As many of you know I make a trip to my local library several times a month with a recyclable grocery bag in hand to fill with picture books. I head home, sometimes sneaking a peek into my bag if I have a red stoplight on the way home. With a cup of tea or a mug of hot chocolate. I sit in my reading chair and get to work. I mean get to enjoy but if you love what you are doing it is never work! I look and try to absorb the colors, textures, and words of the cover, end pages, inside pages, back matter, and back cover. I smell the book and pages. Imagine smelling the story that is told in front of me. I listen as I crack the cover open. I hear the voices and sounds of the characters telling their stories. I feel their joy and pains. I sense their freedom of telling their stories to the world. With some books, I turn the last page, take a breath and flip the book right back to the first page and start to read the story all over again. Sometimes with giggles, laughter, and sometimes tears.
I read old books, new stories, Caldecott winners, Newberry nominees, New York Times Bestseller List holders, obscure titles yet to be discovered and even those titles I won’t bother to read again. From each one I learn something new and exciting, what to do, what not to do, how to add the unexpected twist, and a surprise. I want to learn how to add a bit of heart and a dash of soul. I want to keep true to myself. I want to see how others did it, how to get it just right. Not too much of this or too much of that, I want to give my readers just the right amount of love, hope, and encouragement to know someone has been this way before, to see themselves, they are not alone, and they can make a difference.
While visiting my daughter and her family in Virginia Beach, I got to visit their library several times. I was surprised how many of the same picture books my home library and the VA Beach library had but I was even more surprised at how many different pictures books I found on their shelves. Books I quickly added to my bag to check and read under the covers after lights out!
My first delight was a picture book by one of my favorite author/ illustrators, Shirley Hughes. My children couldn’t get enough of her board books and grew up devouring her books as they grew into reading on their own. This book, Ella’s Big Chance, a Jazz-Age Cinderella, is one I read over three times and several times just to take in all the beautiful artwork. Even knowing the Cinderella story Ms. Hughes keeps this story fresh and surprising. I loved it. Thank you, Ms. Hughes, for not disappointing me.
Another story I picked up was, Unspoken, by author/illustrator Henry Cole. To say this is a picture book at took my breath away would be an understatement. Done without color or words is priceless. This wordless picture book done in charcoal on cream paper speaks volumes about the Underground Railroad, friendship, slavery, a difficult, often unspoken time in our country’s history, and bravery from the first page to the last page. An extra bonus was I learned this tale was taken from a kernel of history not far from my daughter lives. I can’t put into words how this story moved my heart. Thank you for the characters, author/illustrator Mr. Cole and editor, all for being brave to share this story with the world.
Thirdly, Love Will See You Through, Martin Luther King’s Six Guiding Beliefs (as told by his niece). A powerful book yet simply enough for readers of all ages to come to a new and additional appreciation of the man we often think of as only the man who had a dream. Martin Luther King was so much more and still, today has so much to share with us and give us so much to think about, learn from, and try to live a better life and hoping and wanting better for all people. The sparse text and colorful illustrations bring the story to life that I could almost feel the powerful singing, praising, and rejoicing at the Sunday church services.