FIRST BOOKS by Kathie Johnson
Reliable Authors of Picture Books
People often want advice on "reliable" authors—those who not only tell good stories, but also display good values. I'd like to share some personal favorites that also seem to be popular with many of the children who come to my library. In this column I'll feature just picture books. In future issues, I'll include books for older children.
As I've been pondering this subject, the authors that have repeatedly come to mind all seem to be author-illustrators (writers who illustrate their own books.) They also tend to be authors who tell a single story about a main character, as opposed to those who take a character through a series of books, although there are a few of the latter as well.
One author-illustrator I like is Don Freeman. His books were mostly published in the 1950s and 1960s. Many people will be familiar with Corduroy, a department-store teddy bear who wanders through the store at night hoping to find a button to replace the one he's lost.
But Freeman has written many more books, all charming. They mostly feature animal characters that act a bit like humans. There is Cyrano the Crow, featuring a crow that loves to imitate other birds. When the farmer where he lives gets a television set, he realizes that Cyrano has real talent. Cyrano is flown to New York to demonstrate all his birdcalls. He does them well, until he is asked to make a crow call, when he freezes. He eventually learns it is best to be himself.
Pet of the Met has mice at the opera house and might get children interested in The Magic Flute, while Norman the Doorman features a mouse who guards an entrance for mice at a great art museum. Inspector Peckit features a pigeon in Paris; another pigeon story, Fly High, Fly Low, is a wonderful introduction to San Francisco and a story of loyalty. Dandelion tells of a lion who is invited to a party, decides to get a fancy hair-do for the occasion, but then is not recognized by his friends.
There are many more. They all tell good stories, and have delightful, bright illustrations.
Another author I like is a present-day one from England—Shirley Hughes. She has done a number of simple books for the very young with titles like Bouncing (in which a young girl and her baby brother find opportunities throughout the day to bounce), Hiding, and Giving (which expands your understanding of that word).
For the slightly older child, perhaps my favorite is Dogger, or David and Dog in the American version. This book was so well liked by the wife of a former pastor of ours that she gave a copy to each child she knew when they were the right age (three or so). It tells the story of David, who has a beloved stuffed dog that he loses track of while eating ice cream, and the toy ends up in a rummage sale at the school fair. After a bad night, the whole family goes to the fair, where David sees his dog, but he doesn't have the money to buy it. His big sister, who has won a large teddy bear, trades it for the dog, so her brother can have his precious toy again.
Kathie Johnson has always had a love for children's books. She collected many as a teacher and began sharing them with other teachers. In 1986, she opened a children's library in her home, and it has continued to expand over the years. Many home-schooled and schooled children borrow books from it, and she takes great pleasure in finding the "right" book for a child. She attends First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley.
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