One of the greatest aspects of books is that they have the power to level even the rockiest playing fields. There’s no judgment, no guilt for reading what you like. Only in the book world can the oldest amongst us can dive into the latest middle grade fantasy novel. Meanwhile, we’ve got 11 year olds chompin’ at the bit for the newest Harper Lee.
In the words of Toni Morrison, “I want to feel what I feel.”
Reading a book is like having a vivid conversation with your inner self. Someone much wiser than me once told me that when someone reads a book, they bring all their own images, memories and points of reference to the action of the story. What one person might see as violent, another renders poetic through their personal contextualization. What one person finds boring might bring another to tears.
So what does this all mean?
It means you should feel free to read whatever floats your boat. It means that instead of looking for the genre you’re supposed to like, sometimes you should just walk into a bookstore and let something jump out and surprise you.
It means that you’re never too old to love a really great picture book.
After all, we’re living in the golden age of picture books. Artists and illustrators are creating unique styles to really make their mark, and each new publication holds the potential to become the next “Where the Wild Things Are,” or (gasp!) “The Day the Crayons Quit.” You’ve even got plenty of all-grown-up authors donning the children’s author mantle for the time being: Jenny Offill, BJ Novak, and Amy Rosenthal have all published picture books recently and, as of the June 9th, Jimmy Fallon is throwing his hat in the ring.
In celebration of this ageless art form, I’ve selected just a few of my favorite new(ish) picture books (and, by extension, authors and illustrators) that work just as well for ages 8 to 80.
A Perfectly Messed Up Story by Patrick McDonnell
None of the staff at RoscoeBooks remembers exactly how this incredible little book ended up on our shelves. But from the minute we read it, we knew it was true love. Patrick McDonnell (and if that name sounds familiar, here’s why) has created the perfect picture book for all ages. Younger readers will find the peanut butter, jelly, and crayon stains pretty freaking hilarious, while more seasoned readers will pick up on the overarching theme of acceptance and forgiveness, most importantly of yourself. Our life is not within our control, for better or for worse, and this delightful story lets us know that “things happen.” Don’t they just?
Home by Carson Ellis
A gorgeous book that almost seems written for an older audience, Carson Ellis has created an entire world of unique houses for unique families. She covers the traditional houses, apartments, and condos, before moving into igloos, caves, and rock star touring buses. Kids will love the home of a Norse God or the Japanese Businessman, but older readers will see through to the mélange of homes that underscore the very nature of being, really and truly, home.
Wild by Emily Hughes
While Ellis and McDonnell are already well-known illustrators, Hughes hit the ground running with this knockout of a debut. Around the bookstore, we like to call this little powerhouse “feral kids for kids!” A wide-eyed little girl lives in the forest and speaks only with her animal friends… until the well-coiffed humans drop in and try their hardest to civilize her. But despite the best efforts of some pretty toothy psychoanalysts, the little girl escapes with a better sense of what it really means to be free and happy. To quote another great children’s book, Peter Brown’s Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, “Everyone should find time to go a little wild.”
The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
Jeffers nailed it with this delicate fable about the pain of losing someone you love. This is the book I would buy for anyone pained by grief or faced with the scary proposition of learning to love after loss. The illustrations are stunning and a bit more whimsical than his usual fare. And the message? Well, this is one you’re just going to have to read for yourself. Try not to cry.
Weasels and Nuts in Space by Elys Dolan
These mega-sized books are full of hilarious insider jokes that are clearly meant for adults. Allusions to original Star Trek, Austin Powers, and compensating with lasers will make you giggle while the kid in your lap asks just WHAT is so funny! But the good news is that these picture books are rich in illustration and story, and will appeal to younger readers with a fun sense of absurdity. Weasels take over the world. A band of forest animals travel through space to save the lost peanuts of legend. Need I say more?
Keep Climbing, Girls by Beah Richards
This book was initially published in 1951 and has been republished with these chunky, delicious illustrations by R. Gregory Christie. This is more poem than children’s book, and tells of a nameless girl climbing a tree in her backyard, all while Miss Nettie tries her best to get her down. This is a story about what girls can do, and how high they can climb. “You’re a tomboy, that’s what you are, and you’re going to have a tomboy’s scars.” Miss Nettie proclaims. This book is for all you grown-up tomboys out there who never believed when they told you that tree was just too high.
The next time you pop into a bookstore, I encourage everyone, both young and old, to read a picture book. Maybe you’ll find it silly or stupid or childish. But maybe, just maybe, you’ll find something truly incredible.
After all, being a grown-up doesn’t mean putting aside our childish ways. Or, in the words of Albert Einstein, “I have reached an age when, if someone tells me to wear socks, I don’t have to.”