Britta visits her two favorite trees, Apple and Magnolia, every day. Though she can't explain it, she's sure they are best friends! Then one day, Magnolia's branches start to droop. Is there anything Britta--or Apple--can do to help?
Max's Boat Pick:
APPLE AND MAGNOLIA
Written by Laura Gehl and illustrated by Patricia Metola
Publisher: Flyaway Books (February 8, 2022)
Can you tell me the origin story behind Apple & Magnolia?
LG: "When I began learning about the ways trees communicate in real life, that became the seed for this story (sorry, couldn’t resist one tree pun!). As a forest lover and a former biology teacher, I find the concept of trees helping one another absolutely fascinating. In Apple and Magnolia, the main character, Britta, is absolutely convinced that the two trees in her yard are best friends. The reader never really knows whether the trees in the story do have a connection, or if the relationship is just in Britta’s mind and heart."
Are there other picture books you love that celebrate the natural world? "I adore Deborah Underwood and Cindy Derby’s Outside In. A very different book I love is Snowflake Bentley, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Mary Azarian. And a third is Swashby and the Sea by Beth Ferry and Juana Martinez-Neal. While Swashby is not primarily about the natural world, the way ocean waves interact with sand is my favorite part of the story!"
What are some of your favorite STEM picture books? "Stacy McAnulty’s Our Universe series, illustrated by David Litchfield and Stevie Lewis, is wonderful, because the books are funny as well as informative. Another favorite is The Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom by Teresa Robeson and Rebecca Huang."
What contemporary picture books do you hope will become the classics of the future? "This one is already six years old, so not quite contemporary, but The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, by Michelle Cuevas and Erin E. Stead, is one book that I hope will be read and cherished for generations to come."
Do you remember what you loved reading to your kids at age three? At age five? "Because I have four kids (all two years apart), I was reading to a range of ages most of the time. One book we loved reading over and over was The Perfect Nest by Catherine Friend and John Manders. I did different voices for each animal, and my kids laughed every single time."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "Possibly my
favorite picture book ever is A Birthday for Frances by Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban. Every time I read it, I crack up. The songs are hilarious. And Frances’ jealousy that it isn’t her birthday is so relatable. A Birthday for Frances is just a perfect gem of a picture
Buckley and his Mama live in a cozy cabin by the ocean. He loves to carve boats out of the driftwood he finds on the beach nearby. He makes big boats, long boats, short boats and tall boats, each one more beautiful than the last, and sends them out to sea. If they don't come back, he knows they've found their way to his papa, whom he misses very much.
BOATS FOR PAPA
By Jessixa Bagley
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (June 30, 2015)
Can you tell me the origin story behind Boats for Papa?
"I sort of had one of those lightning idea moments with Boats for Papa. It just came to me and wasn’t until I was done with the book that I realized it was basically the story of my childhood. Like Buckley, I was raised by my mom (my parents divorced when I was very young) and I had a long-distance relationship with my dad—not through boats, but rather phone calls, visits, and letters. My mom always encouraged me to make art—just like Mama in the story. The absence of Papa in the story is like the one in my own life
and left me focusing on who was there day-to-day to support me: my mom. I guess it’s like a love note to my mom in that way."
Boats for Papa explores loss and healing so beautifully. Are there other picture books
you love for how they explore loss or healing? "I love Grandad’s Island by Benji Davies. That is such a touching story and so delicately handles the passing of a grandparent. I also am just in awe of The Longest Letsgoboy, by Derick Wilder and Cátia Chien, that recently came out. It gives a look at death from the perspective of the dog, not the owner, offering so much hope and warmth. You really feel wrapped in love when you read it.
Also, Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper. Goodness, that is a sweet book and also makes me SOB. All those books handle the transition of death in a beautiful way but give the reader insight on how to move on and welcome new joy with old memories."
Do you have a favorite bookstore? "Being born an Oregonian, Powell’s Books in downtown Portland was a fixture in my life and part of my childhood in a very special way. It was a place that I would go with my family all the time that involved ritual and routine—much like the way some people attend church.
I was so small walking through the stacks of books. I felt excited and at the same time also humbled by what was around me. Being there seeing all those books made me feel like I was almost in the presence of royalty. There was nothing more important than books and the people that made them. Even though I don’t live in Portland anymore, I still consider it a home away from home."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "My top 100 would definitely be peppered with what I’ve listed above, but I have to include Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola. That book was so magical to me as a child. I loved the graphic illustrations of the pasta taking over the town! I also would probably put Ms. Nelson Is Missing! by Harry Allard and James Marshall. Another favorite from my childhood. I’ve thought about certain pages of that book my whole life.
Also, Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Alan Stamaty. I didn’t get introduced to that book until I was an adult but it’s strange, more detailed than any other book I’ve read, and it’s incredibly fun—it’s absolutely perfect."
Pig can’t stop thinking about something that is bothering her. Try as Horse might to get her mind off of it—with bike rides, swims, and silly hats—it's no use. But maybe if Pig shares the something with her friend, they can talk about it and figure out how to face the something together.
Max's Boat Pick:
PIG AND HORSE AND THE SOMETHING SCARY
By Zoey Abbott
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers (January 18, 2022)
Can you tell me the origin story behind Pig and Horse and the Something Scary?
ZA: "I think Pig and Horse came out of two ideas I was exploring. One is how friendship can be a beautiful and creative laboratory for dealing with tough things. The other is the special spacetime that is tea.
Growing up with an English/Irish stepmother I was lucky to have been raised with a dash of tea culture. The preparation for teatime, the ritual of the gathering at the table was pretty magical. You got to be your best self (or try on another part of yourself). You had to be on your best manners in case the Queen showed up. Anything seemed possible.
Living in Japan in my twenties I also got to experience Chanoyu (tea ceremony). I remember learning that the tea ceremony flourished in the midst of the warring states period, a particularly violent time between samurai clans. Tea was a pause for the appreciation of simple beauty and ritual within the host/guest relationship. It involved language, poetry, art, movement and all the senses. A samurai left his sword at the door, bowed his head, making himself vulnerable as he entered the small tatami room on his knees. The beauty of the manners, objects and ritual can take your breath away, make you tear up even. Maybe sharing tea is more brave than sword fighting?"
As a mom to two young girls, I certainly appreciate picture books that explore facing fears and worries, now more than ever. Are there other picture books you love for their take on facing fears, worries and anxiety? "There are so many! Here are a few favs: Jenny Mei is Sad by Tracy Subisak, Don’t Touch My Hair by Sharee Miller, The Bear and the Moon by Matthew Burgess and Cátia Chien, Sulwe by Lupita Nyong'o and Vashti Harrison, Hannah and Sugar by Kate Berube, Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley, Waterloo & Trafalgar by Olivier Tallec, Nasla’s Dream by Cécile Roumiguière and Simone Rea, Story Boat by Kyo MacLear and Rashin Kheiriyeh, The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy by Beatrice Alemagna. I love all these books for the creative ways the characters tumble with big feelings. So inspiring and empowering for kids and adults, both."
If you have children, do you remember what you loved reading to your kids at age three? At age five? What do you think the best picture books do? Is there a book that you think does this particularly well?" When my kids were very little some of our favorite reads were by Barbara Helen Berger: A Lot of Otters, Grandfather Twilight, and When the Sun Rose. They are soft and lyrical, some are allegorical and all are transporting.
Speaking of Barbara Helen Berger, can I share a quick story? One morning my son woke up at 5 am a total mess, crying and out of sorts. As I carried him downstairs, I remembered it was his birthday. He was two. I said, 'It’s’ your birthday! You were born on this day.' He said, 'Show me.' So, in my hazy fog, I took a quilt and a stuffed animal and made myself a ‘belly.’
As I told him the story he started punctuating my narration with short pithy phrases which, it dawned on me, were lines from a Barbara Helen Berger book, All the Way to Lhasa. When I got to the part of his actual birth via c-section he whispered, 'Emaho!' - one of the last lines of Berger’s book when the main character finally reaches the holy city of Lhasa after a long and treacherous journey. In Tibetan, 'Emaho' apparently is 'an exclamation of wonder or amazement.'
I think this is what the best picture books can do - give us the vocabulary to talk about things that are ineffable (especially when we are pre-verbal or very newly verbal).
Great books give us vivid metaphors for making beauty and sense of the world. They can show us things that are true about ourselves that we didn’t know how to put into words."
What contemporary picture books do you hope will become the classics of the future? "All of the titles I mentioned above, plus a thousand more but here I will add a handful:
Me & Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera
The Hike by Alison Farrell
Paul and Antoinette by Kerascoët
Starry Messenger by Peter Sís
Monday by Anne Herbauts
I SUPER LOVE all the work of these European creators and would love to see more translated into English:
Emma and Lisen Adbage
What picture books coming out in 2022 are you most looking forward to reading? "I’ve been waiting forever to read Jonathan Stutzman and Isabelle Arsenalt’s The Mouse Who Carried A House on his Back. Marta Altes and Gemma Gallardo have an upcoming biography about Joan Miró. I’m also looking forward to holding these books in my hot little hands: Amah Faraway by Margaret Chiu Greanias and Tracy Subisak, People are Wild by Margaux Meganck, Milk and Juice by Meredith Crandall Brown and the last book in in the Sydney & Taylor series by Jacqueline Davies & Deborah Hocking."