quality. And a new retelling of The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry has been nicely illustrated by P.J. Lynch but it is in that somewhat amber hue that I get a bit tired of, my memories of the past don't come in sepia tone, why should time periods be done this way? Even so, it is lovely, lovely.
Ah, I could go on and on. And when I have time I'll add more.