When some people hear the label “picture book,” they imagine a preschooler or kindergartner being read a book with few words by an adult. While that might describe some picture books and their audiences, there are also picture books with more complex story lines and more serious subject matters that are appropriate for older children. These three Cybils nominees tell interesting and thought-provoking stories more appropriate for elementary school children.
The retelling of a Japanese folktale in Maneki Neko: The Tale of the Beckoning Cat by Susan Lendroth is entirely beautiful in its presentation, explaining the origin of the “beckoning cat” symbol of luck and prosperity in Japan. When a small cat’s figure seems to call to a traveling samurai, he moves and is serendipitously saved from a falling branch. He credits the cat with saving his life, and he repays the cat’s humble monk owner by transforming his monastery into an amazing temple. As the samurai’s story spread across the country, the legend was born.
While we’re talking about cats, I want to highlight another book that tells a historical tale. Mary Nethery’s The Famous Nini: A Mostly True Story of How a Plain White Cat Became a Star expands on the tale of an ordinary tom cat who lived in a Venice coffee shop at the end of the 19th century. For reasons not exactly clear, this cat had many famous visitors over the years, and this book creates back stories for why people such as the composer Verdi, the King and Queen of Italy, and even the Pope came to see Nini. Delightfully fun, with factual notes at the end, this is a fabulous and entertaining history lesson.
For another piece of history, Me, Frida by Amy Noveksy gives a little slice of Frida Kahlo’s life in San Francisco in 1930, while her husband Diego Rivera is commissioned to paint. Frida and Deigo have different reactions to their new home, with Frida feeling less empowered than he, until she paints what will become one of her most revered paintings. This book is simply stunning and is valuable as a companion during an art study or simply as exposure to one of art’s beloved female painters.
If you’re looking for more picture books that have been nominated this year, please visit the Fiction Picture Book page and browse the titles. The finalists will be announced on January 1, and I hope to share more from my growing pile in the coming weeks.
Dawn’s fascination with picture books is indulged each and every day with her kids. Their adventures, bookish and not, can be found at my thoughts exactly.