What’s a “quiet” picture book? Well, I’m not entirely confident that I can effectively convey what I mean by this description, because it is more about a feeling than an easily described characteristic. You know how some picture books have hilarity as a theme, and how when you read them aloud, especially to a group of young children, the laughter is frequent and boisterous? Well, these are not like that… these lend themselves to a literally quieter tone of voice for the adult reading them aloud to pre-readers, and they encourage children to quietly think their own thoughts during a reading, rather than loudly react. Does that make sense?
I hope I’m not the only one who understands this way of thinking about the feeling of a picture book. Check out these five examples of Cybils Awards nominated books and let me know if you get my meaning!
1. If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Erin E. Stead — I hope I didn’t give the impression that “quiet” picture books cannot be humorous, because that’s not the case at all, and this one is a perfect example. The laughs here are not raucous, but are instead little chuckles at the tender humor at play. Everything about this book fits that “quiet” description I’m desperately trying to explain. The use of all lower case letters grouped together throughout the book without regard to traditional punctuation is one example, as is the very pale, muted colors that are used in the soft and gentle illustrations. The little boy strongly desires to spy a whale, and the distractions of the world might be hard to tune out, so the unseen narrator calmly offers suggestions of what to do and not to do in order to reach this goal. Will patience and diligence pay off? The final pages are a delight for the eyes.
2. Dream Friends by You Byun — Just as with humor, these “quiet” books can also feature great whimsy like this picture book does. Psychedelic splashes of color depict a dream world where young Melody frolics with an enormous cat, a delightful friend in all her adventures, but Melody doesn’t have any friends or experiences like this once she wakes up. Contrasted with her dream self, her real world self is much more reserved and more than a little lonely, and her attempts at conjuring up her dream friend remain unsuccessful. But the power of friendship doesn’t have to be confined to one’s imagination, and with one small move, a real life friendship can begin to blossom.
3. Rain! by Linda Ashman and illustrated by Christian Robinson — If you wanted to dissect this simple-at-first-glance picture book, you could say that it introduces the concept of perspective to young children, for right from the start, two characters see the very same thing– the falling raindrops out their respective windows– and have strikingly different reactions. The simple text of their responses is exactly alike, but readers must examine their illustrated expressions to note the differences of their viewpoints, and astute little ones might even comment that even the colors are different on their pages– with the grumpy old man surrounded by a gray color while the excited little boy is flanked by bright yellow. The book continues in this manner, contrasting the two characters’ experiences as they head out into the rainy city until they meet at the aptly named Rain or Shine Café, where the story takes a lovely turn. I didn’t expect the complexity of this story when I first picked it up, but this is a book that encourages much observation and thinking about the viewpoints of others.
4. My Blue is Happy by Jessica Young and illustrated by Catia Chien — Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a fondness for the color blue, which was definitely a factor in my predicted enjoyment of this book when I first read the title. Like this girl, I’ve long wondered why blue was stuck being associated with sad feelings, and this color along with many others are given the chance to shed their usual emotional associations. There’s no shortage of children’s books that pair colors with feelings, but this one carves a place of its own in the genre for breaking out of the usual mold. As each color is introduced with a familiar connotation, the girl’s unique interpretation is also depicted in a way that the illustrations complement each other in a fun way, such as the angry red dragon’s fiery breath being soaked by the hose of the brave red fire truck driven by the heroic red-caped girl. And I can’t help but note that I chuckled to myself in appreciation for the new face of pink– “annoying like an itchy bug bite and gum that gets stuck to my shoe.” That’s breaking out of the mold, for sure!
5. Once Upon a Northern Night by Jean E. Pendziwol and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault — A poem in picture book format, this entrancing nominee is perhaps the “quietest” of the bunch, for it seems perfectly fitting to read this one aloud in a hushed tone befitting the snow-covered world in its pages. The illustrations are done in mostly black and white, yet small bits of color peek through on each page, from clumps of green pine needles popping out of the snow to the glowing yellow of a swooping owl’s eyes. The poem evokes that feeling that descends with the freshly falling snow, and I can’t help but want to pull my children onto my lap underneath a warm fuzzy blanket to read this one. You must add this one to your wintry reading list this year.
I’ll continue to urge you to reference the list of nominated picture books as you make your reading selections this fall. If you’re looking to hear other folks’ impressions of the nominations, check out the list of Fiction Picture Book category judges and panelists to hop over to their blogs, too.
All opinions offered here are mine alone, and do not represent the Cybils Awards.