This lovely book shows children how different cultures and times have depicted simple concepts—rain, cat, chair, etc.—in works of art.
The idea behind this book is simple but powerful: take several dozen basic images, mostly but not entirely of animals, and illustrate each with five or six artworks, one per page, from a wide range of cultures. For example, “hare” is illustrated with full-color examples from Dürer, an ancient Grecian pottery vase, an ancient Islamic bestiary, a Japanese woodblock print, a medieval Italian watercolor, and an Iranian pottery tile. Next to each photograph is a one-word caption in English, German, French, Spanish, and Chinese, giving children a chance to learn some foreign vocabulary. The final section—simply titled “?”—shows uncaptioned works featuring the same basic images, giving readers a chance to make their own connections. Hovaguimian (Henry’s Dragon Dream, 2013, etc.) explains that the book is primarily meant to be read by an adult and child together, but adults will also enjoy solo gazing at these evocative pages. The well-chosen artworks are thoughtfully arranged for similarity in scale and composition, which allows viewers to compare and contrast more fruitfully. Techniques and materials shown include fabric appliqué, ceramic, wood, tile, and oil, watercolor, and ink paint. (Captions give full provenance, and the images have been used with permission.) The works depicted reveal culture in thought-provoking ways: “house,” for instance, can mean a sturdy brick edifice, a teepee, or a beehivelike hut. Fodder for discussion lies in comparing artistic styles and effects—the haughty Chinese camel has little in common with the Henry Moore–ish camel, also Chinese. The book goes well beyond nice pictures of museum pieces; its juxtapositions create an unexpectedly magical effect. Under “cow,” it’s captivating to see the same gracefully upswept horns meeting each other across the millennia: on one page, a painted American buffalo-hide shield from 1850; on the other, an African wall painting circa 2,500 B.C.E. The artists’ fellowship of vision across time and place is simple, striking, and surprisingly moving.
Delightful, magical, and beautiful—should be a classic.
A simple read-aloud picture book about a boy and his dragon.
Hovaguimian (Deep in the Woods, 2011) uses simple, rhyming text in this bedtime read. The book is similar to the classic Goodnight, Moon (it even includes a final illustration that bears a striking resemblance to the window on the cover of that book) but incorporates the interesting addition of a big green dragon as the narrator. The friendly dragon describes his and young Henry’s nighttime practice of flying through the house, out into the world and up into the sky before returning safely to bed. The text is brief, and most pages contain no more than a short sentence. Liotta’s bright watercolor illustrations accompany the text, showing the dragon, Henry and the different sights (a cat, peas, the starry sky) the pair sees on their travels. The illustrations use an appealing free-form style, though the visible pencil sketch lines sometimes create an amateurish effect. Rhymes are sometimes nonsensical: “Over the bed of Fred / Over the sink, / over the ink, / over Dorsey / the horsey.” The nonsense rhymes don’t seem to fit the book, which has a soothing rather than silly tone. While this is a classic bedtime story, it’s worth pointing out that Henry and the dragon’s nightly excursions occur after the pair has gone to sleep, suggesting they’ve gotten out of bed in the night or, more likely, are dreaming about their nightly flights. Children will likely allow the illustrations to fuel their own imaginative dragon dreams.
Parents will enjoy this book’s gentle tone and brevity, while children will like zooming along with this dragon before falling asleep.
In this debut children’s book, a group of animals lives peacefully in the woods—until a fox shows up and takes over the badger’s house.
“Deep in the woods there are hidden paths known only to the forest dwellers” begins this story set in a world of friendly, fuzzy creatures. The forest dwellers are a wild cat and her kittens, a badger, bear, a doe and her fawns and a bat and a tiny lizard. Together they live in harmony, as each has its own home in the forest, but that tranquility is shattered when Scratchfoot, the badger, returns home from foraging to find that a fox has moved into his burrow. The fox refuses to move, and the rest of the animals try to help Scratchfoot remove the intruder—they make awful noises to try to scare him out and otherwise work together as a team to help their friend. The plot resolves with a lesson about friendship and sharing, although it’s rather quickly wrapped up in a few sentences on the last page. The book itself is the result of teamwork: A grandmother wrote the story, a mother made the colorful animal cutouts, and a 2-and-a-half-year-old child contributed the looping background scribbles. The result is a homegrown approach to illustration, and the resulting abstract, colorful images work well, given the story’s simplicity. Hovaguimian uses a large but not overly complex vocabulary—with words such as “dislodge,” “circumstances” and “foraging”—that helps to make the book a good one for adults to read to children before bed.
A sweet story about teamwork and friendship.