But there is another kind of book, perhaps less obvious and harder to find, that is a pleasure to share with older children who are independent readers. It's the text-heavy picture book, the beautifully-written story that is most certainly not babyish, the illustrated volume that carries with it a bit of danger and mystery. Often these books are fairy tales or adventure stories. Under no circumstances do they feature lessons about how to share or be a good friend at the end. They are for brave, bold, imaginative big kids who are secure enough in their big kid-ness to take on a meaty picture book.
I've been thinking about this because a friend recently asked if I knew of any books of this sort to recommend, plus there's been a whole lot of big kid birthdays this fall and books are our favorite gifts to give. Just in case you also have a six or seven or eight year old in your life who is about to celebrate a birthday, or who may need an extra book for the home library come Christmas or Hanukah, here is a list of beautiful picture books we've enjoyed recently that are absolutely, positively not for babies:
Saint George and the Dragon aloud together. Even though they know the Red Cross Knight survives, every time we re-read it the suspense is paralyzing.
A Ride on the Red Mare's Back by Ursula K. Le Guin is tiny; the story is decidedly not. A big sister adventures through the forbidding woods in winter to save her brother from awful trolls with the aid of her magical red toy horse. There is just enough darkness here for us to believe it.
Aladdin is a pleasure to read aloud, and the illustrations are fun. Lots of pointy beards, huge well-muscled genies, brilliant jewels and shining palaces. It was all fabulous enough for Gabriel to withstand the picture-less pages, knowing that eventually we'd turn the page to find another magical scene worth the wait.
The Iron Giant was recently turned into an animated movie for children. I can't help but be suspicious. This book is so strange and unnerving, it's hard to imagine...but who knows? Maybe you've seen it and it's good. The illustrations in this Iron Giant are evocative, graphic, and suit the spare language and poetic logic of the story perfectly. I'm not sure that I even liked it, but my children were absolutely rapt. Its weirdness is what makes it so compelling, and my general take when it comes to art is that weird is good. I'd love to hear from some of you think about this one.
Brave Irene is an old favorite, and really any William Steig picture book could have made this list. I love the way Steig luxuriates in language, pushing descriptions so much farther than any other children's author I can think of. He also grants his characters big, bold feelings (I am thinking of the parents' grief in Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, or Amos' spiritual ecstasy before the splendor of nature on the deck of his boat in the very fine Amos and Boris). In this story, determined Irene braves a fierce and battle-ready icy wind to do an errand for her poor sick mama.
Finally, the New York Times just published its list of best illustrated books of 2011, and this one caught my eye. I know, I know, Brother Sun Sister Moon can hardly be a wild adventure tale, but it looks so nicely done!
Do you have any good titles to add to the list? Do share!
(In other news: I recently started a Facebook page for Homemade Time, where I'll link to new posts and other items. If you have a minute, please come visit and click 'like'!)