A mix of titles currently on my shelves.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Back to Basics

After venturing into the world of digital books, it’s time (for me, anyway) to veer back to basics: my all-time favorite cardboard book. In keeping with the focus of this blog, that beloved book happens to have been written by a Dane who worked for Bonniers, the eminent Swedish publisher, before moving to the U.S.

Spoiler warning for friends and relatives: I nearly always give this book as a baby present. Every time I go to purchase one, I’m afraid it will be out of print, so I buy several. Amazingly, this little gem has been in print since 1963, when it was first published by Golden Books.

And the title is...non-electronic drum roll, please...I am a Bunny, written by Ole Risom and illustrated by Richard Scarry.

Why do I love it so? Because both the text and art are a perfect combination of simplicity, detail, and imagination. The story is simple, a series of one-sentence descriptions of Nicholas the bunny’s activities through the seasons. But who can resist a narrative that begins like this:

I am a bunny.
My name is Nicholas.
I live in a hollow tree.

The words are direct and to the point, yet when read aloud they sound lyrical. While the words resonate, we are looking at Nicholas, who is looking straight at us, with his adorable Richard Scarry bunny face, long pink ears, and red overalls. Next we notice a mother robin in his tree, feeding her three hungry chicks a worm.

Cardboard books don’t always get the attention they deserve. Because they are inexpensive, less effort is sometimes put into their production. These days, many are simply resized versions of successful picture books for older children. But cardboard books are a young child’s first, nearly indestructible, introduction to written stories. They should be age-appropriate and include the best work writers, illustrators, and publishers can muster – even in the mass-market trade.

Ole Risom understood that during his long career making books for children, from 1952 to 1972 at Golden Books Western Press and 1972 to 1990 at Random House. During that time he worked with Stan and Jan Berenstain (known for their Berenstain Bears series), Marc Brown (famous for his Arthur books and TV series), Laurent de Brunhoff (the Babar books), Jim Henson (of Sesame Street fame), Leo Lionni (author/illustrator of Inch by Inch, Swimmy, A Color Of His Own and many others), Charles M. Schulz (creator of Charlie Brown) and Dr. Seuss, as well as Richard Scarry.

Risom died at the age of 80 in 2000. He had a daughter, Camilla; a son, Christopher; and another son named...Nicholas.

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