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It’s the Little Things November 19, 2012

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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The NY Times list of Best Illustrated Children’s Books just came out and I was interested to see several books that are translations originally published in other countries.  I’m always wishing for more translations to show up in the US, because I know there are amazing children’s authors and illustrators all over the world and I wish I could see more of their work! I was also intrigued to see that two titles on the list had similar tales of tiny little occurrences that prove revelatory.

Stephen and the Beetle, by Jorge Lujan from Mexico, is about a little boy who notices a beetle in the garden. He takes off his shoe to squash it, but then has second thoughts.  He realizes that, if he drops the shoe, the day will go on, exactly the same “..except for one small thing.” He decides to put the shoe down and look at the beetle more closely.  Facing it head to head, he is able to better appreciate that it looks like “a creature from the Cretaceous” or “a terrible triceratops”. But just as he starts to get worried about being attacked, the beetle turns aside and walks away. Coincidence? Lujan’s text takes the view that our small choices matter and can lead to eye-opening experiences.

Similarly, in Little Bird, by Swiss author German Zullo, a man drives a truck filled with birds to the edge of a cliff, and opens the back to let them fly away. Apparently this is something he does often, as the text informs us that “One could almost believe that one day is just like another.” But this day is different–when all the other birds have flown away, one little black bird stays behind. Is he hungry? Does he not know how to fly? What will the man do? The sweet ending, with its subtle lesson about what it takes for each of us to fly is entirely earned.

While I don’t think children are as likely to pick up either of these titles on their own, I think they will enjoy listening to them and looking at them. The illustrations in Stephen and the Beetle are loose and sketchy, as though they had been scrawled by a child and the wordless spreads in Little Bird feature bold expanses of color in the landscape, juxtaposed with the tiny details of the man’s face and checked shirt. The birds too, each have unusual colors and markings, along with simple, expressive eyes. I’m glad that the New York Times committee brought these unusual titles to our attention!

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